Stockholm HarborMore photos HERE.
14 August 2000
Being here with Christina has been a lovely healing time. We met 27 years ago in the summer of 1973, when she and Sam and I went to Hawaii as hippy youngster camper hitchhikers after she courageously backed out of a workshop being given by a narcissistic jerk who'll go unnamed. Whereas I had blocked out every detail of the trip, she has them all perfectly catalogued, such that I've been able to reintegrate a whole piece of my life previously gone to the land of repressed pain over feeling inadequate as one of a threesome in which each young woman longs for but secretly denies competing for male attention. We've had many good laughs, and I am moved by the beauty of her home, the vast Swedish countryside which surrounds it, and the comfort of an old, sturdy connection.
When we last left off, the "August Plan" would have me accompany Christina to her Vermland cabin by a lake for a few days, and then train overnight to Denmark where I'd stay in a private home near Odense for a few days, visit Danish countryside and bicycle around the charming isle of AEros before taking a ferry to Angelika in Keil; then training overnight from Hamburg back to my car in Paris, where I'd take off on Aug 18 for Brugge in Belgium for 3 nights; then Haarlem outside Amsterdam for 5 nights, and finally, 5 nights in Brussels before I drop off the car to be shipped on 30 August and fly home on the 31st.
Well, when Christina and her daughter, Maria, heard this itinerary they looked at one another like I was nuts and joined maternal forces to let me know in no uncertain terms that trapesing off to Denmark, carting my stuff on and off trains and bicycling anywhere was a very stupid idea given the shape I was in, and that what made more sense was to stay by myself in Christina’s house to rest and recuperate while she went on to Vermland. So that’s what I did. I am grateful for their wise nudging, but will be sad to miss seeing Angelika in Kiel.
The rural area where Christina lives is about an hour’s drive south of Stockholm, amidst vast patchwork fields and pastures of various grasses and grains in greens or harvest golds, bounded by dark strips of dark green forests on the horizons beyond. These evergreen woods border the massive octopus extensions of the vast lake which extends from Stockholm through the counryside in all directions for miles.
Properties here are clustered into little hamlets of homes and farm buildings, most painted a dark barn red trimmed in white, just like the Van Gogh painting I saw in Martigtny. You’ll be driving a country road through a brief stretch of woods between a long row of trees and suddenly it opens out to a beautiful vista with such red-housed hamlets off in the distance, surrounded by emerald pastures--this one with majestic resting moose, that one with grazing, baaa-ing sheep, yet another with elegant, prancing thoroughbreds, all next to yellow fields of varied grains sloping up to the barns and houses--some recently mowed by big farm machines into tidy rows waiting to be bundled in the next stage of harvest, others sitting there looking ready to have the same thing done to them in their turn.
Our little hamlet, called Eckeby, consists of a handful of building clusters along a gravel drive off the main road which curves and moseys, first past Ingelil & Lash’s farm of sheep and goats, then down and up to our place which sits on a rise with its main house, barn and two outbuildings, then down the gravel past the small cottage of an ancient Swedish man in worn denim overalls who gardens and smiles but speaks no English, to the neighbors on the other side whose horses grace the view from the east side of the house.
From here on the front porch terrace, a grand yard qua grass orchard slopes down around the house. When I arrived, Christina’s husband was happily cruising around the green acreage on his big tractor lawnmower looking like a middle aged man fulfilling a boy’s childhood dream. He laughed and said, “Ya, sure” when I commented on this. I look out over the tops of various fruit trees to a trio of old birches beyond which rustle in the breeze, bushes of translucent red and black currants, and an amazingly old and well-tamed raspberry patch which has been producing buckets upon buckets of the sweet little rubies for years. Up closer to the terrace is a perennial garden border of sundry flowering plants, many having already passed their zenith back in a riotous spring display of blooming fruit trees, grand peonies, and other colorful blossoms comingled into a floriferous wonderland. To the southwest, vast fields of grain expand, spreading to the dark woods on the horizon and the sparkling lake finger beyond.
Over to the east on my right sits an outcropping of rock surrounded by grass which is the afternoon playground for Ingelil’s two or three dozen goats of all ages. Though they delight me with their bouncing spars and practice humping of one another, I’ve come to learn they're a bone of contention between she and her husband. Seems she loves them too much, spoils them as he would say, such that when they get sold, they’re hopelessly noisy and troublesome to any other owner. Which means an ever increasing goat population requiring more and more work to tend. But for me they are an endearing part of this heavenly landscape.
And, above the horizon, all around, taking up two thirds of my vertical view in every direction, I am surrounded by the magnficent expanse of an ever-changing theatrical sky, with more dramatically stunning cloud formations than I’ve ever seen before. Morning wisps on the clear blue horizon grow into bulbous white puffs with gunmetal grey underbellies, eventually stacking on top of each other from behind the trees on the skyline, up, up and up into the middle of the sky overhead until they’re all merged into a massive dark shape. Maybe a rumble of thunder signals their need to relieve themselves in a brief rain, or maybe brilliant sunlight just sits on top of them until they melt apart or drift away to the east. At day’s end, the clouds may be gone, or they may grow tinged with pink or blue or more grey.
As you can no doubt tell, I am taken by the beauty here, but I've felt too crappy to do much of anything but read British mystery novels. I’d gotten started reading with the two Robert Harris books Megan left me, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, when I was in Paris and carried a book to have while waiting for subways, standing in lines and such. And when I got here to rural Sweden, I found the pickings very slim in English books, so took what was available--mysteries by British women like Patricia Cornwell, Elizabeth George and Minette Walters. Great time passers, but this dip into the world of bestsellers--whether American or English--has shown me that sadism sells. I guess we’re all so cut off from our own nastiness that it’s reassuring to visit these dreaded parts of ourselves in bizarre characters who are so clearly “not like me”. Grisley as Hannibal was, I gotta hand it to Harris, whose exquisite skill at almost normalizing the wretched, gnawing, hungry cannibal inside was as terrifyiing as the character of Hannibal, himself.
My only regret about this Sweden leg is that I got but a cursory view of the beautiful Stockholm, as I felt too wiped out to visit it proper after Christina gave me the brief pretty-vistas-in-the-city tour on our way from the airport to her home south of the city. It is clearly a gorgeous city with much to appreciate. But, as Christina says, that will have to wait for my next trip.