Last Sunday morning I got an email from P., a friend from work, inviting me take a little trip with her, her husband, and two boys out to Härkeberga Kyrka. A few months ago we had talked about the art of Albertus Pictor, whose images had had a strong influence on ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." The famous image of Death playing chess is found in another church near Stockholm (Täby Kyrka), but his paintings at Härkeberga are well-preserved and quite lovely.
It snowed for the first time overnight—not too much in town, but plenty of snow was sticking to the ground as we drove through the countryside. It was a very pretty drive, with snow on the birches and spruces. Forest and farmland are interspersed, and all the barns and outbuildings are painted a very familiar red. The color is known here as "faluröd" after the town of Falun, because the copper smelters there also made a red-colored by-product, which was put to use as a weather-proofer for wooden buildings.
The church itself is very small and very old, with parts of the building dating from the 1300s. They have an old stave building out front, which may now be serving as the bell tower. The church is surrounded by graveyard with the typical gravel bed surrounded by a hedge, and even now, in the middle of the day and well past All Saint's, some grave markers have candles burning in front of them. I don't have good pictures of the paintings themselves, because it was quite dim inside, but here are links for paintings in Koret (the choir), Långhuset (the main building), and Vapenhuset (the weaponhouse, where people had to check their weapons before coming into the church proper) respectively. The Wheel of Life, the third one down in Vapenhuset, is particularly famous, and includes a porcupine.
After ambling around a church and graveyard in tempertures somewhat below freezing, P. quite reasonably declared herself in need of coffee, so off we went to the nearest town of any size, Enköping, where P. had lived before when she was a writer for the local newspaper's culture desk. We drove through town, which I duly admired for its small-town charm, and then over to the train station, by which stands P.'s old favorite cafe, Konditori Drott. The first nice thing to happen in Drott was that I managed to order my hot chocolate and wienerbröd in Swedish, and even though I have to resort to English in order to get one more pastry to take home to Joe, they kept speaking Swedish to me. They were also good natured, which is a bit of a rarity here among food-service employees. The second good experience was eating the pastry, which was absolutely delicious.
But the best thing about Drott is the decor and ambience (and I use those words ironically). P. describes Drott as being "completely devoid of any aesthetics whatsoever." Newer places that want to be retro strive for this atmosphere, but can never quite get it right. The plastic geraniums in the windows have probably been there for decades; the wall hangings are haphazard and have not changed since the 1970s; the mustard-gold vinyl of the benches lining the back wall of the smoking room (!) is probably original. Drott is unpretentious and cozy and the food is cheap and delicious, and I join P. in saying that it's my favorite cafe in Sweden.
Of course, it probably didn't hurt that by the time we got there we were freezing, starving, and caffeine deprived.