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Södermalm


"I'm going to get make him give you a super stiff drink," he said. "The stiffest possible drink, man. Just you wait."

"Great. Stiff drink. Got it."

When Erik finally handed over the drink, spilling half of it down my forearm, it turned out to be an 8-ounce glass of tequila with two cubes of ice and a lemon rind dropped into it.

He took a drink.

"Oh man. Stiff, no?"

I put down this glass of poison on the bar and picked up a few cocktail napkins to wipe my arm.

"Yeah. Really stiff!" I shouted.

It had to be around 3 AM and it seemed evident that the night would not end on its own. I had met Erik and Oliver, two Stockholmares, at an empty touristy bar in Gamla Stan a few hours before, where I was trying to write something coherent about the Swedes I had met over my previous week in the country. They asked me to join them at the bar, where a Canadian bartender with practiced sad eyes waited on us. Out of the three of them (inclusive of Erik and Oliver), she seemed the most anxious to explain herself.

But it quickly became evident that I was going to be the captive of these two monstrous and gregarious Swedes for the evening -- bent as they were on convincing me that I hadn't yet seen the "real" Stockholm. Erik, from the city itself, was a banker and conveyed how much he loved to "make party" every weekend. Oliver was the Scandinavian hayseed, from the way north around the Arctic Circle, and conveyed some less than savory political views in the jolly register that suggested (a) that he had never sat with anyone who had disagreed with him and (b) that any kind of political conversation was best avoided in the coming hours. He called himself a "consultant," but with the kind of hesitation that actually suggested he was unemployed.

By 8PM, with the sun still high in the sky, these two were hammered in the unique way that only Northern Europeans seem to (a) get truly hammered and (b) stay truly hammered for upwards of 12 hours. The farther north one goes, I've found, the more endurance the people have for absolutely mind-boggling alcohol consumption: alcohol consumption that presses well past the point of enjoyment, and ventures a some sloppy kilometers beyond self-loathing. It's in this foreign terrain, I think, on which certain truths about humanness begin to reveal themselves in drink. Even when spoken sober, Scandinavian languages are filled with slurred and guttural sounds, as if constructed to accommodate the loosened tongues of folks who have done some seriously problematic drinking, and must communicate the scary truths that they have come across before they sober up enough to push them back into the depths of their own unconscious.

We left the first bar, and the sad Canadian with whom I would have rather stayed and talked quietly instead of being dragged into the night by burly Swedish frat boys. Oliver immediately wandered away from us to take a leak off of a bridge. Erik swayed next to me, lighting a flavored cigarette, telling me about the various creative ways that America had invented to screw itself. I kept myself reaction-less, and instead stood there and felt the late- summer evening breeze come off the water, wondering at how anyone could survive six months of darkness in this town.

We found Oliver and walked over the bridge into Södermalm.