The following is taken from an email to friends written on August 29, 2006.
I am writing this in a 7–11 in Stockholm. The world is bizarre.
Now, I hate art. I know, that can’t be true, I went to art school, right? Sure, I learned a lot about art there, but just like with my taste in music, it is very particular. There are actually very few things that I enjoy in the world of art. Past and present. It takes something special to get me to like it. The Scream is at the top of the pile that I like. So I was very excited to go to the National Gallery my last day in Oslo and see it.
My mother is a painter; she paints in a hyper-realist style. All through grade and high school, I was drawing and painting very realistically. I just never thought to try anything different. But then, one day came, that I had some strange dream, and I went to Art 2 class the next day and looked at The Scream. The unreal strokes and colors did not distract from the hyper real feeling of his work.
I have always enjoyed Edvard Munch’s paintings. They are so full of emotion. In just one painting he can capture an entire story, he can make you recall a deep feeling. Remember a forgotten boyfriend, shudder at the recollection of how terrible adolescence was. The Scream in some ways, captures so much pain that I have felt at times, and at others, made me laugh. I mean, look at that guy. He’s hilarious.
Upon seeing The Scream, I could feel my body brimming with glee. It was electric. I nearly cried, overwhelmed from the experience. It is quite ful-filling to have gone so far and see something you’ve admired for so long. I know Christian wanted me to appreciate the Picassos, Monets, and other fine works the gallery had to offer, but I was zoned in.
I forget what else happened that day, because it was obliterated by the extreme joy between seeing The Scream and eating dinner. Oh right, we saw the boat that went to the Antarctic — you know, nothing significant! I wish I hadn’t been in such a post-Scream haze so as to appreciate it better. Anyway, dinner was a delight. Christian’s parents wanted to meet us and cook us a traditional Norwegian dinner. It was fantastic. They made perfectly tender pork-meatballs in a heavenly gravy. The gravy was also drizzled over cauliflower (a vegetable most people could forget, but I happen to love) and boiled potatoes. The lingonberries on the side were very tart. Altogether, they made quite the taste explosion in your mouth. But the gravy alone, I could have drunk a liter of it right then and there. In fact, I want to buried in a vat of it. Because that is probably how I will die: drinking a vat of Mrs. von S’s gravy.
After dinner, I did the most stereotypically womanly thing I’ve ever done in my life. I asked Mrs. von S for the recipe. I’ve spent most of my life being an overgrown tomboy, occasionally exploring my feminine side. And I don’t know why asking for a recipe seems like something only ladies do when plenty of men cook. But for some reason, this just made me feel connected to that long-ignored part of me.
After dinner we took a leisurely walk down to the beach. It was chilly, and a thunderstorm blew up. There is something about cold beaches that I love. I think it’s that contrast thing again — being someplace traditionally associated with warmth, sun, and lots of half naked people, but instead it’s chilly, cloudy, and we’re all alone. And half-naked. No, of course not. I enjoy the solitude of a cold beach, it’s perfect for contemplation.
That night we boarded our sleeper train to Stockholm. If sleeping on the boat was perfection, then sleeping on the train was the exact opposite. We were in a cabin with 4 other people, who were the loseriest losers on the train. Everyone else was up, chatting, and watching the towns go by. Our cabin was asleep at 10. I went into the corridor for a bit, but felt much guilt returning, because of course they stuck me on the top of the 3 creaky bunks. When I finally tried to go to sleep, the engineer decided it was time to lean on the horn every 10 minutes. The erratic rocking of the train didn’t bother me as much as the sound of the wheels did. At least they were loud enough to drown out everyone snoring. I put in my earplugs and eventually got accustomed to the noise, but I’m pretty sure I got about 15 minutes of sleep.
We arrived in Stockholm too early to check into our hostel, so I got out my friend Stephen’s itinerary. He spent 6 months in Sweden, and got very excited when I told him I was going. It was really nice to have someone I know send me a guide to the city — it made me feel like I was connected to it, somehow, through him. First, he recommended a boat tour, so we went on one that circled the city. The tour was pre-recorded, on headphones that you could listen to in whatever language you selected and set to music. So within 3 hours of arriving in Sweden, I heard my first ABBA song, “Waterloo,” which has been stuck in my head ever since.
The boat tour was great; it went all around the city. They call Stockholm “The Venice of the North.” I haven’t been there yet, so I can’t compare, but I can see where the name comes from. [As I edit this in 2015, after having been to Venice, I’m compelled to mention that they’re very different. But each lovely in their own way] It does seem like the city is built mostly on islands. Our hostel is on the original island of Stockholm, called Gamla Stad. Its feeling is the closest to Italy. Or old Europe, I should probably say. Lots of tiny cobblestone streets and leaning buildings and crazy alleyways that will make their way into the portfolios of photo students.
I went to City Hall, which has the best tower for viewing, only to find it was closed. But that didn’t stop me from going up in some kind of tower. I took the Katarinahissen, which is Swedish for “awkward elevator.” It juts out of the side of a building like a robot’s arm. The views from it were wonderful and the efficiency of getting me up the hill was appreciated, but I still found it a squarish anomaly in a city of humanist design.
Stephen also recommended I go up to Montalisevägen, a cliff that I probably misspelled, overlooking the city from Södermalm, an island full of young, bohemian artist-types. The cliff view was really spectacular. I sat down and contemplated life (this whole trip has been about contemplating life. I haven’t come up with any conclusions, either) and thought how funny it was to be somewhere Stephen had been, so far away from where either of us lives now.
The galleries in Södermalm were fairly good. I’ve been really impressed with the way Scandinavia handles its artists. They really seem to have a lot of freedom here to express themselves. And they establish a lot of commun-ities and collectives. Ohh! Argh! The person behind the counter at 7–11 just told us they’re closing soon. My next email I will tell you about what I was about to segue into, the Kulturehusset. Which was marvelous.
That is, if I have time, before I come home.
Hug each other extra tight for me.