THE WAY HOME, PART TWO. COPENHAGEN, ROTHENBURG, GARGNANO, MILANO

 

a Danish schoolmap for you
Reluctantly you leave Copenhagen after dinner, you just tasted it but fell in love with the city. Night falls as you arrive in Rødby, at the boarding area for the Germany ferries: it’s just half an hour journey on some kind of floating mall, you don’t even realize that it’s moving. The only passengers are four German truck drivers that lay numb on the sofas, while your kids storm in the tax free shops shrieking like monkeys each time they bump into an Haribo dealer. As the ferry arrives in Germany late at night, a creepy fog rises from the sea: clouds thick as cotton wool floats in the dark, reflecting the lights of the few cars passing, such a spooky atmoshphere… You are forced to stop, it’s really too difficult to drive. All around the van it’s impossible to see anything, so you put the kids to bed and fall asleep thinking about that Carpenter’s movie.

 

Daphne! Velma! Shaggy! Jump on the Mistery Machine, it’a time to go home!
You leave early in the morning, you have to drive for a lot of miles. Once you drove in the Swedish roads, driving everywhere else feels like being stuck in a traffic jam; but actually the traffic flows quite easily, while you travel across Germany. You all listen a Radio Drama inspired to Salgari’s novel “Yolanda, the Black Corsair’s Daughter”: your son Mitia is an enthusiast fan of Salgari. You don’t understand a fuck of the plot, but who cares: there’s this lady, obviously beautiful and kidnapped by Spanish soldiers, and the pirates make a mess chasing them all across the Caribbean to set her free. The pretty lady is dubbed by an Italian actress with a sexy voice, that continuously sighs thinking about her beloved Captain Morgan; maybe a little too much, sometimes it sounds like a porn movie radio drama…

 

the city of Playmobil
 It’s night when you arrive in Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauer, where you stop following a friend suggestion: you pay a tribute to Italian emigration in Germany cooking spaghetti all’amatriciana, that your kids devour in a blinking of an eye. Before you go to bed you have a surreal chat with an old toothless man that cleans the public toilets: he speaks only German and insists on telling you the whole story of his juvenile trip in Italy. You don’t understand much of German language, furthermore you have to deal with his toothless delirium pronunciation, you understand only that he enjoyed a lot Modena but then something happened and he found himself cleaning the toilets in Bavaria. All the rest unfortunately is lost in translation.

In the morning you have a walk on the medieval city walls and then in the centre, a real Bavaria jewel. You have breakfast in a Konditorei hosted in one of the many colored marzipan houses, and then hang around.  

Rothenburg Christmas Inferno!
You find out that Rothenburg is famous in the world not only due to the folkloristic character of the “public toilets toothless mythomaniac”, but also for the Christmas decorations shops: by the way, this is the real Santa Claus city, not Rovaniemi! After an hour wandering around Käthe Wohlfahrt you feel close to a sugar shock with all this Christmas stuff, definitely out of season. This year it’s like that: with Rovaniemi and Rothenburg you celebrate Christmas in August, then you will celebrate mid-summer in Christmas. Picnic with lemonade, sandwiches and cold beers in the park, even if it’s -7°. Everyone is invited.

You leave Rothenburg doubtful. It’s gorgeous, for sure, perfectly preserved and really pitoresque. But. But there’s something you don’t feel comfortable with: maybe everything it’s too perfect, clean and tidy that it doesn’t feels really ancient. Or maybe is the way the cashiers look at the foreigner tourists that fill their bank accounts. That gaze, just above their clean and polished glasses, the same gaze they probably aim also to those unbearably barking Yorkshire dogs. You don’t know, but this postcard Germany is light years far from the one you love. Bavariais beautiful, but it’s not for you: it’s a place that probably is loved by those petty bourgeoises from Northern Italy. You prefer Berlin and Hamburg, with their run-down public housing, noisy coffee bars, dirty U-Bahn and open minded people, yet a little bit weirdo. Radical chic? Ok, hurray for the radical chic, then. Hurray for radical chic Germany.

You turn on the Volkswagen engine, there’s the last stretch: crossing Austria and its Alps, carfully displaying the road tax vignette on the car’s windscreen. You’re not in Sweden or Denmark anymore, there’s the police crouched under each overpass that checks each car passing. Really: you saw two officers standing next to a POLIZEI car and moving their head frantically from left to right in the desperate attempt to control the cars running at 100 mph, so comical. You pass beyond the Brennero, and there you are, back in Italy.

You exit the highway at Rovereto, and descend the Garda Lake until you reach that village facing the lake with the mountains behind. Here there is what your kids call “Casa” more than any place you have ever been living in. The “home” feeling is something impossible to control, you should know it well, being an architect. It’s not just a matter of choosing the right materials, lighting, furniture and tissues that allows the changing of the perception of “home”: it is something more complex, based on instinct, and that takes time to settle. It is made of warmth, protection, light; of kitchens full of drawers and shutters hiding treasures that can be eaten and obscure kitchenware; bookshelves chaotically overloaded; bathroom where the steaming hot water roars filling the tub; posters of exhibition you never visited and pictures of places you’ve never been, but you feel familiar; wardrobes filled with strange clothes that nobody ever wears; books about unintelligible things left opened on the bedside tables; dusty attics where you can hear the sound of raindrops falling on the roof shingles, and where sometimes toys and comics that you lost long time ago magically reappear. And finally scents, because it’s the sense of smell that irrationally seals the deepest emotional bonds, with homes as with love.

 

wake up you’re Home
Your parents, priceless resource and shelter for your kids forever and ever, are waiting for you. You can rest just a couple of days: Sunday evening you say hello to the kids, that will remain here for another week, and leave for the last travel with the faithful Volkswagen.

As you drive along the A4 highway under the cloudy sky, don’t ask yourself what will this travel leave in the eyes and in the heads of your kids: you won’t be able to know it, not now. Don’t even ask yourself what has left in you, or if you learned anything. It’s not important. Stop trying to find a name or a sense to whatever you do, or happens. What matters is that you lived this thing: the meaning will come on his own, later.

The forest is inside, by now.

Milan – Rovaniemi – Milan, 30/7 – 22/8, 2015

  

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The long way home, part one. Östersund, Orsa, Copenhagen.

yeah!

So it’s time to take the long way home, driving through Sweden along the street that runs through the whole country parallel to the Inlandsbanan, the railway that connects Gällivare in the far North with Kristinehamn, not far from Stockholm. The impressive forests now often leave space to small villages, not much more than a few detached houses with fresh-cut grass lawns, where old men in shirtsleeves wax their vintage Saab smoking pipes: you feel like being in an American 50’s movie, even colors look a bit faded in the sun, that has always been at your side for the whole route (such good luck you had with the weather). You make a stop for sleeping in Östersund, on Storsjön lake, whose waters are haunted by a Loch Ness monster relative, they say, the jawbreaker Storsjöodjuret.

???

The camping’s concierge describes it, laughing, as a mix between a snake and a pig: not much frightening by the way, not even for little Maia. The King of Sweden in person included it in a list of protected animal species! We too in Italy should invent some kind of creepy story about a monster living in an Italian lake. For instance the Garda lake monster: result of a genetic experiment led by Nazi scientists during the infamous Repubblica di Salò period, in order to create a sea monster to fight against Allies landing in North Europe. They say it still crawls in the depths in front of Gargnano…

The day after you have a break in Orsa, on the Siljan lake, renowned vacation destination: the mood here is much different from the wild North, is not crowded as usual (is there any crowded place in Sweden?), but you meet plenty blonde families strolling along the lake front promenade in the late afternoon sun.

It used to be a placed loved by Swedish painters, the Siljan lake, for his peaceful atmosphere: you visit Anders Zorn museum with his gentle, and a little boring, watercolors. It’s getting late for the Scandinavian timetable (why everything has to close at 5 p.m. even during summer, when the days are so long?), and unfortunately you have to renounce to visit the house-museum of Carl Larsson, the Swedish Norman Rockwell (actually it is correct to say that Rockwell is the American Larsson), and even the infernal Falun copper mines! What a pity. After dinner you fix the Volkswagen’s back seats so the girls can sleep safely even in case of sudden brakes, and you can drive through the night.

You and Mitia sit in the front row, talking and listening to Tom Waits while you drive; in the backseats the girl enjoy their own very special mobile pyjama party. Darkness falls, there is no more that dim light that used to be in Lapland all night long, and Swedish do not love street lamps: the Volkswagen lights foxes and rabbits crossing the dark road in front of you. When you feel tired, you stop in a parking area close to the road and sleep.

The day after you pass the Øresund bridge, and Sweden loses its bigger Kanelbullar consumer… The other junk food you have been all eating in these days is Marabou: Swedish chocolate bars, definitely delicious. Why the hell the product’s name is the same of an horrible African bird whose diet is based on animal carrions, it remains a mystery… Passing the border you think that you travelled all across Sweden and did not encounter a single policeman; whatever this may mean.

You plan to catch the ferry from Rødby that arrives directly in Germany, this will avoid you to travel more miles across Denmark; as there are night time ferries too, you decide to hit Copenaghen first.

The traffic circulation in Copenhagen with the Volkswagen is quite difficult, and requests all your concentration, due to three reasons: first, the city center is quite intricate; then, there are thousands bicycles running fast in every direction; last but not least, the female population. You didn’t consider that it is clear that the women of Copenhagen are the most beautiful in the world;that’s what you think while you try to keep the control of the situation with the kids. You park in the first place available you find, and then you continue by walk. Here too museums close at 5.00 p.m.: by chance on Wednesday the National Gallery closes at 8.00 p.m. You pass through the beautiful Rosenborg gardens and reach the impressive Staten Museum for Kunst building, with the large pool where you can place the iron chairs and sit with the feet in the water.

artists at work

A sign for the visitors is placed at the entrance: please, take photos. You don’t have much time, and the collection is huge: therefore you choose to focus on the Nordic art. The kids run happily in the desert halls (you and a couple of Spanish tourists are the only visitors), until they find the “draft room”, where visitors can use all kind of pencils, papers, wooden boards and chairs to wander around copy dal vero the pictures and statues: this will keep them busy for one hour at least. You are then free to visit the museum on your own, and search for Vilhelm Hammershøi paintings passing through the exhibition’s rooms that covers all the Scandinavian art of the last three centuries. There some kind of, well, depressive/tragic/somber taste in Nordic art, unless it represents landscapes:

“and in his eyes I saw death”, AKA the cheerful mr. Ejnar Nielsen

natural size statues of Death taking away a baby from his mother’s hands, a young tuberculosis girl drawing her lasts breaths portrait… the good ol’Edward Munch looks like a merry guy here! You find a room dedicated to your beloved Emil Nolde, with exploding colors painting of sea landscapes. You catch your kids while the custodians start closing the Gallery, and exit.

Ocean and dark clouds. Emil Nolde, 1935

Well: maybe it’s just the frustration about the fact that you have to go back home now, but you feel a little in argumentative mood. Ok, let’s go then! Denmark National Gallery is a massive museum , with a huge collection and, moreover, big temporary exhibition. The quality of the exhibition spaces is gorgeous, and also all the services, shop and cafe/bistro are excellent. Entrance is free for everyone, as the Nationalmuseet, while all other museums in town have one day free entrance for week. Under 18 is free always and everywhere.

Meanwhile in Milan, a recently opened new museum offers just a passable temporary exhibition and proudly announces that has reduced the ticket cost from 15 to 12 €, during the Expo period. Under 18? Only 10 €! Gosh. But anyway, you did not earn any Master in a Business school, probably you don’t understand the point of it…

It’s time to leave, now; sun is going down. You have to return in Copenhagen, with more calm. Greet the Danish girls, and drive.

Rovaniemi hit-and-run; through the endless Swedish Lapland, 15/17 August, 2015

 

daddy, can we take one of those?
Bravo. You reached the turning point, touched it and turned the nose of the van toward South.

You reach Rovaniemi after lunch: you woke up early and drive through the last miles in the Sweden territory. Passing the border, the landscape changes: now the austerity of the forests has some kind of naïve touch. Naïve, yes: on the side of the road suddenly appear flowers, the Finnish houses are different and vary in shapes and colors, even a little bit cheesy sometime.

Approaching the Polar Circle you begin to encounter the first cars with Italian plates: you did not meet any Italian since you left Germany. As you arrive to the exact point where the 66.33’39” parallel you undestand why.  

It’s the Santa Claus Village, with crowd of tourists, Japanese and Italian leading. The most of them have just been dumped by some bus directly coming from the airport. You can’t avoid a visit with the kids, obviously, they’re excited by the place (horrible) but also because you reached your goal, even if just a symbolic one. Well, let’s drop the Iron Hand of your private censorship on that afternoon: as you finally succeed carrying away the kids it’s already time for dinner.

You get back to downtown Rovaniemi, that looks exactly as you expected it: a modern city with no particular style, with desert streets even if it’s Saturday evening 15th August (goodness knows what happens on January Mondays).  

Rovaniemi saturday night fever
But anyway it has its own, secret appeal: the charme of a border town, with a few pubs and restaurants crowded by pale, long haired guys dressing plaid shirts and carrying longboard skates(Seattle in the 90’s!), couples with 1.000 kids, so blonde that they look almost albino. You have the Victory Hamburger in an alternative bar, managed by funny local hipsters. The waitress is a muscular girl with lots of piercing and half of the skull shaved, her steely-eyes glaring at each customer…

You all sleep in a parking area outside the city, and the day after with no hesitation cross the border and get back to Sweden. You have a break in Haparanda, the kids want to have lunch in the northernmost IKEA in the world: Maia insists on being left in the children area to play with Swedefinnish kids, communicating in the universal children language, while you wander around the store.

It’s now time to begin the travel back home, and you decide to do it passing through Swedish Lapland: as you reach Luleå’s surroundings you turn West, direction Harads, where the Treehotel is placed.  

What happens if you come back home drunk in the night?
As an architect you can NOT avoid to pass here, and not even as a former-child-now-supposed-adult. All have seen pictures on every magazine/newspaper (it has been published almost everywhere): and here it is, in a place far from everything and everyone. This is already a good reason to book a room here: unfortunately, it is definitely NOT cheap. You content yourself wandering in the park that hosts the hotel rooms, drowned in the sea of the Lapland forests.

You just have to climb to any higher ground to become aware of that: an ocean of trees surrounds everything. It’s shocking: a Realm ruled by someone else, not by human beings.  

You leave the Treehotel and enter this boundless forest, almost uninhabited. You travel for dozens and dozens of miles without meeting any car or human being: only trees, huge silent woods, interrupted by dark still ponds, and the infinite cloudless sky above you. Every now and then a track penetrate this forest that looks like an huge entity, a single living being as Solaris, with its mysterious way to communicate.

This is what you were looking for, don’t you? Now you feel so far, far from everything, in the middle of a nature that is even a little frightening. 

 Though, is some kind of a solace being aware that it exist, somewhere: a huge creature totally indifferent about passion, love, illusions, sorrows of men. It is no good nor evil: moral concepts do not apply to it. It will visit you again, you feel it, when you will be back home in Milan: she will come at night, eternal and silent, to remind you how much insignificant are the scratches on the car’s bodywork, the jealousy, the dishes to wash, the job’s delays, the school grades, the taxes, the ambitions, the parking fines, the signs of age on your face…

Abandon yourself to this moment of your own, while the kids sleep on the couch and the van slides gently in the light of this suspended sunset, that seems to be eternal. The shadows of the trees grow longer on the ground, and the van is filled by music. When one searches for something with such perseverance, usually he never finds it; and if he happens to find it, usually is something different from what he expected. But that time, unique, that it reveals as one imagined it, it’s an incredibly strong emotion, though it is so brief. This is what fools us (save us?) in life, what urges us to search, search, search that tiny instant. Maybe it’s true that a tree that falls in a forest when there’s nobody around makes no noise; but when you are the only one to hear it, the sound is a rumble that remains inside you forever.

At least you pass through some “populated” area: a bunch of house on the two sides of the street. They remind you the popular image of rural America, as suggested in old movies: two level homes at the side of the main road, the town drugstore managed by some kind of bearded redneck wearing a jeans overall, that supplies gas and fuel as well. You even see an original black Impala (did we talk about the Swedish people love for U.S. vintage cars?)!

 

I hope they’re insured
When dusk falls the forest creatures come out of the woods. You were warned about, and here they are: big as horses, with huge antlers crowning their heads… reindeers with hair shiny as silver, crossing the road careless of the cars. Each time you meet one is a deep emotion for all of you: we are all used to domestic animals (doesn’t this sound as an oxymoron?) that when we meet a real animal in his natural environment, we are overwhelmed by an unknown feeling. You get to Arvidsjaur at night, where you camp in a parking area and meet the other Queens of Lapland: MOSQUITOES. At 10 o’clock in the evening it’s impossible to stay outdoor: they are billions. You take shelter in the van and go to sleep. A little entomology notation about Lapland mosquitoes behaviour: they are 1.0, which means they are the kind we used to have when we were children. They come out at dusk, move very slow, and the pricks are not that itchy. In other words, Milan mosquitoes are much worse; but, once again, here they are BILLIONS.

You leave early in the morning, and visit a Sami Farm where you meet a pack of reindeers: you all are fascinated by their gentleness and sweetness. Let’s pass over their taste: it’s a wild world, after all.

You now have to lead your pack back home: be a good reindeer-dad and drive, the road is long.

INTO DEEP NORTH: Höga Kusten, Norfällsvikens, Skuleskogen National Park, Luleå – 10/14 August, 2015

 

enter in the postcard
You leave Stockholm in the morning, and enter again the E4 highway that passes through the whole Sweden from Helsingborg to Luleå, up to the Finland border. Sky is cloudy, sometimes rainy. Beyond Uppsala the street lanes reduce to only one for each sense, this kind of “fast country road” is the main route of all central/northern Sweden. It is almost never traffic congested, literally: you meet just few cars on the way. Often you see damaged cars on the side of the road: nothing serious, except an overturned articulated truck carrying logs with ambulances, firemen etc. Remember to drive carefully, and keep on being concentrated. By the way, you are always concentrated when you travel with the kids, not only when you drive. Maybe a little bit too much, as no time remains for yourself: you do not even have time to read. It’s just like sailing across the sea, there’s always something to do: cooking, cleaning clothes, tidying up the van, studying the route for the next day. It’s allright: that’s what you were looking for: in return there’s the world that flows out the car windows, the silence and total solitude in the night dusk, when the kids sleep and you smoke a cigarette,  

Breakfast of champi(gn)ons
the hot coffee in the morning as you awake first, and above all, that infinite sky above you all.

The same sky that suddenly opens, as you pass over the terrific suspension bridge that leads to Höga Kusten, that means High Coast, a Unesco World Heritage area that hosts some of the most beautiful landscapes you expected to see in this trip: green perfect meadows, dark thick forests, still ponds reflecting the red painted houses, each of them with its own little dock for the rowboat, fishing villages facing the calm sea…  

You stop in one of these villages, Norfällsvikens, and place in an original Swedish camping: it means almost desert, in the middle of a forest, with a lot of facilities totally free! A thousand red houses host kitchenettes, dining rooms, verandas on the sea, kids recreation rooms, reading rooms, saunas… And the price is definitely INEXPENSIVE!  

dinner in front of the TV?
While you heat up some ragout sauce a fox comes out of the woods and approaches the camping site. It looks like a dog’s puppy, with big and nervous eyes. You eat a generous plate of Maccheroni and goodnite.

The following day you wake up under the rain. You all feel so lazy, therefore you pass the day enjoying all those famous facilites: the kids study a little, you clean the van, pick raspberries and blueberries in the woods under the gentle rain, you even take a little nap in the afternoon. And, last but not least, you take everybody to have a gorgeous sauna with a view on the foggy sea.  

 You meet a Swedish dad with his two kids and a beer, evening finally arrives and you are still talking, sweating, refreshing in the cold grey sea. The night you all sleep very well.

You wake up early and have a rich breakfast (especially you, with loads of cinnamon sweets) and drive to the near Skuleskogen national park. A reindeer/elk/deer/thingwithantlers crosses the road while you get to the small parking area. You wear raincoats, take the backpacks with the food and get into the wild.  

toward the deep heart of the forest
The forest is made by three levels of vegetations: above all the Swedish pines as a roof that prevents the rain to reach the ground; than a layer of medium height trees, firs and birches, and finally the lower part, made of ferns and bushes (inevitably raspberries and blueberries…). The ground is covered by lichen and musk, from time to time crossed by creeks and swamps, that you easily pass using wooden boardwalks. Everything is surrounded by total silence, you just meet a couple of guys on the way (as when you walk on the mountains, here too there is the famous law “we all love and greet each other”; only, here when you meet somebody in the forest it’s natural to say hello), while the path gets more arduous and passes through fields of red and green granite stones, typical in this area. The girls start complaining: they are tired and hungry. You stop and eat the sandwiches you prepared, and barely succeed convincing them to go ahead with the walk: not for long, actually, after another hour they stop and refuse to continue. You prepare a small camp lying a towel between the rocks, give them water, food and a card deck and leave them alone in the forest as Hänsel and Gretel. Actually, there is just a quarter of an hour to the end of the path, but it’s a little game after all:  

Mitia opens his way through the mountains with his hands
you and Mitia quickly walk through the last part of the route, that leads to a dramatic crack in the rock (it’s a lively telluric area, it grows 8 mm per year) that is the Skuleskogen highland. After a while you get back to the “camp” to take the two poor orphans, that don’t look upset at all, and merrily ate the whole muffin box. Great. You reach the camping tired but happy: after dinner it’s sleeping time, the day after you are going to leave again. Destination: Luleå, the gates of Lapland.

 

midnight
During the night, a cold wind wipe out all the clouds from the sky, that the following day is clear, the air is sparkling and fragrant as it is on the mountains. You have a quick breakfast and then you leave. The road twists and turns along the usual beautiful Swedish landscape, woods, meadows, ponds, now the houses are made in raw wood, with the walls slightly inclined. The van proceeds quietly along the road, while you listen to a radio drama based on a popular Italian comics, Tex, even more grotesque than the original. The western setting is grotesque, full of funny incongruities (we are in the Far West, there is a medieval castle and they talk about “savana”!); you are all amused by the routine of fixing each and every problem, according to the actors words, with “hot lead“. Obviously from now on it will be the leit motiv of the travel:“Can we stop for a while? I need to go to the toilet” “Again? Maia, we stopped a quarter of an hour ago” “Dad, nothing a little hot lead can’t fix!”, and so on…

 

crowded Swedish camping
You meet just a few cars along the way, until yu get to Luleå, the last “big” city before the Finland border. You settle in a camping just outside town, here too huge spaces hosting just a few camping vans. You buy fresh local salmon at the supermarket, and you roast it and serve with potatoes. The morning after Emma awakes with a swimming pool desire. Emma has always been this way: sometimes she wakes up with a compelling desire, often of something absurd and totally out of context, something she pulls from the hat as a rabbit unexpectedly. It’s not some kind of childish whimsy, those are different. In this case instead it’s something full of glee and enthusiasm, you can’t resist: it’s a side of her character you love so much. “Swimming pool: so be it!”

 The swimming pool you go to is more than an exquisite architectural object, with elegant and well finished interiors, and a special attention toward the relationship with the external spaces and the natural light, so delicate at these latitudes. It is almost desert, except for some old men that gently smile as your noisy kids dive into the pool. You are thoughtful: you already saw this place, those steps in colored mosaic tiles, the wall covered in wood, the high steel railing. You have a sudden doubt: you ask to the lifeguard, and the answer confirms your thought. Now, let’s see if somebody recognize this place: it’s not difficult, a famous scene of a famous movie was shot here.  

The one who guess it wins an exclusive black plastic swim cap (one of those that tear off your hair) bought exactly here.

In the afternoon you visit Gammelstad, another Unesco World Heritage: XXVII century church town, built around a majestic church, once the center of Luleå, before it was moved at a lower level to follow the natural growing of the ground (yes, it’s funny: there is a part of Sweden that grows like a primary school pupil).  

A stream of red houses, of every shape and dimension; it reminds the Truman Show town, but here everything is real and inhabited. You return to the camping, while the girls play and Mitia studies you write these lines on the Iphone.

Tomorrow it’s time to leave again, destination Rovaniemi, the final milestone. You don’t expect much from the city, reconstructed after the WWII bombings; after all it represents just a name for you: a geographical place, the turning point. And who cares about Santa etc., none of your kids believes in Santa Claus anymore, except Maia (and even her is not that sure anymore…).

You didn’t came up here for Santa, or to see the reindeers. You came here because you had an appointment: with me.

THE STOCKHOLM SYNDROME – 7/10 August, 2015

en hälsning från Junibacken

You wake up at nine o’clock in the morning, sun is already high. Today is your son’s Mitia’s birthday: sixteen years ago, in a hot Milan August night he showed up one week late for the date. A 4 kg chubby guy, if you lived in the U.S. today he could eventually get the driver’s license, Heavens (God only knows how much that would be useful right now, eh?). You quickly celebrate for breakfast: the camping concierge is really sorry but no, there are no candles available!

You take the underground and in a glimpse you reach the Gamla Stan maze of streets for a walk. Then you take the ferry to Djurgården, and after the umpteenth hot dog you visit the Vasa Museet; the kids are excited by the huge ship, evidence of one of the greatest Epic Fail in history: sunk the day of the launch just a few meters from the harbor, because it was just too BIG to float.

little girls and huge ships

300 years after they fished it and built a museum around. A note: as many others, the museum is free for all under 18.

In the afternoon you stroll along the elegant Ostermalm, silent and a little strict. You then transfer to pass the night in Södermalm, Stöckholm’s former working class borough and today bohemienne district, stuffed with coffees, young designers boutiques, second hand trendy shops. All definitely swedish-style: which means elegant, smart and low profile . In Nytorget, a square full of young families with naked children bathing in the fountain, you have a brief relax. Greta Garbo was born here, one century ago. You think that you would love living here: you would make do with a flat in the tenement building facing the square; or even better, a small attic in the cozy corner house, example of the clean Swedish architecture of the 19th century beginning, with circular bow windows on the corner; or maybe, even one of those wooden maisonettes on the east side of the square, with white framed windows and backyards.

I’ll take the second on the left, thanks

You asked for Sweden as Erasmus project location, a little more than sixteen years ago: who knows, if you didn’t had to renounce you would live exactly in this lovely square, and you would be one of those Italians who get back to Milan just to celebrate Christmas with the family. But what matters in the end is that, now, you got here with Mitia that turns exactly those sixteen years.

You celebrate properly with a full, meat-based Swedish dinner at Pelikan’s, gorgeous traditional restaurant in the neighborhood. You chat with a couple of Swedish, they ask you where you come from and you tell them your story. They wish you a safe and merry travel, and repeat what a lot of people did before: it’s a beautiful experience for your kids. Goodness knows. Goodness knows if they appreciate like you this city and all the wonderful places you are visiting, as a prize for the thousands miles you stack up driving the big Volkswagen bear.

You take the underground to get back to the camping, placed in suburbian area. To reach it you need to walk through a grey popular housing neighborhood, while finally (it’s 10:30 in the evening) the sun goes down.

Suburbian sunset in Bredäng

You all feel cheerful and stupid, while you walk the deserted streets: Mitia explains his theory regarding Peppa Pig’s brother that, he claims, has been adopted (“the name of all the characters has the same initial as the animal species they belong to: Peppa Pig, Danny Dog, Susy Sheep… all but her brother, whose name is GEORGE. Why? Because nobody knew what animal species his parents belonged to: because he has been abandoned!“).

You sleep badly, that night: the meat feast reveals hard to be digested. You have strange dreams you don’t remember in the morning. Woke up late, you take your time to have breakfast. It’s another beautiful day: you decide to reach the city with the van. You park it easily close to the bridge that leads to Djurgården. You have a picnic on the island meadows and then take the girls to Junibacken, and let Mitia (he’s too adult now for such children leisures!) to visit the Nordiska Museet happy to be on his own. You feel a little reluctant about your visit, instead: a small theme park focused on Nordic children literature, what the hell do you know about this? Though, a lot of people recommended it, and little Maia is too excited by now. And eventually it is a surprise: a little magic place, with the actualization of the settings of last century’s Scandinavian children literature, all of them recreated with such an unexpected gentleness and artistic sensibility. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know almost none of the characters: the girls are so enthusiastic, in particular Maia rings with happiness and curiosity, running, jumping and crawling in each and every room. You hardly succeed in taking her away from the realistic copy of Villa Villekulla, with chests filled with costumes and disguises for children. No video, no sound or special FX, no animatrons: we are light years far from Disneyland world of plastic. It’s just like entering in a 3D watercolor or crayon drawing, where you can touch everything. The main characters, anyway, you know them very well: Pippi Långstrump and the Moomins. And now may you be allowed to present an

extremely controversial invective about children’s literature and pedagogy: Scandinavia Vs Italy

Pippi Långstrum, anarchist and happy: lives on her own, doesn’t attend any school, brawls with boys, eats loads of junk food, smokes (probably drinks shots regularly, in the white spaces between the chapters, you think), has a ridiculous idea of order: though, she’s doing pretty well, and even her conservative bourgeois neighbors love and respect her.

The Moomins, gloomy, psychedelic and provided with a surreal empathy in a world where no living being is totally good or evil (is this maybe the reason why they have had great success in Miyazaki’s Japan?); in Italy they were published just by Linus magazine in the 70’s as an unconventional comic. Both of them were created by female artists, whose nonconformist lifes arouse your curiosity (in particular the Finnish Tove Jansson). 

And then let’s say it: our Pinocchio, whose moral sense can just be originated by the menace of punishment or the fear of criminals, that coward hypocrite conformist he is, is a children reading you NEVER liked. And regarding the “Cuore” book by De Amicis, then, let’s forget about. (End of the invective)

A quick visit to the Fotografiska Museet (temporary exibithions not much exciting actually, but the space is wonderful), and you get back to the van,

Stockholm remains one of your favorite cities: elegant but warm, endowed with a spectacular but subtle beauty. Tomorrow you leave for the North, Höga Kusten is waiting for you.

BERLIN – HAMBURG – RØMØ – RIBE – STOCKHOLM

 

Rømø beach
Leaving Berlin you get trapped in such a traffic jam that is worthy of the roman GRA; luckily in a temporary orgy of Wi-Fi offer in a coffee place you had downloaded a bit of maps with maps.me, so you find an alternative road to get out of the city. Soon the panorama of the idyllic German countryside starts to slide, which reminds you of the illustrations by Richard Scarry: factories, warehouses, small forests, road works perfectly tidy, absurd means of transport like giant motorbikes with three wheels, lorries carrying cars of one same color, tractors with the trailer full of hay. It´s only missing the talking cats or the worms with the Tyrolese cap and one shoe only. You stop by at Hamburg to do the groceries and refill the tank (a bit more than 1 euro/liter, and the highway is FOR FREE: Deutschland über alles).

If one can trust your intuition, then Hamburg is a place to take into account: crossing it you instantly have the impression of a live city, a real one, with a strong and well defined identity. Canals with canoes, streets packed with bikes, houses with and Anglo-Saxon flavor, so many trees and then young people everywhere. Something rare in an occidental city nowadays.

You leave behind the German Jutland and enter Denmark while it starts pouring rain.  

fifty shades of grey
 The kids fall asleep and the car gets invaded by Bach´s cello sonatas. This moment all for yourself, with the rain outside accompanying the sound of the cello, has the power to open up a whole wave of memories from your childhood. Very clear memories of some afternoon in Autumn at your friend T.P´s place, the smell of pipe smoked by his father in the studio while you interrupt your games to run soaked in sweat into the kitchen and have a snack. It was an unrepeatable state of grace, where each thing imagined in the game was real and fantastic at the same time. A marvelous childhood, right T.P.? Now we both have kids, and we face our lives separately; and still that thing is always there, somewhere. Do our kids live such a happy childhood? I try my best, T.P., to protect their enchanted age, but it´s not easy. Sometimes the sea is rough, probably more than what it was for our parents: and is difficult to show up always strong, secure, sweet and able to drive away the threat for them. And maybe is stupid to even question it, happiness belongs to whom is able to perceive it.

You go fast through the strip of earth that connects Rømø with Denmark, in the horizon under the clouds you can see a stripe of light: the rain will stop soon. You stop in a campsite, while the night comes down you prepare chicken and basmati rice for everyone. It´s cold, but tomorrow will be nice, you feel it.

And actually the next day at 6 in the morning the sun is already up there. The occidental coast of the pseudo island of Rømø is an immense beach of thin sand, where you can access with the car, like the bad guys at Daytona Beach. Your day goes by collecting shells, that in some parts are so many that they cover the sand and crack under your feet when you walk over them. You and Emma venture into the sea, cold but not freezing. Then you wander around the island, browsing between the funny Danish houses with the roof that looks like fringe haired girls.

The next day you clear out and leave again. You stop for lunch at Ribe, delicious antique village, under a splendid sun: like in Berlin, also here you have brought the summer, you joke with the kids.  

 Mitia wins the prize on the surreal lunch by ordering nachos with guacamole in a typical Danish coffee: the waitress comes to highlight that they are “freshly homemade”. Ok, well..

   
You overtake the gigantic bridge that connects Copenaghen with Malmö and you land in Scania, all yellow with the dark blue sea in the background (it loos like PUGLIA). Sweden welcomes you with a thousand car Volvo in the highway, some of them really absurd (the Swedish have a particular eye for vintage cars). The way to Stockholm is long: you stop for dinner (you prepare risotto) and you sleep right next to the highway.

Today you´ll drive to Stockholm; you arrive around 5 in the afternoon, but the campsites are all full: full for the Swedish, which means that between a campingvan/tent and the next there is enough space to park four Volvo, but that is right. In reality, there is so much space in Sweden, what´s the point on squashing all of us together? Somehow you pull out a big smile and some words in Swedish to the tattooed receptionist, who must be around the 15th month of pregnancy, by the size of her belly. You make her notice the three tired, hungry and dirty kids (wich is true, though ALWAYS). At the end she grants you a place with electricity and even a discount. Tack så micket!

 After dinner, you wash the dishes with Maia in the common washing room. It´s half past nine, and here we go, another of those killer sunsets shows up. They look like nuclear explosions, the sun fires up the clouds, which streak the sky in thousand shapes: you leave Maia alone for a moment to admire it once again. At your return you find her concentrated on washing the pots.

“What a good girl you are, Maia. Dad has been distracted by the sunset. He is such a romantic, uh?. “Hehe, yeah, a little bit way too romantic”.

Mmmh. That’s it. Shit.

MILANO- NÖRDLINGEN – DESSAU – BERLIN 1/4 August, 2015

“we children from Bahnhof Zoo”; please NO

DISCLAIMER: this thing about “ah, in northern Europe there is free internet almost everywhere”, well, come´on. When it´s for free it´s automatically overloaded by cheeky Italians like you,

german station candy hell

therefore is useless: this comes to say that you are posting from a service station near Hamburg and using the phone, so any mistake/inconsistency/nonsense could be blamed on the auto-corrector and not only to my own dumbness.

Thursday evening, after dinner, you finally get the kids back. They are tanned, tired but happy after one month at the sea. You missed them, you would like to let them knock you down with their stories but you have to take them to bed soon, tomorrow you need to leave early.

But no: the next morning, a thousand of small glitches make you leave late. You wake up under a light rain, the kids are half asleep and until the Swiss border they will be on semi-comatose mode. After you pass by Lugano, you drive over San Bernardino pass and finally the sky is cleared up. You stop for a picnic in a meadow somewhere: you wouldn´t be able to tell exactly if it was Switzerland, Lichtenstein or Austria, is there anyone actually able to tell the difference? You allow yourself a little “siesta” in the grass while Mitia devours a book by Neil Gaiman

comfortable reading position

and the girls collect some branches, just so we can already fill the van with random stuff only three hours after departure.

You arrive to Nördlingen in the evening, one of the perfect medieval towns on the Romantiscischiskenkische Strasse or howthehellyoucallit, the kids love the colored houses with the pointed roof, the bas-reliefs, the flags with eagles and swords… A small German city, so perfect that it could have come out from the idealist brush of a Japanese cartoonist, with its “rounded”, friendly and a little bit awkward inhabitants.

not made with marzipan, you tasted them

In the morning you get a light shower while you take a walk on the streets invaded by a flömarkt that has attracted people from all around the region. You buy some relics from the 80s and you continue your way, the road goes through sleepy small towns and forests with red trunk larches and some birch trees here and there.

When you are about 100 km from Berlin you stop for a late snack at Dessau,

“dad, none of us wants to grow up to be an architect”

deserted and immersed in a surreal silence, illuminated by a nordic light that brings out every detail: perfect cornice for the meeting with the Bauhaus, which stands out metaphysically over the blue and clear sky. You stop for a snack, enjoying all the peace of that moment. You think that in reality it has all been that book by Argan´s fault that you had decided to study Architecture, long time ago: it´s not that you understand much about it now, but the rhythm and the lively simplicity of the Bauhaus were fatal for you. An all of that to find yourself, years later, designing boiserie and looking for golden WCs for… Well, let´s forget about it, that´s another story.

You arrive to Berlin in the evening, you are hosted by German friends who live in an elegant villa at Dalhem Dorf (quartier with the peculiarity of having an U-bahn stop that looks like the house of Bilbo Baggins).

probably trains are towed by ponies

The kids go to bed exhausted, while you chit-chat in the garden with the owner of the house, former Italian teacher now retired.

It´s hot in Berlin: you spend the Sunday on your friend´s boat over the Wannsee, the kids jump into the water every time they can, trying not to get caught by the German swans. In the afternoon you take them strolling around the city: the center has now become one of those free trade area for tourists that you can find in any european capital, even the big palaces after Alexanderplatz, with its squalid and romantic grayness, have been enhanced and filled with Zara shops and hipster coffee places. In some squares specifically after DDR, with the 35 degrees it feels like being at the EUR, only missing the watermelon and heroin kiosk.

You decide to get away from the center then, and you take the kids to Printzlauerberg, to eat an ice-cream in Kollowitzplatz. The gardens are full of young couples, German, American, Italian, French… with eighty kids each and as many tattoos. Maia starts playing with an English girl, communicating with her in some mysterious way, while you lay down in the grass staring at the fauna of this little Brooklyn. You finish the evening at Kreutzberg, with two typical ingredients of Berlin´s culture: the kebab, and a pair of Italian refugees. Ah, adored Kreutzberg, your first impact with Berlin was here and 20 years later it hasn´t change much: there are still stoned guys hanging around the streets, the smell of fried food everywhere, groups of turkish teenagers with Adidas sweaters, the stinky S-bahn…

kids in Görlitzer park

You spend the second and last day still hanging around: Maia even manages to drag the three of you to the Zoo (in front of which there are still, unbelievable but true, some heroin junkies, now reduced to a simple touristic attraction) where she strives to see a lemur live. A lemur. But from where the hell has this obsession come, it´s still to be discovered.

You have dinner with your hosts and their friends in the garden: the kids, the three of them, are happy and humorous, irradiating sympathy. You feel so happy for them tonight, and also a little bit for yourself. Or maybe is just the red wine?

You go to sleep now though; tomorrow you leave again and it will be less easy than here. The weather forecast for Denmark is rain, cold and wind…

I remember Berlin used to be a little, well, colder