Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Nordic Notes #1

Having spent most of my life on the outskirts (at best) of fitting in anywhere, it has come as a pleasant an highly unfamiliar surprise to find myself feeling completely at home here in Stockholm. I was taken by the place back in November, when the air was thick with damp mist and the daylight was fleeting and ungenerous, but now I see Stockholm under endless blue skies and in copious amounts of daylight my initial excitement has swollen to a wide-eyed, open-mouthed wonder at how good a place can be.

I am obsessed with the way the light sparkles through the trees, and the sound that the birds make which is so much louder and more robust than at home. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm in a capital city, because most of the time I just can't tell: I walk to the Tunnelbana in the mornings and back in the evenings, and hardly see a single car. The birdsong is the loudest - and sometimes the only - thing I can hear, and the soul obstacle blocking the light from my eyes is the clusters of lanky trees hinting at the thick forests that are only a couple of miles from here. I can't help but stop when out running in the mornings to look out over the water that is frozen into a thick white slab of stillness. Maybe that's why everything feels so peaceful: nothing is moving because nothing is able to move. Streams of ice are frozen to the pavements, as if they were stopped in mid-flow by a curtain of winter.

Finally this curtain seems to be lifting (despite some recent flurries of snow), but it has left its mark in the inches of hard grit which has already worn down my boots, and the shafts of solid ice that stand foot-deep at the edges of the pavements. People sit in the midday sun, faces turned to the sky, eyes closed as if hypnotised by the light. Like rainfall after a drought, people drink in the sunlight - you can almost see them quenching their thirst as you pass, and it seems it would be rude to disturb them, or to join them, in their silent annual ritual.

Stockholm is a good place to be alone. It seems as if it could be a city built for loners, and meandering silently through the tangle of streets and islands is a perfect way to spend some time - you will always bump in to countless other people doing the same. Commuters, runners and other passers by keep themselves to themselves - there is no nod or smile, no runners' code, no polite commuter conversation - but it isn't a hostile silence; possibly the individual's sense of the individual, instead.

And it really is individual. Rather than feeling inelegant or unfashionable in my fleece and Dr Martens, I am perfectly comfortable to be as scruffy as I please. The majority also appear to be wearing DMs, and while there is a definite sense of Scandinavian style parading the platforms of the Universiteit Tunnelbana station, it is neither arrogant nor scripted: less 'us and them', less vanity, less garishness, less pretention.

So far I am besotted with this place, and having a brilliant time working at Stockholm University; I can't help but feel that a month is not long enough. Certainly, I won't be able to know Stockholm as much as I would like in this time, though I am trying. For now I am allowing myself to stop and stare, to not rush, and to wander on my own as aimlessly and as often as I can. Maybe I'll be back again one day, but I want to take it all in now, just in case.

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