Heroism and enigmas

For a few months now I’ve been waiting for a day of rain and cold that would compel me to seek the shelter of the city art museum. There has been a particular exhibition on that I’ve been pining away for, but the opportunity never turned up. I regularly faced ex-Queen Christina’s look of betrayal as I thought, ‘next time for sure’. So rather than wait for the weather the provide an excuse, last Sunday we made an outing of it, thumbing our noses at the threat of sunny skies.

Which is not to say that the weather was fine and clear; rain and winds threatened as we headed into town and a couple of times we were caught in brief flurries. The flurries became meaningless when we stepped inside a burger restaurant just off Avenyn, all brick walls, low ceilings and warmth. We were soon warmed on the inside as well by a meaty, carby meal and a few drops of wine and beer.

Thus heartened, we faced the light rain again and were soon inside the Konstmuseum, and facing a rather long queue. It seemed we were not the only people to decide that an overcast day is best remedied with art, preferably inside a warm building.

Tickets purchased, we scurried up the stairs to the first of the exhibitions, a painted history of Sweden. The first thing we saw as we turned a corner was the famous photo of the US soldiers erecting an American flag on Iwo Jima. Further inspection showed a large version of the crying Vietnamese girl running naked from her napalmed village and a grainy shot of Jackie Kennedy clambering past the slumped form of her husband. Among them were various paintings from Swedish history, with heroic figures and dramatic scenes.

A tour had just started and as we tagged along, the guide explained that the intent was the contrast the use of paintings as propaganda, and to consider the purpose and impact of art on culture.
A number of the paintings showed heroic kings fighting and dying in battle, from pietà scenes, gigantic victory parades and contrasts of blonde, light Swedes and dark, bearded enemies.

On a wall opposite a huge battle scene, a tv showed a scene from the film Arn on repeat, armies lining up, serious battle-faces assumed and then forces crashing into each other again and again.
Next to this was a photo the was purported to show the moment that Osama Bin Laden was killed, watched by President Obama, Biden and Clinton, among a host of others. The guide pointed out the almost solitary emotion shown by Clinton, contrasted with Biden and others, and then the way that Obama was portrayed. He was in the centre, but smaller, hunched and intense, a different sort of heroic figure than the warrior kings of Sweden.

Queen Christina by Johan Fredrik Höckert

Queen Christina by Johan Fredrik Höckert

There the tour ended, but I spent a little while considered the final painting, the one from the advertisements. The text by the painting described the moment the former Queen found out a close friend and possibly lover had betrayed her, and sentenced him to death with a flick of her hand. She looks both vulnerable and angry, a rare image of a ruler shown outside a moment of heroism.

Queen Christina is someone who I would very much like to find out more about. From first hearing about her in University as the cause of Descartes death, to a photo recreation of a pale woman with haunted eyes at a museum in Oslo to finding out she was examined after death to confirm that she was a woman, she has floated around enigmatically, waiting for me to find out more. Soon I will.

From Swedish history we descended to investigate an heroic theme playing downstairs, and found an exhibition of darkly romantic landscapes. It included a teaser from the latest Elder Scrolls video game playing on a large screen, as well as paintings of dramatic landscapes, monsters, light and darkness. There were sinking ships, crows, mountains, travelers and cloudless nights in dark forests.

The complexity and broad strokes suddenly disappeared as we turned a corner into an exhibition of photography from a woman whose work may have been lost if not for chance.

The photography on show ranged from a shadow of the photographer, Vivian Maier, to hunched homeless men, crying children, contemptuous well-to-do women in furs and incongruous feet among cans of soup. They were all gently humourous, curious and like doors onto the streets of not terribly long ago New York and Chicago. My favourites were the portrait of Vivian and a little girl and a young man feeding pigeons, his hair curling like feathers.

Young man with pigeons by Vivian Maier

Young man with pigeons by Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier is another woman who I had found out about some time ago, an enigmatic woman who died before she became famous for the many photos and short films she made during her life. It was exciting to see her work on display and find out a little more about her life.

Finally we made a quick trip through the rest of the museum to see a painting and a room that I remember fondly from my previous visit. The painting that I had felt such a strong feeling towards seems to have faded slightly, though is still lovely, and the quirks and beauty of the little exhibition room were still charming. From there we made a brief visit to the museum shop (anyone fancy an eraser in the shape of a peanut? Or a walnut? Well your wait is now over!) and then exited into a world that seemed slightly sunnier than before.
A world for the moment free of heroic battles, betrayed ex-Queens and crow haunted lakes, but could possibly have felt familiar to a lone and curious photographer with an eye for humour and humanity.

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A writerly, womanly week

Today is the first of October, and it certainly seems as though Autumn is creeping up on us. The leaves have started to change colours and fall, and each day is crisper with chill. The sunny weather still makes winter seem a long way off, though knowing that we’ve probably got a month left at most makes each day seem brighter and more necessary to be outside.

A scattering of Autumn leaves

Last week was another home week, in which I sorted through things that needed sorting, did cleaning and in the evenings made delicious dinners with my partner. Then on Friday my personnummer finally arrived and I shot out the door to get my own new Göteborg library card. Plus a bank account, but let’s be frank here about priorities. The ride to the library, though involving a bit of getting lost, was lovely and sunny and after a rummage among the shelves I happily stuffed my bike basket with an assortment of books for my ride home.

This capped off a very pleasant day, in which I also took part in an English Conversation/fika with some lovely ladies I’d met the day before. Perhaps I should introduce them?
The ladies are members of the IWC (International Women’s Club), which has been running for 8 years here in Göteborg and consists of enthusiastic and welcoming women who love fika and chatting, and have created a busy community for those women who have arrived from overseas, or who want to meet those who have. At the first meeting on Thursday I felt like something of a novelty, as it would seem that there hasn’t been an Australian member for some time, and then got pulled into multiple conversations and found out that the worries I’ve had, and the excitements and strange experiences have been shared by others, and these others are there to help. I also met a lovely, friendly American lady who gave me a tonne of advice and has since sent me links to groups and useful information, in addition to putting me into contact with another writerly person who I hope to catch up with soon. From talking with these ladies, and the expats I’ve met via Facebook, there seem to be stages that immigrants go through, that are replicated with small differences from person to person.

Firstly a person arrives, jetlagged from their flight and desperate for somewhere to dump their stuff and settle. Once refreshed they turn and face their surroundings and exclaim at the glistening canals, ordered streets, fairytale forests and genteel people. This then eventually fades into the day by day routine, which is more structured if there’s work or study, though if at first there’s neither there’s a risk of isolation and inertia. Then, if you go looking you find something or make something to keep you busy and find people who nod and tell you they’ve been there, through those stages and that there are more to come and here’s what I wish I knew then, for you now. In a few months perhaps I’ll be one of those ladies, smiling and nodding, advising on glove insulators and expat women’s groups to someone else who’s just arrived, and making them feel a little less lost.

Then on Saturday came an event that I’ve been looking forward to since I found out I was moving to Australia, and which incidentally gave the end of last week a womanly theme. It was the Göteborg Bok Mässan, or Book Fair, in which a very large hall close to our apartment was filled with book sellers, authors doing talks, markets, craft stalls, chefs offering tasting and what seemed like everyone in Sweden. It was also in Swedish, which was probably why I didn’t end up buying any books (shock horror!), and we spent some time wandering around staring wide eyed at the crowds and stalls and holding hands just in case one of us got swept away by a sudden rip in the crowd.

Bok Mässan hordes

So, what, you ask, made this book fair woman themed? You said it was a womanly weekend, and it just sounds literary so far. Well, one of the guests at the fair was an author whose 2011 book I read with great enjoyment and internal fist-pumping and who I’ve followed online and on social media ever since. One of the speakers was Caitlin Moran. As in this Caitlin Moran. And here’s a photo of me with Caitlin Moran. The excitement! Though I sadly missed her main speech due to circumstances I don’t want to rant about, I did get a book signed and the above photo plus watched a shorter speech later. It seems that she is exactly the same person in the flesh as she is on paper; that is funny, passionate, honest and kind. She was completely approachable and friendly and yes this is turning into a bit of a fannish paean. Anyway, she’s awesome and if you mention her name to me any time soon I will likely squee and clap my hands excitedly.

Caitlin Moran being fabulous

The rest of the weekend was a bit more relaxed, as I continued to fight with my cold and we met up with some lovely expats we’d met previously, for lunch at an Iranian restaurant. The company and food were excellent, and after a bit of wandering around the city we headed home and finished off the weekend with some more relaxation.

A most delicious dinner

Since then I’ve been fighting the on-going flu battle and have finally managed to sign up for Swedish classes, which may start in November. It’s a huge relief to have that at least partly sorted, so I know that things are moving. I’ve also been busily looking for work and sending out my CV so fingers crossed something may happen in that area as well. In the meantime my nose is set on the grindstone to prepare for the lessons and new opportunities seem to be looming welcomingly. Hurrah 🙂