Eskimo Horror

I had a grim story to reveal that Cornelia did not know about . . .

 LOCATION Upper West Side
PRICE $162,000 in 1987 plus $148,000 in 2000 [$1,500 maintenance]
SQUARE FEET 1,080 [one-bedroom and studio combined in pre-war co-op]
OCCUPANTS Cornelia Ravenal and Mikael Södersten [writer-filmmakers]

This room with the 18th-century statue of Vishnu . . . [Cornelia] This room doesn't represent both of us. Some of the kitchen represents both of us. I always thought that New York kitchens should be dark and sophisticated—I am from Washington, D.C. Then when Mikael moved in, he was used to blond, Swedish wood, light and airy. Now this room is the nighttime room. We're also in here in the morning writing together. We rarely come in the middle of the day because we're both in our separate offices. My office is in the Swedish room. [Mikael] When we did the bathroom, we were keen on keeping it northern style and that to me meant white and black and we have the harbor . . . [Cornelia] To me, the bathroom is Zen and rustic. I wanted a bathroom that brought the outside in. It has almost the same materials as the roof across the way. [Mikael] We have different entrances into the problem but with harmonious results. That integration . . . [Cornelia] It's such a little room but we spent so much time thinking about it. [Mikael] We began to think of it as the masculine bathroom because we have two. [Cornelia] But you can't see it.

I won't look. You met at Harvard. In 1982. We reconnected online in 2001. I wrote him: So are you married, happy, with children? [Mikael] I didn't want to send her a reply in which I didn't appear successful, particularly to an American, for whom success is so important, but I had to be honest. My reply: No.

Mikael Södersten and Cornelia Ravenal
photo: Brian Kennedy
Mikael Södersten and Cornelia Ravenal

Didn't you live with the Inuit? During my time in Sweden, one film project took me to the north point of Greenland, where the people believe they live in the navel of the earth. [We discuss.] [Cornelia] When we first got together, we went to the Museum of Natural History. I wanted to show him the people from South Asia, where I have traveled. He wanted to show me the Eskimos. [Mikael] I had a grim story to reveal that Cornelia did not know about.

And? Robert Peary, in order to finance his trip, brought back and sold six Eskimos to the museum. No, not dead Eskimos. But they died by themselves rather quickly, from pneumonia because there's so much bacteria. [Cornelia] The story gets worse. [Mikael] One survives and he sees his father being buried. After that, he was raised by a museum employee. At 17, he discovers that his father has not been buried properly but his bones are . . .

In an exhibit! [Cornelia] Yes! [Mikael] No. It said that in the newspaper but that may have been rumor. The bones were used for scientific purposes and his brain was put in formaldehyde to be used as a research object. It was a scandal at the time. [Cornelia] We'd had one date before, when I was living with my first husband who was—Egyptian, six-four. [Mikael] He was a tall guy. [Cornelia] With a very deep voice.

Then you bought another studio, broke down a wall . . . I wanted a home office where I could hold meetings, writers' groups. I had also been interested in esoteric design philosophies like feng shui. You have to clear the bad out to let the good energy in. Then Mikael came and that became the Swedish room. [Mikael] You have embraced the Swedish style and I am very happy with that. [Cornelia] The other fusion element—the Swedish-looking candleholder that I found. I wanted to get 40 made for our wedding. I sent out an Internet request to a consortium of Indian manufacturers: "Can anybody make these?" A man with a factory outside Delhi e-mailed: I can do it! [Mikael] We use candles a lot in northern countries. [Cornelia] We'll be lighting them soon tonight. [Mikael] We're a pale people.

 
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