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Tripping In Babylon

Dreaming of the Drift

SWEDEN | Monday, 18 May 2015 | Views [146] | Scholarship Entry

This was a trip as I had never tried it before.

Before we begin in earnest, yes. I was that kind of teenager. The one who thought he could play guitar. But in this case, that chord book served me well.

No money. A second-hand guitar and a fourth-hand book of chords. A plane ticket to Gothenburg. A warm bed (okay, a cold floor) on the eastern coast of Sweden. Time to give myself over to the drift and see where it took me. I disembarked the plane in the snow of Sweden in mid-March, just after my eighteenth birthday, and hopped on the shuttle bus into Gothenburg. A short hour later, through dense forests and primary-colour wooden houses, I arrived, alone, in Sweden's Second City.

It was around this time that the fear started to set in. With only the most basic of Swedish phrases in my vocabulary, I began to curse my dreams of Beatnik freedom and travel (though the copy of 'On The Road' I took with me as a good luck charm remains as well read and well loved as ever). I needed to earn 320 Swedish Krona in three hours in order to catch my train and avoid sleeping rough that night. To this end, I sought out other street performers and discovered that, beyond the striking pastiches and facades over the (now gentrified) old working class neighbourhood of Haga, Gothenburg is a city of bohemian talent.

From the chalk artists mocking up modernist classics--my favourite Magritte painting daubed onto a city building being a particular treasure--to the jugglers and stilt walkers around central station, I eventually found a spot in a submerged tunnel entering a shopping centre. One hundred meters further along stood a Statue Man daubed in gold, who had winked at me as I walked past with my guitar.

Reliant on the generosity of Swedish strangers, I muddled my way through an hour of half-remembered songs, and lo and behold, within the hour I had earned myself 600 Krona (including a top-scoring 150Kr from a teenage girl who, I think, asked for my number, and got horribly embarrassed when I confessed I couldn't speak Swedish. She disappeared before the money hit the case).

With Beatnik philosophies fueling my travel style, I rounded up the money and went to a cafe. I bought two servings of apple pie, flavoured with cinnamon, and vanilla ice-cream, and walked towards the statue man, now taking his break. I sat down with him, handed him a serving, and the remaining 190Kr (after the train ticket), and we ate in silence. I left as we had met, with a wink and a smile.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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