Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Almost Buy A Spatula

Hour 78

I am running to catch my flight to Stockholm.

Hour 89.5

Getting off the plane, I develop a game plan. Once I've substituted familiar words for difficult foreign names, it sounds something like this in my head: "Catch the Arlanda Express into the city. Buy a 3-day travelcard from the Presbyterian, then catch the T-bana to Maria Turandot. Walk three blocks on Robitussin, turning left at Skull Garden. If I hit Kierkegaard's Grandaughter, I've gone too far." Since I struggle to pronounce basically anything, asking for directions can be a challenge. Listening to people talk here feels like getting double-bounced on a trampoline, the accent falling on unexpected syllables.

I arrive at my destination-- a subterranean hotel without internet access run by a wonderful man whom I suspect is gay. Other lodging options I consider and rule out are a repurposed prison (too far from the metro for an easy stroll with a mammoth bag and it's smaller cousin, even if they roll) and a ship moored in the harbor (the bunks are rumored to smell strongly of varnish).

Hour 92

My initial foray out of the cave dwelling I now call home is to procure the basics: reading material and food (in that order). I find success with the first objective at a hip little bookstore, Papercut, that reminds me of one of my favorite stores on Clement Street in San Francisco, Park Life. The attractive asian guy behind the counter is playing Mindkilla (the Lee "Scratch" Perry remix) by Gang Gang Dance on a program called Spotify. I tuck two new books into my bag. Life is good. I end up dining on salmon over candlelight with sunlight streaming in the window at Creperie Frya Knop. Life is even better.

Hour 99.5

I wake up at 12:30 am thinking it's 8 am. Still off kilter.

Hour 110.5

I miss the morning ferry out to the skärgård because I am lost near Hornstull. Consequently, I have some time to kill.

Looking around at my options from the ferry landing, I am attracted to the greenery over a nearby bridge and start walking that way. As I pass by the National Museum, I notice a huge banner hanging over the entrance that's advertising an exhibit called "Lust and Vice". At first, I can't figure out what I am looking at... then I realize it's a 17th Century nun with her skirts hiked up over her bare ass (which has been pixelated in an effort to keep the image appropriate for all ages). Since she's got a fair amount of junk in her trunk, the censored portion of the painting takes up about a quarter of the banner. I go inside hoping to find it reproduced on a brochure or postcard I can send to Evan, but no dice.

Seagulls cry out in protest overhead as I make my way along the seawall. Fishing boats shaped like pill bugs creak quayside in time to the sound of my backpack shifting side to side on my shoulders as I walk. Shrieks from an impressive-looking amusement park on the next island over carry across the water.

The sun is merciless despite the breeze off the ocean and I regret the fact that all my shoes are at least a size and a half too big (for various reasons too trite to mention). Blisters start popping up with abandon. Because of the heat, the European penchant for near public nudity is in full effect-- thongs and bikinis are de rigueur for the geriatric set and the massively overweight (which does wonders for my self esteem).

Exploring a second island of public gardens in the middle of the city, I find Rosendals Tradgards, an organic farm selling fresh greens and sparkling limeade with springs of mint. I picnic under a grove of fruit trees and shoo away the geese that creep ever closer to my feast.

Back on the subway in search of something to bring on the ferry for dinner. A couple of five year olds in lime-green safety vests count to three beside me before shouting out in tandem, "Poop!" and "Penis!" in a game of their own making.

Exiting the underground, I nearly fall on my face in excitement when I catch sight of a MUJI store tucked into a larger home goods emporium in one of the metro tunnels. I greedily pick up some exquisitely lightweight pens and a spectacular black plastic spatula and get in line to check out. As I wait my turn it occurs to me that I don't really NEED the spatula (even though it is GORGEOUS) so I forgo the indulgence and save myself the indignity of returning home with a piece of Japanese kitchenware from Scandinavia as one of my few souvenirs.

I get a to-go order of steamed dumplings and some soup on St. Eriksgatan, both from places recommended in Design*Sponge's Stockholm guide. To my embarrassment, I find myself telling an elaborate lie involving unrelated half truths when the super friendly staff at one cafe ask me how I found out about them... Inga, art school in Brooklyn, husband in Montana, friend of a friend. They are thrilled when they confer and agree they recognize a regular customer from my description. I stuff dinner into my bag and skulk guiltily away as they call after me to send their regards to Inga. I am the lowest of the low.

I turn my ankle more times than I can count walking in cowboy boots on the cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, where the shade of narrow lanes offers some respite from the sun. Wares hanging for sale in a doorway in the tourist section remind me that hippie clothes smell like hippy clothes the world over. I follow a woman in a floral dress walking four West Highland White Terriers down a deserted alley and stumble upon the Old Town Lodge and am reminded of how much I love finding an unexpected treasure when traveling.

Hour 116

The lean of a sailboat crossing the ferry's wake makes me catch my breath. Silhouetted by the setting sun, people line every available sea margin-- the railings of bridges and balconies, glacier-polished granite banks that gleam like whale backs. We pass a cove where twenty small white sails practice maneuvers in a tight bunch below a crane painted like a giraffe. Further on, at the entrance to a wharf flanked by new high-rise apartments there's a statue of a nude male getting attacked by nunchucks or reaching for the stars-- I can't tell which. Life boats that look modeled on submarines cling to the sides of towering cruise ships like so many yellow barnacles. Passing through the islands off Stockholm, these behemoths with their smokestack dorsal fins look like orcas moving through a school of herring.

In my hurry to grab something to eat for the ride, I forgot the need to hydrate as well. I down an entire basket of strawberries in an effort to quench my thirst. When that fails, I head downstairs and buy a bottle of water. My first gulp gets spat overboard. I take a second look at the label and from what I can make out, it's a sparkling rhubarb-flavored drink. Well, dang.

A couple flirt a few feet away from me in broken English. The man tells a dirty joke --something about fishing and a pole going up and down-- and the woman looks away in embarrassment. In an effort to make amends, he adds, "Joke I make for you. I could make signature like autograph." She appears mollified. I wonder idly where Tiger Wood's ex-wife, Elin, bought her house out here. I didn't realize until now that she's pretty average when you look at Swedish norms-- biracial marriage, kids, gorgeous blond, fit, second home out in the country (the in-flight magazine said around 60% of Swedes own a rural getaway!).

Hour 119

Gällnö (an island whose name reminds me of chicken broth for reasons I can't explain) turns out to be the idyllic sum of familiar parts:
  • Burnt By The Sun's dacha (sans the impending soviet doom)
  • Room With A View's dappled meadows (sans the epic scale of romance in Italy)
  • Tahoe's aspen, granite and crowds of vacationing families (sans the mountains)
  • West Marin's rope swings and pastoral splendor (sans the dairy farms)
  • British Columbia's chain of islands (sans the kookiness born of isolation).
It's silent except for insects buzzing in the slanting light. The air is heavy with the scent of roses, pine woods and sea spray as I walk down a dirt path flanked by waving fields of green grass to the island's hostel.

Hour 123.5

A little before midnight, I wake up and systematically kill two mosquitoes. I hear a boat's motor chugging away in the distance and think, "If Evan were here right now I would whisper, 'Smugglers!' in his sleeping ear." Other strange impulses I've had recently? Greeting people in Hindi and Swahili. Successfully resisted so far.

Hour 133

I wake up with a sore throat. Doh.

Hour 135

Lunch at the island's only cafe --housed in a beautiful old farmhouse-- astounds my tastebuds. Fresh. Local. Organic.

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