Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Made a Friend in Stockholm

It was a casual decision. The bread from the breakfast buffet that I lost interest in after consuming the other delicious offerings of muesli, yogurt and jam, egg, pate and ham I would wrap in a blue paper dinner napkin and take with me. "For the swans," I'd said. But that slice of bread was long forgotten by late afternoon when I found myself under a pure warm Autumn sun strolling the outermost path on Kastellholmen pressing crisping leaves underfoot. The water here is shallow and its potable clarity readily apparent; its gentle lapping was a liquid music to my ears, and I was taken away. Still, when a single swan paddled toward me, I remembered and took my cue.

For a moment, I wasn't even sure I'd taken the bread with me, but a little fishing in my bag turned it up, happily. I sat on the wall and the swan swam closer, hissing all the way, being sure to establish its command over the situation: "I want something from you, but I'll have it my way." A swan is a very large bird, but humans are larger. No matter, I deferred to her dominance, and made sure to keep my sandaled feed out of nipping range.

Breaking and tossing commenced, and I made that one slice last as long as I could, filling myself all the while with the majesty of this fierce but nevertheless angel-winged icon of grace. This time I had the camera and this time I made good use of it, taking still and moving pictures, marking our brief encounter.

I say "her" because her larger companion swam in, after the last crumb had fallen, alas, along with a third. I tried the pith of an orange (another "stolen" fruit from the hotel) on them, which they took once or twice then rejected thereafter. And exactly when it was clear there would be no more palatable morsels forthcoming, the three unceremoniously moved on.

Back home in Dublin, when I open up to see the extent of what I'd photographed there, I am surprised to feel the sort of delight one feels when spontaneously encountering a new friend after not seeing one another for a time.

"I made a friend in Stockholm," I say to myself, and I know it is flattery or fantasy really, but somehow true as well. It's stopping that does this, I am convinced. Stopping fortified in this case by the breaking of bread. What is it that happens when food is shared? A simple, dry, staling piece of bread--it doesn't matter the quality of the food; it's about the sharing. The pausing. Like the pause I took those two hours on Norrmalm to write, to steep in sun and dappled water, to be with the twittering of the bird in the willow overhanging my bench. That which I encounter while in motion passes; that which I encounter at pause comes with me.

And so, I can also share her with you.


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