Consistent communication has never been my forte. After a message from my father and a “Where the hell are you, girl?!” thrown at me once or twice, I received a clear statement that I have to live up to this blog entity I created (despite lots of writing in my own notebooks). The major reason I disappeared for two weeks is because I felt like I couldn’t share any new stories until I recapped Lapland. It became an overwhelming obstacle in the way of sharing all the other profoundly ordinary things going on here (think Royal Ballet, the real Opera house, more island visits, Stockholm trails, sauna rules, etc.).
So I’ve come up with a solution: skip it. You’ve seen many of the pictures on the Facebook album. I’ll come back to bits and parts of Lapland on this blog when it feels right. Now in the spirit of this new-found blog liberation (!), I suppose the best place to start is with yesterday’s happenings, the freshest material on my mind. A typical atypical day. In the event you’re already wondering how to go about making a typical day atypical, I’ll be upfront and give you the simple recipe right now: one part luck to one equal part openness (though if you’re short on luck, feel free to be generous with the openness).
I felt a little short on luck in the morning. I had grand plans to wake up early and get in a run and strength workout in the rare sunny weather predicted, but I awoke to wet and gloomy skies, and missed my alarm for early dawn. My full day of class began with a technology mishap (a.k.a. sitting in a lecture hall waiting for the lecture to happen for 30 minutes) and overall contagiousness of head-nodding fatigue.
Yet come 14:30 (yes, I’m on European time…get used to it)—when our class let out early—I was re-enegergized by the brisk air outside. I had two options: 1) go home, run and workout as planned, relax, be on time to meet friends for an Of Monsters and Men concert, or 2) go straight into town, buy a rain jacket, find Konserthus to buy tickets for the upcoming Stockholm Jazz Festival, make a visit to Fotografiska, and otherwise wander around and possibly [realistically] miss meeting friends for the concert
I chose the second choice.
I went straight to Stadium (think Swedish Dick’s Sporting Goods) and bought a red soft shell Haglöfs jacket on sale. Cold rain is no stranger to Stockholm, and not having some sort of water repellant layer when I run just isn’t cutting it anymore. Funny note about the Haglöfs brand: it’s everywhere. And I can’t tell if it’s because Swedes truly understand a quality product and value its technicality for Scandinavian winters, or if it has been popularized by trendy city folk to reach “Gucci” status similar to the way Patagonia has in the States (“Pata-g-uuci”).
Next mission: to find Konserthuset to buy jazz fest tickets. En route, I stopped at a McDonald’s to use the WC (see right). I witnessed the single-most uplifting use of a cobble-stone bike path EVER in the form of a paralyzed young man using his power wheelchair to bomb through bike lanes at high speed, all smiles. There was a wild ambition in his eyes as he blazed past cyclist, showing no mercy for complacency. I also stumbled into a church next to the Opera house and melted into a pew: a surprise male tenor was practicing a melody. Genre preferences aside, it’s impossible (or just plain stupid) to walk away from the live sound of billowing and refined vocal chords. You can catch a glimpse of the sound if you promise to pay no attention to my distracted filming (skip to 0:18).
When I arrived at what I thought was Konserthuset (Stockholm Concert Hall), it quickly became apparent that I had confused it with the Royal DramaticTheatre. I wasn’t where I wanted to be, and also farther from the next stop on my list. Rather than circle back downtown on a handful of metro lines, I decided it would be quicker and more pleasant to catch a ferry directly to Södermalm (location of Fotografiska) by walking to the next nearest island. As a bonus, I could catch an afternoon fika at a cafe I had eyed out during a run.
This chosen cafe was Lilla Hasselbacken; it’s a moment’s walk from the ferry dock on the island of Djurgården. I peered in at rather empty looking tables with picnic-style tablecloths and considered moving on, but know from past experience that “family-style” modest eateries can prove to be the real gems in a town. That said, it’s a tough gamble—especially in a city littered with sharp coffee shops keen on design that are utterly enjoyable to be in. I proceeded inside, ordered a latte, and listened to the sole patrons of the cafe: a large, friendly-eyed older gentleman pouring over papers, perhaps the owner himself, speaking to a a young Japanese man sitting at an adjacent table.
“That’s the office, right there in that basket…the whoooooole office!” the big-bellied man said as he pointed to papers on the table and a red shopping basket at his feet that looked as if it had been stolen from Grand Union. “When I bring it home, it becomes my home office. When I bring it abroad, it becomes my international office! I have quite large business, ay!” The young Japanese man laughed a bit and stood up with his camera. “Picture?”
Suddenly, I was roped into a photograph under the burly arm of the large man. “A picture for the Hokkaido-Shimbun Press!” he bellows. “Join me!”
It’s unclear whether or not I actually had a choice to join in, but I like to think I did so willingly.
The man making my drink sat down a large drinking glass on the counter containing a semi-depressing latte…at which point I was also forced into buying a piece of over-refrigerated chocolate cake to meet the shocking card minimum that literally doesn’t exist anywhere else in all of Stockholm. It wasn’t the smooth perfection in a colorful ceramic mug I had envisioned for my Friday fika treat, but I made it a point to not let myself care. I sat down amongst over a hundred pictures and paintings of Royal gardens and late 60’s Coca-Cola advertisements to eat my fika in all its diner-esque glory.
I will summarize the following happenings in Lilla Hasselbacken from that point:
- The Japanese man wrote the name of the newspaper he works for on the back of a receipt for me. Turns out that Hokkaido-Shimbun Press is actually real.
- The big man with the “portable office” set his business card on the table in front of me and introduced himself as Tommy—the owner. A very friendly guy who wants to make you feel at home.
- I began writing all this down in my notebook.
- Tommy commented on how lovely it is that I write. As a “reward for remembering” he gave me not one, but two free passes to Gröna Lund, Stockholm’s tiny but punch-packing amusement park. WOWZA.
- Tommy more or less offered me a job. But Tommy…I don’t speak any Swedish… “Ah, it’s fine. It’s just the old folks, and you’ll win them over with confidence and kindness.” Right…
Two and a half hours later, I thanked Tommy, promised to return, and left Lilla Hasselbacken to head to the ferry. I walked past the entrance to Grona Lund, snapped some photos from the ferry dock, and got psyched about the opportunity to visit the park (which I wouldn’t have spent money to do otherwise). I began scheming a good approach to selecting a lucky guest amongst a solid crew of international friends.
By nature of the day, this problem was solved quickly. I hopped off the ferry in Södermalm and rushed along a boardwalk in harsh, cold rain to get to Fotografiska, the photography museum. As predicted, I had abandoned the idea of the free concert in lieu of getting to view the Sally Mann exhibition before it closes at the end of the month. On Friday nights, the museum and its bistro are open until 23:00, with acoustic singer-songwriters or trendy Stockholm DJs rounding out a commendably vibrant scene.There is much to be said about my love (and obsession?) for this place, but that will come later.
I arrived completely soaked. On my way downstairs to hang my coat to dry, I saw a young woman my age struggling to scan her ticket to enter the museum. I stepped aside to help. She mentioned she was from Russia. I used the one solid phrase of Russian I know from audio tapes this late-summer: “YA ne ponimayu russkiy,” or, I don’t understand Russian. She says, “Oh, you speak?!”
Thirty minutes later, we crossed paths again in the exhibition hall. Usually, conversation initiation sparks from one person or the other, but in this case—I mean, come on, we were in a silent, dark museum hall—I would say it took both our energies for spontaneous combustion to occur. We started talking about our respective stays in Stockholm, and within minutes were exchanging numbers to meet up the following day.This is Alena.
“You know where I want go? Much want to go…errr…tomorrow?” Alena says. I asked her where in a hushed voice; we were still in the exhibition. She draws loops in the air with finger, up and down, up and down. “Gröna Lund.”
I dug through my bag and opened up my notebook to display my new tickets. I put one in her hand. “You…me…we go?” I asked. It took a few minutes to explain the situation, but when she finally understood that the tickets were free…and that I was inviting her to go…and that she would still have a ticket even if we failed to meet up…her eyes lit up like a child receiving a balloon-animal made after his or her favorite pet dog.
Unsolicited alignment of lives. It’s a fabulous feeling to be a part of.
Episode Two? Danika and Alena go to Gröna Lund. Coming soon.