This last weekend in Stockholm has brought us many blessings. One came in the form of Liam, a 60s-ish-old Irishman with a mouth full of blarney and a penchant for taking younger Americans under his wing. Under his care, my sister and I got a tour of the best views in Stockholm and an unexpected visit with Izzy Young, an American expat/folk music legend who’s been living for the last 40 years in Stockholm (apparently, he signed Bob Dylan and a bunch of other guys before they became famous *shrug*). Liam also drove us to our hotel (in the rain; thank the Gods for talkative Irishmen). The blessings also came in the form of Kerstin, a older woman from Stockholm who made us a traditional Swedish smorgasbord dinner in her home, and then took us to an ongoing traditional Swedish folk music and dance session in Gamla Stan (Old Town), walking us home afterwards.
Yesterday was our last day, and it was All Things Sweden, All the Time. In addition to bring transported around town by Liam and Kerstin, my sister and I wandered about Stockholm, getting the homemade Swedish clogs she wanted (her one Must Have from this trip), and enjoying a unexpectedly hipster take on traditional Swedish meatballs (what’s old is new again, in Sweden as in America). Then we were just able to get in to see The Gold Room (Guldrummet) exhibit, a permanent exhibit at the Swedish History Museum (Historiska museet), which is where much of the expensive archaeological artifacts from Birka went. (It also includes a bunch of random gold and silver items–most of it from uncovered hoards and/or old churches–because GOLD. And SILVER. Why not?) And I picked up yet more useless Viking swag because, well….Vikings. 🙂
Sunday night we slept on a boat. A BOAT, which is currently floating on Lake Mälaren. (It has a peephole window looking over the lake, and bunk beds, and everything!!) Between this and our visit to Birka, my inner child was running around in one constant state of SQUEEEE! Even the ugly, rainy, cold weather that we had that day could not put a damper on it. (Of course, our Irishman and Swedish woman helped out, too.) I am coming home from this trip with a stone from my Aunt Hannah’s grave; slate from an even older family-ish graveyard; three more generations’ worth of ancestor details, thanks to a local genealogist; the love and connection with a town we never knew and the inhabitants who knew how special it was for us to visit; pictures of the flowers I planted on my aunt’s grave after we had cleaned it up after 35 years of neglect; an intimate understanding of the word and concept fika; an abiding passion for cardamom sugar rolls (apparently my sweet tooth is genetic); and a better understanding of the land the Vikings lived on and how it must have shaped their actions and choices.
And finally, a deep, deep appreciation of and longing for this world full of people who look like family and act so unpretentiously civilized, understated, and liberal (so unlike much of my actual family!) My sister describes much of the trip as being in a constant state of deja vu. No matter how you parse it, clearly, something was already ready and waiting for us in Sweden. So many of the experiences we’ve had here have sunk in so deeply and so fast, like old gears finally shifting into place; and I have no real way of knowing if I’ll ever be back. It’s a wound I cannot heal, and I’m somewhat afraid that the more I visit, the bigger that wound will get, which would really suck. I have many more experiences to relate, and they will likely come out over the course of the next few months. But as for now–
Sweden, you are like a best friend I didn’t even know I had. And I wish I had less trite of words to speak it with, but I don’t. I see the wave of pain and grief hanging out off of the shore, waiting to hit, and I don’t want to go home. I’ve been in the US for about six hours now, at JFK, still on my way home, and it’s been a huge letdown–the food, the people, the service, the attitude. (Even the weather’s not much better :p But I never did like New York that much, anyway. I’ll be happier once I finally land and can start attacking this jet lag. And have my own car again!)