Friday, January 6, 2012

Trekking thru the snow to get to sand

The plane began its descent and seemed to stay in an eternal gray-white cloud that chased us until the screech of the tires screamed our arrival to this snowy land. The white fog seemed to hover above the blanket of snow with a kiss and float away with the wind.

I stepped out of the plane and Sweden grabbed my cheeks like a long lost great aunt and squeezed them hard until I popped my collar to protect from the cold kisses.  I carefully tip-toed across the ice into the terminal and got a very cheerful “Merry Christmas!” from the American woman I had sat next to on the plane. Gina was originally from Wisconsin and had met her Swedish/French husband of 15 years at a coffee shop in Sweden almost 20 years ago while she was backpacking across Europe. “I made him chase me. That’s the secret, you know, “ she said with her golden hair and fur coat.  We gabbed like an episode of Sex and the City and she talked about her weekend in Paris for her little girl’s 9th birthday with another Swedish mother/ daughter duo.
I sat next to her, enveloped by her perfume. I wanted to be her husband, or son, or servant. She smelled like a Swedish goddess.  She must have seen her potent fumes taking their charm and snapped me back to reality.

She leaned into me and lowered her voice as if to make a real human connection, “This is a bullshit my dear, I’m just a Wisconsin girl who saw her stars align and lassoed a rope to ‘em and have been holding on tight ever since. Wisconsin is my real home.”

We mainly talked about the U.S. I needed a good helping of home somehow…even if it was from a Yankee. However, as the distance grows between you and your home, the connections with other Americans grow that much closer. We both mourned a little bit since we were missing our first Christmas at home. She always takes her girls to Wisconsin, she told me.

            I scurried into the terminal and followed the pictures of a bus to my next stop. Thank god for pictures because the Swedish language looks like English but with a lisp and limp. I was an hour outside of Stockholm and boarded the bus to Stockholm City Central at 2:20 P.M. like Arby told me to. I sat down as the bus started pulling off. I had flown into a winter wonderland. Brown outlines of branches struggled to peak out from behind their Christmas robes.  The sky almost blended into the ground. I was warm in my coat. I laid my head on the window and the lull of the engine sang me to sleep.

I could feel my mouth open as i dangled on the very edge of a deep slumber, and that embarrassing horror rushed over me like it does in public places. I debated whether to open my eyes and just continue to rest, but I felt like I had been asleep for ages.  I opened my eyes and was horrified to see nothing. It was pitch black. I spun my head around, “Did I miss my stop and I am now in the middle of god forsaken Swedish country!!!!!!!!???” It was just 2:20 P.M when we had left. I fumbled like a mad man in my pocket for my phone to check the time.
“Please dear baby jesus on a reindeer, what’s going on?” I checked my phone and it was 3:05 P.M.  I was suddenly smacked in the head with the realization. Okay okay, the sun sets very early here in the winter.  I sat back with a sigh of relief that I was not going to have to make the sequel to “Into the Wild.” 

Finally, we came over a hill and Stockholm’s city lights were reflecting off the surrounding water. We pulled into the bus station and my eyes panned the place for Arby. I hadn’t seen him for 4 years. He was my very first college roommate and we played soccer together at my University. The last time I had seen him, I had dropped him off at the airport. He was terribly homesick and on crutches. He had broken his knee in a game and taken it as a sign to return home to Sweden where it was just he and his mother.

I was looking for a stocky, handsome Armenian. His parents are Armenian, grew up in Iran and moved the family to Sweden just before Arby was born.  Quite the cultural mix. His mother spoke no Swedish before they moved here and she still spoke no English.

We trekked through the snow on the way from the train station to his house. I walked up to the door with red and orange glow of candles flickering in the window. I could see the light bounce off the glasses on the set table. I entered and she had a great big smile, a fur scarf and a red sweater. She was strikingly beautiful. I had no idea what to expect but it was easy to tell that the boys must have been driven crazy by her in her youth. She said something to me in Swedish and we gave the awkward hug you give when you have never met but it would be more awkward to shake their hand….i thought about kissing her hand but more as of a joke, but that thought soon passed with the fear of a strong Middle Eastern slap in the face. We sat down for dinner. I was starved.  We passed the plates and Arby’s mom kept asking me questions as if I was fluent in Swedish and I looked their dumb and hopeless until Arby finished chewing his food and translated. Mumbled words trying to push past chicken and rice “she wants to know if you had a good flight.”

“Yes” I said with a smile.  She knew “yes” luckily. Arby was a horrible translator. She continued to rattle out the questions and I was on my 3rd helping of awkward silence. Just smile, look busy, glare at Arby.

Finally I told Arby laughing, “Please for the love of god, translate for this poor woman.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry, I had my mouth full.”

We finished up dinner and I walked through the house. It was a museum of trinkets collected in her 65 years from her home country of Armenia, where she moved to in her youth in Iran, where she loved to visit in Egypt. She loved flowers. Real flowers, fake flowers, patterns of flowers were everywhere. She was a stickler about saving electricity so most of the house was lit with candles and the occasionally dim lamp. The house had a reddish orange glow to it with all the candles and it reflected off the glass sphinxes and the odds and ends that littered the glass cabinets.

We sat down with a glass of red wine. Arby’s mom sat out bowls of almonds and pistachios she had brought back from Iran when she had visited earlier that month. “Oh that was a grave mistake, Lady” I thought to myself. "I will eat every one last of these." However, I resisted the best I could. Arby and I caught up over sips of wine while his mother watched an Armenian soap. The wine was putting me to sleep and I could feel the exhaustion from the travel setting in deep to my eyes. I glanced over to Arby’s mom and she was asleep in her chair. She was on her thrown, the Queen of Trinkets. The light from the television flashed with each changing scene and reflected on her earrings. I sat my glass on the table and told Arby goodnight as I walked to my bedroom missing my mother, imagining she was asleep watching a show herself.