Stockholm is a beautiful city.
And here was I, walking down the street with an intelligent, articulate, highly educated (and gorgeous) woman (she looked a lot like Ingrid Bergman did in Casablanca. Sadly, I look nothing like Bogart, but then again, I am almost as cool in spite of that) who I had been spending a great deal of time with, and who had taken it upon herself to make sure I experienced her city in a way that would do it justice.
We were discussing all manner of interesting things as we strolled arm in arm down Vasagatan toward the metro station after a truly wonderful summer's day on the town.
Summers in Stockholm are quite amazing, it is light out for something like twenty hours out of twenty four, the weather is usually quite balmy and no one wants to stay inside.
Stockholm is built on a series of islands, so the city is crisscrossed by canals, it's a bit like Venice, but without the bad smell. As a matter 0f fact it is both one of the most delightful, and one of the cleanest cities I have ever been in.
We were returning home from a day of wandering the city, exploring it on foot, by bus and ferry.
She had decided that morning that we had to visit the Museum of Medieval Stockholm, a rather unique place. The city had planned to build an underground parking lot near Parliament, but when they started digging, they discovered a section of the original city, houses, artifacts, streets, a longboat, part of the city wall and much, much more. Rather than doing what we do here when a builder finds an archaeological site (try to hide the fact, destroy the site before anyone knows about it, complain about how much money it's going to cost you to let people come in and preserve the artifacts, and pour concrete over it as soon as you can) the city did something interesting. They built an underground museum instead of a parking lot.
To get in, you went through a rather nondescript door in a little cul-de-sac, down a narrow flight of stairs, and into a HUGE underground chamber.
It was truly amazing, to walk streets that were laid in the thirteenth century, peering into the buildings, touching the stones. The fact that we were in a giant man made cave with lights strung like stars across the sealing gave it a dreamy, surreal quality.
After prowling about for a while, taking in the atmosphere of Medieval Stockholm, we decided to move on.
We cut through Parliament, which is nothing like going to the houses of congress here. It is just sort of open and people walk through. No guns, no secret service, no guards. It was even more surreal than the museum for an American used to US government paranoia about the intentions of its citizens.
Coming out this entrance, there were almost always street musicians, often from South America, playing native flutes, Charango and drum. We were on our way to one of my vary favorite parts of Stockholm, the Gamla Stan (Old Town) for lunch.
The Gamla Stan is a tourist attraction to be sure, but a rather nice one. It was in fact one of my favorite parts of the city. I love the narrow, cobblestone streets, the shops, outdoor cafes and buildings that have been standing since before America was a country.
After grabbing lunch, we headed over to Skansen.
Skansen is an outdoor museum, and it's huge. It includes a zoo, houses and other buildings from every part of Swedish history as well as other exhibits. I suspect you could spend a week there ans still not explore everything the place has to offer.
As you may have figured out by now, I have an enduring fascination with history, and since most of my mother's family came from Sweden, I found my trip to Skansen to be particularly engaging.
I loved tins little house from Sami land. It reminded me of something out of fairytale.
And this house looks very much like the one my Grandfather was born in, before his family upped and moved to the States.
There was also a zoo that had many of the indigenous Scandinavian animals, wolves, and wolverines, moose, reindeer, European bison, and this fellow,
The Swedish lynx. Don't think bobcat here, he was about sixty pounds, the size of a small cougar. I was impressed. I had not realized that the European lynx was a large as that, or that they had managed to survive as well as they had.
After a good day's wandering, we headed to the Hötorget (the hay square).
This is an indoor-outdoor market, sort of a farmer's market on steroids. I had promised my friend that I would cook her a real southwestern meal, and this was one of the few places I might be able to find the required ingredients. (chilies were not common in Sweden, nor are some of the other spices we take for granted here)
We managed to find everything I needed and we headed off to the metro station to catch the Blue Line home.
As we walked the conversation drifted to some of the differences between Sweden and the US.
"We are a social democracy" she said. "We understand that the government's job is to serve the collective needs of the people, the US seems to think that it is government's job to rule the people as if they were all slightly naughty children". I of course protested this characterization.
She pointed out that our government seems determined to use our tax money for thins that do not in fact serve the people who give the money, but rather to benefit those dubious, sociopathic pseudo-entities called corporations. (note: "sociopathic" is defined as behavior that is antisocial and lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience). She explained that "Social Democracy" means having a conscience as a people, and acting on it for the benefit of ALL citizens. She pointed out two major differences between our countries. The first was in education. She said (and she was a school teacher, so I suspect she knew what she was talking about) that the quality of education was uniform across the country. You would receive the same high quality education in a big city school and a rural one room school house. This was why Sweden had near universal literacy, and such a low crime rate according to her.
The other area wan health care. She said " We think that it is not really a democracy if you die before you are old enough to vote because you were denied necessary health care because of money". She pointed out that America's health system was a parasite that preyed on the citizens of my country taking more and more money and doing everything it could to not give value for what was taken.
She pointed out that Sweden had universal health care that was quite good, that Swedes , had one of the longest life expectancies in the world, and were in much better health in general than Americans. That was, she said because the people all had access to the same health care as part of the social contract of her country. She thought commercial health care was an insane proposition, much like commercial air for breathing. She said she didn't understand why we put up with people being denied health care in the States when spent more money for less value than any other industrialized nation.
About this time we arrived at Näckrosen station, which was just a couple blocks from where I was living.
The Stations for the Metro, especially the blue line, were quite lovely. they were all decorated with different themes, and often left with the walls "unfinished". Näckrosen means "water lily" and as you can see, the station was decorated with water lilies painted on the naked rock.
We had a very fine dinner (if I do say so myself) and a delightful evening, a fitting end to an adventurous day.
Over the years I never forgot our conversation on education and health care. She made some telling points. The proposition that commercial health care is somehow better than universal care that a whole nation provides for all its citizens if just a flat lie. I have experienced both, I know this for a fact.
I was reminded of this conversation when I ran across this video on YouTube.
Think about it. Does it really do us as a nation to not look out for each other, but rather trust corporations who have a "fiduciary responsibility" to maximize profits above all else?
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Stockholm is a beautiful city.