stockholm and servas

june 6

stockholm! what to say about this dazzling city, crown jewel of international scandinavia?

water. first water. interlocking islands like a checkerboard maze in the baffling baltic. keeping the russians out, keeping me eternally lost. walking. walking. sweet smelling lilacs in bloom. white-blossomed apple trees. tulips, violets, pansies. traipsing from one island to another. over one bridge, another. the cobblestoned old town center, gamla stan - tourists, bars, shops, shoppers, jazz clubs, bars, people pouring out into the streets day/night. skeppsholmen - the modern art museum, an endless array of ornate green-steepled churches. stockholm's skyline just delicious. you can't help but devour and delect the view, 24 hours a day (almost 20 daylight), like a sweet liqueur, like a gourmet meal, like an architectural smorgasbord. djurgarden - with the multi-steepled renaissance nordic museum, now showing the current ABBA exhibit. who were these guys? or did you too completely miss them in the disco 70s? a great swedish export i guess, along with bjorn borg, meatballs, and ingemar johanssen.

a scenic, early morning boat cruise from the bell-towered city hall to the kings palace, drottingholm. sweden's answer to versailles. actually copied by a swede who studied in france. 16th-17th century! manicured sprawls of english, chinese, and french gardens. pavilions of boxwood and spruce. carved like royal chevaliers still preserving the grandeur of a bygone era. alas, the king now driving his own car, much to the dismay of his admiring public. i go to the drottingsholm theater, oldest theater in the west, still operating after a hundred years of disrepair. actually have to sneak/talk my way in. seems that the king is having a public high tea or luncheon today. theater closed, sorry.

“but i came all the way from los angeles to see the theater. i’m professor trules from the university of southern california. doing my doctoral dissertation on classical theater architecture.”

“certainly dr. trules. i’m sure the king won’t mind. just make it brief, if you don’t mind.”

amazing primitive pyrotechniques of rigging, scaffolding, set and sound design. a hand-cranked wind making machine. a rope pull for thunder sounds. thirty women moving an underground capstain to change the sets. all illusion. all magic - the way the theater used to be - under the "theater king", king gustav, 1780s. before, radio, tv, film, video, dvd, the voracious mobile phone. i swear it's orwell's 1984 here in nokia/ericsson/siemens’s sweden, everyone chained to their cellular phone, like a chip in their head. of course, that's the next step. only a heartbeat away.

made my way into the oh-so-trendy record debut party of “sahara hotnights” at the kulturhusset. mark my words, this all girl group rocks. madonna meets springsteen. the lead singer Sings, the drummer Drums. hard. athletic. muscular. all they need is the right agent. they're on they're way to LA. or not. we all know how that goes. i gave them my card....

then to stureplan, the sunset strip of stockholm. the spy bar, lydmar hotel, clubs, restaurants, the beautiful people. it took me only two nights here to get just as depressed as i am in LA. couldn't even go up to anyone and introduce myself. when i did, "hey, i'm eric. where you from?" "dublin? great. what are you doing here?" "talking to your friend? oh, right..."

sound familiar? hell, stockholm can't help but be compared to new york/LA. everyone trying/looking/dressing to be oh-so-cool. modesty gone, this ain't finland...

escaped for a recovery day to the royal botanical gardens. walked in the kings old hunting grounds around the lake. sat, meditated. tried to find myself again. japanese gardens, empty trails, sorta like elysian park, but with kayaks and dogs talking swedish...

saw free opera in the park -- carmen in red, rubber-soled combat boots -- it's summer time in stockholm.

but i’m already worn out. catching a cold? too much commuting back and forth from stockholm’s cushy suburbs, where i’m staying with yet another servas host.

now as i’ve already reported, servas is great. in case you forgotten - or just joined me – “servas”   is this wonderful, dedicated-to-world peace organization that introduces voluntary hosts to voluntary travelers – all over the world. you can stay for free for two nights with the host of your choice – who you’ve chosen from your servas country-of-choice host list whose encoded description can soon be interpreted something like this: sweden, stockholm, zone 3 (slightly northwest of city center): married couple, jan, male 53, school teacher; yumiko, female 47, architect; children 3: erik, 25, lissa, 19, martin 16; non-smoking, vegetarian; into green peace, city planning, women’s movement, chess, and folk music; traveled to america, morocco/north africa, southeast asia, and russia; address, phone, fax, and e-mail. no pets, no sleeping bag necessary. contact 3 days in advance.

so you choose your own servas host. based on common interests, geographical convenience, age, sex, something that piques your interest - or just plain availability. it’s not an exchange program (although i am also a voluntary servas host in LA), nor is the host obliged to say yes, only if it’s convenient. but once you pay your annual membership fee (about $US 55 for travelers, $US 35 for hosts), you can either write, phone, or e-mail well in advance and organize an entire two month trip (which i did on previous trips to mexico and great britain), or you can make it much freer and easier and just play it one host, one day at a time – which i seem to be doing here in scandinavia. the first way locks you into a tight, structured itinerary, because once you make contact and a commitment with a host, you don’t want to change, thereby both inconveniencing your gracious host and consequently, like dominoes, throwing off the entire scheduling balance of your trip. the second way is the follow-your- nose way to travel – staying longer where it feels right, moving on whenever you want to. the first way perhaps allows a little more security – at the price of over-structuring; the second way sometimes leaves you homeless – or at least hostless - for a night or two, but with a little cash in your wallet – or the omni-present ATM card (at least in first world countries – and you’d be surprised in how many third world countries), you get to improvise, find a cheap (or not so cheap) hotel, and make your trip up as you go.

servas may not be the way to travel for some people, but if you’re open-minded, like to meet new people, and appreciate natives showing you around their local environs, then servas is a great boon to travelers. sometimes, perhaps you don’t want the obligation to be sociable and friendly, which you have to be when meeting new hosts; well that’s the time for your ATM card and hotel. but other times, it’s pretty fantastic and humanizing to have a nice home-cooked meal for lunch or dinner – and to be treated like a member of a new family every two nights. in any event, it sure beats the international sheraton, marriott, or backpacker’s lonely planet routes.

anyway… leaving my servas hosts, jan and yumiko’s comfy but nothing-much-happening suburban home at 11 each morning, doing the tourist thing in the city all day/all night, and coming back by bus at three a.m. the next morning – seems to have quickly take its toll. i simply gotta find a more centrally located servas host when i come back to stockholm from norway and denmark next month.

also gotta keep my history of western civilization straight: greek, roman, gothic, baroque, rococo, classical, romantic... am i right? someone straighten me out.

romance? always around the corner... or is this the land of schopenhauer and bergman?

ooops, i’m late. gotta catch another train --- off to another servas host up north today…

hasta la vista, babies,

erik the swede