The potential calming effect of too much order (sleep deprived notes from Frankfurt)

Frankfurt

Impressions from a recent visit to Frankfurt: The stewardess on my Lufthansa flight efficiently distributes drinks in the cabin. Do I write efficiently because she is German? I’ve had 4,5 hours of sleep. Late last night I stood in my hotel room on the 31st floor; looking out over Frankfurt’s bank building skyline in my underwear, with that misplaced self-esteem a couple of drinks and a good view tend to bring.

At a restaurant next to Frankfurt’s beautiful opera house someone said she thought the service was patchy. She also thought I was from New Zeeland, which clearly undermines her observational credibility. I took a run by the river Main, it was Sunday and the lawns that track the river were filled with people. It was sunny and warm and made me think of summer. When I got back to my room there were drops of sweat on my glasses. I looked up the weather in London on my phone; when I saw that it was raining I was relieved, as if it was an achievement to happen to be in a place with sunshine. Then I realised I had forgotten my cufflinks in London and something turned cloudy.

When I arrived at Frankfurt’s airport, which is just as nice as you would expect Frankfurt airport to be, I took the train to the city. It was very silent, even more silent than you would expect a silent train in Germany to be. Across from me a man sat hunched over a black rug sack where he was hiding a beer. Even he was silent. Despite the empty Sunday streets everyone stopped for red traffic lights. Not me, I kept on walking like a rushed Londoner.

In an outdoor restaurant near Lokalbanhof, south of the river, I met a Texan man. He told me I was the first Swedish person he’d ever met. He didn’t seem too bothered by the fact that he wasn’t the first Texan I had met, or he just hid it well with his mouth full of chewing tobacco.  He told me I had to try the Frankfurter schnitzel, “it’s fantastic”. I know there are few words Americans overuse more than fantastic. But I order the schnitzel, with a side of sauerkraut, since I like outsourcing my decision-making.

Later the same evening I leaned forward slightly as walked back to the hotel, due to the size of the portion. A colleague told me she thought the city was beautiful. “And a bit boring perhaps”, I added. Although one evening a stressed cab driver, who missed his turn and kept repeating “scheisse” to himself, left us in the city’s red light district. We walked past a couple of harmless looking teenagers smoking weed on a street corner. I don’t know why I thought Frankfurt seemed less boring after having seen the red light district and people smoking weed. Perhaps it made me think of Amsterdam; a non-boring city with the same attributes.

But now, when I think about it, even the junkies and prostitutes we passed on our way to the restaurant, where some people found the service to be patchy, had an aura of unobtrusiveness; as if Frankfurt’s great skyscrapers had a sedating influence over the city. The potential calming effect of too much order.

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A bigger bone (the battle against work-Patrik)

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Before Christmas I had what some would describe as a couple of busy weeks; longer than normal hours, intense time pressure and deadlines traveling backwards in my Outlook calendar until they crashed on some god-forgotten day, not seldom a Friday. Unanswered emails poked my brain, looking for attention like spoilt children with no ice cream. You know those kinds of weeks; when you’re more like a machine than a human. ‘

I was coming home exhausted, work tumbling in my head like unwanted load of laundry. Some might rightly point out that I should have expected more work following my recent promotion. I’d like to make it clear I do get this point.

However.

The problem arose after work, when I was supposed to turn my attention from work-Patrik’s determinedness to get things done and juggle people’s expectations, to dreamy writer music lover Patrik, who makes themed playlists about sunshine, and who likes to engage in things far away from the suit-heavy work-Patrik reality, such as writing in this blog. The so-called spare time is when the other Patrik is supposed to thrive, leaving work-Patrik behind the revolving doors of his Victoria Street office building.

Physically the transition wasn’t complicated; I left through the doors and entered the sea of office workers on the street. But when the wind of freedom – or that damn Victoria Street wind tunnel as some prefer calling it – hit my face, and I could smell the fresh air – or pollution that prematurely ages people – my brain didn’t follow suit. Like an angry child refusing to move work-Patrik stayed in my brain.

It didn’t matter which music I tried and play in my noise cancelling headphones. My brain was a dog running after a bone, solving problems I’ve had clearly moved to the next day in my calendar. They’re not supposed to be sorted now; I tried telling my stupid brain. Naturally it didn’t listen, instead it continued to mull over potential issues tomorrow might bring, it phrased e-mails and decided which task I needed to handle first (always the one I least want to do by the way), and what meetings I needed to schedule.

I walked to Waterstones through Green Park’s darkness, taking my place in the silent line of office workers also rushing to get away from their work selves. It looked like we were all struggling in the cool December wind. I couldn’t tell if there was an actual silence, or if my headphones were just blocking out the sound. We were all trying to block it out. I entered Waterstones, where I once sat next to a famous Swedish sculptor. It’s an oasis of calm. I sat down on the third floor, in the art section, and began reading a book by a Swedish musician (Kristian Gidlund, pictured above) I once interviewed in my student radio show. He recently died from cancer and the book collects the blog posts he wrote after finding out that he had the disease.

It describes the painful treatment, the many goodbyes and how he came to terms with the fact that he would never have any children. That he would never become a father. It was depressing, but it also grabbed my racing mind and put it firmly into place. I was locked inside the book’s painful lines and suddenly office-Patrik was somewhere very far away.

It’s what great books and stories can do; simultaneously take you somewhere else, while also making the present feel more real, more meaningful.  As I sat in the red comfortable chair on the third floor by the art section, my mind felt cleansed by something other than alcohol or exercise. A statement of cultural power impossible to get from the Evening Standard on the tube ride home.

I just needed to throw a bigger bone, to my stupid brain.

A song for sunny winter mornings (from The War on Drugs)

I have an Itunes playlist called “dust, smoke and sun in the eyes”.
I know you find it pretentious.
So do I.
But The War On Drugs always fit in there.
Like a perfect soundtrack to driving across the US.
Now they are gearing up to release a new album.
This pearl of a song is the first taste.
They sound sunnier, a bit less hazy.
But undeniably continuing to walk familiar The War On Drugs paths.
A song to drive a car to.
To ride a bike to.
Or to sit still and just think about moving to.
If you like Kurt Vile, and who does’t these days?
This song will be your friend.

An evening with Smith Westerns (from September)

100 Club

The 100 Club is nestled in between Oxford Street’s over-sized stores like a small passage into the past. It has a small sign and a small door and a small staircase leads down to an underground space, which has delivered live music since 1942. The Rolling Stones used to play there, and so did many other bands. It’s a place with history and the back wall is filled with pictures of famous bands who once played there. When the DJ played Poison I glanced over a picture of Alice Cooper.

We were waiting for Smith Westerns; a four piece rock band from Ohio that have gone from retro punk rock romantics to something more polished, melodic and wistful, especially on their third and most recent album; this year’s Soft Will. When they enter the wide stage, which bizarrely is partly obscured by a giant concrete pillar, meaning I only catch glimpses of the band’s arguably most talented musician: the lead guitarist. They look incredibly young. When the singer at one point refers to an older song as something the band wrote “when we were just boys”, it’s difficult to avoid thinking they still are. Nevertheless, they’ve created some seriously impressive tunes, such as the brilliant Soft Will opener “3am Spiritual”, and the singles “Varsity” and “Weekend”, the latter one from their 2011 album Dye It Blond.

Smith Westerns do have a problem though; as charming and cool as their lead singer is when he throws his long hair all over the place, his voice often misses the right notes. Perhaps it’s having just arrived in Europe, but it feels like a real issue, especially when the rest of the band sound so great, even the pretentious looking base player who keeps gazing into some kind of artful distance.

The sold out crowd gives a definite Tuesday impression, never really livening up, despite some hand clapping from the people in the front. When they’ve played all their best songs they leave the stage without coming back for an encore.

As we make our way up the stairs and out on Oxford Street, where the neighboring Boots store is throwing up bright lights on passers-by, we agree that it was worth the £10 cover charge. But when I pass a male crooner in one of the Oxford Circus Tube station corridors I can’t help wondering what a really strong singer cold do with these songs.

A narcissistic voyage to another side of Patrik (post half-marathon thoughts)

amsterdam marathon

I recently pushed my body to a place it had never been before. Ever since I’ve been wondering what finishing my first ever half-marathon, as I did in Amsterdam in late October, really meant to me. Before the event I was forced to spend quite a bit of time running and learning to notice the shifts in my body. One day running seemed easy, other times I wanted to quit after only a few minutes. Sometimes the reasons were clear: not drinking enough water or having a few drinks the day before, other times I couldn’t figure it out.

During the race I eventually moved into some kind of machinelike state which I managed to stay in throughout. When I passed 15k I was in unchartered territory, a distance I had never crossed before. I was intrigued to find my body continuing, almost becoming nervous when I occasionally got stuck behind slower runners. My body was determined to keep the rhythm. I passed the dense crowds outside the Rijksmuseum and increased my speed. I couldn’t decide if the goose bumps on my arms came from my body’s reaction to running this far, or because of the cheers and the facts that I was running through my old home town high fiving children and thinking that my body was kind to me this day, that it had the lightness and eagerness I had hoped for.

The race finished at the Olympic stadium. When I entered through the large gate on the side I was greeted by the crowd and terrible dance music (which felt appropriate). I sprinted as fast as I could, feeling like an animal chasing after a pray, until I crashed into an exhausted pile of people after the finish. A speaker pleaded for everyone to move away from the finish line, but there we were, broken men and women. It was a curious feeling to try and read my body’s reaction.

Many people have told me I should be proud; that it’s an impressive achievement, although the fact that a friend of mine (not pictured) completed a full marathon just before effectively dampened such feelings. While I do feel some sense of achievement, I don’t feel proud. And I probably wouldn’t have even if I did the full distance. What has instead stayed with me is the experience of exploring a place in myself where I had never been. Despite my dislike for the expression “inward journey”, that is what it felt like more than anything.

I slowly walked out of the stadium on painful legs. The only place I could take in was right there, my tired body blocked my mind from traveling anywhere else, it was fully occupied with trying to keep my body functioning. Later, after some nutrition and a beer, I slowly walked to my friend’s place, passing the last runners in the race. People lining the course urged them on with applauds and cheers and I almost started crying when I saw it. I couldn’t understand why, but somehow I became extremely emotionally invested in the crowd’s support and last runners fighting to finish the race.

A few minutes later I found myself laughing on my own, for no particular reason, as if my tiredness was some sort of comedic experience. And I thought I’d really gone mad this time as I walked around in southern Amsterdam laughing and crying on my own. The emotional waves eventually subsided, and in their place came painful muscles that made me walk like an old man, which I expected more than the emotional rollercoaster that came before.

Despite my inability to feel proud, I cherished the strange combination of physical and mental fatigue the run brought out. A narcissistic voyage into another side of Patrik.