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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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Like my brownhouse:
Tuesday, July 30 2019

location: Room 5115, cruise ship Vasco da Gama in the port of Stockholm, Sweden

At breakfast this morning I made a discovery: there is Indian food available at every breakfast. So why the fuck was I eating hashbrowns, roasted tomatoes, and overly-sweet baked beans? Instead I could be eating fresh-made dosas with a side of tomato chutney and sambar with okra! I've never been a fan of traditional Western-style breakfast foods, and will always prefer non-breakfast foods when offered a choice. But I'd just assumed the Vasco da Gama's breakfast was a breakfast-foods-only sort of thing. I've been trained over the years by numerous restaurants that when they're in breakfast mode, there are no sandwiches. Most people don't seem to object to this, and would, if given their druthers, eat breakfast at every meal. Some restaurants even claim to offer breakfast all day, and people can't contain their joy when discovering a restaurant has such a policy. Not me. That said, it was good to have hashbrowns available at the same time as the sambar, since they go well together.
When we disembarked at the Stockholm dock this morning, we found ourselves in a cold, windy parking lot. The sun hid behind clouds and temperatures were in the 50s. This was the sort of Baltic weather we'd been warned about but had yet to encounter. Things get going slowly in Stockholm, and since it wasn't yet 10:00am, the Hop-on/Hop-off buses had yet to start their routes. We stood around in the cold for a good half hour before Gretchen's father got sick of waiting and decided to order us up a cab. Some other couple from the boat wanted to share our cab, but this meant graduating to a larger cab. After all that, we didn't end up saving any money from the split.
All of that put Gretchen's father in a particularly foul mood, and everyone, particularly transportation professionals, were feeling the heat. Gretchen decided this would probably be another good day for us to explore a European city on our own. So we headed to Gamla Stan, the island of the Stockholm archipelago that hosts its old city. It's all very tourist-friendly, with narrow, npt-particularly-straight streets, cobblestones, and occasional concrete lions to slow vehicles or prevent terrorists from plowing into crowds. Not much was open initially (because it wasn't quite 10:00am), though a shop that appeared to make nothing but fresh-squeezed orange juice was open. Its squeezing machine was amazing, taking each orange from a hopper between two cups, slicing it in half, and then squeezing them in one quick motion. Gretchen had to buy a cup of that stuff.
We continued south, eventually crossing a bridge to the island of Södermalm. As we did so, we kept seeing rainbow flags everywhere. They flew in pairs at the front of mass transit busses. They flew from cranes and concrete mixers. They looked like pride flags, but what they were in places you would never see them in the United States. Gretchen was pretty sure they must mean something else in Stockholm. When we ducked into a coffee shop (Fåtöljen) for today's oat milk cappuccinos, I used the WiFi to find out more about the rainbow flags of Stockholm, but I couldn't find any other explanation then that they were actually pride flags. Evidently Stockholm is serious about gay pride, serious enough to fly the flags from their goddamn construction cranes. This might be one of the ways that they assert their enlightened tolerance to visitors and potential residents alike. This was one of at least two things that came as a bit of a culture shock even to someone as open-minded as myself. The other was the bathrooms. Several of the bathrooms I encountered were not gender-specific. There would just be one unisex place with sinks and paper towels and then there would be unisex stalls, though these stalls were more like little rooms. There were no gaps above or below the doors and the rooms would also have their own sinks. If the bathrooms were crowded, there would be men and women doing things in it together, sometimes waiting together in lines to get into those stalls. For an enlightened man from America, it seemed like a preview of a not-too-terrible future.
After finishing our cappuccinos, we continued south and east until we came to a chuch called Kartarina kyrka. Gretchen wanted to go inside, so of course we did. It was a stately well-built building lack of mosaics, stained-glass windows, or gold-covered anything came as a bit of a letdown after the spectacles we'd seen in St. Petersburg. This was a decidedly Scandinavian take on Christianity. Hell, even the cross wasn't a cross. It was a large T made of wood with a fallen crown of thorns and a billowing white sheet smudged with blood but no Jesus. There was, however, a fairly spectacular pipe organ.
We walked from the church through a small adjacent graveyard. There we came upon a headstone whose corner had been broken off and replaced with a small arrangement of Legos (don't give me shit, British readers, I know you don't pluralize that brand name). Reading the headstone, we saw that it was for a lad named Adrian Hagman who had died at the age of six in 2012. The inscription read "FÖR EVIGT ÄLSKAD OCH SAKNAD" meaning "Forever beloved and missing." So heartbreaking! [Further internet research would reveal that poor little Adrian had died of Ponsglioma, an aggressive, inoperable kind of brain tumor.]
For the first time since leaving the United States, Gretchen and I would be having lunch in a land-based restaurant all by ourselves. Gretchen had found out about a vegan place called Hermans on Happy Cow, and it wasn't all that far from the church. A very cheerful (and possibly somewhat woo) employee greeted us enthusiastically at the cash register and explained how things work. Hermans is an endless buffet, though desserts and alcohol are extra. This sounded good, so we both ordered the buffet and one of Hermans' own homebrewed beer, Hermans Organic Ruby Ale. (Gretchen doesn't normally like beer, but she's had success in the past with beers having "ruby" in their name.)
One would think that after all the bounty of the Vasco da Gama's buffet we wouldn't get too excited about a buffet at some restaurant in Stockholm. But every buffet is different, and this one was made with a deep understanding of vegan food. Outsiders approaching vegan food (which is how things usually are on a "veganized" cruise ship) don't really get vegans. Some even think that denying ourselves meat is part of a pattern of pleasure denial and think we prefer our food flavorless. Of course, some vegans don't really care about food beyond their biological requirement making them eat it, but these don't make up the bulk of vegans, and such people have little reason to spend money at restaurants. Consequently, the Hermans buffet, though not especially large, was virtually nothing but hits. If the Vasco da Gama's buffet was a boxed set of Blue Oyster Cult (who only really made two or three good songs), then Hermans was Dark Side of the Moon. Initially not knowing what to expect, I tried a little of everything, all of which was amazing. A particular standout was the lasagna, which blew Gretchen's mind (and that despite the fact that it contained green peppers, one of her lesser vegetable dislikes). The only real miss was the fajitas, which (staying within my classic rock metaphor) was the buffet's "On the Run." As for the beers, they didn't have much alcohol, but they were a bit rich, particularly when pigging out at a buffet. According to her, the beer was "too good" for Gretchen, and I ended up having to drink both of them. The beer was my mistake, but the dessert was Gretchen's.
We'd started out trying to sit in Herman's sprawling outdoor area, which rambled across a couple tiers above the harbor. By then there was actually some sun, but the wind and the shade of trees made conditions outside not entirely comfortable. I kept feeding a female english sparrow bits of rice, which she would take directly from my hand and then deliver to her fledged babies a dozen feet away. After we'd had enough of the outdoors, we moved inside, where we kept finding ourselves at tables that others had already claimed. They'd done things like place forks and knives on the tables, which hardly looked like a claim to American eyes.
Our guts full of delicious vegan buffet food, we walked back to the old city on the island of Gamla Stan. I'd already had enough of Stockholm, but Gretchen was just getting started. She bought tickets for a ferry to another island, one featuring an amusement park that was about as tall as it was wide. Next to that was a museum dedicated to the Vasa, a failed 17th Century naval vessel. We walked around the Vasa museum looking for its entrance, and when we finally found it, all I cared about was the nice Swedish bathroom waiting for me. There was a long line of people waiting to buy tickets to see the Vasa, so we bagged that and caught a ferry to another island, the one with the Moderna Museet, Stockholm's contemporary art museum. By now I really was sick of being a tourist and (in particular) being a tourist in Stockholm, so I sat on a comfy chair in loungey area while Gretchen checked things out on her own. I did, however, manage to snap a picture of Robert Rauschenberg's famous goat.
After taking a ferry one last time to Gamla Stan, we walked through the bustling cobblestone streets across the island and went into the subway system. After making a connection to the Blue Line, we went up it and back five or six stops just to see what the different stations look like. We'd been told the Blue Line was especially innovative, but I found it pretty disappointing after having been in the St. Petersburg Metro. True, the Stockholm subway stations an interesting cavelike vibe, with the spaces hewn roughly into the rock and then covered with stucco and painted. But the decorations often looked as if they'd been phoned in. For example, in one station, the walls had been painted only here and there with simple dotted-line highways rising up from the floor. Really? Was that all you had? Gretchen likes the minimalist whimsical thing considerably more than I do, though I think even she was underwhelmed.
Gretchen engineered our exit from the subway in a place where we would have a fairly short and direct surface-street path back to the Vasco da Gama. From there, we hoped to maybe rent a couple Lime scooters (which I'd considered at the beginning of the day in the harbor; I'd even installed the app). But to do that, we'd need WiFi, and we couldn't find any. So we started walking towards the harbor. According to Google Maps, that was about two miles away. That's a pretty long way to walk in an urban environment, but we never encountered any cabs, so we just kept walking. I found the simplicity of the goal refreshing and, after days of buffet, I needed the exercise. We ended up walking all the way back to the ship, boarding it as the gang planks were being removed.
In the couple hours before dinner, I hung out by myself drinking booze and "working." I think this was the day that Gretchen finally used the Lido Deck hot tub, where she met a nice Jamaican woman and ended up speaking with her for an hour and a half. That hot tub wasn't as hot as it should've been, but after an hour and a half, Gretchen felt like a cooked lobster.

The store specializing in oranges in Stockholm.

The Gus in this case is a store specializing in lingerie.

A partial Stranger Things poster in Stockholm.

The grave of little Adrian Hagman, a kid who liked Lego(s).

Gretchen enjoying dessert at Hermans.

Bratty boys harassing barnacle geese outside the Vasa Museum. I'll bet the hat reads "Gör Sverige bra igen."

Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

An abstract bas relief at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Robert Rauschenberg's forever-humiliated goat at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Meh subway art on the Blue Line in Stockholm's subway system.

I should mention that, after visiting Sweden, I have now been to every country both of my parents have been to. My father had been to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany (those last three in WWII), and Sweden (on a lecturing gig in the 1960s). He may have also gone to Mexico. I believe my mother has only been to the USA, Canada, Mexico, and Sweden (she and my brother were on that Sweden trip, though I had yet to be born).

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