When I first came to Sweden, so many years ago I don’t care to count just how many, what first fascinated me were the red brick houses, the tall old buildings with strange knickknacks and a gargoyle here and there. I was intrigued by the brick roads, because were I came from we had none. Everything was new.
But everything that’s new becomes old with time and as the time went by my eyes got used to these new sights. My senses got used to all the things that were different here, all the trees and the growth, all the strange buildings and old houses, even the flatness…
No, that’s a lie. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the flatness, or my eyes may become used to it, but I never really will. I won’t get used to the fact that despite the flatness everywhere my 10k round still has more slopes than the Himalayas (yes, I am exaggerating – live with it) and I won’t get used to not being able to see the horizon wherever I am.
But mostly things become normal. You go about your business and you don’t remember anymore what was so extraordinary about this new place. Instead everything looks a bit mundane and ordinary.
It’s the way of things. You need a new set of eyes, or a new perspective, to see things in a new way again.
I went to Kastrup, Copenhagen’s airport last week to fetch an old friend of mine who has never been to visit me before. We’ve been best friends since we were seven years old.
Now, I’m terrified of flying, so the airport is usually an anxious place for me. But in all honesty I do love the airport. It’s buzzing with life and all these people who are going somewhere. It fascinates me just to think of all the destinations and yet this was the place were we all “met” for a short while on that day.
That’s not usually my thought process when I’m there though. I am usually in the throes of some insanity involving broken wings, rocky mountains or deep oceans, but being at the airport without having to go anywhere is a bliss. I found myself wishing they would allow me access to the inner sanctums without me having to fly anywhere, just so that I could walk around there in my normal frame of mind. How wonderful would that be? But unless I get some strange job at the airport I doubt I’ll be allowed that comfort, ever.
So I stood outside where everyone is allowed, enjoying the fact that I wasn’t actually going anywhere and I waited for my friend to arrive through the gate.
It’s a funny thing moving countries. You get a new set of references, a new scenario for your life and somehow the old one and the new one don’t seem to collide that often. They become separate times, entirely separate things, in your head and when you travel back “home” it’s a bit like traveling back in time – except things become slightly different each time you do.
When you get people from “home” for a visit, you find yourself bringing those two worlds together more than before. The language changes (unless you have the luxury (or not?) of having moved to a country with the same language spoken as the one you left) and with language a LOT of things change.
So I’ve been playing tourist in my backyard. It’s delightful. I’ve walked my running path with someone I know very well and I’ve shown her the things I like here. We went to Copenhagen, which is a half an hour ride I do all too rarely, and we saw some sights worth seeing around here. I even took her to the beach – some Icelanders love the beach and the heat, all do not however and the 25°C we’ve been having all week hasn’t exactly been met with open arms.
I remember my uncle once saying on one of our visits there: “You’re lucky the sun isn’t shining today, it would be way too warm,” – it was 14°C, at the time, and the wind was blowing COLD. The Swede by my side thought I was pulling his leg when I translated what my uncle had said and still tells the tale.
And so I’ve re-lived my first meeting with the south of Sweden. I’ve walked Malmö’s streets (which I haven’t done much since we moved outside it) and seen a sci-fi parade (was particularly delighted when I noticed an SG-1 member parading) celebrating the opening of the new locales of the Sci-Fi bookstore. The bookstore is a gem in which I found two beautiful books I couldn’t but buy. (THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES which caught my attention because of the wonderful cover art of Alexander Jansson – and ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE! created by Stephen Jones which I am very happy to get in a REAL book format, can’t imagine it being as engaging as an ebook.)
And I’ve taken a lot of pictures.
Now don’t get me wrong. I always take a lot of pictures. Wherever I go. Whether I happen to be in my backyard or on the Canary Islands. It doesn’t matter. I take pictures. I doodle with them and I post them on Instagram. It’s my thing, but the perspective may have brought new angles to my backyard, which is always welcome. I’ve spoken more Icelandic than I have since I was in Iceland last, burying my father. I’ve asked a train attendant about information using Icelandic, believing I was speaking Swedish. She looked at me, interested and seemed to be trying to understand. When I realised my error I changed languages – and the woman told me she understood, but not if I spoke this quickly. I went to the movies and was greeted in Icelandic by the ticket maestro, as he heard us talking when we approached. I lived through a real, almost painful, sting of nostalgia walking out of that movie theatre, it was just like old times, except this time we were met by a dark, warm Swedish summer night instead of the constant cold in Iceland.
I sat in a cafe in Scandinavia’s biggest shopping mall and worked for an entire morning, something that would never have occurred to me to do, but slurping a caffe latte and eating carrot cake was quite enjoyable (and not something I’d be willing to allow myself to do all too often!).
I’ve stayed up late talking about old times, though late now wasn’t late back then, it’s still a bit of a blast from the past though.
Oh! And I’ve seen Seadragons at the Copenhagen Aquarium, where I realised that I may get a bit directionally challenged from time to time, but my lets-wing-it attitude mostly works when it comes to walking in big cities. I’ve never been afraid of getting lost (and just to be clear, this time we didn’t). And Seadragons! They are the strangest little creatures, quite puzzling, – nature must have been in a particularly feisty mood when she created them, living seaweed with trunks and wings – underwater! It’s HARD to make up things like that!
Tomorrow I get to visit Copenhagen’s airport again without feeling that sting of familiar panic in me and maybe my perspective will go back to normal then. Back to the way it was with familiarity and routines, but it occurs to me (and this has occurred to me before) that it’s wise to become a bit of a tourist in your home environment from time to time. It’s especially helpful for a writer, I think, to get in a frame of mind that you don’t constantly find yourself in. I always think this when I’m traveling, new ideas flood over me, and though they sometimes seem strange and uninteresting when I get back home the small change in perspective is always helpful. And being able to do this in such a familiar environment is something special.
Tomorrow it’s time to get back to some kind of normal, but until then I have a few hours left in this state of home tourism and maybe, if I’m lucky, this sense of home adventuring might reside in me a little longer.
I’m so glad I got this time with my friend.