What’s inside the beast?

So yesterday, Thursday, I woke up and spent the morning working on my play in the sunny hotel courtyard at the excellent Columbus Loft. I sat on a chair next to a couch with a coffeetable in between.


Two young men came into the courtyard. One sat down in the chair across from me and the other on the couch. There were many empty tables and chairs and they chose to sit there, invading my space. I moved my bags which had been on the couch to my side for safety and continued writing. I thought it odd but an older couple was at another table and the busy hotel breakfast service was happening in the lobby just inside so I wasn’t afraid.  I soon became absorbed in my play.  Time passed and I realized that the three of us had been sitting there in silence. For a long time.  I tried to speak to them but the one in the chair across from me just glared and the other tried to speak a few words but the language barrier I assumed was too great. Then we continued to sit in silence. I wrote some more.  I looked up.  The older couple was gone.  The two remained.  I looked to see if there was silent communication going on between them. The glarer looked at me; I met his gaze. He looked away. One went into the hotel, the other remained. I began to imagine a terrorist plot–I am a product of my times.  Then someone came and greeted the remaining one warmly and he repeated vowel sounds over and over again and I realized that these two young men were either on the autism spectrum or had some disability. Some other adults with disabilities joined them in the courtyard and the chaperoned group left together.  It all clicked into place. I had a context for why they were there, why they had ignored social norms, why they were not speaking.


After that, I walked from the Hotel in Sodermalm, down the highway and across the bridge,


to the old section of Stockholm, Gamla Stan, which means the old town. The streets are cobble stone, windy and narrow. The colors of the four story buildings have those lovely older hues — ochre, umber, beige, salmon, terra cotta. There were many souveneir shops and cafes that catered to the thousands of tourists they get daily but there were also quiet streets to escape into and wander.

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My feet took me uptown to the Strindberg House and Museum.  I don’t know much about Strindberg. I’ve read Miss Julie. I have a vague memory of doing a scene from it in graduate school.   Arcadia will be doing it in the fall and I thought I’d find whatever dramaturgy I might while I’m here at the source. Strindberg was born in 1849 and lived until 1912. He married three times, all ending in divorce.  He had a passel of kids. He was born in Stockholm and died in Stockholm, but in between, he lived in Europe and the United States, searching for his fire and truth.

IMG_8707_2He wrote many books, articles, and plays, many of which were controversial. He was regarded highly by other artists in Sweden and abroad.  In Berlin, he befriended Munch.  Strindberg painted a little and got into photography in its nascent stages. He loved music and composed a little of it.  The exhibit was in Swedish. There were enough signs and subtitles in English that like stepping stones, got me to the other side. I had to put on plastic booties over my shoes to wear into his apartment, the last place he wrote and lived. The sound design was on motion sensor. In this installation, I heard footsteps, the hiss of a gas lamp, an old/new telephone, him clearing his throat to write at his desk. He had an army of writing utensils laid out on his desk….pencils and charcoals and sharperners of the day.  The whole exhibit made me want to read his novels and his Dream Play.  It also made me want to line up sexy writing tools on my desk top.   Keyboards are just not sexy.


I left and walked back to Gamla Stan, where I had cappucino with this marvelous marzipan creation that I’m blaming Karyn for. She told me to eat something over here and I can’t remember what it was so I keep eating everything hoping I fulfill her instructions. Who knew marzipan was so good.


On my climb back up to Sodermalm, I saw down down down along the water the Fotografikiska, a photography museum. A gentleman on the train named Knut told me it was good. I decided to descend and see for myself.  I saw four exhibits in all. Two blew me away: Martin Parr’s Souvenir and Nick Brandt’s On this Earth, A Shadow Falls Across a Ravaged Land.  Parr’s work captured the every day life of the English and in doing so, commented on consumerism and excess.  It’s boldly colorful, funny and attentive.  It loves as it jabs.

Nick Brandt’s exhibit moved me deeply.  The scale of his work made being in the room an event. A photo of a single elephant staring at you would cover a wall. He caught such personality in these creatures within the frame of a dieing planet–an expanding desert, a dried up lakebed, a solitary bleached branch. I felt his passion; I felt he took me with him to these places to meet these creatures. I felt his artful manipulation that was like sorcery to me. How did he render this without the usual telephoto lens?  Check out the link below to the museum to learn more about these photographers.



I was so grateful to be there. I was challenged to look even more at the specifics of the world around me: to see repetitions and series, to see the common gesture, to look for the being inside the beast.


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