The summer 2006 a couple of my fellow students and I decided to follow a course in Stockholm University, Sweden. Being poor students as we were, we could not just drive up there. We had to engage in the dangers of public transport. And we quickly learned that five minutes walk from station to station can be hell, dragging around your heavy luggage, not know your way. Five minutes easily turns into twenty. Before you know it, you are the last one arriving in a room full of people, just waiting for you, so they can get started. A nice beginning. Having the introduction completed – what a nightmare, thirty people saying their names all at once, like I was going to remember that – we continued to getting settled in the rooms we had rented at the dormitory. I was placed in a dormitory with only boys studying math, physics, and chemistry; I did not expect us to talk much with me being a girl studying literature.
Day 1 – Our teachers took us on a tour of Stockholm. Most of this day was spend in Gamla Stan, the heart of Stockholm still standing in its old baroque style. We walked on paths so narrow that if you stretched your arms out, you could touch the houses standing on both sides of it. We looked at a lot of churches. My favourite must definitely be Klara Kyrka. It stands as an enormous evidence of what the 1500 century people were capable of. The building must be five or six floors high, but with only one floor inside leaving a huge air space with magnificent religious paintings. Sitting inside this church gave me a sense of being very small in a big universe, and at the same time one could loose oneself looking at the paintings. Leaving the church I saw a guy sitting with a sign saying “Homeless my ass – I just want to get high”. It really put a perspective on the experience. I had been giving myself away to the past, and the glorious thought of life. Meanwhile, I had forgotten the realities of life. The sign also made me think of other signs I had seen through my time in the town.
- A sign outside another church saying “There are some questions that can’t be answered by google”
- A sign next to a open field saying “Obey this sign”
- A sign next to a dock saying “When floded turn around don’t drown”
- A sign next to a western-style bar – and my neighbour Victor’s favourite bar - saying “No service will be provided at this bar to anyone on a horse”
- And a sign next to my dorm saying “Caution – this sign has sharp edges”
It really made me feel like a foreigner, because I do not think I understood the humour in it - At least not in the same way that the Swedish people do.
Day 2 – the next day I got up around 7:00 AM. I was beginning to get used to living in the dormitory. Without thinking about it, I walked out to the others had breakfast with them in the kitchen instead of eating in my own room. It actually surprised me how quickly I was at feeling at home in this new place. It made me think that maybe it was not true that women were from Venus and men from Mars, or maybe I was hitting it pretty good of with these “Marsians”.
We spend the day in Uppland looking at different runes. The bus ride up there was a drag, and our teacher would not stop talking about some old politician called Olof Palme, who he apparently knew. I was sure this was going to be a long day. Our first stop was an old burial ground with old rock crosses that was almost falling apart and crows scouting the place for opportunities. When I was approaching the tomb with the runes, I realised our teacher was translating what it said, as he was reading it. I think it was then I decided that he was not that bad, and began to enjoy the trip. Around noon we arrived at Bällsta tingsplats. The place is in the middle of the wood just next to the sea, which of course gave us an excuse to cool down in the water. In the 1000 century on of owner of the thing place, Ulvkell, died, and his sons raised the rocks in his memory. Even though there are 10 meters between the rocks, they are to be read as a single text. What makes the reading even more difficult is that the text is written on the body of a snake crawling around on the rock in between itself. A spectacular view, only I could not really see the coherent sentences my teacher was reading aloud. We had dinner out there in the woods. Only I forgot to bring something, except the Dole raisins my son gave me before I left. He loved those raisins.
When we finally came home the boys in my dormitory was leaving to have a small party at the local beach, and invited us to come along. At the beach we parted into smaller groups discussing different topics. The physicists were talking about accessories to their computer.
- “Have you heart about Logitech’s new keyboard?, it perfect for gaming.
- I’m much more into their web camera, the solution is perfect.”
Next to them were some mathematicians with a little girl reading a book.
- “Daddy, is that a parrot?
- Yes, that was good. Now, what is that?
- Is it a penguin?
- No, it is a blackbird, look no white stomach.”
The beach was practically humming with life and joy. Walking down the beach with Victor made me think of one of P S Krøyer paintings “summer night at Skagen beach”. We were not husband and wife walking down the beach, but we still had the sun crawling down into the sea, reflecting its warm colours in every direction.
Day 3 – Before going to class I went over to the neighbour house to pick up my friend. It turned out to be a bad idea. There was an Asian couple staying at the same dormitory, very nice people. But, unfortunately, they eat big meal in the mornings. The entire floor smelt of it, as I passed the kitchen I noticed red and white onions and large baking potatoes, and I thought: How can they start out something as heavy as that. If I have more than a cup of coffee, I’m inches from puking all over the place.
Today we were going take a walk down August Strindberg’s memory lane, trying to experience things like he did. We had to read “Ensam” by August Strindberg, follow the movement in the text. Luckily I had already read the text. I found at home, put it on a flash cart, and read it during our terrible trip up here. What surprised me was that even though the text was from my favourite period I did not really like it. There simply is something special about the way the authors in this time explain themselves. Women were on the verge of gaining proper respect, many were stepping over the line, which resulted in very interesting stories. Nothing like the plot less movies we have to watch today, were some jerk jumps out and kill everybody with an Uzi. But I simply cannot respect a man like Strindberg that is so afraid of women, he even has to intimidate the one he makes up in his texts. Perhaps it is just a time thing. Me being too narrow minded, because I come from a freer time. One good thing did come out of it. I got a chance to see some very special places in Stockholm which Strindberg perhaps did not appreciate, but I definitely did. We started our walk on the narrow street Nybrogatan, with the high houses reaching up toward the sky almost blocking the sun. Just next to the royal theatre Nybrogatan with Standvägan, which view of the sea and Djurholmen. It is exactly on Djurholmen that Strindberg’s memories are spiked as he enters Djurgårdssletten. In his description it is a park where families meet to have picnics and enjoy nature, which should be a nice thing, but Strindberg associates it with negative emotions. I suppose it have something to do with his negative view of the family picture.
The rest of the trip I went clubbing with my friends and Victor, and finishing the assignments necessary to pass the course.
Jonathan Gold (1960–2018)
4 hours ago