Monday, July 5, 2010

Vacation Diary - Day 10

At one point it seemed we’d get going earlier today, but then I drifted back to sleep and things again converged on the magic hour of 11 am. In most cities, you see landmarks and head towards them, or pick out places on the map, and they turn out to be further away than you think. In Stockholm it’s the opposite – we embark on what we think will be an hour’s walk, and it takes about fifteen minutes. So in a couple of hours this morning we explored virtually all of what seems to be the higher-end shopping district adjacent to the old city, wandering up and down many streets with elegant stores, long-established trees, and a slow summer ambiance. We found a covered market with lots of outstanding-looking food selections, no less appealing even though it seems every city now has such a market, and actually we live within five minutes of a pretty good one ourselves. We bought a sandwich and some cookies (and not that I want to reduce everything to a lowest common denominator, but it also seems to me that macaroons have all of a sudden become the predominant global cookie, not that there’s anything wrong with that). Oh look by the way, Sweden actually has some of those dumb-ass Segway things!

Afterwards we went to a movie. Whenever we visit a new country, if time and logistics allow, we like to do this, the quirkier the film the better, and over the years it’s built up into quite an eclectic list of experiences (most recently we saw The Brothers Bloom in Jerusalem). This one worked pretty well – we went to see The Joneses, which barely played anywhere in North America, but given the vagaries of international distribution found itself a screen in Stockholm (it was just us and two other people though, so maybe the North American decision-makers knew better). Demi Moore and David Duchovny play a pretend married couple, who move to a high-end community with their two pretend kids, embodying a perfectly designed and accessorized existence; they’re in fact a sophisticated form of product placement for their high-paying sponsors. It all works fine until, of course, everyone involved starts to want more. With its enjoyable if obvious critique of American materialism, the movie might in theory have played better to a more distanced European audience, although just about any viewer would likely wish for a sharper outcome. Anyway, it easily achieved what we wanted for it, although since a multiplex in one country looks more and more like a multiplex in any other, the experience becomes less distinctive over time (we actually couldn’t find the theater and had to get directions from someone in another theater, then we came round the corner and it was this huge colossus currently topped by a big plastic Shrek figure - hence my point about the standardization of experience).

Anyway, after that we wandered a bit more (and we finally bought something too – take a look, aren’t you jealous?!) and then we went to the Nobel Prize museum. It’s perhaps a bit of a disappointment because it spends too much time (and repetitively so) on the life of Alfred Nobel himself, and not enough on the prize’s recipients and what they may have represented, but on the other hand, I guess there are a lot of them. There's a little auditorium playing short films on some of the more interesting individuals, and the body of the museum has a weird moving banner display of all the winners, trundling over your heads, so at any point you might look up and say, oh yeah, Harry Martinson, that was a good one (literature, 1974). Since there are too many banners to be on the move at any one time, the rest are all bunched up at the starting point, conjuring the thought of Nobel Prize winners patiently waiting for their turn on the ski-lift. Anyway, it’s a great institution of course, but (for one of many examples) the choice of Barack Obama for last year’s peace prize – which I didn’t think made much sense at all, and which they must surely be regretting since his cold-blooded "calculus of war" acceptance speech – seems to demand more than the mere formal acknowledgement it receives here.

We passed a little group of (I think) Turkish protestors, but the impact was blunted since they’d positioned themselves behind a big stationary horse-drawn carriage (honestly Turkish protestors, you should have moved, that’s what any Nobel prize winner would have done). My Visa card hasn’t been working for several days - I should have called about it, but I guess I’ll leave it now until I get home. Then today I couldn’t use my bank card either. Maybe the white collar crime guys finally stumbled on my role in the derivatives thing and froze my accounts. Anyway, I’m entirely dependent on Ally to pay for everything, which is why she bought herself a big ice cream and just let me lick up whatever happened to drip on the ground. Nah, she was actually nicer than that. We also went to a bookstore which has a selection of Swedish books translated into English – apart from the Stieg Larsson stuff, this appears to consist entirely of lots of Henning Mankell, some guide books, a study of Norwegian exchange rates over the centuries and (I swear) a shelf-full of Abba. A customer was asking at the front desk whether they had any English-language books on mining. Boy, did that guy get a wrong number…

I think I was correct that yesterday’s crowds were due to the weekend – it’s much sleepier again today. There are tour buses, but they mainly seem to bring Scandinavian visitors to the nearby Royal Palace, which I guess means more to the locals than to us (all we see is a big grim looking building with a single guard outside doing the don’t-let-me-smile thing). And despite a somewhat overcast start today, we still have not had a single drop of rain. Anyway, we returned to the hotel for a couple of hours. Later we went to another restaurant, more than making up for last night. It had a cavernous kind of ambiance which we liked; Ally had chicken and I had quinoa salad. I'm pretty sure no one who's not officially vegetarian ever orders the quinoa salad, but I feel last night's order of pasta with beef did not reflect the true me, and I felt redeemed and happy (I've liked the idea of quinoa ever since David Lynch made his weirdly mesmerizing quinoa-cooking video). We kept on ordering drinks until we were the last ones in the whole place, so folks, I call that a success.

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