Vacation Reading List 2024, Part 1

Another visit back to the US this Saturday! What are my reading plans?

  • Back issues of Karavan and Historiskan for the journey.
  • I have La vengeance m’appartient by Marie NDiaye in paperback from the library and in Swedish (Min är hämnden) on my phone.
  • I also have digital copies of Burnout: The Emotional Experience of Political Defeat by Hannah Proctor and The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe by Matthew Gabriele and David M. Perry.
  • Last year I left my copy of David Graeber’s Debt at my parents’ house, so maybe I’ll pick it up a third time to see if anything more sticks.

Of course, now that I’ve written all that down, I will immediately get distracted by a library or bookstore and wander over to something completely unrelated. This is the way.

Vacation Reading List: Debrief

Here was my original plan for this vacation. How have I done so far?

  • I have two copies of The Little Horses of Tarquinia checked out of the library, one in Swedish and one in French. I don’t normally like to take library books with me on international trips but I’m making an exception this time around. I’m on my way to finishing both of these before my trip is over, if I don’t get distracted by doomscrolling. These have been my steadfast companions during sleepovers and leisurely Amtrak journeys.
  • Back issues of Karavan that I can conveniently leave in airplane seat pockets or on buses without feeling guilty. Couldn’t have paced this better. I have maybe half an issue left, perfect for in-flight reading back home.
  • Rose/House for the Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club (ebook). Finished!
  • There’s always The Essays of Michel de Montaigne I have at the ready on my phone. And yet, I don’t think I even opened it.
  • The Gray House was a free Kindle download on World Translation Day years ago. I was almost immediately put off by the book and had forgotten about it until it turned up as the Armenian entry in the Eurovision Book Contest, so I might give it another shot. Spoiler: I did not give it another shot.
  • A David Graeber paperback of some kind, though whether it’s re-reading Debt or branching out into The Dawn of Everything I have yet to decide. I went with re-reading Debt, and am nearly done that. Whatever I have left unread (un-reread?) will remain so; I brought it along specifically to pass on to my parents.

What did I read instead?

  • At the last minute I threw an Ester Blenda Nordström book in my bag, just in case I didn’t have enough to read. This was unnecessary. I haven’t even opened it yet.
  • In Seattle I acquired a copy of Gift From the Sea, which has been on my to-read pile since a friend had me read a selection from it at her wedding in 2015. (Or perhaps 2014?) I finished it on a bus somewhere between Des Moines and Chicago. It is now boxed up, waiting to be shipped to Sweden.
  • In Des Moines I acquired a copy of Braiding Sweetgrass, which has been recommended and reviewed by several people whose taste I trust. They did not lead me wrong here. I finished it on the bus from Chicago and released it into the wild at a Greyhound station in Indianapolis.
  • I also had an ebook copy of Severance for our Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club that I forgot to mention in my original list. I finished that, though I barely remember where or when.
  • While at my parents’ house I relaxed with a couple pieces of kid lit that I’d always meant to read but never got around to: Emil and the Detectives, Berries Goodman.
  • I also had a package waiting for me from a friend with assorted books. Out of those I finished a precious tiny baby volume of Kafka short stories (the Penguin Classics edition of “The Judgement” and “In the Penal Colony”) and Abraham H. Maslow’s Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences.
  • I made a pit stop to renew one of my library cards and immediately picked up I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
  • Out of the several boxes of books I was originally intending to mail to Sweden, I blazed through Full House: The Spread of Excellence From Plato to Darwin and passed it on to a friend I thought would be interested in it. I love Stephen Jay Gould but there are other books of his that I’d rather have in my permanent collection.
  • Down in Austin I acquired a copy of The Barbizon, which has been on my to-read list since it was featured in LitHub back in 2021, and which I blazed through in a day and a half and was able to pass on to another member of the Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club.
  • Bonus book read in Austin: We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Every time I travel somewhere, one of my most primal fears is that I won’t have enough to read. And yet this just goes to show that I will always have enough to read.

Vacation Reading List

This coming Saturday I’ll be in the US for six weeks or so, visiting family and catching up with assorted friends all over the country. So far my itinerary includes Seattle, Portland, Des Moines, Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley, and very likely Austin. What portion of the book backlog will I be catching up on in all these places?

  • I have two copies of The Little Horses of Tarquinia checked out of the library, one in Swedish and one in French. I don’t normally like to take library books with me on international trips but I’m making an exception this time around.
  • Back issues of Karavan that I can conveniently leave in airplane seat pockets or on buses without feeling guilty.
  • Rose/House for the Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club (ebook).
  • There’s always The Essays of Michel de Montaigne I have at the ready on my phone.
  • The Gray House was a free Kindle download on World Translation Day years ago. I was almost immediately put off by the book and had forgotten about it until it turned up as the Armenian entry in the Eurovision Book Contest, so I might give it another shot.
  • A David Graeber paperback of some kind, though whether it’s re-reading Debt or branching out into The Dawn of Everything I have yet to decide.

Beyond that, I expect I will wander into bookstores while I’m in the US—never mind what I might have left at my parents’ house—so I’m deliberately exercising restraint when it comes to packing books. And, of course, now that I’ve written up an aspirational list, I’ve all but guaranteed that I’ll read everything else except those!

Three Weeks in Östersund

Despite being my longest vacation in a good long while, compared to other vacations I have the least to say about Östersund after the fact. This is hardly surprising; after all, I set out with the intention of making this trip as low-key and do-nothing as possible. It ended up being slightly more do-nothing than I maybe intended, seeing as I forgot that at least one of the museums I wanted to visit closed for the season in the middle of my trip, but no matter! I finished all of the books on my Östersund reading list, so I’m calling this vacation a win.

Boulders in front of a lake on a sunny day.

The most eventful part of the trip was dealing with my lodgings. I booked a loft apartment AirBnB close to the water for most of the trip, but for the first and last nights I wanted to stay in town so I didn’t have to stress about catching buses and all of my bags and so on.

A dock and breaker leading into the water, on an overcast day with a bench in the foreground.
I did a fair chunk of reading here.

My first hotel was an absolute pit—a “Best Western” I booked using grocery store customer loyalty points that bait-and-switched me into a run-down hostel that was pretty clearly a separate commercial operation altogether—and then on my second to last day I realized my booking at the same “Best Western” had never gone through. I don’t like booking lodgings at the last minute (it was too late to try to use more loyalty points), but on the plus side it was much nicer than the first place and not at a ridiculous cost. The same price, actually, I would have paid for my first room if I’d been paying in cash.

As for tourist attractions, I made a couple visits to Jamtli and also stopped by Frösö сhurch.

The interior of Frösö chuch, facing the altar. A copper chandelier hangs from the ceiling, and the interior is decorated in a blue and gold motif.

In an unexpected turn of events, one of my Stockholm friends was also up for an overnight stay in Östersund for schooling related matters. That’s how our first in-person interaction in nearly two years ended up happening in another city entirely.

An askew view of two half-empty beers and a small blue bowl of French fries on a black table.
That hand is proof I wasn’t drinking alone at Bishop’s Arms.

Now it’s really properly fall. Lazy summer days are over and it’s back to the grindstone. I have a few months’ grace time to focus on my own studies before the high season kicks in at work, so I better make good use of it.

Paris: The Four Hot Takes

(I’m still in Östersund, so perfect time to talk about a previous vacation!)

Paris smells like piss, everyone smokes, and there’s ham in everything. That’s the second thing I noticed. The first thing was straight off airplane, thrust into the chaos of the RER line to Paris being serviced by a bus replacement: my French listening comprehension had dwindled to absolutely worthless. If it had ever been worth anything. That impression faded, however, while the piss, the smoking, and the ham were constants throughout the trip.

Fortunately for those of us who can’t stand ham, there are croque poulets in the world.

It was a singular moment to be in Paris. It was the best of times (midsummer!), the worst of times (Roe, a suicide in my sambo’s family), the weirdest of times (the Banksy art theft trial). Everything was very surreal. I thought a lot about Weimar Germany, especially at the cabaret performance we had booked on Wednesday night.

In addition to the cabaret, I had a full agenda for basically the whole trip, happy to cede the planning to someone else who had been to Paris already and was familiar-ish with everything. As a result, the trip was a good balance of The Hits (Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Shakespeare and Company, the Luxembourg Gardens, the catacombs) and slightly more offbeat destinations (aforementioned cabaret show, only a quick driveby the outside of the Louvre, a very specific crepe place).

We drank a lot of wine and ate a lot of cheese, but we also walked all over except for one metro trip and one Uber trip, so it didn’t feel particularly indolent. I certainly caught my fair share of sun.

By the end of my trip, it also dawned on me just how successfully Paris tourism has capitalized on its literary history. That was the fourth thing I noticed. You can visit Bar Hemingway if you’re lucky—there’s only 25 seats in the whole place. There’s a line down the block at Shakespeare and Company less than an hour after opening, even on a weekday. The same can be said for Les Deux Magots and Cafe Flore, which are now officially located at “Place Sartre-Beauvoir.”

Paris is a city that knows how to market itself, and maybe that’s why I wasn’t particularly sad to leave it. I had a great time—there’s certainly more to do in Paris than you can do in a week—but there was nothing charming or romantic that even tempted me to fantasize about another, more Parisian life. Paris syndrome came to mind. Whether it’s romance or philosophy or jazz, people show up with this crystallized ideal in their head and then you realize that the clubs and cafes your favorite artists frequented are unnaturally, unnervingly the same as they were back then…and therefore different. They are fossilized and lifeless; today’s de Beauvoirs and Hemingways and Baldwins are in completely different clubs in completely different neighborhoods. The cycle continues and in another hundred years they’ll also be tourist destinations—assuming humanity makes it that long.

On the other hand, An American in Paris still felt very much like an on-point tonal portrait of the city, even though it’s nearly 100 years old and even though Paris has seen some pretty tough, drastic history since then.

Memorial for Jewish children from the local neighborhood who died in the Holocaust.

And Paris is huge. Going from my little village suburb of Stockholm into the 6th Arrondissement was probably just as overwhelming as switching languages. So many cars, so many sirens, so many people. Even Gamla Stan, probably the nearest analogue Stockholm has, is calmer and quieter, the narrower streets making it hard for there to be all that much car traffic. Which bookends very nicely to the first thing I noticed: my French was shit.

Which again, shouldn’t have been a surprise. But I can negotiate daily life in Swedish without really any hiccups; in Korea I was there for a year at time, part of a larger system that included other NESTs and hagwon owners willing to scrounge up the occasional babysitter for tasks like visas and bank visits. Trying to operate in French was like trying to shift gears without a clutch, and I didn’t have the time to get the hang of it. Swedish, in comparison, was immediately lucid. Comprehension was instantaneous. I was surprised at how much of a relief it was to hear it again.

Imagine my surprise at meeting another Swede.

Borta bra men hemma bäst. There’s no place like home.

Vacation Reading

Happy spooky season, everyone! I kicked things off by renting a cabin in Falun for two weeks, where I did a lot of walking (in cemeteries, no less), a lot of reading, and a lot of sweating it out in my own private sauna. I don’t have all of my photos of the walking uploaded and cleaned up yet, and there’s not much to be said about the sauna, but I can go ahead and talk about the reading. Some of these books might be worth their own post, but for now I’ll just stick to bite-sized thoughts.

Parable of the Sower

I watched Sarah Zed’s underwhelming video on YA dystopias a week before I left, so the whole trend of YA dystopias was on my mind as I read this one. Parable of the Sower was published in 1993, several years before our current glut of YA, but by industry genre standards it would be slotted as a YA dystopia if it were published today. And yet, it’s clearly a very different (and much better) beast than The Hunger Games or Divergent or whatever else tried to ride that wave. Is it fair to put Parable of the Sower in the same category as them? From a quality and content standpoint, I would say of course not. But from a book-selling standpoint, there is no difference. Consumerism is a cancer.

The History of White People

Extremely illuminating reading. My father’s side of the family came to the US around the turn of the twentieth century from villages that are in the south of current-day Poland, but there is absolutely no family lore about what it was like moving here, or about life or family back in The Old Country, or anything like that. (Making sense of the immigration documents is also a trip, just because territory was a bit up in the air at that point in time.) Painter’s research obviously can’t fill in the gaps of my own  family’s history, but it gave me a broad sense of the historical context of their arrival in America, and a rough idea of what kind of prejudice and problems they might have run up against—something I’d never really reflected on before.

Beyond my own personal takeaways from the book, the examination of the construction of “white” as a middle class signifier and its gradual expansion over the years is a valuable piece of scholarship for understanding American society as a whole.  The only downside is that The History of White People is over a decade old now, and reading a discussion of race and whiteness in 2021 that ends in a discussion of Barack Obama’s presidency rather than Donald Trump’s feels a bit…unresolved. GoodReads indicates that Painter’s most recent book is from 2018, but it’s a memoir rather than any kind of scholarly work. Hopefully she’ll put out an updated edition of The History of White People at some point.

Shards of Honor

This was an Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club pick. I don’t think anyone really enjoyed it all that much? For me, at least, there was too much romance and not enough sci-fi. Internet rumor mill pegs it as Star Trek fanfiction with the serial numbers filed off, and I believe it.

Becoming Beauvoir

An absolutely outstanding new biography of Simone de Beauvoir drawing on previously unavailable or untranslated material.

The Cyberiad

One of my philosophy professors taught a popular and engaging philosophy of the mind course, or maybe a couple variations on the idea, and one of the texts for it was The Mind’s I, an anthology that included a story from The Cyberiad. My particular iteration of the class didn’t use that book, but I browsed through a friend’s copy out of curiosity. Long story short, one of the selections I always thought was part of The Cyberiad wasn’t actually, so my introduction to Stanislaw Lem was actually Solaris.

So now I’ve finally read The Cyberiad for real. The English edition is an incredible feat of translation; it struck me as I read one of the first stories in it that one of the textbooks or more scholarly anthologies I’d read over the years had highlighted exactly this story so now I’ll have to try to do a little detective work to see what, exactly, they had to say about it.

Un hiver à Majorque

Still the same book as it was the other two times I read it this year. Unlike my previous attempt with the original French, this time I looked up every (or almost every) word I didn’t know and couldn’t figure out from context.

Pandemic Vacation: Gothenburg, Day 3

I’d noticed on my walk that Göteborgs Stadsmuseum was just a block down from my hotel, so I figured a good last day activity would be just to meander through there and grab something to eat at the cute cafe across the street. Despite getting in late, I was still up early enough for hotel breakfast (pain au chocolat, my weakness!), though after I had my fill I let myself have a cozy lie-in; I finally left the hotel at about 11.30 or so.

By far the best and most interesting exhibit was the one on clothing and fashion, “Gothenburg’s Wardrobe.” I won’t bore you with all of the photos here, but the sign for the exhibit is a good indication of what it was all about.

The museum wasn’t quite as broad in coverage as the Cultural Museum in Lund, since it’s all still focused on the city and history of Gothenburg, but it was nice to get a little nutshell history of the city.

Around four in the afternoon or so, my appetite made itself known again and my legs were beginning to tire, so I decided to pay a visit to a nearby cafe, Brogyllen, for lunch and then retire to my hotel room for a proper break.

By now I’d passed the sign for Akademibokhandeln a couple of times, and I’d now finished two additional books, so I figured why not? There was also some discussion in the neighborhood book club group chat about the next book (To Kill a Mockingbird) so I figured why not pop in and see if they have it along with a book for a friend’s upcoming birthday. I was able to procure both, of course, and so I spent the rest of the night in my hotel room, finishing up the boxed wine and diving right into To Kill a Mockingbird so I could pass it along to anyone in the book club who might want it.

Pandemic Vacation: Gothenburg, Day 2

I got off to an early start, since I was taking the train out of Gothenburg (only twenty minutes or so, but still). I didn’t know how long my visit to Alingsås would take me, but I knew I wanted to visit Aniara Bokhandeln later the same day, so I’d booked a train for 10 am to assure me plenty of time for both. I got up early enough that my hair would be good and dry after my morning shower and leisurely hotel breakfast.

Alingsås was cute and charming, with a surprising amount to see and do for what seems to otherwise be a fairly small little town. I’d only dropped in because of the Karin Boye memorial, and in the end decided not to make a day trip of Alingsås this time around, but to come back another time and plan it better for the labyrinth, the large park, and I think some old castle or fortress?

I know Karin Boye best from Kallocain (which I originally read, like Aniara, in English translation in my Swedish literature course at Stockholms Universitet in undergrad) but she was prolific and talented and troubled. The ill health and death of her long-time partner (and possibly, Fascist encroachment in Greece?) finally unnerved her and she killed herself. A farmer found her early in the morning and a large boulder nearby was at some point declared her memorial.

Partner ill health and Fascist creep are deep, soul crushing worries I can relate to, so when I remembered that her memorial wasn’t far from Gothenburg I decided to go out there and sit a while.

Image of Karin Boye's memorial, taken from Wikimedia

Always weird to come upon a place you’ve seen photos of before on Wikipedia. Something about the real and the image of the real, signs and signifiers, etc. (Oh, hey, and something like nine months after this trip I finally read Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation!) Nor did it help that you essentially have to cut through the Swedish version of suburbia until suddenly you’re faced with what’s essentially a small cliff. There isn’t any threshold, either, from the quotidian to the transcendent, nothing to ease you into the place of someone’s death. Rather, as soon as you scramble up that cliff the boulder is right there.

Image of Karin Boye's minnesten taken from behind, surrounded by trees on a sunny day in early fall.

The view from where I did most of my sitting and thinking. I scratched out a little poem while I sat there.

24 April 1941
Hur gick det att dö
här ute?
Bland träd och sten och mark?
Ångrade du dig
i sista ögonblicket?
Längte du efter människo-
(eller hellre kvinno-)
värme?
Hittade du en fördröjd spår av framtidstro
i en fågelsång eller en blek solstråle?
Eller var du
bara
trött?

A small group of older women out on a walk passed in one direction first, then later, in the other direction; a woman my age, whose little dog didn’t take kindly to my presence.

After maybe an hour or so, I descended the cliff again and did a little flaneuring in the vague direction of the train station, taking in the architecture and the art installations of Alingsås (light shows, statuary).

Back in Gothenburg, Aniara Bokhandeln was empty when I turned up, so the proprietor turned all of her friendly storeowner attention on me in a way I should be used to, but for whatever reason am not. It’s at least not as thoroughgoing as in the US, so she didn’t hound me as much as someone in a similar position would have in the states.

The entrance of Aniara Bokhandel in Gothenburg. The lights are on and shelves are visible through the door and a large window, where a woman sits in profile at a table.

The selection, I joked in a WhatsApp message to a friend, was full of material as erudite and impenetrable as its literary namesake. Politics, history, philosophy, and all manner of dense academic texts lined the shelves. Not so much airport novels or popular fiction, which resided in two small sets of shelves in the back, in a recess up two or three stairs behind the main floor of the shop.

I struck gold there, however. I found a copy of the much-lauded Är svensken människa? Gemenskap och oberoende i det moderna Sverige (a book-length investigation of how individualism and collectivism play out in modern Sweden) and the much more obscure but the possibly way more buckwild Uncle Sam’s Cabin (a “we Swedes have traveled around the US and are now reporting back to you on what we discovered” type travelogue from the early 60s).

Books and some postcards in hand, I went off in search of dinner, which ended up being my second langos of the trip. It took them a little while to prepare, since they’d run out of feta, but I was grateful for the long opportunity to sit and read, and they offered me a free drink to make up for the wait, so it all worked out in the end. The only other customers while I was there was a couple, husband Swedish and wife of some kind of central European extraction, and the wife had no qualms whatsoever about informing the owners that her lango hadn’t been prepared quite right, and so began a long conversation about the best way to fry them.

Full of good food and warm from head to toe, I set out for my hotel room on foot instead of by tram. I hadn’t paid for a single tram ride and wasn’t about to start now, plus I wanted to know how to get from the Second Långgatan neighborhood to my hotel on foot, without having to rely so heavily on Google maps. It was a good half hour to forty-five minutes of a walk or so, but the weather was fine and I welcomed the exercise. I stopped off at a few secondhand stores to see if they had any small rabbit figurines (an inside joke with my sambo), but no dice. Otherwise I just followed the tram line as best I remembered and lo and behold it wasn’t that complicated at all. Just a bit long.

I left the books and the postcards in my room, grabbed my fully charged powerbank and cable, and took the tram back the Second Långgatan quarter. I’d thought out loud via WhatsApp at Irish Coworker about whether I felt up to crashing bar trivia in Swedish as a team of one.

“I got a mate there, Fabian. Look him up, he loves a good pub quiz” and sent me a link to Fabian’s Facebook profile.

“Nja, drinking with one of your friends? I’ll wake up in a gutter somewhere.”

“Kelly’s then! You gotta go to Kelly’s.”

So Kelly’s it was, with a lot of beer and lot of reading. I contemplated striking up a conversation with a guy I saw at the end of the bar who never once put his phone away but seemed on very friendly terms with the bartenders and a couple of other regulars at the bar, but never got around to it and so instead I more or less finished reading Une morte très douce. I stayed until closing, stonefacedly ignored the couple cab drivers making a bid for my business, and made it back to the hotel room at around 2 am just fine.

Pandemic Vacation: Gothenburg, Day 1

Next on my agenda after Lund was Gothenburg, Sweden’s “second city.” Unsurprisingly I knew, and still know, almost nothing about it; like every Stockholmare, for me Sweden is Stockholm, fuck everyone else. I mean, not really fuck everyone else, but it’s uncomfortable to admit that I have become the Swedish equivalent of the asshole New Yorker. I have brought shame and dishonor upon my house.

I didn’t do much upon my arrival because I was exhausted from too much wine and too little sleep (and too short a train ride to make up for the sleep). I stumbled in to my hotel room at around noon and napped forever. Getting sloshed on Zoom while watching a Neil Breen movie was still 100% worth it and I ended my day with no regrets.

This hotel wasn’t half as charming as my place in Lund. It was generic hotel in all its presentation and decor (as opposed to the cute, non-hotel-ish railroad theme of The More Hotel in Lund), but it was also butt ugly. I booked a room expecting something like this:

Attractive, slightly vintage hotel room.

With flashbacks to my gorgeous hotel room in Dublin last year:

Gorgeous vintage hotel room

But got this (note! this was after my nap, the place didn’t come prerumpled):

Ugly hotel room with 80s decor and a messy bed

Not to mention the weather was bleh and, once I woke up from my nap and worked up the energy to go outside, everything was closed. At just 8 pm on a Sunday! What! I ended up stopping at an Espresso House despite my undying hatred for them just to grab something like dinner, plus a smoothie to go for the rest of my boxed wine, which I of course schlepped with me. It’s in a box, after all.

That’s all of my notes for the day: “Why is everything closed??”

I spent a couple hours writing up my thoughts on Lund, and then zonked out.

After a shower and a hotel breakfast, I made for the cathedral, Domkyrkan Göteborg. The one in Lund was fresh in my mind and so I thought, might as well take in a bit of history and culture before I do anything else too crazy in town.

The website was quite dodgy about whether or not there were tours, however. I found an old Swedish travel blog write-up about taking a tour but it was several years out of date, plus coronatider mina bekanta, so I just meandered around after the Monday afternoon service was over to see what I could see, without any more guidance or context than the occasional plaque.

The cathedral is pretty new as far as these things go, dating back only to the 1800s (there were two previous, older cathedrals on the site that burned down, oops), and so lacked those good good historical vibes I like in the churches here.

Interior of Gothenburg cathedral, everything is white with gilded accents.

It was also pretty ugly, in my view, and something about it left the distinct impression of the US and the Antebellum South. I didn’t stay too long, and spent most of my time looking at the small display of goods from the charitable artist’s school and collective the church sponsors in Kenya rather than the tacky architecture.

Yet I’d had such high hopes after this straight up Lovecraftian nightmare statue right outside the church grounds!

Statue of a girl who is part human, part sea creature, not like a cute mermaid but more like nightmare fuel

I hopped a tram a few stops out to visit the Botanical Gardens, because I guess the two things I will instantly gravitate towards in a city are churches and gardens. I suppose history and flowers are as good a place to start as any when you’re in a new town!

I won’t bore you with ALL OF THE FLOWERS. Let this photo be a stand-in; you can imagine your own flowers.

Entrance of the Gothenburg Botanical Gardens on a sunny autumn day on October, 2021. The main display at the end of a long reflecting pool is a large flower bed depicting two koi fish in a kind of yin-yang shape.

On the ride out I noticed a place called Aniara Bokhandeln, and if there’s anything that’s going to get my attention it’s going to be an indie bookstore named after the great modernist Swedish poem of the 20th century. I made a mental note to check it out another day.

There was a food truck by the entrance to the gardens and it was still parked there when I had done a full circuit around the most interesting parts, and thus began my culinary theme for the trip: langos.

Lango with nachos

Lango with chicken and feta

I don’t know if there’s a particularly large population of Hungarians in Gothenbug. My Hungarian friend said nothing to that effect when I pinged him with the above photos of my food (though he was horrified at what he considered awful mash-up Frankenfood), but all of a sudden I landed in town and there they were, everywhere. At any rate, fried dough with just about anything can’t go wrong. I approve.

The whole day, I’d been in intermittent contact with a coworker who used to live in Gothenburg and had just been back to visit during his recent vacation. I kvetched about everything being closed, to which he replied: “just make it to 2:a långgatan and it’s all good!”

That inside tip turned out to be the thing that made Gothenburg worthwhile for me. Not that the botanical gardens or the other things I did weren’t nice—they were!—but it’s helpful to know where people go to relax and have fun. Even if it’s coronatider, mina bekanta.

I wandered around and eventually found Cafe Publik, another Vänster Partiet watering hole (or so it seemed, based on the lefty stickers and its proximity to the party headquarters) and one of those odd ducks that has a full license to serve alcohol but also serves coffee and tea.

Interior of Cafe Publik in Gothenburg

It was a much better lefty cafe experience than India Däck, where I felt just very, very old. If this was the party watering hole, it hadn’t become so insular that literally no one else ever turned up. I would have holed up there the entire evening with my book (Une morte très douce) except that my phone battery was quickly eating it from an unusually high level of Google Maps usage, and I didn’t want to be caught out with a dead phone.

Back at the hotel, I put my phone to charge, made plans for tomorrow (it suddenly struck me that Karin Boye’s memorial wasn’t far from here) and continued reading The Fifth Season in the hotel lobby, again with a fireplace. I thought about going out to get something for dinner, since it was early yet, but satisfied myself with some of the muesli I had brought with me from Lund and a chocolate bar.

Adulting!

Pandemic Vacation: Lund, Day 3

My only plans for the day were the hotel breakfast (had overslept or otherwise missed it previously), a tour of the Lund cathedral, an international bookstore I’d discovered too late the previous day, open mic at Cafe och Le, and then bad movie Zoom.

Interior of the Lund Cathedral, facing the altar behind rows of wooden chairs.

There was some minor miscommunication between staff members about where the tour was supposed to start, but it all worked out fine in the end. Our guide was a cheerful and slightly theatrical young woman (she also does tours for school kids and it showed) who informed us that there was a baptism scheduled after the tour was over, so we were free to stay unless they needed to make room for the baptism guests. We stayed to watch a large, complicated clock go off, complete with good and evil knights fighting and the three Wise Men turning up to pay their respects to Mary and the baby Jesus to the tune of “Good Christian Men Rejoice,” after which I decided to wander off elsewhere and give the baptism party their….not privacy, I guess, but their something.

I made a beeline for the international bookstore I had found yesterday and immediately fell in love. No weird minimalist artsy displays with just a book or two per shelf: just shelves and shelves of books, everywhere, every which way. By this point I’d finished two of the six books I brought with me, so I was entitled to get two replacement books, right? And a souvenir book as well of course. And he happened to have the memoirs I’d been meaning to get for ages so of course I picked that up.

Interior of the French Book Store in Lund

The sign said French Bookstore, and then listed a bunch of other languages below, which I found amusing, but then once I was in there it made sense: the owner was clearly French, and also excruciatingly though charmingly slow and old fashioned. He wrote out my receipt by hand and spent most of my visit there waiting for his payment system to process a bulk order from a librarian who had come in from Malmö. And even though everything I bought was in French, I still kept to Swedish with him because my spoken French is pretty crap. But my brain did the thing and so suddenly my Swedish accent started to turn French. Wild.

I wandered a bit more and stumbled on the last half hour of a pop-up…art gallery? Flea market? Unsure. But I checked it out on a whim and ended up with three gorgeous prints painstakingly excised from an old encyclopedia: a star map with the North Star and nearby constellations, a map of “China and Japan” (and the surrounding countries of course, but at that point given as either Chinese or Japanese territory), and a watercolor illustration of a Chinese mandarin and a young Japanese woman, posed together a bit like a museum display, clearly part of the section on different cultures around the world and their traditional costumes.

The weather was starting to turn by this point, so I hoofed it back to the hotel room to drop off my booty rather than schlep it along with me to the open mic at a place called Cafe och le (Cafe and smile), which is a pretty cute little pun since you pronounce it the same as Cafe au lait. I showed up about half an hour ahead of the scheduled start so I could be sure of a seat and also have some dinner, but it ended up being more like forty-five minutes ahead of the start since it took a while to get the sound set up going.

Exterior of the Cafe och Le in Lund

It was a delight despite that, and no one who performed was tragically or embarrassingly bad. The highlight for me was an older guy who turned up and out of nowhere, THE BLUES. One of America’s few cultural exports worthy of mention; probably the closest thing I’ll ever experience to patriotism is the weird little warmth I get in my guts when I listen to non-Americans play the blues. Appropriately enough for my musical patriotism, the last song I caught before I returned to the hotel room for bad movie Zoom was “Summertime,” and boy howdy do I have strong feelings about George Gershwin!

The bad movie zoom was top notch, as always, and I polished off a great deal of (too much?) mediocre boxed wine before last-minute packing all the assorted small things and then collapsing into bed at 3 am or so.