The flash was much brighter than I would have expected. Any dimension or detail fighting against the already-oppressive brightness of the white cubicle washed away as the technician– a woman hardly less a stranger than the minute before when she led me into the intimately small, blank room– pressed the button. Eventually, the half-second of numbing light was broken by the sound of the printing machine. The woman, still hidden by the residual spots in my vision, spoke.
There it is. Very good.
She handed me the ID card for my inspection. Through some silent protocol she asked for my approval of the photo, though she really seemed to be after my acceptance to avoid the choreography of setting up the camera once more. Even though the saturating artificial light had given my photographed face something of a cartoonish pigment, I told her,
Yes, it’s nice. Thank you.
Så, welcome to Uppsala!
She walked me out of the room and led me to a glassy countertop. From across the surface she handed me several brochures loosely bound together. Though she was describing the contents of the modest pile of orientation materials in front of my eyes, my attention instead diverted to my back and periphery. The administrative lobby –though sterilizingly bright, compared to the photo-booth, decidedly and overwhelmingly off-white– was decorated with informational posters and pamphlets; all the visually truculent fonts and typefaces in the room joined in a competitive conversation.
SWEDISH FIKA AT THE GOTLAND NATION
B2 ENGLISH COMPETENCY FOR THE WORKPLACE
DEVELOPMENTS IN CLINICAL SCHIZOPHRENIA (BMC CONSORTIUM)
MIGRANT INTEGRATION IN THE NORDIC COUNTRIES
10 STEPS TO MITIGATE THE SPREAD OF COVID-19
BUILDING ORGANIC CITIES: URBAN GARDEN DESIGN WORKSHOP
NEW EXHIBITION! VIKING ENCOUNTERS IN NORTH AMERICA
I was able to mute it all momentarily and tune back in to the woman in time for her to send me off with her farewell piece of information:
Your campus identity probably won’t be registered at Engelska Parken for about 48 hours.
I walked out of the building, feeling in possession of an abundance of daytime hours– an explorative symptom following the successful conclusion of bureaucratic tasks. With an odorous confidence I crossed the street, making the point to some absent audience that I do not need to comply with the pedestrian rules of crosswalks. I was quickly reminded, though, how truly pedestrian I am, as the amalgamated layers of civic planning shamed my cocky defiance into recognition of the unwelcome disturbance it really was. Standing in the middle of the street I was brought to realize how I had not merely dismissed an effort to regulate foot traffic–I had instead outright neglected a perfect bridge. The razor-painted white pattern atop the asphalt was a gateway to a geometric kingdom on the other side of the street. Oncoming vehicles were rapidly eliminating my reflective space, and I quickly rushed to the safety of the sidewalk. Once there, though, I abandoned my original line of flight and moved up to where the sidewalk and the crosswalk meet. Like dominoes, the crosswalk lines extended into lines of green, and eventually these lines of green grew into kaleidoscopic forms of all colors, though never concealed as the underlying lifeforce of lines.
[insert picture of Dag Hammarskjölds väg, Linneaum]
Intoxicating lines. I was suddenly made aware of how exposed I was. The lines of perfectly conical shrubs and straight hedges across the expansive space uniformly did not rise above my waist. The surprisingly intense sun of Swedish August reflected off the impressive structural geometry of the Linneaum– the glass building at one end of the garden of lines. The heat pressed me like a spotlight, and I felt the garden asking two impossibly simultaneous demands. I was to fall in line, to moderate and position myself accordingly with the careful measurements which had preceded my entrance. Yet it was not enough to be respectful to the order here; I had to also be reverent. I felt I was being interrogated about my regards for the place. A forcefully subtle call asked that I voice some admiration for the garden. Exposed as I was, any insincerity could be snuffed out, a hollow complement might be lethal. Embedded as I was in the garden, my position seemed insufficient to view, to capture, the overall design. These lines were woven together with a scale of logic unavailable to me so long as I remained standing within it. The order must be clear when taken as a whole. I imagined what shapes might appear when this place is seen from above, but as I raised my head I was met again with the alluring, oppressive sun.
Lowering my eyes, a horizon of relief emerged at the far end of the garden. Across another two-laned street lay a row of trees layered upon each other with a dimension incompatible to my immediate landscape. The trees suggested shelter and welcomed me over. I cannot recall how I found my way under the tree canopy, what regard– if any– I had for the crosswalk on the way across the street. Soon my feet found their steps in a new order. Dispersed within the uneven grasses were prematurely fallen leaves (or perhaps they were too mature for the summer), these different textures neighboring themselves to the decomposing husks of last year’s tree nuts. The sunlight here was not oppressive, and was allowed to find its own way of least resistance through holes in the leafed umbrella. At different stages of their height, the deciduous trees found diverse ways to assert their collective softness. In their shade I exhaled an awareness of the contrast, feeling that strange regime of lines left behind me.
A string of pastel buildings nestled together as one boundary of the tree canopy. I let my steps meander, half-heartedly looking for an entrance. The subdued sunlight fell onto the off-white plaster of one section of the façade, framing a small sign in Swedish:
VÄLKOMMEN TILL ENGELSKA PARKEN
In the quick moment it took me to register that this was “my” campus, I caught a movement which disturbed the stillness of the forested space. At the opposite end of the treed area walked a man heading in the direction of the white building. From the direction he advanced I could calculate the line of his pathway, and my gaze landed on a door to the inside– clearly his destination. Recalling that the woman at the administrative office told me that my identification card would not be active for two days still, the approaching man presented an opportunity. I picked up my pace, though careful to restrain from a full sprint. Carrying out my hurried speed walk with awkward movements, I tried to both minimize my disturbance to the calm atmosphere and to eventually intersect the man’s pathway near the door. He approached the doorway and with desperate force I elongated every step. I saw him stall outside, reaching for his own identification card to scan himself in. I held on to my not-yet active card to make it visible, an attempted alibi for my legitimacy to enter the building. He opened the door and I stumbled to dodge a trashcan and a woman operating a leaf blower to meet him at the door in time.
Oh, here you go, the man said as he held the door open.
Thank you, I’m new. Not sure if my card works yet.
Not a problem, he said with only a hint of a Swedish accent. It takes a while to get a sense of Engelska.
Have you been here long? I asked.
Oh yes, I’ve been here now for many, many years. But I’ve been based in London for ages.
We continued down the concrete corridor, passing a mostly empty bulletin board. The man gestured to what was clearly the only poster added in recent months.
ON THE ORIGINS OF RUMBA:
MUSIC AND IDENTITY IN THE
30 August 15:00
Engelska Parken, 9-1055
My Ph.D student, he remarked.
My eyes attempted a glance at his identity card, though tangled amongst other keys and officiating badges I could only make out part of a name, something that looked like Pipe…
I’m Frederick, it’s been a pleasure. The library is around the corner, just follow the next series of corridors. And welcome!
As Frederick Pipe dashed off, I felt obligated to follow his gratuitous directions to the library. A pathway ahead was clear enough and I soon understood what he meant by “series of corridors.” Several zoned hallways bookended with prominent doorways followed one after the other. The indistinguishable sterility of the route was broken only by these doors and the academic advertisements hung on ordained places on the walls.
LANDSKAPSARKITEKTUR I SVERIGE: 1700-TALET
Though I had only been moving in one direction, I had an onrush of fatiguing disorientation as I progressed through each entry and exit– feeling like I was floating through the secured vestibules of a spaceship in some sci-fi thriller.
CECI N’EST PAS…REVIVING BAROQUE IN THE 21ST CENTURY
IN DEFENSE OF PASTICHE–PHD DISSERTATION
By the fourth or fifth corridor, I was stopped by a woman wearing a brightly colored cardigan and a scarf which had a pattern that resembled flying bats.
Are you a student here, she asked.
Well, yes. I am.
Do you know where House 22 is?
House twenty…um, no. I’m sorry.
MAPPING LINNAEUS’ LEGACY
(DEPT. OF ARCHAEOLOGY AND ANCIENT HISTORY)
Eventually I did come across the library.
ETHNOGRAPHIC SURVEYS OF NATURALIZATION
HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF CAROLINA PARK
As I entered the room, I was drawn not to the groves of books but the light as it came through the impressive glass windows. I exited at the nearest door which dispensed me outside next to some empty parking spaces and a concrete loading dock, grateful for some fresh air.