Vicarious Living Through Anders Timell

I’ve followed Anders Timell on Instagram for years now, since sometime in 2017. He and his partner’s first baby was born just a few weeks before my first child, and some algorithmic vagary led me to his account. I was enthralled, as a prospective and then as a first-time mother, by the differences in our babies’ daily lives. While my son slept in a barren crib with a thin, tightly fitted sheet, Timell’s daughter slept amongst bow-tied bumpers, frilly pillows, plush blankets, and stuffed animals. While my son was neurotically monitored every moment of his waking life and during much of his sleep, baby Timell was sometimes left to nap in her stroller outdoors. While my house was baby-proofed and toddler-safe, Timell’s fashionable city apartment stayed chic as hell and included enviable touches like a loaded bar cart, a roaring wood-burning fireplace, and huge vases of flowers pouring over the edges of coffee tables and window sills. Timell also has a twenty-something son from a previous marriage or relationship, frequently pictured drinking and smoking openly in company with his father.

These aren’t parenting failures–Timell’s adorable daughter is fine and will soon be joined by another sibling–but cultural differences. You see, Anders Timell is Swedish. I don’t speak the language, so you’ll have to forgive me for misconstruing any of his biographical details. He’s not a celebrity with any cachet in America despite his apparent ubiquity in Stockholm, particularly at the gorgeous and popular restaurant Taverna Brillo where he works in some indeterminate professional capacity (owner? co-owner? promoter?). The vast majority of information available about him has to be passed through the sausage machine that is Google Translate, rendering it unreliable at best, but from this I’ve gathered that Timell is a “presenter and restauranteur”; that he appeared on the Swedish television show Let’s Dance; that he is involved in some way with professional golf; that his brother Martin used to host a popular home improvement television show; that Martin was acquitted of sexual assault allegations in 2018; and that the brothers sometimes appear in Swedish tabloids including the fabulously named Stoppa Pressarna! (A recent article’s title translates, “Martin and Anders Timell’s New Giant Bang.”) The Timells’ social standing is difficult for an English-only speaker to determine, but they certainly appear to be living well.

As our children grew, I kept watching Anders’ account because we share a keen interest in food. He regularly uses his Instagram Stories to depict the time he spends in restaurants, most notably the aforementioned Taverna Brillo, where he puts in a daily or twice-daily appearance to show off chilled bottles of wine, pizzas topped with caviar, and the consistently beautiful diners. He also eats in or picks up sushi at a particular spot more than once each week, and is a near-daily regular at a high-street coffee shop apparently staffed by a rotating collection of Europe’s most attractive young people. His Instagram posts often depict him sitting down to a lovely solo meal, captioned either “Kämpa Anders!” (Fight Anders–whether this is a provocation to the reader or an encouragement for himself is unclear) or “Ensamlunch nu!” (Alone lunch now!). This isn’t even to mention the meals Timell prepares for his family and guests: a steady stream of tomahawk steaks, all manner of fresh seafoods, salads doused in homemade dressings, and potatoes cooked in all styles, always with appropriate drinks.

Anders’ lifestyle, like his country, is foreign to me. He works, but his work doesn’t seem to exert much control over his schedule or interfere with his clearly deep enjoyment of food, friends, and family. He has children, but neither he nor his partner ever seem stressed about what they’re eating, when they’re going to bed, or whether they’re learning enough. He exudes a combination of relaxation and high energy that is addictive to watch. I love following the laid-back yet stimulating rhythm of his world: stops by the restaurants he must hold some stake in; parties alongside his beautiful now-wife; games of golf and squash with male friends so well dressed that they would put Ina Garten’s luncheon guests to shame; regular trips to a beachside cottage in Flaxenvik and sometimes farther afield to Dubai or Portugal; long midday jaunts through parks with his young daughter; visits to salons and spas for cuts, shaves, and facial treatments; sunsets viewed from the beautiful bay windows of his downtown Stockholm abode.

I feel no jealousy when it comes to Timell’s apparent wealth, but I often feel envious of his carefree attitude. I would love to enjoy the sunset on a dock with my toddler and not feel an undercurrent of anxiety over the child falling into the dark water and drowning. I would love to indulge in a lavish weeknight dinner party with no thought of the incipient hangover. I would love to ride a bike through trafficked streets, helmetless and laughing into the camera, not fearing death by speeding bus at any second. Timell seems to expect the best at every turn, and what’s more, he seems to get it.

Being a relatively optimistic person myself, the contrast between Timell’s life and my own didn’t strike me as too painfully stark until the coronavirus pandemic kicked off this past March and April. I watched on Instagram as I always did, checking my Stories in the intervals between conference calls for work or while stirring risotto for dinner in the evening. Every day I expected to see some mark of These Unprecedented Times on Anders’ life–after all, a significant portion of his leisure time and presumably his work is to do with restaurants, and they were having to shift their operations to accommodate the pandemic. But as the weeks went on, Timell seemed immune not only to COVID-19 but also to its bummer side-effects.

You may have seen Sweden in the news recently. Coronavirus reached them, but they never shut down, and now there’s some debate over whether this strategy was brilliant or disastrous. At the very least, they’ve suffered much less economically than America and the rest of Europe. And from the view of Sweden that Anders provides, everything seems… fine. Even at the height of the virus panic in April, the only sign of a change in Timell’s Stockholm was a few outdoor dining areas taped off to create more social distance; but those may have been for some unrelated purpose, because diners still poured into Taverna Brillo for their glasses of rosé and plates of shellfish pasta at tables that didn’t seem to have been rearranged at all. So far, the only visible change in Anders’ life is the location of his summer vacation. Since I began following him, he has typically gone abroad for a while each summer, while this year he’s spent his time on Sweden’s beaches instead. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from hosting and attending some of the most beautiful summertime dinner parties you’ve ever seen, living it up at Midsommar, golfing constantly, and careening around adorable seaside villages on bikes with his son.

Since coronavirus hit, Anders’ Instagram account hasn’t just been a series of beautiful images of a laid-back life. It has become a glimpse into another world, an alternate reality where no one is worried about school, work, illness, or the economy, where no one is lonely or isolated, where life has gone on without either heightened anxiety or downtrodden resignation. I have to acknowledge of course that this glimpse is narrow, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the combination of refreshment and disorientation that I feel when I look down at my phone and see Anders panning live over a table full of laughing, drinking people in a lovely setting without a mask in sight. Friends hold each others’ babies, clink their champagne glasses together, and gather in restaurants, living rooms, back gardens, and on boats. Women walk down the streets together in elbow-to-elbow groups, dropping their children off at creche, buying groceries, meeting for coffees. Men hit the gym to lift weights, wander around golf courses carousing while playing, and drink beers at clubhouses.

And far from feeling outraged by their carefree days and nights, I feel hopeful and uplifted. I don’t know if Anders’, and his country’s, approach to COVID-19 is right or wrong. I have no idea how problematic, or not, the Timells might be in Sweden. Anders’ life might be one of unmitigated privilege. But I can’t help loving him and the alternate universe he shows me through his phone.

Kämpa, Anders! You do my mental health a power of good.

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