STORA BLECKTORNSPARKEN is an urban park a bit farther south on Södermalm with the same kinds of Bullerby buildings as Bryggartäppan. There is more graffiti here, though, and shreds of rubbish, broken glass shards, fruit peels, chipped paint and rust, the illusion of safety. “Dad? Dad? Dad!” “What?” “Look what I can do!” The nine year old swings away as the five year old arrives, panting. “Daddy, my knee hurts, look what happened. I slipped on the rocks.” I survey the wound only to be interrupted by, “Dad? Dad? Dad! Watch me swing!” And she swings higher and higher. Mothers sit around us tinkering with their phones. More wonderful park birds flit about. It feels good to breathe and write in Stockholm. To write without any project or desire for money. Just writing with feeling, without that evil thought looking over your shoulder, the one that says that every word has to count toward something. But maybe that thought came from the office or from some editor. Maybe it was never my thought to begin with. “When you are with someone, you become someone else,” says Erland. “You change yourself. When I was with Henrietta I was someone else. And when I was with Agnetha I was someone different from that person. And when I was with Gunnhildur, that Icelandic football player, I was also someone else.” Erland has been a lot of people. “Dad? Dad? Dad! Come here, help me off this swing. Come, Dad. Come!” These children. They so crave my attention. If I only had some time off I could be such a better father to them. I could never have any more children. Not now. I would go crazy. That would just be the end of the story. Not with these thin Swedish women. Not a chance. Although the lady who made me coffee was rather nice and might get me to reconsider, especially if she turns out to be some Zelda Fitzgerald type who can ruin me and provide me with loads of material about her schizophrenia. This playground is a madhouse. All the sobbing, crying children. All the childhood drama and trauma. The pale thin mothers calling after their offspring, their barn. One of the children steals the five year old’s balloon and I have to run after him and take it back, causing a puzzled look from the toddler, who thought the balloon was his. In the meantime, a mouse ran over the nine year old’s shoes at the bottom of the slide. The parents here all look at each other. I suppose this is one way to pass the time at a playground on a hot day. A Muslim family arrives, the mother’s head covered, the daughters bare to the sun. They look truly happy, content, and I sense no disturbance or cultural conflict. The Swedes don’t dress so differently from Americans. They seem maybe more capitalistic though. A Swede is the sum of all he or she consumes. The patterned dresses, the well-groomed facial hair. A barber shop stands on every other corner, catering to the perfectionism of the Swedish man. The women shop for dresses at the boutiques in between. One must exude one’s wealth and value. A haircut, a shave, a flowing cut of textile, this is worth nothing alone. It’s the effort that goes into being Swedish. This is what pays the real dividends. At night, we find ourselves at another playground nearby on Nytorget. Teenagers stand among the benches singing songs and playing ukuleles. “Södermalm is like the best place ever,” my nine year old says. “There is no traffic, the houses are pretty, and everyone has time to do whatever they want.” This is the fun of a playground in the dusky twilight of midnight in Stockholm. As the children play on, and the ukuleles strum, and I admire the lights from the cafes around the park, I read a sign about local history. This was once the site of a large garbage heap, it reads. And in the 18th century it also was the location of the gallows and a major site of public executions. I wish I could have seen Stockholm then when it was rough and tumble and full of pickpockets and convicts, truants and robbers, counterfeiters, highwaymen, gentlemen of the day and ladies of the night. Before the boutiques and barbers, there were wards of the state sentenced to hard time. Looking around nighttime Nytorget, this seems impossible. It’s as if it never happened.
from my journal, July 2017