Serendipity. There’s that word again.
The final stop in my west coast tour was Nordia House, the lovely cultural home of Nordic Northwest, a Portland, Oregon, based organization dedicated to preserving, communicating and celebrating Nordic culture, heritage and innovation.
Now, one would think that, after more than 100 presentations, I would finally have my act together. And one would be wrong. Although I try to keep track of all the moving parts involved in a presentation/book signing (books, projector, props, power cords, speaking notes, my bread board, etc.) often times something gets overlooked.
After a delightful evening at Nordia House (where all existing seats filled up quickly and more had to be brought in) I discovered, before turning in for the night, that I had left the charging cord for my iPhone back in the auditorium where I spoke. As no one can function at even the most basic level without their iPhone for very long these days (me included), this presented an existential crisis.
Luckily, Nordia House boasts a wonderful café—the Broder Söder—and since my longtime friend Susan Navrotsky and I had planned to share a farewell breakfast the following morning anyway, we decided to return to the scene of the crime, retrieve the cord, and sample some good Scandinavian food as well.
When we were seated after a short wait, I noticed the occupants of the adjacent table—two men enjoying a similarly leisurely brunch as well. I remembered one of the two men—he had attended my talk of the previous night, sat in the first row, and listened intently to my presentation about Odd Nansen.
Well, one thing led to another, and soon all four of us were chatting across the tables, in between bites of a delicious breakfast. At one point, my neighbor from the previous evening mentioned how much he had enjoyed learning about Odd Nansen and his diary, From Day to Day, and then proceeded to hand me his business card. He also asked if Susan and I would be interested, when finished with our food, in visiting his home, which was located just next door?
The business card read: “Ross A. Fogelquist/Honorary Vice Counsel of Sweden Emeritus.”
Turns out that Ross, an emeritus member of the Nordic Northwest Board as well, donated the land on which Nordia House sits, and was instrumental in the fundraising campaign which made Nordia House a reality.
If Nordia House is typical of modern Scandinavia design—clean lines, unadorned, indeed stark—Mr. Fogelquist’s home, “Fogelbo,” is decidedly not—it is a log house that could have been built by the first Swedish settlers to arrive in the New World around 1638.
In fact, Fogelbo (which means “bird nest,” a take-off on Fogelquist, which means “bird on a branch”) was built between 1938 and 1940 by the renowned carpenter and log cabin builder Henry Steiner. Inside, Ross showed us a museum-quality collection of Scandinavian artifacts and antiques—one of the largest private such collections in the country.
Ross’ pride in his home and his collection was palpable. I was particularly struck by the ornate chests the Scandinavian immigrants used to transport their earthly possessions across the ocean, the vast United States, and to the Pacific Northwest. Even though Fogelbo was to be the venue that very evening for a midsummer’s night celebration, Ross acted as though he would like nothing better than to spend the rest of the day with us, showing us all of his treasures, and relating the backstory to each.
As an ambassador for all things Scandinavian and Swedish, Ross was superb, which is probably why King Carl XVI of Sweden knighted Ross in 1985 as a Knight of the Royal Order of the Polar Star, first class.
With regret, I and my friend Susan finally took our leave of Ross—I did have a plane to catch—but the memory of that delightful final day with Ross in Portland will remain with us. (Incidentally, Ross has already deeded Fogelbo to Nordic Northwest, which is in the process of incorporating it and its park-like grounds into their mission.)
And all this because I forgot my phone cord. Serendipity indeed!
[A special thanks to my friend Judy Gervais Perkiomaki who met me at last year’s Norsk Høstfest, and encouraged me to speak at Nordia House]