The first things I noticed were the trees. The light in Stockholm is intense and I guess moody, since it often chooses to go to sleep around 4 pm. Perhaps it is because Sweden is so far north that the light is so bright, almost white (so many rhyming words).
When I walk down the street with Alessia, I see maybe two – three if we’re lucky – other people. Most of the time those two or three souls are young, all around my age. A girl in a black sheer skirt that reaches her ankles saunters along, calling to her friend in Swedish, as her fur coat hugs her vanishing waistline. Her platform boots make muted gravelly sounds against the cobblestones. A guy with a pea coat and the characteristic scarf strolls along, strikingly slowly, considering how cold it is. A young girl whose face is nearly as pale as her blond, blond hair runs ahead of her father. I follow her bright pink snowsuit – complete with a matching hat – as she darts along the sidewalk.
Despite the cold, no one seems to be in a rush. There is an overwhelming sense of calm in Stockholm. The subway doors stay open for just a little bit longer than usual; it seems that people rarely speak loudly; when we go into a café the cashier is so friendly and smiley that I wonder if she doesn’t know Alessia from before.
The café we go into for my first “fika” – a Swedish word that means a break from the cold, solely for drinking coffee and eating sweets – is on the third floor of an old, rather sinister building. But the café’s old-fashioned, ornate mirrors, intricate and pastel wall-paper, and hushed Swedish chatter made it feel warm and cozy. Alessia and I order our food cafeteria-style. Alessia chats with the waiter, and both laugh with this adorable sheepishness that I can only interpret as extreme politeness that is somehow very genuine. We return to our seats and I wrap my icy fingers around the coffee mug, heat traveling through my appendages, now thawing. I chew my sandwich slowly, like all the people around me, using this glacial speed of consumption to put off the inevitable return to the cold for as long as possible. I begin to more fully understand the concept of a “fika” and why there is a word specifically for the act of going inside to drink coffee and eat sweets. I return to the counter for my “påtår” – a free refill that applies exclusively to coffee and tea – and an aptly named traditional chocolate ball (basically sugar, flour, oats, butter and chocolate powder). The cashier’s Swedish accent makes her sound like she’s just really enthusiastically happy about everything, which of course I just love.
We finish our “fika” nearly two hours later, not counting the time it takes me to put all my layers back on. We head home slowly but surely, stopping at plenty of ridiculously well-stocked, sequin, fur-coat-y thrift stores along the way. I have stopped counting the number of blond people I see, and have instead decided to imply state “hip” every time I see some innocent Swedish hipster. By the time we get home a few hours later, I am ready to eat yet again. I mix cream and little almond cookies with my hot blueberry soup (upon Alessia’s suggestion) and again find myself exceedingly grateful for the existence of WARM THINGS. (And microwaves.)