Contra banal

I’m very glad that I didn’t let myself be discouraged by the title of Christiane Bröcker and Babette Schröder’s “111 places in Stockholm that you must not miss”. It’s full of quirky, amusing and interesting locations in Stockholm that I knew little or nothing about.

My first book-inspired visit today was to the Aronsberg Cemetery (Mosaiska begravningsplatsen Aronsberg) near Fridhemsplan, Stockholm’s oldest Jewish cemetery named after Aaron Isaak, who came to Sweden in 1774, supplied equipment to the Swedish army in Russia and was, according to Wikipedia later swindled by Adolf Fredrik Munck, for a time a favourite of Gustav III, subsequently disgraced and exiled and who ended up in a pauper’s grave in Italy. Aaron Isaak wrote his memories in West Yiddish, but there is a Swedish translation Aaron Isaac: Minnen: ett judiskt äventyr i svenskt 1700-tal. Stockholm 2008. A must read for a rainy day at KB.

The cemetery gate is locked. You get a good view from Alströmergatan but, of course, not at all as intensive an experience as being able to wander among the gravestones and let the everyday fade.

I love following such threads, not knowing where they will lead. Threads that make the well acquainted strange, that work against our tendency to reduce attention once an area is known and safe, good perhaps for survival but not for our sense of wonder. My eye is not bad if I use it but I am lazy and need assistance to discover. And here not far from Café Fix and Pressbyrån and all the rest of familiar Fridhemsplan, was this atmospheric place unseen for 40 years. I am attracted by Hebrew too, consigned to the shadows by our Christian culture but as much part of our history as Greek or Latin.


Durham, 52 years on

Offered interviews at Durham and Newcastle universities (English and Philosophy), I didn’t immediately realise the succinct disastrousness of my “I’ve read a bit of Hegel”, neatly demonstrating in six or seven words that I had no idea about the state of English philosophy in 1964. The slipper-shod interviewer sprawled across a sofa (this impressed me at the time) replied with a laconic “We don’t concern ourselves very much with Hegel these days”.

I’m much more proud of the 17 year old who thought that Durham was very fine, with its cathedral and castle, and that he must come back on a more leisurely occasion.

And now today I’ve finally managed to do so, a mere 52 years later.

I wouldn’t go as far as Bill Bryson who is quoted in the cathedral guide as saying “I unhesitatingly gave Durham my vote for the best Cathedral on planet Earth” (Notes from a Small Island). But it is certainly among my favourites. Apart from the Chapel of the Nine Altars, it’s very largely Norman work, giving an impression of stylistic harmony and strength. But, less usual for a Norman church, the bulky pillars don’t block the light out. Especially interesting is the late Norman ceiling with its pointed arches anticipating the first of the Gothic styles. These arches could bear more weight than the earlier round Norman arches, enabling the construction of a high stone ceiling (and producing the happy combination of Norman solidity and strength and the lightness of soaring Gothic).

There are also two important graves in the church. First, St Cuthbert, his body evacuated to Durham at a safe distance from the Vikings, who were ravaging Lindisfarne. He had a lavish grave here for many hundred years until the time of Henry VIII (16th  century) when the King’s commissioners came to dissolve the monastery and lay their hands on the gold casing of Cuthbert’s tomb. Cuthbert himself was reported to be incorrupt (body intact after about 800 years…) and they let him be minus the gold (which I suspect was of much more interest than the body anyway, corrupt or incorrupt….).

More of a favourite for me, the Venerable Bede is also buried here, one of the more substantial of the slender threads leading back to Saxon times with his history of the English people (historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum).

Information culled from “Durham Cathedral, Light of the North” (2006), John Field and “Durham Cathedral, The Shrine of St Cuthbert” (2013).

Footling, Farage and the falling pound

My footle tolerance is improving. I’m less and less bothered about having a low-key day after travelling and no longer experience this as a serious threat to my identity.

The day has not been without its charms, however. At Tesco, I discover (and by a supreme effort of will do not buy) hot cross buns (like Easter…) and raspberry flavoured ginger beer (the old place is not what it used to be…). I also make use of the Brexit-crushed pound to buy an electric toothbrush to be stationed in the UK (and wonder whether Farage has done anything else useful in his life apart from helping improve my oral hygiene).

Looking forward to tomorrow’s visit to Durham, a cathedral and university city a couple of train hours away to the north.

Musing on Swedishness

Musing on Swedishness. Unsorted and more a babbling brook of consciousness than a stream.

Fälldin has recently died and I’m in Gotland for the first time in 30 years whuch makes me feel I have been in Sweden for a very long time.

I remember orange and cream diesel trains trundling around the countryside and seeing recently scrapped trams in Malmö.

Getting pretty stamps at the post office when you paid money into your post office savings account.
Having a little book for each account where the amount deposited or withdrawn was written in by hand,

The little box on the top of the TV to let you see TV2.

Exotic carriages from foreign railways going to Moscow, Berlin, Rome and Hoek van Holland.

Systembolaget closing on Saturday for reasons of alcohol policy.

Feeling guilty about goiing into ICA instead of Konsum and wondering how much longer privately owned grocery shops would survive.
Domus, Konsum’s department store with its infinity symbol.

Getting your personal documents from the church-run parish office.

Paying bills at the PO.

Getting paid 1600 after tax and thinking it was a fabulous wage by UK standsrds (life disabused me quickly here).

Sitting in bastus pretending I was enjoying the experience (eating “lutfusk” (white stockfish) ditto.

Experiencing the cradle to grave feeliing of social democratic dominance reminding me of the German SPD in its heyday that I’d read about and not like our paler weaker more defensive Labour Party.

Public telephones that took 30 öre for a local call.

Feeling emotionally hijacked by my Swedish teacher when she had her class sign a Get Well card for Evert Taube (he died so he didn’t)..

Being irritated at the expression “Our immigrants” (this before I got to know and love “our Swedes”)..

Gustav VI Adolf’s death.

Seeing the beginning of the end of the anything goes attitude to sexuality (at least provided you lusted after the opposite sex) when sale of child pornography was made illegal.

Being asked by a social worker if I needed money for anything else and feeling that life in Sweden was very calm and protected compared with the Darwinist rough and tumble of North London.

It’s been a long.time and I still feel I have one foot in and one foot out of the culture. This despite almost becoming a national institution as the person who has been here for the longest period (soon anyway….).
I’m obviously suffering from chronic exile fixation and need national therapy.

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