a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘europeans’

finding my inner viking

We are soon to depart from my ancestral homeland so the final posts will be a little introspective…

As noted, these are my people.  And I also have Icelandic, Scottish and Irish genes… so the Vikings loom large in my genetic composition.  What that means is hard to determine.  The Vikings aren’t quite as mysterious as the lost city of Atlantis but they were some of the first people to try and conquer others (and explore the world), long before foursquare.  If only they had taken photos during a marauding venture on their iphones and posted them to their facebook friends we might know what had been going on…

I have now had two ventures into Scandinavia and the take on being a Viking is interesting.  The rest of us don’t know much – and generally I would say the rep doesn’t seem that appealing.  But apparently Vikings had some cool, modern traits as well – and, like any culture, came with attributes.  They were not just vicious plunderers.

I will need to learn more – and it will take time.  The Historiska Museet gave me a starting point.  And some interesting facts.  And some intriguing stuff to see.

The most spectacular part is the Guldrummet (Gold Room), which displays more than 3,000 artefacts in gold and silver, from the Bronze to the Middle Ages.  It was a wild time in history so hording metal seemed to be a common hobby.  Definitely makes for some great exhibits for us modern visitors.

There are also some exceptional rune stones and excellent exhibits on Viking history.  It’s the same as the other Swedish museums with lots of questions posed to make visitors think, not just read and accept.

As I’ve already noted in a previous post, there was a special exhibit trying to provide a Wikipedia entry version of 1,000 years of Swedish history.  It started with clans, who are not the best way to build an inclusive society.  They were replaced by kings, also not a great model for universal anything.

The power of the kings was gradually replaced by the nobility and the church, often working in conjunction with each other to oppress and suppress most of the population.  The exhibit also explored the role of chivalry and the aristocracy in shaping society (not so positive…).

What was most fascinating is that the 21st century Sweden with its strong sense of identity is a new entity, barely 100 years old.  What is most impressive is how they took an old-fashioned, not so great nation state model, and used logic and planning to create a nation state that is an enviable place.  The US thinks that is their mojo – but they missed the part about engaging your brain to develop a nation state model that will benefit the majority of its citizens, not just the rich guys.  Nation states benefiting the rich guys are a dime a dozen.  Africa does THAT – in spades!  But a nation state that really seems to be working on behalf of the entire population.  That really gives one food for thought…

The museum definitely gave me an interesting sense of what it might mean to be a Swede.  Or even a Viking 🙂

The Swedes do seem to be part of Europe, while also maintaining some distance where they feel it might be wise.  They are shrewd.

And smart I think.

After all, they have declined to participate in the crazy Euro experiment.  The EU leaders must have got bored in Brussels and popped over to Amsterdam.  After enough pot brownies, the Euro likely seemed like a great idea 😉 Like a David Lynch film, it only makes sense if you’re high 🙂

The French dude who wrote Delicacy seemed to be dissing the Swedes.  They weren’t interesting enough.  Not enough of the adolescent drama queen ridiculousness that the Latin parts of Europe hold so dear.

They dismiss the Nordic elements as boring and lacking in imagination… but when they have run up the gambling debts that come with such irresponsible behavior they don’t take it on the chin and face the loan sharks… they hide under the skirts of their responsible neighbors.

It is a lot of fun hanging out in southern Europe.  But the Norse are my people… and someone has to bail you out of jail… Greece, Italy, Spain, France – you might want to keep that in mind 😉

turning european…

In the 80s, turning Japanese seemed a popular theme.  But somewhere the last decade or two, I turned European.

I don’t always get it right.  The cheek kissing is always fraught with awkwardness and I am constantly confused as to how many cheeks to kiss – and if I should be leaving lipstick marks or just air kissing.

But – as the bartender on my last night in Paris noted – and confirmed by his behaviour – one of the big attributes of Europeans is hospitality.  And I would also add – charm.  A big part of hospitality.  Without European hospitality, I would never have married a European man.  But that is a whole other story…

In a world where I increasingly worry about the loss of manners and civility, the Europeans are there trying to prove charm is still alive and well.  That sometimes you need to take time to perform a task properly, not just efficiently.  I have seen it across three countries in the very recent past.  The French are likely the most charming, performing tasks with both reserve and aplomb, but I have been impressed by all the Europeans I have encountered on my trip.

My final cultural adventures were two-fold.

First, I stood in the bitter cold waiting to buy a ticket to the Helmut Newton exhibition.  But I was at the Grand Palais so that provided some wonderful photographic opportunities and Helmut Newton is worth freezing off your fingers.  What is more gratifying was to see how packed it is!  I wasn’t quite sure what the four year olds were making of the shots of women wearing saddles but this is how they grow up to be European with a sophisticated world view and an ability to discuss art as readily as sport.

The second cultural adventure was more unique.  I wanted to mail a birthday present purchased in Paris before I left France.  How often do you walk past the Louvre to find the post office?  Seulement en Paris!  A beautiful, fascinating city that I would encourage everyone to visit.  No matter where you stay or what you do, Paris is certain to weave its magic.

One of my favourite Paris adventures was done on a budget.  To even out our restaurant spending, we decided to go to Monoprix and buy bread, cheese, some of those transcendent cold cuts, a mini bottle of champagne and some red wine.  It was a beautiful summer evening so we would indulge in all our treats on the breakfast terrace of our small hotel near the Eiffel Tower (we had a picnic on the lawn there one night as well).  We couldn’t find our corkscrew.  Things looked complicated.  But we were in Paris – so not only was a corkscrew produced, they opened our wine for us!  And then we had that “only in Paris” moment.   It was hot so the windows were open in the building opposite us.  And someone was practicing her cello.  So our dinner was accompanied by live classical music.

Leaving Paris is hard.   Having a memorable experience in Paris is a piece of cake.  Just ask my mom.  She told me she didn’t need to go to Paris.  It wasn’t on her bucket list.  Just by accident she turned 65 on the plane.  So this trip I suggested we should return for 75 as an anniversary celebration.  She said she’d make sure she had good walking shoes.  I’m a little worried that once she has the macarons at Pierre Hermé, I may not be able to convince her to leave…

Speaking of great walking shoes, I need to extend a shout out to Browns.  Just before I embarked on this adventure, I bought a pair of black patent driving moccasins.  Possibly one of the world’s most perfect travel shoes!  The Browns version are insanely comfortable.  I have  been wearing them every day as I trundle over the cobblestones.  By the time I get home, I will have already gotten my money’s worth 🙂  I would highly recommend a pair of Brown’s loafers.  Even though my friends all seem to think that I spend all my time in showstopping 4 inch heels, the real truth is that a large majority of my life is spent wearing Browns loafers – because they combine such a great mix of style, comfort and value.  And they are now on-line… check them out 🙂

http://www.brownsshoes.com/

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