Posts Tagged ‘Stockholm’

Last night as I was leaving The Liffey pub, the band was playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” I don’t know how many years it has been since I have heard that song, but it instantly transported me back to the US. It reminded me of my friend Ted who loves John Denver, as well as my cousins Kara and Kristy who were born in West Virginia. And finally, it reminded me of my Dad who played John Denver on his turntable. I felt warm and fuzzy and left with a smile on my face.

Then as I walked into the Gamla Stan (Old Town) subway station to come home, a street musician was playing ABBA’s “Thank You for the Music.” Just as quickly, I was back in Stockholm.


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Sunset in Stockholm. Photo by Linda Pinkham.

Sunset in Stockholm. It looks like the skater is leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Photo by Linda Pinkham.

While the daylight hours are getting ever shorter here, the light remains spectacular. The low angle of the sun in the sky softens and warms the colors, thus creating the most amazing sunsets.

The view in the photo is from Junibacken on the island of Djurgården.

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You never know what you’ll see on Södermalm, the island in Stockholm where I live. It’s such a mix of old and new, fun and funky. On Sunday, I saw two small ponies in the little park on my street. They were giving children rides for a birthday party. Today, I saw an older couple dressed in the traditional woolen costumes of days gone by. And yesterday, I saw a naked neighbor sunning and stretching herself on her balcony. I’ve seen people walking their cats, parrots and pot-bellied pigs, and an old man cycling with his German shepherd in a huge basket on the front. It’s just this sort of unique diversity that I love about Söder.

Historically speaking, Söder was s rural, agricultural area until the 17th century. Then it became the home for the working class. Now it’s known as the red wine drinking, alternative culture, bohemian center of Stockholm. Whatever the label, I like the vibe.

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I love the summer light in Stockholm. I think I’ve said that before, no? The light this time of year gives me amazing amounts of energy and good vibes. There’s still light in the sky when I go to bed at midnight and it’s full-on light when the sun wakes me up at 3 am. I don’t care that the light wakes me up. As I said already, I love it. I can’t get enough of it. I love coming home at 10.30 at night when it’s still light. I love how the sunsets go on for hours, with the deep reds, pinks and purples growing ever deeper at 10, 10.30, 11 and so on. It’s mesmerizing to look out my windows at the water and to see how Lake Mälaren changes colors as the hour grows later.

But I am miserly with the light. It makes me anxious when the day is gray. Like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter, I bank the sunny days in my memory to save them for the dark days.  I don’t want to give the light up. But inevitably, I have to. In my part of the world, it’s just a summer romance after all.

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We were out in the center of town last night for dinner at 8.30. As we were in Östermalm, it should have been packed at this time on a Saturday night. But it was quiet. And it had been very quiet on the subway as well. In starting to marvel at this fact, Robert and I suddenly remembered: the Eurovision Song Contest was on and Sweden was competing with the rest of Europe in a battle of the pop bands. This is big stuff in Sweden and indeed throughout Europe. Eurovision is where the world was first introduced to ABBA, for instance. And national pride is a at stake as well. But as neither Robert nor I are Europeans, we had forgotten about the contest.

Quite frankly, I don’t get all the buzz about this contest as the pop ballads are generally not to my taste. But it is an interesting cultural phenomenon on a lot of levels, so in the interest of doing as the locals do, I turned on the TV to check out the end of the show when we got home. It was quickly easy to see that this year’s contest was no contest and Norway easily won. Their entry featured a 23-year-old named Alexander Rybak who played the violin and sang a Norwegian folk ballad while a folk troupe danced around him. It was quite an amusing spectacle and not at all my style, but rather entertaining anyway. Interestingly, Sweden’s representative this year was a 38-year-old mezzo soprano named Malena Ernman. She could sing, but she didn’t do so well. At least “we” sent a good singer, even if she did not win!

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I love it when stereotypes are broken down. Yesterday in my spinning class, there was a traditional looking Swedish man in his 60s on the bike in front of me. Normally, Swedish businessmen of his age and look are rather quiet and not given to saying much. But that’s a stereotype. And it is one that was quickly broken for me as this guy periodically let out loud yells during the class as he got pumped up. I loved it. It was so unexpected and it pumped me up too.

I also loved it that this guy reminded me of how harmful stereotypes can be. When I first moved to Sweden, I hated it when I would be stereotyped for being an American. On my very first day of Swedish class, my instructor told the class that she did not like Americans. As the only American in class, I was mortified and more than a little bugged by the unfairness of her comment. This was just the first of a long line of stereotypes that were tossed my way by both strangers and acquaintances. I would get asked: why are Americans so loud? (Or so friendly, so fake, so chatty, so conservative, etc.) Of course, these were all rather impossible questions to answer and instead of just laughing about them, I would get annoyed. It seemed cruelly unfair as I could not help where I was from. Filled with righteous indignation, I would rant: judge me because I am not a nice person, because I took your parking spot or for some other “crime.” But don’t just lump me in with your preconceived notions of Americans.

These days, I don’t get so bothered by the stereotype questions. I figure I can be a better representative of my country by just being me and in turn maybe breaking down a stereotype or two.

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King Carl Gustaf checking out some of his birthday festivities. (Note: he's the tallest guy!)

King Carl Gustaf checking out some of his birthday festivities. (Note: He's the tallest guy!)

I hung out with the King on Thursday. King Carl Gustaf, the King of Sweden, that is. It was his birthday and there was a big ceremony going on at the Royal Palace in Gamla Stan (Old Town).  If truth be told, I did not actually get to talk to or meet the King, but I did go to his birthday celebration. You see, I was out walking with friends when we heard the firing of cannons on Sheppsholmen, one of the 14 islands that form the center of Stockholm. Leslie remembered that it was the King’s birthday, so we made our way up the hill to the palace where all the celebrations were happening.

Another view of the celebrations. The tiny figures in the window on the right are Princess Madeleine and Queen Silvia.

Another view of the celebrations. The tiny figures in the window on the right are Princess Madeleine (in the white) and Queen Silvia.

Crowds of well-wishers with cameras and Swedish flags were gathered around the palace where all the king’s horses and men were putting on a show that featured the standard changing of the guard along with some extra touches. The marching band played a hilarious medley of ABBA favorites and the crowd also sang happy birthday, first in Swedish and then a small but determined group sang in English as well. Although I did not see Prince Carl Philip, the rest of the royal family was there, including Queen Silvia, heir apparent Princess Victoria and Princess Madeleine. I should have been working, but the day was gorgeous and it was fun to hang in such close proximity to the royals. Maybe I can meet them for real next time . . .

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