Thursday, August 25, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
Wednesday 21st to Friday 23rd July 2010
I walked out of Annika and Ander's apartment block onto Observatoriegaten. It all looked so familiar. I turned right, walked a block and then right again. Now I was heading down the hill towards the city centre. The sun was bright and the sky was clear. Already I could feel the heat beginning to reflect of the stone walls of the buildings. There was every indication that the high temperatures which the city has been experiencing would continue today.
As I walked down the street, I was remembering my visit a couple of years previously. I remembered passing that school, this shop, the convention centre and the railway station.
Now I was coming down to the waterfront. Last time, Robyn and I had stopped at a small luncheon kiosk beside the sea and had a wrap and coffee. The kiosk was still there and it seemed a good idea to stop for an espresso. I sat at the shaded tables and watch the passers by. Several people were sitting on the wall by the water eating ice creams. A little further was the railway bridge and I enjoyed watching the various trains speed across. Last evening my Inter City train had come in across that bridge and it was at that point that I knew that I was almost at the central station.
While it was pleasant sitting watching and remembering, I still had a destination to reach. So I continued along the path beside the channel which ran between the mainland and the nearby islands.
In a few minutes I was able to cross the bridge which linked to a small island containing the Parliament Building. There was a steady flow of visitors crossing the bridge and walking along the roadway to the short bridge which brought you onto the larger island containing the Old Town (Gramla Stan). This area includes the large Royal Palace and several churches.
However the main pedestrian flow continued along a narrow shopping street to the far end of the island. It is an interesting road to walk along. You are constantly moving through groups of tourists as well as some locals. But I do think that the majority of pedestrians are tourists. You could work this out by the way they stopped to take photos, had maps in hand, stopped to look down the many narrow side alleyways, or to look it window displays of souvenirs.
Of course I was doing the same, but taking less photos on this visit. I did discover a large science fiction book and video store. This was very busy. I was fascinated to spot tin toy robots. Very retro and shoddy looking, in the style of 1930's and 40's toys. I grew up with tin toys made the same way. Simple folded over, thin tin lugs, joined the sections together. They looked like they could be broken easily and from my memory they did break although in my case it was usually the wind up spring motor which broke first.
I had seen similar robots in San Francisco last year and later wished that I had bought some for the grand children. This time I would make the purchase. But first I had to get an extra bag to fit everything into. So I continued along Stora Nygaten. A quick look at the corner photography shop of course. In a side window I noticed a display of Lomo cameras including the Mini Diana camera. The original Diana was a 120 roll film camera from the 1950's and 60's which developed cult status after it was discontinued. However demand saw it back in production. Now they have the mini version out as well which takes 35 mm film. As far as I can work out, this is a new development as there was never a 35 mm Diana back in the earlier years. I have not yet seen the mini Diana in New Zealand.
Well, I continued my walk, soon coming into a small square with Sundbergs Konditori, a a long established tea house with great cakes. We had a drink and a cake here last time with Lorraine. This time however, I just relied on memory and carried on, passing the brass statue of Evert Taube which attracts a steady flow of camera carrying tourists. Taube was a local poet I think.
Reaching the waterside again I carried on past ferry boat births and over a bridge to Sondermalm – another inter connected island. While Sondermalm has many attractions, I carried on along the waterfront and cruise boat terminal to the Fotografiska Contemporary Photography Museum. I didn't know much about this venue other than the fact that it was new and had some interesting sounding exhibitions running. I was to discover that it had only been open for two months exactly on the day of my visit.
Fotografiska is housed in an industrial building dating from 1906 in the Art Nouveau style. Apparently, the building was used for the customs control of goods, and is "culturally marked" or "k-marked". In Sweden k-marked buildings are protected by law, which means that the building may not be modified in any way that diminishes its historic value. The original brick façade of the building remains intact, while the interiors have been renovated to house the museum.
The city of Stockholm funded the 250 million crown restoration costs, which shows a wonderful commitment to culture and the arts in my opinion. In addition to the exhibition spaces, there are an academy, bistro, cafe, bar, conference rooms, museum shop, gallery, and event spaces.
I was very impressed by the museum. It was large and spacious so that each exhibition had space to show the images without feeling crowded. There were five or six different exhibitions running within the building.
Fotografiska opened with "Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life 1990-2005". This showed 194 photographs by her. This survey comprises iconic images of famous public figures (Demi Moore, Bill Clinton, Mick Jagger...) together with personal photographs of her family and close friends, all arranged chronologically. I found the exhibition very interesting and well worth the time I spent looking at it.
The exhibition has already been in London,. New York, Vienna and London over the past few years, so it is not a new show internationally. In fact I have seen parts of it in other exhibitions. Which of course is to be expected as there are a number of her images which have become well known and which you would expect to see in any exhibition of her work.
What I had not seen were the personal photographs nor the large panels showing the selection process for her book; "Annie Leibovitz: a Photographer's Life 1990-2005″. This has been out in the shops for a while now. This was an interesting aspect to the exhibition as it showed the editorial selection process. With my media interests this was quite fascinating.
A whole floor of the gallery was given over to the Leibovitz exhibition.
However, there were other exhibitions as well. Entering the gallery from the ticket counter, I first came to a series of photos by Lennart Nilsson; A Child Is Born. Many of these pictures were quite familiar as they have been published many times. However, some in the series had not been previously shown, so there was a mixture of the familiar and the new.
I seemed to recall them first appearing in Life magazine perhaps during the 1960's. These large photographs follow the whole journey of pregnancy from conception to birth. There was an interesting video screening which included shots of Nilsson taking the pictures.
On the train from Oslo I had conversations with a young nurse sitting beside me. During the conversation she mentioned that abortion could be performed up to 18 weeks in Sweden. This seemed quite late to me and I was therefore interested to look at the Nilsson photo of an 18 week foetus. The child did seem very developed by that stage.
The next exhibition was The Birthday Party by Vee Speers. This consisted of a series of large 'theatrical portraits' of young children dressed up in various costumes as if they were going to a fancy dress party. The idea apparently came to Speers from her childhood memories. She grew up in Australia but now lives in Paris. Each costumed child is set against a plain background so that you just focus on the child and the costume they are wearing. There is the nurse, a boy as a soldier, a ballet dancer and so on.
The exhibition notes suggested it would remind us of our childhood memories and perhaps think about gender roles.
Next was a showing of photographs by Swedish photographer, Anders Petersen. He took a whole series of photos in 2008 in Varmland, Sweden, in which he tries to recapture the melancholic times of his teenage years. It did seem rather depressing. Petersen uses standing people as substitutes to recreate images from his memories. The individuals tend to dominate the shot and are usually close to the camera. They are all in very contrasty black and white without a wide range of grey. From Back Home then is a selection from over 100 photographs taken to the theme by Petersen.
On the Gallery's third floor there is a cafe with lovely views over the harbour. It is on this floor that I located the final exhibition of my visit. This was Bodies by Joel-Peter Witkin. I notice that we share the same birth year.
These would be rather controversial images. He uses dwarfs, nudes and tries to 'reveal beauty within the horrid and confront whatever darkness may exist inside us and around us.' He seems fascinated by the grotesque and many of the photographs contained a strong sense of sexuality. The pictures are all back and white and are carefully arranged and set up to a pre-plan. They are very much artistic constructions and he includes references to a range of artistic and literary ideas. They are however, obviously designed to challenge social norms.
So I am sure that you begin to get the idea.
Fotografiska is the largest photographic gallery I have ever been to. It must be part of any photographer's visit to Stockholm.
Leaving the Gallery, I retraced my steps around the harbour and back through the old town. I did take the opportunity to wander down some of the interesting narrow side lanes.
STOCKHOLM DAY TWO
I left the appartment and wandered down the block to the corner. There were several choices for coffee. I went to a cafe across the road and settled down to enjoy an espresso in the pleasant surroundings. A few individuals had their laptops open and were, I suppose, checking emails on the free wifi connection.
I wanted to get a bottle of New Zealand wine but had seen a wine shop. Nor had I seen any on sale in the supermarkets. So I asked the friendly barista and was told where to find the nearest wine outlet. Wine sales are government controlled and only sold from official shops.
Well, it wasn't that far away. A block down the road I was on and then a block or two along the road to the left. I could follow those instructions, especially as she wrote down the name I needed to look for to locate the shop.
Wandering along the road I discovered a bag and luggage shop. Great. I knew that I needed an extra bag for the trip home, so this was a good chance to hunt for a reasonable priced bag. The little shop did have a good range, but I decided to come back tomorrow and make a final choice.
However, after buying the wine along the road, I thought 'why come back tomorrow?' so I went back in and bought a roller bag.
The wine shop was interesting. Around the walls were shelves in show cases containing single bottles of wine. Each bottle had a label with a stock number and a price. You could browse around to make a selection, noting the number(s) of the bottle required. Then I got my customer number from the usual issuing machine and waited to be called to a sales counter – a bit like a bank teller's window I suppose.
I had found several New Zealand white wines on display and picked a nice South Island white – don't remember which one though. I gave the number to the assistant who went back to the secure stock shelves and got it for me.
I wandered back along the streets, going a longer way to 'have a look' before returning to the appartment to drop off the wine and bag. Just as I was reaching the appartment entrance I spied Anders and Annika my hosts. They were just unpacking having returned from their country home at Marka. It was great to see them again. Anders is in Swedish TV management and Annika is an education feature writer. She has stayed with us in New Zealand and written articles on the work both Robyn and I do for various Swedish education magazines.
When I left Stockholm, both Anders and Annika were heading to Munich. So they would not be able to leave their car parked on the street because it needed to be kept clear some days for street cleaning. So we all drove across the city to leave it in the education union car park. This gave me a chance to see some of the city as we drove there and then to ride back on a mixture of over ground and underground trains. Then we walked from the station back to the appartment. Another opportunity to get familiar with the city.
But it was now lunchtime and Anders and Annika took me to a local sushi restaurant which was just down the street from their appartment. It was a busy establishment – a good sign- with very much the feel of a local establishment. It was not 'tourist Japanese' although it was staffed by Japanese. Anders said that it was rated the best sushi bar in Stockholm. Well that may be, but it was certainly the best sushi bar I have ever been to and the best sushi. Wow! I never knew sushi could be like this. Eat your heart out local Howick sushi makers – and the ones in our shopping malls. You don't know what sushi is like!
I spent most of the remainder of the day conversing with Anders and Annika. It was an enjoyable and relaxing time. After so much travel it was nice to just have a day off.
STOCKHOLM DAY 3
Today I fare welled Anders and Annika who were heading off to Munich. Then I made my way out and wandered back down a variety of streets exploring ones I had not been on this time or previously.
When I realised that I was passing the city library, I took the opportunity to look inside. Andres had pointed it out to me yesterday from a different street and mentioned that it had won architecture awards.
It is a rectangular building, several stories high, with a wide round tower reaching up higher from the middle. It looks quite good. It was designed by a famous Swedish architect and was completed in 1928.
I went in the main doorway and climbed the stairs to look at the inside of the tower. It was an impressive multi level circular library with shelves of books towering up the wall. Small walkways also circled the different levels to give access to the books. Study tables filled the main floor.
All very impressive.
Moving on down the road I wandered around a large electronics store. Lots of interesting gear on sale but I didn't give in to temptation.
Ultimately, I ended up at the Hotorget market. This is Swedish for hay market and there has been some kind of market here since the 1600's which is a long time ago. There a a number of stalls selling mostly fresh vegetables and fruit, but also some with flowers and a few clothing and souvenir stalls. It is very colourful looking especially at the fruit and vegetable stalls. Underground is the food market with lots of cheese and meat stalls as well as lunch food. I had coffee and an open sandwich at one which had sit down tables. I think I had done the same on my first visit to Stockholm.
Facing the Hotorget on one side is the Konserthuset – that's the Concert Hall. It looks quite imposing with a row of Greek Columns lining the front of the neo-classical building. Wide steps rise up between the columns leading to the main doors. In front of the building is an imposing sculpture which does provide a place for pigeons to rest! Lots of people were sitting around on seats and steps enjoying the sun.
I went inside the building. In the foyer a youth jazz group was performing. I stopped and took some video while also enjoying the music – as did others. Of course, some may have been the parents of the performers. Beside the performers was a small CD shop which I wandered around and where I bought a couple of local music disks. It certainly had a great range of classical titles, but I guess that is because it was located in the Concert Hall. At the other end of the foyer there was a reconstruction of Mahler's summer house where he did a lot of his composing. This was a tie in with a coming session of the composer's music.
More stairs led up from the first foyer to a second foyer level. At this level there was a series of large colour photographs showing various parts of the world with particular human additions to the landscape – the pyramids etc. They were attached to each side of tall square pillars. There were also a number of art deco style lamp along each side of the foyer and stairway.
I decided to pay and join a tour around the building. I found myself attached to a group of delegates to a Herbalife conference. They were obviously known to each other and fairly hyped up which made me suspect that they were attending a sales conference. I was the only outsider and I did feel out of place, but at the same time I found it all rather amusing. Reading their T shirts it would seem that some were there as a reward for being a top seller in their area.
To match this we had a hyped up tour guide who was obviously repeating a learnt script as she wasn't able to answer what I would consider fairly basic questions about the building.
However, we did go into the main auditorium which was not that large. It is the venue for the presentation of one of the Nobel Prize awards. The rest are presented in Oslo.
In a corner of the main foyer there was a display advertising concerts of Mahler's orchestral works. Mahler composed much, or at least some, of his compositions in a small cottage or summer house by a country lake. In the display a small walk in replica of the composer's hideaway had been erected. I found the simple display interesting and informative.
Coming out of the building I made my way towards the old city on its nearby island. This time I wanted to visit a shop I had previously seen to purchase some clockwork tin toy robots. Some were for family gifts but I would keep three to display myself. Not something that was common in New Zealand shops at present. Then to the corner camera shop and I purchased a small Diana 35 mm film camera to add to my collection.
I spent the rest of the day just wandering around the the streets and lanes of the old town. Once you step back from the main tourist shopping area, there are a whole range of quiet and interesting streets to go along. I visited a German Lutheran Church and took some photographs. I asked where the picture of Luther was and was taken to see one on a back wall.
I spotted a narrow lane and steps squeezed in between old buildings and shops which stretched down a hillside to the main shopping street. It was really not much more than a single person wide. It was however, a popular photograph spot with lots of people pausing to photograph each other up a few steps.
Not too far away was a troll shop with several life size (?) stuffed model trolls set up outside on both sides of the street. Quite a tourist trap!
It was very pleasant just wandering around the old town. I do find walking along the streets in Europe to be very interesting. A chance to absorb the sense of being there, of being in touch with history and ways of life which have a similarity to my life experience but which at the same time have a fascinating 'differentness'.
Anders and Annika had explained to me how easy it was to catch the airport express bus. I had planned to get down to the central railway station and take the fast train. But for the bus, all I had to do was walk 100m to the end of the road, cross it, go through a park and I would reach the bus stop. So much quicker and so much easier.
I had a five minute wait for the bus and then off to the airport. Perhaps a 25 minute journey.
Checking in and boarding went well. I had a aisle seat towards the front of economy. This was SAS so I was prepared to have to buy refreshments and snack.
However, no sooner had we taken off and the cabin staff were moving than one came and knelt beside me.
"Mr Lawrence," she said. "I see you are going to New Zealand. That is a long way."
"Yes," I replied. "It took me 35 hours coming up to Warsaw."
"we would like to make it easier for you. Would you like to come forward?"
Well of course I would and we moved up to the front of the plane and the curtain was pulled across closing the section. I had a row of three seats to my self and there was one other passenger in the section. I assume it was Business Class but it could have been First Class. Champagne was served and a substantial two course free meal with choices was also served. Fantastic. My opinion of SAS as a carrier moved up many 'notches'.
After a couple of hours in the air, I was able to watch the English landscape pass below before we landed at Heathrow for a few hours layover before Air New Zealand took off and I was on my way back to Auckland.
This was day 89 and I would arrive home on the 90th day of travel. It his will be travel which will remain in my memory as something to recall and enjoy over again and again.