Fucking Åmål (Show Me Love)

Some people are just so nice. Our friend Amber and her boyfriend Claes drove 100km from Stockholm to our ferry landing at Kapellskär. Then they they drove us to Stockholm and bought us dinner. It’s hard to pay for dinner when your hosts know the language and you don’t. They delivered us to our boat hostel, an old boat anchored on Södermalm near Gamla Stan with a great view (from the bar on the top, not through our porthole). Ray’s cousin Hans joined us for a drink, then we went to sleep in our tiny compartment.

Thursday we were on a mission. We went to the Stockholm City Museum at 11. We told them we wanted to see a painting made by Ivar Neumann, Ray’s great-great uncle, which wasn’t on display. They told us to go to the “documentation room” when it opened at 12. We walked around the museum until then, seeing, among other exhibits, “United Stockholms of America”, a photo essay about the eight localities in the US named Stockholm. Most of them are in the states around Minnesota and have lots of Swedish immigrants (there have been 1.2 million, historically!) but one is in Texas and was renamed from Snuff Town because snuff is vaguely Swedish; the artist found no Swedes there. At 12 we went to the documentation room, told them what we wanted, and they said they’d look for it and get back to us soon.

After a half hour or so, they tracked us down (surveillance cameras, I suppose) to the “Dark Side of Stockholm” crime exhibit, told us a recent computer upgrade made it impossible to find the painting, but they were looking for a computer which hadn’t been upgraded. Apparently they found one; they tracked us down later to a room not even on the map in the brochure, and told us to go to the warehouse on the pier and meet Maria.
We fussed at the bus ticket system for a while (again the problem with American credit cards being obsolete). We got off the bus at a warehouse on the dock, next to a deserted “Semester At Sea” cruise ship. We phoned Maria. She met us at the door, and escorted us to a brightly lit room with lots of art restoration tools; the painting was on a table in the middle of the room. Next to it was a magazine from 1888 with an etching made from another painting by Ivar. We took lots of pictures, and had a fascinating conversation with the docent, who is a furniture restorer when there aren’t overseas visitors. She gets a few like us; the previous one was from Russia, looking for a parachute which was in their collection. It must be fun to have all that space to keep things.

After we left, we went to the Moderna Museet and learned of Nils Dardel. He was a famous artist, if you had heard of him, on the border of Symbolism and Surrealism and Mexican Cartoons. His sensibility seemed entirely gay, except for the cruel trick God played on him by making him like vaginas. If Justin had been a painter in the early 20th century, he could have been like Nils Dardel.

We stayed there until it closed, then we met Amber for dinner in a little cafe at the Opera House. Swedish tapas, basically. Another data point on the main curve which illustrates the $100 diet: if you never spend less than a hundred dollars for a meal, you won’t get fat.

On the way we were accosted by a friendly drunk who explained that he got around the Swedish liquor prices by shoplifting, and we saw an oddly self-contained demonstration against the Israeli massacre going on in Gaza. I say self-contained because I’ve demonstrated against massacres before, especially ones I could have been drafted to carry out, and at the edge of the marches and demonstrations there were usually a bunch of people with leaflets to hand out. (I suppose in modern terms, that would be placards with QR codes; does anyone ever actually look at those? I’ve never been curious enough even to aim my phone at them, or look up how to do it. Do I need an app?) Anyway, there was none of that here. Scandinavian reticence. The Age of Facebook. If you never talk to anyone who doesn’t agree with you, how does your mind get changed? Certainly not by the mobile phone banner ads that float so severely in front of about half the sites you go to, that make you realize at a zen level, that you really didn’t need to know what they were talking about, after all. In its own way, the Internet is an ad for non-attachment, but what isn’t?

Friday it was time to move on; once again Amber and Claes were incredibly nice, and offered to take us to pick up our rental car in an obscure location south of Stockholm. Perhaps the obscurity was responsible for giving us a nice car and only charging us for the tiny one we asked for. This one, a diesel Hyundai I30 (called Elantra in the US), had a six-speed manual transmission, air conditioning that worked, an iPod interface, cruise control, adjustable intermittent wiper speed. The only challenge was finding how to open the fuel door (the trick is to push on the right side of it). Over the time we had it, it got about 40 mpg. Pretty nice. We drove it to Gavle, where our friends David and Isabel live; David put us up in his mother’s house (she was in Long Beach attending to her first grandchild). Gavle was having a little festival, which we walked around for awhile; eventually we had dinner at a place which was between English menus. This had the result of them misunderstading my order for “cod” as “calf”: I thought the texture and color were pretty odd for fish.

Saturday we had breakfast at David’s place, then drove for an hour to Falun to see Helene. We hadn’t actually ever met her, but Justin had told her all about us, and as soon as we met it was really like we’d all known each other for a long time. She took us to Falun’s copper mine, and arranged for us to have a guided tour in English which turned out just to be the three of us and the guide. After three weeks of heat wave, it was actually quite pleasant to put on a warm shirt and long pants and go in a mine at a temperature of 40ºF. The mine operated from about 700 AD until sometime in the 1990s. Now it is a World Heritage site.  (So there’s hope for all those lopped off West Virginia mountains, after all. Butchart Gardens is a repurposed quarry, for another example.) In addition to a huge pit at the surface, there are tunnels and rooms underground. There were challenges getting the ore up to the surface, and pumping out the water that would otherwise fill up the mine: a bell would stop ringing if the pumping ever stopped as a signal to miners to head for the surface ASAP. Various forms of power were used over the years to accomplish these tasks including horses and a water wheel.

After the tour, we checked into our airbnb place, basically a real B&B using them as a listing service, then got a ride back to Helene’s place. She was throwing a kräftskiva (crayfish party) in our honor; unfortunately most of her friends had other plans, so there were only four of us eating (there were also some teenagers, but they were in their own world). We drank our bottle of blackcurrant wine, which was delicious, not sweet at all. They also plied us with beer, some mysterious shot, aquavit, and red wine. The food was open face sandwiches with chanterelles and cheese, and boiled crayfish. All the food groups: bread, cheese, shellfish, fungus, and alcohol.

Sunday was a day with a lot of driving, but it was split up by a visit to Thomas and Bibo from Berlin, who were spending two weeks at Bibo’s mom’s summer home across a lake from Arvika. On the way there the skies opened up with thunder and pounding rain. We had been listening to 24 Days of Drone from KFJC’s Month of Mayhem, a series of 24 hour-long live performances of sustained ambiences, but when the rain started, its drone overpowered the one on the iPod, so we just listened to it. The rain stopped about the time we arrived, and we had some salami and cheese we’d been carrying around, and some blackcurrant pie Bibo’s mom had made from fruit from the backyard. Delicious. After a walk in the woods, we got back in the car and headed south. We stopped to take a picture in Åmål, a boring small town which was the subject of the 1998 film “Fucking Åmål”, along with the high school girls who fall in love with each other. In the US, the film was renamed “Show Me Love”. Then we headed towards Göteborg, finding the airbnb a bit out of town. By the time we’d dropped off the luggage, headed into town, and got gas, most places’ kitchens were closing and we had kebab fast food, by no means as good as that we’d had in Berlin. (We probably could have eaten at the Hard Rock Cafe, but it’s the principle of the thing. Plus the food probably isn’t very good.)

In 2008, we traveled through China, and found a hotel in the middle of nowhere that just didn’t serve coffee — it’s not part of the Chinese rural culture, so it just wasn’t there. They had tea, but coffee simply wasn’t on the menu. After a bout of caffeine withdrawal, I traveled with instant coffee ever since that day. It turned out the stupid B&B in Göteborg didn’t serve coffee either, because the owner doesn’t drink coffee personally, and regards it as a drug. (It is one. So?) Fortunately, I had my own, but hopefully she will get a bad airbnb review as a consequence. We left right after breakfast and headed towards Malmö. (Update: she wrote to me personally saying she would start stocking coffee!)

On the way, there was a sign on the freeway (it was nice to have freeway after all the little roads) which displayed the World Heritage icon and advertised Radio Station Grimeton. Wait, what? I took the exit, the sign said it was only 6km away, so we went, and decided to stay for a little while. It was built in the 1920s for the purpose of sending telegrams to New York. The radio waves were very low frequency (17.2 kHz, with a wavelength of 18 km) and very high-power (up to 200 KW) and were produced by an enormous alternator. Three large “liquid resistors” in which the level of the sodium hydroxide could be adjusted absorbed any extra energy, and were cooled by a heat exchanger. The station consumes 400 kW and only outputs 200 kW, so it had a pond next to it and pipes to carry the excess heat away. Even in 1924, the north was still the place for heat sinks. Another large machine modulated the signal from the telegraphy key onto the low-frequency carrier. Six large tower antennas radiated the signal, which followed the earth’s surface to somewhere on Long Island. Telegrams going the other direction were received at a completely different facility several kilometers way. We only had about half an hour, but it was a pretty interesting little place.

We arrived in Malmö, returned the car, got on the train, and got stuck at the Copenhagen airport. There was a problem on the track between there and the central train station, and everyone had to get off and complete their trip on the metro. (I wish someone had told us the train tickets would be valid on the metro, but oh well.) We found our four-story-walkup airbnb, the kind where a room in an apartment is free because the resident moved in with her boyfriend but doesn’t want to lose it just in case. We hooked up again with David, who we’d seen at the beginning of the trip, and went to another tapas-like experience. We had nine $16 tiny plates which were essentially bar food. Sweet and sour. The grilled cucumber a little burned. The cress was wilted and one piece was just a stem. They appear to have charged us for tap water. In a bowling alley you would never assess the saltiness of French Onion Soup when it came with your bonito, but at 5 euros a bite, you do.

Anyway, it was super-fun hanging out with David.

Tuesday was our last full day on the trip, and we spent it walking around and shopping; no castles or palaces or museums. We dropped into some art galleries, and into a church with an amazing old organ. We passed a fascinating little neighborhood called Nyboder, a large group of long row houses built in the late 1600s as naval barracks. Today they are all painted the same yellow color. We returned and picked up a few presents we’d seen in the antique shops near the apartment, and went over to David’s house to have dinner with his girlfriend and kids. His two-year-old daughter was a bit frightened by our beards, but finally got over it. The food was delicious and the conversation was fun.

We’d found a good coffee place Tuesday morning, but it wasn’t open in time to make it to the airport. Another place that opened at 8am was Joe and the Juice, which it turned out we’d been to at the airport on the way in, and were puzzled that they not only didn’t squeeze oranges at all, but that you couldn’t even get just grapefruit juices, only one of the blends of three ingredients on the menu. Stupid conceptual cafe. As we approached it, a young Negro started yelling at us, having decided that we were not only Jewish but apparently Israeli as well, blaming us for the genocide being inflicted on the population of Gaza. Ultimately we walked away, but he did hit Ray with a gob of spit. Racial profiling. The ignorance of racists is saddening. This man had obviously never seen any real Hasidic Jews, maybe only caricatures. We weren’t even wearing hats. It would have been an interesting social experiment to tell the immigration people in America that I had been spit on by an African and see whether they are forward-looking enough to go into an Ebola panic, but I would rather stay out of the newspaper these days (he said, on the Internet).

Google Maps suggested the 380S bus would take us to the airport, but it turned out that it only took us to the metro, so we took that to the airport. We got on the plane and went to SF. The seats on SAS are exceptionally close together, especially for a region where so many of its citizens are very tall. The 6’6″ guy across the aisle got his foot run over by the trolleys because there wasn’t room for it in front of him. Once again, the modern refrain: “Why do you hate your customers?”

Paul picked us up at SFO but didn’t seem psyched about going to Clear Lake, so we went home and slept for awhile. The two of us left the next morning and got to Clear Lake in time to see Philipp for a day, whom we’d missed in Berlin. It was nice to have a vacation from the vacation, three solid days of no museums, tons of food, watery beer by day and cocktails by night, lots of sun, and about twenty friends. The lake even almost lived up to its name; the usual algae bloom wasn’t there. The levels of the lake were lower than usual. It seems likely we regained any weight we might have lost on the trip. It’s not something I monitor closely.

As we left on Sunday, there was an unfortunate accident: Adam and Jenny’s dog Sadie got a fishhook in her paw when swimming. But things got much worse when she tried to pick it out with her jaw, and the hooks at the other end got in her lip, effectively attaching the paw to the lip. Someone found a wire cutter, and Alex ultimately broke through the hooks, relieving the pain and the awkward attachment. Of course, at that point what Sadie wanted to do was to head back immediately into the water. That was not going to happen; she got tethered in front of the cabin for the rest of the day.

We said our goodbyes, headed back through sleepy Cache Creek Canyon past the picturesque Cache Creek Casino, and stopped at Winco for some peanut butter. (Don’t shop spontaneously at WinCo. They had this stuff labeled “Gruyere” which turned out to have the word “processed” in it. It was white Velveeta, how is it they get to use the word Gruyere in the label? Could they have called it a Macintosh, or a Faberge egg? The Swiss need to file a lot more cease-and-desist letters.)

Roam on Fillmore in SF still has excellent hamburgers, and we got back home, rested and mostly over the jet lag, ready to get back to the normal routine. To the extent that not crossing borders every few days may be called normal. Judging just by the numbers, nonexistence is the most normal thing there is. The post-proton universe.