Thursday, 17 September 2009

All About Garbo

I think it is fair to say that Greta Garbo is the best think to come out of Sweden.

In life as in death, she never failed to enchant. Walking up the stairs towards her last resting place in an isolated spot of the Skogskyrkogården Cemetery yesterday morning , Busby Berkeley music ringing in my ears and dizzy with anticipation, not quite knowing what to expect, it was a pleasant surprise to actually feel that the great one actually knew you were there.

Her grave stone which bore her iconic name engraved in gold embodied everything magical about the Hollywood Golden Age. Garbo certainly got her wish to be alone, as even the two benches were placed a comfortable distance away from the grave. This set up was not always respected, as this old you tube video shows how annoyingly close they used to be.

It’s not an easy grave to locate within this sprawling woodland cemetery and took a good 45 minutes of combined driving and walking - after the moronic taxi driver circled the place looking for a pantheon or a massive edifice of some kind (unbeknown to me), all the while asking me who the hell she was.

When I was almost ready to give up, a sudden urge to look in a certain direction helped me locate the reddish slate stone from a distant: A sure sign the great one was happy to receive visitors today.

Back in 1999, a sure sign of the impending apocalypse and millennium malaise was surely not the computer-unable-to-process-numbers bollocks, but more the fact that some hoodlums desecrated her grave.

Since that day, cameras tucked away in trees are watching over Greta's grave- A fact I was not aware of when I was there – but come to think of it now, a collection of that footage would make an interesting video installation piece.

Visitors leave all kinds of things – as you can see in one the pictures. I left a cigarette and a note, signed by all the burlesque girls I know who love her.

Garbo’s Urn: A Tale of 9 cities

It is not common for a cemetery to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the Skogskyrkogården is blessed with that exact title. The architects' use of the natural landscape creates an extraordinary environment of tranquil beauty that reportedly had a profound influence on cemetery design throughout the world.

Following her death, Garbo’s Urn stayed in New York for 9 years.

In the meantime many cities and countries tried to get the Urn:

Sweden 1 (Södermalm - Hometown of Garbo)
Sweden 2 (Tranaas - Hometown of Garbo's father Karl Alfred)
Sweden 3 (Högsby - Hometown of Garbo's mother Anna Louisa
USA 1 (Hollywood/Los Angeles)
USA 2 (New York)
Switzerland (Klosters)
Germany (Frechen/Cologne)

After a long legal battle for her ashes- which surely involved the Tourism Boards – the Urn was finally interred at the Skogskyrkogården Cemetery in her native Stockholm.

Footnote for the path
As the American Ambassador once said in his memorial speech:

The essence of Garbo's image is mystery, and yet, what we all know about Greta Garbo is that for millions of moviegoers the world over, she will always remain a very beautiful, a very enigmatic, and a very special person.

Too much has been written about her for me to add anything of any worth. By far the most insightful book has to be the “Sappho goes to Hollywood: The Girls” by Diana McLellan - which not only provides an insight into how she really was, what made her tick and what was really going on down there , but also explained through anecdotes, how Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead related to her – which ultimately defined her as an Icon.

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