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The stories relate to incidents that have taken place both near and away from Sweden. Almost everyone has faced such situations, albeit colored by the comic or dramatic nature of the moment. You probably recognize yourself in many of the situations and claim that they're "typical", so to speak. You will also find some of the causeries to be entirely fictional.
      
-Björn

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Brandy, teddy bears and abrasions

It was Plåtis who initiated me into the blessed / cursed world of alcohol, when we were still teenagers - in all good faith, it must be said. We were aiming to have fun that Saturday in the nearby town of Simrishamn in the south of Sweden, a radiantly beautiful summer day in the 50’s.
      Plåtis worked and made money. I was still studying then and could not contribute much. But it was all right. That was the way it was done in the village of Kivik at that time - those who worked paid for those who studied. Plåtis, who worked at KiviksPlåt (a sheet metal workshop that his father owned), paid for our entertainment for the whole day and evening, including a quarter of a liter of Renat – a kind of potatoe- based brandy.
      We had taken the bus from Kivik early in the afternoon, so that we could be out in good time to see whether there was anything interesting in Simrishamn, before we visited the little amusement park that had arrived there with shooting range, wheel of fortune and dance floor.
      "We’ll go and sit behind the harbor pier and squeeze this one," said Plåtis, pointing to the bulge in his jacket where he had put the brandy.

We went to the far end of a pier and crouched down behind a couple of boulders. Plåtis produced the expensive, transparent product. He unscrewed the cap and handed me the bottle. I put it gently to my mouth and took a small sip. The brandy was strong and hot on the palate. But it did not taste bad, so I took another small sip and then a bigger one.
      When we had finished the bottle, we pushed it down between the stones and went into the city.
      Suddenly, I felt as if I was outside my body and walked half a meter above Simrishamn's cobbled sidewalks. "If this is how it feels to drink, then it is no surprise that people drink a lot," I thought. Plåtis walked a few meters behind me. We smiled at most of the Simrishamners we passed. Simrishamn was today the world's nicest and friendliest town.
      I was so perfectly drunk that I walked without an unsteady gait, half a meter above the ground, that is, and could exchange one word or the other with people I knew, without slurring.
      It started getting late in the afternoon and we pulled up towards the train station, where the amusement park and dance floor beckoned to us.
      There was no luck at the Wheel of Fortune, but on the shooting range, I managed to put two of six shots in the ninth and one in the tenth, and was rewarded with a bag of pralines. Plåtis mowed down lots of tin cans with some cloth balls and won a big teddy bear that he gave to a little girl.
      "You'll probably get the last dance from her," I suggested.
      We munched on the pralines as we went to the dance floor, where the orchestra was just warming up.

However, the perfect intoxication began to subside and I began to feel normal again. I have later tried to recreate the condition, but never succeeded. The ethereal out-of-body feeling has never occurred to me with the help of alcohol since the first drink; at best, I could only float just a few centimeters above the head.      
      We danced diligently with a couple of nice girls from Skogsdala that we knew. We were good friends, but nothing more intimate than that. The last dance of the evening was approaching, but the girl who got the teddy bear had gone home long ago, so there was no last dance for Plåtis.
      Both of us suddenly froze, the same thought striking us simultaneously and we hurried off towards the bus station. The yellow-red sign with the white timetable sneered at us. The last bus to Kivik had left - a long time ago.
      We turned our pockets inside out and arrived at the desolate discovery that our combined resources would not take us even halfway to Kivik by taxi.
      "What do you say about walking to Kivik?” Plåtis wondered and drew a little on the question.
      I didn’t see any other way out either. At best we could get a lift, but there was little traffic at that time of day. The weather was thankfully ideal for a "walk" of 13 miles, with a balmy westerly wind and starry skies.
      So we started walking and walked interminably, it appeared. I had not imagined that Simrishamn would be so big. It felt as if we had gone halfway to Kivik, when we had just arrived in Tobisvik in the northern part of the city.
      As we walked, we fell into a comfortable rhythm and quietly paced forward mile after mile, while talking about both superficial and profound things. It was almost full moon and we could see the road and landscape clearly. Only the cicadas were missing, but for which it would have been just like Mallorca.
       We tried to hitchhike with some cars heading north. But most seemed crowded. Maybe it was the others who had also been dancing or celebrating something.
      The 13 mile-walk had its price and at Rörum, the right heel started to protest and the shoe rub started.
      "Take some leaves and put them down in the heels", Plåtis suggested.
It actually helped, though I had never figured it out myself. Plåtis did not get a shoe rub, though he had moved much more than I did during the day.
       We finally arrived in Kivik - after a little over four hours of long walk, when the sun had risen a bit over distant Lithuania in the east.
       The moral is of course: “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.”

Copyright (C) 2020, 2021 Björn Johnsson

Eggs, Red Wine, Surfing and Flirting

In the 60s, when Marbella was still a small Spanish town, it had only three hotels, a few guest houses and a hostel. In a bay in the middle of the city, there was a small beach with golden brown sand. There—for a few weeks in May— we, four young backpackers from Sweden, lay and sunbathed, surfed on air mattresses, ate cheese sandwiches and drank red wine.
      We speculated that Marbella would soon become a tourist paradise. And so right we were! A few years later, the city had grown at a furious pace and northern Europeans were invading its streets and squares. But we enjoyed the simple life at the hostel, the promenade and the little playa.
      The shallow bay often had waves high enough, which were well suited for surfing on with air mattresses. You waded out for about thirty meters, waited for a wave, threw the air mattress on the wave, threw yourself on the air mattress and let it carry you ashore.
      I myself had no air mattress. But I borrowed one from Hasse in exchange for him getting eggs from me, that I cooked at the hostel. When we ate lunch on the beach, he peeled half an egg, put it in his mouth, peeled the other half and stuffed it in as well. Then he did the same with another egg. Then he rinsed everything down with a big glass of red wine.

In the southern Europe, it is common to go out to a restaurant or walk late at night. The mosaic-covered promenade was full of people walking. A light breeze blew in from the sea, the cicadas played in the park and high up there, thousands of stars twinkled against a velvet-black sky. The air fluttered with romance.
      Then one day, our routines changed dramatically. Two girls had spread out their bath towels and taken a seat on the beach, some distance from us. One was as beautiful as Nefertiti, the other had a more personal look. I decided to join Nefertiti. And it might have gone my way had I not done away with myself completely.
      In the evening, we split up in pairs, testosterone-fueled after feasting on Brazil nuts and avocados. We were like cavemen who were looking for the girls we saw on the beach. 

                                    Artist: Vladimir Volegov

Bengt and I came across them in the park. The plan was that we would proceed cautiously so as not to repel them, in order to eventually win their trust, preferably the same night itself.
      -"Hey," we said.
      -"Hi, were you surfing on the air mattresses today?", wondered the "personal" with a slight smile.
      -"Yes, we were," Bengt said and smiled as broadly as he could without cracking his crisp, sun-fried face.
      We followed them for a few steps, which they did not seem to mind. Bengt and I resumed a discussion we had started earlier. It had an existential character, intensely fueled by diet pills from Pharmacian, which made our brains go at full speed and our mouths became drier. I argued that it did not really matter who we got on with. "Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be," I quoted Doris Day.
      When I then, according to the plan, tried to approach Nefertiti, she was not on the notes at all. She said she had heard what I had said, that it did not matter who we got on with. Then I understood what a blunder I had made. It could not be explained it away, even though I claimed that philosophy and practice were two completely different things. Right then, at that moment, I didn’t like myself or the beautiful girl.
      But in any case, I got together with the "personal", which turned out to be better in most things than I first thought. The beautiful one got to go where she wanted, and I think she and Bengt went their separate ways later. Unfortunately, there was no continuation between me and the "personal". Holiday flirts are often short-lived and ours was no exception.

A few days later we packed our backpacks and took the bus west, looking for new adventures. We were several wisdoms wiser on the crooked path of life.

Copyright text 2020, 2021 © Björn Johnsson

A Sip of Tangier

This is a stand-alone sequel to the causerie, Eggs, Red Wine, Surfing and Flirting, which took place in the 60s.

      My namesake and backpacker friend, Björn, and I steered west by bus towards Gibraltar and Algeciras after the adventures in Marbella (a translation from Swedish to English of the story “Ägg, rödvin, surfning och flirt” will soon be available).
      It was blowing from the sea, and splashes of salt sprayed over the ferry as it docked from the quay in Algeciras.

After a stormy sail, we arrived in Tangier late in the evening. The city greeted us with a scent of marijuana, monotonous Arabic music, and men walking hand-in-hand along the sparsely lit alleys. No women were seen; where were they?
      The complaining monotonous songs and prayer euphoria chased us to a small guesthouse that had beautifully mosaic-covered floors and walls. We each rented a room that was in order by Western standards.
      Björn and I slept well that night. The next morning, Tangier had changed into a bright and inviting city.
      We ate breakfast at Café Central, a locus where Westerners met and tried to come to terms with the incomprehensible Arab world, not least when it came to the crumbs on their signs.

We took a turn among the alleys. It was hot and after a while, I got thirsty and bought a bottle that I thought was mineral water. I took a deep sip and felt how it stuck in my throat and stomach; the bottle contained chlorine.
      The salesman grinned and cried simultaneously; he then took hold of his throat and demonstrated for me that I had done something completely weird. Oddly enough, I got no reaction from the drink, not even a nausea.
      We went further into the shadows among the alleys to avoid the worst heat.
      “Look at him!” Björn exclaimed at an art shop and pointed to a craftsman who was decorating a leather wallet with ornate ornaments that was smoking. He skillfully used a small pencil, which resembled a soldering iron, to carve in the ornaments. 
      From that shop, I bought a mini bell and a small colorful rug that I rolled up and put under my arm.

Later that week, we were joined by three Gothenburgers whom we met in Marbella. Together, we rented a bungalow in an area a bit above Tangier; it came with a view of the Strait of Gibraltar.
      The landlord took interest in my travel typewriter. It was hard to say why, as he would have great difficulty typing on it, even if he knew English, because it had a Swedish keyboard. But I gave it to him, mostly for my own sake, as I was tired of carrying it around.
      We lived next door to an American family who had rented a bungalow next to ours. One evening, the lady of the house organized a party with alcohol that was otherwise forbidden in Morocco. It was a festive evening where we and other invited Westerners felt at home.
      We spent the next few days admiring the view of the strait and a morning and evening sky that went up and down fast, but which had a magnificent blood red shade.

“Sad not to be able to walk on Avenyn,” Janne, one of the guys from Gothenburg, complained and referred to Avenyn in Gothenburg. We all started to feel homesick, just sitting and looking at the Strait of Gibraltar for days on end. It did not give much, no matter how beautiful it was.
      Björn and I soon found ourselves standing at a check-in counter at Tangier Airport, where we had booked two tickets to Copenhagen via Paris. The other Swedes would return to Marbella in a few days.

When I look back on the weeks in Tangier, I mostly remember the monotonous music and the chlorine sip. However, the Arabs did give us our calculation system, so I can oversee with that.

Copyright (C) 2021 Björn Johnsson

The Hidden World

It was in the 70s or maybe in the 80s. I don’t remember very well. I was spending two weeks with my parents in our summer cottage in Kivik in the south of Sweden. I had eaten my mother's Scanian apple cake with vanilla sauce and played tennis with my father. He was strong and agile even in his 60s.
      The two-week sojourn was at its end. I was leaving for Helsingborg.
      "Take a piece of the apple cake with you," my mother had said, so I put a large piece of the cake in a plastic bag and stuffed it in my backpack.
      "And then take this too," she said, handing me a jar of homemade cookies.        "You will need the cookies," she said. Yes, I always was lean, and still am, though I eat all the high-calorie foods.
      Now I was on my way to Helsingborg in a rented Toyota that lay like chewing gum on the road. I took the road past Vitaby, crossed Ravlundavägen, and drove up a long hill, to a glade in the forest with a mile-wide view of Hanö Bay. In the southeast, you could see Bornholm as a dark blue spot and the silhouette of Ryssberget in the north.
      A stiff breeze from the southeast blew in the scent of salt and seaweed from the sea.
      Although I had driven for less than ten minutes, I felt the urge to sit down with a coffee and apple pie and enjoy the view and the scent of conifers in the background.
      The hands of my watch were approaching three o’clock and the shadows were beginning to lengthen. It was high summer. I had spent a midsummer fortnight at Kivik.
      I spread a blanket on the grass under a spruce, poured out a cup of coffee from the thermos, and took a bite of the apple pie.
      "Are you offering a cup?" a voice suddenly spoke up. The person had silently sneaked behind me, but the voice was familiar.
      It was Lena, standing there with her bike and a wide smile. She was an old friend from Kivik. We had been as close as siblings since childhood.
      “I took a healthy ride, a round-trip Eljaröd. And I found you here. What are you doing here? Are you on your way to or from Kivik? ” she asked.
      I poured her a cup of coffee and told her about my vacation at Kivik and how I had spent my time there. We began to reminisce about our childhood and could have continued in this way for the rest of the day, but she suddenly interrupted me. "Funny that you would stop right here," she said, looking at me expectantly.
      I mulled over her question and asked, "What do you mean? Is there anything special about this place?"
      "Yes, there is."
      "Come here and you will see," she added and entered the dense forest by a small path.
      "What’s on your mind? Are you going to seduce me?” I joked.
She giggled and said, "You know I should not."
      She was Beatrice-Aurora incarnate and I was the self in that song and wanted to chase after her.
      Entering the semi-obscurity of the forest was like stepping into the beginning of the opera about King Roger where the action begins in semi-obscurity and ends in brilliant sunlight.
      It was quiet there. A hallowed atmosphere. About twenty meters further inside the darkness, I could make out three huge meter-high anthills; hundreds of brown-black ants, large as termites, scurried back and forth along their miniature highways following the right-hand traffic rule.
      I stood, amazed at the bustling world of ants that I had never known.
      We observed the ants for a long time. The way they hurried around collecting conifer cones and small twigs to build on their already huge stacks. Here we were, two Gullivers who had entered their realm unannounced, but they did not care a whit. They worked tirelessly at their tasks. Who told them what their tasks were and by what means were they told?
      "How long have you known about this?" I whispered so as not to disturb the sanctity of the moment and the place.
      "Since last year when, just like you, I stopped to admire the view."
We walked out of the gloom into the sunshine. The wind had turned. Now it was blowing from the west.
      "I can’t believe it," I said. I was overwhelmed by the encounter with the hidden world.
      Lena looked out over the sea. "Yes, it's very, very strange," she said. "Maybe a zoologist could give us an explanation … the size of those ants. Such large ants are only found in Africa!” she said.
      "That won’t be so good," I thought.
"Soon we might have all of Europe's zoologists trampling all over this place," I said.
      "Exactly. That’s what I thought," said Lena and then added, "We could do good business as bog guides!"
      But then we agreed to keep the hidden world to ourselves. 

Afterword:
      Are they real, these giant ants? As a reader of this blog, you may be wondering.
      Yes, it's true. Of course, you may try to find the hidden world. But it will not be easy; the forest is quite large and several places fit the description I have given.
      But if you find it, I will congratulate you. You will probably agree with me that we should let those busy creatures live their lives to the fullest.
      Who knows? Their world may be happier than ours.
 

Copyright (C) 2021 Björn Johnsson

On the thumb from Sitges to Hamburg

It was in Sitges in the mid-60s where my backpacker friend and namesake Björn and my first trip to Spain came to an end. We had the symptoms of long travel companions—we started to get on each other’s nerves. For example, we pointed out minute details, saying, “Have you not removed that egg stain on the jacket yet?” or “Can you not speak pure Swedish? It’s not called aschöy!”

      We decided to take a timeout and go our separate ways for a while.
      I went up to my room at the guest house, picked up my stuff in the backpack, folded up my sleeping bag, got a sandwich and a cup of bubbly coffee at the guest house restaurant, and paid my bills. There were not many emotions involved in the breakup. It just felt natural to leave. It was time.
      “Goodbye, and good luck,” we said, patting each other’s shoulders. We had a well-founded friendship that could not be smoothed over.
      Björn and two other girls from Norrköping whom we had gotten to know in Sitges waved at me, except for a girl who had been mine during a not entirely successful holiday flirtation. Too bad. It was just not a good match, even though she was very good-looking. Björn and the other girl fit together better and would stay in the city’s whitewashed promenade with cozy bodegas for a little longer.
      It would have been convenient to take the train north through France towards Hamburg. But the thumb was now the only option. A few pesetas and a few dollars were all that was left in my thin wallet.
      It started well. A light blue Porsche cab stopped and the guy waved at me to jump in. “Looking for a ride?” he asked in an American accent.
      “Yes, thanks a lot.” I stowed the backpack in the small backseat and sat comfortably in the most expensive car I had ever ridden.
      The Porsche dashed as if it ran on rails, and we eagerly chewed our way up the Pyrenees. I do not remember the guy's name or what he did, all I can recall was that he was an American who lived in Spain now. It seemed he had Europe in a small box. He had been to all the western European countries, including Sweden, which he liked as it was very clean and tidy.
      And…, I quietly wondered to myself. Was that all he had to say about Sweden? That we were clean and tidy? Well, that was apparently all he had to say, but OK. I left it at that because I got a lift in one of the world’s most expensive cars.
      We had planned to stop and get a cup of coffee in Portbou before crossing the border into France, but we barely had the time to park until a cart with oranges had overturned and the juicy fruits had begun to roll down the street towards the border crossing at quite a fast pace with two screaming and waving orange growers running after their produces.
      We jumped out of the Porsche and ran out into the street. We managed to get hold of a couple of solid boards and rolled almost half of the oranges down a cellar. The remaining fruits were hopelessly lost in a race that ended in the Mediterranean Sea.
      “Gracias, gracias, señores!” cried the Spaniard orange growers, jumping high to rejoice. They wanted to give us kilos of oranges, but we politely refused and came to a compromise of half a kilo of oranges each.
       My ride in the Porsche ended at a dusty road outside Perpignan. The American was going to the left, and I was going to the right.
       “Thanks a million for a great ride,” I said, wishing I had something to give him. The next lift ride, I will bring some Dala horses and give them to those who help me, I thought.
      “Don’t mention it. It was my pleasure,” said the American and lightly stepped on the gas and disappeared in a cloud of dust.

It was a dry, dusty road, and the sun was almost at its zenith. I put on my sunglasses and cap and threw my thumb in the air again. I was sweaty and sat on a milk pallet by the roadside to catch my breath. After an hour of hitchhiking, a guy in a Renault, also a blue car, stopped and took pity on me.
      “Where are you going?” he asked.
      “To Sweden,” I answered dryly. I could not do more than that at that time.
      “Wow. That’s quite far away. I am only going to Colmar.”
      Colmar was a long way down the road, so I gratefully accepted the ride.
      But, first, he had to say goodbye to his loved ones, so we took a turn to his villa. An entire court of relatives and friends was waiting for him there. There was a lot of kissing and hugging as if he was going around the world. I stood a little away from the group and watched the surging of emotions.
      A woman, who I assumed was the driver’s mother, pointed at me curiously and caressed her own chin as if she was indicating that I had a beard. But the son smiled and waved away his mother’s worries, saying, “Swedish.” The mother nodded understandingly as if me being Swedish said everything about me as a person. I wasn’t bothered whether that was a compliment or not, as I was able to get a ride with her son.
      We rode in his tuned Renault, which was as close to a rally car as one could get. The roads gradually got better, and the car lay like chewing gum on the hot asphalt. Martin—that’s what I think his name was—loved driving. I did too, but I began to wonder if he really knew how fast he was driving. He did not seem interested in the speedometer.
      After a few hours, we passed Nimes and the landscape started to become increasingly getting mountainous. We approached Besancon at the foot of the Alps.
      Suddenly, he took a curve too fast, skidded, and stopped the car at the roadside, just a few meters away from a precipice that stretched vertically down a hundred meters.
      We sat in shock for a good while as it began to get dark over the mountains to the east. An owl hooted nearby as if it was greeting two lunatics who had just escaped death by a hair’s breadth. We were both shaken and sweaty.

“Well,” he started, “I took some pills to keep me awake…” OK, I understood. They were a prescription Pharmacia preparation that made one as “high” as an alpine peak.

      “Don’t worry about it.” I heard myself say, which seemed to calm us both.
      Then, we quietly and slowly drove to the nearest café that was located in a beautiful, architect-designed house. We ate the butter croissants and nice coffee that were served to us by a nice mademoiselle, and the shock of the incident at the cliff slowly released its grip on us.
      We parted in Colmar early in the morning. I thanked him for a refreshing ride, although I was again a bit annoyed that I did not have a Dala horse to offer.
      My eyelids began to feel heavy, and I felt that it was me who now needed one of Martin’s pills. It was really the wrong time of the day to go to bed. But if I were to, then where exactly? There were many hotels to choose from in Colmar. After asking for prices at different hotels with my dyslexic concoction of French, Spanish, and English, I found a small hotel on the outskirts of the city that I could afford.
      I went up to the room, threw myself on the bed straight away. The bed was so soft and fluffy that I immediately fell asleep.

It was the middle of the day when I woke up in something that resembled a city in a fairytale. Large, beautiful, half-timbered houses lined the streets, and the canal flowed through the city. There were flower arrangements everywhere adorning houses and bridges. If it had not been for the fact that I was almost broke, I would have gladly stayed here for a few more days.
       I got a lift several times that day and went back and forth across the riveer Rhine. It was dreamily beautiful. Once, when we went through a village, it was as if the French artist, Alfred Sisley, had used this mesmerizing place as his motif for the famous painting Poplars on a River Bank.
      I managed to hitchhike to Strasbourg late in the afternoon, and in the evening I got a lift from a greengrocer to a small village that was not far from Hamburg. He was a nice man with the same humor as me. It was delightful to converse with him, and I took it as an opportunity to freshen up my school German.
      “Warum gehen wenn Sie fahren können?” he asked me when he had picked me up. He was my dad’s age, and after we talked and had a lot of fun, he wondered if I would want to meet his daughter. “She's very pretty,” he said in English. He probably thought I was a suitable son-in-law. Maybe I missed the world cape, but I was too tired to lighten up.
      We said goodbye and patted and wished good luck to each other.
      Once again, sleep took over, and I laid down in a dry ditch by a sparsely trafficked road. It was quite soft and comfortable—drained ditches are recommended as a cheap, green alternative to a hostel.
      The next morning, I resumed my hitchhiking and finally arrived at the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof in the afternoon.
      I was utterly exhausted from hitchhiking and planned to take the train to cover the last bit to Mom and Dad’s summer cottage in Kivik where they were waiting with good food, room, and service.
      I asked my parents to telegraph me money. It took six hours for the money to get transferred, and after much waiting at Hauptbahnhof, I was able to get a full meal and a ticket to Malmö and on to Simrishamn and Kivik.

This was in the 60s with friendly people who had great trust in each other. Back then, it wasn’t any problem to hitchhike through Europe, as many did. I wonder how it would have worked in today’s Europe. We live in a completely different world now. Anyone who intends to hitchhike from Sitges to Hamburg in the 2000s should be equipped with nerves of steel… and an armored Porsche.


Copyright © 2020, 2021 Björn Johnsson


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