Friday, June 22, 2018


So we went from Paris to Stockholm and Oslo ... so it seems appropriate to start with Edvard Munch's take on Paris.

Not sure what's going on with the Swedish take on the French Revolution via public bathrooms, though ...

The title of this entry, by the way, is an homage to the Stanley Cup–winning Washington Capitals (about whom I was too superstitious to mention during the playoffs, but God it was brilliant) as well as our time in Stockholm and Oslo. 

I don't know why everyone has this image of Scandinavians as dark and depressed. I certainly didn't see any evidence of that at the Edvard Munch Museum in Oslo (this was the guide to one room of paintings).

Nor did I see any darkness at another exhibit we went to (ok this one in Bergen, but work with me). 

Ok, so some stereotypes have a bit of truth in them. The Swedes are modest. Look at the size of their statues. 

And even the trolls in Norway are pretty bleak. 

But I will say this about Scandinavia. It was a lot safer than I thought. J and I, like everybody else in our SES, have been watching a lot of Scandinavian TV the past few years (Season 4 of The Bridge currently on Hulu!), and I'm very happy to report that the real murder rate is much less than it seems on TV. I guess all the murders have migrated to the Shetland Islands instead. 

So here's the ultimate cliche: J and I loved Norway and Sweden -- as much as I had 25 years ago, when I backpacked through a chunk of them during during college with my good friend Erich. (Things were a bit cushier this time around; we used hotels instead of (circa 1993) sneaking onto cruise boats and sleeping on their lounge floors, and spending other nights riding the same train back and forth and in a tent in an urban park was a bit different style than the current trip. Of course, after our Parisian apartment, any hotel room with hot water would have seemed a great luxury.) And J and I loved Stockholm despite it being pretty much one big construction zone, scheduled to reopen in 2019. And despite the fact the Swedes consider a lot of their royal porcelain too fragile to put on display in the palace in their current cases. 

Needless to say, this being NPLH, J and I embraced all the hipster cliches oozing from this place. (Note that Obama's last state dinner was with the heads of the Nordic countries). Ironic rye-crepe tacos with reindeer heart and lingonberry and foraged herbs flash-cooked at the table by a bearded guy with better English than my students? Washed down with an Elderflower Sour? Check. 

Incredibly good Swedish steak at a place with meat hanging everywhere and Pappy Van Winkle's on the menu. Certainly. 

A ridiculously cool new skyline and Opera House hovering above the water (Oslo), the kind of urban development befitting a nation with a trillion-dollar Sovereign Wealth Fund? Yup. I half expected the Chelsea High Line to break out.

And yet also some classically beautiful old buildings? Of course. (Stockholm.) 

Fantastic 1950s murals? Check. (Oslo City Hall)

The art is terrific, too. I and Giggi, our Salt Lake friend who hosted us in Oslo (thus saving us about $4800 on hotel costs, and showing us a fun time and the best unknown-to-tourists 3rd wave coffee place to boot), really prefer the rustic-hearty-peasant-enjoying-the-eternal-fatherland motif, even if it's a bit nationalistic.

Ok just kidding Giggi! I really do love Norwegian art, and we learned a lot about it too. For example, we learned about the tripartite schema for categorizing river and waterfall paintings. (The Dahl is Johan Christian Dahl, Norway's greatest romantic landscape painter.)

Needless to say, for the rest of the trip, we have been busy categorizing every bit of moving water we've come across (and there's a lot of it here folks) as a 1, vertical fall; a 2, white water crashing over rocks; or a 3, more tranquil river. Sometime this can be surprising difficult. I mean, which type is this?

We also learned that bread is an important theme in Scandinavian art, across the ages.

Ok again, just kidding, and really, the bread in Scandinavia is just terrific. This might be blasphemous, but I think it's consistently better and more various than French bread outside of the (indeed perfect) baguette. I'll spare you my library of bread pictures.

Now it's time to be serious for a minute. After all, sometimes I do pretend to be a scholar. So let's take a step back and reflect on Scandinavia for a second shall we? Sort of like this bear, who, at Skansen, the fantastic Swedish reenacted old village and zoo in Stockholm, has the best view to ponder the city.

Why, and what does it mean, that so many Americans -- especially progressive ones -- love Scandinavia so much? Scandinavia means great design (IIttala in Finland reigning supreme) and a generous welfare state and hipster cocktails and environmental responsibility and lots of protected open space -- all things 91.7 % of people reading this blog love. And clearly Scandinavians have done a great job selling this brand to Americans (see aforementioned TV shows and Obama's final state dinner). But what about the uncomfortable truth for us white progressives that Scandinavia also means whiteness? As in, a lot of the toddlers are almost uncomfortably white. Sure, we can point to the fact that one-quarter of Oslo's residents are foreign-born, and plenty of Somalian-born Norwegian kids now dress up in those ridiculous folk costumes every national holiday day and are just as Norwegian as anyone else. But ... these nations also have serious immigration laws, and no one for a minute would argue that they will ever let ethnic minorities become more than a distinct minority. All of this makes me all the happier that I live in a nation that does not -- and has never, our current disaster of a president aside -- defined citizenship by blood and tribe. Do I have a takeaway point here? Not really, and I doubt the bear does either. For now you have to love a region that puts this statue in the entry hall of a major museum.

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