Norrköping är Newcastle

I’m currently in Norrköping, about 75 minutes south-west of Stockholm (via the fast train). It was never one of those towns I really wanted to see like Kiruna or Narvik (on my last trip). I came here on a bit of a whim: to see Helen Sjöholm live in concert.

Helen is a Swedish singer who has worked extensively with Bjorn and Benny in their musicals, with Benny in his BAO, and as a performer on stage and screen. In fact, she is probably best “unknown” from her role in the film, “Sa som I himlen” (“as it is in heaven”) which screened for two or three years at a cinema in Sydney. She’s the woman who lives with domestic violence.

So, a bit of a whim, but why not?

After a good night’s sleep I woke early this morning. Although I was tempted to go out last night to check out the nightlife of Stockholm, the lure of central heating kept me rugged up in my hotel room. I watched some television, including a Swedish dancing program called, “Let’s Dance” which was reasonably easy to follow.

And there was a Norwegian chat show which featured, amongst others, Al Gore as a special guest. As a language exercise it was quite interesting, since the program was conducted in English, Swedish and Norwegian, often simultaneously. The bits in Norwegian and English were both subtitled in Swedish which was good practice for me. I find that I can read better than I can listen, so if only the people of Stockholm could walk around with Swedish subtitles, and I’d be very happy.

I actually skim-read a newspaper this morning, concentrating on the bits that interested me most, such as tonight’s Melodifestivalen.

I also noticed a new subset of guests had arrived at the hotel, members of the Centre Party (which I think is a bit like The Democrats were, though I could be wrong).

With a wonderful late check out at The Clarion – midday – I wandered in to town to purchase my train ticket to Norrköping. I also spent some time walking around Djurgarden which looks absolutely stunning with all the snow. And in such contrast to the last time I was here when there were boats sailing up and down the water and the grass was lush enough to have a good afternoon sleep on. You couldn’t do that now.

And yet, in the midst of the sub-zero temperatures I’m starting to feel quite okay. It must be the sun which is genuinely warm on your face. Don’t be surprised if I come home with a tan. For the last two days I’ve been feeling a little “rugged up” with my many layers of clothing. But today, as I walked about wearing a shirt, a scarf, a jumper and my puffer jacket, I suddenly didn’t feel so fat anymore. Well, not fat looking anyway.

Everywhere you go people are wearing much the same clothing. People seem to express their individuality in both their scarves and their headgear. I wasn’t going to say anything before this, in case I was being culturally insensitive about traditional Sami (indigenous people of Sweden) headgear, but these Swedes wear some crazy things on their heads during winter.

I’ve seen a lot of hand-knitted by mormor (grandma) beanies and far too many “Daniel Boone” hats. And, although I understand the cultural background associated with full-length fur coats, I note that it’s “crazy looking older women” who wear them, not the stylish young things of today.

This afternoon I caught the train to Norrköping. Along the way we passed through endless fields of snow which, to be honest, looks a little bit the same after a while. I wonder if this is how Swedes feel when they catch trains in Australia passing through endless hours of gum trees? Australians of course, can see the difference between different types of bushlands, and I’m sure the Swedes can see more variety in the snow than I can.

The arrival in Norrköping was a bit of a surprise. It shouldn’t have been, but it was. But after the last few days in Stockholm, I was quickly reminded I had arrived in a country town. In home terms, I’m guessing it’s a Newcastle or a Hobart. It’s not a village, but it’s also not a huge city either. It’s large enough to have an arts scene and a university, but it’s still small enough for a weekend afternoon to include “doing a blockie”. And thus on a Saturday afternoon, the streets were reasonably empty, although there was a lot of activity around the service station and the railway station.

Having eventually found a tourist map, I found my hotel. It’s not as glamorous as The Clarion, but it’s quite nice, nonetheless. Although it’s a hotel – Hotel Drott – it has the feeling of a bed and breakfast. The room is large enough for one, although the television is large enough for five. It’s huge.

A late afternoon beer followed at The Bishops Arms which was near perfect aside from awful music they played on the public address system. It was bland reggae influenced cover versions of songs by, amongst others, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Can you imagine? By the way, later tonight I went into another pub, and they were playing awful reggae as well. And that was at another English-style pub. It must be this towns thing.

One of the things which struck me immediately on arrival was the cultural diversity of the place. There were, seemingly, lots of faces from the Middle East and Southern Europe. I think I read somewhere that Norrköping has been home to many, many migrants. And you can see it reasonably instantly when you arrive in town. You can also see it in the churches in town, as there’s both a synagogue and a Methodist church not far from where I’m staying.

After my beer, I came home briefly and then headed quickly to the concert hall where the show was being held.

By the time I arrived – twenty minutes before the show – the place was already packed with gays and greys. It was like going out for a night of theatre in Sydney (or Wagga, for that matter).

Although I’d booked the ticket a few months ago, I hadn’t looked closer at the detail, aside from the show featuring Helen Sjoholm, the Norrköpings Symfoniorkester and Fredrik Lycke. I was both pleased and disappointed that it was a tribute to Stephen Sondheim. I love Sondheim, but I also hoped Helen might do a few of her other hits. But that wasn’t to be, although there was a joke earlier in the show when Helen began to sing her bit hit song from Kristina, and then stopped saying “not tonight”.

It was a terrific show, featuring some of my favourite Sondheim numbers including, “Losing My Mind” (sung by Fredrik) and “Another Hundred People” (sung by Helen). I would have LOVED Helen to have sung, “Ladies Who Lunch” but that wasn’t to be. It was fascinating to hear some of the songs sung in Swedish and some of them sung in English. Helen, of course, sang beautifully, though if push came to shove, I’d admit a preference for when she sings in Swedish. She sounds so much more dramatic in Swedish, which I guess is partly because she softens her consonant sounds when she sings in English.

I also learned a few interesting cultural things tonight about concert going in a Swedish country town tonight, such as the intermission snack, with many people having pre-ordered a table and meal, and the cloak room. Let me tell you, the queue to get out of a concert where EVERYONE has handed in something into the cloak-room rivals Sydney airport check-in on a really bad day.

After the show I wandered out behind the concert hall and noticed a few of Helen’s fans standing by the concert door. I’d noticed them earlier in the night as a group of four women sitting in the front row. At the end of the show they all brought out large cameras and snapped a few photographs which, interestingly, Helen acknowledged on stage with a smile and a pose.

Seeing the women lining up, I thought to myself, “why not wait around and check her out in person also”. She came out reasonably quickly, smiled, chatted and signed some photographs. As I didn’t have anything on me, I asked simply, “Helen, may I please take a photograph” which she happily said yes to. The rest of the crowd moved slightly aside, Helen struck a pose, and I got my photograph. I said, “thankyou” and moved on.