Sunday, May 12, 2019

Marcello, Street Chess Champion of Stockholm

DUELING BLOG: Read Donna-Lane's version at
We were on our way back to the hotel after a fascinating afternoon at the Vasamuseet, perhaps the best museum I've ever visited, focused solely on a ship that sank in the 17th century on its maiden voyage (after sailing only about 100 feet). We'd figured out what combination of buses and trams to get us back within walking distance of the hotel, and had treated ourselves to waffle cone ice creams (pistachio for D-L, cookies and café for me), when we came upon a street chess match like the ones they have in Place Neuve in Geneva.

What struck me at first was the intensity in the face of the old man who was playing the giant black pieces. His younger opponent, the one with arms crossed across his chest, was equally focused.
We became transfixed by the competition, staying at least 45 minutes, perhaps an hour, even though it became colder and started to sprinkle. We found ourselves discussing the players' strategies, sometimes suggesting (between ourselves) what moves they should make, even though neither of us has played chess in decades. (I quit when my then-three year old brother beat me in about five moves.)

As the duel progressed, a larger crowd gathered to watch, including a couple of people who could probably be classified as mentally ill. One old dude was chased away by the man playing black, but quickly returned, performing calisthenics against an electrical box. Another guy walked across the middle of the chess board and stamped his feet on one of the empty squares. The man playing black admonished a couple of young men that their talking was interrupting his conversation. (We kept our voices to a moderate whisper.)

At times, there would be two or three rapid moves in succession, the players obviously anticipating the other's move and knowing how they would respond.

The man playing white neatly lined up the pieces he had taken off the board. The man playing back tossed them at random. (Reminded me of D-L and me; you can guess which is which.)

As it got colder, I offered to Donna-Lane that we might leave, but she wanted to see the outcome. We huddled together on a park bench for warmth.

The man playing white seemed to be the aggressor, attempting to move his queen into position to capture the black king. But the man playing black was cagey, and had a spare bishop to protect his king. They seemed at an impasse, sometimes repeating a sequence of moves. It looked like neither could win. But then the man playing black began moving his lone pawn, on the far side of the board, forward, in between defensive moves, reaching the end of the board and then - with a flourish -swapping the pawn for a previously captured castle. This seemed to change the game dramatically, and his opponent suddenly acted as if he was late for a meeting and walked away with a friend.

We applauded the victory.

The man playing black came over to us and told us his name was Marcello. Said he was the champion of the city. Complained that people in the crowd would talk and smoke on his side of the game board, but not on his opponents' side. Clearly people were jealous of his success.

But he had proved once again, at least in the game we watched, that he is the Grand Master of Kungsträdgården. We walked back to the hotel in the rain, laughing at the humanity and absurdity of street theater.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Gasping Through Airports

I knew I had booked a tight connection, only 95 minutes between flights (they recommend at least two hours), but EasyJet doesn't have many flights a day from London Gatwick to Toulouse, and I didn't want to waste the whole day getting home.

My Virgin Atlantic flight was due to arrive at 0650 from Orlando, and the EasyJet to TLS scheduled to depart at 0825.

However, in between, I had to get off the plane, go through customs, back through security, then do the duty-free slalom before reaching the North Terminal gate area. My friend, on a similar tight timeframe, was landing at South Terminal on BA and had to retrieve his checked luggage as an extra step. I had only carry-on, and my main challenge was getting the overstuffed bag past the baggage nazis.

Oh, by the way, the Virgin flight, which I would have thought might arrive early with west-east tailwinds, was 25 minutes late, slicing my available transfer time to 70 minutes max.

If I missed the flight, I would have found another way to TLS. But my pet peeve is surrendering bottled water at the security gate.

I was fortunate to be seated in the exit aisle near the stairs of the 747, so as soon as the plane landed I grabbed my suitcase and manbag and was the third person off the aircraft. I scurried as fast as my 68-year-old legs would take me, and fortunately had saved some water I could swig when I got parched.

Until I got to security of course. Where the idiot in front of me couldn't figure out how to get his digital boarding pass on his "smart"phone screen, losing precious minutes. Once through the first gate, I asked the attendant where the "fast pass" lane was, and she directed me without checking my ticket (no, I was not "premium eligible.")

Surprisingly -- no shockingly -- they did not shunt my bags aside for manual checking, as they had done when I left Orlando, and as they almost always do because of all the wires and cords which show up on the xray. But by the time I made it through the total waste of time duty-free stores, j'avais extrêmement soif, and with no time to buy another bottle of water.

Next surprise, the EasyJet flight was delayed an hour. Good news that I would make the flight. Bad news that I thought I might die in the process. Wish I had known of the delay before I nearly died of thirst and did the OJ through the airport maze.