Sweden

Posted by Ellen

Right outside Rosenbad, the prime minister's chancery in central Stockholm, sits this homeless woman with the face of a fox, huddled in a blanket, with a baby animal, perhaps a fox cub, perhaps a teddy bear, in her lap.

The sculpture, a permanent installation on the granite sidewalk, is from artist Laura Ford's series Rag and Bone. In 2009, the city's newspaper by and for homeless people, known as Situation Sthlm, conducted a poll on where to put the statue; the winning location was this very public and political site.

The fox also has a single boot in her lap, into which passers by frequently drop euros.  People who are uncertain about dontating to living, breathing homeless people somehow feel that leaving money for a bronze fox is a good thing to do. That's the world we live in.

Posted by Ellen

Stockholm's 110-km metro rail system has been described as one long tubular art gallery. Exposed bedrock in dozens of the stations has been painted and sculpted by a variety of artists from Sweden and beyond. 

Consider this posting another entry in an occasional series: Places I've never been and stuff I've never seen and don't honestly know much of anything about, but damn.

Posted by Ellen

Carol and Sandy Fuchs spent a week in  northern Sweden recently, including New Year's at the Ice Hotel near Kiruna, about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The sun never rose above the horizon the whole time they were up there, though the dark of night faded into a sort of twilight for a few hours in the middle of each day.

They tried dogsledding and snowmobiling and visited with reindeer herders. The town of Kiruna is a thriving iron-mining center, where the hundred-year-old mine is nowhere near played out; it is currently expanding closer and closer to the town, which is gradually being relocated to escape the blasting and other mine activity.

The basic structure of the Ice Hotel is made of snow; in November each year, snowguns spray artifical snow over arched metal forms, which are removed after a couple of days, leaving igloo-like tunnels. Interior walls are made of two-ton ice blocks cut from the Torne River and returned to the river when the place starts to melt in April or May. The ice is cut in March and stored for the next winter's construction.

Beds are platforms of ice and snow covered with reindeer hides. Guests sleep in sleeping bags. There are ice sculptures and specially carved ice chairs and tables in the rooms, but according to Carol guests don't usually spend much time lolling about in chairs made of ice. Although she slept well, she reports that Sandy hardly slept at all; he was worried that if he relaxed and closed his eyes, he'd freeze to death and never wake up. The room temperature was about minus 5 Celsius, or 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hotel has an ice bar, where drinks are served in glasses made of ice. There's also a restaurant, which serves hot food on regular dishes, in front of a blazing fire.

I'm thinking that part of the rationale for a winter vacation in Arctic Sweden is that it must feel pretty good when you leave; wherever you spend the rest of your winter, even if it's in what you normally consider a fairly wintry sort of place, must seem bright and sunny and maybe even toasty by comparison.

Posted by Ellen

This is Stockholm after midnight last June, during one of the white nights near the summer solstice. The tower in the foreground is part of the Old Town, which dates back to the thirteenth century. The cranes in the background  are building the part of town that will date back to the twenty-first century.