Part III: Flat-pack Your Ego, Darling. You’re Nothing Special!
By the way, what is love? The writer Hjalmar Söderberg called it “nothing but the lust of the flesh, and the incurable loneliness of the soul.” This kind of gritty, unromantic realism endears the Swedes to me. They don’t expect happiness. In America, we consider happiness our birthright. The Constitution instructs us to pursue it. We’re brought up to think if we’re not happy there’s something wrong. To my way of thinking, this is asking for trouble.
Here’s a little poem that says it all:
Ångest, ångest är min arvedel,
min strupes sår,
mitt hjärtas skri i världen.
— Pär Lagerkvist (1916)
Angst, angst is my heritage,
my throat’s wound,
my heart’s shriek in the night.
Isn’t that cute?
Another verse, from a song, which is actually Danish, sums up what is, to me, a typically Scandinavian world view: “Life is not the worst that we have, and pretty soon, coffee is ready!” This is my kind of philosophy.
In Sweden, being ordinary rules. Remember, you’re nothing special! Or, as Swedes might express it, you are “Inte mycket att hänga i julgranen!” (Trans: Nothing to hang on the Christmas tree!)
On the “yta”, or surface, Sweden doesn’t really seem that different. But the more often I return, the deeper that “yta” is scratched. For one thing, the following scenario would never have played out on the home front. I made a “våldgästade” (trans: “violent visit”, or unexpected visit) to my friend Lene’s apartment one Sunday afternoon. Now, this is a vibrant and beautiful thirty-one-year-old woman. She was happily occupied with a task I couldn’t fathom. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I am making washcloths” she replied.
I just thought about that for a while. There is a scene in Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits where a neurotic and glamorous neighbor visits the calm domestic scene of chez Juliet, played by Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina. “What are you doing?” the neighbor inquires. “Stringing peppers,” replies Masina. “Ah!” cries the woman, “if I could string peppers, I would be saved!”
Swedes don’t need yoga. They find inner peace through home economics. How many men do you know who make their own pants? How many bachelors, of any sexual proclivity, who bake fresh bread twice a week?
I lost my virginity in Central Park. I danced every night at The Mudd Club and Studio 54. I’ve lived in Paris. I was on The Sopranos. David Bowie bought me a cheeseburger. Now, there’s little I want more than this, my remote Scandinavian backwater. Wait — I take that back. I need New York too — like the turkey needs the axe.
As an illustrator I can work, via e-mail, from anyplace there is internet access. New York and Sweden. I want both. Toward that end, I am now in the process of applying for a Swedish green card. I was complaining of the difficulty and expense of this bureaucratic nightmare, when Lene pointed out that I was blessed to have marvelous lives on either side of the pond and had no right to grouse. She said, “We have an expression in Sweden: It’s like you want to have your cake and eat it, too.” I corrected her. “No. It’s like I want to have my cake, eat it too, and then I want more cake!“
I had a frank conversation with immigration. It went something like this:
LR: I’m an American citizen, but I want to buy a house in Sweden. What are the rules for residency here?
IM: So you’re married to a Swede?
LR: No, I’m not married.
IM: Oh, so sorry. So you’re living with a Swedish man, then.
LR: No. But I once was married to a Swedish man.
IM: Okay, then!
LR: But we divorced in 1985.
IM: That’s too bad.
LR: You’re telling me!
IM: So, you have children in Sweden? Swedish children?
LR: No. No children.
IM: No children? Oh, well. Perhaps a Swedish company employs you.
LR: No, not employed.
IM: No job?
LR: I’m freelance.
LR: But I have a lot of friends here.
IM: Oh, friends don’t count.
IM: But what reason could you possibly have to want to live here?
LR: The way you’re talking, you make me feel like I have no reason to want to live at all. No man, no job, no children…Wait! I have an ex mother-in-law in Helsingborg.
IM: That doesn’t mean anything.
LR: But she loves me very much!
IM: Look, we here in Sweden are very liberal. You don’t have to be married. But to live here permanently and get a green card, you have prove you are in a serious personal relationship. Like for a couple of months or something.
LR: A couple of months? Is that all you people care about? Sex? I have to be having Swedish sex?
IM: Well, yeah!
LR: I’ll see what I can do.
The city of Gothenburg was built on highly absorbent clay. Legend has it that this clay makes one sink in and stay. There might be something to that because while you are reading this, I’m on my way.
Rosenwald wrote New York Notebook and And to Name but Just a Few: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue. Her work can be enjoyed on www.rosenworld.com.