a little bit of Sweden, from an observer’s seat

Stockholm. It always feels so ambiguous for me to go home. This wasn’t where I grew up, so to a certain extent even I find it exciting since it’s unknown for me too. I don’t know my way around here like I would. I don’t know where to cross over to make a short cut. I don’t know the hilly and narrow streets in Old town like my own back pocket. I don’t know where the best place to go for unnecessarily large and greasy pizza on a rainy day would be. I don’t know where the best coffee is, so I go to Espresso House, the Swedish Starbucks. And I bump into people constantly, because what I do when I walk is that I look up at all the new, foreign and unfamiliar instead of looking straight ahead. I walk at the pace of a stranger, because this isn’t my home, and I don’t know where to go. I need to think here.

But, these are the people I grew up with. They speak the language in which I was taught what is right and what is wrong, and what is important and what is not, and how to transfer every feeling I have about all of this from thoughts into words. This is the language in which I can discern dialects and appreciate them, pick up on irony and sarcasm, and on tenderness and earnestness like only a native speaker could ever do. This is where the codes I know applies. Where people hug frequently and look each other in the eye while speaking. Where good service is characterized by humanity and presence rather than perfection and servility. Where people, at least rather than rarely, think twice.

When I was 14 years old I had an assignment on foreign affairs in school. I asked my teacher ”what do I need to do to obtain an A?”. She said, and I remember this entire conversation word by word to this very day. ”To obtain an E, all you need to do is to cover the facts. To obtain a C, you need to demonstrate that you can see the connections between certain events. And to obtain an A, you need to analyze.”. ”What does that mean?” I asked unknowingly. ”To analyze Adam, it means that you show that you possess the skill of seeing things from another perspective than your own”. ”That doesn’t sound too difficult” I replied. And she said ”In life, you’ll come to realize that a lot fewer people than you think, knows how to do this. To write down facts every ordinary person in the world can do, but to put your own point of view aside and to realize that the world sometimes is wider than how you see it, that’s extraordinary”.

I’ve repeated that conversation to myself many times since that day ten years ago. And for every time, it’s managed to make a little more sense, making me realize that perhaps it’s not the cities or countries that are fucked up, it’s the people in them.

Sweden isn’t a progressed a country as most people would give it credit for, but it’s not half bad. I didn’t need to move abroad or travel the world to see this, but I needed it understand that what we have, should be appreciated. It’s easy to think that small simple and extremely commonplace daily things like the relaxed tone in which sales assistant addresses you in or the private space given to you standing in line or on the subway by fellow people are universal things, but they’re not. And the only things that aggravate me to come here and surround myself by all of these cultural characteristics that actually do mean the world to me, is that most people don’t seem to understand the value of them. Would you cook and share a homemade meal for someone, who wouldn’t appreciate it more, than if the two of you went to Mc Donalds? Too few know that it’s the small things the greatest riches lay, and sadly that depletes the value of them.

The world is made difficult by simple people.

Helicopters & philosophizing in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro, from where I wrote this, is a multifaceted city. It’s an immensely beautiful place not hard on the eye, but below the scenic surfaces where the extremes of nature meet mankind, lays a defective society where the gap between the ones who have, and the ones who haven’t is remarkably palpable. A few days ago I got the opportunity of seeing it all from above, and I didn’t hesitate. From the observer’s seat of a tiny helicopter, it all looked so different. The teal blue ocean vigorously slamming the beaches, seeming so narrow that the rambunctious atmosphere they are known for felt like an illusion. The many colorful favelas climbing the cities steep slopes, stating the most contradictory contrasts where the poor look down on the rich, and the rich look up on the poor. And the statue on Corcovado; gigantic next to you, a chess piece from above. A reminder that some things are not as widely dimensional as we give them credit for, we just need to look from different angles. When I sat there it was in the company of one fear and one hope. One fear that giving up the observer’s seat will suck. One hope that the view is probably much better from the left seat. And just for clarification, I have zero ambitions of becoming a pilot.
How some so sharp contrasts can be equally appealing is a discovery of a traveler I never seem to stop falling for. Wrapped in a blanket with my feet up on the parapet I sat on the balcony in Rio the other night; my only company was the salty scent of the aggressive waves lapping the shore of Barra de Tijuca just below. I who basically grew up by the sea sat there and thought how something that’s supposed to be so foreign to me, somehow wasn’t. It was a different sea; the Atlantic has a fury the Baltic Sea doesn’t, but the sounds and the scents were identical while sitting there on a balcony facing the Atlantic ocean. A little strange and a little magical.
Where I live today, in the downtown area of one of the world’s fastest growing metropolitans, silence doesn’t exist. Day and night the city makes the same inevitable noise of its own growing pain, rising and stretching in every direction. Such man-made noise I was never surrounded by when I grew up, and I sometimes feel like I’m still getting accustomed to it. So very different from the reality I grew up in. Somehow it still brings me a similar serenity and sense of safety I get from listening to the waves. I believe it’s the mixture of what’s familiar and what’s unfamiliar that speaks to the part of me who have always sought to discover new horizons. To some, security is in homecoming, and to some, it’s in the escaping of home. To a few, it’s the wealth of both.
When I think of it, it’s really the contrasts that intoxicate and consumes me at the same time. The irrelevance of time zones and weekdays and all the numbers in between I believe to be unimaginable for someone living in a routine. But there’s a hidden back side of too much abundance of liberation and it’s called complacency, where the lows aren’t as low but the highs aren’t as high. Where Monday is not that much different from Friday, and 12 am not that different from 12 pm, and number 639 not that different from number 369; at least until you stand on the third floor trying to get into your hotel room while realizing that it’s actually on the sixth. It’s a meadow with an endless horizon, and when every direction looks the same, the thought of staying put is more appealing than to start walking. I read somewhere that the comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.
It’s been important to me realize that the day where I won’t find any more beauty in this life, will never come. And it’s been important because I would have waited a very long time if I didn’t know this. There are more beautiful places I wish to see while time allows for it, and if there is one thing to take away from a life where it’s all about constant first impressions, it is that there are as many ways to be happy as there are impressions of them. And maybe even more importantly, for the ones in meadowland, that it’s perfectly fine to be in a happy place but still dream of another happy place. Just remember, you might have to actually start walking to find it.