The Anglo-American Experience will be a Swedish-American experience for the next week or so.
A couple of days ago I got lost in an unfamiliar city and stumbled across a shop called Mississippi. That might not have been too surprising, except that I’m on an island in the Baltic.
I’ve lucked into 10 days of vacation (UK: holiday) in the World Heritage town of Visby, on Gotland, Sweden’s largest island. Vikings lived here in the 12th century, it was a hub of international trade through the middle ages, and today Visby is the best-preserved of the fortified trading cities of Northern Europe, full of medieval stone buildings and surrounded by a 13th century city wall.
Inside that wall—all 3.6 kilometres, or about 2 ¼ miles of it, largely intact—lots of trading goes on to this day. Pedestrians and (a few) cars share stone-paved streets lined with any number of boutiques and shops, with many of the shops selling hand-made goods you won’t find elsewhere. Lots of these only open seasonally, because the population burgeons in the summer as Scandinavians come here for the beaches and cruise ships stop in, until it all culminates in an 8-day festival called Medieval Week, with jesters and jousting and—well, if this were a tourist brochure, I’d have to come up with a third item beginning with J, jollity or some such, but as this is a blog about finding Mississippi in the Baltic, I’d better get back to the point.
I went back to the Mississippi boutique today—on purpose this time—and spoke to Staffan, one of the proprietors, who had only opened for the season a couple of days before. He was suffering in the cold, having just arrived from Bali; he and his wife, Veronica, designer of their clothing lines, live in Indonesia in the winters and have a second shop there.
They’ve been in business over 25 years, and never intended to call the place Mississippi at all. Veronica’s mother came from Mississippi, and Veronica holds a US passport, though she’s never been there. Staffan told me how, when they were first opening the shop, they were on the phone (presumably to some official in charge of registering new businesses) and found that the name they’d planned on using wasn’t available, so they had to come up with something else, right there and then, before they even hung up the phone. Mississippi simply came to mind; Mississippi it has been ever since, although they’ve played around with other names, including Mrs. Hippy (say it out loud and you’ll get the connection), which I rather like.
I loved their clothing, though they don’t make it in a size for the likes of me, and I have to admit I’m a bit too old for the styles; Mississippi’s creations are for younger Misses. The items are so distinctive that customers can recognize each other; if they happen across someone wearing a similar sort of dress as they walk along in Stockholm, they’ll say “I see you’ve been to Visby!”
So Mississippi’s brand-new styles change hands inside the medieval city walls that have seen centuries of trading, and I sit here—I’m in the public library, which doubles as the university library—and write about it for you to read wherever you are. This is globalization, I suppose, but in a good way. If you get as far as Visby, stop in and do some Mississippi shopping. Just remember to pack for the climate; this ain’t the bayou. And if global warming keeps upsetting the weather patterns, you may need a cardigan over your beautiful summer dress from Mississippi.