Kashu-do (歌手道): En Liten Vinterresa i Stockholm (A little Winterreise in Stockholm)

When I travel, I often find it hard to sleep because when I am finally in bed at night I think about the blog and the book and feel I should use that time to write. To remedy the situation I need a room that has no windows.  To that end, I was happy to find a very reasonable hotel in Stockholm with several windowless rooms. I attempted to complete a technical blog post last night but the room accomplished its purpose and I fell asleep.  Often when I try too hard to write, the words do not flow. I have learned to abandon such posts. They should not be forced.  I write in a stream of consciousness and find organization of sorts in that experience.  Indeed so is life! Today’s experience, on the intersection of Katarinavägen and Fjällgatan where I teach, encapsulated the fluid nature of life intersecting the spontaneous inspirations of art which should instruct the manner by which we approach attaining our desires, whether taking an unexpected detour on the way to a favorite restaurant or a pleasurable, spiritually enriching walk on the way to work that defies the passage of time, for an adventure is not defined by the sum of the important landmarks covered but rather what happens between them.  I still ended up at work for six hours in the studio at Fjällgatan but my unexpected detour taught me far more about life and may have prepared me for the wonderful singers who needed not just an analysis of vocal faults but rather a little timelessness through their adventure in the mysterious world of singing.

It was just before 12:30 when I emerged from Slussen T-banna (Metro) station into the main square leading to Katarinavägen where I would take the number 3 bus one stop just past the intersection of Katarinavägen and Fjällgatan (two visits ago I had found a set of keys at this busstop which ended up belonging to a Swedish author who has become a friend–Life is not boring)!  On the way the bus passed the clearing looking over Stockholm’s bay.  The thick drapery of snow from an endless celestial source made a disappearing act of the amusemnt park on Djurgarden on the right.  In fact there was nothing on the horizon but an unfathomable curtain of interspersing grey mist and white precipitation. The glorious sun-bathed dream of the bay that greeted me on my first visit to Stockholm last summer seemed just that–a dream!

I got off the bus and met the multi-layered blanket of heavy snow.  It did not feel very cold and the weight of the heavy flakes felt curiously pleasurable.  I crossed Katarinavägen toward the stairs that lead to Fjällgatan. The large expansive street was deserted after my bus had left.  There was nothing between the stairs and me except eternal grey-white sheets of precipitation and a solitary black figure held up by a skinny cane, that from a distance appeared as fragile against the slumped shoulders as the figure in the precarious surroundings of this snowbound, slippery slope.  As I reached for my Android G2 to capture the poetic paradox of technicolor greyscale, I was no longer in Stockholm, nor was I myself.  For some reason totally unknown to me I felt as if I shared the desolate plight of this apparent elderly, whether because of a close connection with the Schubert song cycle, Winterreise, that I have sung often or some unexplained empathy for this stranger, I decided to approach my vision of fragility.  I stayed close behind as the figure grasped the staircase handle.  Despite the fragile bearing and the breakable stick my doppelgänger walked the steps effortlessly.  Still fearing an accidental slip I remain directly behind in case I had to prevent a fall. A middle-aged couple waited at the top of the stairs and allowed the elderly figure to finish her climb before taking the stairs downward.

When my alter-ego reached the top of the stairs (I was one step behind) there was a hesitation before the dangerously slippery barrier of snow between the uncertainty of the uneven sidewalk and the fresh powder covering the middle of Fjällgatan.  This was my cue! “Ska jag hjälpa dig?” I offered in uncertain Swedish, convinced that my offer would go un-understood due to poor pronunciation.  To my surprise, the voice of a woman answered my offer with a smile: “hittade en ängel!” She mused.  I was glad to play the angel if that is what she needed.  Her eyes glittered through the layer of snow-filled air between us and seemed sunken deeply into her skull, possibly by the pressure of sights experience over what must be at least eighty years of existence on this plane.  The many lines that chiseled her noble countenance seemed interspersed with bands of glowing light and her penetrating glance revealed nothing other than an overwhelming love and humanity that made me realized that she, not I, was the angel of the day.  Not a hint of the remorse often seen in the face of some elderly for  having lived through unwanted experiences and having passed up opportunities.  This was a picture of life at its most vibrant in a form that only appeared fragile to my less experienced eyes, too far forward in my skull to see the full panorama of this life.  “Where are you going?” I understood her meaning although I cannot recall her choice of words. “Var du går!” I offered to accompany her on her way. “Då ska vi gå hand i hand!” She precised with a voice more charmingly inviting than it was commanding.

 For the five minutes it took to walk the hundred meters of snow-covered Fjällgatan to her front door, time seemed to have stood still. I only realized that only five minutes had passed when I checked my G2 to verify I was not late to my next lesson. Between the time our gloved hands clasped and I checked the time, I forgot the sknow was beneath our feet.  I passed Herman’s restaurant on the left without knowing it–Its summer veranda was the setting of my first view of the bay–I passed the studio on the right without noticing.  We spoke about where I was born and about the weather.  She learned that I lived in Berlin and ventured a few phrases in a German made more melodic by her Swedish lilt.  We quickly returned to Swedish and somehow in a timeless, spaceless few minutes we developed a bond  that transcended friendship and yet we did not exchange our names.  In this existence we remain strangers, but when I left her at her door and waited until she was safely in, she turned a glance that saw through the fibers of the fabric of my life.  She said words of thanks but I felt more thankful for having been led by her through this little detour into a heretofore undiscovered dimension of my existence.  I left her gaze filled with wonder and optimism.

Between her door and the studio my black coat became a blanket of pure white and my mind was as blank as the untarnished powder beneath my feet. The warmth of the studio greeted me with a stark reality and the white blanket of snow melted from my black coat like the sunllight disappearing in Stockholm’s early afternoon sky. Over a hot cup of black current tea I relived my Winter’s Journey, now more a dream than reality.  Still, that dream colored the rest of my teaching day and I was able to find a connection with each of my students that was as playful as it was profoundly serious.  At one instant, I sat with one of my students and we spoke about the unpredictability of our paths–that an objective is usually achieved through unexpected turns– Indeed the answers to our most mysterious questions are found not through the roads we think we chart for ourselves but rather through the many inexplicable moments we think happen to us by accident.  I could have walked quickly by the old woman and never engage her, but that was not the purpose of the day. Like the many other  unforgettable experiences I have had in this magical city called Stockholm, this experience too belongs to timelessness.  It is as mysterious as poetry and just as substantial.  We can either discount the magical signposts in our lives as the product of our overactive imaginations or as the defining experiences that provide the key to our ultimate purpose.  How we see the world and our experiences is a matter of choice!

copyright 01.07.2011

2 thoughts on “Kashu-do (歌手道): En Liten Vinterresa i Stockholm (A little Winterreise in Stockholm)

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  1. What a wonderful Epiphany and a memory to treasure for ever more! I wonder why it is that snow has such powers to bring out the magic and mystery of the world. By a strange coincidence I have just posted a winter journey entry on my own blog, featuring a magical snow-laden song by Debussy!


  2. Beautiful story. That area of Stockholm is magical too. When I started taking singing lessons many years ago, it was in an apartment on Fjällgatan. 🙂


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