Thursday, February 17, 2011

On the Museum of Childhood, Playhouses, and Pippi Longstocking

There is nothing in the world that can make you feel as childlike and ancient at the same time as a Museum of Childhood. I know, because I went to one today, and not only did I want to play with all of the toys, but I also wanted to push all of the small, screaming children out of my way to get to them. 

Crossing the floor of the Museum of Childhood was like traversing a room full of kinetic ping pong balls--there was always something tiny and moving underfoot. Children were constantly bumping and flying into my legs/hips/purse and ricocheting off into new trajectories without even noticing I was their obstacle. It was kind of awesome. Half the time I was tempted to bounce them off of each other just to see where they'd end up. They were so much more fun than the shouting hordes of older children that frequent the other museums around town. (A-hem, Natural History.)

Look at this: two entire floors of antique toys and dollhouses and things to play with and explore. All free! All the time! It's part of the V&A even though it's located across town in Bethnal Green. Who knew??

Speaking of feeling ancient: the dollhouse that my sister and I grew up playing with was in the Antique Playhouses section. That's right. Antique. My sister and I played with it over twenty years ago. Which we won't dwell on right now. And it also turns out--going by the signage--that it was created roughly forty years ago. Just like most of the toys in my grandmother's playroom. This was one of my mother's treasures that my sister and I inherited.  As soon as I saw it in the glass case, I dropped instantly to my knees to get a photo, bouncing away the children admiring its prehistoric qualities.

You see those two little yellow twin beds on the left? They were originally covered in a green styrofoam-esque substance. Our foam also disintegrated, leaving behind the same sticky residue you see here. We also had the same blue playpen upstairs, and the rocking horse, too. But no sewing table, which I had no idea I was missing out on until now. * stomping foot in the general direction of my mother, who I'll bet had it when she played with this the first time around * And the white column that the house pivots on? I used to pretend that was a ladder, which was way more fun to hop our no-legged dolls up than the stairs.

I was lucky to have that charming 1970's dollhouse. I realized this after seeing the awful, austure dollhouses that 18th century children had to suffer through:

I know, right? It's so sad. Each of these was the size of a bookcase, and so poorly decorated it was embarrassing.

Word on the street--and by the 'street,' I mean 'the placard'--was that these houses were often used to teach girls how to keep house and entertain properly. It's important to know which parlour is for serving tea to unexpected callers and which is to be used to showcase your talented children should they dare to come down from the nursery where their tutor is failing to keep order. It's no small wonder so many of life's finer nuances were lost once these tools went out of circulation and people started moving into flats smaller than their dollhouse's drawing rooms.

On a related note, I must tell you about Sweden's Junibacken (pronounced very, very roughly, 'Yuni-bawk-in'). It is a wonderland for anybody who has ever read or loved a children's book. Notably read or loved a Swedish children's book. 'Have I read a Swedish children's book...?' you may ask yourself, much as I did, prior to stepping foot in this place. Because it's not like when our parents were reading us our bedtime stories they would stop to explain, 'Now this one is by a British author, but the next one is Finnish!' Because seriously, we're five. We're just psyched the orphan has special powers. But yes, we have read a Swedish children's story: Pippi Longstocking! And if you were lucky, you may even have enjoyed Mumin. (I don't recall seeing this little guy as a child, though--my first exposure to him was via designer coffee mugs and trays and cushions at modern decor shops. Out of curiosity, do any Americans of my generation recall a Mumin book from their childhood?) The rest of the stories--The Brothers Lionheart, The Children of Noisy Village, Ronia the Robber's Daughter, or any involving a little boy named Alfons--were all completely new to me. My first exposure to them was here, at this children's fairy tale land, where all of the homes of these beloved storybook characters have been lovingly recreated, and you can run in and out of little funny-shaped doors and up and down tiny winding staircases, and get your rear stuck in itty-bitty velvet armchairs, and frighten small children who are running to enter a house at the exact same time that you're folding yourself out of the front door, roaring like a giant.

This is Mumin's house! Aya, Sofia, Lisa, Amarylis, and I had a pretend tea party in here. These sorts of rooms DEMAND pretend tea parties.

Aya makes this chair look normal-sized.

I also managed to cram myself headfirst into Rut & Knut & Lilla Tjut's house through this unnaturally small hole--looking for all the world like Winnie the Pooh stuck in the honey tree--before realizing there was a proper adult-sized door on the other side.

I didn't even try the stairs.

And then, after a magical story train where the train car left the tracks and turned into a sky ride and sailed over cities and villages, where beautifully-designed story scenes were laid out with the greatest attention to the tiniest details, and a voice told us the stories as they unfolded before our silent, awe-struck car, we arrived at our final destination: Villa Villakula, Pippi Longstocking's house. Words cannot describe the way my heart leaped when I saw it. I felt like I was eight years old again, futilely trying to braid my hair, secretly mismatching my socks, and yearning for a horse to ride to school. We squeezed up the little tower stairs and saw Pippi's attic bed where she slept with her feet on the pillows, and climbed on the Old Mule, and sat in her kitchen, and * sigh * Words fail me. It was just too sweet and amazing. I wish more than anything I had my nieces (Hunter and Peypey, 9 and 3) with me. They would've LOVED it. I now want to send them loads of these Swedish children's stories (of which you can get more copies of here than there) and then return with them someday.

I should have pictures of Stockholm -scapes (city- or land-) in the next few days, so stay tuned!

Big hugs, and may you do something childlike (or -ish) today,

Monday, February 7, 2011

Stockholm, and the tiniest suitcase ever

I'm flying RyanAir for the first time tomorrow. I've heard horror stories about RyanAir. Like if your bag is even a millimeter too large, you get whopped with a mega-fee and are forced to check it in. And there's a fee if you do this, or that, and definitely the other. You have to print off your boarding pass at home. If you have to print it off at the airport, at an actual desk, with actual personnel, that'll cost you, too. £40, to be specific. All this explains why the plane ticket itself was only £28, and it also explains why I'm being uber-careful with my packing. I've measured my smallest carry-on suitcase to make sure it will pass muster, I've packed my mega-camera and my mini-messenger bag, and now I've got room left for...about a single change of clothes. That's okay, though, because I like to change clothes about as much as I like showering. So me and RyanAir, we might not be enemies after all.

And the destination? The Stockholm Furniture Fair and Design Week! It's going to be * amazing. * The entire city is full of exhibits and the island we're staying on--Sodermalm, at the recommendation of a local--is supposed to be the hippest part of the city. It's the grungy, edgy, indie part of Stockholm, where all the best shops and cafes and bites are located. YESSSSS! And last Saturday, I went to a bookstore and took macro photos of all the pages in the travel guides that had relevant tips and points of interest. (Yes, I'm too cheap to actually buy the guides themselves. Why, when I only need three pages out of each? And they'll be obsolete in a year?) (Also, is it bad that I totally think I need this? Just imagine the possibilities! Menu scanning! Recipes from cookbooks! Flyers and notices and excerpts from novels! And it fits right in your wallet!)

And now--with all this lovely info brimming at my fingertips--I'm working on a personalized google map with color-coded push-pins marking all the places to see. Red for design exhibits, yellow for food, blue for tourist-y looks like a pile of confetti just exploded all over this thing. Soder is NOT going to know what hit it.

Big hugs, and see you soon!