Sandhamn to Stockholm
26 August 2013
The day began on Sandhamn, and a beautiful day it was — a perfect day for a walk on the beach. So my sister and I set out to circumambulate Sandhamn. Sandhamn is large enough to do a complete walk around in a couple of hours, which is about what it took us. Much of the center of the island is covered in a pine forest, while houses dot the shoreline and extend a little way inland. Besides the main gravel path across the island there are numerous trails that lead through the pine forest. Some of the waterfront is private and fenced off, but quite a bit of it is accessible beach (perhaps half or more). It was a good walk, but left both of of feeling tired walking in the sand and loose gravel.
After circumambulating the island it was time for us to go, so we boarded the ferry back to Stockholm and in two hours are back in the heart of Stockholm. Having started in Stockholm and then headed out to Vaxholm and Sandhamn in the Sotckholm archipelago, Stockholm now stands out more clearly in my mind as a result of the contrast. Sandhamn is a typical island community that is centered on the boat traffic that is its lifeline; it is about as small as a community can be and still have some identifiable sense of community. Stockholm is larger by many orders of magnitude. Stockholm is not only one of the great European capitals, renowned for its museums, its history, its cityscape, and its cuisine, Stockholm is also a global city. All the peoples of the world can be seen — and heard — on the streets of Stockholm, which has a decidedly international flavor. While this is obvious prima facie, it is all the more obvious now that I compare it to the intensely local character of life on Sandhamn.
Speaking of the cuisine of a world-class city like Stockholm, I should mention that despite Stockholm being an essentially global city, it still retains a traditional Swedish character, and part of this character is expressed in its cuisine. There are, in Stockholm today, many ethnic restaurants, many fast food establishments, and probably a great many restaurants serving what has come to be called “international” food. Yet there are also some traditional Swedish restaurants, and among these I want to particularly mention Den Gyldene Freden. This restaurant has been in operation in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan since 1722. My sister found it when researching restaurants in Stockholm, so we made a point of going there.
My dinner at Den Gyldene Freden was not only excellent — I had traditional Swedish meatballs — but also turned out to be a personal and even a sentimental experience. Let me try to explain. During my formative years, my maternal grandmother did a lot of cooking for my sisters and me. (My grandmother stands in that maternal line of mitochondrial DNA going directly back to Sweden that I mentioned in The Land of My Foremothers.) My grandmother made a distinctive brown bread that I particularly enjoyed. When my sister and I ate at Den Gyldene Freden the server brought round an overflowing basket of bread from which we could choose. Both of us choose the brown bread, and as soon as I tasted it I said to my sister, “This is exactly the same taste as the brownbread that our grandmother made.” My sister tasted her piece of brown bread and agreed.
The particular dishes and cooking specialties prepared by a particular individual are, like Shakespeare noted of personal virtues, oft interred with their bones. We retain in memory something of the taste of foods we assume we will never taste again, just as we retain in memory the likes the the dislikes, the interests and preferences, the personal quirks and eccentricities of the dead. And then we see a descendent who, in some offhand gesture or attitude, surprises us in their perfect resemblance to the deceased. I have just experienced the culinary equivalent of this: it is as though my grandmother were briefly present again in the taste of the brown bread at Den Gyldene Freden. If I have managed to convey this experience, you will understand that this was more than merely a meal to me.
It was a beautiful evening in Stockholm, and as we walked in Gamla Stan after this memorable meal we took pictures of the sights of the city in the late twilight.
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