Sweden 2010

Friday, May 7th

Today would be my second attempt to remove my body from the island of Britain.  A few weeks ago, I made efforts to encounter Italy via an airplane but this silly cloud of ashtrays that was created by the eruption of that lame, community college dropout volcano in Iceland halted all air travel in the European airspace for six days.

My plan now was to visit Sweden and enjoy the indescribable comforts of my dear friends, Margaretha and Cebe (pronounced “say-bay”) Fransen.  But first, I had to wake up which was challenging as the previous night was a late one due to the fact I had a show at the King’s Head Downstairs in Crouch End.  After the show, I socialized adequately.  In particular, I spoke with a fella that very much looked like the Dude in “The Big Lebowski”.  Even his voice resembled Jeff Bridges (more like “The Fisher King” Jeff Bridges) but his demeanor was not like the Dude.  It was more like a respectful intellectual.  That was probably the closest I’ll ever get to meeting Jeff Bridges so I had to make the most of it.

So when I did wake, I got my belongings together, walked to the Piccadilly Line and traveled to Heathrow airport.  I boarded a plane to Copenhagen and then a train to the town of Höör (pronounced slightly like the ancient profession).  And there he was, Cebe himself in his green rubber boots, commanding an older red Nissan pickup truck.  It was a moment both natural and amusing.

After a couple miles of driving, we arrived at their quaint, beautiful farmhouse that was built around 1760.  Surrounded by woods and a couple small fields, this lifestyle speaks of easygoing and restorative possibilities.  I opened the front door and was greeted, gloriously, by Margaretha.  It had been eight years since my last visit but as we spoke, as I knew it would, this chasm of time dissolved immediately.

Within moments of my arrival, we were chatting loosely and I was bombarding my body with such a diverse collection of toxins: scotch, wine, cheese, little cigars, cake and brandy.  Somewhere in this dense fog of vice, I managed to call my sister Jennifer (who is the one that initially befriended the Fransens in France years ago).  Margaretha and I spoke to her for a while and carried on with the night.

Things became so free that I encouraged them both to watch one of my favorite videos that I made: “Creepy Cowboy Chops Down Tree”.  Let me tell you folks something, you haven’t lived until you’re standing next to a Swedish couple in their 60’s while you watch a video of yourself chopping a tree down in silver pants and no shirt that is accurately set to Madonna’s “Hung Up” (Decide for yourself: http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/42a3d024c3/creepy-cowboy-chops-down-a-tree).

As the video ended, we all realized the night had reached its full potential and it now being one in the morning, we knew that sleep was the only sound decision.

Saturday, May 8th

Today I awoke and enjoyed a simple breakfast with Cebe in the library.  Afterwards, the two of us headed into town to buy meat, alcohol, medicine and food (in this logical order).  In the main square, we noticed some sort of humble market/festival.  The weather was cool and gray so the crowd was light.  What struck me was the young, broken-down school band that was playing “New York, New York” in a tent.  There were many rebellious notes in their rendition and the resulting sound was one I could only compare with that of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang crashing into a drunken circus band.

This troubled circus music persisted as we entered a supermarket where there was a trio of three young women playing recorders.  I have absolutely no idea why they were playing in a supermarket.  All I can tell you is that the music’s dissonance evoked visions of clown murders and indigestion.

We then got in our car, we discovered it did not start.  I blamed the bad music.  I think the car heard these tortuous human sounds and wisely decided to have nothing more to do with people.  Fortunately, Cebe’s mother lived very close by so we walked to her apartment in order to borrow her car.  We passed by the band tent and although the band was gone, there was one solitary person playing “Killing Me Softly” on keyboard while an awkward, spread-out crowd of 12 people watched.  All of this music provided the perfect sound track to the mild misfortunes and oddities we were enduring.

The two of us then walked along a path where we passed by a strange event.  A mother and child and their medium-sized dog stood by as a woman and her small dog approached them.  The small dog then buried its face in the backside of the larger dog and just went to work as if it was some gruesome canine medical malpractice procedure.  What makes this occurrence really bizarre is that the larger dog just stood there calmly while all three people watched, smiled and talked.  Not knowing if this is some strange Swedish Saturday afternoon custom, I turned to Cebe and said, “Someone needs to stop that.  Why are they allowing this to happen?”  Cebe also shared my negative reaction to the foul nature of the dog interaction, a reaction that restored my faith in Sweden.

We then made it to his mother’s, conversed for a while and drove her car back to the house.  After lunch, I followed Cebe back to town in his mother’s car.  For giggles, we pulled up to the ailing auto to see if it would start and it did so we dropped it at a mechanic, returned his mother’s car and drove back home.  Some people like to visit museums or famous sites when they travel.  I, on the other hand, like to do errands and feel the brisk sensation of what it might be like to be a taxi driver in a small town.

After a brief doze and some high-powered writing, I descended to the common living area and into more gustatory decadence that started with some members only, 16-year old, single malt scotch.  As I smelled it, I almost began to close my eyes and recite important events of 1994 as if I were Christopher Lambert drinking a 200-year old liqueur and eerily dropping specific factoids of the year that the liqueur was born.  This of course happened in the movie “Highlander” which I hope I am but since I don’t have the brass to get stabbed and test it, I’ll just have to wait until I’m 180 years old when I can say, “Indeed.  It appears I am an immortal Highlander.”

From here we dined on fine, thin strips of choice beef that we grilled at the table on a small, electric grill.  The beef was then bathed in blue ribbon sauces, creating an eating experience that should be documented and placed into a time capsule.  This meal morphed into a dessert with tea, brandy and more petit cigars.  I was slowly turning into a 19th century aristocrat that lived in a castle, ran a profitable cologne trading business and solved mysteries in his spare time.

During this great evening brew of relaxation, we looked at photo albums of various vacations that Cebe and Margaretha had in the US.  Wisely, Margaretha collected various pamphlets from hotels they stayed in.  My favorite was one for a hotel they visited during their trip to Key West.  It showed a picture of a guy in a red Speedo, standing with a cocktail in his hand intently listening to a smiling guy sitting in a chair that was playing guitar and looking like a young Jimmy Buffet.

This reflects an amazing priority of the mid 80’s Key West traveler.  They don’t care about the view or the quality of the room, they want to know if they can get drunk enough to wear a red Speedo and listen/stand next to a Jimmy Buffet cover artist.

She also took a menu from an extremely fancy restaurant that was now 25 years old.  I desperately wanted her and Cebe to travel back to the same restaurant with the old menu and demand the food at the prices quoted on the old menu.  It never ceases to amaze me how my fantasies parallel that of a 60-year old virgin that grew up without toys or a television.

We also discussed, at length, the tender manner that Cebe and Margaretha initiated their space mission to the galaxy of Eternal Romance.  And as it always seems to be, it was merely a matter of the fella coming to his senses.  Oh boy!

Sleep was the final option we exercised on this day.

Sunday, May 9th

During my sleep, I dreamed that a bird flew into a room that I was in.  When I awoke, I went downstairs and ate breakfast with Cebe.  At this moment, a bird flew into the house.  Although it was neat that I foresaw this in my dream, I lamented that I did not dream of more profitable matters like a dramatic rise in the shares of a company that makes a spray that smells like the 70’s (a mix of the following crucial aromas: wood paneling, sweat, a cookout, leather and carpet).

Another thing to note was that during the previous night, I dreamt that I was walking outside near some interesting vegetation when Margaretha came over and started gathering it.  “What’s this?” I asked.  “Oh, it’s marijuana,” she answered.  She then walked away and I wondered if this substance would find its way into our dinner.  So far this has not happened but you’ll know if it did if I start writing about, well, there will be no discernible difference between my current writing and any drug-induced scribbling.

After some professional-strength hanging around, we ate a lunch of salad, bacon, eggs, bread and red wine.  Cebe then decided to take me over to the house of a Danish couple at the edge of his property.  The Fransens sold the couple a couple of acres that included a barn.  As we walked over, we met up with another neighbor, Anders.  The three of us looked around the edge of Cebe’s property for dead trees that needed to be cut down because that’s what men do when they’re not busy eating whiskey-soaked French fries or pummeling somebody.

The three of us walked to the barn of Jasper and Gitte which was being gradually transformed into a neat house.  The fine couple showed us around the place and brought note to their most recent architectural advances.  Soon after, we were involving ourselves in impressive qualities and quantities of red wine to celebrate some lovely building milestones for Jasper and Gitte.  Soon Anders went back to his house as Margaretha tagged into this festive match.  Jasper, Cebe and I began to discuss fine beer, healthcare, politics and too many other jazzy concepts to mention.  Suddenly, multiple hours had passed, pipes/cigars/cigarettes had been smoked, Japanese whiskey somehow snuck its way into our presence and bodies and even Enya had the audacity to creep into the random music mix, clearly signaling that things were escalating to a dangerous level.

Margaretha, Cebe and I therefore bid farewell and went back to the house to eat.  And yes, I did manage to savor some nice Chilean wine, small steaks and a spot of brandy.  As we dined, Cebe told us an interesting story of the wine we were drinking.  Apparently, although made in Chile, the grape used in the wine originally comes from France.  Hundreds of years ago, the grape was sent to South America since the grape began to die out (and eventually did completely) in its native France.  The grape then began to die out in South America and was thought to be extinct until ten years ago when some master-tongued wine taster researched some wine he encountered in Chile and discovered it to be the grape thought to be extinct.  It’s nice to hear a happy ending to one of those “Have you seen me?” pictures you see on the side of milk cartons.

By this point, I had to accept the Leaving Las Vegas nature of my day.  All that was missing was my Elizabeth Shue but something told me she would not be found in this Swedish countryside.  The three of us dug further into the conversational mine shaft that we had been working on as I made the bold decision to drink two espressos.  Shortly after, we retired like old employees.

Monday, May 10th

Note to the world: If you typically don’t drink espresso, please refrain from drinking two before bed or you will end up being the key subject in your own, extremely successful sleep deprivation study.  I perhaps took in three hours of sleep last night.  In addition to the fatigue, I was also disappointed in my lack of juicy dreams that I was having.

After breakfast Cebe offered me a guided tour of some desirable locations in the south of Sweden.  We equipped his old pickup with our bodies and headed first to Söderåsen National Park to view an ancient volcanic lake and valley.  Wowed by Mother Nature’s generous gifts, we drove west to a peninsula of land that was home to many lovely seaside villages and Kullaberg National Reserve.

On our way back and clearly running out of conversational topics, Cebe and I talked about fighting.  Ironically, the both of us had not been in a fight since our extreme youth but put two fellas in a red pickup truck and it’s just a matter of time before slugfest stories take center stage.

Once home, I made the physical decision to change my Leaving Las Vegas script for the day by avoiding drink so that my stomach could achieve peace.  Cebe then grilled some fine hamburgers and we ate them in fine style, leaving me to find sleep soon after.

Tuesday, May 11th

Today’s mission was to head south to Malmo so Margaretha could visit her dentist.  While her teeth were being investigated, Cebe took me down the street to look at what was Scandinavian’s tallest building upon completion in 2005, the 54-story Twisting torso.  It is a white building that looks like a giant grabbed the top of the building and twisted it slightly as the bottom remained fixed into the ground.  To maintain this look, all the windows are parallelograms.

Not being fan of modern architecture, I kept my excitement far away from this moment.  In fact, I kept my excitement far away from this entire area.  It was clear that the local government was trying to completely reshape this once industrial area.  But from the overall appearance, it looked like the person in charge, halfway through the project, either developed short-term memory loss or simply died and got replaced by a stray cat.  None of the buildings really flowed together and nothing seemed to get finished.  Imagine paying about two million dollars for the penthouse unit in the Twisting Torso and having to park your gold-dipped Ferrari in a crummy, dusty, cinder parking lot.

Thankfully, poor urban development did not foul our day for we decided to pick up some food at a fine sushi establishment that would be savored for dinner.  From here we went to a shopping area to buy a stool, area rug, small candles, a vase and some fabric.  Obviously, these items were not for me.  I’m not the type of guy that travels to other countries to buy stools.

We drove home and I took a long walk through the woods because I AM the type of guy that travels to other countries to walk through the woods like an international animal.  As I walked, I came upon areas of the forest that had been completely cleared out.  Cebe had told me that an insect infestation had made it necessary to cut down large areas of the forest.  This seemed a bit extreme to me.  I believe that they could have hired a few ninjas or some excellent snipers to take care of the problem (snipers that could nail a bug in the face from a mile away).

Later, we ate our sashimi salads and began to talk about business, salesmanship and my father.  Cebe said, “Your father, like me, is a very good salesman.  But I don’t mean like some type of salesman in a furniture store, I mean someone who can sell a product with intelligence.”  It is indeed a good thing my father did not sell furniture or the world would be one huge couch.

Cebe also discussed his business trips to Japan and how he ate globe fish.  Perhaps this doesn’t sound too dramatic but when you realize that if you incorrectly cut open a globefish, you cause a poison to be released throughout the fish’s body, thereby quickly killing whoever eats it, the drama intensifies.  For a restaurant to serve globefish, they must have a special certification to serve it since roughly 100-150 people die each year from incorrectly preparing it.  Why these folks simply don’t stop eating such a dangerous food and switch over to something more benign like pancakes or carrots is beyond me.  You can cut a pancake any way you like without fear that a deadly toxin will be released that will bring your body to bad town.

We then moved into the living room where all that remained for us to do was the enjoyment of brandy and petit cigars.  Sleep then ensued and all was lovely.

Wednesday, May 12th

After breakfast, Cebe and I left to pick up his mother and bring her to the train station.  As we arrived to the station, the weather worsened.  The wind began to blow strongly and a nasty, cold rain fell steadily.  As I walked with Cebe’s mother, Cebe went ahead of us and looked down a set of stairs and greeted the 95-year old lady friend of his mother.  When she made it to the top, a fierce wind caught her and blew her over, causing her to fall down twelve or so stairs.  The woman’s daughter was with us so we all ran over to help her.  The old lady was lying motionless on her stomach on a small landing with her head hanging over the edge as her daughter cradled it in her hands.

The rain grew heavier and we did our best to comfort this tough old lady that now began to move and speak a little.  An ambulance was called for but it was 30 minutes before one arrived.  We did not move her for fear of causing further injury.  Finally, an ambulance arrived and took her to the hospital.

As Cebe and I drove away, I remarked on how terrible it was that an ambulance took so long to arrive.  Once home, Margaretha told me this was because there is no longer an ambulance in Höör, making it necessary for one to come from Eslov, the next town over.  This is especially frustrating since taxes are so high in Sweden.  You would expect that in a town of 15,000, as Höör is, and in a country where you pay high taxes, that a 95-year old woman that just fell down a flight of stairs would not have to wait half an hour in the pouring rain for an ambulance.  Do those in charge think that all 95-year old ladies happen to be as tough as nails like this lady and able to take a tumble down concrete stairs and then strong enough to hold on for 30 minutes as they lie on the ground, getting soaked by ice water?

Fortunately, we were able to put our gravity-related troubles aside and enjoy a dish brought to life by Cebe that he and Margaretha encountered in Florence years ago.  It involved an egg over some asparagus that bathed themselves in a shallow pool of melted butter and willingly accepted a soft coat of sprinkled cheese.  This and a glass of red wine guaranteed a culinary victory.

Cebe and I then left the house to take care of various errands like two responsible males.  One of which was stopping by a farm of a metal worker.  We went inside and viewed all of his amazing pieces of work that included candle holders, door knockers, chairs, platters and even a few swords.

When we returned, Margaretha told us that she received news on the old lady’s injuries.  Thankfully, her only injury was a broken arm.  Old power!  This was indeed comforting news and left me feeling like Mr. Glass finding Bruce Willis’ almost Unbreakable Scandinavian equivalent.

The other reason this incident was terrible was that something very similar happened two weeks ago in London.  I was walking down a very busy Oxford Street in the afternoon when an old woman, three meters ahead of me, tripped on the sidewalk, dove into the cement and began bleeding heavily.  Fortunately, her grandchildren were with her and helped her.  So perhaps old ladies with questionable balance should avoid my presence.

As it always should, the night was again initiated with a glass of fine scotch.  This evolved, naturally, into a dinner that will not soon be forgotten.  Earlier that day, Cebe and I picked up some fresh perch fish that was caught from a large lake near their house known as Ring Lake.  The fish were ever so lightly breaded and fried with a little butter, leaving me to be ever so passionately satiated.  This edible pinnacle was followed with some dessert, a coffee liqueur, a small glass of brandy and a Romeo y Julieta, Number Three Cuban cigar that I collected in London for Cebe and I.  This trip was surely turning into death by pleasure.

Thursday, May 13th

After breakfast, I bid farewell to Margaretha and headed to the train station with Cebe but not before dropping off an outdoor table to his mother’s place.  He then dropped me at the station and I mustered up my best goodbye (you really should have seen it).

As my flight did not leave until the evening, I decided to walk around Copenhagen for a few hours.  I wish I could tell you that something exciting happened but it really didn’t.  I wish I could tell you that I played laser tag with a Danish princess or that I bore witness to the Festival del War Doll but it did not.  Coincidentally, the Festival del War Doll occurs in 27 different countries and celebrates the War Doll’s unstoppable ability to consistently get it right (in the general sense).

I then took a train to the airport and took flight to London.

And that’s that.

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