The reward for living in a place that’s dark 8 months a year, that serves herring pickled 30 ways swilled down with shots of Akvavit, is that you win the prize for living in “best place to write a homicide novel.” The Swedish Crime Writers Academy boasts dozens of  masterful authors, not the least of which was Stieg Larsson with his Millennium Trilogy (best seller in 44 different languages). This Fall, we found that even Swedish art could have a diabolical twist – evidenced by the exhibit  Slow Art (May 10, 2012-February 3, 2013) at the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts (Nationalmuseum).

“Beauty has a Thorn” 2008 by Mafune Gonjo. Dress of glass shards and metal!
“Dog Rose” 2005 by Annika Liljedahl. Heels made of pins and satin.

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But honestly, after spending a few months in Scandinavia during the lightless season, we concluded that there’s a lot more to Sweden than episodes of  inspector “Wallander”, or the Lisbeth Salander tour of Stockholm. Even if taciturn, depressed detectives are a dime a dozen, our visit revealed the surprisingly brighter side of the Northern psyche. Swedes are keen on contemporary design, natural beauty, and a sense of community cooperation. Plus, they love to invent stuff  like SKYPE (internet calling) and SPOTIFY (streaming music service).

A Swedish crime novel will probably play down the fact that Sweden scored #3 on the United Nations Human Development Index. That means they have one of the highest rates of education (state paid), highest rates of health care (state paid), highest rates of income  and among the highest rates of life expectancy. So if you’re a Swede who’s going to hang around 80 odd years making a decent living, what better way to spend your money than on good fun and good food.

Test my theory by booking a leisurely brunch at the Grand Hotel overlooking the Norrström River  facing the Royal Palace and Gamla Stan. It might set you back a few hundred dollars – but save up, it’s worth it. Here’s what I mean:

Tuna Tartar at the elegant Grand Hotel, Stockholm. Those tiny caviar-like balls are actually tropical fruit.
Chocolate raspberry mouse presented as still life.

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After you’ve eaten the entire basket of croissants that came with your brunch, try walking it off  at the Nationalmuseum’s exhibit, Pride and Prejudice 1750-1860 (September 27, 2012 – January 20, 2013) where you can investigate the curse of being a woman artist in a man’s world.

Amalia Lindegren’s “Study of a Female Model” was by far my favorite.

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Stop in at the Renaissance room.

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Another Stockholm location that’s too serene and cheery to be the right setting for a good old-fashioned murder is Waldemarsudde (Prins Eugens väg 6, Djurgården, The dreamy Villa and garden belonged to the artist and collector, Prince Eugene (1865-1947), youngest son of  King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway, who willed it to the nation at his death.

We started our expedition below stairs where the Prince’s kitchen staff once concocted grand meals for high society. Today, the old wood burning stove and white tiled pantry accommodate a casual, but sumptuous cafe for commoners.

You guessed it…Swedish meatballs and potatoes garnished with currants and cucumbers.
The Swedes love their carbs. Maybe they need all those goodies  to stay warm?
I’ll admit it. We ate that deliciously gooey blueberry cake.

After our heart stopping meal we wandered upstairs to explore the Prince’s house and art collection.

A haunting portrait by famous Swedish artist Anders Zorn (1860-1920).

Swedish artist Nils Kreuger (1858-1930) came to Paris in 1881 and painted these beat-up shoes. Van Gogh bought his own flea market work boots and painted them in 1886. Was there a connection here?

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The current exhibition at Waldemarsudde (October 6, 2012-January 20, 2013) features virtuoso bird painter and wildlife naturalist LARS JONSSON .

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You can see some of the best birds in Stockholm in the Prince’s garden overlooking the inland sea.

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Probably the most important celebration of life over death in Sweden is the RAOUL WALLENBERG memorial in downtown Stockholm.  Wallenburg (1912-?) was a Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust in 1944.  He was captured by the Soviet Union and disappeared into the Ljubljanka prison in Moscow never to be heard from again.

Granite globe reads: “The road was straight, when Jews were deported to death. The road was winding, dangerous and full of obstacles, when Jews were trying to escape from the murderers.” written in 22 languages. Located in Berns and Berzelii Park, Stockholm.

For a country that spawned the grim realism of August Strindberg and Ingmar Bergman, and lives right next door to Norway and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”,  Sweden has managed to balance its dark mysterious side with an enlightened quality of life and a northern beauty.  More on Sweden next blog.


  1. What a pleasant read after my mad fun cyber Monday. You really know how to “see”‘it all. Hope to see you two soon. Xxren

    Sent from my iPhone

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