My visit to Malmö was spurred by two things. One, Malmö
is one side of the bridge that spans the channel between Sweden and Denmark,
my next destination. Two, a chance meeting with a wonderful family in my hostel
in Trondheim had turned into a surprise invitation to visit them in Malmö
for the weekend.
I had been informed by other Swedes that Malmö was the
most dangerous city in Sweden. Of course this is all relative. It’s
like saying Winnipeg has the worst car-jacking problem in all of Manitoba
(What is it? Three a year?). I interrogated my hosts about this claim. While
they were adamant that Malmö was perfectly safe if you weren’t
looking for trouble (i.e. drugs), I was privy to several conversations that
weekend about people being the victim of random robberies or sexual assaults.
I decided to kick up the ol’ danger sense a notch, just for luck.
More than any other city that I had seen outside of Amsterdam,
Malmö had a massive bike riding sub-culture. It was very inspiring. With
the city being so compact and the bike lanes so being plentiful, biking is
a transportation option that dwarfs bus riders and maybe even car drivers.
Several people that I met were in their 20s and did not even have driver’s
licenses. This was city planning at it’s finest and it made me seriously
reflect on the potential energy savings if even a small percentage of U.S.
cities could accomplish the same feat. The Swedes seem to favor the old style,
upright three speed bikes over the standard, stoop-down, 10 speeds or mountain
bikes that are preferred in the U.S. These bikes are not built for fashion
or speed. They are just a basic means of transportation. In fact most Swedes
go out of their way to make their bikes as non-descript, beat-up, rusty and
unattractive as possible, so as to draw less attention from bike thieves.
I spent several lazy, pleasant days with my friends in Malmö,
eating, drinking, meeting people and getting enormous insight into the natives.
Upon learning that I was from the U.S., people would often ask me several
questions about the States and the baffling approach to foreign policy that
the Bush administration has been inflicting on the world. I was more than
happy to participate in these discussions seeing as how the Swedes were very
careful to say, “What the (expletive) is wrong with your government?”
rather then the more offensive “What the (expletive) is wrong with you?”
Being a hopeless pessimist on the subject, I’m sure my answers didn’t
brighten their days much, but I did go as far as to predict that
Bush will not be re-elected, despite the absence of any obvious Democratic
frontrunner at the moment. They seemed doubtful, but I could sense that they
were quietly hopeful that this amiable American wino was right.
The people I met and conversed with were all very knowledgeable
about world issues, with a slant toward activism and a genuine desire to take
steps to improve the world. Being older and more bitter than most of them,
I envied their energy, but my beaten down optimism didn’t quite match
their visions of world change. I was permanently distressed and indignant
knowing that any dillhole can be elected president of the United States if
he has enough money, friends and connections, even if he only has a loose
hold on the English language, is dumber than toenail clippings and doesn’t
care to know the details to any issue, preferring to have it briefly summed
up for him, before making critical decisions that affect millions of people.
Can you blame me?
At the urging of my hosts, I took a day trip to the nearby college
town of Lund. Lund’s main characteristic was it’s predominantly
young population living in a city dominated by centuries old buildings still
being used for business and student housing to this day. If ever there was
an example of they-don’t-build-‘em-like-they-used-to, Lund’s
dwellings were it. Any structure that can withstand the physical trauma of
housing crazed university students for more than 30 years without having to
be condemned and gutted has to be the closest thing to indestructible there
is without being made of steel. I wandered the city, people watched in the
main square, and ate dinner at the first true Mexican restaurant I had seen
in Scandinavia before boarding the train back to Malmö.
The morning I zoomed over the bridge connecting Malmö to
Copenhagen, I contemplated whether or not I had spent enough time in Sweden.
After the eternity I spent in Norway, my stay in Sweden seemed awfully rushed
and short on memorable experiences. Then I did the math on how far I would
get if I spent three weeks in every country I visited before the weather turned
sour this fall (Answer: Somewhere around Prague), threw my hands up in defeat
and started to get into character for Denmark.