Sven Bjorsten's painting (left), Mysticism, reminds me of my life—in particular the inexplicable coincidences that brought Yoga into it. (The music from The Twilight Zone would be appropriate about now!) To reach him for details about his work, send him an e-mail directly. He's in Sweden. He's a great artist. This story is not a fluke or a figment of anyone's imagination. I gave up trying to explain it long ago, because there is nothing rational about it. This is a true story based on facts. But for you to understand how Yoga came into my life in Sweden, here's a little history about me first. This is not the entire story. I need a book for that! I grew up in Laguna Beach, California, (left) a magical art colony of immense beauty 50 miles south of Los Angeles, California. I spent most of my private time at Wood's Cove, a very special beach, in my own little cove in the cliff from 5th grade until I graduated from high school. That is where I did my homework, read books, and watched the sunset go down over Catalina Island. After I graduated from Laguna Beach High School, I worked as a professional jazz singer in southern California. When I traveled to southern Sweden to visit my mother in the mid-1960s (she had met a Swede and went there to live)—the country, its nature, the people, culture—everything about it (except the horrific climate after my experience in Laguna!) —captured my heart. When I arrived in the small town of Hassleholm, it was not long before I got a job as a singer with some young musicians (see left). It was great fun. We traveled all around southern Sweden and entertained Swedes in what they call Folk Parks—which are huge outdoor entertainment venues, sometimes out in the middle of the countryside miles away from everything. The first Folk Park was built in 1893, and now they are all over the country. They are a major Swedish tradition. Of course, many of the people drink and end up passed out somewhere at these outdoor events! That's another Swedish tradition. Never leave a bottle half full... I remember how I thought they were crazy when it started to snow on May 10th, and they just kept dancing as if nothing was happening. I was on stage freezing my you-know-what off, and singing a song in Swedish (Natten har tusen ogon = The Night Has a Thousand Eyes). There I was wearing a mini-skirt with boots up over my knees (we're in the 60s now). The people on the dance floor wore flimsy blouses and sandals, and they just kept dancing. That was one of my first impressions. I later understood fully that these events were very important to them after the long, hard, dark winter they had endured. Snow? Who cared? It was Springtime! They were going to continue dancing no matter what. These people were used to bad weather, and they were not going to let it disturb their night out after being indoors for months shrouded in darkness. After spending time with my mother, and working with the small band there, I decided to put off returning to America to go to college. Instead, I traveled.
My mother had her winter home—a condo on the 19th floor—in Las Palmas, Canary Islands (Spain), an archipelago with seven islands of volcanic origin in the Atlantic Ocean, located off the northwestern coast of Africa. It was a popular vacation spot for Europeans during the harsh winter months, and I often went there when it was too cold and dark for me in Sweden. I also took the opportunity to visit countries in Africa, and lived with American teachers in Morocco for 6 months. After returning to Sweden, I enrolled at Lund University (left) and decided to not return to California at all. Founded in 1666, Lund is the second oldest university in Sweden, and the largest for research and higher education. Today the population is approximately 75,000 (and 34,000 students). When I rented a small apartment close to the campus, it was much smaller. It was only an hour from my mother, and we both felt that this would be a great opportunity for me. Lund has powerful energy. In fact, archeological discoveries suggest that the first settlement here was founded around the year AD 990. This was the perfect place for me to become immersed in Swedish history and language. I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to study abroad. Now you can drive over the Öresund bridge from Denmark to Sweden (we used to take a big ferry). This brings Copenhagen within easy reach (about 45 minutes by car). Also called The Sound, Öresund is the strait that separates Denmark from Sweden. The Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean join forces here and this is one of the busiest waterways in the world. This is one of those odd images, but the bridge goes down under the water and comes back up again! This image floated around via e-mails. I have no idea who the photographer is. I was shocked when I saw this, because it didn't exist when I lived in Sweden. My friends tell me it's great. Knowing the quality of workers in Sweden, I can just imagine. It's odd that Americans travel to Europe and for some reason never get to Sweden. England, France, Italy, Spain. Why not Sweden? It is the most advanced country on the European continent, more advanced than America when it comes to a standard of living. Most people speak English (which has been the second language in school for a long time; it was German before that). The entire country is immaculate, and the countryside from one end to the other is more beautiful than any other place I have seen in Europe (except maybe equal to parts of Switzerland, Norway and Italy). Never made any sense to me why more Americans didn't include it in their itinerary. One of my favorite places to find peace was this magnificent 11th-century Romanesque cathedral in Lund (left). As an American, it was quite a thrill to be surrounded by such architecture and live in a town that was so old. If you ever get to southern Sweden, be sure to walk inside this cathedral and around the grounds. It was here that I first learned the beauty of silence in a place that has its own echoes of the past. It was also at this university that I discovered how little I had learned in school back home. Laguna Beach was more like a playground, but then I was never inspired much by the teachers there. The only ones I can remember are Mrs. Meyers in 8th grade, and John Buchanan, my English teacher in 12th grade. Thanks to him, my interest in literature was heightened and he taught me that writing was really fun, even if you weren't dreaming of becoming a brilliant author like James Joyce.
After studying in Lund, I traveled to Stockholm (a 10-hour train ride in those days—now only 3 hours with the bullet train) to visit Red Mitchell during a week-long jazz festival there. I had known him in Los Angeles when I worked as a jazz singer there, and a good friend of mine, Ian Bernard (a phenomenal pianist) had Red's address. He was a famous American bass player, who moved to Stockholm in the late 60s. Red had played for everyone, including legendary Billie Holiday, Joe Sample, Dizzie Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and many others. I had no idea that train ride to Stockholm would be the beginning of a whole new life for me. I was 25 years old. It was the summer of 1969.