A Trip To Europe, Hold the Tourists Please

Bliss at Both Ends

So how can I take a trip and find bliss in both travel and return? Why is the home I'm so excited to leave the same one I'm so excited to return to? Do I travel in order to make "home" exciting? Sort of. I travel to find out what my home is. This is why I put Mary's quote at the top of my trip report. She is absolutely right -- a vacation has to happen in a context different enough that allows you to turn fresh eyes to your life and home when you return. Travelling is all about drinking from a cup of strange tastes.

The only two strange cups that I got thorough mouthfuls of were Sweden and Poland. Sweden impressed me so much that I want to move there. Here's why.

Notes on Why Sweden is So Cool, Part III

I most often hear Swedes described as "uninhibited". I don't particularly like this word as it has a perjorative tone to it here in the USA. It suggests hyperhedonism, like people dancing drunk and naked in the streets and then going to bed with farm animals. Not recommended. I prefer the much more positive term "well-adjusted". This to me suggests that Swedes are comfortable saying "having sex with" instead of "going to bed with". That their egos are not so fragile that they have to defend them with their fists. That they act the same when drunk as when sober. In fact the only consistent inhibition that I saw revealed by drink was a tendency to sing in public. If you are going to have a skeleton in your closet, Tony Bennett is not a bad one to have.

Why are they like this? I have a theory, and I'd love to live in Sweden to get a chance to research it. My theory is that the people of Sweden have developed a fundamental faith in the goodness of the world as a result of being at peace for so long. Could it be that simple? I think so. No lost generations, no ruined cities, no monuments to dead who should be living, none of the shellshocked living dead that war produces. I could be wrong. Maybe the Swedes are just genetically more sensible than the rest of us. They are genetically gorgeous, why not happy too?

Notes on Why Poland is Cool Too

You might think I didn't like the land or the people after reading my cheap cracks about cheap haircuts and pork jelly. Not so -- Poland is cool too, and I look forward to returning. If my description makes Poland seem a little bit shabby or rough around the edges, consider what the country have had to put up with in the past century. Two words: Oswiecim/Brzezinka, better know by the German names of Auschwitz/Birkenau. Need more? Belzec, Lublin-Majdanek, Treblinka -- not just one, but several death camps in a country the size of New Mexico. More: the Battle of Westerplatte. The Jewish Ghetto Uprising of 1943. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944. More than half of Warsaw killed during WWII. Thousands suffering like my great-uncle Vincent; exiled to Siberia by the Soviets with no explanation, his son Wieslaw (my gracious host) displaced from his home by WWII and unable to visit his father for 20 years. The 1956 strike in Poznan. Solidarity. The first Eastern European state to break free of Communism. How much more strife do you need?

After all of this, the Poles have not sunk into despair or laid down and died. Instead they are making excellent bread, telling jokes, cultivating faith and being beautiful. When you have forty years of Communist architecture to deal with, you replace what you can afford to and paint the rest. It won't be there forever, just deal with it for now.

Did I mention what my cousin Asha and her husband Erik do for a living? They're architects, and I can't wait to see what they build.

 

Addendum May 2002 - I followed through on my desire to move to Sweden and did so in October of 2000. I write about my experiences here in Stockholm from time to time and some of them might even make you laugh. But first, check out the leftover pictures from this trip report if you have a fast Internet connection or a surfeit of patience.