Monday, July 29, 2013

Time, I Need More of It

I have not had time to write. Yes, I am back from Sweden but there were several topics I did want to work out on paper so to speak and I just never had time when there. I literally tried to squeeze every second out of every hour out of every day there. I was leaving the apartment pretty early and falling into bed fairly late, wonderfully exhausted from miles of walking, exploring and savoring each day.

I am writing this more for myself so that I will remember the topics. Number one, the insane baby boom in Sweden ( I really, really need to "talk" about this with someone who cares), finally understanding the legions of posters on The Local who have left Sweden but have some odd obsession with the place to the point where they hang out on message boards dedicated to the place and it's news, Cafe Saturnus and it's madly huge kanelbulle. I am sure there are more but these issues will be broached in the coming weeks.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Man Bites Dog

"With their snoots in the air,
the Star-Bellies would sniff and they'd snort 
"We'll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!"

Big news, Sweden is a pretty class conscious place. Oh, I know that is not the visual one gets when they think of Sweden. Americans, well one's with a favorable view of leftism, want to believe Scandinavia is the place that really got it right. Well, honestly, after many years of reforms, Sweden is less leftist that places like Massachusetts or Berkeley, California and most Swedes are certainly less militant about the whole thing.

Let's face it, all the wanna be communists now reside in the United States but let me redirect myself from this rant.

When I first moved here, I didn't know one area from the next. In fact, I was quite puzzled when I would get this wide eyed nod of approval when I told people I lived in Vasastan. Honestly, I did not get the differentiation. Most areas looked the same to me with the possibility of exception to Östermalm. You definitely get the feeling of being in a more tony area around those parts.

Similarly, I noticed when my friend would state she lived in Kungsholmen she would not get the same comments and nods of approval. Strange, right? Especially since my first impression when looking for an apartment was that I liked Kungsholmen the most. It almost has a NY village feel in some areas. Almost.

Well, now that I have stayed in both areas, I can certainly feel the difference. There is a small but definite class shift between the two. Kungsholmen is still in the city and highly sought after real estate. You'll see less Audis, Range Rovers and BMWs. More of the area is here in July and not at their summer house. It is just different.

This zip code compartmentalization is just one example. There are quite a few things that I, personally, do that I can tell do not meet the, more elitist, Swedish approval.

I shop at Lidl. And I like it. OK, so it is very often myself and other immigrants, kid's buying candy, drunkards, sort of red-neck (yes, they do exist here, en masse) hellions but, whatever. I like the place. It has great produce. McKennedy has pretty much nailed the American taste buds with his line of Americanish products. They sell the best olives ever and where else, in Stockholm, can you buy a pair of damn fine looking Tom's knock offs for 120sek?

I went to the flea market. I was met with multiple cross eyed looks of utter disapproval and bewilderment with that one. "Do you like that sort of thing?". "What are you looking for?" "I have never been".

I am sure there are plenty more but you get the jist. Fact remains, we humans are a strange lot. Just as the sneeches in Dr. Suess' famous childhood story, we will always find ways to differentiate ourselves off from other humans. Ways to affirm our predominance just as a strutting peacock will fan his tail. So it is and so shall it forever be.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Uni-Sex Tinkling

Though I have never encountered this in Sweden (or anywhere else, for that matter) before, I have to say it is so uniquely Swedish, I felt obligated to take the photo. The ABBA museum has a gender neutral bathrooms. Well, they have a handicapped/nursing bathroom and one shared men's and women's bathroom.

I do not really have an opinion on it in either direction. Shocker! Hey, when I have to pee, I do not really care if it is an extraterrestrial/ human restroom, I am going in. I am not above using the men's restroom either. So, a unisex bathroom means little to me.

At the end of the day, I know this is not an exercise in better use of resources or space and more a socio-political move. An illustrative exercise to help shift the societal view that, yes, men and women are very much the same. This, ofcourse, is very Swedish and I accept that. Not that I necessarily believe it. I very much believe the world shook out the way it did for reasons and as the pendulum shifts one way it will eventually shift the other.

This rest room, though, was sort of a half hearted effort. A baby step in the direction of gender equality. Men and women waited in separate lines and went to separate sides of the rooms to their stalls. "Weak sauce", I thought. Unless you are going to be stall by stall-she making all sorts of menstrual related noses and him, stinking the place up as only a man can do, why then we are still, pretty much, admitting to differences and differing needs between the genders.

ETA: I noticed the mixed gender rest rooms yesterday at Gröna Lund. Funny, I had never encountered them in all the time I was here but now I am running into them everywhere. Either way, they were certainly unisex, all the way.  There was a man in this one undergoing a full bathing ritual in the sink, replete with finger brushing his teeth sans toothpaste.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hammarby Sjöstad

I spent the morning visiting a friend who now lives in Hammarby Sjöstad. It is an area outside the city that I have never visited. Always up to see something new and to have a reason to take the train to far away stops I have never had a reason to visit, I was very game when she suggested to take the train out to see her rather than her come into the city.

I have heard about Hammarby. I knew that it was billed as some sort of eco-designed planned living concept. I guess, a sort of city outside of the city with everything the residents would need all very close. Supposedly it is planned to have half the environmental impact. What I did not know was that it was, for a long time, a run-down industrial area that was transformed into this conceptual living space.

It seemed to have all the perks of suburban living as well as the benefits of city living. Running paths on the water, stores and services with in walking distance, spacious apartments, family friendly, pretty architecture and cleanliness. Ferries come frequently through out the day that take you down town and a tram comes every three minutes taking you to the main t-bana routes.

My first reaction, a few years ago, when she told me where she was moving and the concept was pretty much, "meh". I had heard stories of residents selling their cars and forming transportation co-ops (apparently that idea has since fizzled as people have realized: does not work so good in reality as it does in concept). As soon as I hear sustainability, green, eco, etc., I pretty much tune out. My mind gets visions of commie blocs, poor water pressure and over zealous eco-freaks reporting neighbors for improperly sorted garbage.

Hammarby seemed pretty idyllic and a nice place to raise a family. A solid compromise with city, water and nature in reach. I even detected a hint of envy as my friend described her yoga class with the instructor from Brooklyn.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Take A Chance on Me

If you change your mind, I'm the first in line
Honey I'm still free
Take a chance on me
If you need me, let me know, gonna be around
If you've got no place to go, if you're feeling down
If you're all alone when the pretty birds have flown
Honey I'm still free
Take a chance on me

I did not realize how much I have missed this place until I actually got here. I was greeted by the giant Abba mural and the wonderful and familiar smells inside of the gate of the always immaculate and modern Arlanda Airport.

Abba makes me happy. Makes me long for (what I imagine in my mind to be) the idyllic 70s of Sweden. The era, I am told by older Swedes, where tourists left cameras or wallets on buses only to frantically return an hour later to find the wallet untouched in the same exact spot. The era of Abba, hopeful idealism and relative innocence.

I am not exactly sure if that world was how I imagine it. Though, I do see and feel vestiges of it still in modern Swedish society which only confirms my romanticized view of how things were.

Overall, it feels excellent to be here. So oddly familiar. I walked nearly the entire city for the past two days. From the apartment on Kungsholmen where we are staying, through my old haunts in Vasastan, the city and it's center, through the Old Town and to the very end of Södermalm. Amazed at all the beauty that was once my back yard, taking in the wonderful smells that only Europe smells like and overall reminiscing about the way of life Stockholm offers.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

T Minus 14 Hours

Today is the day we are leaving. Well, technically tomorrow. However, my shuttle comes at 3:30, meaning I have to be up by 2:00 and that, in my mind, is still today. I like to plan excruciatingly painful travel plans. I mean, I hate them while in the midst of them and I dread them with every fiber of my being before hand but afterward they are so much more memorable and, often times, funny.

When we went to Rome we flew out of Stockholm on Ryan Air at 6:00. This meant we had to be up at 2:00 to get to T-Centralen to catch a bus to get way out into the countryside to that airport that services Ryan Air. A completely memorable experience.

This past winter we flew to Panama on the red-eye, stopped over in Miami and finally touched down in Panama City at lunch time the next day, with the time change. Agonizing. We could not waste the day. We spent the day exploring the city of foot. Completely painful but again, memorable.

I routinely flew the red eye to Germany on British Airways, stopping in Gatwick for six hours layovers with a two year old daughter in to. Painful. So tired my eyes felt like they were bleeding. So cold, as the more tired I am, the less my already less than limited tolerance for cold gets. Again, memorable. Fondly so.

Planes to busses to ferries to more busses to get to destinations. There is a long line of similarly painful experiences I have subjected myself to and, in retrospect, I would not have had it any other way.

Looking forward to stepping foot into Europe and continuing my love/not so love relationship I have with the place!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sensible Shoes

I thrifted these, I'd have to say, pretty much, horrible shoes from Goodwill yesterday. It occurred to me that I don't really own any city walking shoes or shoes that are not sandals. It also occurred to me that I really do not have a use for such a kind of shoe or really any sort of desire to own them either. Plus, I know I am going to be doing untold amounts of walking and will, basically, just trash them in the month that I am there.

I was heading that way anyway because my daughter was looking for the worst 1990s high waisted shorts she could find. It's a trend. Girls love them. They cut them off and add rivets and studs. They look much nicer than the 1990's variety.

It was 50% off day at Goodwill. Crazy. I could not even find a parking spot. All different sorts or people: the trendies (probably looking for high-waisted shorts), the anti-society types who shun shopping and corporations, people who seriously need to shop at Goodwill, people with a whole brood of kids who seriously need to shop at Goodwill too. Really put-together women waited in line with bundles of clothes that just by the very act of sitting in their carts, suddenly looked pretty refined and better than the smelly merchandise surrounding me.

Me: "I think I could spend $1000 dollars in here. Today."

Daughter: "I am 1000% finished. I am going to have a breakdown".

Me: "You need to learn to compartmentalize better. Block it out."

All in all, it was two hours. Two pair of 1990's high waisters, two pair of ugly walking shoes, a brand new IKEA belt organizer, two Pyrex D-handle collectible milk cups and a really cute H&M blouse (nearly new). Total damage $18. What's that, about 115SEK? Did I mention the shoes were Steve Madden, one pair brand new?