While we are in the country, NK watches only one DVD over and over on our old laptop – Alla vi Barn i Bullerbyn, or The Children of Noisy Village. Well, for a while she did watch another DVD – the sequel, More of the Children of Noisy Village. They are Astrid Lindgren stories, of course, because everything of deep significance to the Swedish soul comes from Astrid Lindgren, and I am only slightly exaggerating and a little joking. Both were directed by Lasse Hallström, who later directed Chocolat and The Cider House Rules.
The stories take place in Bullerbyn, three red and white farm houses tucked together in the Swedish countryside in the 1920s. There are six older children, plus Kerstin, who is two and a half and only half a person, according to her brother Olle. There is little plot and little danger. The movies are exquisitely shot, capturing the northern light, with beautiful country music. The acting is good too.
The first movie takes the kids through their summer vacation. The sequel runs through the rest of the year. This is about the balance in which Swedes live their lives. Summer is all.
When E’s sister first saw our summer house, she said, “Just like Bullerbyn!” We have six houses in a row, but they are all red and white and in a clearing in the forest that isolates us even from the small community surrounding us. And then NK starts talking over the fence to the girl next door, with her little brother climbing up and making toddler noises. They have already progressed to real talk from oddly hillarious parallel conversations and the passing of sticks and half-dead flowers. And I see them in six years just like the kids of Bullerbyn.
What I find interesting about the Bullerbyn movies is that they are essentially crash courses in what it means to be Swedish – here are the Midsummer legends, this is when you catch crayfish, this is what you eat for Christmas, this is how the farming seasons go. Lindgren wrote them in the 1960s just as Sweden was turning into an urban, industrialized power, and I imagine this was half the point – to teach the urban kids about the lost world of their parents and grandparents.
And I realize that we can not do the same thing in America. There simply is too much diversity of holidays and what you eat at Thanksgiving and landscape and language, no way to write what is essentially a guidebook on being American. Or can we? Is it on TV now? Are we that boring and bland? What does it mean to be an American kid? Or does it remain some spirit or attitude that is harder to define, just in the air somehow?