• Sweden edition
 

Smothered in Elves

A journey into Stockholm obscurity

Blueberry Putin Comes to Town

April 27th, 2011 by Kevin Luna

Cars were backed up for miles this afternoon. Traffic had come to a complete halt. People were getting out of their cars to see what all the fuss was about. Helicopters buzzed in the sky and news people crowded the sidewalks. Indeed it was a commotion. Indeed Vladimir Putin had come to town.

Photo credit: Skander via Wikipedia Commons

But my story really begins about an hour before. I had set out to eat some tacos. The best in the city as far as I know. I was walking from Hornstull, towards La Neta which is deep in the realms of Drottninggatan. On my way across the bridge I noticed some official looking fuss going on outside one of those old, fancy buildings you see everywhere here. I made it a point to pass by.

At this time it was mostly cops. There were a few young girls sitting across the street and one forlorn looking photographer, lugging about 15 cameras over his shoulder, who stood enviously near the police tape. What was going on? Next I saw the bulletproof limos and then, looking up I saw the flag. The colors breezed casually in the wind. The old Red, White and Blue. The flag of Mother Russia in all its glory.

I checked my watch. I was meeting Johanna at the taco place and I had about 5 minutes to get there. As much as I lust for seeing motorcades and famous people and heads of state in general, my hunger for tacos was more. I left the scene and hoofed it up the road.

“There’s something going on down by the water,” I told her as we dug into our meal. “And I think it has to do with Russia. There may even be spies.”

“Ohff Vollof oof oof.” She had just taken a big bite of the taco and I couldn’t understand a word she said.

“What?” I said. “Chew your food!”

She chewed. “Yeah. Putin’s in town. I saw it in the newspaper.”

“You don’t say!” I said. “Putin… he’s the one who sings “Blueberry Hill” on YouTube, isn’t he?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I was watching that earlier this morning at work.”

We laughed.

“Well that’s a shame I missed him. I like to see those type of people. IRL you know. Add it to the list.”

She agreed.

“I’ve seen Clinton twice, Sarkozy, the Pope… Nancy Pelosi and Coolio’s house, respectively… the royal family.”

“I know,” she said.

“I’ve also seen a beaver, foxes, marmots, a bear and a rare Japanese seagull that had made it’s way to San Francisco one time.”

“Interesting,” she said. She took a long gulp of her soda. We finished our food.

Well I was walking back, quite full and content with the tacos and sort of thinking about it all. Celebrities and politicians. They’re only people you know. The same as everyone else. But for some reason it’s very exciting to see them. Gives you the old rush. Makes you feel, in this strange way, very small but also very alive. I was pretty sure I had missed Vlad and crew and now that I’d been fed I was a little disappointed. Fame and the media and postmodernism and those things, it’s quite bizarre stuff if you think about it.

Anyways, I was walking and suddenly I had stopped. Or had been stopped rather. The street was roped off. It turned out Putin was lingering a little longer than I expected and he was, in fact, about to leave at just that moment.

I went a little further down the block to an intersection crowded with tourists and construction workers and other looky loos such as myself. An anticipation hung in the air. Down the narrow street, some 50 meters away, was that old building now surrounded by about a thousand burly looking Russian men in suits. I overheard some people speaking English.

“I wonder if he brought his dog,” they said. “He likes to bring the dog to these things and scare everybody with her.”

I turned and saw that photographer I had seen before. He was looking worse than ever. Obviously unable to talk his way behind the line, he paced nervously back and forth with us common folk. Weighed down by the giant cameras that he would now have no use for, he started to fidget with his phone. I tried to guess which newspaper he worked for. Perhaps he was working for the New York Times.

I was watching him, feeling a little sorry, and just as he gave up and had started to walk down the street, there was a murmur throughout the audience. A group of men, mostly bald and all in dark suits had come out of the building. “Putin,” whispered the crowd. Some people pointed vaguely in his direction. There he was, somewhere in the sea of men, dogless and, unfortunately, not in the midst of song. Getting into the car, he was driven off  down the street and a few minutes later people went back to their ordinary lives.

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Beaver Checks Into the Grand Hotel

April 25th, 2011 by Kevin Luna

Well, across the street to be honest. And a bit in the water.

Upon further research into the matter (via Wikipedia when I got home), I will venture to guess that it was a Eurasian beaver which, if you didn’t already know, was once completely extinct in Sweden. Starting in the 1920’s, they were reintroduced from Norway but their numbers, as far as I can gather, remain small.

We spotted this particular fellow -I am going to assume it was a male so I can use the word fellow- while walking along the bridge from Gamla Stan. There is that saying, busy as a beaver, which I have always thought was a pretty dumb saying in general, and as if to prove my point, this beaver here did not seem to be too busy at all. In fact, you might even say he was brooding. At the very least he was a bit confused. I mean, he was a beaver in the heart of the city. Questions, on both sides, would naturally arise.

As we watched him from the railing, he sniffed around for a moment in the rocks, like maybe he hoped to find some old chips or a burrito lying around from earlier. Then he kind of completely gave up and plopped down as you can see below.

Apologies for the stupidphone picture. Mr. Beaver is somewhere next to the wall.

It was all a bit strange. I’ll admit, I don’t think I had ever even seen a beaver before. At least not in the wild. Of course there was the time we had gone out walking with some llamas and seen a beaver dam, but that is another story and sans actual beavers. (Did you know that unless you are a small child you are not supposed to “ride” a llama?)

Anyways, a few hours later we walked by again. He was still there. It was dark and the crowd of tourists who had previously swarmed to take his picture were gone. Now he was swimming a bit, coming back every so often with a stick or two.

Perhaps he is building a dam underneath the bridge. From what I can tell, it would not be such a bad place. The location is prime, the weather nice. The fish and the tourists are ripe for the catching.

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My Favorite Accordion Man

April 13th, 2011 by Kevin Luna
Subway station

Where has the accordion man gone?

The man who plays accordion in front of the subway has gone missing. It’s been a couple of weeks and I’ve started to worry.

At first I figured he was just taking a break. “Well,” I thought to myself, “perhaps he’s on vacation. Perhaps he’s gone South to catch some sun.” Do the Swedish accordion men take vacations? I certainly hope so. There ought to be some kind of bureaucratic department for that.

Anyway, for a few days another man took his place. He played his songs sure, but you could sense there was something off. It wasn’t his spot. His heart wasn’t in it. And now that man is gone as well. The spot is lonesome and empty. The world is lacking a little more music than before.

This accordion man, he was pretty funny you know. He had a way about him. He wasn’t like other accordion players. He had his own style.

What he did was, he would play the same tune over and over again. For hours at a time. He would sit and play and he would sing these long, epic songs. I’m pretty sure he made the words up as he played (improvise as the say in the “business”). I never knew what he was saying because he sang in a language that I didn’t understand. I don’t think it was Swedish either. To be honest it didn’t really sound like any real language one might know. I secretly imagined that he made it up. That he invented his own language to sing these day spanning songs. Who knows what they were about. Love? Sadness? The universe? It doesn’t really matter I guess. Sometimes it is less about the words and more about the sounds.

People loved it though. Or at least I did. Sometimes you would catch him on a break. As you came down the stairs he would greet you. When he smiled and nodded his head you felt that he knew your face. That he had been waiting for you particularly to come down those stairs all day.

As you headed through the hall towards the turnstile you might hear him pick up his accordion again, picking up his one, strange song from where he’d left off.

Now the halls are silent. Even though it is Spring, there is a merriness missing. People come down the stairs and they feel a bit sad.

They are missing their accordion man.

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A mild arguement

April 13th, 2011 by Kevin Luna

I’m starting a new blog, I said, for a Swedish newspaper. I think it’ll be good for my career. I can put it on my resume, get some recognition or something like that.

Oh, they said back, and what is your blog to be called?

Smothered in Elves, I said, stepping back a little, to allow for a laugh.

… What? They were confused. But why? Smothered in Elves? Why? What?

You know, I shifted my weight a little, scratched at my head, Elves. Elves are a big deal in Sweden. Hidden in the fields and everything. The morning fog. They’re like, at the back of everyone’s mind here. Right?

No.

No?

Not anymore they’re not.

Well this was news to me. Perhaps I had made some kind of mistake.

Maybe they are but just kind of secretly, I said, unsure.

I don’t think so, they said. They though about it. No, they decided, I don’t think people will understand.

Hmm, I said. We stood there for a bit.

What sort of elf? they asked.

What sort? How many kinds of elves were there? You know, I said, the elves. The funny ones I guess. The ones who scurry around.

Well, they sort of smiled, I’ve got to be going. I’ve got to get to work.

They walked away, adjusting their green, pointed elf hat in the face of the wind.

I shook my head. I didn’t have a job. Welcome to Sweden, I thought to myself. I’ve been thinking that now for almost a year.

It’s a strange place, you know. Sweden. Modern, progressive, up to date with the trends… But there’s something else too. It’s hard to put your finger on. Something a little absurd, just under the surface, ready to explode.

It never does.

Is it elves?

It’s what I aim to write about. It’s what I aim to find.

Welcome to Sweden, as they say. Smothered in Elves.

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