I’m back from Stockholm, and although it rained the entire time I had a beautiful apartment and the best of company. The ever-present grey drizzle was compensated for by the long hours of daylight and old cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, as well as the fact it provided plenty of opportunities for fika, Swedish for coffee-and-pastry break. The two days were equal parts exploring in the rain and warming up in Shoreditch-worthy coffee shops with cinnamon or cardamon buns, staring out through the steamed-up windows at the blur and bustle of the streets in between sips of scalding coffee. We even braved a rooftop bar, and stoically nursed cognac and champagne cocktails under our umbrellas, for the sake of a hazy view of the Stockholm skyline.

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It’s cold for summer, but then I suppose it’ll always be colder this far north and west. We get a few gloriously sunny days, but even then it never gets above 16 degrees. But the cool drizzle somehow suits the rugged landscape; the green hills and the shaggy highland cows, though beautiful in the sunlight, sit well against a greyer backdrop.

We spent a week exploring Iona and the Isle of Mull. For a lifelong inhabitant of the metropole, both felt incredibly remote. One can almost sense the isolation of the monks in Iona Abbey, and their vulnerability to raiders from across the sea; how it must have felt to see the forms of Viking ships emerging out of the mist on a wet and windy day not unlike this one. Mull has a stronger pulse, but even  the brightly painted buildings of the Tobermory seafront are filled overwhelmingly with tourists like myself, or drunk old men with weather-beaten faces, stamping their feet to songs about whiskey.

I often think about how food can paint the portrait of a people. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the portrayal of gender in the Jacobite rebellions, and the implications for early eighteenth century British political culture; you’d be surprised how often oats, whiskey, and dairy come up in the primary sources, if only because someone has hidden important documents in a bag of oats. According to the Highland Folk Museum, these all traditionally featured very heavily in the diets of Highlanders and Islanders, though, and is perhaps less surprising given the dishes that Scotland is best known for today (although in many cases things seen as traditionally ‘Scottish’ have been appropriated from Highland culture, which was in fact a world apart from Lowland life).

I thought this would be a good excuse for another ‘what I eat in a day’ post. I always like to try to eat locally and seasonally, even more so when travelling, because it gives a feel for the place. You may think there isn’t all that much difference (Scotland is, after all, still part of the UK — sorry SNP supporters) but every region does things slightly differently, and that’s worth exploring. I wasn’t a huge fan of whiskey stirred into porridge…but at least I tried it.  View Full Post

 

Everything moves slowly. The air is hot, the sand underfoot is hot, the sun is too strong in the sky to move anywhere too fast. I can’t work out if it’s because I’m a tourist in a designated place of leisure, or if the pace of life there generally has a more laid-back quality to it. It’s easy to see why I’m not stressed, lying on a hammock under the coconut palms and swaying gently in the sea breeze. But the way the waiters laugh as they effortlessly hack open coconuts with machetes, or the steel pan players dance to their own rhythms in the midday heat, makes every movement and moment of life look fun and carefree. And yet so many I spoke to work multiple jobs and incredibly long hours. I think about what it is that makes life look easy when it isn’t, then get tired of thinking and order another rum cocktail. View Full Post

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My friend Claire never draws her curtains at night. Like a true New Yorker, she works such long hours that there’s no need; she’s up before it’s light, and in bed long after it’s dark. From her apartment in Flatiron I could lie in bed and watch the blinking lights of the City, blurred and fragmented slightly by the flurry of falling snow, and listen to the steady rush of traffic roaring, intersection by intersection, through the icy slush of the streets.  The same lights blinked to me at dawn, the same dull roar of traffic and yellow taxis honking their way down 5th Avenue. Truly, it is the City that Never Sleeps.    View Full Post