Glemmingebro, 6 July
Today it is sunny and warm, and there is no football on TV, so we plan to go to the beach, for the first time this summer. The problem is that the children don’t want to go. Once they are there, they think it is wonderful, and then I say, now remember for next time, so that it won’t all be so difficult. Yes, yes, they say. Now it is the next time, and they don’t want to go. They’d rather go to Tosselilla, which is the amusement park outside Tosselilla, or the pool in Nybrostrand. Both belong to a kind of 1970s reality, and that is fine, but today I thought we should go somewhere slightly more timeless: the sand, the forest, the sea. The beaches stretch all the way from Ystad up to Simrishamn. The big ones, which have kiosks selling all sorts, are packed now. Then there are the smaller beaches, with no facilities—especially one, which is perhaps the most beautiful place I know, and that is where I want to go. A forest of deciduous trees and pines growing as far as the eye can see on both sides: there everything is open. It is a magical place. I stumbled across it last winter, went there a couple of times this spring but haven’t been there this summer yet. It is perfect for the children: they can swim, run along the beach and climb trees. But they don’t want to go. For a change, I am going to force them. What kind of world are we living in when children have to be forced to go to the beach?
I will write more today, about last night, which I really enjoyed because of the Argentina v. Belgium match, as Argentina at long last, but also as expected, raised their game and played football of a quality that a number of good individual players always promised, but if there is one lesson we can draw from this World Cup it is that playing as a team has been the most important factor in success; Ronaldo’s Portugal is an example of players who didn’t, and Holland the possible exception; without Robben they would not have got as far as they did.
Now it is half past three and we have returned from the beach. My prejudices proved to be unfounded, everyone got into the car without a murmur apart from John, whom I had to carry, but strictly speaking that was for the most part because he likes being carried. The landscape down to the sea was magnificent, the corn pure yellow, the sky a clear blue, and the sea a lighter, misty, almost faded blue. The little clearing that was used as a car park was full, but I left our car in the ditch anyway. Somewhat concerned that I might not be able to reverse back up on our return, I walked across the little wooden bridge with the others, over a dirty green stream where the children said they could see frogs, a meadow surrounded by tall oaks and into a forest. Not a sound, the air warm and still, the sunshine filtering through trees and leaves. The girls sang songs from the musical as I walked weighed down with swimming things, food and drink. It is perhaps two kilometres from the car to the sea. Once there, at last, we walked up the sandy slope and could see the beach on both sides, and the gentle blue Baltic, there were nudists everywhere! Many naked old men, some naked old women too. It was a bloody nudist beach, Fredrik. As I assumed they didn’t want a clothed family with children in their midst, and stripping off was absolutely out of the question for me, we followed a path in the forest that ran parallel with the beach because I imagined the nudist area would probably have limits. But no. Every time I went out to check, there were naked men roaming around. One by one they stood up with their hands on their hips and stared across, as though they had been posted to keep an eye on the area. We turned and walked back, and I went up onto the dune to scan the horizon. Same there, naked bodies as far as the eye could see. I rejoined the others, they were sweaty and fed up, we sat down and had something to eat and drink, then walked the long way back, got into the car and drove down to the normal beach, which was jam-packed. We all went for a swim, the children laughed and threw themselves into the waves, afterwards we had some buns and lay in the sun a while, so that it wouldn’t be difficult the next time, right, Dad, they said, and then we drove back home.
The question is why I got so annoyed, indeed angry. The bloody nudists, why should they have the best beach in Österlen? And why do they strip off at all? I felt like sending a reader’s letter to Ystad Allehånde about it. Saying words to the effect that of course nudists must have a beach but why precisely this one?
I have not only become bourgeois, I have also developed a not-insignificant degree of narrow-mindedness over the years. That too is the Protestant in me, I think. And it hasn’t always been like this. When I was nineteen I went to Greece with a friend, to an island called Antiparos, where there is a nudist beach, and we stayed there for a week. Every morning after breakfast we walked to the beach, undressed, and there we were, naked for the whole day. I didn’t like it, but I did it because I believed in it. I was anti-bourgeois, anti-authoritarian, in favour of a natural, hippy-style life and extremely leftist, at the point where it tips into anarchism. I was a pacifist, against NATO, in favour of a basic income, and in the evenings I read Jack Kerouac and aspired to a completely free lifestyle.
Now, twenty-five years later, with a house, car, four children and a large garden with a trampoline in the centre, I am filled with contempt for those idiotic nudists, who think they are so special and so much better than ordinary people.
Well, no, it isn’t that bad. But I was irritated.
Jogo bonito people, Fredrik, they don’t object to nudism, do they? Tell me if you are getting sick of the endless stream of prejudices I send in your direction, it is done with cordiality and perhaps a little envy—but also the notion that Argentinian-ism, however we choose to interpret it, definitely doesn’t include nudism. Knife fights, OK. Gauchos on the pampas, OK. Winning at any price, OK. Cons and tricks, OK. Hand of God, OK. Nudism, not OK.
The most fascinating aspect of the final round yet to be played is the classic status of the teams left. Argentina, Germany, Brazil, Holland. All of them have traditions, all of them have been here before and now they are back, even if they are not the teams who have played the best football, with the possible exception of Germany. There is great strength in that. And that adds a dimension to the matches. Germany v. Holland, the 1974 final. Holland v. Argentina, the 1978 final. Argentina v. Germany, the 1986 and 1990 finals. Brazil v. Germany, the 2002 final.
I was a little nervous before the Argentina–Belgium game began yesterday, but my nerves settled after only a few minutes, there was something assured and confident about their play, they seemed very strong. If Belgium scored, I thought, Argentina would just slot in an equaliser. That was the impression they gave. The goal came after only nine minutes, Messi to Di María, his misjudged ball hit a Belgian player and rebounded towards Higuaín, who just followed it, that is, squared up to it and hit it first time. A goal like that only happens if everything is done right, it is twenty years’ experience in three seconds’ improvisation: 1 – 0. Higuaín was brilliant yesterday. He wasn’t very good before, but yesterday he was. Did you see his run when he must have passed three Belgians, one of whom, Kompany, was beaten with a little toe-punt of a ball through his legs—and then he was on his own and he shot a hair’s breadth too high. He was good at everything he did, especially the way he killed some lofted crosses, the ball died at his feet even when he was under pressure. Messi was unsurpassable yesterday. It didn’t matter how difficult the balls he got were, one touch and they were under control. He was dazzling, several notches up from before. He challenged the Belgians every time he had the ball. A second later there were three Belgians around him, and he just went towards them, weaved his way through or got a free kick—which became the tactics for the next eighty minutes. Go for free kicks, go for throw-ins, go for anything that broke up play, and when we have possession, keep it. Belgium never managed to get going, never had the feeling they must have had against the USA, when they attacked in wave after wave. It requires a rhythm, a mood, pressure that builds up, and then wham. It is all one-way traffic. Yesterday there was a wall between them and that feeling. Everything was constantly being interrupted, nothing got going. There was no rhythm, no mood, no pressure. Eventually the solution for them was long balls towards Fellaini in particular and Lukaku, and this produced moments of danger—in the last few minutes they came close, and for the first time I thought they would succeed, and my heart beat faster. But they didn’t, and it wasn’t because they were poor, it was because they couldn’t get their game going, it had been taken from them. Mascherano was fantastic in the middle yesterday, by some distance Argentina’s most important player, and the defence was also stellar—they employed man-to-man defensive marking, at which, over the tournament, they have perhaps been the best. Zabaleta, not much gets past him. The central defenders too, incredibly strong in duels, Garay and on this occasion the Manchester City player with the Greek name, Demichelis, criticised in winter and spring, but now he’d had a haircut, I thought that was a good sign, and he played as a centre half, not a defensive midfielder, as so often with City. They controlled everything. The only downside, except for the negative play, which irritated the TV commentators—they said at the end it didn’t mean they supported Belgium, and when they say that, it means only one thing, they did support Belgium—but which I was comfortable with, negating another team’s play is also an art, was of course that my favourite player, Kafka, had to leave the field with a pulled muscle and will probably miss the rest of the World Cup. Injuries to him and Agüero severely weakened the team.
Holland v. Costa Rica was a strange match. It was incredible that after 120 minutes they should still be 0 – 0 after the pressure Holland had applied and the chances they’d had, denied by a keeper in the form of his life, and although I know many people disagree with me on this point, the score was fair. Costa Rica didn’t have the same level, they played in an incredibly tight, disciplined and controlled way, but had little energy beyond that and have less reason to be in the semi-final than Holland. I don’t like this Dutch team, but Robben is playing at an amazingly high level now, and the little cat, Sneijder, is also brilliant—you saw the free kick hit the bar, didn’t you, the cat’s eyes just before? Argentina v. Holland: hmm. An Argentina weakened in attack, but with Higuaín and Messi in improving form. An efficient Holland—I don’t mean in front of goal! I mean in defence, midfield, where they are hard to dislodge—with a van Persie who has used up his quota of mishits and will score at the first sniff of an opportunity.
Germany v. Brazil? I think not having Neymar won’t damage their chances hugely, Dante is a worthy replacement for Silva and Luiz is crazy, but also that Germany master all types of play and Löw will know how to keep Brazil quiet. But if Brazil carry on being so crazy, as it seems they are doing—jogo loco—no plan will help, for then they are completely unpredictable.
Time for pancake-making now, then cutting the grass, afterwards I am going to read your letter and perhaps do a bit of writing, though probably not, tomorrow we have guests and there are a lot of practical jobs to be done. Talk soon!
All the best,
Karl Ove Knausgaard was born in Norway in 1968. His debut novel, Out of This World, won the Norwegian Critics Prize in 2004 and his novel A Time for Everything was a finalist for the Nordic Council Prize. For My Struggle: Book 1, Knausgaard received the Brage Award in 2009, the 2010 Book of the Year Prize in Morgenbladet, and the P2 Listeners’ Prize. My Struggle: Book 1 was a New Yorker Book of the Year and My Struggle: Book 2 was listed among The Wall Street Journal’s 2013 Books of the Year. My Struggle is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into more than fifteen languages. Knausgaard lives in Sweden with his wife and four children.
Fredrik Ekelund was born in Sweden in 1953. He published his first book, Stuv Malmö, in 1984, and has since published another sixteen works—novels, detective novels, collections of poetry, and three books about soccer. Ekelund is also a playwright, and has made two films (with documentary filmmaker Lars Westman), as well as working as a translator specializing in Danish, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.