In Sweden, I fulfil a life-long fantasy of seeing the house of Carl & Karin Larsson.
I underestimated how much everything closes down in the winter, and I was lucky enough to come along at the same time as the only other tour that day, in Swedish of course. My lack of language skills prevented the ‘no photos allowed’ message from getting through to me until late in the piece unfortunately!
It is as exquisite as in all the paintings, and almost every surface has paintings of the children, of Karin or delicate Japanese inspired flower patterns. Geraniums line every downstairs window ledge. The flower window looked EXACTLY like it does in the print.
Getting there and back was a journey through endless snowy pine forests.
Landscape flashes past, black and white. Black verticality of trees, white horizontal snow and sky, interrupted occasionally by an angled rooftop and the splash of burnt sienna yellow or Falu red, the traditional Swedish rich red brown of the copper mine.
Night falls at 3.10pm. As the light leaves, the temperature falls down to – 13 and an icicle bristles out the end of my nose. My glasses are completely steamed up by my breath, then the wet breath freezes on the lenses. It’s such a relief when I get back to our room and my – 13 butt-cheeks hit the warm toilet seat that I sigh in happy relief.
I get out of my outside gear and go down to the dining room, examining the freeze-dried skin on my hands and eavesdropping on the pleasant rolling sounds of Swedish conversation from the table opposite me. This hotel is for visiting academics, and I think this group is part of the small seminar being held here. Their voices remind me of a calm sea, bobbing up and down gently.
Outside, the snow is driven horizontal by the wind, into biting little needles. Inside, the light is warm and soft. The soft ceiling light is augmented by many little wall lamps, and there are Christmas candles in almost every window. Where there isn’t a candle, there hangs a softly glowing paper star. Lit by a bulb from within, light filters through the pattern of pierced holes onto the table.
The woman in the kitchen is talking on her mobile phone. I feel, tantalisingly, that I can almost understand her. It’s like a language filtered through a dream.
Having lunch at Domkyrkan Café I peruse a stray Swedish hymnbook that one of the senior citizens in the service next door has left at my table. The Google translate app on my phone is helping me out. The title of the hymn I’ve turned to seems to be “Loving father God; my scarf”. It goes on to praise “how hӧg he can be”.
I like the idea of god as a scarf. In Uppsala in November, you really need one.
It’s been a big snowstorm today; I took a step without thinking, and ended up thigh-deep in a snow drift. So it was a good day to spend inside a museum. and the Museum Gustavianum in Uppsala is a real museum. I started at the very top, in the anatomical museum and the museum dissection viewing room from the 1600s:
The dissecting room
Forget political correctness, this place has everything from bottled siamese twins, fetuses from the 16th century, real skeletons, death masks of criminals, mummified birds, cats and people, stuffed vampire bats, ancient cannibis seeds, artifacts taken as war booty from other countries 500 years ago, the fruit of excavations of ancient Greek ruins in Cyprus during the 1920s.
The Viking room is filled with 10th century wonders like this sword.
This maps shows the known world in 1748 – to the bottom left is what the Europeans knew of New Zealand. Just one vague coastline…
I spent hours examining the ancient Viking, Roman, Greek and Egyptian jewellery. I loved how bright the colours in the beads were, their beautiful unevenness, and the bright, soft gold.
All this is without even mentioning the Augsberg Cabinet of Curiosities, the most odd, charming thing I have ever seen – a wikipedia for the 17th Century. It was made to be a receptacle for all the world’s knowledge. How arrogant, how wonderful, how futile! My photos don’t nearly do it justice: