Wednesday, December 31, 2008

As Swedish as Äppel Paj

JoeWe spent this afternoon in our favorite Uppsala café, Ofvandahls. I say "our favorite" like it's some great secret we discovered, but the truth is that (according to the Swedish wikipedia entry) Ofvandahls has been a popular student hangout since it was opened in 1878. It's a cozy place, with at least a half dozen small rooms filled with mismatched tables and chairs, broad planked pine flooring, and a seemingly never ending supply of customers. It also happens to be a great place to go for a baguette sandwich lunch, a bit of pastry, or even a marzipan Linnaeus head.

Monday, December 29, 2008


JoeNaturally, we've been somewhat remiss in keeping the updates coming during the Christmas holiday. Never fear, we fully intend to make up for it over the next few days by covering Christmas one topic at a time. To start things off, a brief discussion of walks in the wintery woods. Once when discussing the Swedish national character, one of my professors, Anders, said, "Swedes think they walk in the woods more than other people. They may not actually do it, but they like to think that they do." I can't speak to the difference between the idea and the reality, but I can say that Swedes do seem to enjoy their walks in the woods. This has been especially in evidence this past week: on Julafton we got a light covering of snow, and since Christmas it's been cold and clear every day. There still isn't much light, but between the hours of 11 and 3 it has been gorgeous out, and every day there have been Swedes out taking advantage of it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Nerd jul party

Jennifer A lot of social stuff has been happening in the last couple weeks, along with the usual frantic increase in work as everybody tries to get projects completed before the holiday break and the new year. I was as busy as everyone else, but did manage to turn two manuscripts over to two completely different sets of co-authors on the day before Christmas eve. So here's some catching-up.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Joe Now that finals are over (whew!) it's time for me to start catching up on what's been going on the past couple of weeks. So, in celebration of the Jul Season, I'll jump back a couple of week's to a Sunday afternoon when we took part in a long-standing Swedish Christmas tradition: the Julbord. The Julbord is basically the Christmas version of the smörgasbord, the Swedish version of the buffet. It refers to the large meal that Swedish families normally lay out on Christmas Eve, but in more recent times it's also been popular for restaurants to have Julbord seatings around the holiday season.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


JoeHad my second final yesterday (at 8 am, ridiculous, sun was barely up by the time I finished at 9:30), and have been working all day today on my last thing for the semester, a take home final for Human-Computer Interaction, had two questions to go after dinner, answered the first one but then was feeling tired, so I had a cup of coffee, which I never do anymore, answered the last question in like an hour, 'cause caffeine makes me smarter! So now I'm all done for the semester. Guess I'll stay up and watch late night television. What's on Swedish television tonight? "Who was James Bond?", "Love Actually," and the "The Net." Wow, from that I might as well be living in Cleveland…

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Every Swedish girl's dream

Jennifer As we were driving back from Harkeberga Church a few weeks ago, the conversation turned to the approaching holiday season, and I asked about what were particularly Swedish things to do and see. "You must be sure to see the Lucia celebrations," said P., "It's very beautiful, and quite a big deal." A pause. "I was never chosen to be Lucia in school," she added morosely. "It has scarred me for life. I sometimes think my whole academic life has been an attempt to overcome this."

Every year across this great nation, on 12 december, a girl plays S:t Lucia. The duties of this girl are to wear white robes and a crown of candles, sing the S:t Lucia song, and look angelic. What girl? you ask. Mostly it's a school thing—every class chooses a Lucia, and generally every city and town does too. But Lucia's not just for little kids. There's an official, country-wide Lucia, who is the winner of a combined talent and beauty contest. This year, Sweden's Lucia is a student from the ag school just down the road, so she's an Uppsalabo, a fact that the local paper went to some pains to point out at every possible opportunity.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Will it always be like this?

JoeToday was my first exam for the period, and while in many ways it was very different from my exam last period—I've been meaning to write a post about how different this half of the semester has been from the first half, but there simply hasn't been a spare moment; I'm hopeful for next week—in one critical way it was exactly the same: the morning of the exam was the morning when my bike broke down.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Temptation's Advent

Jennifer You all may laugh at fika, and scoff at me when I say that it's difficult to have to go to a coffee break twice a day. But the social pressure to go really is rather intense: I thought I'd skip it last Monday, but V. and E. ambled by my door and asked if I was coming for coffee. I said "Sure, in just a minute," by which I meant "No." But they took it at face value, and when it became clear that they were not going to leave until I did, I gave up and headed downstairs.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thanksgiving Hamkey

Jennifer We had planned to have our Thanksgiving dinner sometime last weekend, but what with all the excitement of the julmarknad on Saturday, and then the trip to Gävle Sunday, we just didn't have time. So we planned to have Thanksgiving on Monday. Joe had made mashed potatoes, baked root vegetables, green bean casserole, and the turkey leg that he mentioned before. I tried to make gravy from the few pan drippings, but it was bitter and didn't work at all, which we both blamed on the fact that the veggies also dripped on the pan.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Jag är en bock. Brinn mig.

I am a goat. Burn me.
JoeSunday was Forsta Advent, which apparently is a big holiday in Sweden, not that anyone told us that in advance. I suppose lacking Thanksgiving as an indicator that the Christmas season has begun, they are forced to rely upon the ecclesiastical calendar. In any case, we already had plans for the day: we caught a ride up to Gävle to witness the Invigning of this year's Julbock.

For those not in the know, in December 1966 someone built a big straw goat in downtown Gävle. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, it burst into flames. Thus was born Gästrikeland's most beloved Yule time tradition. Over the years the goats have gotten larger (topping out at just under 15 m high, before settling to a happy size of about 12 m, and 3 tons of straw), and just over 50% of the goats have burned down. For the past two years the goat has been successfully fireproofed, but the chemical caused the goat to turn a dull brown. This year the fireproofing has been discontinued, so that the goat can once again stand proud and yellow (and, no doubt, so that the goat will burn once more and get Gävle back in the news). What's more, the straw was specially donated by Gävle's local whiskey distillery, Mackmyra, so I suppose it must be extra flammable.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


JoeYesterday was the official start to the Christmas season in Uppsala, as the downtown lights coming on for the first time. The event was also marked by a profusion of street vendors throughout downtown, as well as a more official Julmarknad in St. Erik's Torg (an old square below the cathedral), and a number of sales. Eager to see Uppsala's version of Black Friday, we headed downtown in the afternoon to catch a bit of the excitement.
The streets and shops were indeed packed with people, and the lights were all on, so it was quite festive. It was around 2:30 when we got downtown, so we still had 30 minutes until sunset. We made the best of it by sampling some of the street food, stopping for a free cup of glögg offered by the Army Women's Reserve Corp, and a couple of donuts from the "American Donuts" stand (they were… closer than anything else we've had here). Then we hit a couple of shops, mostly looking to pick up a bit of seasonal decoration for the apartment—and did we ever succeed! On our way to the market, we ran into one of Jennifer's coworkers who mentioned that Uppsala's fanciest restaurant, Domtrappkällaren, was serving his favorite dish (stekt strömming med potatismos och lingonsylt) on paper plates from it's kitchen door. As it happened to be on our way, we decided we should risk it, and indeed it was really good.
The market itself was just the sort of Christmas crafty stuff you would expect, some of it nice, some of it a little cheesy, all of it out of our price range. So we watched the litte kids taking pony rides, listened to the choir singing on the church steps, ate a hot dog purchased from the Amnesty International booth, and basically soaked up the atmosphere.
Last night was also the last night of a month long art project in Uppsala, an attempt to brighten up the dismal November evenings by putting up a series of light-themed artworks around town. As it was now a couple of hours after sunset and the vendors were all packing up, we decided to walk past a few of the light displays. The highlights were the University building, dramatically lit in shifting colors; Valvgatan, an old building with a large archway over a pedestrianized street which was glowing with blacklight; and an art gallery down by the river, which was projecting artwork onto the river wall accompanied by atmospheric music.

By then it was getting on towards 6 o'clock, and in the cold and the dark things were really winding down, so we headed home. It was a lot of fun, though.

Going to Gävle

JoeJust in case there are any early Sunday morning readers out there, here's a quick heads up. Today is the official Invigning ceremony for the Gävle Julbock, and we're heading up there in an hour or so along with our friends G. and D. There are fireworks scheduled for 4 pm local time (that's 10 am Eastern). No idea what the crowds will be like, but if possible we'll try to stand in the line of sight for webcam #1 and wave, sometime around 4:30.

I set up a script to capture the webcam images, so if it works, I'll post our photographic evidence once we get home.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Magic Songs in the Borg Cube

Jennifer The Uppsala Kammarkör had another concert last Sunday, and I now know two of its tenors, my officemate S. and Swiss postdoc G. The title of the concert was "Magic Songs" after excerpts from a piece with the same name by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, and the theme was magic-inspired music from around the world. Included in program were a tune by 16th century composer Tielman Susato rearranged by Jan Garbarek, and a short piece by Estonian Arvo Pärt. The concert opened with Raua Needmine, a challenging piece by V Tormis (challenging in this case to the singers; two of the baritones looked like they were going to pass out at one point, but we enjoyed the piece hugely). The eponymous Magic Songs were intended "to make magic work in the real world," and included chants for calling wolves, keeping bees warm, making bears dance, making stones sing (there were some lovely vocals for that one, with one note sustained while others fell in turn, making me think of meteorites), and finally, an all-purpose chant to make magic work. The concert ended with a yoik, the Lapp song that captures the essence of a human or other living being. In this case the living being was joyful, and as the choir sang they bent their bodies about, almost as if they were singing a traditional American gospel.

Glad Tacksägelse

JoeThanksgiving is not an official holiday in Sweden, but despite this fact Swedes have a traditional Thanksgiving Day menu: split pea soup with ham, and pancakes with cream and strawberry preserves. If that doesn't sound much like a Thanksgiving Dinner, that's because it isn't really, it's just that Thanksgiving happens to fall on a Thursday, and that's what Swedish families are supposed to eat on Thursday. I don't suppose that there are too many people these days who actually cook split pea soup and pancakes every Thursday, but that doesn't stop it from being a cultural touchstone. The lunch restaurants where I go to class and where Jennifer works both put this on the menu every Thursday, and there are always plenty of takers.

Turkey, on the other hand, is a dish generally reserved for Easter in Sweden, and the rest of the year it's pretty hard to find. That being said, I did manage to find a single turkey leg, so this weekend we're roasting the sucker and serving it with mashed potatoes. For tonight, though, we're sticking with tradition: split pea soup. Oh yes, and pancakes, too.

And so it begins

JoeConstruction on the annual Julbock, the world's largest straw goat, has begun in the small city of Gävle (about 100 km north of Uppsala). According to the newspaper, they Goat committee this year has opted to forego the highly successful flame-proofing used in the past two years. They say it's because the chemical caused the straw to absorb water and turn a dull brown instead of the goat's natural proud yellow coloring. I suspect it's because they secretly want the goat to burn every other year or so.

Either way, the webcam is up, as is the goat's blog (only in Swedish this year, by the look of it). You can keep an eye on the goat's progress off to the right.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Låt det snöa, låt det snöa, låt det snöa

Joe Turns out that the snow we got on Saturday was just the start. Sunday evening saw some more, but then things really took off on Monday, and now we've got about 30 cm of the stuff. The picture above was taken Tuesday morning—I guess some people don't have their snow tires on yet. Biking to school Monday morning was dicey in parts (and I did watch a couple of people wipe out), but fortunately the majority of my route goes through the woods, so I didn't have to contend with traffic outside of a couple of blocks at each end.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Snow Day, Sort Of

JoeWe woke up this morning to our first real snowfall of the year—not a blizzard, by any means, but a decent 5 cm or so. We had planned a lazy Saturday anyway, so it was a great day for us to have some snow. What's more, by the time we got up the clouds had cleared, so everything was bright and sunny, quite the welcome change from two weeks of unbroken dismality.

Härkeberga Church and Konditori Drott

Jennifer Last Sunday morning I got an email from P., a friend from work, inviting me take a little trip with her, her husband, and two boys out to Härkeberga Kyrka. A few months ago we had talked about the art of Albertus Pictor, whose images had had a strong influence on ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." The famous image of Death playing chess is found in another church near Stockholm (Täby Kyrka), but his paintings at Härkeberga are well-preserved and quite lovely.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Winter Tire Day

JoeToday was not National Winter Tire Day in Sweden. That's celebrated on December 1 every year, and it isn't so much a holiday as it is the day when all cars in Sweden are required to have winter tires. That's not to be confused with Studded Tire Day (October 1), which s the earliest you can start using studded tires for the year. What's more, I don't own a car, so I'm not likely to celebrate either of these days in any particular fashion in the coming years.

Today was, however, Winter Tire Day for me. The temperature over the last couple of days has dropped below freezing in what feels like a long term way, turning all of those muddy ruts in the forest path I take to school into frozen muddy ruts. What's more, it looks like there must have been some transitional precipitation last night, because this morning everything was covered in a sheen of ice. Tonight, the ice is covered in a light dusting of snow. In short, it's perfect bicycle weather.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Joe We're finally starting to recover from this year's bout of Post-Halloween Eating Disorder (PHED). Most years it's all the candy that really does me in, but this year there wasn't as much of that—unless you count the night of the pumpkin carving party, for which our entire dinner consisted of candy and beer. Instead, having spent way too much money on pumpkins, this year we ate Jack-O-Lantern for the better part of a week.  Oh sure, there's always the roast pumpkin seeds, but that just wasn't going to cut it this time.

Oddly, I can't seem to find winter squash in the local stores, so the pumpkins afforded us an opportunity to make a batch of pumpkin risotto with spinach and Italian sausage, a perennial favorite that we've been missing this fall. That was so good that we made a second batch when we had G. and D. over for dinner and cards that weekend. And of course, it wasn't bad just cut into chunks and baked, although that does get boring fast.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Changing by degrees

Jennifer "Hey, what's the temperature out?" I hollered at Joe this morning from the bedroom, as I was trying to decide whether to wear warm socks, or really warm socks.

Sounds of a keyboard being typed on. "37," he hollered back.

37? I thought to myself. 37. Umm, 37, 37. "Uhhh..."

"You need that in Celcius?"

"Uhhh... yeah. Yeah, I do."

37F is 2.7C, a number I now find much easier for calibrating clothing. I feel that I have reached some sort of minor milestone here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Now that's a walk in the woods

JoeFriday night I attended a National Dish Dinner with a group of International Masters students from my department. Sometime between the borscht and a famous Chinese dish whose name translates directly as "Sugar Vinegar Cabbage," the subject of orienteering came up. K., the sole Swedish student in the program, was going to be a volunteer at a large orienteering competition here in Uppsala over the weekend, and he was explaining the competition. Apparently anyone can compete: you just show up, they hand you a map, and you head off into the woods. M., the Italian, wanted to know if you were allowed to use a GPS, and K. explained that you weren't allowed to use them, but most people brought one along so that they could check their route against the map afterwards. When M. asked what would prevent you from looking at your GPS during the competition, K. thought for a moment before suggesting, "Morals?", to which M. simply shook his head and said, "That's so Swedish."

For me, though, that wasn't the most Swedish part of the whole thing. K. was going to be working at the "Water Distribution" center, which he put in air quotes. When we all gave him puzzled looks, he explained that the "water" was actually aquavit: "You're trying to find your way in the woods, and you get mad at the trees and mad at the map, and so you just come to 'Water Distribution' and then you feel better."

When someone suggested that getting drunk was not the best solution to getting lost in the woods, K. admitted, "Every year, we lose a few competitors."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Alla helgons dag

Jennifer 2 novembre was Alla helgons dag, which in Sweden is dedicated not to saints, but is observed more generally as a memorial for the dead. The day is a röd dag in Sweden, which means that it is an official day off of work, but it fell on a Saturday this year. Friday was therefore technically supposed to be a half day, but somehow everyone stuck around for the whole day. I'm glad I did, because it wasn't until afternoon fika, surrounded by the jack-o-lanterns from Thursday evening, that my advisor suggested that we go to a cemetery sometime the next day, preferably in the evening, because many graves would be decorated with candles. So off we went to the large cemetery (last seen in this blog from the #2 bus) near Uppsala Cathedral.

Three Museums

JoeWith a little time off in between study periods, I felt like I needed to take the opportunity for a little sight-seeing. Late October is not, however, the ideal tourist season in Sweden, at least not if you like things like being outside, or going to places that aren't closed for the year. The solution? Stockholm, of course, where most of the museums are open all year, and nearly all of them have some protection from the elements. So this Tuesday I headed down to Uppsala Centralstation to catch a train to the metrop, for some serious museum hopping.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumpor natt

Jennifer You know, I really can't believe that they don't do Halloween here. What do you do at Halloween? You dress up, eat candy, and, if you're an adult, perhaps you have a party at which you drink beverages that cause you to loosen your inhibitions. As far as I can tell, Swedes excel at all three of these things. Europeans, though, know it more as the day before All Saint's Day, when "... we go around to graveyards in the freezing cold and and rain and then go home and talk about dead people all day. Not so fun," explained Polish student Z. American-style Halloween has been creeping into Sweden somewhat, to the dismay of the youngish parents ("One more thing to do, and more things to buy..." groaned one of them to me) and traditionalists. Swedish student N. said that within the past couple years, there have actually been protests against stores displaying Halloween items, from people who feel that All Saint's Day is solemn and sacred and should not be associated with children running around having fun.

Even More Weather…

JoeI had this week off, so naturally the whole week it's been hovering between 1°C and 3°C, with near constant rain. We're done with that now, though: as the sunlight has faded over the past 30 minutes, the rain has finally turned into snow. Maybe this weekend is the time to put those studded tires on the bike…

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Weather Update

JoeJust a quick post to answer that always valid question, "What's the weather like?" Conditions on Blodstensvägen at 4:45 PM: 3°C, and a little foggy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

And the Kaja Goes To…

JoeLast week was this year's Short Film Festival in Uppsala. I had hoped to go to a few screenings, but obviously my week didn't go quite as planned, and by Friday we hadn't made it to a single film. Fortunately for us the festival didn't end until Sunday, so Saturday morning I was at the ticket office when it opened in the morning to buy us tickets. We decided to get the small festival pass for 130 SEK (plus the required 20 SEK membership to the film society), which entitled us to attend 3 screenings, where each screening was a thematic collection running about two hours.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Autumn in Uppsala

Jennifer This autumn has been quite beautiful in Uppsala. For one thing, the weather has improved. In August and early September, it seems like it rained every day; in contrast, October has been generally pleasant and sunny. Some mornings have been wonderfully foggy, and my walk to, and wait at, the bus stop is often quite lovely indeed. It has gotten cooler, of course, and a few mornings have seen frost lining the fallen leaves and still-green grass.

Another Long Week

Yesterday at 6 PM the final project in my constraint programming class was due, officially marking the end of my first term at Uppsala, and let me tell you, it came right down to the wire. I hadn't done any real work on the project before this week (beyond choosing which of two problems I wanted to do, reading over that, and thinking about how I might solve it), but I had the whole week to work on it, so I wasn't too worried. The week progressed about like you'd expect:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

An Unexamined Life

On Friday I had my first exam here at Uppsala. I'm not ashamed to admit, I freaked out a little bit as this exam approached. I did this for a number of reasons:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Picture Source:sweron
Joe While working on the post for Cinnamon Bun Day last week, I wound up trying to work my way through a bakery review at the website of our local newspaper, Uppsala Nya Tidning (UNT). They were rating the cinnamon buns of several local bakeries, and each one received a ranking, a number of poäng, some comments, and finally a number labeled "kajor." This last was new to me, so I flipped over to my trusty Swedish-to-English widget, only to be told that "kajor" was Swedish for "jackdaws." Now, when I say that my Swedish-to-English widget is trusty, you must understand that it is trusty only for words that are not uncommon; it fails a fair percentage of the time when attempting to deal with words encountered on the web. I tell you this so that you will understand that when it assured me that the cinnamon buns at Forsa had earned 3 jackdaws, I naturally assumed that it was mistaken, and I was quick to scoff at its failure in Jennifer's general direction.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A royal visit

Jennifer As I may have mentioned before, everyone in my department gets a scheduling email from our advisor at the start of every week. Tomorrow we will be having a visitor. I quote from the email:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sweden From the Not-So-Cheap Exam Seats

JoeThe first study period here at Uppsala University is suddenly (and somewhat unexpectedly) almost over, and if the first couple of weeks seemed to be moving along a little slowly it would appear that the breakneck speed of the final two weeks will more than make up for it. Despite, or more likely because of, the frantic push in all of my classes to get finished by next week, I have gleaned this week what I expect to be a deep and enduring insight into the workings of Uppsala, namely: everything I expect to be difficult is easy, and everything I expect to be easy is difficult.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Name day

JenniferDid you know that today, 6 October, is Jennifer Day?

Neither did I, but today my office mate S. wished me a happy name day. The name days in Sweden are a little different than the saint days, and the calendar includes all officially recognized names, whether they were saints or not. This way, traditional Swedish names like Linnea and Torbjörn and Malin and Magnus get their proper day, and no one need feel left out. S. said that it is traditional to get a small gift, or maybe breakfast in bed, on your name day. I didn't know about it in time to ask for breakfast, so instead we're going to split a beer with dinner. Happy Jennifer/Jenny Day, everyone!

Find your name (or the closest Swedish-government-sanctioned equivalent) here!

Coming Home

Jennifer As Joe already mentioned, I got back just a few days ago from an unexpected trip to Michigan for my grandmother's funeral. Eight months in Sweden has not been enough to wipe out all memory of home, of course, and Michigan felt like it usually does (although sadder than usual, of course), but here's a few culture-shock sort of things I did notice.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Kanelbullar Dag

Joe It's 4 October already, and you know what that means: Cinnamon Roll Day! OK, so you probably didn't know that—I certainly didn't. Nevertheless, for the past ten years or so, 4 October has been National Cinnamon Bun Day in Sweden. It was first celebrated in 1999, when Sweden's Hembakningsrådet wanted to celebrate their 40th anniversary, and picked kanelbullar as the symbol of home baking in Sweden. The day was apparently celebrated with such gusto that it became an annual event, with bakeries across the nation produce vast swathes of cinnamon buns to sate the sweet, cinnamony cravings of the masses. After all, what better way to celebrate Sweden's tradition of home-baked goodies than with a trip to your local commercial bakery?

Friday, October 3, 2008

There and Back Again

JoeAs you've no doubt noticed, Cheap Seats has gone dark for the past few weeks. For those who don't already know, the explanation for our silence is that we made an unexpected trip to Michigan following the death of Jennifer's grandmother. I returned to Sweden last week, and have spent the intervening time catching up on schoolwork; Jennifer got back yesterday morning.

This is, of course, a blog about our life in Sweden, so for the most part we'll probably let our sojourn in St. Joseph, with all its ups and downs, go without comment. Being back in the US even for a few days did provide some interesting contrast to life in Sweden, however, and we'll probably talk about that some. But just to get the ball rolling again, here's my return to Sweden:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Night with the UOGB

Joe Tuesday night, along with our Swiss friends D. and G., we attended what was (for us, anyway) the most eagerly anticipated Uppsala cultural event of the fall: the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, performing live at the Regina Theater.

They performed a number of their standards, like "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," and their "Life on Mars/My Way/Substitute/etc." medley. They also played a bunch of stuff we hadn't heard before, such as "Anarchy in the UK" performed in the style of a Simon and Garfunkle sing-along, "Pinball Wizard" as a sea chanty, and an old George Formby ukulele classic "Leaning on a Lamp Post" as Russian folk music (doing a pretty good balalaika impression). It was, in the words of the London Telegraph, a "plucking good time."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Moose Safari

Joe This week M., a new exchange student in Jennifer's lab, invited us to go on a moose (elk) safari, as she was taking some visiting family and had some room in her car. So, this afternoon we loaded up and ventured out into the wilds of Vansjö. We left an hour before our safari was due to start, having been told by another coworker that it only took 30 minutes to drive there.

Turns out it takes more like 45 minutes, not counting the 15 minutes you lose when you assume you've gone to far (based on the above-mentioned coworker's advice) and backtrack to find a filling station. Luckily we had a reservation, so they gave us a couple of minutes grace, but even so we were the last ones in, right behind a father with two little golden haired daughters. We were then delayed a couple of additional minutes when a series of miscommunications led the ticket taker to assume that Jennifer was the mother of said little girls, and a lot of confusion over who was paying for whom and why ensued. Once we had that straightened out, it was on to the elk (moose).

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Going to Class in a Classless Society

JoeThe first week of real classes is behind me now—long enough to pass on some first impressions.

The first significant change for me is probably the pace. I'm only taking three classes, but they only last for 6 weeks, so after this first week things are set to start happening pretty quickly. There isn't really enough time in the period to set a bunch of homework assignments, so instead the general model seems to be that each class sets a small handful of projects, maybe as few as two or three. The strange thing is that there isn't a single final grade issued for each class; instead you get a different grade for each component, each with a different weight. For example, in a class worth 7.5 credits, you may get 4.5 credits for passing the exam, and another 3 credits for passing the homework. To pass the class, you have to pass each element individually. Grades are issued on a scale of U, 3, 4, 5, where a U is a failing grade and the rest indicate passing (there used to be a 1 and a 2, both failing, as well as a 6 and a 7 for people who did too much).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Some years we forget to burn the goat…

JoeAs with the start of any school year, much of my first couple of weeks have been spent dealing with administrative necessities. This being Uppsala, however, at least one of these was new to me: the need to pick a nation. We've mentioned the nations before: student organizations which correspond to various areas of Sweden. What we may not have mentioned before is the fact that membership in a nation is obligatory for students at Uppsala. In fact, when you show up to take your final exam for each class, you are required to show proof of your membership in some nation or another. So this week I had to decide what nation to join.

A welcome, of sorts

Joe On Friday I attended a reception for new students at Universitetshuset. It wasn't exactly intended for me—there was another reception this week for International students, conducted in English. The one I went to was almost all in Swedish, but it was also a wee bit more of a shindig.

Monday, September 1, 2008


JoeOrientation week is over now, so I guess I must be acclimated to the new school now. I believe I left off after my first day, so here's the rest of the week in a nutshell:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sämsta sedan 1896

JenniferThe 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing were the most disasterous games that Sweden has endured. Ever. Sure, they ended up with a total of 5 medals, 4 silver and 1 bronze, behind both Denmark and Norway (oh the shame of it!), but not a one of them gold. Finland? Finished with 4 medals... but one of them gold. Finland, for heaven's sake! (Sweden did manage to beat Iceland, who only managed one silver. Woo-hoo!)

Here's a list of some individual things that went wrong for Sweden, or are otherwise shameful in some way:

Monday, August 25, 2008

Revenons à nos moutons

JoeToday is the first day of orientation for the Datavetenskap Masters Program at Uppsala University, so this afternoon I returned to that sheep-strewn meadow. Up until a week ago, the only firm information that had been sent out about the program start was a note that there was a mandatory roll call on 25 August. Last Monday, this explanation was amended to include a time (13:15) and a place (building 1, room 211), with the promise that further information would show up during the course of the week at a web address, provided.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

They're here! part two

Note: this post originally started on August 2, but somewhere between vacation and the Olympics it got lost. I thought I better finish it before the apples come in (which they are starting to do already)...

Jennifer They're here!

What are here?

Svensk blåbär, that's what! Oh, you thought cherries were my favorite? Well, anyone who knows me well knows that blueberries are actually my favorite. Not blueberry-flavored things, mind you, but blueberries, the raw fruit, the real deal. What did I used to get from that Dutch place in South Haven, a 10lb box? And I could eat half of that in one sitting. Just look at that big pot of blueberries (500 grams for 40 SEK) Joe brought back for me. I'm going to dive in there and eat and eat and eat until...

Hang on...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

37 minutes of night

JoeTonight we see the return of an old friend: actual night. It's been hard to track the dwindling of daylight this month, for several reasons. Our new apartment is on the first floor and pretty thoroughly shaded, so it has never seemed as bright here in the evenings as it did in Flogsta (where our view to the northwest was virtually unimpeded). What's more, the past two or three weeks have been unremittingly overcast, making it hard to tell when exactly the sun is going down. Actually, there's been so much unseasonable rain this month that there's a danger of Sweden's crops being ruined.

Nevertheless, it's definitely getting darker now. As I write this it already looks like nautical twilight outside, and by midnight tonight we'll enter our first half hour and change of official night.

Yup, not long now till it's just plain dark out.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I survive a möhippa

JenniferSo I got this rather enigmatic email last Wednesday morning that read:

Subject: [A.]'s "möhippa" (hen-party for a bride-to-be)

Hi all,

Since [post doc G.] and [A.] are getting married soon we want to give [A.] a hen-party for a bride-to-be. Would you like to participate? It will be on Sunday (sorry about the short notice but we didn't know any details until today...), approximately between 11.30-18. Send an e-mail or give us a call if you want to join! :)
Keep it a secret... ;)

/[two names and phone numbers for women I do not know]

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I don't want to eat that

Jennifer"Vad tycker du om surstömming?" was nearly the first thing I heard them say on the radio this morning when the alarm went off. Oh no, I thought, it's August. That means it's surströmming season. That means there might be a surströmming party.

Surströmming is something that everyone agrees is a Swedish specialty, even though plenty of Swedes either don't like it or refuse to even try it. It is one of those one of those sorts of foods that can be considered a national dish, mostly because it can be used to terrorize outsiders.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Swedish Lessons (almost)

JoeToday my Swedish lessons started… er, sort of, that is.

You may recall that I attended a meeting about taking Swedish classes at the end of June. At the end of that meeting, we were told that we would get a letter detailing the where and when of the class before it started on August 4th. Fast forward to last week, at which point I still had not heard another peep about the class. I started sending some e-mails, but got no response. Finally, Friday afternoon at 3:40 I got a response, telling me that the class started Monday at 12:30, but it had moved from the ever-so-convienently located Polacksbacken to an industrial park on Fyrisborgsgatan—all the way on the other end of town. No explanation was ventured as to why I had not previously been informed of this little tidbit.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Goodbye Helsinki (and Temptation Resisted)

For a map, see post for the outward bound trip

JenniferThe ship departed Helsinki at 17:30 local time (which is an hour earlier than Stockholm time, the various guides and brochures took pains to point out), and we got on board with plenty of time to spare. This time we headed straight up to deck 11 to get good view of the departure and the little islands dotting the harbor. Smoothly and with no fuss or drama, the ship left punctually. "Well, we wouldn't want to miss our tide," I said, deadpan. Joe sniffed at my attempt at naval humor.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Helsinki in a Hurry

Continued from Part 1
JoeHaving stayed on deck until we were actually docked, we then headed back to our cabin to pack up for the day, and so doing missed the initial rush of disembarkation. So we instead had a leisurely stroll down the long gangway to the Katajanokka Terminal, a reasonable modern if still somewhat under construction terminal building which serves not just Viking Line but a couple of smaller ferries as well. We had hoped to arrive at the Makasiini Terminal, which is on the other side of the harbor and thus only a couple of blocks from the Tourist Info center, where you can purchase a day pass for the busses and trams. It turns out we needn't have worried, though, as there was a ticket machine just outside the Viking Terminal which had English instructions. Two minutes later, and 12 EUR lighter in the pocket, we were armed with a pair of 24 hour bus passes and on our way to the nearest tram stop.

Come Helsinki O'er High Water...

Jennifer When your coffee breaks start lasting for an hour, you know it's time to take a vacation. So I took this week off from work to recharge, and we decided to take a trip to Helsinki. Joe found us some tickets on Viking Line, which is one of the companies that specializes in trips around the Baltic. Due to unusually low booking for this particular trip, we got a pretty good deal, 900 SEK for both of us for two nights, in a cabin above the waterline. (Normally the cheapest accomodations are one deck below the car deck, with shared facilities.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Moving Part III: At the Sign of the Bloodstone

Joe We've been here a few weeks now, so I guess we're as settled in as we're going to get. High time to get around to describing our new digs.

This apartment is definitely larger, about 20% larger actually, but naturally we've expanded to fill the space in the few short weeks we've been here. The most welcome space is in the kitchen. Those of you who have seen any of our previous kitchens will no doubt recognize that I'm not saying much when I state that this is the largest kitchen we've had in our life together, but I'll take it a step further and say that this is the first time we've been able to work in the kitchen side by side. It also has a space for a table, with a roughly south facing window and door opening out onto our small balkong, great for growing a few kitchen window herbs.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Working Conditions Part II

Jennifer So it's summer and the weather has turned sunny and hot. Why, it got up to a high of 26°C today.

In these conditions (maybe the fact that the boss is on vacation this week helps), the overall work rate has slowed to a snail's pace. There are lots of nice big yellow land snails around here, so I now have a basis for understanding this cliche. (Actually they can move faster than I'd thought.) This morning, on my floor of the department, there were only foreigners and two Swedish staff members, one of whom just got back from 3 weeks vacation, and the other of whom starts her vacation this Friday. The latter confessed that she is counting the hours.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Double Vision

JoeWhat's that they're building in the parking lot of the Uppsala Ikea?
Yes, it's another Ikea. I suddenly feel like I'm living in a Starbucks joke.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Two Swedens

JoeWell, we're all moved in to our new place, but meanwhile summer is flying by, and it's high time for us to start using some of Jennifer's copious vacation time. With that in mind, Tuesday we took a trip to Skokloster Castle on Lake Mälaren.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

They're here!

JenniferThe berry monger downtown finally has them: Svenska körsbär.

Some wise person once said something like there is no ending without a new beginning, and with the end of jordgubbar comes the beginning of cherry season. A mere 35 SEK gets you the half kilogram or so pictured here, which is enough to serve approximately 1 Michigander. Okay, one Michigander from my family, anyway. And they are tasty little suckers. Are they as good as Michigan cherries? Well, my papa always taught me "When you're not with the berry you love, love the berry you're with" (except that I can't think of a berry I don't love). So right now, yes, these are better than Michigan cherries. Because they're the cherries I have. And they're mine, all mine... I have to go now. More soon about our adventures today that ended with walking past the berry monger downtown, and this exciting discovery!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Movie Review

JoeAs I have been summoned, so I appear. Here is my official review of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening":

It really sucked.

Worst. Movie. Ever. (Yes, "Battlefield Earth," I'm talkin' to you.)

A "happening"

Jennifer So I need to interrupt Joe's "Lord of the Moving Van" trilogy here to report a happening.

G. is attempting to start a movie club in the department, where we go see a movie in a theater once a month or so, because it's just fun to go to theaters. He has enjoyed the movies of M. Night Shyamalan in the past, so this week's email suggested that we go see "The Happening." So Joe and I met him and J., V., and another student from another department at the Royal 2 (which is the movie theater right underneath our old apartment on Dragarbrunnsgatan), at about 20:30 for a movie start time of 20:45.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Moving Part II: The Road to Eriksberg

JoeAs smooth as the preparations for moving had gone, I was apprehensive on a few fronts as we actually approached the day itself. Some of my worry centered around renting a moving truck in a foreign country I had never driven in before, but primarily my concerns were temporal. The problem is that Swedes appear to have no notion of pro rating; apartment companies expect you to pay a full month's rent for each calendar month you live in the apartment, so even if you keep the apartment for only one week in July, they want rent for the whole month. As a result of this, there are pretty tight tolerances on apartment-to-apartment moving here. If your lease is paid until the end of June, you have until noon on July 1 to turn in the key to your empty and cleaned apartment; unfortunately for you, the possessors of the apartment you are moving into also have until noon to turn in their key, so there's no period of overlap during which you can start to move some of your stuff.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Moving Part I: The Scouring of Flogsta

JoeMoving week is over now, and we made it successfully to our new place, which we like very much.That's the short version.The longer version will be told in three parts, and begins last weekend, as we packed up our apartment in earnest. Flashbacks aside, it really was not a traumatic packing experience, easy enough that we actually felt justified in taking evenings off and relaxing a bit. Maybe there's something to be said for this whole not having a ridiculous amount of stuff thing.Even with our limited quantity of belongings, as we cleaned out the apartment we did manage to generate a fair amount of trash and recycling. At Flogsta Låghus, as at pretty much every apartment complex in Uppsala, both of these are handled in tiny buildings next to each apartment block, and on days around the end of the month when there's a lot of coming and going these rooms are occasionally filled with interesting stuff. As I was making a recycling run on Sunday I was reminded of this fact (the wide-screen television sitting outside the trash room was a hint), and so as a break we decided to take a tour of some of the recycle rooms to see if there was anything we desperately needed.

Friday, July 4, 2008

July 4 fika

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all persons are created normal and equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and Fika."
JenniferSo even though I hosted a fika just a couple weeks ago, I thought I would do one again for the Fourth of July, in recognition of the fact that I have never in my life gone to work on this day of the year. But what's a typical American thing to have on the 4th that I can get here and that goes with fika? Ice cream was the best I could come up with. I didn't think it would work so well to bring ice cream on the bus, but graduate student Z. had volunteered to bike to the corner grocery and buy it for me during the day. She also picked up a box of blueberries (frozen—they're not in season yet of course) and I had brought in a half kilo of fresh strawberries to cut up and put over the ice cream. See the clever red-white-and-blue color scheme?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The bus ride from Flogsta

JenniferThis post has been a long time in coming—sorry about that!—but with the move to Flogsta, I have whole new bus ride to describe, and I guess I better do it before we move again... which is in two days. The two points marked on the map are our Flogsta apartment, on the left, and work is the marker on the right. You can see that the two points are not really so far from each other, but there is no direct route between them. Hence, my long and twisting path to get to work. The time it takes me to make this journey (about 40 minutes in the morning, but up to an hour in the evening if I don't catch just the right busses) is both a blessing and a curse.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Weenie Call

JenniferLast night, I set my alarm clock to go off at 00:30 (a.k.a 12:30am) so that I could make a phone call to a longstanding family tradition: the Summer Weenie Roast.

Since well before I was knee-high to a grasshopper, my family has had at least one Weenie Roast in the summer. When at all possible it has been held at the beach, although in cases of bad weather, it has been held at the Farm instead. Ideally, family from out of town are around for the Weenie Roast, and family friends who happen to be around sometimes attend as well. The absolute and unvarying staples are weenies, buns, big bags of various kinds of chips, and the raw ingredients for s'mores: graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate bars. In the old days, bottles of pop were kept cold in the lake water, but the more sensible and sanitary coolers have taken over. Most times we remember to bring ketchup and mustard and relish (a couple years ago, when Joe and I were in charge of the dogs and their fixin's, we forgot the condiments, and Aunt P. (whose house was closest to the beach) went back to get hers (we're still embarrassed about this, by the way)). In the old days, we used to cut branches from trees for roasting things, but nowadays the eco-friendly but devilish steel implements are used instead.

Another Month, Another Meeting

JoeWe're moving to our new apartment on Tuesday, so this week has mostly been spent getting ready for that. I've reserved a truck, made a conscious effort to use up the food in the fridge, and started packing. I don't think I realized just exactly how stressful our 3 months of moving this past winter was until I started having the flashbacks this week. Of course it's a very different experience this time. The fact is, we have so little stuff, it's been hard to find anything I could pack a week in advance.On Thursday afternoon I shifted gears, and attended the most recent in my long string of informational meetings about my theoretical Swedish lessons (by which I mean that the lessons are theoretical in that I'm not sure I believe they will happen, not that I intend to study theoretical Swedish). This meeting actually came as quite a surprise to me, as not three days before I found out about it I received a letter from SFI (Svenska för Invandrare) which said:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Midsummer Day

Jennifer The biggest and most Swedish celebration of the year is Midsommarafton, or the day before the shortest evening of the year. This day should technically coincide with the solstice, of course, but some time ago it was decided that Midsommardag (observed) would always fall on the Saturday closest to the solstice, and so Midsommarafton falls the Friday before that. In 2008, these dates just happened to not just technically, but actually coincide.

You are supposed to have your big parties on Midsoammarafton, so in practice, the Thursday before is often taken as a vacation day, and even people who don't take the day off tend to leave a little early. Therefore attendance at Thursday afternoon's fika was a little sparse, consisting mostly of foreigners. Last week, I had proposed to my advisor a meeting on the next Friday afternoon as usual; she looked at me with something like incomprehension. "But it's Midsommarafton," she said in a kindly voice, after a few moments of stunned silence. Someone else later confirmed that what I had done was analogous to proposing a meeting at 9am Christmas morning.

So Midsommar is a big deal, and we decided to celebrate with fellow foreigners G. and D. (the friends who took us out to their stuga last weekend). On Friday, though, everyone was tired or sick, so we decided to celebrate on Saturday instead. Gamla Uppsala has an outdoor museum called Disagården that consists of old farm buildings, and is meant to more-or-less replicate a medieval Swedish village. So for Midsommar, they erect a maypole and have dancing and traditional music and so forth. I suspect this is done mostly because Uppsala has such a large population of foreigners and people like hospital workers who cannot for some reason leave town this weekend; all other Swedes have left the city for whatever countryside they can get to, to celebrate with their families and friends, and I have never yet seen the city so deserted as it was yesterday. All the bus drivers on duty were obviously recent-ish immigrants, probably getting triple-time pay for working on this holiday. Everybody who was left in town was obviously an "other" of some type. And of course, that includes us.

Undaunted by our status as "others," the four of us went out to Disagården yesterday afternoon, watched some dancing around the maypole, listened to some traditional songs, and watched a little folk dancing, including the famous Frog Dance. (See the video at the end of this post to get an idea of it.) Honestly it wasn't all that exciting, but it was nice to sit out in the sun for while, and it even got warm enough to take off our fleece jackets at one point. We ended up sharing a bench with a quite elderly man, who turned out to be somewhat friendly; after an hour or two saying nothing, but listening to G. and D. speaking French, and all of us speaking English, he actually talked to us and asked us if we spoke Swedish. "Ja, lite," G. and I said (G. and D. are actually quite good in Swedish, having had more lessons and being already multilingual). His English was not so good, he claimed, and while it was noticeably more halting and lacking in vocabulary than the English of younger people, it was still plenty good (if my Swedish is ever as good as his English was I will be quite pleased indeed). Anyway it was fun to speak with him in Swedish a little, and he was kind enough to speak slowly with us. He said he was in Kalifornien in 1980, to visit his brother who worked for IBM at the time. He remembered "badade i stilhavet" (that is how I remember it, and he meant swimming in the bay, I'm pretty sure, but I can't find "stilhavet" anywhere... maybe it's dialect, or I remember incorrectly). Anyway I felt happy to understand him, and was even more pleased that he apparently understood the very basic things that I said to him ("Hon är Schweiz,"Gillar du Kalifornien?" "Jag arbeter på Universitetet, med biologi," and, upon our departure, "Tack för prata. Vi måste till hem och äta nu. Glad Midsommar!")

So back we went to G. and D.'s flat, not too far from Gamla Uppsala, and had a cold beer which was very welcome after the warm sun and all that culture. We had decided to do as close to a real Swedish midsummer feast as possible, so the beer before dinner was a good start, then we had pre-dinner elderflower cocktails (perhaps not strictly traditional but yummy and refreshing), then dinner: knäckebrod, gravad lax, potatis med dill (both cold and hot, we brought the creamy dill potato salad), kräftorsalad, and three kinds of sill: sill i senapsås, sill i midsommarsås, och sill in vitlöksås. We had also brought a bottle of O.P. Andersen, a traditional aquavit, with which you are supposed to wash down the herring. And we did use it for that. And it helped. (Actually the herring, which I had been dreading, wasn't really all that bad. At least not when you've already got potatoes and several forms of alcohol in you... and everything else was delicious).

After dinner we played cards for a while, with another cocktail. We decided that a complicated game like chibre was a bit too taxing for our current mental states, so we played hearts instead, which I haven't played in years and was lots of fun. Then Joe and I made dessert, strawberry shortcake (apparently anything with strawberries is fair game for Midsommar dessert), with which we had Italian brewed coffee and cream. We sat and chatted for a while after that, and looked at some pictures of their respective homes and travels in Switzerland (good heavens, what a gorgeous country). We took our leave at about 9pm, with the sun still strong in the sky, and arrived home in time for the sunset pictures from yesterday's post. Even though we were exhausted and stuffed full, we still didn't manage to fall asleep before midnight because it was so light out, and so pretty. And fortunately of course we had today, Sunday, to recover from it all.

A very successful celebration, I think, and a hearty Glad Midsommar to all of you reading this!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Longest Day of 2008

JoeWell, the sun has just gone down (official sunset time is 10:16 PM), marking the end of the longest day of the year for us. In a couple of hours it will actually start to look darkish (see below), but no worries, it'll stop doing that by 1:45 in the morning.

Friday, June 20, 2008


JoeIt's Midsummer Day, the biggest holiday in Sweden. This is the day when everyone heads out to their cabin in the woods, eats lots of pickled herring, drinks too much aquavit, and then hops around a May pole singing:
Little frogs, little frogs are funny to look at.
They have no ears, no ears, no tails.
Croak! Croak! Croak!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Giant Elk Alert!

JoeSweden has passed a major milestone this week. Officials in Arvidsjaur have finally, after three years of wrangling, approved the construction of the front half of the world's largest wooden elk* (right thinking council members in Skellefteå, the next kommune over, approved the construction of the back half of the world's largest wooden elk last year, so no worries, it won't be sittin' there on its own). Just how big is this wooden elk? Well, the concert hall in it's belly will seat 350, as will the restaurant below that. Seriously. Ärlig Lättantändlig Grubblandrare Ansluttningen Reproduktion, or ÄLGAR, has released the following informative (or possibly just disturbing) video:

* Yes, OK, it's a moose, not an elk. But moose is a Native American name, and there were elk (I mean moose) in Sweden long before that famous Norwegian discovered America (I mean that Columbus chap, of course). Elk is an old Germanic word, and the New World colonists used it to refer to an elk-like animal they encountered, the thing we now think of as an elk (which Europeans call a wapiti). So when someone offers you an elk burger in Scandinavia, they mean moose burger, not a wapiti burger.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stuga and Chibre

JoeOn Sunday we were invited by one of Jennifer's coworkers, G., and his girlfriend, D., to do something quintessentially Swedish: spend a day at a stuga. Not that G. and D. are Swedish themselves, mind you, they're Swiss, but they know a Swede currently working in France, who offered them the use of his stuga while he was gone.

The stuga seems to be the ultimate goal of the typical Swede: a little cabin in the woods to which they can retreat from city life, breathe in the cool clean air of the pine forest, maybe go for a swim in a nearby lake, and basically spend a couple of days roughing it. Mind you, these days roughing it does not mean going without running water and electricity, or even in most cases satellite television and wireless internet. In fact, the Swede who owns this particular stuga is part of a recent trend of people who, in the face of rising real estate prices and the expanding highway system here, are abandoning their apartments altogether and moving full time into their stugas (which does necessitate some winterization for what has traditionally been a summertime-only dwelling).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Birthday Fika

JoeSome weeks seem to just fly by, despite the fact that looking back at them it's hard to identify why they seemed so crazy. By way of excusing the fact that neither of us managed to get a single post written this week, I will submit that this past week was just such a week. No time to write a post, despite the fact that we didn't really do all that much worth reporting.

Friday, June 6, 2008

June 6, Sweden's National Day

JenniferToday is Sweden's national day. Nothing is happening.

No, really, nothing is happening. The holiday is a new one, having only been recognized as a "red day" (that is, a day off of work) for the last couple years or so, and so there are no traditions built up around it yet. We discussed it at fika a few times this week—the other international students and postdocs and I asked repeatedly, "What should we do to celebrate the day?" and got no answer whatsoever. "When in doubt, eat herring," suggested someone once, rather halfheartedly. But that's what they do for every holiday. "Errr... do we come into work, then?" we asked. No one answered, but they avoided our eyes. So... I guess that's a no, we foreigners tacitly decided.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Graduation Day

JoeLooks like today is high school graduation in Uppsala. How could I tell? Well, the truckloads of students in their white graduate caps being slowly paraded around and around the city whilst drinking, screaming, and singing was a hint. I only had a phone camera with me, but these should give you a rough idea of the mood:

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Fire safety training

JenniferSometime in early April, in the wake of the fire that destroyed my advisor's office and a good chunk of the second floor of our building, Professor F. came around to my office with a sign-up sheet for the University's fire safety training course. He pressed it upon me rather insistently, saying that I should really think seriously about attending, and then repeating himself, which is a rare thing for a Swede to do. (My officemate S. seemed slightly jealous at all this attention I was getting, asking after Professor F. left, "Why doesn't he want me to do it?")

I was sort of ambiguous about the whole thing—sure it would be a good thing to do, but it would take up a lot of time, the training grounds were far away, etc. etc., and I had already decided that my response to any fire indoors would be for me to get myself the hell out of wherever I was immediately. I was carping to Joe about my dilemma mildly, but thankfully Joe looks out for me and always has my interests in mind. "I can't believe you're even debating this," he sighed, with a pitying shake of his head and roll of his eyes. "I have two words for you: Swedish. Firefighters."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

More about our stuff

It is of course a great relief to have all our stuff at last; everything arrived in order and unbroken. I had cheated on the shoe front by having a pair of sneakers sent in the mail a month ago, but Joe had been suffering in winter boots and shoes up until now. Seasonally-appropriate footwear has been a very welcome addition to the household.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Boxes of… what?

JoeBefore we left the States, we put together half a dozen boxes of stuff to ship to ourselves once we got settled in over here. Of course, it took us a little longer than expected to find an apartment, and we didn't want to have to drag another 110 kg of stuff from hotel to hotel, so for a few months our shipment wasn't a shipment so much as a pile of stuff in the middle of Jennifer's parents' dining room (sorry about that!).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Back to Kanalplan

JoeOn Sunday we returned to Kanalplan in southern Stockholm to watch our local women's side, Bälinge, play against Hammarby. This was an absolutely critical game: Bälinge and Hammarby are without any doubt the two worst teams in the league this year, so the loser of this match is going to have a hard time not coming in dead last. This is made all the more significant because in the Swedish women's league, as in most European football leagues, the worst two teams each season get relegated to the next division down, and replaced with the best two teams from that division. There's a better than even chance that both Hammarby and Bälinge will be saying farewell to the Damallsvenskan at the end of this season, but if either team wants to have a chance to avoid relegation, they need to start with a win over the other.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Eurovision Fiasco

JoeThat's what the papers said Monday morning, and I have to agree, although the papers and I differ on what exactly made the evening such a disaster. Eurovision, as you may recall, is an annual Europe-wide song competition in which each country sends a single act, chosen in national contests earlier in the year (the Swedish Eurovision qualification competition is called Melodifestivallen). Swedes seem to feel they have a particular tradition to uphold at Eurovision, partly because they are well known as being a singy people, but mostly because they won in 1973 with a little group called ABBA (Waterloo?!? Blecchh!).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hemliga Rum 2008

JoeSaturday was Hemliga Rum 2008 in Sweden. For one day Statens Fastighetsverk, or SFV, opened 27 properties around the country to the public. SFV manages all of the publicly held properties in Sweden (about one seventh of Sweden's total land mass, actually), including palaces, museums, state forests, and all the Swedish Embassies. While SFV is at pains to point out that these properties are "owned by the Swedes collectively," that doesn't mean that they are all normally open for public viewing. But twice now, once in 2004 and then this past Saturday, SFV has taken a day and opened a bunch of stuff you can't normally get in to.
The 27 properties [see map] are spread throughout the country (including one in that wild, eastern Swedish province known as "Finland"), but Hemliga Rum only lasts for one day, so there's no getting to everything. Actually, its worse than that: the buildings were only open from 11:00 to 16:00, just five hours. There were about a dozen sites in Storstockholm, so I set off bright and early Saturday morning to see what I could see. By the time I was on the train, it was clear that heading to Stockholm on a sunny and pleasant Saturday morning was far from an original idea for an Uppsalabo, as the train was packed. Just as I was beginning to worry that I wouldn't get a seat, a woman sitting in a fold down, sideways facing seat (crammed between the back of a regular row and a bulkhead) got up, said something unintelligble to me, shrugged, and walked off. Not knowing quite what to make of that, I took the seat. There were at least a dozen people in my car alone who spent the whole trip sitting on the floor.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Happy 301st, Linnaeus!

Jennifer May 23 marked the 301st anniversary of the birth of Carl Linnaeus. He studied at Uppsala University and was also a professor here. He is the Swedish biologist who invented the field of biological-based taxonomy, as it is practiced today. The reverence for him here is somewhat astonishing. Last year, for his 300th birthday, there were all kinds of exhibits and excursions and art installations and websites dedicated to him.1

Meanwhile, though, it was Linneaus' birthday and so there were things to do in celebration of this fact. When I arrived at Stora Torget yesterday morning, it was to find that a small fountain had been installed, and sod and purple pansies had been laid down so as to appear as if it were water flowing from the fountain. It was really very well done, quite pretty, and they had even built little wooden bridges and stone footpaths across it, and had put in some nice comfortable boulders to sit on. People seemed to like it: children ran back and forth across the bridges, and a couple of fashionable young women were seen giggling as they carefully teetered their way across one of the stone paths in high heels (they could easily have walked around it, but they clearly preferred the challenge). The fountain itself had several informational panels about my department, and I was gratified to see my advisor and my soccer team mentioned on the same panel.2

When I got to work, the following email was waiting for me explaining the whole thing. I cannot improve on the original so I quote it here:

The seven world leading research projects, according to the evaluation Quality and Renewal from 2007, are today presented on a "Well of Knowledge" centrally placed in Uppsala.

The Well of Knowledge is an octagonal fountain placed on Svartbäcksgatan's entrance to Stora Torget. From the well a river made up of 10 000 blue pansies flows down to the River Fyris.

The flower arrangement is built to the honor of Linnaeus on his birthday the 23d of May. It will be on display until Sunday 25th May.

Today and tomorrow 10 of our researchers will be placed along Drottninggatan 12.00-16.00. There will be a scientific Linnaeus Saloon in Ekocafeet 17.30. Two researchers participate in the Flower Power Show beginning at 19.00.

So yes, that's the Well of Knowledge, the fountain with the biological blurbs. I therefore dub the grass and flowers "The Brook of Enlightenment."

It was also post-doc G.'s birthday, so we had afternoon fika outside, with a cake that G. had made out of butter and chocolate and maybe a tablespoon or two of flour. Thus fortified, we all headed into town to visit post-doc K., who was one of the 10 researchers mentioned above on Drottninggatan. She was presenting a poster of her research on a corner in front of a bar. Other activities associated with the day included flower shows, walks in city parks with nature guides, lectures on biodiversity, and so forth.

K. had originally been chosen to present a poster because her work involves a infectious agent that causes its hosts to switch sexes. Back in February, when these events were being planned, our department had been approached by Uppsala Pride, the local gay and lesbian advocacy group, who wished to combine forces with us for the weekend. This weekend was also their pride celebration, and they saw some relevancy in her work to their cause. Unfortunately their funding fell through, and the planned combined Gay Pride and Happy Birthday Linnaeus parade never came to pass. A major, major disappointment indeed!

1 You may sense a certain lack of enthusiasm for Linneaus in my tone here; the reason is that I have been professionally trained to despise some of his ideas. His classification system is premised on the belief that all living things are immutable and were created simultaneously by a supreme being. This rigid system (which is after all more than two centuries old now) rests uneasily with the biological reality that living thing change, adapt... evolve. I will happily provide details and examples of why the system of Linnaean classification is bad and should no longer be used. I expect an absolute deluge of such requests from you, dear readers! (Can you tell that I've hit upon a pet peeve here?)
2 Here's the connection: The batteries that make your body's cells go are little internal organs called mitochondria, and mitochondria are thought to be descended from a certain type of bacteria that my adviser (and I, now) study. Therefore, any time you watch a soccer game, you are watching mitochondria hard at work. And your own mitochondria are working, perhaps somewhat less vigorously, as you sit in comfort in the stadium or on your couch and watch the game.