Saturday, 20 April 2013

A Simpler Life

One of the things I've relished most about being in Stockholm for a month is the way it has forced me to strip my life back to its bare bones. I brought two suitcases and my laptop bag along with me, necessarily filling these with winter jumpers, a couple of towels, a set of bedsheets and the books that I'd need to get extra work done while I'm here. That didn't leave much space left over for anything else: enough clothes so that I only need do one load of laundry per week, my running shoes, a couple of bottles of soapy products and my electric toothbrush. Even so, I see now that I could have left more at home, possibly reducing my wares to the one suitcase if I'd had to. If I'd come in summer this would have been no problem.

The flat where I'm staying is about as basic as you could get. A slab of a bed with a tissue-thin pillow lies against one wall, then there is a desk and chair by the window and a fold-out table with two uncomfortable stools against the opposite wall. The walls are white, the floor is wooden, and the room is lit by a stark strip lighter that hangs from the ceiling in a particularly unhomely way. I have a small kitchenette at one end of the room which comprises two electric hobs, a sink, a fridge, and a small space for preparing food; the wet-room hides behind this, and contains the only mirror that I have access to, placed at forehead-height above the sink.

Strangely enough, I'm not yet wishing that I were back surrounded by all my belongings, or with endless distractions in the form of books, films, kitchen projects, or anything else. I have access to the radio through my computer, and have been enjoying more Radio 4 programmes than I would listen to at home. My evenings have so far been spent mostly writing and reading, which is just the way I wanted it to be.

My window faces East and so I wake up early every morning with the sun pushing through the less-than-robust Ikea blinds (I imagine it would be very hard to sleep when living here in midsummer when there is no darkness): thanks to the combination of bright sunlight and my uncomfortable bed I am never asleep beyond 6, and always up by 6:30. This suits me perfectly. I don't have a kettle, so instead I boil up a large pan of water to satisfy my morning tea requirements, and put a pan of oats on to simmer the hob ready for breakfast when I have finished catching up on my emails and the news. Most days I eat breakfast while listening to the Shipping Forecast, which I love, and which seems quite significant as I sit here, miles away from home and feeling a little lost at sea.

The solitude and simplicity of my flat here in Danderyd makes the trajectory of my day more pleasant and more necessary than it would otherwise be. I am lifted from the quiet by the morning chorus of birdsong, and the world becomes more and more complicated with each step towards the Tunnelbana station: the hoards of people streaming through the one door as I approach is sometimes a shock to my dormant mind, but if nothing else it jerks me awake and ready for the day. The opposite is true in the evenings, when I relish moving away from the hurried excitement of the evening commute back through the increasingly peaceful (bird-filled and car-free) streets of Danderyd.

Most evenings begin with a run, usually along the waterside which is changing with every forwards step into Spring. Because of this I usually don't eat until quite late, but my evening meals have been so simple that it hasn't bothered me to go to bed soon afterwards. I am limited by what products I can buy, partly due to the high price of food here, and partly due to quantities that I can use before I leave; brown rice and buckwheat provide the substance for most of my meals, teamed with pulses and whatever vegetables I could afford for the week (normally cabbage, mushrooms and carrots and not a lot else!). I chose to buy a pot of garam masala when I first arrived, which flavours many of my evening meals (dhals, rice bowls, soups and curries), while I treat myself to the occasional lime which allows me to create dressings and sauces using salt, ginger, garlic, and honey or peanut butter. At first I found the lack of flavour in my cooking highly unsatisfying, but it didn't take long before I found ways (such as lime juice or salt) to bring out the flavours of my small set of ingredients, and I'm now enjoying being creative within strict limits. As I begin to run my cupboards bare ready for leaving, this is becoming increasingly challenging.

While I am looking forward to getting back in my kitchen, using my slow cooker, baking bread, and enjoying a good oven-baked pie, I am not wishing away this situation just yet (this may all change next week when my cupboards leave me with only cup-a-soup and oats to work with!). It has been a test of creativity and resilience: I don't find myself weeping into my pillow at night, wishing for something more than my own company and a battered copy of  La Nausée, nor have I found myself craving stodge to the point where I have headed down to the pizzeria on the first floor for a large Vegetariana for one. And when it does all get a bit quiet here, I take myself off - either on the Tunnelbana or on a run - to central Stockholm, where everything makes sense again, and where I find myself thinking that I never want to be anywhere else.

Peanut butter rice noodles - a new favourite!

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