One bright afternoon I was strolling down Drottninggatan in Norrmalm, central Stockholm. The morning’s dreary greyness had drifted away, and a beautiful, rain-washed Nordic city lay before me. Patches of blue reflected in puddles, around which arm-linked girls nimbly tripped their chatting way.
Drottninggatan (Queen Street), now mostly pedestrianised, is the longest street in Stockholm, allowing for unlimited, orgiastic shopping. At the top stands the Strindberg Museum, the former home of quirky 19th century Swedish author-artist, distinguishable by his Beethovian brow, generous mustaches and jaunty goatee. There are also a Kulturcafé called Santa Barbara, and a lattice-paned Irish pub. At the other end of Drottninggatan lies the most popular tourist destination in the city (apart from the Vasa Ship and Skansen theme park): Gamla Stan – the medieval Old Town where the city first took root during the 12th century.
And shopping was what I was doing, when hailed by an apparition clad all in fairy-green – proffering a hotdog!
“Please”, he insisted, in lilting English, “You must take this hotdog.”
I eyed both his singular costume and eager young countenance with skepticism, and considered how to respond. For here was an apparently sane young man, tall and handsome, dressed as an impish fairy, his long hairy legs exposed to view.
Passers-by stared and children gaped, for it was still the height of the season, and Drottninggatan was abuzz with the Friday afternoon shopping fever of locals and tourists alike: scruffy back-packers and trendy Latin jet-setters, suited businessmen and well-heeled blonde Germanic matrons.
“You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to”, said the man-fairy, “You can throw it away later. But first I must sing you a song.”
I then caught sight of his carefree companions, impishly poised with smart phones. He explained that this was part of his bachelors’ party high-jinks, as he was to be married the very next day.
I accepted the hot-dog. “Sing me your song”, said I. “I am all ears!”
So there we were, in the middle of the throng: a latter-day troubadour and I, with a mustard-oozing hot-dog, enjoying and old-fashioned serenade. The last times I remembered this happening were an Italian mandolin-player at a café near Pompeii, and a French student fiddler at a brasserie in Paris.
The groom-to-be launched into a charming Swedish love-song, little of which I understood, but the gist of which was fairly clear.
Hands were shaken, photographs taken, and farewells bade, and the young men continued on their merry way up Drottninggatan, clearly intent on further pre-nuptial pranks. And I returned to the Central Station, a spring in my step.
Such moments of comic relief are welcome in a world full of challenges. We are all ultimately just fellow travelers on Life’s long and varied journey – a journey with its sorrows, but which is also rich in happy experiences and – Joie-de-vivre.
We just need to know how to look for it.