I know I’ve sent you postcards from this city before but I thought I would use this post as an excuse to wish everyone some seasonal cheer from a city that loves Christmas. I already live in the greatest city in the greatest country in the history of the world and like a swallow to Capistrano it’s where I always return. But an invitation from a beautiful woman is always hard to resist and a short hop over the North Sea later I was in Gothenburg.
Of course every city likes to imagine that it has the monopoly on festive glamour. My very own London is a gaudy glitter-fest of massive baubles swinging in the gusts funnelling through the annals of seasonal markets. The Christmas tree, donated to The United Kingdom as usual by Norway, stands erect and gleaming like a proudly decorated sentry in Trafalgar Square, subservient only to Lord Nelson towering above. But Gothenburg is nowhere near as ostentatious. Her decorations are a tastefully understated celebration, the ornamental primary colours in gentle competition with a radiant sunset.
Streets were cosily wrapped in coruscating Christmas lights, lending greater vibrancy to an already luminescent city. The Burgers (Gothenburgers) were even more tightly packaged in fur and wool as they skittered from one freezing alley to another. The bitingly brisk air, perfumed with chocolate and chestnuts, seared into lungs before escaping to a dancing mist of pale breath. A snowman floating in front of a waterfall distracted patient queues outside Liseberg Amusement Park from the chill as they snaked around the block all the way to the Universeum. A choir of young singers regaled an engrossed audience with familiar carols.
The sea god, Poseidon, guards the plaza at the summit of main boulevard Avenyn. His lithe, naked form was a defiant rebuke to the bitter cold as he watched his meeker subjects weave in and out of shops and restaurants looking for shelter.
At the other end of town Brunnsparken was a busy hub of numb commuters jostling for room on the numerous trams undulating past each other like giant blue eels. The famous lion sentinels watched a sheet of ice forming on the canal, undoubtedly knowing that the temptation to skate across it was far outweighed by the fear of drowning with a crushing hypothermia.
The statuesque Barken Viking gently rocked in the bay, her reflected lights shimmering through the marina in front of her. Tall masts poked into the morning sky, sampling the passing breeze on its way to meet the Lipstick Building (in the area Lilla Bommen) behind her. Across the marina the sharp angles of the grand Opera House knifed through the chill.
But I had seen all this before. This wasn’t my first rodeo here. I was looking for something else.
And there she was.
Standing gracefully still on a blanket of white under the falling snow as the world blurred past her in slow motion. My friend Christina, elegant but camera-shy, her sapphire blue eyes found me and locked on. Long, lustrous blond hair, speckled with glistening snowflakes, spilled out of the chic lilac cashmere scarf casually draped around her neck and mouth and trapping her breath in a microcosm of warmth. A matching glove gently tugged at the scarf to reveal her smile as she saw me approach through the confetti of snow. Our lingering, tight embrace rendered the city noise into complete silence, eventually broken by a tender whisper into my ear. Her fluency in English and Spanish thankfully unable to dampen the sweet Scandinavian music in her accent as she purred from soft, snow-frosted lips wrapped around my frozen earlobe.
My eyes opened. She had a surprise for me. And as intrigued as I was my cheek was so comfortably nestled in the smooth cushion of hers that I was reluctant to move.
But move we eventually did. And after a short drive to Marstrand on the west coast we met our skipper Mathias, from Havsservice, whose strong fisherman’s grip welcomed us onto his charming English vessel at the edge of a freezing harbour. A fine mist saturated the billowing wind but both he and his boat were veteran sailors, indifferent to the weather. The sturdy deck, polished by rain, greeted our boots in a symphony of thuds. We were not so hardened, Christina and I, our bodies shivering and teeth chattering as we took our seats.
As the engine spluttered into life the surprise dawned on me. It was just the two of us. The only passengers on this boat, a private charter arranged well out of season by a resourceful Christina.
We huddled together in the cabin, hoping that shared bodily warmth would allow us to enjoy the surrounding archipelago as the boat retreated from its dock and began to carefully slice through the icy water. Casual observers gorging on their ‘fikas’ could only watch from the colourful wooden buildings planted at the water’s edge. They may have wondered if it was just one person or in fact two pressed tightly against each other, both crazy enough to brave the water in the dead of winter. They were super curious, Christina would say, only her adorable accent would call them ‘super couriers.’
Ripples rolled out into the sheet of water before us, our boat the only disturbance upon it. But the water would not forgive the intrusion. Wind and rain lashed at the vessel and the livid sea threw a tantrum, smacking us with powerful waves that finished as foaming crests on the rocks behind us. Mathias and his boat were utterly unfazed, confidently bobbing through the turbulence like weightless flotsam. Photography was now beyond a luxury; staying vertical was the priority.
Mathias invited us onto the see-sawing deck to reel in the small cage dragging under the boat. He introduced us to the trio of creatures inside. A small jet-black lobster, a large crab and then something exquisite; a magnificent electric blue lobster with giant claws, its long tentacles probing our jackets as Mathias ran his fingers over its orange underside. A female, he said, with two mouths like a cinematic alien and small white horns projecting from all over her segmented body. Even he was amazed to find such a rare catch that looked like a CGI concoction newly escaped from a Jurassic island.
After a futile attempt at taking some photos we laid our catch down and braced the convulsing sea as it hurled our boat onto its port and starboard sides. Both Christina and I held onto the rails at the sides of the deck and focused on the horizon. She had expected to gift me with a pleasant, tranquil cruise around Marstrand Island and yet here we both were trying to stay alive on a bucking bronco with our guts rushing to the nearest exit. I guess it was a surprise for her too.
But despite the nausea each of us relished the exhilaration and we couldn’t be more grateful to our captain for his skilled stewardship and hospitality on this unexpected adventure. There’s probably a reason he doesn’t provide this service so late in the year and now we’re somewhat the wiser.
Christina and I spent another morning in the suburb of Molndal, where she introduced me to the incredible Molndal Falls emptying out of old industrial buildings. Some winters, when it’s cold enough for long enough, the falls freeze over into a stunning array of icicles. But on this occasion they were merely engorged and rumbling towards us with a deafening roar.
My final day was spent ambling around Gothenburg, a city that I’m now so familiar with and yet still surprises me. After a delicious salad lunch with Christina I took the ferry to Eriksberg where I sat on the edge of the dock to watch the sunset over my favourite bridge.
Well, this is turning into an epic saga so I’d better hang it up soon. Sorry about that. I guess I just miss my friend. I must thank Christina for a spicy and energetic few days; I barely noticed the cold. And after so many indulgent fikas if anyone needs me for the rest of the year I’ll be back in the gym.
Speaking of lust and fidelity I decided to forsake my usual micro four-thirds accoutrement on this trip and instead take a DSLR (don’t remember which brand) and a couple of lenses. Just for a change. I’d love to pretend that compared to my usual touchscreen shooting style it was anything but a nightmare but I’d be lying. And yet the art and craft of photography still managed to percolate through.
So the New Year is almost upon us. Honestly, I’m, amazed I made it this far. But life still desperately clings on like a climber’s fingernails on the edge of a cliff. Perhaps in the New Year I’ll finally finish that long gestating video on creative street photography for YouTube (free for all to view). Or maybe resume some dusk and street shooting photowalks in the city? Doubt it. Alpha Whiskey seems to have enough detractors out there that giving up my actual time to meet them in person would be needless. And yet, the idea of helping folks get out and shoot is undeniably enticing…
Well, whatever you aspirations are for this year and the next, I hope they have been and will be met. And while I hope that Santa brings you all the gear you lust after I will always advocate that the best way to improve your photography is to simply get out there and shoot. Believe me, you can do it.
Anyway, go easy on the mince pies and mulled wine. Less Alpha and more Whiskey for me, certainly. Have a Holly Jolly Christmas and a Happy Snappy New Year. Bye.