Beginning from the Beginning: Swedish Heritage in Illinois

Krista Westerlund is our spiritual + historical correspondent. This missive is from her travels to the midwest —and back in time— to trace her Swedish family’s journey in America.

Little Sweden

Little Sweden in America. All images via KW.

I have been really, really remiss about writing about my travel experiences lately. I have traveled a lot and thought about writing about it, but the pen has not gone to paper or rather the finger has not gone to key. I’ve been to a lot of different kinds of places and also, I have spent my fair share of time in my sleepy little patch of routine daily life dreaming about places farther afield and the world beyond my window.

A while ago, I talked about how travel is not a competition. Well, for me, it still isn’t. There are plenty of other people out there who travel far more frequently than I do and who can tick off far more boxes on their bucket lists. Yes, there are places that I’d like to see and certain goals when it comes to travel that I would like to accomplish, but ultimately I don’t travel that way. I am fairly ordinary and on an ordinary budget in life. What I have, and I wouldn’t presume to say that I have far more of it than others – but I do definitely have it, is curiosity. Continue reading

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RoadReads: “Death of the American Hobo”

“Stay down and don’t let anybody see you.” image via

We managed to jump over a couple strings of cars and get out of the yard and were wandering past suburban houses when two cop cars rolled out of nowhere. A bald, angry-looking officer swaggered over to us. “Cat-and-mouse game, huh? Looks like we win,” he scoffed. The other, a soft-spoken “good cop,” asked us a lot of questions about ourselves, and we managed to build up a friendly rapport. The bald one narrowed his eyes and glared at Jackson: “You’ve got a wedding ring on and a nice-ass camera around your neck. So what are you doing out here?”

What, indeed. Aaron Lake Smith rides the rails for Vice, from Walden Pond to Reno, NV to the Hobo Convention. (Read it in full here.)

In spite of the weather, this is London’s time to shine.

Krista Westerlund is our spiritual + historical correspondent. This dispatch examines and arrives from the present center of the world’s attention: London.

Standard bustle in Trafalgar Square. all images © KW.

Ah, London. City of contrasts and competing visions. It is difficult to discuss such an iconic city with so much variety, so much grandeur, and so much touristic appeal because there are simply so many ways that you can enjoy visiting it. There are as many Londons as there are people who visit or live in the city. The tremendous diversity is the beating heart of London‘s urban charm. This year London is experiencing a unity and pride that has probably not been felt in decades. 2012 is a year that is synonymous with London. Andy Murray may not have won at Wimbledon this summer but Britishness has not been so lauded in years and never before in this fashion. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Summer Olympics games are aligning to make this summer a celebration of the city.

London has been riddled with social unrest, class tensions, and the legacy of its imperial history as a center of global commercial and political power. Various societal malaises have plagued the city, many of which don’t require mentioning because they have dominated headlines. London has been through a lot of bleak times. There has been a sense of an identity crisis in the city as it struggled to cohere its substantial history with the change brought about by fundamental shifts in the global geopolitical order. Economic and societal woes have been in lock-step with London for many decades as it faced a decline in global significance and, at the same time, a rise in cosmopolitanism. Regularly spending time in the city over the years, I could not help but be swayed by its charm because no matter how difficult things get, it remains a vibrant, fascinating and transformative place. In 2012, London is palpably different though. Some may consider events like those that London is hosting this summer to be trivial. They may think that money spent on things like concerts, sporting events and parades should be suspended when the world is in such economic upheaval, but they are like lights in the storm. They are moments that make life worth living and London excels at those. That is perhaps how the city has been able to retain its magnetism in spite of the difficulties that have beset it at various times in both recent and more distant history.

The rafters of Covent Garden.

As the eyes of the world turn to London, the city correspondingly comes together. The city that emerges after this summer’s festivities are over will still face serious challenges. However, it will do so with more identity and more confidence. There will be more union in that Jack at least as far as the metropolis is concerned. So of course, I suggest that you go to London in 2012, but then again, I suggest that you go there at any time. You didn’t have to attend the actual Jubilee events nor do you need to watch the Olympics in person (congrats to those who are though) in order to get into the spirit of London this year. Visiting a pub (or your nearest imitation if you really can’t make it), raising a glass, and toasting with those near and dear to you is as quintessentially British as anything and, alcohol aside, it is the warm communal spirit of merrymaking and connecting with others that is essence of London. That is the reason that the city endures through all of its incarnations and tribulations. It touches upon the profound social nature of people, which is why it so excels at hosting events like those of this summer.

Go on then, and celebrate London wherever you are. Cheers.

Let the games begin.

 

RoadReads: “Everest, the Grandaddy of Walking Adventures”

His granddad wore tweed, Sam wears spandex. image via

It’s not just anyone who can come, but everyone too – and they do. In the previous month, 10,000 tourists had entered Sagarmatha National Park. The trail north from the scary little airstrip at Lukla is chocker with trekkers – at times it’s more like a queue than a walk. Antipodeans trade matey banter; purposeful Germans with trekking poles overtake on the straights; the French, beautifully turned out, shrug indifferently; fat tattooed Brits huff and puff on the inclines. Above us, the air is alive with helicopters ferrying Japanese tourists who have neither the time nor the inclination to walk up the valley. They will spend a night in the Hotel Everest View, gasping into oxygen cylinders. In the morning they will take photos on the terrace, then fly away. Tomorrow they’ll probably be in Bangkok, or the Philippines.”

Even on Everest, time marches on, and Sam Wollaston’s trudging in its Gore-Tex’d footsteps for the Guardian. (Read it in full here.)

RoadReads: “Tourist Snapshots”

The blue dome of Santorini, reverse view. image via

…..I rearrange the fragments. What was I thinking when I cropped them? Why did I cut the sky-blimp out of my picture of the Chicago World Cup parade? Why did I cut Graceland Mansion out of my picture of Graceland? …Removed from the official photographic memory, the fragments demand an exercise of actual memory, an act of reclamation. They are like phantom limbs: You have to dream the body back into being.

Lucky for Design Observer, Rolf Potts delves deeply into travel vs. photography and what we’re actually doing when we click that digital shutter. (Read it in full here.)

RoadReads: “The Essential Nature of Islands”

A kayaker floats in El Nido. image via

Paddling one day about ten miles southwest to a headland, I caught sight of an island that had been hidden from my campsite — a new hump of rock where I saw a sandy beach and some huts. A Germanic-looking man in a green bathing suit stood on the beach to welcome me. “Hi,” he said and grabbed my bow line and helped pull my boat to shore.

“Nice kayak,” he said. It was salt-smeared and wet from the long haul from the headland. “Isn’t that the kind of boat Paul Theroux paddled in his travels around the Pacific?”

Being cautious, I said, “You read that book?”

“Oh, yeah. Great book.”

This happens now and then — more often in a remote place like Palawan than in places closer to home.

“I wrote it.”

“Cut the shit.”

Wherever you go, there you are — Paul Theroux gets meta (among other things) in the Philippines for Outside Magazine. (Read it in full here.)

RoadReads: “Alice in Jungleland”

Alice in central Africa, age six. image via

This was not a garden variety safari. The destination was the Congo, and the journey was difficult, although not for Alice, who was carried most of the way by porters. Later she wrote that “If I dropped something I was quite accustomed to clap my hands and have six large, naked cannibals spring to attention and pick it up for me.”

And that was only the beginning. Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr./Raccoona lived a LIFE. Alex Carnevale tells you all about it for the always-great This Recording. (Read it in full here.)