Back to Malmö and the Turning Torso tower dominates wherever you go. It’s a beacon, a positioning, a south or north, an orientation; a sentinel perhaps. Gareth takes us to the newly opened park, Kroksbäcks Idrottsplats, on the outskirts of town. Linn tells me it has the theme of adventure, though I can’t immediately see this. She says the park is laid out so that, in theory, the children can get around it without touching the ground: on rocks and logs and on a rope grid.
It’s another open park with no fences. Looking towards the new Malmö Arena, there are huge svelte scoops of man-made hills.
Around the corner, in the park complex (also not fenced in, and with an unfenced-in nearby school) is the wobbly football pitch! It catches our imaginations with its black and white looped goalposts and undulating astroturf. We borrow a local child’s ball to play for a while.
Back through Malmö and out past the continuous building projects by the old port (I presume) is the skatepark. There are younger children here, as well as some older ones, and one or two odd (as in ‘strangely put’) adults. One guy wears rollerskates and high socks with the word ‘Evil’ on each. He looks out of place in the children’s realm. I have a brief moment of thinking what it would be like as a child here. I think I could feel fairly free. None of the children pay us any attention. Perhaps that’s just indicative of this no-fence, open space culture, the ‘right to roam’ – Allemansrätt – way of things that Gareth explained to us (‘Go where you want, just respect where you are’).
We drive around looking for lunch: there’s a Viking boat at the quayside (and Gareth jokes that the Swedes are planning another invasion of England!); the old church; the new quayside glass buildings; ubiquitous red and yellow road signs. When we get out in what Gareth describes as a more ethnically mixed area for food, he searches for the falafel place he wants to take us to. Malmö city feels quiet. Is it because it’s a Sunday, or is it just the way this place is? Out north, we drive towards the forest that Gareth says is more the Swedish landscape, which stretches up, perhaps, towards Stockholm and beyond. We stop off at an open-air museum, take coffee at a windmill. It’s all calm, but I can’t write here.
We sit around in the guesthouse lounge and maybe too many people stop the flow of words. I’m half-thinking of the trip to Stockholm tomorrow: the journey north, through the forestlands to the city called the Ice Queen. I like the idea of moving again, moving north, the farthest north on this planet: though we’ll be popped out of the comfort and luxury that Gareth and his family have created for us here in Lund. Still, Stockholm: a whole new place, a thriving place, new culture. Questions? Will the city have a quiet vibrancy, or will Skåne state be replicated up there in the Swedish way of things? (Gareth tells me about the Swedish propensity for a lack of aspiration, a comfort in being ‘average’ – lagom). Will the forestlands inspire? Will we cope in rarefied climes, thrown out into the wilderness? I want to find travelwords again. Perhaps they’ll come if I write as I actually travel: all my words so far here have come in the comfort of the Lund armchair. Words, people, differences.
I meet a Dutch couple over breakfast – they’re staying quietly in a room somewhere downstairs. I make a huge assumption that they’re from Sweden, at first, but the old woman cups her hand to her ear, screws up her eyes to understand me, says they’re from Rotterdam. The man, a professor type, is jovial – his neatly trimmed beard, his professorial air, his academic clothes. We talk in the manner of tourists meeting over breakfast. Now I think of Linn and of nationality: she’s half English, Swedish, though she talks of how the Danes once owned this part of Sweden and how the people of Skåne treat Copenhagen as more of their capital, being just over the Sound – Stockholm being some 400 miles north of here. I wonder about mix of identity. Does she see any Danishness in her Swedish/Englishness? She tells me about the Swedish way of having interchangeable first names. She has a double surname – her father’s and her mother’s. When we talk, later as a group, we reflect on the cultural mix we begin to see in the area of Malmö we’ve been to today. Linn talks of the resistance of immigrants to become Swedish, yet if they’re evicted from the country, a Swedishness becomes apparent. We talk of how the Swedes are seen as more uptight by the Danes and how the Danes are seen as more laid-back by the Swedes. Gareth points out the new building developments by Malmö port and says how he thinks Malmö and Copenhagen are beginning to merge.
I think of all of this and of identity and of global spread. I think how, in maybe twenty or thirty years’ time, urban conurbations, races, cultures, ‘tribes’ will all be fused and interjammed more so than they are now. Will there be sub-tribes forming? Will the homogenous McCulture spread us all thin across the planet? Will there be pockets of resistance? Activists of tribal identity?
Here in Lund, now, we’re all quiet in notebooks, gadgets, laptops, scrapbooks and words can start to come. This Swedish quietness of rebellion I asked Linn about last night, which she didn’t really answer, maybe won’t materialise in a tribal activism: the ‘anti-aspirational average’, the well-but-over-designed street and play planning (with its possible deficit of loose parts thinking), gives the Swedish children a contented play experience – think of the smooth concrete skatepark hollows or the playground mounds – but a lack of loose parts might engender a lack of a need for personal creativity. Averageness, albeit well-designed and thought out, abounds. Sure, there’s creativity in that design process, but when the need to rise up against a tide of homogeneity comes, there’ll just be a process of subsuming, not rebellion.
Maybe this is what I was going on about in questioning Linn yesterday. The place may not need rebellion – what’s the point of activism if there’s nothing to rebel against? Thinking about ‘averageness’, it’s not apt enough in describing this corner of Sweden so far: that’s not to suggest a negative; it is a point of note on calm, edgelessness, tranquillity. Only the Turning Torso tower (why are the signs at the port-side in English?) in Malmö exudes a decidedly unaverageness of being. It’s literally a stand-out affair. It dominates. From the country, far out north, Gareth points to the south as we drive: ‘There’s Malmö on the horizon.’ All you can see is the Torso, slim sliver at this distance, stuck up above the thin grey line of the curvature of the south. Every angle, close up, of the Torso is a fascination; every angle an oddness, a quirkiness, an inability to work it out. Onwards to Stockholm: average or truly Ice Queen?
to be continued . . .