Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wild Strawberries and A Walk on the Wild Side

Panna Cotta at Stockholm's Cafe Albert
"I've lost all that Bahamas feeling; it's like I was never even there!" grumbled a co-worker, two days after returning to work from her Caribbean vacation. "Tell me about it!" I replied in New-York-speak. "It's like I was never even IN Sweden!"

I took the photos of the desert and the fish during my last days in Stockholm - so I could later remember the taste and ambiance of the place. Cool, crisp and civilized. But Sweden I've discovered, has another side, and as I waited in line at security at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport on my day of departure, I realized that the dark Bergman-von-Sydow-side of the Swedes had taken a hold on my psyche. What WAS the point of the vacation, any vacation?

Arctic Char at the Hotel Diplomat
It seemed to me that a vacation is merely a winding-up followed by an unraveling. It's like you do a heap of things and then proceed to UNDO them in reverse order.

Ten days before, I'd packed. Traveled TO Newark airport. Placed my case on a conveyor belt. Waited. Traveled to Stockholm. Taken my case off a conveyor belt. Caught a bus to a hotel. And now - I had traveled on the bus from the hotel back to Arlanda. I was about to undo everything and to return to Newark airport. Get a bus back to the apartment and unpack everything I'd packed in step 1. Bizarre!!!

Is a vacation like Bertrand Russell's table that ceases to exist when one is no longer looking at it? It seems so. And as I waited for security, my mind wandered further. WHY did I take those two photos? Was I like the blind man in Jocelyn Moorhouse's film Proof, taking photos to prove the existence of an unseen whatever? Whatever.

Clearly my Swedish experience had had some effect on my mental stability and had brought a new dimension to the term, "The Stockholm Syndrome". I was certainly identifying with the glass-darkliness of human existence - yikes, "existence" - that word again.

On arriving at the gate area I noticed several Swedes drinking straight vodka. Bloody hell; it was only six in the morning. I also noticed that the chairs were not cramped together as in U.S. airports, but separated by attractive wooden tables which clearly DID exist. Well they did when I was looking at them ... Pity though, the spaciousness meant there weren't enough seats for the 400 plus people waiting for the boarding call.

I stood waiting for the call and pondered my trip. I'd enjoyed it. I'd seen both sides of Sweden. The dark and the light. I remembered the guide at an archeological site at Birka where Vikings once ruled the northern seas. "We will be stopping digging shortly. We must do so because it would not be fair to our sister archeologists in the future if we took everything. We must leave them something to find". Sounded like a vertical job-sharing plan over the millennia. Personally I thought it was a bit over the top. Social-correctness gone viral.

The boarding calls started. More unraveling. I boarded the plane. I took my seat and fell asleep almost immediately. I dreamed of cool places in a land where the sun never seemed to set. Of blond citizens and cool designs. Of clean subways and girls wearing thick leggings under flimsy summer dresses. I dreamed of a land of contradictions where death plays chess and archaeologists don't dig.

Through a bus window. Darkly
And then I woke. Unraveling I got up where several hours ago I sat down. I left the plane instead of getting on it. I walked OUT of the airport instead of entering it and took a bus away from the airport, instead of to it.

Reality check. What was this? Where were the cool people walking leisurely down wide streets? Where was the silence? Horns beeped. The temperature was 100 degrees in both scales and rising. Look at those people. Frazzled. All different colors. Where were the blonds?

I arrived back at my apartment building and went IN through the revolving doors where last time I'd gone out. I unlocked the front door instead of, as before, locking it. I UNpacked.

The Wild Side
I was unraveled.

And then a great insight from some place that cannot exist as I cannot see it, descended into my New York frazzled mind.


Maybe the Swedish archaeologists should be putting their archaeological finds BACK into the earth for their as yet unborn colleagues. After all, that would be the fair thing to do.

Perhaps I'll them write a letter suggesting it.

I'm already planning my next trip to Stockholm. To collect my Nobel Prize.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yore story echoes many (or all) of my recent experiences.
We, Bunny and I, have reached the point of saying, "Why are we vacationing when our whole life is a vacation?"
To seek out new experiences? See old friends?
Well, how many of our old friends come to see us? None? One a year?
How many miles do we travel to see old friends? 1800. Then when we arrive and are unpacked, do they travel 30 or 40 miles to see us? No. "Drive over" they say. Bugger that, we are on an island and the ferry fare is $20. We've come a long way, why don't they come over to the island and see us. We'll even feed 'em. "Oh, we never go to Vashon Island!"

I ask Bunny if she would like to spend a week or two on Hawaii. Why? Swim, sunbathe, eat mangoes and pineapple? We do that every day where we are and we have the comfort of our own home. Revisit places of our youth? Everything's changed and you can't go back again or you will be very disappointed.

So, do we vacation? Well, if we can see some new art galleries, new architecture, fresh fish.....maybe. We'll see.

We saw Scandinavia in the Sixties and it was great. Our memories are clear and we have photos of that young, happy couple stealing away from reality for a couple of weeks. Been back to Oz and been disappointed 'cause it was different from the early Seventies and it was not the Sydney of my youth.

You really can't go back, but if you can get away from work and the routine of it, maybe it's great to have a total change of scenery. But if you think travel gets easier as you age, forget it! Do it when you are young.

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