Jan Grevstad’s second collection of nine short stories has, above all, the ambition to amuse its reader. Amid a dash of satire, his stories reflect British type of humour at its best. Mostly stories of fiction, they have strong roots in real life with compassion for the human condition and human fate. The “Edelweiss Saga” is based on an old tale and has an ecological touch, while “The New Shooting Range” is a fantasy developed from a real experience of cultural clashes in the Alps. “Don’t Queue” is based on the true story of a Royal Norwegian visit to Geneva, and “A Peasant in Paris” is entirely autobiographical.
»The Edelweiss Saga« »Edelweiss, edelweiss, « sings Julie Andrews in Rodgers and Hammer-stein’s musical »The Sound of Music«, »Every morning you greet me; Small and white, Clean and bright You look happy to meet me. Blossom of snow, May you bloom and grow, Bloom and grow forever. Edelweiss, Edelweiss, Bless my homeland forever.« The story of »Sound of Music« takes place in Austria and the Edelweiss flower, or Noble-white in English, may be even more important there than in Switzerland. Still, the Edelwiess is an apline flower that has its fame in the whole alpine region. It is not a spectacular species in any way but its small whit flower has the shape of a somewhat skinny star which lends it a frail beauty. It grows exclusively in the harsh climate of the Alps above the altitude of 1000 metres, which makes it rare and specific to its region. This explains why it it a symbol of the Alps and of the countries that include them: Switzerland and Austria as well as, although to a lesser extent, their German neighbour, Bavaria. The Edelweiss reminds the Swiss of their mountains and of Central Switzerland where the nation was founded. Thus it represents the whole Swiss flora as well as the nation’s attachment to nature in general. The Swiss have a very special relationship to »their« Edelweiss and for a long time, until only a few years back, they displayed the extent of its sanctity by portraying an Edelweiss on their banknotes. Outside the alpine region, whenever the Edelweiss is mentioned in conversation, memories are evoked of snow-capped mountains above green valleys where peasant girls walk the fields in their traditional costumes; timbered farmhouses can be seen at a distance with cows grazing in the sunshine; and, farther away, the white tower of a church rises above the slate roofs of a small village. It is the Alps in all their postcard prettiness. Quite naturally, therefore, the Edelweiss is a protected species along with Gruyère and Emmenthal cheese. A national symbol has of course its roots and its traditions. For generations, young girls embroidered Edelweiss flowers on their costumes, on belts and ribbons and even on sheathing for knives. The boys used it for carvings on wooden spoons, casings and butter moulds. In the mountain valleys, high up in the Alps, an ancient tale once told of the creation of the little white flower from a tear shed by the Snow Queen. The original tale has been lost for a long time, but the legend of the Snow Queen’s tears still persists. Adding a tiny ecological touch, we can imagine that the tale would have run something like this: delivered of course on a cold winter’s evening; the wind howling around the timbered farm-house which squeakingly but firmly stood up against nature’s frenzy; the whole family was gathered in front of the open fire in the kitchen where an occasional gust would blow smoke into the room; the young ones hurdled together on the floor and the grandmother had wrapped herself in a woolen shawl against the draft. In the adjacent stable, the herd was safe and quiet but now and then would give a loud moo in response to the squeaking timber. The elder of the family would deliver the tale, talking very slowly and pronouncing every word with care: »In the beginning God created heaven and earth, as well as light and darkness. On the second day he divided the waters. On the third day of creation, God created dry land with grass and trees and that third day God also created the Alps. The tall alpine peaks rose proudly above green valleys, and streams ran gaily down their steep walls. They were the most beautiful mountains that God created, at least in Europe. He had not created the Swiss farmer nor his cows yet, so there was only snow on the mountains and no farmhouses, people or animals to be seen. On the fourth day God created time and the seasons and, to make sure that the Alps had beautiful crisp, white snow, he also created the Snow Queen. He bestowed her with the guardianship of the winter season and told her to look after the Alps for him. As God proceeded with creation time passed quickly. It was soon midday, and the sun rose up in the sky. The white mountain peaks sparkled in the sunshine and divinely finished the horizon against a bright blue sky. Even God, when he saw their stunning beauty, had to stop creation and admire his own work. »There is nothing like the satisfaction of a good day’s work,« God probably told himself. Anyway, content, God saw that he had crowned the earth with the most beautiful, glittering tiara that one could imagine. The Snow Queen had watched the creation with admiration and gratitude. »Thank you, Lord,« said she and bowed humbly. A sentiment of fulfillment entered her heart. As on a bed of roses, she spread her cape of fine flakes of snow, lined with pearls made of ice, and travelled through the air, visiting her new kingdom of mountains, the rivers were running down the hillside, tumbling through gorges and creating white horses cascading over rocks till they reached the bottom of the valleys where the running went smooth through forests and green meadows. At the peaks, on the other hand, the rivers and the lakes were frozen solid and twinkled like diamonds. At the edge of a glacier she discovered a small pool framed with opaque fragments of ice while the centre was also frozen even and shining bright as white gold. Delighted, she approached and discovered that the frozen pool had the effect of a mirror. It was the first time that she became aware of her own image and she was pleased with what she saw. »See how attractive I am,« she urged God, as she admired herself from all possible angles. God had observed her with satisfaction and fatherly pride at first, but then he saw her self-admiration and his anger swelled and swelled. In the end, furious, he had to admit that when creating the beauty of the Alps and their lovely Snow Queen, he had also created »vanity«. The heat of his sudden anger was such that snow and ice melted. »Stop! Stop! You are destroying me. Help!, help!» cried the Snow Queen as she began to melt; because she herself was made of the snow and ice that represented the season she protected. »Stop, you are destroying your own creation!« She began to cry and a tear fell down on the ground.
Born in Oslo, Norway, Jan Grevstad is a retired company director who studied economics and business administration in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Following a successful business career, he took early retirement. As a part-time property developer in France, he entered the mortifying business of renovating old farmhouses. While the farmhouses probably still stand, the business does not, and he spends most of his time between Geneva and Rougemont near Gstaad. He is unmarried and lives with his friend in Geneva. In 1998, he published his first collection of short stories, Gstaad—The Mountain Paradise?