What is Sweden? It has a European feel, a small-town feel, and a natural reverence that borders on paganism, even thought most of the people I spoke to are not religious. One of the things I hear a few religious people say is that people tend to be religious when it suits them for ceremony, and not in daily life. The Swedish people are almost opposite, like pagans not bound by beliefs or ritual, but by daily exercises. Even the youth and the fandom in the Science Fiction book store emanate it, which oddly made them just as fannish as the folks at, say, Balticon. The Swedes may not consider themselves religious: God is a figment of the imagination and fanciful superstitions of the elderly and a sign of more ignorant times. But they still show reverence to daily life, which seems to me the best way to see God, whether you believe in Him, Her, or Them, or nothing at all. Swedes are in no hurry, there is an easy flow that may not be Zen, but is closer than anything I have seen in the United States.
I felt holy presence in Sweden from the land itself. I have felt it before, but this time it was at a much grander scale. My photos are so flat and two-dimensional compared to how I remembered what I saw. There is a force or power that flows from the rocks and trees that cannot be described without experiencing it on your own terms. The Swedes are a part of this. There is a saying said about the Aborigines that they "belong to the land" and not the other way around. This is Sweden as well.
My first few visits, I asked relatives to come an visit me, but they always politely declined, and went to Italy or Greece instead. This trip, I could not think of one good reason for them to come to America. The United States is a mixture rich in genetic flavor, but few people belong here; we're almost all immigrants. And we all shelter ourselves from the land, taming it and then hiding out in our houses. While I live and like Northern Virginia very much, this is not my home. It never was. The reason I keep wanting to go home since I was a kid, even when I was home, was I do not belong here. The land has been flattened, paved, built on, and resembles very little of the land it once was. Can I go to McLean, Virginia, the town I grew up in, and see farms my folks plowed for 200 years? No. When I look at McLean's skyline, are there trees or mountains that have remained unchanged for eons? No. In fact, every time I go to McLean, I look at the layers of my memories buried under new stuff, and I keep saying, "This used to be..." or "I remember..." or the dreaded, "What is this? This wasn't here..." Same with Solomon's Island, where I spent a good part of my life as well. All condos now. What do I have to show but what used to be in my mind's eye? Neither I or the land belong to each other.
But I belong to Sweden. I felt it the second and third time I was there. And this time, in a different part, I still belonged. That's the difference. I may not speak the language, and I may wonder what the hell people see in pickled herring (I tried it... gross), but I know why my grandmother went there to die. Many of you will not feel this. Most of you I know are like part Scottish, German, Irish, and then there some Italian and Apache... and that's just your mother's side. Maybe you'll go to Ireland and feel like you have been there before or really like German beer, but I know it's hard for some of you to feel an identity that doesn't influence your daily life and needs an unofficial immigrant holiday to celebrate. I am at least 7/8th Swedish with only a hint of French Canadian and Pacific Native American (maybe), and so I may have some stronger... "genetic memory," if such a thing exists.
Does that mean, fuck it, I am packing up and moving to Stockholm? No. That would be stupid. My wife and son would hate it and all my friends are here anyway. I would hate to have to relearn another language for my daily thoughts after I just got to getting used to the annoying eccentricities of English, always be that American guy trying to fit in, and then suffering impossible depression during the winter months of 24 hour darkness where I would go through the holiday season wishing I was a part-time alcoholic. No. I belong to Sweden, but was born an American. The blood that flows in my veins belongs to those of Viking heritage that farmed and fished far more than they pillaged, but the "Injin Blood" that supposedly made my paternal side go crazy-go-nuts mingles well with the desire to loot and pillage those annoying Scots and Danes, as well as carve my runes on the flanks of Roman marble lions. I had a severe crisis of faith about America while in Sweden, but I am not planning on freaking out and fleeing or something that dramatic. It just made me realize that I have to travel a lot more inside the US, which is what takayla and I plan to do in a few years. I have to find more natural beauty here, and buddy... this huge country is full of it.
I think my thoughts of the differences were polarized on my trip through JFK back home. It was late, and TSA was mostly unoccupied. As we approached the ribbon ropes that separated the non-existent lines, I saw a gang of urban youths, krunk, bling-bling, and all. Their baggy basketball jerseys and low pants flowed with their movements as they laughed and cackled among each other with exaggerated movements typical among boisterous youth. I wondered what they were doing near TSA, and figured they must be traveling somewhere. I passed them, and headed down towards TSA, thinking that this was something I saw badly imitated on EuroMTV. "Yo!" one of them said. I almost ignored the loud female voice, because experience taught me that you just don't turn around in reply to their taunts lest you get the crap beaten out of your suburban ass. "Ey! You goin' some whea?" said the voice. As the gang parted, I saw a short woman in a TSA uniform. "Ah need to see yo' tickets and passpo'ts!" I didn't see this woman with her friends. I wanted to say, "Sorry, I didn't see your short ass among these Michael Jordan wannbes, and you mind not shouting at this unprofessional gathering of your friends that follow you to work? That is wack." But I fumbled for the passports and boarding passes while the other youth towered around me, giggling. That's right. I don't feel safe in America. I had forgotten this. "A'ight," she said, "you go to the man over dea. You got a laptop?" Instinctively, instead of saying yes, I said, "I'll remove all electronic devices as instructed by the sign." That made the youth giggle some more, as one of them imitated me under his breath. "A'ight... g'wan, deyn." She said. A few steps away, they all broke into laughter.
The TSA guy, who looked like someone had pissed on his whole life, and the fact I owned one of them "laptop things rich folk have" was unfair, rapidly ripped it open badly, breaking the faceplate of the disk drive into two pieces. Nice. He put the pieces of the faceplate back in the laptop like that was par for course, closed the screen onto them, and tossed it back down the rollers to he could sit down and get back to his miserable rest break or something. Great. This is why I brought the old one, but I thought *I* would do the damage on this trip by dropping it or something. The laptop is fine, except for the faceplate, which is a minor cosmetic issue, but that whole event snapped me back into why I am so tense all the time. Most of America is very unfriendly and many of the people in "service jobs" act like things are unfair and someone owes them something. This shit did not happen to me in Heathrow, and it certainly did not happen to me in Arlanda. Man, no wonder we're losing tourists. You know how many forms a non-US citizen has to fill out now just to get through passport control? And they fingerprint foreign people, too. Both index fingers. Damn. "Welcome to America... we're watching you, don't do anything funny! Is that fruit? HEY! Your foreign ass been to a farm or handled farm tools? Bitch, I be speakin' to you! SPEAK ENGLISH!!!"
Putting my feet back to the earth, I would also like to extend my thanks to my partner in crime, my son CR, whom I didn't talk about much because he didn't stand out as anything but a good match. He was helpful, bright, alert, and ... not really someone I had to "take care of" or was my ward as much as he was my traveling companion. He really put up with a lot that would drive most 15 year olds to the point of anger and demanding selfish attention (and understandably, too). He's really a mature teen and a LOT of valuable help. He found things I glossed over, and I was able to see some of Sweden from his perspective. He's about half Swedish, a quarter Romani Gypsy, and then a mix of Scot, German, Irish, and English. It's nice when you're a dyslexic traveling with a fellow dyslexic. I truly love him, and I am proud and humbled such a great human being is my son.
I would also like to thank Sven, son of Gunnar, grandson of Edvin, the elder brother of my grandmother Edit. Edvin was kicked lame by a cow when he was only 15, and since that time, was asked only to take care of the smaller children in his family. Edit was the youngest, and looked up to Edvin, who was kind and caring. I wish I had known Edvin, because his grandson Sven has carried on the tradition of helping take care of lost family souls like myself. Sven and I might have different views on the world, but he is a man of education with a soft laugh. Karin, his... significant other, you could say, is a wonderful woman with the some of the same silly humor my mother had, who got a headache speaking English, was also a wonderful host, and I hope her and Sven grow old with each other. Sven and Karin took CR and I into their homes, their lives, and put up with our chattiness and questions. I only wish I could repay the favor to which I am greatly indebted. I also want to thank Grandma Edit for this legacy, and treasure I inherited that was truly greater than any sum I have ever received.
I want to thank all the Swedish people I met, from Karin's parents and neighbors, to Elsa and Gunnar, whom I think I will have to send a book by Alton Brown. I also want to thank some of the Swedish people in their daily activities who smiled, and made me think if I ever traveled with Sean wold have to to tell him, "No. NO! Bad touch, Sean!" Yeah, Swedish girls are sure blond and have white smiles. I am spoiled, having married someone of Romani royalty and impossible beauty, so I can't say if I find Swedish girls attractive in any way but their friendliness, but they sure smile a lot. Swedish people are also very educated, something I treasure in fandom as well. I'd also like to thank Heathrow and British Air for having refreshingly competent personnel staffing their desks and planes. The Brits do know how to treat people, even if Heathrow is a little ragged around the edges.
Yes, I will go back. Maybe not for a few years, because my immediate family comes first. And if the US collapses into a paranoid Gestapo/Kremlin combo and erupts into bloody civil war and I have to escape to a land of freedom... Sweden is at the top of the list.