Sunday, July 4, 2010
Vacation Diary - Day 9
We left Visby at around 11 this morning, to catch a noon flight back to Stockholm - one of the few airport-related occasions when setting out an hour in advance provided way too much cushion. It's also the only commercial flight I can recall that was actually in the air earlier than the departure time printed on the ticket. We were in our Stockholm hotel by 1.15 - again staying at the First Hotel Reisen, although our room this time isn't quite as nice (last time we had a balcony).
We had a quick lunch at the underground "Art Cafe" and then walked to Moderna Museet, the Modern Art Museum, on the island facing the hotel. Stockholm was infinitely busier today, and in fact it was almost hard to recognize it as the same place. Part of this might just be weekend volumes in general, although a Red Bull-sponsored event was drawing big crowds in the harbor - as far as we could tell, it mainly consisted of people dressing up in wacky costumes and taking dives. I'm not saying it couldn't qualify as performance art, but we had something even classier in mind.
I rather wish I'd thought to buy a poster or something from every modern art museum we've ever visited, because it would be quite a wide and quirky collection by now. It's possible to get a little tired of so many works asking the same questions about the nature of representation, the generation of meaning, the relationship between the artist and the spectator, and so forth...and of so many curator's notes merely reiterating those same themes. Once in a while you'd like to see a modern artist wholeheartedly devoted to a more prosaic preoccupation like "Wow, I really love milk," or "What a shame frogs can't talk." That (very) minor observation aside, they're endlessly rewarding and provocative destinations. The Stockholm museum has enough of a collection at least to give it some table stakes - a few Warhols, some Legers, a Dali, and so forth - and of course a variety of one-offs and oddities.
At the current time it also has a quite extensive exhibition - it seemed like more than 100 works - by Ed Ruscha: the program says his work "is driven by a fascination with the power and enigma of language and characterized by a delight in paradox, ambiguity and the incongruous." The word "delight" seems well-chosen - seeing so many Ruscha paintings in succession (often consisting of a single word or phrase against a background), you sense consistent applied curiosity and investigative focus, but little over-elaborated pain or heaviness. The museum's basement also had some more challenging videos and installations - that's where you usually find the stuff they're not sure about, in the basement (see, even the power sockets are edgy!). Indeed, this all would probably have rewarded greater concentration, but I guess you'd say we just sampled it (we are tourists after all).
There's also a National Museum, but we're not going to bother with that - it's probably mainly of interest if you know your Swedish history, and anyway everyone we've seen going in or out of there has looked very ancient, so I'm not sure we'd be able to distinguish the exhibits from the visitors. We wandered round a little bit more before returning to the hotel. Stockholm is absolutely gleaming today - it's a beautiful, restrained jewel of a city (I say restrained because nothing about it seems remotely gaudy, except perhaps for the van we saw driving round to advertise a local strip joint). And no one should begrudge the Stockholm residents this gift of summer - the cab driver was moaning to us that the snow comes up to his roof every winter and he just can't take it any more (so he intends to split his year between Sweden and the Far East).
I just lapped up The Phantom Of Liberty - I've seen it numerous times before, but I can't tell you how much I enjoyed watching it (and, of course, watching it in Sweden is worth an extra something). Ally meanwhile has finished the Amanda Boyden and Annabel Lyon books she brought along, and won't be detained for long by the current Elmore Leonard, so we will need to go shopping for adequate return-flight reading - I was suggesting the first of the Stieg Larsson trilogy might be worth a try given the local resonance, even if she'd be coming a little late to that party (I suggest virtually all the books she reads because I'm more tuned into reviews and suchlike, but because I'm always watching movies (etc.) I seldom read any of them myself..might sound odd, but usually works out...)
In the evening we walked out of the old city and into a presumably more "normal" neighborhood, which alternated drabness with thriving city activity. We walked through what looked like university grounds - not the most handsome of campuses, but still with the traditional accompanying color. From there we found ourselves in a series of atmospheric old streets, the kind where you could bring in a bunch of actors in circa 1900's costumes and you'd barely need to change a thing to guarantee your movie's verisimilitude. Crossing back into the old city, we went to a restaurant described by the guide books as one of Stockholm's best, and to our first disappointing meal of the trip, mainly due to inattentive service, something I truly hate from somewhere obviously putting itself out there as being a notch above (Ally had elk burger; I had pasta with beef, which I might have liked more under different circumstances, or maybe not). We abandoned our plans to hang out there and went back to the hotel, where we drank a bottle in front of the water, and the brief interruption in our good mood evaporated.