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onsdag, november 29, 2006
Last weekend's normally dull trip to the local supermarket for the weekly shopping was brightened somewhat by an amusing incident. It involved a woman I have seen (and heard) around town before. This young American makes being obnoxious into an art form and I literally cross the street to avoid her. She sounds exactly like that Fran character on the sitcom The Nanny and any time I've seen her, she is in full flight whining at the top of her strident and penetrating English about "the stupid Swedes". As every second word is punctuated by "f*ck, like you know..." it is not always easy to understand exactly what she is on about. I wonder why people with nothing to say believe that increasing their volume and adding a few vulgarities will somehow add substance to their blather. And why is it still considered wrong to tear off their arms and beat them until they shut up?
Anyway, I was browsing around the baking section on Saturday morning, selecting ingredients for Christmas cooking when I heard her unmistakable bellow from two aisles away. Just think of Fran saying "Oh my Gwad, Mr Sheffield!" and you have it.
"Will you just look at this! she declared in a disgusted tone, the stupid Swedes have their own f*cking jelly for Halloween! And of course it's on special as, you know, like f*cking Halloween was like a f*cking a month ago, you know!"
Halloween jam? I can honestly say that I've never seen any before and would have been surprised as Halloween is pretty much non-existent in Sweden. When she had moved on I went and checked out the jam aisle and found no Halloween jam, but there was Hallon jam (hallonsylt). Which means raspberry jam. I just about cried with laughter.
This put me in a bouncy mood and after packing away the groceries, we went out on a long walk to enjoy the few remaining hours of daylight. While it was cold, the sun was shining so it's great to get out into the brisk, fresh air rather than stay cooped up in the apartment.
When we approached the bay at Fagerviken, we stopped to take the above picture. It was just a random shot between a couple of houses, but had a nice view of the homes on the small island of Trehörningen as well as a few ducks swimming around in the water. We stepped over a small fence to stand a little closer and get a better angle. What we didn't realise was that this piece of land was patrolled by a security guard and here he comes with his "Hello, hello and what do we have here" expression on his face.
We both thought he looked like the security guards (ordningsvakter) that seem to be hanging around everywhere these days. While Mr Swan didn't have his security guard badge on, he had a similar bolshie attitude to that which I've observed from some of his human colleauges before. He approached us and told us to clear off in no uncertain terms.
As an aside, I do feel sympathy towards security guards who usually have a thankless job of dealing with a lot of drunk fools late at night, but some of them do let the power trip of a badge and uniform really go to their heads. Anyway, he seemed to think that we were suitably cowed and intimidated and strutted off muttering something about "And don't let me catch you in here again".
After checking that the boat was securely moored, we ventured further around the coastal walk of Strandvägen where we discovered that most of the town had the same idea and we found ourselves surrounded by people out catching the sunshine and the fresh breeze. The water was sweeping into the bay, driven northwards by the strong south westerly wind and we wandered down from the road to the actual beach where I sheltered behind a large rock and soaked up the sun. It still feels odd to be wearing hat, gloves, jacket AND sunglasses. Somehow my Australian side just can't accept such a sartorial mixture - it's just so wrong.
We were not alone on the beach for long. Several people came down to watch the waves and sit by the shore just enjoying the welcome warmth and the view. It is a very popular excursion place for the residents and you get many people bringing a thermos of coffee and some cinnamon buns to have an impromptu picnic by the sea. Others are content just to sit and contemplate life.
The more adventurous among the residents prefer a more bracing exercise than simply walking in the woods and along the shore. We saw a couple of people out in kayaks, paddling furiously against the powerful wind and waves. It looked far too healthy a past time for me. I'll just stick to the shore for now. I commented to Lars-Göran that I thought there would be a lot of surfers at Torö today, but he thought it might be too cold. Obviously he's never heard of neoprene wetsuits.
We then headed back through the town towards home, noting that there seems to be quite a few trees and shrubs beginning to shoot. I suppose it is the mild weather and combination of rain and sunshine that is tricking them into thinking it is spring. They are going to get a huge shock once King Bore, the Swedish god of winter arrives with his snow and ice.
Everyone is wondering just if and when winter will start this year. And of special interest is naturally if we will have a white Christmas. The speculation usually begins around now, as it will be Anders name day tomorrow and there is an old saying "Anders braskar, julen slaskar", which predicts that if Anders is cold on his name day, then it will be a slushy Christmas.
Many people are saying this unseasonal warm, wet autumn is because of global warming and that we may not see as much snow in the future. I keep reading that this is a record warmth and that noone can remember it ever being so mild at this time of year, while they wax lyrical about winters past when they had real winters with ice everywhere and metre high snow drifts over the whole country.
But is this true? Not according to the meterologists at SMHI. They say that the average temperature at the moment is 7.6C, compared to 7.7C in 2000 and 7.8C in 1938. So perhaps it is not as warm as people believe. In fact, they went on to say that the whole decade of the 1930s was quite mild, though that was followed by some heavy duty, icy winters in the 1940s. It would seem that Sweden has periodically had these episodes of warm weather before, though not in most people's lifetimes.
The warmest Christmas temperature was recorded in 1977, when the mercury rose to 13.7C at Simrishamn. Let's hope that is not repeated again this year. I want to see snow on julafton. I don't need it to be -19C or anything drastic like that, just everything covered in a sparkling, magical white coat. Now I better go and write that on my wish list for santa.
måndag, november 27, 2006
The other day, a friend who lives in New York sent me a couple of pictues of the unbelievably crowded commute she faces through the traffic each day. I know that there are really crowded places all over the world, but some of her pictures of overcrowding on the subway and the sheer mass of humanity jostling on the footpaths was quite frightening. It made me think about how different it is for me here and really how lucky I am to have a relatively stress free bus ride in beautiful surroundings.
First off, I would like to say that this post is NOT meant to make anyone who has a daily city commute jealous. I feel your pain. I have done long, stressful commutes to and from work for some time. I think the worst was in England where we were living in Oxford, but driving daily to the office in Pangbourne near Reading, up the perpetually clogged English motorways. And Kuala Lumpur was not much better as we had to drive from TTDI to Selangor Darul Ehsan through heavy, choking traffic jams and roadworks with a lot of maniac drivers. Quite scary.
These days, it's the bus that suffices and fully half of my journey is along lonely country roads. I am usually more inclined to see a deer, a soaring hawk, or a quietly grazing pony rather than another car on this stretch of my journey. I especially love the wooded peacefulness and open fields on my trip from here to Södertälje and I wanted to share it with you.
The morning begins with breakfast, accompanied by the cast of Hitchcock's movie The Birds, who are all sitting in the tree opposite the apartment building, occasionally swooping down into the garden in a sweeping wave to feast on the last of the autumn berries. I wish they had come closer as they are sidensvans or waxwings - a really pretty little bird and lovely to watch as they hop about busily, chattering to each other.
This is followed by a ten minute stroll down through the sleepy town, where three cars in the street at the same time constitutes peak hour and on to the main bus stop at the railway station. Here, I stand in the sunshine watching mist rolling in from the sea and see my good friend Russell sitting in a tree at the edge of the car park. He flies down to say hello.
"Russell?" says my dear man, "Why Russell?"
"Well, he's Russell the Crow", I answer, while Lars-Göran looks at me as though I am a madwoman and mutters "I can't believe you just said that." Hmmm... believe it, baby, believe it. No need to email me in disgust as he has already groaned and hit me with a cushion on your behalf.
Now it is time to squeeze myself on board the number 783 and hope that there is a spare seat somewhere for the long trip. Hmmm... I think I'll have to go right up to the back of the bus to grab a spot. Maybe I'll sit behind that guy in the shiny blue jacket who is pretending not to look at me but wanting desperately to know what is happening with that camera he can see out of the corner of his eye. Not that he's looking, or anything. Anyway, I was on the bus many stops before he was, so he didn't have to sit right in front of me, did he?
Oh dear, he got off at some place in the middle of the woods. So it's just a few people left onboard as we wind our way through the green countryside and look out at the grazing farm animals and the old, wooden barns along the road. It is so peaceful and scenic that one can drift easily into a relaxed and contemplative frame of mind.
The fields are interspersed with woodland areas, that glisten in the early morning sunshine which casts dappled shadows and soft light in the many glades. A red deer darts through the trees as we pass, causing me to wake from my daydream state. I can relax completely on my trip as you can see that I have a guard dog taking care of my valuables in my backpack. Probably eating my lunch as well :)
All too soon, we are entering the civilised world again as the bus pulls into Södertälje. This is an interesting town and quite unusual in that it has a very large immigrant population (around 43% I believe). Despite a population of over 80,000 people, it does manage to retain a little of the small town feel, particularly around the canal area. With a genuine old town centre and surrounded by the beautiful rolling landscape of Södermanland county, it is a perfect balance of both worlds. Not that it is a museum piece - it is a varied, vibrant and active town and blends the old and the new in an innovative way.
You are never far from a glimpse of the past, even in the centre of town and peeping down the street at the crossing, the church spire catches the sun's rays and shows a welcome face to visitors and residents alike. After just over an hour on the bus, rolling through the gentle undulations of the Swedish countryside, it's time to log-in and get some work done. I'm so glad my secretary has everything totally under control.
I hope he hasn't been answering my email again. Though he is actually a lot smarter than me, so I guess his answers would make more sense.
fredag, november 24, 2006
It was a case of ho, ho, ho-ld on a second at the Myer department store in Melbourne early last week when they unveiled the annual Christmas window display.
Picture taken by Bill McAuley
I wondered if the designers of the Christmas window were getting advice from the animators responsible for The Lion King? Or was it perhaps a malfunction, as is claimed in the linked story?
What can I say but "Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!"
One of the things I loved most about christmas as a kid were the Myer Christmas windows. There are Myer stores in several Australian cities and back in the dark ages when I was growing up in Adelaide and Rundle Mall was still Rundle Street and the Myer Centre was still Myer Emporium in their old, spooky building, going to see the windows was a Christmas highlight. All of the windows facing Rundle Street were decorated then unveiled to the public in early November. They used a different theme every year, with the stories being familiar childhood favourites (The Twelve Days of Christmas, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland among many others) and each window was so intricate and detailed that you could stand for over an hour in front of a single window, attempting to take it all in.
The windows were truly magical and their spell drew in people from the oldest to the youngest throughout the days and nights leading up to Christmas Eve. Even if you walked past in the middle of the night there would still be people there, taking it all in: pyjama clad children, tucked tightly into Mum or Dad’s shoulder, peering through sleepy eyes at the wonders before them; party-goers taking time out to revisit a tradition from their past, before hitting the next bar; shift workers on their way home or on their way to work. Johnnies may have had their big pageant (now the Credit Union Pageant, I see) and the brewery may have had their Christmas Riverbank Display on the banks of the Torrens, but there was this Myer display was always very special. Sadly, once they tizzied up the old building in the 1980s, they stopped having the fabulous windows, though it continues in Melbourne.
One of the big Stockholm department stores has a similar tradition and I've shown you their windows in 2004 and 2005. I'll be popping in to record this year's display in December sometime. Lars-Göran has only agreed to accompany me if I stop elbowing kids out of the way and asking if he can take me to The Magic Cave (oops, that's Adelaide, not Stockholm, isn't it?).
Swedish Posten released their Christmas stamps this week and I think they are rather good again. I'm looking forward to getting lots of cards, even though I know what Brucie will be doing to them!
They never use nativity scenes in their Christmas stamps and it can even be hard to find a card with a nativity scene, an angel, a wise man or a shepherd on it. This year's stamps were designed by Ingela Peterson Arrhenius, with the theme being beautiful Christmas windows. I like them!
The curtain on each stamp have tiny Christmas goats, a perennial favourite here at Christmas. Apparently before Tomte came to Sweden, presents used to be given out by a goat. Why, I have no idea!) Then we have a bronze star on the first stamp, the next one has a gingerbread heart with Merry Christmas in Swedish on it, along with an orange pomander. This last one is a bit of a puzzle as I know that many countries use the orange pomander, with whole cloves imbedded in it, strung up with red ribbon, but I confess that I've never seen one here, nor has anyone I've spoken to about it.
The last two stamps have an Adventsljusstake (Advent candlestick with seven candles representing the seven Sundays of the Swedish Christmas season) and one with a Christmas pointsettia and a little bird pecking at a ball shaped seed feeder known as talgbollar.
The bird is a domherre, a type of bullfinch. I have always loved these little birds, they are so cheerful and enduring, staying around all winter.
Speaking of bird feeder, may I present the newest addition to our balcony:
Birdfeeders are better than tv! Working at home has its benefits, the best of which is sitting at the window at the precise moment a new bird visits the feeder. I have changed my stance on feeding birds since I came to live in Sweden. I somewhat disapproved of it during the first winter, thinking that the birds were becoming dependant on these "handouts". But now I've experienced the full force of a northern European chill, I see how valuable and life saving it can be. As winter is approaching, there’s less and less natural food available, and the birds which remain in Sweden throughout the snow come to appreciate a bit of a helping hand.
If you live in Sweden, there are a huge variety of feeders you can buy. If you are planning on feeding wild birds this winter, here's a few tips you'll want to keep in mind. The main one being, that if you do start feeding wild birds in your backyard or from your balcony, don't stop until Spring arrives. It wouldn't be nice if we travelled many hungry kilometres for a good meal at our favourite restaurant only to find out that there was no food available to eat when we got there. Always have plenty of seed and water available for the birds.
I read about what seeds are best for them, so in addition to the general wild bird mix, I bought a big bag of sunflower seeds as all birds love them and they are really rich in fats that will help the little sweeties to keep warm all winter. Lars-Göran couldn't help but wonder about his position on the house pecking order. The dog gets exclusive, expensive breed specific dog food, our two cockatiels have only the best blends of seeds and I am very fussy about quality when I buy seed. Now I am supplementing the seed mix to provide a gourmet meal for the wild birds. All this while he continues to be served the cheapest brand of icecream! Boy did he grumble like a two year old.
But what can you do - they are pets and need to be spoiled. As I told him it's like the difference you feel when you hear a snore in the middle of the night. If it is him who is snoring I want to put a pillow over his face, but when the dog does it, I just smile and think it's cute. For some funny reason, that did not comfort him....
måndag, november 20, 2006
If any of you saw the post title and were afraid that I was about to break into a Frank Sinatra song, rest assured that not even I would stoop that low. It was just a line that sprang into my head when I thought about my soup making adventure the other night. And for once, my use of the word "adventure" is no exaggeration.
I know that it's really autumn now because now I'm craving lentil soup. A couple of people have asked me for the recipe for the lentil soup I mentioned the other day, so I'll provide it, along with a few tips on what not to do.
If you have seen the charming French movie Amélie, you may recall that there is a scene near the beginning, where the main character plunges her hand into a sack of green lentils. As her hand slides into the cool pile of lentils, the camera cuts to her face, which is glowing. You can almost feel her sense of pleasure.
That scene has always stayed in my mind, mainly because I understand the tactile thrill that lentils promise. You want to grab them by the handful and let them slide slowly through your open fingers.
Food is always a very sensual experience with me. I love the endless varieties of textures and smells and when it comes to lentils, it is the pretty red lentils that give me the biggest thrill with their bright, cheerful, colour. They resemble tiny, shiny coral pearls and I can imagine them being strung together to make a necklace for a tiny fairy.
Quite a few people screw their noses up at the thought of preparing and eating pulses such as lentils, but they require very little work and you can make cheap, delicious and healthy food from them all. Lentils are really the fast foods of the dried legume family as they require no lengthy pre-soaking before cooking - just a quick rinse and they are done. I have many different soup recipes using red lentils, with the tastes varying from an Ethiopian spicy mixture, a hot Indian variety, a more subtle and mild Italian soup and one that is based on the spices from Polynesia. It is this one I made for dinner the other night. I love making soups as I find it both relaxing to sit and chop up the vegetables after a long day slaving over a keyboard. It also stirs wonderful memories of days spent in gran's kitchen helping her prepare soup and talking about life. Precious memories.
Now I'm not sure that this is authentic Polynesian food, it is simply the name of the recipe I was given many years ago. It was a firm favourite as a nourishing lunch on a cool, wet winter's weekend with my family in Adelaide, so I felt confident that Lars-Göran would enjoy it as well. And I can make it now that I have a new blender!
Polynesian Lentil Soup
1 cup red lentils
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 1/2 cups water or stock
1 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp coconut cream
chopped fresh parsley or fresh coriander to garnish
Pick over the lentils to remove any discoloured ones, then soak in hot water for 10 minutes. While they are soaking, chop the vegetables and garnish.
(Note: I used the microwave to make the soup, but you can adapt it to the stove top. In that case, I'd cook the soup for around 35 - 40 minutes to make sure the lentils are fully cooked)
Microwave the coriander, cardamom, ginger and 1 tbsp water, covered, on high for 2 minutes. Add the drained lentils, onions and water or stock (I used vegetable stock made up with a stock cube). Cook in the microwave on high for 5 minutes, then 20 minutes on medium, stirring half way through.
Puree the soup in batches in a blender, return to the pot and add peanut butter and coconut cream (I used coconut milk as that was all I could find). Stir well to incorporate the peanut butter thoroughly.
Microwave on high for 2 minutes, checking that it does not boil over. I stirred in a handful of chopped fresh chives, but it is really not necessary. I just happen to like chives. Ladle out into bowls and sprinkle with either chopped fresh parsley or coriander and serve.
I served mine with crusty french bread, a tossed green salad and a fluffy toy poodle in a basket, but you can skip the poodle if you want! The glasses contain water (or perhaps you may need vodka if things go a little awry)
Of course, if you are using a nice new blender that you have never used before, it is a good idea to secure the lid well, even keeping a hand on it, as it may not lock as firmly as your old blender. That way, you can ensure that the soup remains INSIDE the blender during processing, rather than spurting up in a hot spicy fountain and covering the cupboards, the open cutlery drawer, the bench tops, walls, floors, mixer, microwave, coffee machine, freshly filled fruit bowl, cask of wine, digital camera (fortunately in its protective case), mobile phone, pile of newly written and addressed christmas cards and calendar. It would also prevent you and the passing dog having a pre-dinner lentil shower. Why oh why was I wearing white?
It would also save you the embarrassment of having the passing neighbours hear your loud, strident and inventive use of the vernacular in several languages. It would save you a long, depressing clean up in which you drop one of your precious glass storage drawers because your hands were soapy and soupy, smashing it into a zillion tiny shards across the half cleaned mess at which point you burst into tears and start pouring yourself an extremely generous serve of straight vodka.
Not that this is based on anything that happened to me, you understand. Just a hypothetical scenario that you should watch out for. By the way, does anyone know where I can get those glass storage drawers from these days? Not that mine is broken or anything. I'd just like to have a spare ... in case....
If you are very lucky, you may have a wonderful viking who appears out of the mists, plants a kiss on your lips, sweeps you off your feet and escorts you to the sofa while he expertly finishes the cleaning of the kitchen.
I just can't resist. Take it away, Ol' Blue Eyes.....
And more, much more than this, I did it my way!!
fredag, november 17, 2006
One important adjustment I had to make when I came to Sweden was the way people cross the road. In Australia, we tend to cross the road wherever we like. There are a few zebra crossings in busy areas and of course there are special school crossings, but in general you wait for a break in the traffic and then cross over. The onus is on the pedestrian to look out for the cars.
In Sweden, however, people cross over at designated crossings which are found even on quiet suburban streets. I discovered this by accident (almost literally) on the day after I arrived. My husband believes in throwing one in the deep end, so despite my jetlag, he announced that I was to drive from now on and he happily planted himself in the passenger side with his laptop! Gee, thanks... It was quite difficult for me to drive on the wrong side of the road, sitting on the wrong side of the car and in the snow. To add a touch of excitement to the already tense mix, pedestrians kept stepping out in front of the car, glaring at me and expecting me to stop. This was completely foreign to what I was used to and after I nearly ran a couple of them over Lars-Göran seriously began to wonder whether drivers licences in Australia were handed out on the back of Corn Flakes packets.
I protested that I was an experienced driver, but that Swedish pedestrians had some kind of strange suicide wish as they just stepped out onto the road into the path of oncoming cars. It was at this point that Lars-Göran showed me the signs at the side of the road, which mark pedestrian crossings.
After a while, one gets used to the sight of the little man crossing the road and you learn to keep an eye out for potential
Something else that has a high priority in Sweden is equal rights for women. While there is still a way to go, efforts to achieve gender equality have progressed further in many sectors of Swedish society than in perhaps any other country. There are efforts geared towards equality in the labour force, equal pay as well as shared responsibilities with child-rearing and household work. There is also a recognition of gender issues in advertising and only recently, Jysk (a bedding and manchester chain store) was rapped over the knuckles for this campaign, where they advertised "Blue for boys and pink for girls" pjs.
As in Australia, there have been some efforts to choose neutral, non-gender specific names for words like "spokesman" but the traffic crossing signs still retain the male figure. Well, perhaps not everywhere anymore. While walking down Kungsgatan, a major street in central Stockholm, I saw that some of the signs have been "remodelled" to look female.
Somebody obviously has a lot of time on their hands
I admit that when I first saw the signs, I thought of Lars-Göran's 21 year old daughter, Annelie, who I would classify as a feminist "with attitude". I could well imagine her and a few of her friends taking it upon themselves to "correct" the signs.
I remember one night when the kids were all over for dinner, I had shooed everyone out into the living room while I fixed coffee and did the dishes. Annelie turned around and faced her father, asking him why he wasn't going to do the dishes, since I had cooked and served the meal.
"Do you think that because you have a penis that you are excused from household work?" she continued.
It was interesting to see everyone's response to this. Poor Lars-Göran wore a startled look, similar to a deer caught in the car's headlights. Micke, her 30 year old brother just rolled his eyes and sighed muttering "Here we go again". John, who is 25 started to snigger and 22 year old Madde looked embarrassed and hissed "Annelie! Do you have to talk like that all of the time?"
Before it all got out of hand, I intervened and told her that her father was great at sharing household work and the reason he wasn't helping tonight was that as it was not so often that we had all four kids here together, I thought he should enjoy their company while he had the chance.
So you can see why I might think that she and her more arty, creative feminist friends might be involved. I'll have to ask her if she knows anything about it.
It continues to be warm (well... for November in Sweden) but quite drizzly. It is the sort of rain which is just a step beyond fog. It's so light that it seems to hover in the air for a moment. But it's rain nonetheless. While I tend to dislike November weather, there are some good things to savour. The days can be crisp and fresh, the leaves are beautiful and at night everything is cold and you can smell firewood. When the mist descends, it's both melancholic and mercurial.
For those of you who don't live here, yes, it rains a lot in autumn. Not huge downpours and rarely do we get thunder and lightening, but often we have a fairly steady mist or light rain.
Fog in November, trees have no heads,
Streams only sound, walls suddenly stop
Half-way up hills, the ghost of a man spreads
Dung on dead fields for next year's crop.
I cannot see my hand before my face,
My body does not seem to be my own,
The world becomes a far-off, foreign place,
People are strangers, houses silent, unknown.
- Leonard Clark
Walking through the woods at this time of the year when the mist encloses you and the leaves rustle beneath your feet is a time of contemplation and listening for me. It is also a time to revel in the layers of the earth which reveal themselves as I brush my feet through the fallen leaves and I am always thrilled by the textures and colours I see.
The autumn always encourages me to look below the surface of my life and discover the layers built up over the year. It is a time to consider what needs to be let go and what will help me survive the coming darker, dormant days through the winter.
Often there are surprises when I brush my foot through fallen leaves. I discover signs of life in shape of a scurrying beetle, some fallen fruit or fungi finding shade and sustenance in the most inhospitable places. I always stop and spend a moment getting to know what I am looking at.
I try and take this practice into my daily life as well, especially when looking beneath the layers of my own life and I am often surprised that not only is there life in the most unpromising environment but often beauty brought about by the transformation of letting go that which has run its natural course.
tisdag, november 14, 2006
Three autumns ago, as the cool air began rushing into the archipelago and Nynäshamn was painted gold, yellow and red by the impact of the changing seasons, I joined the small but growing world of blogging. In my first post, which poor Kate had to publish because I couldn't work out how to do it, I spoke a little about myself and what I wanted to write about. Later I explained the origin of this blog's title and expanded on the theme of living in a foreign land from an Aussie perspective. Over the intervening three years I have tried to share some of my thoughts and my experiences with you.
According to the webmistress of Australians Abroad, who is clever with stats and technical things, I have several loyal people who visit this blog each day and although I am sure that some of them scream and run out of the room as soon as they get a peek at what is going on, there are a few who stay. Even so, it's really hard to believe that it's been a full three years since I started this blog. But the calendar doesn't lie.
Speaking of stats, I am amused by the blatant competitive element in blogging and the ease with which people choose to ignore how easy it is to inflate one's figures artificially. I am not at all interested in number of "hits", though I did come across this the other day and filled it out for fun. This was the result:
Now, if I take my glasses off and squish my eyes up a bit, it looks like I’m a 'B-cup Blogger'. Yeah, right, in my dreams….
On a more serious note, through this blog, I have come into contact with some lovely people from all over the world - warm, witty and generous people, many of whom I know I'd be comfortable with nattering over a cup of tea if I met them in real life. Some of my readers I have been fortunate enough to meet and those encounters have also enriched my life. So thankyou one and all for being here with me on this journey.
I have enjoyed presenting Sweden to you and I hope that generally I convey the positive qualities of living here. There are so many vicious, negative blogs out there that I wanted to do something different and tried to retain a wide-eyed awe, an openness to new things and an almost childlike enthusiasm for the next experience.
While one can argue that I sometimes generalise a bit about my new homeland (and I tease my long suffering husband relentlessly about the joys of Australia) I wanted you all to know that I have the greatest respect for the Swedish people, their culture and their stunningly beautiful land. Thankyou to all the Swedes that I have met here and who have gone out of their way to welcome me and ensure that this feels like home.
And thankyou to everyone who reads and enjoys the writing here. It has been a roller coaster ride of leaning so far, but I'm game to keep on going. So onwards towards year 4.....
torsdag, november 09, 2006
We have only the one roundabout in Nynäshamn and when it was built in conjunction with the development of the nearby Lidl shop, it was a controversial move. There were plenty of heated letters to the editor in the local paper declaring that civilisation was about to fall as the politicians were selling out to commercial interests.
As if that hasn't been going on since the dawn of time...
Anyway, the roundabout was built and the prophets of doom have simmered down and discovered that it was in fact quite a sensible and workable solution to a tricky crossing. And yesterday I discovered that we have our own rondellhund, complete with a big smile and groovy sunnies. I am loving the way people are using their imagination and humour to create these doggies.
My friend Liz tells me that there is one near her hometown in Skåne, but as she didn't send a picture, I don't know whether to believe or or not (only kidding, Liz...)
While I was browsing through the Aussie papers today, I came across this story concerning a Belgian tourist who is obviously aiming for a Darwin Award. What an imbecile - and to think that he has previously been attacked by a wild animal he was provoking and didn't learn his lesson. The sad thing about this is that the poor croc who was just minding his own business is to be removed from his home. What a terrible shame.
It is getting dark and gloomy by about 3:30 in the afternoon these days and I hate that. I'm one of those people who needs the sun in order to feel like everything is right in my world. And today, I can't see the sun through this sheet of fog which fills the sky. I long for those clear, sunny winter days again, though this is more the norm that I have come to expect in November. In a few short weeks we can set up the Christmas lights and start on the glögg so I'll cheer up quite a bit then.
My dear man came home today with a shiny, new kitchen gadget for me. I had a great but ancient mixer which died earlier in the year and I have been on the lookout for another one. There are a couple of Swedish ebay type of sites (Blocket and Tradera) which I was checking regularly to see if I could pick up a cheap used machine as the new ones were so expensive. Sadly, people are totally insane on those sites and appeared willing to part with ridiculous sums of money for a Kenwood from the 1970s. Plus I began to wonder about some of the sellers who claimed to be flogging off a machine that was hardly used and found in the back of granny's pantry - only they seemed to have at least 17 grannies!
We spotted this in a members only campaign run by a local department store and it was a good price, so we ordered it and they phoned yesterday to say it had come in. Now I can go back to making my favourite pizza dough and delicious and filling autumn soups. I have a rather nice Polynesian Lentil Soup recipe that is calling out to be whipped up in the blender. Of course, I could always hand knead the dough I make but my tennis elbow has returned with a vengeance, so it is easier to let Mr Dough Hook take care of it.
It was just as well that I placed my order for the mixer last week as yesterday Lambi had a very expensive visit to the vet, which will ensure that we will be living on water and boiled potatoes for the next six months.
She looks as though she is really happy, but in fact she is panting in sheer terror - her usual response to a visit to the vet. You may recall that we had problems with her nose over the summer and we wanted that looked at as well as her annual clean up of tartar on her teeth. One vet we consulted had already diagnosed kvalster (a type of tiny mite that lives in nasal cavities of dogs) but the treatment was ineffective and I read that one can only make a positive diagnosis with a swab, which wasn't done. It was a relief to be able to get her normal vet to look at her.
We had expected them to clean her teeth, remove the odd one or two loose ones (a common thing with old, small breeds of dogs) and then look at her nose. What happened was that she required major surgery to remove twelve teeth, including two of the big canine teeth in the front. It was awful for all of us as we stayed with her throughout the procedure despite the fact that blood and guts is not my strong suit at the best of times.
When the large incisor teeth were removed, the vet discovered that the roots of these teeth had been protruding into her nasal cavity and in fact there were two huge holes from her top palate all the way through, meaning that bits of her food and drink were being lodged directly in her nose as she ate. Poor puppy!
After several hours of treatment and many thousands of crowns, we were able to take our little gummy princess home. I hate to laugh, but she does look a bit like a granny who has forgotten to put in her falsies. Hopefully that look will improve as she recovers. She is also doing a kind of Darth Vader heavy breathing thing, but that also should go away in time. We have her on antibiotics for the next 40 days, which should be fun as she loathes taking medicine and is incredibly good at staying out of reach if something does not suit her. I may have to resort to the tried and tested parental trick of bribery.
tisdag, november 07, 2006
After the snowfall last week, there has been mild and even quite warm weather, so most of the fluffy white stuff is melting away rapidly. People continue to be angry with the authorities for the poor response to the snow, arguing that the streets remaining unsanded and unploughed made it impossible for them to drive. The bus company also chimed in to criticise the highway department for its failure to clear the roads as it had forced them to pull all of the buses out of circulation. They are still pointing accusing fingers at each other and promising a thorough investigation into it. Hmmmm.... we'll see if anything changes next year. Somehow I doubt it.
Of course, we are all lucky that we were able to get home safely if somewhat late. The same cannot be said for the unfortunate crew of a large Swedish cargo ship that went down in the Baltic not too far from here in the wild weather. Sadly, three crew members lost their lives, though the fabulous Sweden Rescue men were able to pluck up the remainder from the sea.
Life in Nynäshamn continues and the signs of winter are going, replaced by autumn signs. The leaves on the trees are changing colour, the nights are drawing in and suddenly, the squirrels in town are scurrying around like mad, stuffing their faces and running around hiding their stash of food. On my walk with Lambi today I must have seen at least eight squirrels in a small patch of grass digging, rooting, munching and racing around clutching food in their tiny claws.
While I know that some people take a dim view of squirrels, seeing them as rats with a bushy tail, I happen to really like them. We don't have them in Australia so I was childishly delighted when I first saw them here in Sweden. They are just so adorable when they stand on their hind legs and when they scamper across the ground. Yes, I probably need to get a life.
While walking to the harbour, we noticed that there seemed to be a gaggle of photographers down by the railway bridge. Nothing newsworthy ever happens in this town, so I wondered what on earth a large group of guys with some pretty serious camera equipment was doing laying in the snow with all lenses trained on the one spot.
So who were these paparazzi shadowing? The Swedish Royals? A tv star or pop singer? Nope. It was this tiny, cold, shivering little bird - a juvenile Turtle Dove. Those standing around said that these doves are becoming increasingly uncommon in Sweden and anyway he/she ought to have flown south to Africa nearly three months ago. People were arriving steadily, snapping a few pictures then rushing off to post their snaps on bird watching sites.
What concerned me was that nobody seemed to be at all worried about this poor little bird, except for its rarity at this time of year. You could see that it was shivering and in distress, so why wasn't anyone helping it? I wondered if the cold would kill it, or starvation or even one of the local cats or foxes. I felt really helpless as I realised that I had no idea who I could contact about the bird. In Australia I would have known to call fauna rescue or the national park and wildlife service for advice. But who do you call in Sweden?
I seriously considered gathering up the bird and smuggling it home until I could figure out how to help it properly. Then I wondered if that was the right thing to do. I have no idea how to care for a wild bird and if I leap in with some half-baked idea, perhaps my good intentions would only make the situation worse. It's a dilemma and I shall consult with Lars-Göran about what is the best way to approach it.
The rest of the walk, though was lovely and I thought again about how fortunate I am to live in such a beautiful, peaceful place. I always tell Lars-Göran that the best way to improve an already excellent landscape is to just add snow. And a Australian who will always revert back to a five year old when it starts to snow. I love the majesty of snow and the beauty of a fresh snowfall. When I first expressed these ideas six years ago, the native Swedes all said "You just wait". Well, it's several years later and even in the cold and dark Swedish winter, my love of snow remains undiminished.
So it was with a touch of sadness that I saw the snow has almost disappeared here already. At the boat club, the boats up on land stay cosy under their covers. Along the foreshore there is no sign at all of snow and it almost looks spring like. Okay, on closer inspection, the grass does look like it has a serious case of dandruff but you get the general idea. I wish I could have shown you a picture taken here at the same time on the day of the snow but for some reason the lazy photographer refused to go out and document it. Not much of a viking, is he?
The summer-like mood continues as you make your way around to the very posh Nynäs Havsbad seaside pavilion. Looking through the window at the glittering water and the golden sunshine, you can feel the glow of summer warmth and imagine the seagulls calling out and children splashing in the water. It is such a stark contrast to what we usually expect in November.
And in case you were labouring under the misconception that I was inside the pavilion, enjoying a fika or luncheon I can assure you that this was a cheat shot, taken from a window on the other side. As if they let riff-raff like us into such an exclusive place. I'd have to take out a bank loan to afford a glass of water here.
But we can admire the view for free and looking across from high on the hill we can gaze out over the island just over the water with its pretty little red cottages and beyond that to the beginning of the archipelago. I wouldn't swap living here for anything.
And before this entry descends into too much sentimentality, I wanted to share this hilarious gif I found. I honestly laughed for the longest time and I loved it so much that I now use it as my signature at the Australians Abroad forum.
I am well used to some people mixing up Sweden and Switzerland. Hard to imagine, but true and more than once I've had letters from people asking me things about swiss chocolates, Heidi, yodelling and cuckoo clocks. I won't tell you which country most of them come from, but I think the more discerning among you can hazard a guess.
But I was rather stunned that the designer of this badge was so willing to display their ignorance quite so openly. So fellow Aussies, all we have to do to show that we are proud to be Australians is to wrap ourselves in an Austrian flag. I guess it's time to say "auf Wiederschauen" as I need to dash off and finish off preparing my schweinschnitzel. Oh yeah and wind up my cuckoo clock.
lördag, november 04, 2006
Just recently, there has been quite a bit of publicity in the media here about a new phenomenon that is rapidly spreading across the country - rondellhundar (Roundabout Dogs). I looked everywhere for a story in English to share, but they were all in Swedish. If you can read Swedish, there is a good article about it in Dagens Nyheter (even if you don't read Swedish, you can look at the pictures of these doggies).
Everything began earlier this year when someone smashed up a dog. Don't worry, it wasn't a living dog, but a concrete piece of art which Linköping council had commissioned a local artist (Stina Opitz) to make. She was to make these concrete statues of a dog, to be placed on the town's traffic roundabouts. This senseless vandalism was reported in the local press and there it probably would have remained, except a group calling itself Akademi Vreta Kloster replaced the statue with a simple home made, plywood dog figure.
Again the local press reported the story and soon after, someone added a concrete "bone" for the dog to chew on. The idea behind replacing the commissioned artwork in this fashion was to protest against the council paying out so much money for something that ordinary people could do.
In a short space of time, these homemade dog figures began appearing at nearby roundabouts in the Linköping area. The dogs were made from a wide variety of materials and with a varying degree of skill and were breeding at an alarming rate. And then the phenomenon began to spread, firstly to areas immediately around Linköping, then later to the whole country. Here is a sample of the doggies from a few towns in Sweden (you can click to make it bigger):
I thought it was a charming and mildly amusing public art display and I've been watching it in action for a month or so. It shows no signs of stopping and more and more are appearing daily. This has caused a few problems and much debate in the national press. Firstly the art bureaucrats stuck their oar in and thought it might be better to just have the statues at one big roundabout and call it something catchy like Dogville. I guess they had their eye on the possible tourist potential.
At this stage, the county museum stepped in and suggested that all the dogs should be removed and placed in an exhibition of their own along the theme of folk art. But the following day when they arrived at the museum, they discovered that someone had blocked the door with a statue of a very unhappy wooden dog. It seems that ordinary people resented the art world's attempt to hijack and institutionalise this popular new pasttime.
Then the highway department intervened and said that the doggies were a hazard as they would distract drivers. Give me a break! What about all those strategically placed billboards for women's lingerie on the street corners? What about sandwich boards outside of shops or neon flashing signs? And why spend money to go around and collect these cute, harmless statues. Wouldn't it be better to spend it on improving the roads instead? And as some of these dogs are rather striking and beautifully done, they add to the scenery rather than jar on the senses.
Eventually, bowing to public pressure, the dogs are staying where they are and it will be interesting to watch over the next few months and see if this can sustain the momentum with which it has began. It has even spread to neighbouring Norway, where a rondellhund was spotted in Kristianstad last week.
A lot of people are hoping it continues to grow and people continue to enjoy contributing to their own cultural experience. Can we make this movement into a worldwide one? I wouldn't be surprised as it appeals to the quirky side of people and gives them a chance to be artists and actually have their work publicly displayed.
And to think all of this began with a wonton piece of random vandalism in a small Swedish town.
torsdag, november 02, 2006
About three weeks after I moved to Sweden, I was sitting on the couch reading while Lars-Göran watched the evening news on tv. At that time I did not understand more than three words in Swedish, so it was a constant stream of gibberish to me, though every so often an English word would crop up that I would recognise. As I was reading, I thought I heard the newsreader talk about "snow cows at Arlanda airport" and I looked up to see that flights had been cancelled or delayed and passengers were huddled in the terminal looking anxiously at the departure board. "Wow!" I said "It's just like the time we were in India in the early 1980s, trying to land at Bombay airport and we had to circle around endlessly while they cleared a herd of cows off the runway. But what are snow cows?"
As I uttered the last question the puzzled, slightly alarmed look on Lars-Göran's face was transformed into a huge grin and he fell about laughing. When he recovered the power of speech, he told me that the newsreader talked about sno kaos (snow chaos). It wasn't hard to understand how I came to make that error though, as the pronounciation of that word is "kay-oss" in English, whereas in Swedish it is "cows". Of course, that knowledge hasn't stopped me saying "Moo!" every time I've heard it since then. I guess you could say that I've milked it for all its worth (pun very much intended).
My beloved snow cows came to mind again yesterday as we were hit by the first big snowfall for the season. While November 1st is a little early for snow, I was amazed at the utter chaos that ensued everywhere. The proverbial headless chickens had nothing on the panic that took place yesterday in Stockholm and the strange thing is that this scenario unfolds every year when the first snow arrives. Yes, look at the headline: Snow Chaos in Sweden. May I just say "Moo!"
Looking out of my kitchen window I could see that it was hardly the day to take the bike to work, but what amazed me was that so many people were caught unprepared. How can you not expect snow when you live at 59° 17' North, the same latitude as Greenland and Alaska fer feck's sake.
This snow did not arrive unannounced, either. For days and days we have been seeing forecasts and watching satellite pictures of it sweeping eastwards across the Atlantic from Iceland and dumping huge snowfalls on Norway. Yet knowing all of this and with forecasters predicting snow and temperatures as low as minus 10C, had people bothered to change over their cars to winter tyres? Had the local councils made sure that the snow ploughs were ready to clear the streets? Was Storstockholms Lokaltrafik ready with a contingency plan for the buses, trains and underground?
It's Sweden. It's Snowing. Get over it. Even if I will admit that November 1st is a tad early for snow most of you have probably lived here your whole life and ought to be fully prepared. It's just snow, after all. I felt really sorry for commuters who had gone to work on public transport in the morning and come out in the afternoon to find that the bus company's response was to simply cancel all services!
Trains and the underground were not much better off and even those who had cars were forced to abandon them by the side of the unploughed roads. Other pitched in to help hapless motorists push cars that had slid across the icy surface so that the road could be cleared for the massive queues of cars waiting behind them. Many of these cars had summer tyres on them, which made them useless on ice. It is a terrifying feeling when that happens as I discovered not long after I arrived. I aged 10 years in a moment.
There were reports of people taking five hours to travel a stretch of road that would normally be a 20 minute ride even in peak hour traffic and several of my friends told me that they found themselves stranded outside of their office buildings for hours waiting for a ride.
Of course today, now the danger has passed and everyone is busy pointing the finger of blame at each other. Nothing new in that, I guess. And then as if to make light of it all, Mother Nature turns on one of her more glorious, sunny days and everything looks magical with its white, frosty covering.
Snow storm? What snow storm? See, Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humour. While it is always pretty in Nynäshamn when it snows, even in Stockholm on such a crisp, sunny day everything just dazzles and it turns into a fairy-tale city.
This picture was taken near the Stockholm Library, which is a striking structure designed by world renowned Swedish architect Eric Gunnar Asplund in 1918. He has been responsible for several notable buildings, but I love the iconic library builing the best. And from this angle, with the sun reflected off the snow, it looks particularly inviting.
It is not only one of the city's most important buildings architecturally, but the library is also a very important public building for the inhabitants of Stockholm, who still view it with affection and call it Asplundshuset. I love the warm colour, the clean lines and the unusual tower you can see. To an avid reader such as myself it somehow seems perfect to house books in a reading tower. It evokes the idea of surrounding yourself with a cocoon of literature. As you climb the staircase into the library, you are drawn into this rotunda of books at the very centre. I just love this place!
There is also the added advantage of it housing an enormous collection of English language books and I am able to order them to be delivered for me to pick up at my local library - and all for no charge as English is my native language. I order in around 10 to 15 books a month this way and keep up to date with my reading for free.
Down at the water, everything looks clean and fresh as the snow covers all of the impefections in a soft blanket. It is gratifying to see that there are still a few boats in the water even at this late date. In the distance, over on Skeppsholmen you can see the copper dome of the island's church.
With temperatures due to rise over the next few days, this will soon be slush, then disappear completely having reminded us humans that we are not totally in charge just yet. I hope you all keep well wrapped up and cosy and warm because I suspect that this was just the first taste of the arctic blast still to come.
This month's postsMove along, there's nothing to see here (onsdag, november 29, 2006)
A country commute (måndag, november 27, 2006)
Putting the X into Xmas (fredag, november 24, 2006)
I did it my way (måndag, november 20, 2006)
A sign of the times (fredag, november 17, 2006)
Memories…light the corners of my mind (tisdag, november 14, 2006)
Trying for a Darwin award (torsdag, november 09, 2006)
Going to the birds (tisdag, november 07, 2006)
Barking up the wrong tree (lördag, november 04, 2006)
Snow cows? (torsdag, november 02, 2006)
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