Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Object of Jealous Rage: Rene Engström

At dinner on Friday, a friend recommended I check out Rene Engström's Anders Loves Maria--about which, as usual, it seems I'm the last person to know. So of course I spent all afternoon yesterday reading all of it. So, so great! And how much do I love that she experiments throughout with different styles, like this one? Just...awesomeness. And so much work!

Of course, my friend recommended the strip because it takes place in Stockholm. The main characters have an apartment in Gamla Stan, as Jan and I did until a year ago, and it's such a treat to recognize the streets they walk. Reading the comics, I felt so relieved to totally participate in something artistic and cultural taking place in Stockholm--in English, that is. Of course, there are plenty of ways to get local Stockholm culture in Swedish, but I find it much harder to connect with it. (Comic strips in Swedish are often totally incomprehensible to me, even if I understand every word. Just as with picture books here, it seems that the shorter the artwork, the harder it is to "get" in a foreign culture.) I got a little bit of a "connect" watching the first Stieg Larsson movie, but that didn't have as many Stockholm city scenes as I'd hoped, and the serial killer storyline seemed so completely outlandish and un-Swedish, it wasn't delivering the recognition goods for me.

But Rene Engström's strip really got my brain spinning, thinking about the importance of artwork--especially the power of stories--in establishing an emotional sense of place. I've been thinking a lot about the idea of "place" in different ways ever since high school, and especially since moving here from New York almost five years ago. There's something about Sweden which seems so *blank* to me, which is really frustrating and hard to articulate. Have I just been too isolated from the cultural and artistic life all around me, to really see what Stockholm *is*? Can I create my own cultural and artistic work to help myself frame Stockholm in more emotional terms?

Am I making any sense?


But go check out Anders Loves Maria, though I suppose I should be all prudish-American and warn that it does contain sex and nudity...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Going Once...Going Twice...

It's really autumnal in Sweden right now--crisp air, changing leaves, the whole bit. So Jan and I spent the weekend out at the country house, and it's a lucky thing, too:

We had forgotten, but Sunday was the auction date for the farm estate at the end of our road. Tragically, the farmer had killed himself on Midsummer's Eve, and he apparently didn't have any heirs. We didn't really know the man, we had only ordered firewood from him once, but we saw how carefully he had cared for his extensive property--which at this point has become mostly a parking lot for island-dwellers who take the ferry nearby.

In any case, and despite a sudden cold, this was my chance to see a Swedish country auction in action. I have seen and participated in auctions in Sweden before--Metropol and Kronofogden, for example--but never one like this. Many of the people there were our neighbors, so in my cough-drop-addled state, it was hard to decide if this was a disturbing moment of long-awaited scavenging, or a comforting attempt to have the farmer's heirloom possessions spread as locally as possible.

His various buildings were like museums--barely anything had changed in at least fifty years, from the looks of things. Yet it was all tidily cared for--even the antique toys had their original boxes, in mint condition. The spread of objects constituted a revealing, deeply personal look at the farmer's life, his family, the past. Especially in the context of his suicide--and having almost no information about him--it was both fascinating and depressing to think of what the preservation of objects around him might have meant to him. Were they long-cherished memories of a longed-for era, or oppressive reminders of an inescapable past?

In any case, my morbid musings didn't stop *us* from pillaging his misfortune...

At least the objects will remind Jan and me of him, whatever that's worth...