“A house is designed to be a safe place we can return to after having adventures.” Dr. Anthony Gunn from his book Get Happy!
“Don’t sell the skin before the bear is shot.” Swedish proverb
I’m home. I have had too many adventures to count in the last three months, but there really is nothing as nice as coming home. But when last we left off, I was in Copenhagen with “the other Kathy”, so I will fill you in on the rest of my Scandinavian tour. About half way through the trip, I was in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in one day. I wasn’t used to this kind of travel after spending months at a time in one place, and I don’t think it’s for me. We got to see the sights and the stunning natural beauty, but we really didn’t get to savor much. But as I always say, it’s the people we meet along the way that make traveling worthwhile, and the fantastic women that I spent time with made the trip memorable and fun. And of course along with the friends you make, it’s the food you eat. And the food was spectacular. You might guess that the seafood was delicious and the salmon and the prawns were the best I’ve ever had, but it was the fantastic bread and the pastries that were the biggest surprise. There were dark, seeded breads that were chewy and soft and sweet. And then of course the Danish invented the Danish! so I don’t need to say more about the pastries. In Sweden they have “fika” which literally means “to have coffee” and culturally it means stopping in the afternoon to have coffee with a cinnamon roll. (It’s their version of afternoon tea.) I want to import FIKA!
Scandinavians drink more coffee than any other culture, including Italians. And they also have a princess cake that is like a Victorian sponge cake with light green fondant as the top layer. I like to think that I became a connoisseur of princess cake. Another surprise was the brown cheese. At first the color kept me away, but after I heard that it was simply caramelized milk and sugar that made it brown, I tried it and I loved it. I made a brown cheese and dark brown seeded bread sandwich at one of the breakfast buffets…simply delicious.
And then of course there was the natural beauty of Norway that we saw on several ferry rides. The fjords – the long, narrow, deep inlets of the sea between high cliffs that were formed by glaciers – were awesome, in the true sense of the word. And then there were waterfalls, and fishing villages, and stave churches, and Viking boats. And cottages with roofs that were growing grass and flowers. (Goats used to “mow” the roofs, but now they have special machinery.)
And when it comes to manmade beauty, it was like IKEA on steroids. Everything was modern and cool and practical. From the tram stations to the hotel rooms to the cafes to the fitting rooms in the shops, everything was clean and pretty. And the most impressive artistic site was the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway. It’s the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist, Gustav Vigeland, who dedicated his life to telling the story of what it means to be human. He worked for twenty years, from 1924 to 1943, to create 212 bronze and granite sculptures that show men, women, teenagers, children, and babies in all of the recognizable and universal stages of life. One of the cutest is “the angry boy” and one of the most intriguing is the brutally honest depiction of an elderly husband and wife. (Vigeland, like Bono, was interested in the mysterious distance between a man and a woman.) Not one of the sculptures has a stitch of clothing.
And after the food, and the natural beauty, and the art, you have to get some kind of beauty treatment in order to really get the low down on a place. So in Stockholm I got a pedicure with Evangelina. She was unbelievably beautiful and sweet. She told me that Stockholm is famous for its lack of couples. It seems that everyone is single, including Evangelina who claimed that she is tired of men telling her how beautiful she is. (That’s it! That’s all they have to say for themselves!) And because it’s Sweden, they would never use the same foot baths for their customers because of germs, so instead she wraps my feet in big plastic bags filled with hot water. And after a good soaking and great conversation, I get a fantastic pedicure. It’s of course outrageously expensive – everything is here. But it’s worth it for the sake of my feet and for the sake of the blog.
Everything that I have ever associated with Scandinavia has become more real now that I’ve been there. I think of Ingrid Bergman, Alfred Nobel, and Bjorn Borg, who I once loved with a passion and whose bio pic is soon to be released. I think of Alicia Vikander and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and “Norwegian Wood”. And of course I think of Viggo Mortensen. And I remember all of the Norse myths that I used to teach and I wonder why it’s just the Greek and the Norse myths that have endured in our culture. And of course I think of the Vikings who left their freezing cold and sometimes sunless countries to invade Ireland. In a way I can’t blame them. Who wouldn’t rather be in Ireland?