Sunday, February 28, 2010

Melting and Refreezing

Stockholm is turning to mush. It's one degree and it's warm. Seriously. Warm is definitely a relative concept. On account of this mild weather, we're melting. Puddles abound and every roof, overhanging balcony and tree branch is dripping. I'm worried that a huge drift of snow and ice will slide from five stories up and land on my head. This happens and is sadly, sometimes fatal.

Trying to look nonchalant, I walk on the outer edge of the footpath. Whilst this may be a life-preserving strategy, it means that I'm in the splash zone of passing cars and buses. You can imagine.

By Tuesday, we'll be back to a chilly daily maximum of minus six degrees. The dripping will stop. The water will freeze. All those wet surfaces and puddles will become treacherous, glassy patches of ice. Just when I was getting good at walking AND looking up occasionally, I'll be doing the cartoon-style-legs-spinning routine and grabbing at passers-by!

The subject of ice brings me to another dilemma. To my foreign mind, it would make a great deal of sense to avert a falling over embarrassement or injury by wearing spikes on your shoes. Stockholmers almost without exception disagree. It's not that you can't buy spikes for your shoes. They're in every Apoteket and shoe repair store. It's just that the only people who wear them are really really old. Octogenerian. I've seen about eight people in my entire time here, clicketty clicking through the entrance to the Tunnelbanna.

Q:     Do I try to act cool and try to look like a local?
A:     No spikes.

Q:     Do I set aside all pretence, any illusions I might have about my age and publicly declare my ice-walking ineptitude?
A:     Spikes.

Decision: There will be no limping through the doors of a Swedish sjukhus for me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Smiling at Strangers

At home I walk whenever I can. For fun, fitness and all that stuff. I walk a five-kilometre loop along a creek and the area is populated with kookaburras, magpies, the occasional yellow-tailed black cockatoo and a million screeching rainbow lorikeets.

At risk of generalising again, when people go for a walk in Australia, well in my little piece of it anyway, they acknowledge one another when they walk by. Sometimes it's a quiet nod and other times it's a generous "Hello! Lovely morning!" said with the requisite sing-song intonation. Sometimes it's just a "hi," "morning," or "hello". Joggers are excused, but mostly they make eye contact and I return their look with one of avid admiration and respect. They run on with a little more of a spring in their step, feeling self-satisfied and slightly superior. I am always glad to have contributed to a moment of enhanced self-esteem.

Here in Sweden smiling at strangers is not the done thing. I confess to being something of a non-conformist however, so when I walk here I often set out to see how many smiles I can elicit. Please don't think that I think Swedish people are unfriendly. Mostly they're watching the ice and snow under their feet in order to avoid the undignified flailing of limbs or a fall. Yesterday I was failing miserably in the smiles-elicited stakes. I had launched many genuine smiles into the sub-zero landscape but to no avail. And then it happened. Something that has never happened in Australia!

An elderly gentleman looked up and smiled. He paused as I approached and reached out to touch my arm. I smiled again and made some redundant comment about the cold. He said, “You are beautiful, very beautiful,” and then he kissed me on the cheek! I was touched. Perhaps I had reminded him of someone loved and special. Perhaps people don’t smile at him often enough.

So I kissed him on the other cheek and told him that he was too kind. And I went on my way, intrigued, gratified...and smiling.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I could be going to Italy, but I'm not. I could be going to a conference in the UK, but I'm not. I'm staying put in snowy Stockholm to write.

I did not write anything today. Facebook status-updates and shopping lists don't count. Maybe I'll finish this blog, maybe not.

When I was working full-time and did not have the time to write, I was enthusiatic and inspired. Now I have the time, I am distracted, avoidant and unsure.

I am not a writer. Never have been. I like to write things and I think I'm ok at putting words together but writers write! So I'm not one...yet.

I think that maybe the flip side of creativity is discipline. And that more than a string of two-line paragraphs would be good. Do two lines really make a paragraph?

I'm not going to Italy.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010


We have an apartment. It’s cosy. Read small. Everything about it other than the flat-screen television is small. I know this and I expect this, but cannot get used to living it.

In Australia, large open spaces are something we have and somehow feel entitled to. Our kitchen benches are long and wide. Our living rooms are bigger than many Swedish apartments. We live expansively on our verandahs and decks and in our back-yards we can kick a footy, hang a hammock, keep chooks, plant a vegie garden and install an impromptu cricket pitch using the rubbish bins for wickets!

Ok, ok…some Australians live in apartments but new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that we’re building bigger homes than ever before, with an average floor space of 214.6 square metres. Free-standing homes are even bigger on average, at 245 square metres! So are we Aussies being poor custodians of our planet’s limited resources? Are we recklessly heating, cooling and vacuuming our homes using up precious electricity, gas and water when we should be learning a lesson from our down-sized Swedish friends?

I’d like to think there is some middle ground. A bathroom with a window would be nice. I would like to have a cupboard in the bedroom. I would like to be able to make a coffee in my Swedish kitchen without having my husband have to squeeze past me to put the orange juice back in the fridge. I really don’t mind the proximity that early in the morning, it’s just that we’re under each other’s feet!

So as I learn to navigate in a more contained and circumspect way around my 35 square meters, I will contemplate what I want, what I need and what I’m simply used to. I will be glad that it only takes five minutes to tidy up and I will dream of a table that seats ten. I will renew my respect for Ikea storage solutions and I will put things away when I have finished with them.

And when I want big, I’ll turn on the telly.

Friday, February 12, 2010


After hearing of the terrible loss of life this week on the Salang Pass in Afghanistan, I am finding it easier to put our frustrating and fruitless search for an apartment in perspective.

We arrived in Stockholm almost a week ago and following days of internet searching, phone calls, emails, negotations and dead-ends, I was feeling quite despondent about our housing options. My lovely husband encouraged me to leave our hotel room and to get out and enjoy the sunshine.

It was a beautiful day. Crisp and glittering Stockholm was at its winter best. As I walked and wondered at the blueness of the sky, I recalled reading The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (2005). In this moving personal narrative, she describes how grief left her in an altered mental state at best, deranged at worst. She reflects, “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.”

For me yesterday, blue skies and bright snow brought joy and a sense of awe. For one hundred and seventy people in Afghanistan, blue skies and too much snow brought life to an untimely end. Rather than making me feel maudlin and depressed, this reverie heightened my senses, awakened gratitude and put my accommodation problem firmly in its place.

For now, I will enjoy each instant. Each ordinary instant.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I’m not sure that I can speak for all Australians, but for me, snow is about fun. It’s a novelty! Yes, we do have snow in Australia, in fact we Victorians can boast of a number of very respectable ski resorts within three to five hours drive from Melbourne. We don’t guarantee good snow seasons as our winters are fickle and often warm. An extended El NiƱo weather pattern hasn’t recently been kind to the snowfields of Victoria either.

So we ski and snow board and party with friends in ski lodges. The hardy, traverse the white wilderness and camp out or stay in huts built by stockmen who grazed cattle in the high country years ago. But only those who work in the ski resorts actually live with the white stuff on a daily basis.  Snow here in Sweden, well this winter at least, is ubiquitous. It creates beautiful, surreal landscapes, stark contrasts, soft contours and transforms ugly traffic roundabouts into perfect, crystalline UFOs. Despite the fact that snow here is just so normal, I cannot help myself! I want to throw myself into those pristine drifts and throw handfuls of it at other people. I want to sit on all those snow laden seats and leave a body print. I want to stick my tongue out when it’s falling and have it melt on my lips.

Seasoned locals would probably think I was crazy should I do any of these things, and whilst I have skipped from the path on occasion (yes I did get snow in my boots and no I didn’t care), I have not indulged the full desire to play. My inner child is restless however and cannot be constrained for much longer. So Stockholmers, if you see a woman making snow angels somewhere or sitting on a snow covered park bench with a silly smile on her face, you’ll know she’s not mad, just Australian.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dagens Lunch

Following a visit to a nearby accomodation broker, lunch was calling.

A legion of people who do not suffer from a fear of heights, work tirelessly through the winter clearing dangerous icicles and snow from the rooftops. Sections of the footpath (pavement/sidewalk?) are cordoned off and drifts of snow and ice hit the ground as they are dislodged from on high.

After lunch in a nearby cafe, I was stepping out the door only to be grabbed by a Swedish gentleman and blasted by a workman with a whistle. The gentleman offered a comprehensive but incomprehensible explanation for interrupting my exit and the man with the whistle and accompanying gestures, a perfectly eloquent one...the snow and ice clearers were working right above the cafe door!

The gentleman, realising he was dealing with an ignorant non-Swede, explained in English that it was not a good idea to have ice and snow in your head. We parted laughing, after I had thanked him for saving my life!