hola, my vicarious swedes--
imagine -- i am somewhere in the middle of sweden - four hours by scenic train northwest from stockholm - in a groovy area called darlana -- a crater has fallen from deep space several million years ago and created this ring of lake and forest that is richer and more beautiful than the rest of the flat, un-cratered landscape. it is the heartland of rural sweden, and i am in the tiny village of evertsberg (pronounced eh-chairs-ber-uh!). it has about three hundred people in the village, one store, one meeting hall, one school for twenty five children, and the rust-red, hand-made striped pine cabins with steep triangle-hatted or pippi long stocking-bonneted roofs look they've been rolled out like dice by some ancient viking urban planner in a random game of monopoly - tiny houses and hotels around a quiet protestant church and graveyard where generations of evertsbergians have been buried for swedish centuries.
my hosts, ingmarie and michel, take me to the adjacent town of alvdalen where they burned witches a couple of centuries ago, and the old log cabin built for the gathering of church tithings (every 10th hen etc.) in 1286 is naturally still standing.
imagine - i have a bad cold and the darlanan rain has been beating down on the roof of my private "caravan"/rv camper - from the misty white sky - for four straight days now. i am holed up with my portable library of truman capote (dogs bark), bruce chatwin (in patagonia), michael ondaatje (anhil's ghost), may sarton (journal of a solitude), tc boyle (greasy lake), and fresh air fiend (paul theroux). i might have a bad case of swedish cabin fever - what with all the haunting and intriguing local folklore of vikings, trolls, ghosts, gnomes, evles, faeries, and goblins enveloping me - but i am not at all unhappy. if you have to be sick traveling (never the best, but always the inevitable eventuality), this is not a bad sick bay to find yourself in. my hosts are sensitively solicitous and get me out for a stroll or tour at least once a day - perhaps to the wolf and bear park ("bjorn parken” - perhaps the name itself having made tennis’ famous mr. borg such a ruthless competitor -- even though now he lives on trendy strandvagen, the posh central park west of stockholm). or perhaps ingmarie and michel take me on another sick day - to yet another little adjacent village for some creamy swedish meatballs - or for some frothy swedish pancakes, complete with piles of fresh whip cream and the necessary local berry in season. the picking of lingon, goose, black, red or cloud berries - as much a country custom as mushroom picking in the forests. no doubt, the swedes take their berries seriously.
my introduction to socialized medicine is not a good one. i go to the pharmacy to get some decongestant and antihistamine. my abundant supply from my own huge portable pharmacy has proved once again, incomplete and inadequate, but the damn swedish pharmacist refuses to dispense what i need. you need a fucking prescription here for what we just buy over the counter. contac, cold medicine, the simplest things. i’m rather loud and petulant - but ineffective - so ingmarie carts me off to the doctor. but he, because we americans charge visiting swedes an arm and a leg for medical care in our so wonderful health care system, wants to charge me a hundred bucks for a contac prescription. this, as you might imagine, makes me even more testy and rude, and i start to make a scene. “whataya mean, a hundred bucks? this is ridiculous!” of course this has no effect -except to embarrass my ever-so-diplomatic host even more – in front of her neighbors. in self defense, she does manage to slip off and do a little back room negotiating, and an hour later…. i have my cozy little prescription in hand for – for the token visitor’s fee of - 4 bucks! it's amazing what a little friendliness, politeness, and small town desire to help can produce....
anyway, sometimes this still ugly american still has a lot to learn....
sorry you can't be here for the viking rock, the trolls & goblins, the dulcimers, zithers, & mandolins, the bright nights of midnight sun, the old world charms of darlana and its sometimes human interventionists of good fortune. but there you are - where you are. haven't heard from many of you. please don't make these missives complete monologues. 'twould be nice to hear from you. been into the woods lately??????????????
some other words of wisdom on travel:
"who are the great travelers? a large number have been depressives, bipolar types capable of serious gloom. their passion is visiting the unknown. ...travel, which is nearly always regarded as an attempt to escape the ego, is in my opinion, the opposite: nothing induces concentration or stimulates memory like an alien landscape or a foreign culture... it is a way of reinvigorating myself with a peek at innocence, of having trespassed into eden. it hardly matters - so much of travel is self-delusion. the profoundest satisfaction in travel is a sense of discovery, the private thrill of seeing something new or seeing it in a new way. this is unquestionably egotistical, but such discoveries do not come easily. nothing is harder than that uncertain, martian-on-earth feeling of being alone in the middle of nowhere. the payoff is a conceited feeling of having gone to a distant place and unlocked a secret. as far as i'm concerned, everything else in travel is a vacation - the view from the chaise lounge - horizontal.”
--- paul theroux
and -- an ancient chichewa saying:
"to travel is to dance."
and with these,
i’m over and out—
your viking poet,
erik the collllld