Beans, sandals and Japanese tea ceremonies

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Tipping Point: Kathleen Harman enjoys a Japanese tea ceremony, eschews beans and brown rice and savours the bijoux charms of Stockholm's Ethnographic Museum.


I was at my local swimming pool the other day and couldn’t help but notice that the North Africans seemed to be hogging the jacuzzi. Likewise, on a recent trip to the rainforest section of the Butterfly House I appeared to be the only non South American in the entire building.

With Stockholm practically devoid of indigenous folk, it is rather interesting to see how and where the rest of us are putting down our roots. For my part, my tendrils have been mainly unfurling in the wine box aisle of the Systembolaget, a situation that has its pros and cons. While the carrying home of wine boxes certainly keeps those bingo wings at bay, I did think the other evening that I could actually hear my kidneys squealing very gently that they could do with a holiday of their own.

So, having mastered the art of squeezing the last millilitre of chardonnay from the bladder of a wine box, I thought it time to move on to other forms of recreation. But with these endless days of diluvian dullness stretching ahead of us, I have come to the conclusion that I have very limited interests - if I can’t ingest it in some form or adorn myself with it, I can’t really see the point of it.

But I realise that this is shallowness in the extreme and with Stockholm being so well endowed with museums, I really should find something better to do with my time. So, when perusing the various options, I was delighted to come across the Ethnography Museum - artifacts and a bit of a trendy restaurant under the same roof, thus satisfying all requirements.

The Ethnography Museum is compact and bijoux by international standards. The Swedes were obviously complete cowardy custards when it came to shop lifting other cultures’ national treasures, not like the British who ran off with half of the Parthenon friezes stuffed under their jumpers, not to mention the odd Egyptian mummy that noone has owned up to yet.

But compact and bijoux is good when it comes to museums. You don’t want to be wading through rows and rows of funny little statues with eye-watering appendages - the first is always funny in a schoolgirl-sniggering type of a way but after a very short time, as in real life, the novelty wears off, and you know it’s time to hit the café and the gift shop.

The museum’s eatery, Babajan, is a sort of hip world food, world music type of a place. The food seemed to consist of beans and brown rice so if you like that sort of thing, and I’ll bet you are wearing a pair of German orthotic sandals if you do, then this is the place for you. But it did have a fabulous range of international beers and I found myself reaching for a cool Jamaican bottle, an almost reflex action on my part. In the end, however, I opted instead for a Cuba Cola, bottled in the not quite so exotic Halmstad, as a concession to the squealing kidneys.

But it was the Japanese Tea House, set in the museum grounds, that was far and away the best thing there. It is a traditional wooden structure, surrounded by stepping stones and water features. The extremely friendly curator gave us a little demonstration of the actual tea ceremony. A bit more refined that sticking the kettle on and shouting ‘Who wants milk and sugar?’, I can tell you.

The choreography surrounding the ceremony seemed to involve a lot of complex crawling around on the floor and making sudden jabbing and kneading gestures with one’s fingertips - absolutely fascinating but somehow strangely familiar. And then it struck me. This high art form bore more than a passing resemblance to my patented method for squeezing the last millilitre of chardonnay from the bladder of a wine box.

Which only goes to prove that it really is a small world after all.

Etnografiska museet:

Address: Djurgårdsbrunnsvägen 34, Box 27140, 102 52 Stockholm, Tel: 08-519 550 00

Ethnography Museum Points:

Zen in a box 10/10


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