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Stockholm, Sweden

I went for a walk up to the Moderna Museet, the modern art museum in Stockholm. Crossing from one island to another I saw what looked like a couple of police officers in yellow fluorescent jackets on a boat. They appeared to be fishing for bodies, looking for someone who had commit suicide the night before. That was Saturday night. It was St. Patrick’s day so I went out to one of the local Irish pubs (actually two of them) for a pint of Guinness (two pints of Guinness – I went with the intention of having one but had two). There were many people about. Long queues outside the clubs. Most people appeared cheerful, but with the Swedes cheerfulness comes across as a front designed to hide their morbidity. Someone the other night told me this was a good time to be in Stockholm because spring was coming and the people were coming out of the winter hibernations and going out again. Last night people did come across as people who hadn’t been out for six months. It wasn’t a warm night, but many of them were barely dressed. (Sometimes when women bend over and I’m standing behind them I have to look away out of decency, but then I have to look back to see if I still need to be looking away.)

As I got closer I saw that the two policemen fishing for a drowned body had rods so they probably weren’t policemen. But I preferred the idea of them being police fishing for a drowned body rather than fishermen fishing for fish. It seemed natural that on a Sunday the police would be out looking for drowned suicides for whom the pressure of having to act cheerful became too much. There’s a lot of water in Stockholm, and it’s probably not very warm water so if you did end up in it you probably wouldn’t last long. Even without any material evidence or witnesses, the police would assume there must be bodies in there. The futility of existence is evidence enough, they would say.

In a DVD shop the other day in the supposedly cool part of Stockholm I wasn’t able to find any Ingmar Bergman films. Instead the shelves were full of comedies and American action movies. If they had had a Bergman film they probably would have disguised it as a comedy or action movie. Cries and Whispers: gentle family comedy about three sisters. The Seventh Seal: death defying knight and his squire are chased by a scythe wielding, chess playing serial killer.

I’m off to Finland on Wednesday. Talking to a drunken Fin in a cowboy hat I decided that the Fins are more balanced in an unhinged kind of way. The Fins, or this guy at least, I haven’t met any others yet, don’t disguise their morbidity. When the Swedes are like characters in Ingmar Bergman films I find them much easier to deal with than these young cheerful and friendly ones I’ve encountered, but they’re the only ones I’ve encountered so far. I haven’t met any Swedes who have spoken to me about death or the impossibility of a loving god. Perhaps this was the wrong time to come to Sweden. I should have come in mid-winter to see them as they really are. They’re only Abba and Ikea on the surface, Bergman and Strindberg underneath. Deep down they know reality is dark and existence is futile, but a bit of warm(ish) weather and a few beers and they manage to convince themselves it’s all okay, which of course it isn’t.

I’ve been reading James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia. Gaia: the earth as a self-regulating living organism, one which we’re poisoning with our burning of carbon and if we don’t stop one of two things will happen: we will destroy Gaia and thereby destroy ourselves, or Gaia will destroy us first, just as our bodies destroy bacteria and viruses that threaten us.

There are a lot of tourists in Sweden. A lot of them are Swedish tourists. Sweden is getting warmer, so in the future there may be even more tourists. The trouble with the debate about global warming is often that’s as far as it goes. There is the idea that it will be a good thing for the cold countries. In the short term maybe it will, but for Gaia a cold planet is better than a hot one. Gaia prefers the ice ages to the warm periods like the one we’re in now. That’s because most life is in the sea and cold seas, with waters below 12 degrees, can support the marine algae which keeps the sea alive. Seas that are warmer than 12 degrees contain far less life, and no marine algae which is one of the major climate regulators of the earth. So as the earth warms there’s less marine algae so less cooling so the earth gets even warmer etc.. There are a lot of similar vicious circles. Arctic tundra melting will release into the atmosphere the huge deposits methane held under the ice, four times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Polar ice caps reflect a lot of the sun’s light and so keep the earth cool. As they melt that cooling will be less.