Saturday, 1 October 2011
Someone to remember
We were both invited to Vivica's seventieth birthday in Helsinki, which was a parade of cultural celebrities. It started with drinks in the theatre where she had been director and producer, continuied with a splendid dinner in her magnificent mansion, and when Staffan and I, around 2 am, prepared to leave, Vivica said: "So early? We are going back to the theatre for nibbles!"
A couple of years later Vivica called me and asked whether I would like to translate a play. As her biographer points out - a well-known fact to all who have ever met her - "nobody could say no to her on the phone". She was organising a Finnish theatre festival in Moscow, and she wanted one play to be done in Russian, with two actors of Russian ancestry. The play guested Stockholm, and Vivica took me to see it twice before I started the translation. It was a challenge, because the actors' Russian was nursery talk, while the play used modern, colloquial, not to say explicit idiom which they found totally alien.
We flew to Moscow, me joining them in Helsinki. Nobody met us when we emerged through passport control and customs. Vivica was angry. In fact she was furious. Vivica furious was a sight. An hour later, she was paged. Our hosts were waiting for her in the VIP room. I didn't see much of her during the festival week because she was a Very Important Guest and I was just a translator (as well as a prompter, since the actors kept losing their swearwords). Yet it was fun to be part of her entourage. At one point, she was asked whether she had been to Russia before. "Yes, she said, in 1943". The hosts were awed. "During the war?" "Yes, Vivica confirmed, when little Finland tried to invade the Soviet Union". This was Vivica's typical sarcasm, possibly lost on the hosts. She had served in women's auxilliary forces at the front.
Regrettably, after that we lost touch and only met occasionally. It was with deep sorrow Staffan and I read about her death in 2004. The biography I am reading brings back many details I have heard and some that I have witnessed about this truly remarkable person.
If you wonder why you would bother about a stranger, many people know her well as Vifslan (Bob in English) in Tove Jansson's Moomin books.