Thursday morning, October 1. Malmo, Sweden
Mia is cooing and puttering over her new Swedish toys. She's wearing her PJ's (it's 8 a.m.) and a gold crown and a ribbon proclaiming "Birthday Girl" taped to her chest.
Nora plays along. She hasn't had a trace of ego during all the planning and discussion in the days leading up to Mia's overseas birthday ("I'm just worried there won't be cards or toys," Mia confessed, as if we were traveling to a desert island rather than a fertile and highly civilized one.) Nora's wide-eyed wonder without thought for herself broke my heart a tiny bit so I told her last night, "We'll make just as much fuss over you for your birthday!" and you could see the idea dawning on her.
We're in a hotel room in Malmo (they pronounce it with a gargled "r" sound in there, somehow), Sweden. Our room overlooks an anonymous mid-century low-rise wing of the same hotel, but below, there is a pretty courtyard with conifers and lavender and trees going bare. Winter is closer here. Our clothes are too light for the wind off the ocean. We all have coughs except for the birthday girl.
I only have one glove. In the interest of time, in deference to your patience and with all due respect to sanity, I will refrain from describing my fit yesterday morning over the lost purple glove as we packed to leave lovely, beloved Copenhagen and the sweet comforts of the Guldsmeden Bertrams hotel for the unknowns of Sweden. Our Bertram room had a huge bath with organic soaps and lotions, an organic honor bar and a balcony with sights of high pitched red tile roofs and the sweet green backyards of our neighbors. Below was the Bertrams courtyard and its thick willow bushes, teak chairs and de rigeur heat lamps (every cafe has them as people cling to sitting outdoors - red blankets printed with the cafe name are often folded over each seat as well.)
My favorite place to read and write in the Bertrams after the kids were asleep.
I wept when we were checking out in the lobby after Mia signed the guestbook with a huge full page flourish and two dragonflies, the translation of Guldsmeden. Pimella, Meta and Christina were the helpful beauties at the front desk, holding our heavy gold keys while were were out and offering patient advice on bike routes and bus fares.
Now we cab it the few blocks to the Central Station with all our luggage (minus one pink monkey suitcase that we left at the airport on the day we arrived. We don't tell the girls it has probably been blown up in Obamafeber security.) Our cab fare costs more than the quick train ride over the strait to Malmo. Strangely, no customs, although security guards walk the aisles, asking all passengers if the suitcases overhead are theirs and checking abandoned plastic bags.
The train is swift, the water views are pretty and we're in Sweden in 20 minutes or so. Amazing graffiti on the last kilometers into the station. Giant cartoon faces, spectacular tags. The girls have gotten used to pay toilets by now. I'm still amazed at how clean and cute they are and how sweet and professional the staff. We hike a few blocks to the SAS Raddisson, part glassy modern, part 1600 era half-timbered ye olde.
In the main tourist square we have pasta (by this time I'm ready to throw in the towel and just search for Italian restaurants all over ScandInavia - luckily they are everywhere.) The waiter is in no rush to hurry us along and Nora spills her second glass of milk all over her jeans. She cries loudly and I hug her and shush in her ear. I hadn't had my run.
But Dad puts the girls down for a 4 p.m. nap while I walk down to the fortuitous party shop we passed earlier. Banners, balloons, a cellophane fountain to hang from the ceiling and way too many little paper tchotchkes on toothpicks to stick in her cake. I get directions to a toy store, refreshingly Barbie-Dora-Disney free. Sweet Findus the Cat, Prinzessa Lillefree, Barbamama and Barbapapa are the rage here.
I stand transfixed in front of a Christmas crafts display at a hobby store. I think Sally mentioned the all-out decorations Danes put up for the season. I can suddenly understand. When you have hours of darkness to kill in modest apartments, making cunning little snow people seems the perfect way to spend a winter afternoon in Sweden.
They call this the Princess Cake. It would have been perfect for Mia but I miscalculated that she would prefer chocolate. Oh, well.