HOME /// 400 Day LETS Odyssey - CONTENTS

400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

No ... they're not promoting the McDonald's Store. They're part of Stockholm's
annual Gay Pride Festival.

SWEDEN - Stockholm (1 week)
Week 9 of World Tour

1. Swedish Characters

The Kingdom Of Sweden

Yes, Sweden is a kingdom, and like the English, the Swedes love their royal family. But that�s about all I want to say about them, because I didn�t get to meet any of them or their luxurious palaces. But I did get to learn a little about their country �

Sweden borders with more countries than any other country I know, that is, if you still consider countries only a few kilometres across the Baltic Sea as �bordering countries�. So on either side of Sweden is Norway and Finland, then a short boat trip across the Baltic will get you to Denmark, Germany, Poland, Russia (yes!), Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia � 9 countries in total!

Their blue flag with the yellow cross has become very well recognized internationally due to their amazing success stories: Abba, Bjorn Borg, Volvo and Saab. This is quite an achievement considering their small population of only 9 million people (1.8 million living in the Stockholm District) in a country only slightly larger in size than California.

And they like to be individual. Even though they�ve been members of the European Union for many years, they�ve still rejected the euro currency, preferring to keep their Swedish Krona instead.

But the thing that really stood out for me was this �

Whereas Finland is the land of lakes (56,000 of them!), Sweden is the land of islands, with tens of thousands of them alone in the Stockholm Archipelago, a popular destination for tourists during summer. In fact, the heart of Sweden�s capital city, Stockholm, (at the junction where Lake Malaren joins the Baltic Sea), is built on 13 islands.

Bo Of Branno

Viktor, my LETS host in Goteborg (Gothenburg) had arranged a trip to Branno Island with Melina, a LETS researcher from Italy, her boyfriend Eli, and Eli�s parents, Aldo and Marina, who�d only just arrived to Goteborg the day before. But they were late getting to the port, and missed the ferry by only a minute or two. Viktor and I got on board because it would be another 2 hours before the next ferry, and we had an important person waiting to meet us.

Bo Ljungqvist (pronounced Bor Lioongvist) is a very lean man, about 58 years old, and looks like a hermit. But he�s an ideologist concerned about world problems � trying to solve problems which are called �normality�.

Bo lives on Branno, an island inhabited by only 800 people, which is only a short 10 minute ferry ride from Goteborg, Sweden�s second largest city situated on the east coast. Up to 3 years ago, this island was out-of-bounds to foreigners because of �sensitive military issues�. And this coming from a country which has not been in a war for nearly 2 centuries! Though their historically neutral military status had to change recently when they joined the European Union.

Anyway, Bo has lived on Branno for 30 years, and relishes his natural lifestyle. First of all, cars aren�t allowed on the island, so he walks or bike�s his way around. And his house is an ecological project which he works on relentlessly.

Bo was a Human Ecology university lecturer for 15 years and he�s put much of this expertise into practice. He has a large glasshouse butting on to the back of his house, and apart from providing an endless supply of fresh vegetables, it also helps keep the heat and cold from getting into the house. I admired the tomatoes as soon as I saw them.

�Help yourself,� he said. The tomato was delicious!

Above the glasshouse, Bo had covered the entire wall with solar panels. You could see his handy-work everywhere. In fact, you could even see his workshop � in the lounge room!

�Most people don�t like that I have my workbench in here, but I can�t be without my tools,� he said.

Bo Ljungqvist ... one of the most interesting LETS characters I've met.

We sat outside in his overgrown and naturally wild yard, eating homemade tomato and lemon marmalade on bread. And he kept bringing out the hot coffee. He was enjoying the hot Swedish summer, and was only in a pair of black shorts, which contrasted heavily with the long white hair on his chest and head, though many years of smoking had given him a nicotine-stained beard.

I smiled as he wandered from the table to wash his hands in a nearby bucket which still had rain water in it. And I followed suit shortly afterwards. A lush green reed plant, over 2 metres tall, grew nearby.

�I didn�t think it would do so well,� he said, �but it�s growing beautifully. It�s wild you know.�

Our conversation was constantly being interrupted by the crowing of a neighbour�s rooster.

�I thought roosters only crowed in the mornings,� I said, and I made a gesture implying that I�d like to shoot it.

Then as I turned, I saw a wire enclosure only metres away from me with a lone black rooster in it. �Oops!� I said, �Didn�t know it was your rooster.�

�He crows all the time�, Bo said. �The other rooster you hear is across the street, and has 5 hens. So mine is probably just jealous. I should get him a hen, I suppose.�

A visit to the bathroom was an ecological experience.

�As long as you sit down, everything will go in the right place,� he said.

On close inspection I found that a metal �funnel� was positioned to catch the urine and direct it into a different container to that of the �heavy� stuff. So in this way he was able to recycle the human waste most efficiently.

By the end of the day we had quite a gathering in Bo�s backyard, with a couple of neighbours joining us for a chat over coffee.

But the day�s classic line went to Eli�s mum, Marina, after I mentioned that in China I insisted on being photographed with a large toad and snake before I ate them.

She couldn�t pass up the opportunity, and with a big smile, she said, �Then it�s dangerous to be photographed with you!�

Thip Top

�How would you like to see an organic Thai farm?� Viktor asked me.

�Why? Don�t they have Swedish farms here,� I replied, trying to make a point that I much prefer to see what the locals are doing rather than the foreigners.

But I�m glad he ignored me.

Viktor and his very talented girlfriend, Helena, (she�s an artist who�ll be putting on her first art exhibition in a few weeks), picked me up in a co-operative car (Viktor is a member) and we drove north for about an hour.

Once we got to the farm, we all got out of the car and began looking for a sign of life. Viktor found Thip (pronounced Tip) in a nearby greenhouse which was like a sauna inside.

Thip is a tall, thin Asian lady and the owner of the property. She describes herself as being from Borneo although she was born in Thailand and has a Chinese mother. Thip married a Swede and has been in Sweden for 30 years, but she�d been on her own for the last 3 years. In that time she�s built an amazing reputation with some elite restaurants in the area and sends her diverse range of organic vegetables to Goteborg, Stockholm and even overseas to Germany!

And rather than specializing in one type of farming as is most common all over the world, Thip�s success comes from her large range of vegetables. She grows about 180 types of vegetables including 80 types of lettuce! All organically grown.

�I love gardening,� she said, and obviously refused to accept the term farming. �You must enjoy what you do.�

�How many people work here,� I asked, trying to avoid the �farm� word.

�Only me and one other person, � she said.

We looked around and commented on the absence of farm equipment.

�I have machines,� she said, �but I don�t use them. They�re too noisy.�

�What do you think of my garden,� Thip asked me.

�It�s very artistic,� I said. �You�ve mixed the colours beautifully so it�s like a painting.�

She smiled approvingly and walked us over to her plants.

�I came to buy some vegetables,� Viktor told her.

�I�m sorry,� Thip said, �but I can�t sell you any. My mother always told me that you when you get visitors, you must give them something in appreciation for visiting. You are visiting me today, so what would you like to have?�

She then walked us past many of her gardens and picked a lovely variety of lettuces, cucumbers, squash and spinach for us. Then she took them to an outside bench where she hosed them off and packed them into a plastic bag for us.

It was already past 3pm, and we had to be back in Goteborg for my LETS presentation before 6pm, so we soon departed and headed further north towards our original destination � the big island. But we ran out of time and didn�t get there! And we got hungry. And, boy, did those cucumbers come in handy! Yum!

Train �Tainer

I�ve seen entertainers on trains before. These musicians get on a train and start playing their music, and as they play, their assistant walks through the carriage collecting donations. Then when the train stops, they get out of the train and into the next carriage.

But in Stockholm it went a little differently. A little dark man (looked Arabic) walked into my carriage and began playing a beautiful Italian melody on his piano accordion. But after a few bars, he stepped up the tempo unbelievably, as if he was in a hurry to go to the toilet, or something. But the reason became obvious as soon as he finished his tune. He then paced up and down the carriage, collecting donations by himself. And the train came to a halt just after he�d approached everyone. I guess his assistant was sick that day or he didn�t want to share the profits with anyone!

Darts Freak

I broke one of my rules on this night. Usually I like to order the local beer when I�m travelling, but when I walked into this Irish Pub in the Old Town of Stockholm (Gamla Stan), and the local beers were the same price as the more expensive Guinness (at least that�s the case in Australia) I couldn�t resist asking for a large glass of the black stuff. In fact, it had been a hot and tiring day, so I followed it up with one of its cousins, a cold glass of golden Kilkenny.

There was a Darts Competition playing on TV, but after a short while one of the drinkers asked for the remote so he could change the channel. After checking out his options, he finally settled on a program about the Loch Ness Monster, and to cut a long story short � the program came to the conclusion that the Loch Ness Monster couldn�t possibly exist.

But after the program had been going on for nearly an hour (I�m a slow drinker), a disgruntled guy came storming out of the drinking area in the rear of the pub and began abusing the guy who�d changed the program.

�This is not a Discovery Channel pub. It�s a Sports Channel pub. Who said you could change the fuckin� channel!�

And he was livid!

Needless to say, the channel went back to the Darts Competition within moments. There were 3 championships being played. One had finished before the channel got switched across to the Loch Ness documentary, and the second one was now only half way through, with the scores tied at 5 games each.

Three games later, this same guy came marching back into the main bar asking for the channel to be switched back to the Discovery Channel because �nothing much was happening in the Darts Competition�! But he was only joking of course. He immediately joined the guy he�d abused only minutes earlier, and after buying him a drink, began to tell him how Phil Taylor, in the last Darts Event, was going to annihilate his opponent.

�This guy is a fuckin� machine! Nobody�s beaten him in the last 12 years! This guy is unstoppable. This guy is just unstoppable!�

And on and on he went, saying the same old lines again and again, �This guy is just unstoppable�.

And when I saw the odds on each competitor, I knew he was right. Phil Taylor was at 8 to 15 on, and his opponent was at 500 to 1. And the result? Phil breezed through the match in less time than it takes to scull a beer! He won 10 to nil.

And even though I�d been in the pub for over 2 hours, as I walked outside, I still noticed a stagger in my step � and after only 2 beers!

Gays Galore

Sometimes you just end up in the right place at the right time. I left Goteborg at 9.00am and arrived in Stockholm just before 2.00pm. And at 3.00pm the Gay Pride Festival was going to take place.

By the time I got there, the crowds had swollen to 5 or 6 deep on either side of the road, and getting a decent view from the back rows was never going to be easy in probably the country with the tallest population in the world! Nevertheless, I did manage to get to see the floats and take some hit-and-miss photos by holding the camera way above my head and hoping it was pointed at the right angle before I took my photos.

Some of the more interesting sights were: the topless women; the cross-dressers; the transvestites; the Proud Parents Of Gays group; the Gay Police group; the Gay Doctors group; the Gay Priests group; the Gay Sports People group; the Marilyn Monroe look-alike army; the young children accompanying their gay parents; the black guy who was groping himself leaving very little to the imagination regarding the contents inside his jeans; the float of 20 lesbians advertising for sperm donors!

And the smallest cab in the world � the Smart Cab, which was a 2-seater Smart Car with only one seat available for passengers!

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

About the book

James Taris web sites