The secret to a good marriage, besides diamonds*, is the ability for the participants to trade favors, goods or services, or as the Romans put it, doing that quid pro quo thang. One can exchange, for instance, scrubbing down the toilet (recognized by the World Institute of Man Studies, as an act that exceeds the courage required to throw one’s self on a grenade to save one’s buddies) for a substantial number of brownie points. Brownie points are an internationally recognized currency that can be exchanged for example, an afternoon of college football on TV. And thus the gears of marriage are greased, and the world as we know it continues to revolve, or rotate, or both at once.
Case in point: Mary really, really, really wanted to go to Ankgor Wat to see the temples and eat Cambodian food. I think it was in that order. I really wanted to see the Northern Lights and maybe sleep in an igloo, and it was very definitely in that order of priority. I agreed, graciously, magnanimously and in a manner clearly deserving of a Noble Prize of Awesomeness, to accompany Mary to the fetid, swampy, and no doubt malarial, temple ruins. In return, Mary reluctantly and with a good deal of whimpering, agreed to go off to far northern Lapland to see the Aurora Borealis and eat a lot of reindeer meat.
Mary managed to snag a trip to Sweden, from the Conde Nast Traveler World on Sale promotion. This is the same promotion that we used to visit Russia last year, a trip we very much enjoyed. This particular trip included several days in Stockholm, including New Year’s, and then three days of frozen frivolities in Lapland including a stay in the world famous IceHotel. But no caviar, this time, alas.
We sandwiched a few days in London on both ends of the trip, and close enough to Christmas that we still managed to catch a bit of the British Yuletide goodness. And a dinner in Rules, one of our favorite restaurants, because who wouldn’t want to eat in London’s oldest dining establishment when they get a chance?
There were four days, all told, in Stockholm, which included New Year’s Eve, a fresh take on the whole end-of-year celebrations. We’d been to Stockholm years before and it is a wonderful city, but one day we really need to visit it in the summer so we can wander about the harbor and canals without seventeen layers of clothing.
New Year’s in Stockholm was, to say the least a bit eye opening. You get the impression from the press, as well as the Swedes own rules and regulations, that they place a real premium on safety and environmental protection and all. Apparently this doesn’t apply to fireworks. The fireworks display at midnight of New Year’s Eve was, bar none, the most exuberant and outrageous thing we’ve ever seen, if that category includes fireworks and nothing else.
First, the fireworks go on for something like a half hour, though it seems like much, much longer. Second, they set off fireworks from sites all around the harbor and city. Whereas American cities will have one designated fireworks launching area, centrally located, so the maximum number of people can see it, Stockholm had what seemed like over a dozen separate areas, and they’ll all be setting fireworks off at the same time, so no matter which direction you look in, there’s something happening. Finally, if the fireworks display was in a city in the US, it would be located on a barge anchored out in the harbor, or somewhere with a lot of room so they could keep it as far away from people as possible. In Sweden they laugh sneeringly at such namby pamby considerations. You can basically walk up to the firework launchers in Sweden and really get all the thrill and chills you want, right up close and personal. We saw several rockets go off into the crowds and everyone just moved out of the way, brushed off the burning embers, then returned to watching the festivities.
Here’s sort of what it looked like, except we were right down there where most of those fireworks were going off:
Next Life Above the Arctic Circle!
* Several years ago, a national jewelry chain used a promotional series that stated the secret to a good marriage was diamonds. Since both Mary and I feel that the only useful purpose of a diamond is a cutting tool, we were a bit flabbergasted to say the least. Since then, whenever we hear the phrase, “the secret to a good marriage is…”, we both respond, in unison if possible, “DIAMONDS!”