Star reporter Petti Fong takes in a prize-worthy restaurant in Stockholm
By Petti Fong Toronto Star
STOCKHOLM - Every Thursday, the members of the Swedish Academy gather at Europe's oldest restaurant, the Den Gyldene Freden in Stockholm, where they not only choose what they're going to have for dinner but also pick the winners of the Nobel Prize for literature.
This tavern, which is translated as The Golden Peace, is located in Stockholm's old town, called Gamla Stan. It has been in business continuously since 1722 and its cozy interior and dim lighting makes it a favourite place for business meetings and tourists with its vaulted ceilings and antique chairs and tables.Step outside of the restaurant and all around you, from the cobblestone streets to the centuries-old rooftops overhead, the Den Gyldene Freden looks exactly the way it would hundreds of years ago.
Food is traditional Nordic cuisine. In September when I was there, I had a sampling of venison, meatballs, quail eggs and even reindeer.
I asked and was surprised that one of the waiters agreed to take me to the private dining room where the Swedish Academy meets and discuss who should be this year's recipient.
"Have you ever heard loud arguments, throwing plates?" I asked the waiter.
"Sometimes the discussions can get quite heated," he replied.
Another tidbit the waiter told me was that every name discussed is in code even in the private dining room. This year, the Swedish Academy selected Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa as its 2010 recipient and today in a ceremony in Stockholm, he received his medal with the image of Alfred Nobel.
On the back of the medal are the Latin words: Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes, which means Inventions enhance life which is beautified through art.
"You have encapsulated 20th-century in a bubble of imagination. It has floated on air for 50 years and shines still," said Per Wästberg, the chair of the Nobel Committee for Literature and a member of the Swedish Academy at the the award ceremony speech.
Vargas Llosa, who is now a Spanish citizen, uses fiction "to penetrate the shrouds of power and explore the obsessions of its exploiters."
December is a busy month in Stockholm and Norway (where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded) with Nobel laureates arriving for banquets and celebrations in their honour, lunches and television interviews.
The main ceremony takes place in Stockholm's City Hall.
In James Atlas' biography of Saul Bellow, who won the Nobel Prize winner in 1976, the biographer described the "Lucia" ceremony, in which Laureates are greeted with the morning they receive the award. "[White-clad maidens bearing lit candles burst into their bedroom early in the morning to serenade them while they were still in bed."
Bellows later wrote that the photographers were there and came bearing a tray with bad coffee and some buns. "I scowled, and then my face formed the smile which is obligatory on such occasions."
In Stockholm, the Nobel Musem is located at Stortorget, in the very heart of the old part of the city at Börshuset, Stortorget, Gamla Stan.
One of the museum's upcoming exhibitions, opening in February and running to September in 2011 will be Items for Your Consideration which are articles donated from past Laureates of items that have great meaning to them.
1986 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Wole Soyinka donated a hat that he used to hide his famous hair when he was fleeing from the Nigerian regime. Barry Marshall, Medicine Laureate, who won in 2005, selected a beaker he used in his research into a bacterium that causes gastric ulcers.