IN STOCKHOLM on a peaceful July day– at last. Bryggartäppan is a children’s playground, the size of one city block approximately, with clusters of leaning red buildings set up to look like an old Swedish village. There’s even a wooden putka here where two fine-looking ladies make coffee for the parents, mostly mothers, even on a Sunday. Tiny birds flit around and one of the sellers is most fetching, a sturdy woman with those hoop earrings that always seem to mesmerize me. Her eyes are as blue as the sky and her hair is pulled back. Yes, I have appraised her thoroughly, but maybe it’s not just her that toys with my senses but that smell of baking waffles, coupled with all of those cream-colored buildings around us. There was even a little yellow fly that landed on my hand before. Have I ever seen an insect that color? Is everything in Stockholm made of gold? “I don’t want water, there’s juice there, there’s some juice over there!” This is what my youngest daughter, age 5, is shrieking in Bryggartäppan. Then she cries aloud in Estonian, “Ma saan nii kurjaks,” “I’m getting so angry!”, and punches her older sister, age 9. Then she begins to sulk and cry. The youngest is wearing a light blue headband from Copenhagen Tiger, and totes around a blue fairy balloon from Gröna Lund, the amusement park. This troubles her older sister. “I told you at the park that I also wanted you to get me a balloon but you didn’t get me one!” At last the seller returns from making waffles and hands over a box of äppel juice. Quickly, the straw is in the little one’s mouth, and she is quiet for a moment. The other children here are Swedish. They are pale, thin, and have straw-colored hair. They are physically active, and on occasion expressive, but I have not witnessed the kind of volcanic outbursts of which our children are so ready and capable. I search our family trees for some culprit — is it their mother’s Komi great grandfather? A plosive mix of Siberian and Greco-Roman blood? — but there is no answer. The parents here at Bryggartäppan are, as a rule, older. Perhaps a few of them are actually grandparents. Swedes are a peculiar breed though. They are married to modernity. They are infatuated with their perfect civilized society, yet so haunted and repressed by this civilizational impulse that they have the emotional temperament of office wallpaper. They hide away their thoughts, dreams, dark sides behind apartment doors, sunglasses, and politely phrased, thoughtful senses that implore only moderation. Rows and rows of perfectly symmetrical apartment windows, cascades of identical balconies, rising up and up and up, peaking in crescendos of tiled roofs and towers. The pursuit of wealth, the proper means to express it, these are the chief concerns of the Stockholm Swedes. Everything here must be perfect. A little girl with her face painted and her hair done up in corn rows goes skipping by, and another waits patiently for the five year old to dismount a small rocking horse. When she does get off the horse she sulks again and then announces to the lot, “I am so bored!” To which a little boy nearby, who understands English, chides her. “Be quiet,” he says. “You’re acting like a baby.” “I am not,” she says, and smacks at the air with her balloon. “I am not a baby,” the five year old sobs and then takes her apple juice and squeezes the liquid all over her older sister’s drawing on a table beside the playground café. “You are bad!” the nine year old scolds her, to which she only shouts, “I’m not bad!” “You poured juice on my picture — that’s bad.” “I did not.” “You did too.” “Tegid küll.” “Ei teinud. SA VALETAD!” “YOU LIE!” These are perhaps the loudest sentences that have been uttered on Swedish soil since Estonian pirates sacked the old Swedish capital Sigtuna in 1187. There are lots of pregnant Scandinavians in the park here today, paging through magazines and pretending not to hear this terrible squall. Their days will yet come. “Here’s an idea for a good life,” my Swedish pal Erland said yesterday, skulking around the Pressbyrån at Slussen with his hands in his pockets and harbor wind in his hair. “Meet a girl, have a bunch of kids with her,” he said. “Then you can all be wonderfully miserable together for a few years. Doesn’t that just sound like the greatest idea?”

from my journal, July 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s