Top 10 from my Nobel night

December 12, 2010


The Nobel banquet must be one of the most extravagant annual dinner events on the planet. Every year the organisers allow a few journalists to join the festivities and rub shoulders with prize winners, royalty and other notables. This year, I got to go. The food and wine were certainly fit for a king (a good thing, too, since there was a king dining among us), and there is really nothing quite like dancing to a 20-person brass band. In a time-honoured journalist tradition, I’ve made a “top 10 list”.

10. Bling. Everywhere. Jewel-encrusted handbags, gold tableware and all those tiaras. I was blinded.

9. And yet, humility. Dale Mortensen, an American economics laureate, thanked all his teachers and said winning the prize reminded him of a quote by Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

8. Numbers. How do you pull off a three-course, sit-down dinner for 1,350 people? With more than 260 waiters, 45 cooks, 7,000 pieces of porcelain, 5,000 glasses and 10,000 items of silverware (some which apparently go mysteriously missing every year).

7. Unconventional. Leave it to independent-minded Sweden to turn my culinary world upside down with its highly secretive Nobel menu. To my surprise, the truffled turbot paired deliciously with a California cabernet sauvignon (yes, red!).

6. Bold. I have always been baffled by the Swedish need to wear so much black in the dark of winter. Nobel night is a wonderful exception. Gorgeous gowns of every colour were set against a backdrop of freesia, gerbera and hyacinths — all flown in from San Remo on the Italian Riviera, where Alfred Nobel spent the last years of his life.

5. Time zones. It pays to be in the wrong one. On my left was a jolly journalist from Hokkaido, who said newspapers in Japan had already been put to bed. I’ll deal with this in the morning, he told me, enjoying the moment. On my right, tense Peruvian journalists gulped their wine and devoured their dinners in minutes before racing to file reports to their audiences six hours behind snowy Stockholm.

4. Baby bump? The hot topic of conversation was whether another member of the Swedish royal family was on the way. The recently married Swedish Crown Princess Victoria sported a loosely fitted gown, consumed very little alcohol and had what some reckoned was a tell-tale small bump. She was, indeed, glowing.

3. Cutting loose. Watching politicians, executives and the Nobel laureates get down to Rocky and Sex Bomb in the Golden Hall. Alas, press conferences with these people will never be quite the same.

2. Skaal! There is a strict code in Sweden regarding toasting etiquette. Raise your glass, look your tablemates in the eyes, swing at the air ever so slightly (no clinging!), sip and repeat eye contact before setting glass down. At my very international table there was a whole lot of clinging – cheers, kampai, salud!

1. Dream big. Ei-ichi Negishi, a chemistry laureate on his lifelong quest: “Receiving a Nobel Prize is the ultimate recognition for a lifetime spent questioning, exploring, experimenting… For me, receiving this honor is a 50-year dream come true.”

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