Dr. Aaron Klug, professor of chemistry at Britain's Cambridge University and a bespectacled scholar of 56 with a shy but twinkly smile, is one of the 1982 Nobel laureates. He is also a man who says he has ridden the same bicycle for 30 years. During a press conference Tuesday at the beginning of Nobel week, he was asked how it felt to be here to collect this most prestigious of scientific honors.
There is, Klug replied after a moment's thought, a sense that "this is some elaborate stage production in which I'm an actor." But, he added, "I'm concentrating on my lines. I'll do whatever is necessary. I'll easily continue to see the week out."
By their nature, the Nobel awards for science, economics and literature, which were presented at a gala ceremony Friday night, are unique in the big-time world of prize-giving. They tend to go to private people, the sort who would devote a lifetime to the laboratory or the solitary writing table. And yet for Nobel week, the highlight of Stockholm's social year, they become highly public property, celebrities, accorded acclaim and attention of the movie star variety. No wonder Klug -- who won the Nobel for finding a way to decipher the shapes of many molecules--finds it a bit baffling.
"For 10 months each year we are in business, looking after the fortune" said Count Stig Ramel, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, "then for two months, preparing for the ceremonies, we are in show business."
The laureates are housed in the better suites of the Grand Hotel and travel everywhere in sleek black limousines. Guided by specially trained Swedish escorts, they meet admirers from here and abroad. Photographers and reporters abound. The winners' opinions are solicited, their genius constantly praised. The five-day-long official schedule is packed with lunches, dinners and receptions at palaces, embassies and venerable academic institutes.
In white tie and tails or long gowns, they feast with royalty at a lavish banquet amid all the glitter Sweden can manage. During the weekend, in private, they are handed checks for more than $150,000. It is head-turning stuff.
As impresario of the prize-giving established by the will of Alfred Nobel, who is the father of dynamite, Ramel is proud of the attention it attracts, at surprisingly low cost for the gala ceremony and banquet itself -- around $200,000. (A ticket runs about $50.) "We get more bang for our buck," Ramel said with a chuckle, "which is appropriate for the inventor of dynamite . . . "
The popular star of this year's Nobel week was Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the 54-year-old Colombian novelist with an enormous following in Latin America and several international best sellers to his credit. "With this year's prize," Lars Gyllensten, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said defensively in introducing Marquez, the academy "cannot be said to bring forward an unknown writer."
"Jumbo jets" full of Marquez's Latino friends and fans poured into Stockholm, according to director Ramel, who keeps track of such things, too many, alas, to be accommodated at Nobel events. Wherever Marquez went, the stocky, close-cropped, warmly handsome writer in tweed jacket and open tie created excitement. His arms raised high, he responded to greetings as though each person was his friend. Television crews camped in front of his hotel suite and in the Grand Hotel's lobby. To entertain him and the rest of the assemblage at the banquet, the Colombian government flew in Marquez's favorite dancers and singers.
Marquez, who has lived in many countries by choice or exile, has recently been staying in Mexico. Now, he says he's going home and intends to start a newspaper with his Nobel earnings.
Sweden's Socialist Prime Minister Olof Palme gave Marquez a private dinner Thursday night. Also attending were Danielle Mitterrand, wife of the French president and a strong supporter herself of the Latin American left; Regis Debray, the former revolutionary in South America who is now a Mitterrand adviser, and Bulent Ecevit, the former Turkish prime minister who was paroled from prison by the military government for the trip and understandably kept a low profile.
The week's dramatic highlight was Marquez's formal lecture to a packed gilt-edged hall at the Swedish Academy Wednesday evening. Marquez, in Spanish, delivered an emotional speech that lasted only 25 minutes but managed to sweep across centuries and evoke in his international audience, some of whom had misty eyes by the time it was over, a profound sense of common heritage.
Marquez called it "The Solitude of Latin America," a play on the name of his most famous work, the allegorical "One Hundred Years of Solitude." The themes were avowedly political, a catalogue of repression and poverty in his beloved South America, and the risk to the world of annihilation. But it was also a literary event and it ended like this:
"On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said [in his Nobel lecture], 'I decline to accept the end of man.' I would feel unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize 32 years ago is now for the first time since the beginning of humanity nothing more than a simple scientific possibility.
"Faced with this awesome reality . . . we, the inventor of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia, a new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible and where the races condemned to 100 years of solitude will have at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth."
This was the 81st year of the Nobel Prizes, established by Alfred Nobel, a moody and lonesome man, who in addition to his invention of dynamite had 354 other patents before he died on Dec. 10, 1896, the date commemorated each year in the awards ceremony. Nobel left a short handwritten will leaving most of his fortune to the establishment of an endowment to give prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace (the peace prize has always been administered in Norway and was presented last week in Oslo). An economics prize was added later by the Bank of Sweden.
The will, predictably contested by disappointed relatives, was not sorted out until 1900. Once launched, the prizes soon established themselves as a major international institution, most notably in the sciences. And so they remain despite criticism that choices for the literature prizes are often little known, and that too many peace prizes go to transitory achievements by politicians. This year, The New York Times even said the science prize money could be better spent on research.
Since 1970, according to the gold-covered annual report, the foundation's net income has increased 220 percent, well ahead of inflation. The present value of the estate is more than $50 million.
Foundation director Ramel, an economist and diplomat, is a lean and suave man with an engaging turn of phrase in describing the Nobel's affairs, and an easier manner than the awesome surroundings of the Nobel empire's headquarters at Sturegarten 12 in downtown Stockholm might indicate.
Over his shoulder looms the sober visage of Nobel, one of a number of large portraits and busts of the benefactor on hand, which Ramel points out were all executed from photographs because Nobel never consented to pose. In a centrally located glass case in the board room is the will that started it all.
Each year, said Ramel, the prizes seem to attract more attention and more people. "We have exactly 1,070 seats available for the ceremony and at least 5,000 want so much to come. But we can't put another seat in the hall."
Friday, 25 of those seats went to the families of this year's two American laureates, George Stigler, a 71-year-old University of Chicago economist and Kenneth G. Wilson, a 46-year-old Cornell University physicist.
Stigler, a gangling, folksy fellow who is the fourth member of the Chicago economics faculty to win the prize, noted cheerfully during a limousine ride between receptions that he marked his first weeks as a Nobel winner "beginning and terminating a career as a political adviser." Invited to the White House to meet President Reagan after the prize was announced, Stigler took the podium in the press room and, he now acknowledges, "incautiously" used words like "depression" to describe the country's economic plight and called supply-side economics "a gimmick." The session was abruptly terminated by press aides.
"They probably shouldn't have put me on," he said, "they were just trying to get a cheap bit out of my temporary notoriety as a prize winner. I'm not politically minded. I don't want a job . . . "
Stigler does not mince words. And while luxuriating in the pleasures of the award, he is blunt about the damage a Nobel can do to a recipient.
"The people affected badly by the prize are the ones who want to stop scientific work, which I don't. They can use it as an opportunity to get on all kinds of committees, do the lecture circuit, or as a platform to write letters to newspapers about nuclear warfare and other things they don't know much about. The award invites carelessness because people presume a range of expertise that, let's face it, most of us don't have.
"My view is that a laureate has a duty to be extra responsible because you are a representative of your discipline." As for celebrity, Stigler has no illusions: "All this passes fast. In three months you can make a lot of money asking your friends to name this year's Nobel prize winners."
Kenneth Wilson has the touseled hair of a schoolboy and not even the occasion of donning white tie and tails was enough for him to slick it down. Compared to Stigler, he seems timid but that is deceptive. An intensity comes coursing through when he talks about how his Nobel should be used. Wilson is on a crusade. He is determined, he said, to draw attention to the urgent need for universities and industry to collaborate in the development of advanced computers if the United States is to sustain its position in science and technology.
"The Nobel opens the corporate doors I need to get through," he said. "It is already happening and it is truly amazing."
Wilson is the son of E. Bright Wilson, a retired Harvard chemistry professor, who has, his son proudly notes, won virtually every award in his own field except the Nobel. As for himself, Wilson said, winning lesser prizes over the past decade or so helped prepare him for the buzz and fuss of the Nobel. "The greatest satisfaction is feeling you are really on top of your subject and having something as respected as the Nobel committee come along and agree," he said.
The Wilsons are a visibly close clan. Fourteen relatives showed up for the festivities, including his five brothers and sisters, and Wilson happily footed the bill for air fare and new clothes. "I guess it's like being in the World Series," he said, "you expect to put up 15 percent of the winnings in expenses."
At the close of Friday's awards ceremony, as the last trumpet strains sounded and the audience was filing out, the first person rushing on stage from her seat in the front row was Wilson's wife, Alison Brown, a computer specialist herself. Right there in the spotlight, they kissed long and warmly.
Under rules of protocol for events such as the Nobel awards ceremony and banquet, male guests are permitted a choice of tails or "national dress." Gabriel Garcia Marquez chose the latter, appearing on stage in a stunning "liqui-liqui," a white-linen tropical dress suit, with a tunic top. He carried a yellow rose, as did his wife, son and closest friends watching from the audience (including Regis Debray, dressed in white tie). Black formal attire makes him nervous, Marquez explained, because he is superstitious. A yellow rose, on the other hand, means good fortune.
For the rest of the laureates -- Klug, Stigler, Wilson, two Swedish scientists, Sune K. Bergstrom and Bengt I. Samuelsson, and another British one, Dr. John R. Vane--the climactic evening that began in the Stockholm Concert Hall was almost to the last carefully scripted detail like those of past years, which, the foundation believes, is as it should be.
The orchestral music was dominated by fanfares, "Pomp and Circumstance" and Swedish patriotic anthems. After receiving their prizes in turn from King Carl Gustaf XVI, the laureates bowed slightly to the audience and sat down, smiling with evident relief at whoever from the family caught their eye first.
Then, for the banquet, the whole assemblage was transported to City Hall, which is actually more a palace than a place of municipal business. Those guests not important enough for limousines were moved by bus, and the banquet began on time at 6:45. The massive center "Blue Hall," which is really red brick, was laid out with more than 70 candlelit tables, the long head table stretching through the middle.
The royal party and laureates descended from a balcony on a broad stairway, each accompanied by their dinner partner. Once arranged in place, the winners were toasted, as was, appropriately, Alfred Nobel.
By tradition, several hundred seats were reserved for students who pay a reduced price for entrance, but are also expected to be in formal dress and wearing their white students' caps. After dinner and brief -- no more than three minutes each -- acceptance speeches by the laureates, a student chorus sang.
The menu--written in French -- consisted of filet of marinated reindeer with mustard sauce, braised red trout with dill on rice and a fabulous Nobel parfait with spun sugar, two kinds of ice cream and petit fours. Champagne glasses were kept full. Thirteen hundred people were being fed in a cavernous atrium and the mood stayed festive as the hours wore on.
Or perhaps the glamor comes from something else. These are, after all, the Nobel awards, real honors for real people of accomplishment, and to Swedes, the prizes are a particular source of national pride. Sharing that pleasure may have been enough to carry the night.
On Friday, a few hours before the king was to award him his gold medal and diploma, Aaron Klug was having a hamburger at the Grand Hotel with his wife of 34 years, Liebe, and trying unsuccessfully to fix her fancy earrings with a hair pin. As he bit into the burger, Liebe brought him up short. "No pickles," she warned, "it's going to be a long time sitting and hot in there and you'll get too thirsty . . . "
And so, amidst all the pomp and glitter, Nobel week maintains an endearing family quality. Delighted spouses and children, parents and siblings, are decked out in new finery and either basking in the reflected glory of the honorees or, where neccesary, keeping the laureate in line.
When asked what he will do with the money from his Nobel, Aaron Klug said that after 30 years he is finally buying a new bicycle. Up close, the scale of the week stays reassuringly human.