City reflections and the Semla saga

Late last week I was asked if I could come to an interview at the okristlig (‘ungodly’) time of 8 ‘o’ clock, in a school across the city and the river. Obviously I refused and slept in.


After the interview it was still early, the more so as autumn has officially Set In, and was gradually becoming bright and chill, with blue skies and a slight breeze sweeping through the streets. As there was no point going home only to head out again soon after for Swedish class, I decided to take a stroll around my adopted city and watch it waking up.

Brunsparken in the morning

Brunsparken in the morning

My plan was to find a cosy cafe and ensconce myself with a warm drink and some sort of pastry. Considering my general indecisiveness and habit of being easily distracted, I was quite fortunate that morning in having a destination in mind.

Earlier that week a friend of mine from Swedish class convinced me that what we really needed more than anything else was a semla. This is a traditional Swedish pastry, usually a soft, sweet bun filled with almond paste and cream and served in a bowl of milk. We asked our teacher for any tips about how to find them in the city and he suggested an old cafe that he was fond of. They would have semlas if anyone does, he said. Hurrah, we replied, and thus armed with a goal and an appetite we hit the streets.

A short time later we were victoriously marching into the cafe in question, and asking the ladies at the counter for their best semlas. Alas, they had none. They seemed surprised that we would ask for them, as they usually only come out after Jul. Oh, obviously, we said and went outside to consider our next move. We could both recall recently seeing semlas but couldn’t recall where they had been seen, so we decided to do some general looking around in the hopes that they would turn up.

An hour and a half later found us semlaless but a bit heavier by two pancakes a piece, complete with jam and cream, seated outside one of my favourite cafes in Haga. It was Thursday, you see, and Thursday is pancake day in Sweden. I do not question this wisdom.



I mention this saga because it was during the morning stroll around the city that I decided to give that first cafe another chance. It was nearly empty when I stepped in, aside from a few pensioners and regulars darting in to get their takeaway breakfast snacks. I chose a warm, sweet drink and a similarly warm, sweet pastry (with fruit!) and seated myself by a window to enjoy them. More customers came and went, reading the paper or sipping coffee and watching the world slowly move past outside.

Soon my dishes were empty and I joined the people walking past the window, the air chilling my face just enough to wake me up. From there I walked around, not aimlessly but rather making up my route along the way. I passed closed and opening shops, chattering students and people on their way to work. I caught Göteborg at a time I hadn’t before.

In Kungsportsplatsen King Charles’ head was just beginning to catch the sunlight.

King Charles IX

King Charles IX

Old churches and new construction was reflected in canals, as well as autumnal trees in the city park.

Church reflection

Church reflection

Pigeons stared back at me as I watched them and tried to look unruffled as they settled their feathers.

Suspicious pigeons

Suspicious pigeons

Trams and buses jangled past carrying a city’s worth of inhabitants, dinging to warn pedestrians whose were darting in front of them.

A young woman dared the morning chill with a short skirt, striding along with her thick jacketed friends.

Ducks foraged among the flowers in the cemetery and squawked around a mother and her daughter feeding them seeds.

As I wandered I was reminded of a chapter in The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, in which a man wakes up in the dream of a city. Whether or not cities dream, and whether or not it is possible to escape from them once that happens, or what should happen if they ever wake, I enjoy playing with the idea of a living city. It has a personality, a sense that sets it apart from all other cities and which it’s inhabitants recognise without being able to articulate.

Kungsportsbron on a clear morning

Kungsportsbron on a clear morning

As part of getting to know someone you need to see them in all seasons, times and weathers. The morning face of Göteborg in Autumn is cold, bright and calm as the surface of the canals, lightly riffled by the sea breeze that also spreads multi-coloured leaves across footpaths to be crunched under foot or tossed into piles.

Even if I can’t articulate the Göteborgness of Göteborg, I hope I can now at least describe one of her many faces.

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