Nothing is going as planned during this two-day tourist jaunt in Sweden. So many weeks of planning and expectations gone kaput.
Taking the ferry to the archipelago didn’t happen yesterday because of heavy rain and wind so I decided I would go see the opera Madame Butterfly at the Opera House. Sold out. OK, then, I’ll go to the one-star Michelin restaurant. No reservations. Plan C is the Konserthuset. Nope. The concert tonight is for a private audience.
Instead I board Tram 6 as instructed by the club’s web site to get to an edgy part of town to see two progressive rock bands, both fronted by young Swedish women.
As the tram moves out of the inner city I carefully watch the digital screen in the tram for my stop. After people get on at each stop they shake rain off their jackets, close their umbrellas, and open the protective plastic on their baby carriages, smiling at their children.
The tram is no longer in the city. The skin shades of my fellow tram travelers range from milky white to deep ebony. People are wearing headscarves, nose rings, headphones, floral wreaths, Afros, beards and orange lipstick.
A young woman whose hair is matted to her head from the rain gets on with a baby carriage and a beagle and parks them by my side. “OK, Milady?” she asks me.
Tram 6 stops again but not at my stop. A young Somalian man tells me that this is the end of the line. It’s dark and there are no lights at the tram stop. “Where is this stop,” I ask him opening my tourist map and pointing to where I’m trying to get to. He can’t help because he doesn’t speak English. I have to get off. I am lost.
The young mother with the baby carriage and sad-eyed beagle comes to Milady’s rescue, telling me which tram to take and advising me that it will be a 30-minute ride. If I’m on Tram 11 longer than that, I will have missed my stop.
Thirty minutes later I get off at the right stop and walk into a magical concert space.
The woman at the door greets me by saying “Hey, Hey” in that lilting, welcoming Swedish way. It’s like having a laid-back cheerleader giving you a personal rah when you walk into a Swedish restaurant of shop. I wanted to say back, “Hey, Hey,” I made it. But the young woman is already puzzled to see a woman my age at the club’s door. No need to make her think I’m totally nuts.
The venue has worn hardwood floors, sophisticated lighting and sound systems, local beers at the two makeshift bars in the back of the room, and people arm in arm, talking, laughing, kissing as they wait for the show to start.
My boots are still wet from waiting for Tram 11 and I am out of my familiar environs. I am shaken awake. Observant. Enjoying the right now. So happy my traditional tourist choices didn’t pan out.
It’s still raining the next day so I do another Plan D and go to the Gothenburg Art Museum. As I walk into the first gallery the painting I see is the original of a postcard I’ve carried around for years. It reminds me of falling in love with my husband. Here it is, a huge canvas, more beautiful than I imagined.
In the same room is a statue of a green Norwegian imp with flowers growing out of her head is sitting on a table. I don't see the connection between this statue and the other art in the room. The security guard explains there is no connection. Someone at the museum just thought the table would look better with something on it.
Nothing has gone as planned and everything is better than planned this weekend.
The painting reminds me of love and how little time I may have left with my husband.
The music club reminds me of how art happens – welcoming, gritty and unfinished.
And the tram ride with Milady’s rescuer and the refugees Sweden has welcomed into its country is like an injection of kindness and compassion.
These reminders of art, love and kindness are my Swedish souvenirs. Unexpected and treasured.
Here’s to staying open when our carefully developed plans go awry.