a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘swedish men’

the modern Swedish metrosexual…

During my mini tour of my Swedish roots and a few centuries of Viking history, I learned that the Sweden of my grandfather and the Sweden of the 21st century are very different places.  He was one of the many who emigrated at that time.  Sweden was poor and ruled by a class structure that favoured the nobility over the peasants so lots of Swedes emigrated to the new world for what they hoped would be a better life.

Somehow my grandfather ended up in small town Manitoba.  How he got there is not very clear.  That he was an adventurer and a maverick is part of the family folklore.  I’m not sure what the Swedish men of the poor late nineteenth century would have to say to the Swedish men of the prosperous early twenty first.

One of the cool new tourist attractions in Stockholm is the Fotografiska.  I am a big fan of photography but have only recently started going to photography museums when I head to cities.  The Fotografiska is popular with both locals and tourists and got me to Södermalm and a more “real” part of Stockholm.  Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to explore the neighborhood but the museum is definitely worth a visit.


There doesn’t seem to be a permanent collection, just a series of rotating exhibitions.  All were worth viewing – and made me feel bad about my tourist shots 🙂  But the one that intrigued me the most was Maria Friberg.

Apparently in 1995 she had met with a businessman in conjunction with selling some of her art work and they got into a philosophical conversation about the role of men in modern Swedish society.  She grew up on a collective in rural Sweden that was a matriarchal haven where the women worked and the men tended to domestic duties.  So the businessman was a novelty to her 🙂

There were two series of paintings – Almost There and The Painting Series.  There was also a video showing how she shot the photos for The Painting Series.  The commentary noted how her photography had been influenced by the working styles of Jackson Pollock and Yves Klein (my Alexander McQueen pumps in Yves Klein blue are one of my most prized possessions 🙂

Both the process used to create the photographs and their conceptual content really impressed me.

per the info at the museum….

Maria Friberg’s oeuvre is an investigation of male identity in today’s period of gender transition, as visualized in her signature series Almost There from 2000 and The Painting Series from 2011. In Almost There, we see a group of men, white men in suits, floating in a pool. Their homogeneous appearance is suggestive of the Western patriarchy. A patriarchy is formed when men are at the top of a societal structure. Clustered together, the pack of men appears to be in their mid-thirties, at the peak of their careers. They do not interact, but gaze instead into the distance. The image implies that they are rivals thereby reflecting the competitive nature of business. This is also suggested by the title, Almost There. Yet Friberg manages to disclose their vulnerability, by depicting the men straining to hold their heads above water. Accordingly, theseries coincided with the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2000 – 2001. The male dominated IT industry sustained devastating losses after its stocks were grossly overvalued. In its aftermath countless men were stripped of their financial status. They found themselves in a vulnerable position, much like the men depicted in Almost There.

In both series the figures float within a pool; however, in The Painting Seriesthe liquid is comprised of water mixed with various colored inks. In fact, the method for creating The Painting Series is based on a performance that can be likened to “action painting.” 

A short while later I stopped in a tourist shop and bought some gorgeous glass by Mats Jonasson.  The work was beautiful and as creative as Maria’s photography so it seemed the perfect souvenir for my trip.  And the shop owner told me the story of the glass factory and how Mats had saved it in the 1980’s and kept alive the glass traditions in the town, which had begun when my grandfather was still living in Sweden.  The past and the present perfectly conjoined.


We also had a conversation about Maria’s work and role of Swedish men in 21st century Sweden.  I didn’t talk to enough Swedish men in four days to draw any definitive conclusions but my non-scientific sample suggested that Swedish men are very articulate and very cool.  I don’t know much about my grandfather but my father apparently inherited a lot of his genes and my father possessed those same qualities.  So, the clothes and hairstyles may have changed, but the charming Swedish metrosexual seems to have been with us long before the word was coined to describe him 😉

the original swedish metrosexual?

Both my dad and my grandmother are dead now.  They were the reticent type unwilling to part with morsels of personal information easily.  So, even if I had spent more time attempting to extract the facts, it’s highly uncertain I would have learned anything more about my Swedish grandfather.

I didn’t even know what he looked like until I was in my teens.  My grandmother considered family the most important thing in the entire world so her tiny house was crammed with collages of photos of miscellaneous people only some of whom I’d actually met.  Martha Stewart would have been horrified 🙂

Normally the collages were updated for new grandchildren or more recent school pics of the ones already featured.  But one day when I was inspecting the walls for new updates (my grandmother kind of invented the concept of facebook photos before Mark Zuckerberg was even born 🙂 I was intrigued by one of the new photos.

As they would say on Sesame Street, this one was not like the others.  The photo had been taken in an entirely different era.  When having your photo taken was a ceremonial occasion, not a drunken iphone click.  The gentleman in the photo looked like a gentleman!

He is dressed to the nines.  He is holding a cigar and about to take a sip of some manly intoxicant.  He looks like a movie star.  Or some dude promoting a celebrity fragrance.

In small town Canada this was the most fascinating photo I had ever seen.  I asked my grandmother “who is that?”  To which she casually replied, “oh, that’s your grandfather.”  Hot damn!  That is NOT what grandfathers looked like where I lived…

I now regret I didn’t ask more.  But my grandmother didn’t drink and back in those days people actually thought it was polite to not blab personal details – even to family, let alone post them on facebook.

So I came to Sweden to at least see where he came from.  And maybe get some essence of what he might have been like.  And looking around at the gorgeous, perfectly groomed, fashionably dressed men in Stockholm, I did feel I was channeling him.

I think style normally flows through the maternal lineage.  But in my family, it’s the dudes who seem to have those genes in spades.  I like to think I have a little bit of style.  And a long time ago I became my mother’s stylist because apparently my father really liked everything I made her buy 🙂

My dad spent his entire life in small towns.  But he had real style.  He understood fabric.  He cared about cut.  He had expensive taste.  Maybe it’s in the genes… He looked a lot like his dad.

And his dad…  Check him out 😉  He doesn’t look much like a grandfather.  But the original metrosexual?  Your call…

It looks to me that Swedish men have been pretty boys for over a century now.  If the sketchy facts I have been told are correct, my grandfather was born in 1886…

waiting for godot…

We’ll finish the adventures in the land of ice and snow and then we will come back to London… my actual travel route…

The first time I saw Waiting for Godot I was bored and wondering what all the fuss was about.  The second time I saw it I was older and the cast was much better so I enjoyed it more.  But the concept is more or less alien to my nature.

I am a girl who lives in the moment, does a lot of research and, while that may sound contradictory, generally aligning the two means that I am rarely bored.   And frequently enchanted by serendipity or surprises… I do the homework to make sure the moments happen as I live them 😉

But right now I am bored 🙂  It’s rare.  It’s cold outside.  Tonight it’s also raining.  And I made the dumb mistake of thinking I could get by in Stockholm in late September without a coat.  And the Berns Hotel is supposed to be hip and happening.  And it’s not completely empty.  Just more an overpriced pan-Asian restaurant than a hip nightclub at the moment.

Stockholm is gorgeous – the landscape, the light, the architecture, the people.  As a day tourist I have no complaints.  But I was expecting more of the nightlife.  And I haven’t given up hope yet 😉

This is one of the most expensive places I have ever been.  It really encourages you to nurse a drink.  In my reading it suggests people stay at home and only show up in public venues really late.

You have to learn the local culture.  I’ve got to know the bartender in Amsterdam because I was the only fool willing to show up at the dance club at midnight.  I told him I didn’t care 🙂  And drinking Heineken – extra cold or not – is cheap and by 12:30am the place was almost full.

I don’t know the norms yet in Stockholm.  So I came fairly early to try the well-regarded Pan-Asian restaurant.  I’ve had better food in Vancouver.  Especially for the price.  But it was pretty good.  The salmon was cooked really well (almost rare) and eating salmon and watching people with umbrellas scurry around in the rain made me feel at home.

The bar is getting a tiny bit more lively as I write this.  Maybe Godot will show up in the end?  If not, I’ll have to brave the chill and find a new venue for tomorrow night 😉

Apparently 10pm is the magic hour.  It’s SO expensive to drink in Sweden you can’t blame the Swedes for staying home til they can get their kronors worth of fun.  In the end, it was an entertaining – if somewhat strange – night.

I managed to snap some photos of the Berns Salonger before I left so I will get them into this post so you can see it for yourself.  It’s a heritage building so they couldn’t change a lot of stuff, which means you feel more like you are in the early 20th century instead of a modern nightclub.  The place is huge.  There are several bars, a sushi station and a couple of different eating areas.

As noted above, the night starts kind of slow.  It’s really just a packed restaurant.  So there is a buzz.  But solo it’s pretty dull.  But as the night wears on, the music starts to rise in volume and people start to fill the bar areas.  Eventually you can barely move and it’s become a very sophisticated looking nightclub.

Once it got a bit more crowded, I went upstairs (a crazy winding staircase that you should be descending from in a ball gown, not trying to navigate both ways with an increasing drunken mob.  But no one fell!)  I just figured I could watch the crowd from above and it would supply some entertainment while I waited for Godot…

But Erik wanted to find out more about me.  So I got into a conversation with him and his friend about ice hockey, European football and what it meant to be a Viking… and if there is a “Swedish look”.  The consensus seemed to be “more or less, but not just the blond, blue-eyed stereotype.  Those Vikings got around 😉

For those of you who have not spent time in Sweden, Swedish men are almost uniformly gorgeous!  And well-groomed.  I expect they are mostly metrosexual but when a couple of the men I met seemed more concerned about their male friends than me, I wondered if they were too cute to be straight 🙂

Andreas did get me down to the basement club, which completed my Berns cultural experience.  I wasn’t really sure about the music though and – like Erik, he seemed more interested in the male friend he came with than me so I eventually just wandered off…

Part of the problem was that the friends spoke Swedish and I did not.  Swedes are wildly impressive on many fronts and almost everyone speaks some English but not everyone is super fluent so in a noisy bar setting communication can seem like a lot of work.  So I was happy the third guy to talk to me was a Kiwi!

I did enjoy talking to the locals and learning more about Sweden but by then I was getting a bit exhausted and being able to just speak normal English was a treat.  Dennis did live in Sweden and had had a Swedish wife so he knew something about the place – but we mostly talked about the similarities between New Zealand and Canada.

So… no Godot… but lots of miscellaneous others.  Some of whom had been drinking at home I think… it’s the first time I have had enough drinks spilled on me that I ended up with alcohol stinging in both eyes before the night was through.

But it was fun.  I was back again the next night.  Later this time.  And had more conversations about Swedes and Swedish history with a young Swede whose father had arrived in Sweden from the Sudan to study.  He was very articulate and it was one of my most memorable conversations in Sweden.

I think the highlight of the night though was the colorful half Swedish-half Norwegian lady who caused a stir in the bathroom knocking on doors and trying to get girls to hurry up.  I am not sure what was going on but 2 woman came out of each stall… Travel is always interesting…

The Swedish men had confirmed Swedish women were very self-confident.  It’s likely the place with the most equal rights between the sexes I’ve ever encountered.  Lots of beautiful women… but no pushovers apparently… just as it should be 😉

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