Sunday, September 07, 2008

Everyday America

About ten years ago, a small chain of coffee shops opened in Lund and Malmö. They served three different labels of coffee, a double espresso was 13 Swedish kronor and the sandwiches were tasty. I have many good memories from those days, summer afternoons out in their courtyard on Skomakaregatan in Malmö, listening to dreams of fabulous places.

Today, that coffee chain is sold to an overseas investment bank. On the walls there are city scenes from New York, scenes in which people reach out for their Espresso House paper mugs. If you ever thought that reality was socially constructed, here you have it. Just imagine that art director in Malmö packing empty paper mugs into suitcases and then taking a flight over for the photo session, desperate to convey the image that Espresso House is an integrated part of everyday America.

On a more serious note, this weekend, Süddeutsche Zeitung comes with an excerpt from a new book written by a German, Jens Söring, who is serving two lifetime sentences in a Virginia jail. Images from a very different everyday America. Confined to Brunswick Correctional which, for American standards, counts as a relative small prison despite its 700 inmates, Söring has spent the last seven years writing on his book. In less than a week it will be published with Gütersloher Verlagshaus.

I remember visiting a maximum security prison in Kumla, Sweden. Though years ago it left me with a host of similar unsettling images: the basic angst of being locked up behind doors lacking handles, the razor-sharp barbwire at the horizon and the odour of male anxiety and violence. Those images come up every time someone accuses the Swedish criminal justice system for being “soft”.



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