Gothenburg…the land of candlelight and jazz
I woke up in the middle of the night – it was completely silent. I was sleeping on my friend’s couch when something came over me. Jumping up, I stared out the window, took a breath of the cold, fresh air rushing in through the open window and realized I was in Sweden.
It was the first trip I had taken that year, 2014, the year I had made the first new year’s resolution I would ever keep. I knew this was the beginning of an exciting and penniless next 10 months. Sweden in March…I loved it.
The next morning we woke up and cleaned the kitchen of the wine glasses and scattered old photos. We quickly got dressed and headed out for a walk. M insisted I go see Haga Street, explaining it was the bohemian quarter and I’d like it the most. I got there, I loved it, I miss it now.
I’ll never forget this one sentence, which still echoes in my mind sometimes: “Srbojka…Bregovic…Sljivovica!” M and I made a friend in Haga street, the Gypsy musician from Romania.
His lips curled into a smile and he let his teeth show when he figured out we were “Srbojka!” He’d tasted plum rakija before and he (didn’t)remembered those nights. He started playing his accordion and continued screaming “Bregovic, Bregovic Bregovic…” while our laughter echoed the streets of Gothenburg.
Not one of us spoke a language that both of the others understood, but he had his accordion and we had our open minds so that was enough.
There were a few things I couldn’t help but draw my attention to in Sweden. Anywhere you’d turn, you could hear jazz music playing somewhere in the background, as if someone were following you with speakers on piano. Besides that, almost every single walkway was lined with candles. Every table had one, the benches outside of restaurants and cafes that had colourful blankets on call for guests who’d want to step out for a cigarette had tiny little candles on the window sills. I guess it’s just so cold most of the time that with these things the entire city feels warmer.
Warmer, much like the interaction with our new friend. It’s funny if you think about it, we connected with a complete stranger, thanks to an instrument – which speaks a language we accept as universal. Thanks to alcohol, a tool that has reconciled the worst of fights, and through Srbojka, a term we’d never heard before but automatically recognized to mean “Serbian girl.” Standing there in a country I’d never been to before, stuck at the crossroads where the jazz was clashing with his accordion, I looked around and felt at home.
We must have stayed with him like that on the street for hours – because at one point the Haga Street pastry shops began packing up and it was starting to get dark. Inexplicably, we were able to have a conversation with this man, without using spoken language. The way we interacted was through the sounds he was making, through the beat that he was playing to the world and through the feeling of “recognizing” someone in a foreign country. We had met someone who shared some kind of life experiences with us two. Now it all boils down to one particular thought – and that is that “home” is: relating to somebody. Home is in people, it’s a feeling that can be packed in a suitcase, recognized in a word and shared in a memory.
I was thankful we were in Sweden later that evening, as the entire country is like a haven for sushi and salmon lovers (at extremely affordable prices). We went out for dinner that night, with two more friends, friends we didn’t pick up on the street. We spent the entire night drinking wine and enjoying our food. The meals were light but filling, the wine was dry and make my tongue tingle and the conversation just kept flowing – even though we were two Serbian Canadians, a Romanian and a Dane. Although we were all speaking in English, the more poignant of the interaction that night was the shared appreciation of the food and drink. Again, universal.
The wind was out of hand when we left the restaurant, we were full and the wine was making me dream about falling asleep in my bed. On our way home, it crossed my mind that this would be my last evening in this city for a while, as my flight was leaving the next morning. I paid attention to every detail on our trek, and of course I heard the jazz in the background – playing like a movie soundtrack. I noted the candles lined up on the walkways to restaurants and bars we passed. I looked to my side and smirked at my friends who were walking beside me. Naturally, I knew they were thinking the same thing I was – that Sweden was cold at this time of the year, but the ambiance just did not let you feel it.