New found bravery and the calm before the storm

Back in my flat enjoying the endorphins after walking 13,000 + steps.

I was up before dawn today to get into Stockholm before the world was on its way to work. My usual routine for pandemonia travel, an early bus and then first class on the regular train. There’s more people on the buses now – still only a few wearing masks.

I earn my steps by walking from Stockholm Central Station a couple of kilometres to Sophiahemmet where I have to leave blood samples for my coming health check. It’s pleasurable walking through Stockholm, partly because it’s warmer there than in Uppsala but also because it’s Stockholm. I miss living in Stockholm even though I have become unexpectedly fond of Uppsala. I first came to Stockholm 49 years ago; it feels like one of my home cities, a part of Sweden that has become part of me, one of the few places in Sweden where I could live. It’s full of memories as I make way across the city. Sveavägen where my elder daughter’s nursery/pre-school was located. It must have been Sweden’s most central nursery. We lived in Rinkeby and I had shared custody of her, an affectionate but bohemian parent. We often breakfasted at a café just opposite her nursery after our 20 minute journey on the metro. And Kungsgatan which was the major shopping street when I first came to Stockholm. I remember how it felt northern and exotic but now my eye accustomed to things Nordic can no longer see that (and perhaps Sweden has become less different). And then Stureplan once with its odd little “folkhemsk” shopping centre where I used to go to Kursverksamheten’s office in connection with my English language teaching. Now gentrified and becoming more so. Hedengren’s, the city’s best bookshop is still soldiering on, but it hardly feels like it belongs there any more (and nor do I among all the expensive shops in Biblioteksgatan and Stureplan).

But soon we’re passing Humlegården and the Royal Library, a breath of air for the mind and body after the not so discreet charmlessness of the bourgeoisie in the heart of mammon. And I think of all the projects I have pursued in the library over the years and the wonderfully studious atmosphere that pervades the place. And, friendly souvenir of London, one of Stockholm’s few, perhaps the only, plane tree in the city just outside the library, an exhaust-fume tolerant tree that can be found all over London. At the end of Stureplan, we come to Stadion, the sports stadium built in 1912 in connection with the Stockholm Olympics in the national romantic style. It’s something of an architectural icon but I’ve never liked it but found it grim, my distaste perhaps heightened by its use (I have had an abiding distaste/disinterest in sport from my teens onwards, which complicates conversations with taxi drivers, who tend to proffer conversational gambits in the style of “it didn’t go so well for them yesterday, did it” to which I can only offer a confused murmur in reply not having the faintest idea of who or what the them is).

One bonus of being the keeper of an aging body is that I have become blasé about having blood samples taken. The knowledge of a coming sample used to darken my spirits and while intellectually I knew that not all the blood would leak out leaving me like a squashed orange on the care facility floor, I had my emotional doubts, the staff asking me whether I would like to rest for a while when looking at my stiff upper lip, which probably reminded them of rigor mortis. This time it went well too and I shall continue my new found bravery by removing the sticking plaster in a few hours, confident that I will not gush to perdition.

There’s a complication on the way back as there had been an accident on the line. The paucity of details makes me suspect a suicide. My train leaves an hour and a half late but I’m so tired after my early start that I’m at best semi-conscious and my book remains unread.

Just now it’s the calm before the storm as I have an interim report to be translated arriving in two days’ time. But in the meantime, I continue my life of luxury doing a chapter of Bengali every day (about an hour a day), preparing Jean Giono’s Manosque-des-Plateaux for my next reading session with my younger daughter and looking at Raphaele Orth’s Albert Vigoleis Thelen – Eine interkulturelle Biographie. Giono has been compared with Thomas Hardy but I think the comparison is superficial. They are both very much regional writers, Thomas Hardy for the west of England (Wessex) and Giono for the area of Provence around Manosque, his home town. But Giono is much more modernist and “internal” than Hardy, at least to judge from what I have read to date. Giono liked Hardy and I would like to know more about that. It’s interesting to see what countries make of other countries’ literature. The French like some British authors and vice versa while others are neglected or even unknown. There are, of course, commercial aspects involved but it’s not just a matter of what the publishers have picked up. I’ve never seen a book on this topic but I’d like to read one.

This keys in with my German reading. I’m pleased to find that I can make my way much more easily through this little book about Thelen than I could with his magnum opus. It seems to be an academic essay, perhaps at pre-doctoral level that I’ve picked up as a print-on-demand publication. It’s not uninteresting but her focus on the intercultural aspects of Thelen doesn’t immediately appeal to me (he was German in origin, married to a Swiss and lived in Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands for a number of years). I am also reading volume 2 of a three-volume work on American politics, focusing on the labour movement.

But I only have another couple of days in which this serious and not-so-serious dabbling can have pride of place in my use of time. Very soon now my interim report will arrive and my head will be full of leverage, net profit, the equity ratio and all the rest of it….

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