all good things must...
city of angels
july 11, 2001
.…come to an end?
surprise! already home for six days. amazingly, i came home twelve days early!! to attend to my separation-anxious dear dog, his stoic guardian, my super subtenant, and to go to the boisterous mountain bachelor party of my ex-roomie, soon-to-be-married pal, todje mandela.
some of you jealous motherfuckers convinced me that my self centered self indulgence and pleasure seeking traveling ad nauseum was mounting towards the irritatingly ego-maniacal, and thusly convinced, i reluctantly decided to sacrifice the copenhagen jazz fest, my eastern european jaunts to estonia and st. petersburg, and my ornately planned scandic romantic realliances -- and -- simply -- come home.
...which is where i sit at present - quietly soaking up the deliciously eternal california sunshine, the stillness of my no-longer-shared, quite solo, bobo-in-paradise home, and the gregarious hum of my companion computer. quite a contrast to the driven urgency, ravenous curiosity, and geographical intensity of my two month scandic adventure.
some others of you have asked me to talk about the differences between the scandinavian countries. not that i can claim to know much after only two months there, but i do believe that sometimes an observant traveler can see and learn more about a land and its people than the full time residents who barely venture out of their routine or geographies. so here you are - one man's impression of gorgeous scandinavia - in no particular order:
first, these countries are more similar to one another than different. there is a homogeneity to the weather, the lakes, the dependence & worship of the sun, the tax-driven economies, the socialist states where citizens are pretty much covered from cradle to grave, the pleasant but reserved personalities, the intense drinking, the emptiness of space, the great natural beauty, the high cost of living, the regularity of behavior (trains on time, little overcrowding, cleanliness of the streets), the contentedness of the people, their non-ambition, the ostracism of those who stand out in any way, their criticism of america, our vanity, george w's naiveté, stupidity....
probably more - but that's what first comes to mind.
finland -- they say its not even a scandinavian country. it's nordic. its language does not come from the same root as the other three (sweden, norway, & denmark). the finnish personality is - modest. i liked that. feminine beauty is not a commodity - like in los angeles. women - people - are friendly, approachable. not many people approached me - but they responded. (i'd say this was generally true of all four countries). the countryside - outside helsinki - is beautiful - forests, lakes, trees, changing weather. their artist of world renown is alvar aalto, he of sleek architectural design. and -- the people -- drink. more than any other culture i've ever seen. it's a problem.
sweden -- inarguably the ruling class of the area - historically speaking. this is the country that had the most power - in recent 18th-20th century history. this is reflected in their attitudes. this is the most self assured, confident, sometimes verging on arrogant, culture. of course, it's rude to generalize, but i do believe in cultural identities. jews, irish, arabic, italian, asian -- the stereotypes exist because there is some truth to them. exceptions of course, but i'm looking at generalizations. sweden has less forest, more people. and still - thousands of miles of beautiful, unpopulated (except by creatures of folklore) green terrain. of course, i was in scandinavia in spring-summer. there was sun. sometimes it was never dark. this happens for only a few months a year. the rest of the time it is dark, cold, snow-bound. i would like to come back for a piece of winter. their quintessential artist: ingemar bergman.
all the northern parts of the three countries up above the arctic circle - finland, sweden, norway - are home to the sammi people - equivalent to our native americans. they have a unique, un-geographically-bound culture - nomadic, reindeer hunting, more primitive than the euro-asians who immigrated and pushed them north. their native, chanted, drum-based music - beautiful.
norway -- well ya got the fjords, see. glacial tundra. mountains. more mountains than the rest of the place. deep cut ravines of nordic water running east to west into the 1000 foot halls of the mountain kings. single houses in the middle of nowhere. less people. more independent than the others. they voted twice not to join the EU. they like to feel like they're on their own. lots of folkloric creatures too - underneath the encroaching mcdonalds, the hugely rich north sea oil reserves, the boringly contented lives of people who have no place to go - economically, socially, psychically. a rugged, stoic country, somewhat like its neighbors, rushing towards, or being forced to join - the inviting and greedy global community. artists: ibsen and munch (he of "the shriek").
denmark. i like this place. it seems more relaxed. a little like holland. you got this place in copenhagen - christiana - its a "free" zone. they sell an endless variety of non hard drugs - like a smorgasbord or bakery of hashish and marijuana - and the authorities just turn their backs. that's why it's free. and free copenhagen is. open minded. laissez faire. "cozy". like most of denmark. yet the attitude of the danes has this funny edge - i call it "royal" (as in royal copenhagen). like the kings and queens are a little more important. like administrative bureaucracy is a little more stifling and the heavy-handedness of the social state is just a little more omnipresent - hanging above the relaxed heads of the friendly and bicycle-riding danes. it's a contradiction. relaxed and royal both. but i guess if i had just one place to choose, it might be copenhagen. i like the beauty, the architecture, the cobblestones, the theater, the bars, the women, the canals, the -- "free" atmosphere. artists: karen blixen (aka isaak denisen) and of course, the ugly duckling himself, hans christian andersen.
and as i said, i would like to go back to scandinavia -- maybe even in winter -- brrrrrr. but as you know, my next foray is to malaysia and borneo. the day after xmas. what a culture clash. scandinavia vs. asia. empty space vs. swarming people. stillness & quiet vs. the roar of omnipresent motorbike. cold forests vs. sweltering jungles. cold and frozen green vs. wet and humid green. voluptuous women vs. small, slender women. open-minded attitudes about sex vs. sex for sale. or no sex (islamic malaysia). christianity/protestantism vs. buddhism/islam. first world/wealth and social care vs. third world/poverty and developing capitalism.
oh well, babies. it's a wide wide world as cat stevens used to say. and he - disappeared into it. giving up his fast track, A-list hollywood music career for a slowly-slowly eastern spiritual retreat. me? i don't really know. fast or slow? i just want out of this american cultural bind for a while. i'm the closet ex-pat. and so -- i travel.
and so --
all good things must......
until next time--
your man godfrey,
erik, the ex-viking