Tchena! I seem to be reaching a patch of clarity after months of fearing to post again. I have kept thinking: the few visitors I had must have been looking forward to discovering Stockholm with me and I have shared nothing. I started East of Heart at the beginning of an exciting travel experience and authorship project which I was able to sustain fairly well over the course of 3 months but the return to a steady life and fixed place while having to absorb a whole new set of surroundings and pressures proved more emotionally challenging than I readied for. My prediction that one's thoughts and metabolism begin to reflect travel after a couple of months was confirmed by the amount of sleeping and eating I needed to absorb once sedentary, and hair falling as my skin changed, a few weeks into Sweden. Most difficult though was to start digesting that the person closest to me gave up on the challenge of sustaining a long-distance relationship shortly after my arrival. For a while, it was too blank a slate, but I owe my close ones, my friends here, my correspondents and my beloved geography studies for helping me to positively get on with it. My motives for writing had to slightly evolve though!
It is almost March, cold temperatures and omnipresent snow starkly foil our first steps in Mumbai. My studies fascinate me and are hatching opportunities. I quite enjoy living in the capital of Sweden and, as some even say, Scandinavia.
When describing this place, rated highly in terms of almost every standard, you can fall into the trap of mentioning first not that which is unique, but that which is different from your other cushy western experiences. You say "yes, it's great but": shops close too early, friendly small talk is rare, the housing market is an impenetrable mess, packed subway rides are the ultimate exercise in silence and anonymity, you exclusively depend on supermarkets to buy your food, downtown is too commercial, it's bloody expensive, public space life is paralysed in winter. I am also particularly fond of how often terrorism and immigration are discussed on sleepy orchid-decorated morning shows (it switched to tulips this week). But these are just the ironic observations of someone coming from elsewhere. They start to really creep in at the stage when you miss where you have come from and have yet to understand where you are. We are also more prone to complain when our basic comforts are too well provided for. Once you get over what's missing and see what's different, Stockholm can be quite awesome. Sweden is a proud country, but from what I understand rarely advertises itself without you showing it appreciation.
To begin, Stockholm is absolutely magnificent. The city straddles a number of islands that form part of an archipelago of thousands splattered across the convergence of freshwater Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea. You cross bridges, snake along shorelines, jump from one moated urban space to the next, throughout your day. The transportation system is robotically beautiful and efficient. For a city that is not evenly multicultural, the atmosphere in each quarter is still very distinct and you will inevitably begin to identify with one area more than others after very short time. One of the basic expressions of scene-affiliation quickly comes up as the statement of whether you go out on Stureplan or in Södermalm, both the domain of the well-off: the second an affluent hipster post-industrial haven versus the venture capital and weapons old money posh kingdom of wine-drinkers of the first. Both provide an ample offering of trendy espresso bars to feign productive fikas (coffee breaks). That's quite a nice thing here by the way, how in spite of the consensus to work efficiently, anyone will drop everything at the mere mention of a grabbing a cup of joe. It's not just the city fabric, it's the outward look, the drive to bring in excellence from around the world, the embrace of cutting-edge ideas balanced with practicality and Nordic pragmatism. The idea that cool, beautiful and effective designs often originate from practical and pure concepts imbibes everything. While you run into tolerance roadblocks because of how isolated the country is and how long it has stayed closed, you mostly encounter a great disposition to question, discuss and re-frame. A good place to be curious and driven.
Since the Sweden Democrats, the ultra-right conservatives, won more than 5% of the vote for the first time in the general elections in September, granting them a presence in parliament, the country has been disbelievingly forced to reconsider its ideals and dig into deep-rooted xenophobia. The years to come promise to be interesting. In Stockholm, immigrant neighbourhoods remain structurally isolated, even though everyone knows that this is a problem and wishes it could be otherwise, while still admitting preference for the affluent middle-class blocks of the centre. From a Canadian perspective, the dialogue of guilt with fear is shocking, but its intentions are progressive and aim to achieve a modern nationalism that is receptive to the outside, precisely the opposite of what's going on in my other home country of Switzerland. We are trapped near the Artic circle, on the geographical periphery of Europe, shuttered in our houses in the dark and cold long winter every year, and the ambition is to set an achievable world standard, this is pretty good. When Swedes also realise that buying so many clothes from China and eating so much cod, shrimp and Norwegian farmed salmon dampens their successes, it'll be even better!
This post has been about making statements rather than following the blog's more general documentary approach. I can't yet commit to a full return to form, but I have more articles on the way and plenty of images to share. The end of last summer needs to reported, along with the financial data. I have new travel posts from Europe. I have a finance post on life in Sweden. I also have a lot to share about my studies. Internally and externally, from all sides, my head is being fed questions and I am fortunate to have fantastic complicit idea explorers around me. I count you dearest reader as one of them. For now, I can only thank you for stopping by and hope you visit again soon if you find the words interesting.