thomas m wilson

The final chapter of my journey East.

August 5th, 2007

I’m sitting in a Starbucks outside Gare St. Lazare in Paris.  Yes, Paris, nowhere else have so many gone about their daily grind with so much ancient and beautiful masonry towering above their shoulders.   It is hot and sunny outside and I was forced into this chain as the classic Parisian cafe does not deign to offer wireless internet to its patrons.  Yesterday I sat on a boulder with a couple of friends in the evening sun on an island in the Swedish archipelago.  Today I’m en route to Normandy.

In just over a week – 15 August – I’ll be back in Australia.  I’m looking forward to the banksia trees and the peppermints, to seeing a few good friends and feeling the sand under my feet as I jog along Leighton beach.  I won’t have much internet access in Normandy, so this blog may have to recommence in a little over a week.  Then I’ll have time to reflect on more of the journey.

I’m hoping to visit St. Mont Michel in the coming days.  Let Providence make Luck be on my side.

Pastoral Scenes from the Novels of John Fowles

August 3rd, 2007

Yesterday I visited Skansen, the world’s first outdoor museum, situated on an island next to Stockholm.  The idea of an outdoor museum is here intended to show you what the trappings of life looked like for those people living in the Swedish countryside in centuries past.  As I walked around a couple of the things I saw reminded me of scenes from John Fowles’s books.

The first was from the first chapter of Daniel Martin.  It is harvest time in the south-west of England, and the villagers are stooking the wheat.  This sheaf of wheat below shows how the principal grain to nourish humanity was collected into a bundle.


The next few photos are not directly related to Fowles’s novels, but they are interesting nonetheless.


As you walk around there are people in the farm houses doing various things.  Here a girl was knitting some wrist warmers.  They talk in their strong Swedish accents and you really feel like you’re in the Swedish countryside.


Lactose intolerance is the normal state of humanity.  A few European groups have developed a genetic trait that lets them keep drinking mammalian milk after infancy.  The Swedes as a population have one of the lowest levels of lactose intolerance in the world.  To me that says that these people have been pastoralists for longer than nearly anybody else in the world.  Here is a scene from a northern pasture.  Traditional sheep hang out around a byre.


The earth roof was often seen…


The idea of using whole logs to make a dwelling is so simple and so obvious.  They are cut so that the logs simply sit on top of each other, locking into each other at the corners.


And now another scene from a novel by Fowles.  In The Magus the character of Maurice Conchis recounts the story of his time journeying through the wilds of northern Scandanavia.  He tells of coming upon a small farm in the remote north.  Up the river from the farm lived the blind brother of the farmer.  This brother believed that he communed with God on a nightly basis, and lived a bare and ascetic existence.  When I saw this old Swedish man in this tiny wood cabin, my memory went back to this powerfully narrated tale from The Magus.


The smoke in the cabin sits under the ceiling before leaving through the door, and radiates heat down into the rest of the cabin.

This next picture is of a tradtional bookbinders shop.  I took it for Sam, my brother, as he used to do bookbinding.  Now he’s creating digital books of a kind in cyberspace.  There seems to be some kind of continuity there.


My Knighthood in Stockholm

August 2nd, 2007

My baggage hasn’t made it here yet, but I at least am in Sweden.

After flying over Germany and seeing an endless patchwork of fields (as well as plenty of wind turbines by the way), I was glad to look down on Sweden and see forest cover being a more dominant element of the landscape. Clearly I had left the more hyper civilized parts of Western Europe behind me.


Upon arrival in Stockholm on Tuesday I ambled around downtown by myself, without a map and with the eyes of a stranger recording the scene. There are immigrants from Iraq and Iran and other places, but most people have the traditional Swedish features: thin faces with slightly pointy noses and blond or light coloured hair. I’d heard the Swedish were very fashionable, but I can’t agree: the guys are very often to be seen in a pair of jeans which hang off their arse and then become really tight around their legs. To top this off they often sport a tight, light coloured t-shirt and a cap sitting on their head at a wild angle. Sorry guys, but I’m not digging it.

The architecture seems to be full of straight edges after the curved embellishments of Parisian apartment buildings. Like German towns, and unlike English or French ones, the buildings are painted bright colours. I prefer the unpainted stone and the more intricate facades of further south in Europe.


The streets of Stockholm’s downtown are strangely either shopping streets, full of commerce and people, or not shopping streets, and if you make a turn all of a sudden there is nobody around and no shops to be seen. There are many waterways running through Stockholm, and the presence of the Baltic sea never far away is nice. The sound of Swedish in my ears is a kind of honest, charming sing-song which proceeds ‘da-da-da‘ with an emphasis on the last syllable.

From the moment I arrived, looked at the airport and talked to a polite, intelligent, friendly and articulately Anglophone Swedish woman at Scandanavian Airlines, I knew I was in an organised country. This place is full of clean public places and fast and easy to use public transport. Maybe one of the reasons I have encountered happy and smart people in the service industry here is that these guys actually have a robustly supported Society. Think tax funded child care, parental leave (for both the mother and the father), a ceiling on health care costs, free education up to and including university, extra taxes for the very rich, and proportional representation. With all that no wonder you don’t encounter too many bitter underdogs, or outright criminals, as you walk around the place. If you look after the whole society, and not just the abstract Me of right wing politics, then a trip down to buy some milk from the shop will be a better experience.

In my final bit of praise for the Swedish nation state, I am pleased to see that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences agrees that global oil supplies are peaking and that Sweden should get itself off the oil addiction. It isn’t impossible that Sweden will be oil free by 2020 as the government has promised. They already get most of their electricity from hydro and nuclear and biomass. It is so heartening to see a national government well on the road to doing the only sane thing when it comes to dealing with the environment: preferential taxation to encourage environmentally benign patterns of consumption (for example, the more polluting your car is, the more you pay to own it). The feeling that the people upstairs are actually moving forward on sustainability is refreshing.

My next photo from Stockholm was inspired by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote.  My little poem below isn’t just about traveling.


Dub Me a Knight


I’d rather be tilting at windmills, than pronouncing life a known factor.


I’d rather be questing over the horizon, than ticking boxes at the desk.


I’d rather have an imagination, than a BMW.


To the giants!

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