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Summer Trip to Sámiland
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"This house is older than our country!"

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this little adventure from my perspective is witnessing the reactions of my seven fellow-travelers as they encounter things that clearly impress or in some way challenge them.  This is obviously a regular occurrence in such an unfamiliar environment, but there are moments of true revelation that stand out, such as Meghan's wonderful realization yesterday that Gammel Gränöme, the manor house we were staying in (completed in 1730), predated her grasp of history from an American perspective.  While we all understand such concepts intellectually, how often do we have the opportunity to be challenged like this with tangible evidence that our point of reference is merely one among many?  After all, from the Swedish point of view, an 18th century house is hardly "old", not in a culture that easily traces its origins back to the Viking era of the 9th and 10th centuries.  
Gammel Gränöme.jpg

Even the woman who manages the hostel made it clear that as nice as this place was, we should really check out a pair of older houses (13th and 14th century, respectively) in the neighborhood!  By the way, that's our trusty Renault "Traffic" van, which seems to suit us very well.  Everyone has a comfortable seat, a clear view, and all of the luggage fits in the back with room to spare.

In many ways, however, this hostel was really just one more reminder of the history that people live with here.  We began with a short drive from Stockholm to Uppsala, seat of both the oldest cathedral (established 1164) and oldest university (a relative newcomer from 1246) in Sweden.  After exploring the interior of the cathedral where we encountered the grave of Gustav Vasa, the king who first unified the various warring factions and created what we now think of as Sweden and Swedes, we took in the sights of this remarkable city.  Not content with this dip into the past, however, we proceeded to "Old" Uppsala (Gamla Uppsala), where five Viking era burial mounds dominate the scene, providing evidence that long before the Christians arrived and built their big church, this region was under the sway of Odin, Thor and the other Norse gods.  
Gamla Uppsala.jpg

The early church leaders, however, recognized the symbolic potential of this place and erected their first church right next to the burial mounds, and over the remains of a Viking gathering hall, where presumably large quantities of mead were consumed.  In recognition of the latter, the restaurant that lies close by continues to serve this drink of fermented honey, but we wisely passed up this experience in favor of much more mature endeavors (see below.)

Vikings.jpg

This region is also home to a surprising number of old iron foundries, most of them dating back to the 17th century, when iron ore was found in sufficient amounts to warrant importing skilled laborers from the Lowlands (Belgium and Holland), to manage and staff the smelters and smithing operations.  Thus, in keeping with the general historical theme, we made a short stop at Gysingebruk, one of these sites that has largely been restored. The only elements missing are the actual forge and various mills that once worked year-round, producing iron goods, lumber and a variety of grain products.  Today the grounds serve as a conference center, where attendees have the option of staying in one of the many well preserved workers cottages that line the grass lanes of the old mill site, such as the one depicted here:
Gysinge Bruk.jpg
Note the ominous rainclouds overhead--our luck held, however, yielding yet another amazingly warm and mostly clear day.

Next stop, the home of Swedish artists, Carl and Karin Larsson, without a doubt the two individuals who exerted the most influence on Swedish design and decoration, largely through the publication of a series of books illustrated with Carl's watercolor depictions of the Larsson home at Sundborn, and its residents. Even at this point, more than a century since the Larssons first moved in, the house and its furnishings exude modernity, but somehow manage to pay homage to the past at the same time.  We had an excellent tour of the rooms that have been opened to the public (the Larsson family still owns the property), with a guide who turned out to be an expert on the couple's use of visual symbolism in nearly everything they produced.  There is really no way to capture the combination of boldness and whimsy that defines Sundborn with a photo, but I trust the following will at least give you an idea of the Larsson's love of color and contrast:

Every detail of the house, was carefully scrutinized by the couple, from the construction of additional rooms and studios to the textiles for everyday use.  The enormity of the Larssons' influence on contemporary Swedish design is incalculable, but one need go no further than IKEA and that company's use of bright colors and clever designs to get an idea of Carl and Karin Larsson's vision for an aesthetically pleasing environment.

We finished the day with a quick trip to the hostel in Falun, once home to the largest copper mining operation in the world, and the source of all that red paint that seems to grace the majority of Swedish homes.  Tomorrow will find us digging deep into the folkloric heartland of Sweden, the region called Dalarna--among other things,home to those ubiquitous orange horses...

RJB

March 2012

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