Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vacation Diary - Day 11

We decided today to visit one of the many islands in the Stockholm archipelago, choosing Vaxholm mainly because it’s the one with the most boat routes. We missed the 10.30 boat by about ten seconds, but anyway that was just any old boat whereas the 11.00 boat was a “classic steamer.” The trip (some 16 km) took just over an hour (this by the way is a photo of our hotel from the water), and of course there’s always something alluring about chugging along on a boat, watching the sights come and go (Vaxholm is actually connected to the next island by a bridge, and we could have got there by bus, but how exciting would that be?) On arriving we had a bit of lunch and then embarked on what turned out to be - exceeeding our ambition - a three hour-plus walk around the island’s entire circumference. This included some very quiet residential areas, snatches of the shoreline, a camp ground at the island’s far end, and then a trail back along the other side, bringing us right out where we started. It was all very easygoing and satisfying. Throughout our visit in Sweden, the parks and paths and other public spaces have seemed much more widely used than we’re used to from other countries – in a way you miss the experience of leaving everyone else behind, but it's nice to feel the sense of mass participation .

I mentioned before how Sweden reminds me of childhood summer seaside rituals, and it sometimes feels like a bit of a throwback in other ways too. For example, both Visby and Vaxholm had copious posters for a traveling circus (two different ones). I vaguely remember traveling circuses in my childhood, but if they exist now, it’s off my radar. The circus coming to Vaxholm is called Cirkus Maximum and even has elephants, which I don’t think is really appropriate in our enlightened age, unless we assume Sweden in some respects isn’t enlightened.

It’s very clean anyway; I’ve seldom been anywhere with so little litter. What else? You hear a lot of English around here, often clearly as the common language between people from different places altogether – last night for instance an adjacent table had what seemed to be a Swedish and a German couple. For someone who’s not that strong in English, like a woman we heard struggling to get her point across at the hotel the other day, it can be a bit daunting. It’s hard to overstate how easy we have it. Swedish itself, from our warped perspective, often seems inadvertently funny, crammed with words like “Slut,” “Utfart,” and “Tvatt”…I expect an expert parodist could have a fine old time with it. Naturally I say this with full respect for the Swedish literary tradition (and hey, I have at least twelve Ingmar Bergman films at home!) But even if you have to absorb the shots and converse in funny old Swedish, better that than sitting morosely in silence, sharing a meal with someone you plainly have no remaining instinctive ability to talk to. We’ve seen a lot of that on this trip. We never have that problem because if all else runs out, we just talk about our forthcoming puppy Ozu.

And I’ll tell you something else – I think the Swedes really love lunch. Every lunch place is full by noon. Even at 11 you see people having lunch. I know that’s true at home too, but because North America’s economy now depends solely on maintaining 24-hour access to horrendous food, it’s not as interesting an observation there. And whereas Parisian dogs were usually off the leash – which, as I recorded, generates some problems – Swedish dogs always seem to be on their leash (some seem resigned to it, some don’t). Oh, and the female archetype of the tanned leggy blonde is only slightly less common than legend would have it. No surprise there, but I didn’t expect that so many Swedish men would have the look of taciturn paid killers out of lesser James Bond movies. And that’s the end of today’s Insight Corner.

We took a faster boat back, arriving in half the time. Then we actually purchased something, a painting by a local artist – we’d scouted out the gallery the other day. It’s a collage incorporating Audrey Hepburn’s face into a play of eyes and arrows, so obviously that’ll always remind us of Sweden. Then we returned to the hotel. I was in a bit of discomfort today – just mundane digestive stuff (which however has landed me in the hospital in the past), but that’ll be a cold day in hell, when I let that stop me from doing anything. Anyway, we are leaving Stockholm tomorrow, but we agreed we would ideally have spent at least one more day here – in particular because it would be so appealing to walk further along the water in various directions and see where it takes us. But then that’s the secret of quality entertainment, to always leave the audience wanting more.

Talking of quality entertainment, on the boat today I listened to Cream’s Wheels Of Fire and to Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds concept album, because I like to try and listen to everything on the ipod once in a while, and I figured I might as well burn off some of the duller stuff while I was fully occupied, visually-speaking. I must say War Of The Worlds in particular sounded quite a bit less silly and dawdling today. See, Sweden has its own kind of magic. And then back in the hotel I started watching Jean-Luc Godard's Helas pour moi, because you know, you ain't dealing with a chimp here. Oh my God! - for the first time in our trip, it started raining! Not too heavily, but it still impedes our perfect record...or maybe it just tells you we had good timing and we knew when to get out. Anyway, we had another fine last meal at Magnus Trotzig (last night's place was called Magnus Ladulas), a little more up-scale and very smooth and satisfying. I ordered a so-called mille feuilles constructed from root vegetables; Ally had a brisket dish, and we swapped a bit. We didn't stay out all that late because, you know, when you're done, you're done.

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