Another day sleeping in, another casual morning spent studying. To get the vibe right, I had Swedish bands (Lykke Li, Miike Snow, Jose Gonzalez) coming through my headphones.
But today was different. Today our apartment in Stockholm, would become their apartment again. Karolina was coming home with her boyfriend, Henrik, and Samuel, their two-year-old son.
Mandy and I wanted to give them a chance to settle in without being in the way, so we walked along the water to Fotografiska, a photography museum that had just opened in 2010. The main exhibit was a timely (then) tribute to photography and the Olympics. One section documented athletic achievement throughout the years and another section captured the spectrum of emotions from triumph to heartbreak. The most compelling photos, however, were those moments that transcended sports. There were pictures from Jesse Owens winning gold while competing in Nazi Germany, the boycotted Olympic games, and the Munich Hostage Crisis.
The pictures were accompanied by interesting bios, but one that stood out was that of a lesser known athlete. Peter Norman was an Australian runner who won the silver medal in the 200 meter dash in 1968. He was on the podium when the two Americans, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gave the black power salute to draw attention to the civil rights struggle. In solidarity, Peter Norman wore a badge championing human rights. All three runners were sent home in disgrace.
While the two Americans later became heroes for their actions, Peter Norman remained an outcast in Australia. He was not chosen to represent Australia in the next Olympics. Furthermore, he was not invited to participate in any of the Olympic ceremonies in Sydney 2000, despite being one of Australia’s most successful sprinters ever. When word got out that he had not been included by his home country, the U.S. Olympic Committee flew him to Sydney as a honorable member of the American Olympic delegation. Although he received an official apology from the Australian government this August, it came too late. John Carlos and Tommie Smith were two of the pallbearers at Norman’s funeral in 2006. As a side note, his time in the 200 meters remains the Australian record.
We stayed at Fotografiska for lunch. Mandy went to get a table by one of the windows and asked me to order for her. “I don’t care what you get me, as long as you get one of those yellow pieces of cake”, she said excitedly. “Don’t forget the cake,” she added helpfully as she walked away.
I stepped up to the counter to order. “Which cake?”, the server replied puzzled and I walked over to show him. There was a display of beautiful desserts and on the bottom row, sat Mandy’s yellow “cake”. I pointed at it and Mandy nodded her approval enthusiastically from where she was sitting.
“That’s butter,” he replied, and just to make sure he cleared up any remaining confusion he added, “1 kilogram, it’s for the bread.” I burst out laughing, but in retrospect, really should have brought it to the table for her to try.
As we walked back to the apartment after lunch, Mandy asked, “Do you think this might be awkward?” After all, we had met Karolina almost five years ago and had only hung out a couple of nights, probably less than ten hours in total.
“We’ll find out,” I replied, not completely sure of the answer myself.
Karolina had left us a message in the apartment that we should meet at a Thai restaurant for dinner, a promising start. Needless to say, Karolina was still super sweet and funny — exactly how we’d remembered her. Henrik and their friend, Jeanette, were amazing, and Samuel was a super-cute lil Swede.
Karolina told us that her friends had posed similar questions:
“Wait, you’re going to let them stay in your place?”
“You’ve known them how long?!?!?”
“Well, I think they’re nice,” she had replied at the time.
Thankfully, our instincts had been correct. Maybe we had only met briefly, but that was all we’d needed to form an enduring friendship. It felt like dinner with old friends. We ordered six different entrees and passed them around the table with everyone trying each other’s food (which, in my opinion, is the best way to eat).
We decided to make it a Thai themed evening. We left the restaurant and walked a few blocks to the ocean where we boarded a Thai styled boat, complete with a bar and artificial beach. The drinks flowed and we sat with our feet in the sand. The sun drifted lazily towards the horizon as Stockholm’s long summer evening lingered, the perfect opportunity for catching up with old and new friends.