So, the journey started well. We had been driving for three minutes when Olivia announced she wanted to be sick. Once at Stockholm airport (which seemed like a lifetime later) we lost Leonardo. I had that awful pit-of-the-stomach fear that only losing a child can give you. Eventually we found him, chatting to two Swedish girls who made Paris Hilton look like a red-neck.
“What were you doing?” I asked him.
“They’ve got nice gros-gouttes,” he replied grinning broadly. Gros-gouttes in the children’s word for breasts. This boy is three; what he’ll be like when he hits puberty is not worth imagining.
Although I was partly brought up here in Sweden I feel like a foreigner here. For a start it is 4.15 am and I am wide awake. The sun is shining. What is the point in that? In the winter it is dark all the time and in the summer it’s light all the time. That seems mad to me. Also everyone here eats meatballs; all the time. If you go out for lunch or dinner you will be surrounded by Swedes happily chomping away at their national dish. Now I like a meatball as much as anyone, but every day?
I am no longer surprised that on September 3rd 1967 the entire population of Sweden changed from left-hand to right-hand drive. Most of them live in identical houses painted the classic Falu red. They all eat the same food and they all drive Saabs or Volvos. It would be more of a challenge to get them to do something different.
Not that I’ve anything against this uniformity, or in fact Falu red which is as nice a colour for a house as you could wish for. It just seems strange to me now.
Yesterday we had a lovely day taking the children around Djurgarden which is an island a short boat ride from the hotel. It is entirely made up of fun things to do like a museum dedicated to Swedish characters from children’s books like Pippi Longstocking (where you can meatballs for lunch), Skansen, meaning zoo but which is actually an open-air museum dedicated to Swedish history and tradition (lots of red houses) as well as home to lots of animals including bears, wolves, seals and the totally mad-looking elk.
We ended the day at Grona Lund, a funfair. This is a name I remember from my youth. It was where you wanted to go and get drunk as a teenager. I never went then but now I have and although I was sober it was good fun. Generally I loathe funfairs but as with everything else we saw yesterday this has been very well done. There is no foul-smelling food but nice hot-dog stands (another national dish, just in case you can’t find a meatball) and lots of trees which give it an almost park-like quality. The rides of course are mainly terrifying. We went on a children’s version of a sort of human falling elevator which was far too much for me. I did enjoy the ladybird roller-coaster though; just the right amount of fear mixed with exhiliration.
So now it is 4.30 and I suppose I may as well get dressed. Luckily breakfast starts early. Meatballs of course.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007
you ought to tell them that the colour of houses changes throughout Sweden according to the traditional local minerals used in the paint.
And you could talk a bit about Sybilla, Max, Systembolaget, Apoteket, Abba seafood, telia, SAS, the 5 grades of milk and other national treasures.
Actually looking forward to going back soon
There is much to like in Sweden, as you well know. And much of it is odd, like nowhere else. For example,
Swedish fences (gärdesgard or something)
Fermented herring (surstomming)
Sour milk (filmjölk)
Vasa museet in Stockholm
If I had my photos, and I thought about it for awhile, there would be other things as well. The first thing I saw in Stockholm was a Saturday afternoon parade of transvestites, gays, lesbians and other gender benders. They were on floats, many were half-naked, some were engaging in sado-maso acts, all were having a great time. As were the many Swedish families out for their Saturday stroll. They were watching or not watching the show, smiling and carefree, but above all not shocked or judgmental in the least. It was all very “bon enfant.”
And speaking of fences, how about the national tradition and policy of making your property open to all (I forget the term for that, there is one), even those who want to sleep on it? Indeed, what’s not to like?
Last but not least, there’s the Nobel Museum, surprising, informative and unpretentious, and all those “outdoor” museums.
I envy you your half-Swedishness, and would love to be in Sweden right now. This is the lovely season….
Me again. Ever curious, I searched for the term for the concept of free public access to private property, which gives everyone the right–Swedes and non-Swedes–to walk on and even sleep on someone else’s property. It’s “allemansrätten” is it not? Unless that means “all men are rats” in English…
Anyway, it’s a wonderful concept that the rest of the Western world has a hard time getting its mind around. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau sadly noted so long ago, civil society and all the trouble started with the first guy who staked out a piece of the land, put a fence around it and proclaimed “it’s mine, no trespassing.” So I raise my glass or bowl of filmjölk to the Swedes and say “sköld” or whatever. All the more power to them.