Skansen is the oldest and largest outdoor museum in Sweden. A cluster of buildings, objects and traditions rescued from the brink of extinction, the collection is a pan-temporal glimpse of the country's past.
terrific one in the Czech Republic and a half-abandoned example in the hills above Tbilisi. Our favorite, probably, was the first of the trip - we actually spent the night at the rambling, rainy skansen in Ciechanowiec, Poland.
Several years ago, on a trip with my mother and aunt, I'd taken the ferry from winter-darkened Gamla Stan to the island of Djurgården. From my memory, I was able to call up a kind of endless landscape on a hill outside Stockholm proper, where the buildings were all of old wood and we watched wolverines and a grey owl.
Above, potato starch set on a windowsill to dry.
At ethnographic museums, those objects aren't the entire point. They're important, but their effect is more so - like a theater set's is to a play. We are supposed to enter living dioramas, where fires crackle, chickens cluck around the doorways and the smell of yeast hangs in the air. It's a kind of theater in perpetuity.
The idea behind Skansen was actually Norwegian - King Oscar II had created a similar museum a decade before the Swedish one opened. Industrialization was rapidly shifting the way people lived their lives, and things that had once been taken for granted were suddenly disappearing. Artur Hazelius, a professor and folklorist, founded the museum after traveling in the Swedish countryside and noticing how much the peasant communities were changing. Today, it's one of the most popular attractions in Stockholm, even among the Swedish. We talked to one woman from the capital about it - "Everybody goes at least once a year," she said, only half joking.
Less depressing are the domesticated livestock, who are much more content than the fat seals and pacing lynx. Goats and cows dutifully graze and look placid. Horses swish their tails and stare into the distance. Peacocks preen and give grating cries. Here, bloody fish wait to be thrown to a pair of otters.