When a Place Speak to You
(This I Believe)
When a place speaks to you, you must answer. Sweden is that place for me. Almost anywhere I am in that country—though a few spots in particular—I feel at peace. It’s a mysterious thing, this place that called to me out of out of the blue. I had to travel all the way to Australia to discover I was meant to be in Sweden.
Let me explain.
In February, 1984, I went to study at Sydney University for a year. Instead of meeting lots of Australians, I met Swedes.
I was instantly smitten with Christer and Helen, two Swedish graduate students studying chemical engineering for a year at Sydney University. We lived in the same dorm and became fast friends.
Meeting Christer and Helen flicked on a light switch in me I didn’t even know existed. I began learning Swedish in the University’s language lab. I begged my new friends to tell me everything about their country. I studied the picture of King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia on their wall. The Swedish royals looked so calm and friendly, not regal and frigid the way the British royalty (whose images could be seen around Australia) looked. I didn’t think the cotton comforters on my friends’ beds—the colors of the Swedish flag—yellow and blue—were at all kitschy, though they were a gag going- away gift.
After returning home, I waited a year and a half before traveling to Sweden. It was everything I thought it would be. Sweden felt like the home I didn’t know I had been searching for. The curve of the rivers, the deep forests of birch and oak, the social customs of the Swedish people all resonated in me. I began to wonder if I had been Swedish in a past life. Maybe a Viking.
My friends lived in Uppsala, a city that stretches back to Viking times and is home to the oldest university. There is history everywhere—Viking grave mounds, villages from the Middle Ages, and rocks arranged in the shape of boats a thousand years ago and now lying undisturbed in front of a private residence.
The landscape is dotted with farmhouses and villages—each one meticulously maintained and poised in visual harmony with its neighbors. Most barns and houses are painted a unique blend of brownish-red, a special paint whose pigment comes from the Swedish earth. Other houses are painted either white or yellow. Now and again, there’s a wonderful blue-colored door or window trim; always done with just the right amount of taste.
Rather than finding it monotonous, I find the Swedish landscape relaxing, a feast for my eyes. Gone is the American tension of trying to outdo each other, of design being a hodgepodge of whatever each owner desires. Gone is the American need to proclaim “I can do what I want” and in its place is a consideration of landscape and neighbor. For me, it’s like meeting a thirty-two year old after spending my life with teenagers. All of Europe feels mature, of course, but Swedes get the mixture exactly right.
I have been visiting Sweden for twenty years now. If I could figure out how to transplant my life there —husband, kids, dogs, job—I would do it. Someday I will.
I believe that if you are lucky enough to have a place call to you, you should listen closely.
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