Oct 25, 1973

The Captain’s Blue Tie: Meeting the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama in Copenhagen 1973. Photo: Benny Gunnø
The blacktop glimmers in the morning frost. I’m standing on a Swedish highway. Sometimes walking, sometimes extending my right thumb. My favorite means of transportation, very cost-effective. Hitchhiking. Back to another day of high school in Denmark.

Last year I gave up earning money, that work of the devil. I get by on the monthly allowance of ten bucks, which my father graciously doles out, the last day of the month. It’s enough. It goes to bus tickets and to some tahini for a special mixture of honey and peanut butter with corn flakes. I use it for bread spread to the great disgust of my father’s wife. And that’s why I’m standing here on the freezing road, on a Swedish winter morning, instead of sitting in a warm bus. And that’s also why all of a sudden a car screeches to a halt.

“Erik jump in!” Some Buddhist friends have recognized Erik’s figure. I’m wearing a standard issue sheepskin coat from the Swedish Army’s surplus. I sport a mane of greasy hair almost to my shoulders; underneath I wear a jacket from the mountains in Nepal that smells like goat when it gets wet. It’s tied together with a handmade belt. I have pimples, and no girlfriend. Over my shoulder is a knapsack, big enough to fit a sleeping bag and the Surangama Sutra, the one where a line of bodhisattvas tell about how they discovered the entrance door to the inconceivable nature of reality by reversing their senses.

My friends yell: “Don’t you know that the Dalai Lama is coming to Denmark today on his first visit. We know which ferry he’s on. We can just make it, if we drive 100 km an hour.” The speed limit is 60. Looking out the window, I see the road is covered with a thin layer of glittering ice, like an endless mirror stretched out under the sky to reflect the morning sun. “Great idea,” I respond.

The Dalai Lama is ushered on to a small ferry. He travels with a large retinue. I never heard about this small ferry connection, very incognito. As he leaves the boat, the captain, who obviously has had a conversation with him, is charmed, smitten. He has taken off his tie and holds it, offering it as a scarf. Perhaps he knows it is the Tibetan way. By chance I happen to stand right there, surprising the bodyguard.

The Dalai Lama folds his hands around the captain’s and I hear for the first time the now famous Big D Laugh. The laughs that is famous for not laughing at someone but with someone. It seems the King of Tibet laughs of much more than can be said in words.

“Thank you very much. But I don’t wear ties.” Whisked into the waiting cars, the Dalai Lama and his retinue are quickly gone.

I see the captain still stands there on the bridge, holding his blue tie.

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