The last time I was in Stockholm several parts of my life were unraveling, and all the silky, curly yarn from Gotland sheep was not going to be enough to knit me back together. Ian and I had been traveling for three and a half months in limbo, having sold our cars and rented our house; our tie to Seattle and home was the first loosening thread. Through the summer, throughout Europe, we were continuing the process of procuring visas to move to New Zealand (note: although we refer to this time of our lives as “when we moved to New Zealand,” the process of visa acquisition ultimately ground to a lengthy, bitter, fatal end, and the move never actually happened.).
The first three months of summer 2007 were relatively laid-back as travel goes; three weeks in Greece, a couple in Scotland, and about five in Portugal (including 10 restfully domestic days at a loaner house on the Atlantic coast), punctuated with a glamorous weekend in Ravello, Italy, some stops in London (new friends!), a quick trip to Phoenix, AZ—me—and Oxford, UK—Ian (where we had completely opposite meteorological experiences).
And then we went on to the Baltics. We hadn’t been to the Baltics before, and so we became, for two weeks, true back packers, traveling from Riga to Šiauliai to Kihnu and back, staying no place longer than a night or two, and moving on with, in my case at least, about 70 pounds of gear lugged front and back (I don’t travel lightly for a week; of course I needed an entire household for four months). Not surprisingly, this was exhausting for mid-30-somethings, particularly me, whose health was another of the increasingly errant threads.
By the time we reached Sweden, we were spent. The language, even though my linguistics graduate-school friend G had created a brilliant workbook for us to help us begin to learn it—or at least say please and thank you and excuse me—seemed as opaque to me as Sanskrit. Some family members met us at Arlanda upon our arrival and we drove north, to Härnosand, where G and his lovely wife A were living at the time. I’ll conclude this multi-paragraph introduction/background by saying that, by the time we all left G&A and reached Stockholm, for the end of our trip, that family tie was unknotting as well.
Jump forward just over five years, and it turns out that Swedish, although still virtually incomprehensible to me in spoken form, is a Germanic language with tons of cognates recognizable (in printed form) to seasoned travelers (one being a dilettante linguist) with backgrounds in English and German. Also, every Swede we talked to spoke easily intelligible English. G&A are now residents (at least part-time) of Södermalm, Stockholm’s hippest neighborhood (it reminds me a lot of Park Slope and environs in Brooklyn), and G gave us an exhaustive (and really tiring, as we were still not quite over our jet lag) tour when we first arrived from Lysekil, and the next day with A home the four of us continued our tour with a 6-hour circuit of much of their island (punctuated with stops for coffee and lunch).
Set free on Monday and Tuesday, Ian and I did our best to shore up the (it would seem already relatively strong) economy of Sweden by hemorrhaging money for clothes of the knitted and work-wear styles, effortlessly traversing the city on clean, frequent buses, shown the way by helpful locals, as G and A went about their respective jobs in Uppsala and Falun (university professors both). It was a tremendous intellectual pleasure to spend time with G (and without the soporific effects of long-term Amelia friendship, which I’d necessarily cut off before international travel).
This last week many of those old threads and a couple new ones—combined with the glow of Stockholm in late summer—knitted back together into an exquisitely detailed, warm, intricate, and stimulating cloak of many colors. Stockholm is one of the most attractive, easily toured cities I’ve ever been to, and spending a few days there helped me weave together my evolving understanding of home, health, and family; just as I stitched in the ends of my latest hat on my return flight. Home is wherever I am. I love Seattle; but I have become a global citizen.