It remains one of my strongest music memories, when I randomly saw The National at Rote Fabrik in Zurich on a Sunday in 2005. We were perhaps 50 people there, most of us hungover and lethargic. The National had been stuck at the border and looked a bit annoyed and tired as they entered the stage. The singer, Matt Berninger, drank white wine from a milk glass. A few songs in I could not believe what I was hearing, and at the end, when they closed the set with a ten minute version of About Today, they had the entire crowd in their hand. I knew they were something else then, this song from their new album is further proof.
This summer while on a stuffy night train in the Swiss alps I began reading Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Everything Is Illuminated, a 2002 novel that got book reviewers to pie in their pants out of excitement. It is not difficult understanding why. I laughed out loud as I lay cramped against the train roof. It certainly helped to forget about the French older man who, at Zürich Haubtbahnhof had gone from what seemed to be a nice person to a raging racist as soon as h heard a ambulance siren. A few days later I forgot the novel in a city in northern Italy. Now I’ve gotten a new copy and after finalizing a series of reports on the Swedish fruit market I found some time to once again dive into this story that has a language that makes me think of the Swedish word acrobat Jonas Hassen Khemiri. I’ll give you an example from page four:
I have an aristocratic smile and like to punch people. My stomach is very strong, although it presently lacks muscles. Father is a fat man, and Mother is also. This does not disquiet me, because my stomach is very strong, even if it appears very fat. I will describe my eyes and then begin the story. My eyes are blue and resplendent. Now I will begin the story.
So I’ve begun speaking with people. Not that I was not speaking before, of course I was. Some would probably even say I speak too much. And some of them would be correct. What I mean is that I’ve started speaking with strangers in situations where I would, in correct Swedish fashion, not speak at all. I will give two recent examples as I feel unusually pedagogical today.
Yesterday after a spinning class I told a middle aged man that ‘boy, you really get sweaty from spinning’ (which is not the most interesting thing to say, I know, but that was what I was thinking at that moment). He smiled and then we talked a bit about spinning and I made a reference to my San Francisco spinning instruction and the military. He laughed and thought that it perhaps is good to test your limits sometimes. Then we said goodbye and that was it. Today I exchanged some words with one of the men who are redoing the balconies outside my new home. I asked him how it was going and got a lecture on the difference between the concrete balconies of today (better quality, a thick level of isolation that keeps water from coming in and making holes in the concrete) and the ones that was there before. Interesting, I said, and I was not lying. He knew what he was talking about, which in my opinion is an important quality for any guy working in the concrete balcony industry. Then he continued his work and I walked away.
Not all random conversations turn out like this however. This summer, when I was leaning out of a window on a night train waiting to depart from Zürich Haubtbahnhof I struck up a conversation with a blond and friendly looking older man from France who was leaning out of the window next to me. He seemed perfectly normal at first and spoke about his love for Sweden and its nature. But then, after hearing a police car racing by, he suddenly became a raging racists and began explaining that all the problems in Switzerland was due to ‘the Muslims and their drugs and guns’. But hey, you can’t expect all conversations with strangers to pan out.