Despite the subject line, I’m not actually in Stockholm right now.
But I was there just about exactly one year ago. It was my first time in the city, though I’d been wanting to visit for years.* I went by myself and spent about a week there.
I invested in an e-reader before the trip and read straight through Conversations With Friends on the plane because my friend Jackie told me it would be a perfect travel read. She was right. I cried on the Arlanda Express from the airport to downtown Stockholm.
I read a lot on that trip, actually. I read A Visit From The Goon Squad on the plane rides home. In-between I read The Lonely City, which I’ve told you about before. It shook me in the best way. On my last night in the city I ate my way through a vegetarian tasting menu at the Fotografiska and got tipsy on good wine and read about loneliness. I would rarely, if ever, at any point in my life, describe myself as “elegant” or “sophisticated” but that moment makes me think I might know it if I saw it.
I went on this trip alone. I left two days after my sister, fifteen months my senior, got married. Those things aren’t related, except that one day I was surrounded by many people with whom I am very close and then, forty-eight hours later, I didn’t know a soul thousands of miles in any direction.
I stayed in a hotel that a friend recommended. A room with a window cost extra and didn’t seem like a necessary expense. That first night, jet-lagged and in total darkness, I slept for thirteen hours straight. When I woke up and realized what I’d done, I was surprised to find I felt elated.
I think perhaps the nice thing about traveling alone, for me, was not so much that I didn’t have to answer to anybody, or rationalize why I chose to do certain things in a given day, but that the very idea of rationalizing was rendered irrelevant. There was no one to answer to but myself, and I found a way not to demand any answers. I didn’t have to worry about my choices being agreeable, and so they ceased to be choices. They were just the flow of the day.
Or: It’s not that I felt in control of my own time. There was no control. There was just what I did.
Or: One way to read this is that I’m an insecure or a control-freak, which is probably true. Another way is that I am an introvert, which is also true. Another way is that my brain has been warped by cultural demands of productivity, and I can’t disentangle the idea of releasing myself from their grip from the indulgences of an insecure control-freak. Another way is as an argument for universal paid vacation.
The Moderna Museet was undergoing renovations to install eco-friendly lighting, so much of the museum was closed, but that didn’t matter. I saw two short films: one that played a Bikini Kill song and one about the Guerrilla Girls. I saw work by Hilma af Klint and Marina Abramović. I saw a piece called “Home” by Mona Hatoum that made me spontaneously and inexplicably burst into tears. The museum is attached to ArkDes, an architecture and design museum. The museum had an exhibit up about the architecture of gay sex and cruising culture, including a Robert Yang video game that I love. What were the odds!
(I just checked the ArkDes website; its current focus is ASMR. Yearly they feature young Swedish designers and gingerbread houses. Incredible.)
Other favorites: eating lunch at Rosendals Tradgard, a biodynamic garden/farmhouse/plant shop/café (in my mind, the most romantic place I have ever been); very nearly buying a beret in several thrift stores (I think we can all agree it’s fortunate my good sense won out); having my aura read in Hornstull (I maintain this should be a Mountain Goats lyric if it isn’t already).
For the whole week I ate at least one cardamom bun or cinnamon bun every day. On my last morning I went to a fancy café early in the morning and got a huge pastry and a big coffee and sat in a booth across from a table with a “reserved” sign on it. A well-dressed woman, probably in her 70s, came in with a small dog. She ordered from the counter and then sat at the reserved table with the dog, to whom she spoke French. I could only imagine they spent every Saturday this way, at that same table, reserved just for the two of them. Something to aspire to.
Yes there was a photobooth in the hotel lobby and yes I used it gratuitously and yes I was glad to have a physical document of myself during this time.
Thanks for reading. I hope you carry with you the energy of that lady in the café this week.
*I really just thought I’d enjoy the weather and the food and the culture but I also used to tell people it was partially because Stockholm is the birthplace of a very controversial set of laws governing sex work, which have since been adopted in a handful of other countries, and in grad school I focused a lot of my research on sex work policy. (If you’re curious about the Swedish model, I’m more than happy to explain it to you.)