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Conversation from an Open Prison, 2 - Chilperic [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Conversation from an Open Prison, 2 [Aug. 11th, 2006|08:21 am]
Thursday 10 August
The first thing that happened, after I had written the previous day’s blog entry, was the discovery online of the alleged conspiracy to bring down a load of British planes. There was much discussion during the rest of the day, which basically boiled down to two important questions: “How can I possibly cope with air travel if they forbid books and iPods on board?” [especially books] and, slightly more urgently, “Are we going to get back home next week?”

The hotel breakfast turned up trumps as far as fjm was concerned: plenty of alternatives to bread, notably various meats, and eggs in various forms. [But it was only on the following day that she discovered that they had four different kinds of gluten-free crisp bread.] And she has brought some of her own things anyway: nuts, gluten-free bread and so on. We both did some work after breakfast, and left the hotel (see photograph) sometime after 9, to take the walk into town. Another gorgeous day: and that time in the morning it was not too hot. At my suggestion (with memories of a visit about 20 years ago in mind) we continued our sightseeing by taking the ferry to the island of Djurgården: it was only ten minutes or so away. Most of our fellow passengers were going to the funfair, which was just where the ferry docked, but we walked on for another five minutes or so, and entered Skansen. “The world’s first open-air museum” according to the publicity.

It was vast, and contained a good deal of fairly untouched landscape: rocky hills and woodland. But in the next few hours we did manage to see a good part of it. In one corner nearest the entrance was the “town”: a couple of streets of old wooden houses from various parts of Stockholm, re-erected in Skansen. Many of them were open, with people in costume all willing to talk (in English) and answer questions. Some of them, of course, were shopping opportunities: a bakery, a glass–factory (with demonstrations of glass blowing), a pottery. Others included a printing shop, a furniture-making factory, and some town houses of various degrees of prosperity. It was slightly bizarre to visit the 1930s ironmongers (looking not too much different from the ones I remember as a child), and going into the back part of the shop, where the family lived, and seeing a kitchen dresser from the 1930s looking exactly like the dresser (from the 1930s) that my mother had in the kitchen, and to hear George Formby’s “When I’m Cleaning Windows” come from the radio. Some of the houses were much older: though nothing earlier than the eighteenth-century, I think.

By then it was lunchtime, and we found an area of little stalls selling food of various kinds, including old-fashioned sweets. We fell for the Sami stall selling reindeer prepared (supposedly) in the Sami way: slices of reindeer with mashed potato, coleslaw and some kind of fruit jelly. Delicious. Then we continued, visiting a church (with eighteenth-century paintings on the wooden ceiling)—a church still used for weddings, apparently—a couple of farmsteads, and an artist’s studio. The artist, Kronberg, painted dramatic neoclassical scenes, towards the end of the nineteenth century, and there were a number of rather impressive examples on view. There were two rooms visible: one wall of the studio itself had what seemed to me (from memory) to have a lifesize reproduction of a fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Siena, c. 1350?) on it; and hanging up on the wall, a series of exotic stringed instruments (harp, lyre etc), presumably to act as models.

For some time we had been following the signs for “Scandinavian Animals”: and finally we found them. Well, some of them. We couldn’t spot the bear, which had sensibly hidden itself (or themselves) in the rather large enclosure. But I saw my first wolverine (it moved too quickly to take a photograph), a couple of bored looking wolves (see photo), two truly enormous bison (with, as fjm noted, such humanoid faces that they were clearly minotaurs), a really beautiful lynx (see photo, a family of wild boar (see photo, and some elk. But by then we were getting tired. A walk through the forest to get back to the entrance (seeing Swedenborg’s summer house on the way: the one in which he was visited by angels?), a shared plate of boiled potato, herring and chopped egg to keep us going, and then back to the hotel. That was when we discovered that the prison had a panopticon: outside there was a watch tower, for a guard, and then, radiating all round this, high walls, making up maybe a dozen narrow exercise yards, none of which could be seen from the other but all of which were within the gaze of the guard. Perhaps this should be an inspiration for designers of airports?

In the evening we took a taxi to the flat of Carolina Gomez Lagerlöf, in a residential part of the city, and we had a beautiful buffet meal with seven or eight of the convention organisers. I had met three of them before: though it turned out that all of them had been in Glasgow for the Worldcon last year, and if we had gone to the Swedish room party we would have met all of them. (I vaguely remember having so much acquavit at the Norwegian room party that I was incapable of progressing anywhere else…) It was a really nice, relaxing evening.