Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Green Line

Skarpnäck station is a massive underground chamber spanning two platforms, carved from the living rock and painted red. Benched trilithons of polished stone serve as seating. The station was completed in 1994 as a terminus of the Green Line.

I am staying at Skarpnäck for a few days, some five miles south-eastwards from the centre of Stockholm. It is a classic ABC town in the suburbs: Arbete, Bostad, Centrum, a self-contained, social settlement offering 'Work', 'Housing' and a 'Centre' for some 40,000 inhabitants. Green-space is never far away: brick-built neighbourhoods are separated by stretches of birch woodland and ridges of ice-carved bedrock: remnants of a raw, forested, glaciated land, once risen from the sea. In Britain we have to plan Green Infrastructure into our urban development; in Sweden they have so much wild-space that this surely happens by default.
Hammarbyhöjden - Björkhagen - rrtorp - Bagarmossen - Skarpnäck.... the names of the stations on the Green Line are places absorbed by the spreading suburbs - 'Hammarby Height', 'Birch Paddock', 'Marsh Cottage', 'Baker's Moor', 'Sharp Neck' - each one a south-eastward stride from the city, each a named facet of local landscape. But thus absorbed, these country places are not as disconnected from their primal geography as Parsons Green or Shepherd's Bush in London. 

I am staying for a few days with my friend Åsa Lind. The uncluttered calm of her flat, conducive to thoughtful writing, contrasts with the chaos of my home in England. We drank champagne last night at Lena's party and got back late; it is mid-day already, and I need to get some air.

I leave the low apartment block, and meet three hooded crows inspecting a stretch of mown grass; we have suburban hoodies of a different kind in England. A three-minute walk brings me to edge of a wooded area. I am soon on an uphill track among oak, pine, rowan and bilberry. There is golden rod, juniper and meadowsweet; goldcrests twitter overhead, invisible in the tree canopy, and outcrops of tough, ice-ground bedrock drowse beneath moss and lichen. From time to time, I meet passers by, but they are caught up in their headphones, in family life or walking the dog. I am exploring the outback between Skarpnäck and Bagarmossen with fresh eyes. 

Little footpaths weave among the trees. I think this land belongs to the Kommun, but there are no signs telling me so. There are no charred remains of cars, though I do come across empty drink cans and broken bottle glass round the remains of a small camp fire. Fallen trees rot where they lie. I find an owl feather stuck into the rainbow-painted bark of a pine tree.

This wooded land at Skarpnäck is surely a small outpost of the breathtaking, ancient forest preserved at Tyresta, some 8 miles (13 km) away to the south-east. I fancy I could get there by walking a green line of my own, without once ever leaving the shadow of the trees; I should come back one day and try it.  

Mossy forest at Tyresta. Photo courtesy Lena Ohre.

Friday, 5 October 2012

The ‘Estonia’ Memorial

Galärvarvskyrkogården, Stockolm
24th September, 2012
A granite alcove shelters an elm tree: three grey walls enclosing a young trunk in a triangle of dressed stone. Open at one corner, it points south across a sloping lawn towards the water of Stockholm harbour.

The Memorial is a shard which gathers our thoughts into its geometry. Strings of names are engraved on three inward-looking panels, all 852 of them. “Magnus Andersson was on the Estonia” says Lena, “he used to be in my class at school”. I understand then that the names are codes for flesh and blood that breathed water. The walls are holding the story for us to read.

We start scanning the rows, reading each variant name, looking for ‘Magnus’ followed by ‘Andersson’. It takes three minutes to find the halves of his name and join them together. Lena pauses in a moment of recall; he breathes again for a moment in her thoughts. Then we move on, away from the crush of names, into the warm sunshine on the lawn beyond.

Deras namn och deras öde vill vi aldrig glömme’ says the Memorial. I cannot recognise all of the words, but the word 'glömme' is like a candle at the end of the sentence.