Navigating the lands of fjord and water, get ready for ongoing sunsets and fried fish. I can’t stomach it so I eat slaw, rhubarb, and marzipan. Sweden is Rapunzel with its blue, blue sky, dark green fir stands, and puddles of light chasing one another over waves of golden fields dotted with blood red poppies.
Stockholm prepares for its Pride weekend. The beautiful people have to party without me. The imperative of the thesis flexes its muscles when I realize that my information on racial equity in dance is incomplete and out of date. My argument is already compromised because I’m skewing it toward the information I have. Thanks to a low-level anxiety sweat and nervous-eating my way through this dilemma, I get a chance to see a more prosaic Stockholm: its expensive grocery stores, assisted laundromats where washing three loads costs as much as dinner, and such kind people smitten with dogs that they’ll break out of their taciturnity to pet Tibby. We meet a nurse who volunteers to be our tour guide, we run into an occasional roommate, and a ceramicist who provides our souvenirs of Sweden: a breakfast duo of cabbage-rose–stenciled yogurt bowl and coffee mug. I can’t believe I talked Alrik into shabby chic.
We sail across the Baltic Sea on a long silver wake. We shiver on deck but can’t bring ourselves to go below to join the casino aficionados and teenyboppers at the disco. We wave to children on shore in fishing villages that can’t be reached from any road. Between the cheese supplies and the dog, the cabin smells ripe when we wake up to Tallinn, the pre-Stalin family vacation. Every five years, someone in Alrik’s family comes due for the pilgrimage to the fatherland left behind in 1944. We have a fabulous Upper-West side travel agent, Alrik’s sister Kate, who planned the entire thing. It is plush. It is beautifully timed. It is a 6-day whirlwind because that’s how much time New Yorkers get off work.
The black of the Estonian flag is for its dark nutty rye bread; the blue is for the cheese, dry and hay; the white is for my appetite. We celebrate an early Thanksgiving on an island where the kids toast marshmallows, everyone takes a turn at the grill or the dishes, and we talk until late at night, collapsing oceanic distance and a year apart. We consider moving there because the country is cold, unreachable, and who else has done this. But because we speak neither Estonian, Russian, nor Finnish, we are housed in expat overpriced apartments and left to eat tourist pizza for the rest of our days.
Then the car dealership calls. It wants our car back in Berlin, 1250 kilometers away, three days hence. That resolves our situation. We pull the plug on the Estonian strategy and shift into high gear, driving longer and planning our nights just one stop ahead. We’ve become semi-pro dreamers. Eventually, keeping level with the storks reputed to be nearing extinction, we migrate back to the Lower-Euro-48. In Latvia, we join a bevy of chanterelle foragers amidst the sepulchral silence of tall pines. We sally through rainstorms and rainbows in Lithuania.
As we cross into Poland, a pall drops. Friendly drunks make the time to fall in love with Tibby amidst the fallen splendor of Lodz. Gorgeous parks of stately oaks are filled with flirting, smoking teens ditching school. What if towns organized rainbows the way they organize fireworks?