Sunday, August 22, 2010

We're from Smoland

"Wir kommen aus Smoland" proclaims the poster at the Wien-Nord IKEA, and the smaller print goes on to extol the pragmatism of the place. Naturally, the sign seems to say, these frugal Swedes were bound to come up with the BILLY bookshelf and the ECKTORP line. The word Smoland hits me deep, because I'm from Smoland too, or at least my great-grandparents were. I stand in one of my era's great shopping emporia transfixed. Once Smoland was so poor that  it was hemorrhaging peasants - they come by their practical reputations honestly. Less than one hundred years ago it made more sense to Hans and Alma Larson to get into the belly of a boat than to stay home, and so they braved the three-week journey to Minnesota with their four tiny children. Somehow history makes a line from steerage to superstore, somehow I am standing here.

See, IKEA makes the way we are moving possible. Why pack up and ship your possessions, risking damage and loss, when you can outfit your apartment with new things for a fraction of the cost? So I'm walking around with a cart and a couple of yellow bags. Closet organization, bookcases, bedding, new measuring cups (because of the metric system....Royale wit Cheese...), rugs, towels - it's all here. Several hours, many steps, one VISA card and one cab ride later, MtMn and I are lugging our treasure up to our flat in the tiny lift. It takes four trips and four hours with an Allen wrench and a borrowed hammer (German word learned: ein Hammer. Srsly.), but suddenly our place seems more like home. We put stuff away, we sweep the floor, we eat chocolate as the moonlight pours in the window.

In the morning we take a stroll and he wonders: when was the last time that most construction was built to last for as long as possible? He's moved to that question by the neighborhood buildings, mostly erected 1890-1900. They are solid, standing sure after more than a century and confidently looking forward to at least another. Our age is the one that knows it can wipe itself out - or, seen from a less frightening angle, it's the age when anyone can go anywhere and do anything. Our buildings today reflect that. We won't be here long, we can't stay, we'll change our minds.

IKEA's part of that world, part of what makes it possible, within a week of your emigration, to put your shoes away in a place made just for them. It's the great displacement turned into pride and profit. I'm its eager fan even as I feel the tug of something lost. It's easy to sentimentalize a bygone era, especially living in a city full of its architectural and artistic legacy. But MtMn and I both know from our own families the hardship and heartbreak of that time, the rigorous journeys, the enormous risks. We're glad to make our moves by choice with relative ease, and we're amazed at how quickly a place can seem familiar. We've started to be proud of our ability to locate home anywhere we are. What a change from Zemplen or Smoland or Ballinasloe of a hundred years ago, when leaving home meant something so different.

Twenty years ago I visited Ha Hamneda, Smoland, with my mom and grandma, and we danced on Midsummer's Night and walked inside the farmhouse where my great-grandmother was born. A few weeks ago, my mom showed me the trunk that Hans and Alma carried to Minnesota; filled with their possessions, it was the only thing besides their children that they brought. It's still sturdy, and will still be when it becomes mine.


No comments: