Grew up in Sweden, arrived in NYC 1988, since then I have spread the word of Swedish food!

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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Without knowing where this will lead we would love to share the journey with you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

30 Years!

So, I woke up this morning and guess what,  today marks my 30th anniversary of living in North America! How did that even happen? August 19, 1988. I left Sweden and thought oh, this will be an exiting year spent abroad, better my english, meet new people, find out what NYC is really like. I was so curious about NYC. I arrived in the afternoon at JFK Airport in Queens. I had a note with the address and off I went. I hailed a taxi outside the terminal and jumped in the back, sat in the middle and held each hand on the front seats with my head peeking through. I told the driver I had just arrived, never been there before and traveled alone....all those things I today know not to do or say. The taxi driver turned out to be the nicest man. He assured me we would take the scenic route in to Manhattan. Over the bridge!!! I saw the skyline and totally fell in love! I got out of the taxi at my address. The Rivergate Building. 401 East 34th Street #26A+B. I had no clue what any of that meant then. 34th street is the street Empire State Building is on, number 26 meant that the apartment was on the 26th floor and that it was 2 apartments made in to one. I came in to my room and guess which way my bedroom faced, you got it! Straight up 34th street. Empire State Building was right there, almost reachable, right outside my window!
The reason for me staying in this apartment was that I was taking care of 2 little kids who's dad worked at the Swedish Mission to the UN. My job came with board and my duties was to get them ready for school, take them to school, clean up, pick up from school and entertain them until dad came home. In the evenings, as you can imagine, I had lots of fun. I had connected with a bunch of other Swedish girls that had also come over the way I did. Anne, was my closest friend. We knew each other from University. We loved walking around Manhattan in our spare time and just breath in the feeling of not wanting to be anywhere but right there where we were.
We felt it really was the epi centre of the universe.
I stayed with this family for one year. Towards the end of this year Anne and I tried to come up with ways to stay in NYC another year. We wanted to do something else but had only the diplomatic visas that allowed us to work for UN families. We heard that the chef at The Consulate General's residence was going back to Sweden. There was nothing else to do than to ask if we, 2 Home Economic Teachers with some experience of cooking, could get that job. A Saturday afternoon in may 1989 we walked up the few steps and knocked on the door to 600 Park Avenue where Consul General of Sweden, Arne Thoren and wife Eva lived. We introduced ourselves and Eva invited us in. We told her why we were there and assured her we knew we were not as experienced as Peter, the current chef, but we would split his salary and apartment and she would get 2 for 1! She thought about it for about 3 minutes and then said, lets do it. We left the residence as the happiest people in all of Manhattan! We could not believe it!! Eva would send us a ticket and take care of the VISA thing and we would see her in august when everyone was back in the city after summer vacations! This is really when it all started. During my time in New York I developed a new identity in a way.

We ended up cooking for all sorts of famous people, Prince Bertil of Sweden and his wife Lilian, Bianca Jagger, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Lasse Holmqvist, a Swedish TV personality and many more. Every year on December 10th Eva had a Nobel dinner. It was very a very formal affair and the dining room was filled with previous winners of the Nobel Prize. Every course was named after a prestigious winner. I ended up working in Eva's kitchen for 2 years. The second year without my side kick Anne. She went back to Sweden. During my 3 years on Manhattan I met lifelong friends, gained incredible experiences, ran a marathon while my mom, my aunt, my friends, Eva Thoren and my then new boyfriend who later became my husband and now is my ex stood along 1st avenue and cheered for me. What a feeling that was!
I became much more outgoing, self assured and way more positive than I had been before. In New York people were interested in who I was and where I came from. In Sweden I often felt that it was hard to break away from the path you had started because you had grown up in a certain area of town or which people you knew. Probably far from a cast society but still a bit of that. In New York I felt I could do anything. We went to Irish bars, took taxis everywhere, relaxed in Central Park, went to East village, which was very different then it is today and yes, worked in the kitchen at the consulate. 

As you can imagine the stories are many but just over a year ago this story got a restart when I decided to pay a visit to Eva Thoren, who I knew now lived in Sweden. Arne passed away a few years ago. I had no idea what Eva would say when she opened the door. I had of course not called her in advance to see if she was home or even wanted to see me. We drove up to a big house in the outskirts of a little town in southern Sweden. Knocked on the door and Eva opened. First she didn't recognize me, not that strange since she had not seen me in 25 years, but was still as gracious as ever. I said, it's Anna, who worked for you at the consulate on Park Avenue. She instantly raised her arms in the air and said Of course it is! I have read about you and your cafe in Toronto! She was very happy to see me. What a relief that was. She invited me in and I had to wave to Lasse, who was waiting in the car, to come on in. We ended up chatting with Eva for a few hours. She is still the amazing lady and story teller, I remembered from those years in the late 80's when I was 25. It was such a pleasure to reminiscence together and it left me with a feeling of treasuring that time long ago even more than I had done before this meeting with Eva! 





1 comment:

  1. Happy 30th!
    My story is somewhat similar to yours and I've been here for 32 years...
    Time flies... (I know, it's totally cliché...)

    ReplyDelete