|Conversation from an Open Prison, 3
||[Aug. 12th, 2006|08:36 am]
After the breakfast at which fjm discovered that the miraculous Swedish prison had provided gluten-free crisp breads (three or four different types), we wandered into town along the by now customary route, past ships and boats of all shapes and sizes. Stefan had asked us to meet him at the bridge onto Helgeandsholmen (the little island which holds almost nothing but the parliament building), and once we had established which of the four bridges it was to be, it was easy to find him. He was there at 10 a.m. with his friend Martin, who is also from Göteborg/Gothenburg: they had got the train to Stockhom at some ungodly hour, though it was the express, which takes a mere 3 hours or so.
We had a reviving coffee at a place in Västerlånggatan, which is the main tourist drag across Gamla Stan, and then went to the SF Bookshop, which was further along the street: Martin left his suitcase there, as they knew him (as a parttime employee of their Göteborg shop). We stayed there for a while, and Farah bought me a copy of volume one of the newly completed K.J. Parker series, which she has been raving about. (His first trilogy was stunning, but this one, apparently, more so.) (When we got home I discovered that she had picked up volume 2 by mistake!)
From there we decided to go to the Town Hall, partly because Stefan says that the view from the top of the tower was tremendous. Which I am sure it is, though sadly it is currently closed for restoration, and to put grills on it to stop the suicide that happened a few months ago. Anyway, we booked onto an English language tour for midday, and we only had a little while to wait. (See photograph of the four of us.) The tour of the town Hall started in the room where the Nobel Prize banquet takes place: a giant Italianate piazza, with a roof (well, the banquet does take place on December 10). Difficult to imagine a less friendly or pleasant place for a banquet. The royal family and the Nobel prizewinners emerge on the balcony, and process down the shallow stairway into the “piazza”. We were told that the architect’s wife had to spend a whole week going up and down stairs until she found the ideal height and length of a step for a woman’s high heels and long skirt. (Still, it doesn’t make much difference, since so few women win the Nobel Prize. I suppose one doesn’t want the Queen tripping up on the way down, though…)
The whole Town Hall was built in the 1920s: a mixture of “Swedish Romantic” and Venetian in style. It was all pretty bizarre, as indeed were some of the explanations of the guide. (The ceiling of the city Council Chamber was NOT an inverted Viking ship; it was an imitation of a pretty standard style of medieval hall roof-beaming.) The most bizarre part was the Golden Hall: a long hall totally covered in golden mosaics: like the cathedral of Monreale in Sicily, but instead of Biblical scenes we had a representation of the history of Sweden and Stockholm, in a sort of cross between medieval and Art Deco style! Totally bizarre… as you can see from the picture. We did, with the help of the guide and her colleagues, work out one piece of weird iconography (which I stupidly did not photograph). A three headed dragon with a pair of scissors and a crowd of people holding out their hands. The dragon’s heads each had a crown on, so the dragon represented Sweden (with its symbol of three crowns); the scissors were cutting small pieces of paper from a strip, which represented ration tickets. The whole thing commemorated the First World War, where Sweden (which was neutral) suffered serious food shortages.
To recover from this—well, no, really because we just needed sustenance—we walked to the Arts Centre (Kulturhuset), and had a very nice lunch in the roof top restaurant. A quick flip through two exhibitons on the floor below. One, which juxtaposed the 1930s photos of Walker Evans with the 1950s photos of Sune Jonsson, was pretty stunning. The two were indeed rather similar (I suppose the Swedish photographer must have known the work of the American one: their main subject matter was rural poverty, and the rural poor (though there were some pictures of urban poverty from Walker Evans, like his pictures of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania). The Evans pictures I had mostly seen before, in books, but I had never come across Jonsson before.
After a little rest in the hotel, Britt-Louise met us to take us to the conference centre, which was not the hotel’s conference centre, but was in a High School, all of, say, 100 yards away. It is a very nice set up, and the rooms in the conference centre are just right for the relative small numbers attending. We had the little opening ceremony; I bought some books (American and British) in the bookstall and sampled my first Swedish microbrewery beer (excellent), and then Stefan did his intervew of Farah, which I think went very well. There was more drinking, lots of chat, and a little birthday party, to celebrate 50 years of sf conventions in Sweden. I had a chat with thette, which was very nice; I think she is the only LiveJournal member present, or, rather, the only person I already knew from LJ, which is not the same thing…. She has a picture of Farah with her baby Hulda on her LiveJournal. (I am, apparently, a very nice man to talk to...)