I’ve just returned from a two week adventure cruising down the Adriatic and into the Ionian Sea visiting many of the sites that together formed the Venetian thalassocracy, which they referred to as the stato da mar. Corfu was astonishing, virtually a little Venice architecturally with traces of the occupying power visible everywhere. Food was also exceptional, which it is not possible to say about the Dalmatian coast.
There were many Europeans on our ship and I was surprised to note that many, possibly most, public spaces are still smoking areas. Somewhat surprising when one expects the nanny state to ban anything that is even vaguely unhealthy. There were also as many fat Europeans as there were Americans.
I spent some time while cruising working through the first two mysteries by Stieg Larsson 龙纹身的女孩 和 The Girl who played with Fire. Larsson is the mega best seller Swedish sensation who died recently after completing the third and final book in the series. The books are truly compelling reading for the interlocking stories they tell but I finished up feeling extremely uncomfortable about Sweden itself, which might or might not have been the author’s intention. Virtually all the characters are sexually promiscuous with numerous variations and wrinkles that many might find perverse. One character, astonishingly, was described as having been faithful to his spouse, emphasizing that he was neither the mainstream nor expected.
Also visualizing the characters was impossible, even after 1300 pages, apart from Lisbeth Salander, who was by design bizarre both in behavior and appearance. Round about page 1200 I was surprised to learn that one of the leading characters had short blonde hair, surprised because up until then I had no idea what she looked like.
The books also revealed a dogged adherence to rules and regulations in spite of the clearly held belief that the marriage contract has no significance whatsoever. One character, witnessing the abduction of a woman who is about to be dismembered, speeds up to catch the van she is traveling in. He observes to himself that as he is speeding he will no doubt be reported to the police by any number of other drivers on the road. Drivers reporting others to the police for speeding? In another bit a woman who has been concealing her identity for more than thirty years is conflicted because she feels compelled to register her marriage with the Swedish authorities even though she is living in Australia and married to an Australian.
It suggests to me that Swedes might have very different views of what they consider to be public and private morality, but that is only my guess. All I know is that when I finished the two books I was somewhat depressed about the Sweden that was depicted. Most Swedes I know describe their homeland as “boring.” I admire the Scandinavians because they have been able to combine a high standard of living and safety net through admittedly high taxation but relatively low debt. Certainly a different model than Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Britain.