July 14th – Gothenburg
Swedish children are better behaved than children in other European countries. England being the first which springs to mind. Therefore, it is much quieter in Sweden than any other European place, except perhaps, the Northern extremities where there are less than a dozen children in total on account of the cold which is both unsuitable for outdoor play, and also a kind of natural birth control.
In Gothenburg we see one such preternaturally quiet child sitting upright in its pushchair while his, (or perhaps, her for it’s quite difficult to tell with Scandinavian children), parents hang shopping bags from the pushchair’s handles, hide groceries down the side of the seat and drape great piles of just-purchased clothes across its hood. The overall effect is reminiscent of the 1980s boardgame, Buckaroo. It is only when the child’s father attempts to balance a full coffee table across its lap –potentially cutting off circulation to legs, feet and digestive organs- that the child objects. But even this is not a yell, so much as a polite little noise, similar in tone and volume to a stifled cough.
July 15th – Styrsa Island
You go to the island for swimming. It is reasonably cold and very windy. You only half intend to swim but every time someone asks you why you are here you say in a voice which is your own voice but firmer, (like bread left out on the kitchen bench), “oh yes, I have come to the island for swimming.”
The people on the ferry and in the teahouse seem to believe you. They say, “yes, the island is very good for swimming.” They point you to a place with grass and rocks and a slip of a beach, no bigger that a big toe nail and you say, “thank you, that will be perfect for all my swimming.” But really you are thinking that you had not envisioned seaweed, or fat men lounging in small trunks, or jellyfish, or those shock-haired children dipping prawns on string in the hope of snaring a crab.
“I have come to the island for swimming,” you tell yourself and in you go, through the flat curtain of seaweed, up to your armpits and beyond. Your toes curl into the icy water. It is only when your head crowns the first wave and you are –every cell of you- wide awake and singing, that you finally admit you have come to the island for so much more than mere swimming.
July 16th – Gothenburg
In 2014, the Italian artist Alberto Frigo began photographing every object which his right hand touched: coffee cups, pens, cutlery, steering wheels, his own face, shaving. Today it is 2016 and Frigo has taken almost 300,000 of these images. He intends to continue photographing every object which his right hand touches until he dies, or it is 2040. If I was particularly good at maths I would be able to estimate approximately how many images he will then have in his collection. I am not particularly good at maths. I am good at English, and I like the way Frigo’s tiny photographs, reduced to stamp-sized thumbnails and arranged across the gallery wall look like writing from a distance. Up close, with a magnifying glass, I can see that each photograph is a small story, and each line of photographs is also a story, and all the photographs together are the kind of story which takes a whole life to tell. The word I’d use for this is saga.
July 17th – Malmo
No Alibis Crew
For the last number of years, the major bridges of the world –Golden Gate, London, Sydney Harbour etc etc- have been debating their own importance, or lack thereof. Whilst it was universally agreed that all bridges were to be valued for their ability to hold things together and let other things pass, those major bridges included in the discussion could not agree upon which particular bridge should be considered most important. (It should be noted that the sound of bridges talking is not something which the human ear can hear or naturally interpret seeing as it is a water-based language, primarily transported from one bridge to the next by river, or occasionally rain).
Various arguments for self-importance were filed and later rejected: historical significance, aesthetics, ability to withstand earthquakes/tidal waves/attacks from movie-dreamt monsters. But it was, in the end, the bridge between Malmo and Gothenburg which won. “I’m the first bridge which comes up in a Google search,” it said. “I’m The Bridge, no further description necessary.” And although this made the rivers feel utterly ancient, they still understood that the argument was now over and swam on.
July 18th – Copenhagen
The guide book tells us that there is a certain square in Copenhagen which is so very beautiful it will surely make even the most cynical soul, weep. We go to great lengths to locate this square. It is between the round tower and the street which only sells burgers and artisan ceramic pots.
“Is this is?” we say for it is almost identical to every other square in Copenhage: small fountain, cobbled streets, restaurants selling over-riced wine in goldfish bowl glasses. We check our eyes. They are not even a little damp. We consider becoming disappointed but instead opt for wine in goldfish bowl glasses and, after this, more wine.
Then, as if by some Scandinavian brand of magic, the cobbles appear to be more poignantly cobbled than before, and the child dragging a black balloon round the fountain’s edge has become a metaphor for something so very beautiful, not to mention the old man playing sad, sad oboe, his hat upturned in anticipation of coins. We check our eyes as we leave the square and maybe, just maybe, they are a little wetter than usual.
July 19th – Copenhagen Airport
When they weighed her suitcase at Copenhagen Airport it was three kilos heavier than when she’d left home two weeks previously.
“That can’t be right,” she said and listed the various toiletries, the paperback novels and bars of Cadbury’s chocolate she’d left behind in Mainland Europe. “I haven’t purchased anything here. My bag should be lighter than it was before, not heavier.”
“Perhaps it’s all those memories you’re bringing home with you,” the check-in girl suggested and she said it was more likely to be dirt because she was already tired and there were many miles to travel before bed and it was hard for her to see the romantic side of the situation when she was being asked to pay an excess baggage fee.