Gamla Stan

Snap from Swedish Archipelago (July 2010)

The following is an Excerpt From My Book “Stranger In The Village of The Spiritual”

“Shit that was close!” I yelled after almost barreling into a car head on and nearly killing Lydia and I.

Oh my god, why did I let you drive?” Lydia yelled in my ear as I continued racing forward through the dark tunnel underneath a bridge on the island of Lindigo in Sweden.

“Because you knew how much fun Id have!” I yelled back while laughing cheerfully.

It was July in Sweden and my first time commandeering a motorbike. Lydia had her arms wrapped around my waist tightly while I raced through the streets and alley ways of an upscale island in the Swedish archipelago. I was in love. Both with the woman whose grip around my waist was becoming tighter with each sharp turn, and with the very nature of what, in my mind, I was doing; exploring. I felt as free as a bird in the air and a fish in the ocean.

The Baltic coastline gleamed spectaculary and the dark green water sparkled as the sunlight reflected off its smooth, less than turbulent waves. The tall buildings of Stockholm stood beckoning across the strait.

We raced around the bend and then pulled a U-turn before the last intersection that would take us across the bridge and into the city.

Past the train station, I jerked the throttle and raced up a steep hill. Tall Junipers and Maple trees lined dotted the distinct Baltic islandscape. Boulders lie perched to the forest floor and I easily imagined a time when sea faring Vikings called this island home.

Driving up to a quant two story house in a small neighborhood, resting on one of the tallest hills on the island, I braked the bike to a slow and steady stop. As I took off the helmet, Elsa, Lydia’s younger sister, walked out of the front door of the home with a concerned look on her face and a drink in her hand.

“You are alive. This is good.” Despite her heavy accent, the sarcasm was clear.

“Relax, I would never let him kill us.” Lydia replied confidently.

“We both have wayyyy too much life to live yet.”

A volley of Swedish followed between the two sisters, while I walked back to the small cabin behind the home and opened the door to walk inside. A stone terrace lined the cabin, while a vine engrossed, white picket fence surrounded the whole of the property. What had to be a fifty foot flag pole stood high in the distance of the hilltop community, with the Nordic nation’s flag swaying in the wind brilliantly. I couldn’t imagine there ever being a more picturesque Scandinavian neighborhood.

Standing inside the cabin, that was not much more roomey than a studio apartment, a fan was spinning quietly and I briefly looked over the collection of empty Carlsberg cans and a half full bottle of Svedka sitting ontop of the fireplace. A thin, queen sized mattress was sprawled out on the left side of the cabin with the sheets and pillows tossed untidely. The light from the sun was shining through the back screen door.

Looking at my watch, it was only 5pm. Then I heard the door open behind me. Lydia hastily walked inside and wrapped her arms around my chest.

“I am starting to think that they hear…”

“I don’t fucking care.” Lydia replied cutting me off and kissing me on the cheek. Lydia was defiantly a more prevalent swearer than I was and sometimes I wasn’t sure of how to feel about that.

“Do you care?” She asked.

“Well I don’t want your dad to think….”

“Oh come on Bryce, of course he knows!”

“Yea I guess so.” I said, while turning around, grabbing ahold of her legs and picking her up off the ground.

I looked into her bright green-blue eyes seductively.

“What now?” I asked.

“Shall we go into the city?”

“Yes lets go!”

We stripped down and hopped into the shower closet, that was certainly not designed for two people. I turned the temperature to cold and locked my arms around her while she screamed and nearly blew out my ear drums. Finally relenting, I turned off the water and she grabbed me by the ear, yanking downwards. I enjoyed irritating her and laughed through the pain.

I got dressed, throwing on my usual outfit of a sports shirt, cacky shorts, tennis shoes and a wide billed hat.

Lydia scoffed unapprovingly. “God you look so American.”

“And I wouldn’t have it any other way.” I smirked

Brushing her teeth, she managed to give me a pair of double middle fingers.

I browsed through the photos on my relatively new iphone 3, while waiting for her to finish and then we departed the cabin. Lydia’s Father pulled into the driveway right when we were leaving and we stopped to speak with him before beginning the walk to the train station.

“Going out again yea?”

It was the clearest sentence of English I had heard him say since arriving in Stockholm over a week ago. Lydia’s dad was a successful businessman in Stockholm and was almost always dressed in a suit and tie. His expression was neutral and demeanor matched the stereotypical image of the emotionless and reserved Northern European. His tumbled and static blonde hair looked like it had been brushed with a balloon.

He and Lydia exchanged a few sentences in Swedish.

Suddenly his expression softened and he spoke up;

“Okay now, Bryce take care of Lydia and Lydia, take care of Bryce.”

We waived goodbye and began our first of many legs of walking. One thing that I absolutely knew that I loved about Scandinavia, was this walking. People here seemed to either walk or cycle everywhere and to an eighteen year old Midwestern American kid, this was a completely foreign concept. It was just not something that we do in the Midwestern United States, we are always in fucking cars, driving everywhere.

And in Sweden, if you weren’t walking or on a bike, you were usually on a bus or a train, and there were loads of other people on these buses and trains. Of course, these were relatively normal routines for most of Europe.

But to me, these aspects just added a whole new dimension of excitement and vibrancy to every day life. In the Midwest, it felt like the constant driving added to the everyman for himself kind of philosophy that characterized Midwest American culture. My experience in Scandinavia so far, was that these every day ‘normal’ routines, made one feel much more apart of something. Apart of a community.

Walking to the train station, Lydia and I chatted about all kinds of things, mostly talking shit. She spoke about a girl at her school who fooled around with both sexes and was always getting into trouble through partying. She was becoming close with this girl. I didn’t understand why.

“All the men here look so girly.” I proclaimed, jiding her.

“I am glad, I have no competition.” I said boastfully.

“Men here just have a sense of fashion unlike you.”

I laughed, “If girly jeans and sternum long v-necks are fashionable, we don’t live in two different countries, we live on two different planets!”

“You’ll see.” She said.

“In a couple years, you American farmboys will catch up.”

I talked about how I was still unsure on which college I would be going to and what career I should pursue.

“Maybe I should apply to college in Sweden.” I said.

Lydia’s face lit up and she smiled sweetly, “You know I would love that.”

After a few Kilometers, we arrived at the train station. There were about six other groups of young people, waiting for the train as well. It still seemed like it was midday and in the midst of a Swedish summer, it wasn’t going to get dark for a few hours still.  

The train arrived and we leapt aboard. We took a window seat and from that moment, the evening became a paradox in time. As the train crossed the bridge and arrived in the city, time became stagnant, yet sped up in a sublime way.

We got off the train at Gamla Stan; Stockholm’s old town. Soon we were walking amongst stone cobbled streets and medieval archectecture. Holding hands we continued talking shit. Lydia tried to teach me Swedish but I was a horrible student.

“Jag prutta svenskaa….?” I said slowly.

“I speak Swedish….right?”

“No! You just said ‘I fart Swedish!’ She scolded me while waiting in a crowded que of people.

Standing in line to a popular restaurant called Vapiano, we drew a man’s gaze. His expression softened and he broke into a small fit of laughter.

“We should just put a sign on your back. Let everybody know.” She chided me.

I pinched her elbow and there was yelp in pain, “OWW!!!…”

In retaliation, I got a hard slap across the chest. Her flagrant aggression made me begin laughing even harder than I already was.

We were certainly drawing quite the amount of attention.

Inside Vapiano, we both enjoyed bowls of pasta for dinner and then left after an hour, commencing another night of bar and club hopping. I was obsessed with Irish pubs and we always began a night of drinking by visiting one. Outside Wirstroms Irish Pub, I handed my passport to a big bearded bouncer who could have passed for a Viking. He studied my indentification. The man was tall, probably, 6.4.”

I was 6.1’ yet still a bit taken back, how I often felt so short in Scandinavia. The populace here were abnormally tall by my standards. Though besides the occasional Viking physiques we would come across, I felt like I could knock down the majority of these men with two fingers. Through the scope of my own culture’s embedded exuberance and certainly my personal arrogance, they seemed spineless.

“Babies.” The big bouncer muttered as he handed back our ID’s and looked away from us.

We went into the pub and again I was thrilled to be in such an international environment and free to order pints of beer.

“Why the hell was I born in America?” I remarked.

We were both a few pints deep upon leaving Wirstroms. Though the depressant effects of the alcohol dettered our planned clubbing ambitions. We walked aimlessly for awhile and then elected to sit by the water on a bridge of one of Stockholm’s numerous canals. It was a little past 10, yet the sun had only set a half hour ago. It would rise again in less than six hours.

Gazing out over the water and the European cityscape, I turned to my Swedish companion. Her long light blonde hair fluttering gently against the wind. Her blue-green eyes looking right back into mine.

Even amidst the perfection of a setting, and strong attempts already been made in avoidance, the unavoidable came to both of our mind’s.

“When will we see each other again?” Lydia asked. And all I could saw was, “I don’t know.”

Gamla Stan July 2010 (Iphone 3)

Leave a Reply