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The Master on His Island

The north wind was kind when it wafted Amber Grimfalk and partner Ulf our way for a sojourn in the Salento. They are that peculiar brand of nomad who put down roots of affection, strong as any stay-at-home’s, in places that capture their imagination. Their map of Europe is marked with valentine hearts. It’s not a tourist itinerary. If their places of choice have something in common, it isn’t that they are unsmirched Edens free of drawbacks. What they share is a truculence in the struggle to remain themselves. They are down-to-earth places, not always aware of their uniqueness.

Even in their native Sweden Amber and Ulf found a very different and special place. For years they have considered the Baltic island of Gotland their spiritual home. It lies beside the smaller island of Faro where Ingmar Bergman thought his thoughts and did some filming while living a quite simple life. Amber and Ulf met the legendary director who was something like a Swedish national monument with a naughty fissure or two. It was a chance meeting, not a celebrity chase. Our two friends were looking for an eagle’s nest in some energetic Swedish version of birdwatching.

So Amber, a journalist among other accomplishments, was the ideal speaker to close our modest tribute to Ingmar Bergman. We had seen how he overshadowed training in the performing arts in Sweden today and we had looked closely at one of his cinematic masterpieces. Now we learned more about him as a man. Amber relayed the comments of his longterm housekeeper. The great man apparently blew hot or cold in domestic matters, congenial or impossible. It was reassuring to know that he was very much like ourselves, plus genius. There was no more a simple key to his personality than there was to his films.

The keystone of Amber’s presentation was an unforgettable seventeen-minute film of an interview with the master. A mature figure, past middle-age, he sat or strolled on his island putting together for us an amazing bit of creation. He talked about his demons, personifying various strengths, weaknesses, and anxieties he saw in himself. Here was a great artist weaving into arresting drama, complete with a cast of imaginary characters, what his housekeeper registered simply as the ups and downs of his temperament.

Amber had shown us views of the islands and filled us in on life there. Her insistence that it was very much like Salento left us bemused. We were thinking of snow and cold-water swimming. She was thinking of a stubborn refusal to forget earthy, genuine old ways and a habit of meeting most days and their denizens with a smile.

Peter Byrne

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