It’s funny how things can conveniently fall into place, especially when traveling. It just so happen to be Stockholm’s Kulturnatt the second day of my arrival. I’ve learned that Kulturnatt should really be called “cashiers have gone on holiday and will be back tomorrow”. Essentially, the city opens up all of its museums and cultural centers to the public. If you know me, you can understand why I immediately dragged my hosts out of the apartment to do some of the most epitomizing tourist-y activities I could find. Staying true to my roots, I ushered my group to the Royal Stalls. While it was amazing to see the grandeur of the architecture for the stables, it was a bit unsettling to see that horses had a better skin care regime and living arrangement than I have ever had while in college. From there, we scooted over to Nordiska Museet–I prioritized the night on going to the museums/locations with highest ticket fees; once a college student, always a college student. The building stands on the vibrantly green Djurgården and overlooks the old harbor. It has been almost 2 years since the last time I was at Djurgården, but I was immediately thrown into nostalgic memories of eating ice cream while walking by the Vasa Museet. When you enter Nordiska, the first thing you will notice is the shear height of the space, and then the eye is drawn to a multi-story wood carving of a man with the strongest bowl cut I have ever seen (no offense Karl Gustav). I walked around with my hosts and some of their friends through the museum. There was a lot of amazing exhibits from the history of the chair through the terrifying/hilarious decoration styles of the Christmas pig.
You conclude the museum on the highest floor with amazing views of the harbor and storkyrkan. About ready to leave, I leaned over the edge and got to catch some modern Nordic history in the making. I have never heard of it, but the museum was coordinating a “danceoke” to teach tourists how to dance popular forms throughout time. Some may see this as a profound way to transcend languages and cultural barriers and instill the Nordic essence through the modes of dance… For me, I just saw a lot of tourists trying to do one of the most bizarre forms of Just Dance 3.
Because it was a Saturday night–or really any night– my host insisted I join him to his favorite bar in Gamla Stan. To enter, you first have to traverse the old cobbly streets so typical of all old European cities. An inconspicuous sign stands over the entrance with the words “Sjätte tunnan” (the seventh barrel) carved into a barrel. The entrance takes you down a long, dimly lit staircase where a friendly woman dressed in complete medieval garb greets you with a hej. All of the walls of Sjätte tunnan are arched and create the feel of moving through a cave or catacomb. We found a table and my host ordered a drink he had been boasting about since I arrived: Mölska. In his words, it is the lovechild of a craft beer and fancy mead. The drink came to the table in an extremely archaic, ceramic jug which looks as if vikings themselves had use to drink out of. I took my first sip and I warmed to the combination of hops and honey. The night continued with the conversations I remembered having with strangers on my past trips. I have found that Swedes are impervious to small talk and never shy away from hitting the topics which are often considered a bit intense for first-time conversations–or at least when alcohol is involved. Next thing I knew, people were flowing across the topics of NIMBY in Sweden, the monopoly of online consumer privacy, most likable cults, and what it means to ask someone who they are. Naturally, someone asked me why I was in Sweden and I brought up my construction project.
Lucky for me, there was a member at the table who worked in construction and was not shy to speak of it. I immediately became fascinated and I started asking as many questions as possible. The one I remember most–thanks to a combination of its shock factor and the mölska tugging away my memory– was what the worst build he had ever done. My friend took no time for hesitation and immediately began describing in a great detail a local Stockholm construction company that ignored his warnings that there was mold and moisture in the insulation of a small building element (basically a wall section). He found a colony of mold about the size of a tennis ball anchored into the space between the insulation and the window. It must have happened that during transport water had seeped into the window sill and the insulation absorbed it creating a perfect home for mold. His boss told him that it was not important and that he should simply take a scraper and peal off the colony. My friend was horrified by this response because it meant that this could put the lives of the future tenants of the building at risk. So, he spent 3 days of unpaid work investigating all of the building elements and replacing the sills and insulation for the ones which were contaminated. It was incredible to hear this story because he really did show extreme emotion and anger on the topic. It was clear that he felt a responsibility as a construction worker to create spaces which were conducive for human health, and I got the added benefit that he saw an opportunity to make a change by sharing his story with me.
Speaking with him I realized it was going to be difficult for me to remain impartial in my research. I have studied Swedish, been fascinated with Swedish design, and been raised with my closest friend as a Swede, so I typically search for the ways in which Sweden is a leader. To keep my report legitimate, I am going to have to turn off my Swedo-centric mind… which becomes all the more difficult when I have access to as much kaviar paste as I desire.