Tuesday, April 29, 2008

29 april...

Jennifer... the day before The Day.

"The Day" is April 30, also known as sista april. From what I hear, it is the day when Uppsala goes insane. It sounds like a combination of Venetian Festival (back when it was cool) and a UM-OSU game (from our old vantage point of right next to the stadium), with elements of Halloween (bonfires at night to keep the witches away) and Mardi Gras (public drunkenness and general excess).

Here's the official schedule of what you are supposed to do tomorrow if you are a student:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A soccer game

The week before last, we went to a Damallsvenskan match. Our local team is technically headquartered not in Uppsala, but rather in Bälinge, which is a small suburb to the north of town. Their home stadium is Studenternas IP, just across the street from the University hospital and not too far from where I work. It's also right on the river, which means that you can see moored sailboats from the front entrance. It's actually a whole complex that includes a bandy field (where the bandy finals were held) and another track used most recently for ice racing (the national studded-tire motorcycle finals were held here).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Out for a Rugger

JoeAt her conference a few weeks back, Jennifer met a fellow researcher who plays rugby for the local women's side, Uppsala RFC. As today was a particularly pleasant day, we decided to get out in the sunlight and air a bit by going to today's match, versus Attila RG of Älvsjö (a particularly unpronounceable suburb to the south of Stockholm). Uppsala RFC's field is part of Fyrsihov, a large rec facility on the north side of town. Most of the place is taken up by the large building with the indoor pools and the bowling alley, with the rugby field and a number of football pitches lying to the north on Badmintonstigen.

A Spring Weekend

Jennifer It's a lovely Saturday morning. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the buds on the trees are finally big enough to be seen from our apartment. It seems like we've made several posts now that say "Spring is here," but this is the first week that has really, truly felt like it to me. Oddly, it feels a little more like spring in Tucson than spring in Ann Arbor just at the moment, because it's quite dry out, and the sun is very high in the sky for morning. The air coming in the open window is still cool, although the sunshine on my back is warm. And for breakfast we had a special treat: steel-cut oats! We got these in a care package sent from home—they just don't appear to be available here. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say. Now if only we could find brown sugar and buttermilk...

Last night, my department had a "Pub Night," much like BioBeer BioBeverage of UM, in which the grad students buy beer in bulk, then sell it at a slight loss, with the department picking up the rest of the tab. Another department was also having a pub night, so we combined forces and had large gathering on the EBC lawn. Drinking alcohol in public is technically illegal here, but apparently UU is a bit more laid back about these things than UM was (we couldn't even call it "BioBeer" by the time I left), and nobody questioned the wisdom or legality of taking the party outside.

It wasn't too long before long the frisbees came out, as I would expect in the US, and then a soccer ball too (not unknown in US ivory tower circles, but not common either). People fooled about with these and various other lawn/beach toys, taking care not to trample VP.'s two-year-old, who had never seen frisbees before, and was fascinated. Less care was taken with the group of us sitting and talking, however, and the frisbee came winging into our midst several times.

Everyone is hoping that this weather holds for next week, which will be short, with only two working days. Wednesday April 30 is Valborgmässoafton (close enough to the end of the term that it's the big student holiday here), Thursday is May 1 (International Workers Day, a national holiday), and then Friday is what's known as a klämdag, a general term used to describe a Monday or Friday that falls between official days off. More on these festivities later...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Send the Clones Away

JenniferA few weeks ago, when I left work, I was greeted by the following scene:

Ahhhgh! Someone had cut down all the apple trees lining the EBC lawn, and just before they ought to have blossomed. They looked fine this morning! Why has this happened?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Consumerism in Sweden

JenniferToday, by special request, a quick post about Consumerism in Sweden.

Consumerism appears to be alive and well in Sweden. In town, it seems like everyone has a shopping bag full of something. I have not yet been to Ikea when it wasn't full of people, and most of them are actually buying stuff. (The man in the picture to the left, for instance, has just bought a couple of really bored sons.) Busses have extra bins for things so that you don't have to take up two seats with all your stuff (people do sometimes anyway).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Disturbing Landmark

JoeLast night we crossed a threshold of our sojourn in Sweden: the end of darkness. Last night, for the first time this year, true darkness never came to Uppsala, leaving us instead with a night-long astronomical twilight. Astronomical twilight is the darkest of the three degrees of twilight, the lightest being civil twilight, with nautical twilight falling between the two. What does this mean for us? Well, it's still getting pretty dark at night, although the nights are getting shorter fast. But in a few weeks we'll see the end of astronomical twilight for the spring, and then by June, with the sun rising at 3:30, we'll see only 3 hours of nautical twilight in the middle of the night, culminating in a week where a few hours of civil twilight will have to pass for "night".

Cultural Notes Part 1: Enjoy the Silence

JenniferIn the last post, I mentioned that the stereotype of the singing Swede has perhaps some basis in reality. Here's another one: the taciturn Swede.

Swedes apparently don't like to say any more than necessary. A business transaction, say buying a hot dog on the street, takes the following words: "En värmkorv." "Tolv." (hand over the money, receive hot dog and change if appropriate). That's it. No words like "please" or "thank you" are required or expected. If you say "Tack" to the vendor, you may startle them.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A choir concert

Jennifer A couple of weeks ago, Joe and I went to a concert in a church in downtown Uppsala. My office mate S. sings in the Uppsala Kammarkör, and he sold me a couple of tickets to their performance on 6 April.

The church is an Uppsala landmark, appearing on tourist maps and brochures. It is not, however, one of the classic old churches that are found here and there in town. The first time we saw the building, we both assumed that it was built by communists some time in the early 1960s, and we dubbed it "Our Lady of the Secret Police." There's just something vaguely East German about it, to my eyes.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring is here

JoeYes, it's definitely feeling like spring time. The banks of the river are lined with office workers on fika, and students who appear to be studying how to be on fika, presumably as part of some local version of a high school civics class. Out here in Flogsta, the lawns are filled with cats hunting leaves and tiny insects which may or may not actually be there, as well as Swedish girls playing lawn games which seem to involve making elaborate arrangements of various sized wooden blocks and then occasionally picking one of them up and throwing it at some of the others, no doubt governed by some advanced heuristic beyond my ken. And, of course, the "Puck" has returned, or so the extremely colorful signs at virtually every bus stop in the city inform me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I'm an Idiot

JoeEver since my first trip to a grocery store in Sweden, I've been muttering (mostly to myself, but occasionally to those around me), "Chervil. Where's the chervil? I need some chervil." You see, I like a nice bit of egg salad—eggs are cheap and easy protein, and with some fresh chives and chervil (sometimes I use sage instead, which is a little odd, but I like it), a little lemon juice and some nice dijon1, egg salad is a tasty way to eat them.

Most grocery stores here sell a small selection of live herbs. In fact, live seems to be the only way to get fresh herbs here. In our last place this was not ideal, as I struggled to keep the little guys alive, but now we have a window shelf and a southern exposure, so it's much easier. Right now I've got some persilja, some basilika, and some gräslök2. But Sweden does not appear to believe in chervil.

Well, after grousing about it for months, I finally got around to doing a little research this morning. In Sweden, it's called körvel, which I'm pretty sure would be pronounced "chervil," but it isn't common (doesn't tolerate the cold). Swedes usually substitute spansk körvel which has a stronger anise flavor. Well, that's not going to cut it for my egg salad, I mean, I don't want more anise flavor… er, wait, anise flavor? And why do all of the pictures of chervil look like parsley? That's not what chervil looks like, it's got slender, paired leaves. Related to parsley?

I don't put chervil in my egg salad. I put tarragon in my egg salad. Tarragon is called dragon here, and it's only available in pretty much every grocery store I've been in.

I may be an idiot, but tonight I'm an idiot with tasty egg salad. So that's something.

1 This is silly, but may I just add that the Grey Poupon here is outstanding mustard? I got a small jar our first week here, and we've been amazed at how much more flavorful it is. Maybe it's just fresher—America's Test Kitchen says that dijon loses heat rapidly even when unopened. Anyway, it's good stuff.
2 The chives took some searching—for some reason, chives and dill are sold in smaller pots, and placed next to the fennel in the fresh produce section, instead of off next to the potatoes and onions where the rest of the live herbs go. It's not just a single chain doing it, either, it seems to be everyone.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Apoteket, Eventually

JoeThis week I finally ran out of my US prescription medicine, so today I went back to Apoteket, the state-run pharmacy monopoly here. You may recall from a while back that we were waiting to make doctor's appointments until we had gotten our registration from Försäkringskassan. This is because the documentation we had been given said we should register with Försäkringskassan as soon as we arrived, and the helpful (seeming) man at the local Försäkringskassan office said, "You fill out these forms, then we send you a card, and then you can go to the doctor." Well, after three weeks of waiting for a Social Insurance card to arrive, a couple of phone calls revealed that we needn't have waited: Försäkringskassan covers things like pensions, long-term disablility, and worker's comp, but it is unrelated to the national medical insurance scheme (which, I guess, is just so ubiquitous that Swedes don't even think to mention it). All this is a Good Thing, because as non-taxpayers (Jennifer's stipend is tax exempt) we aren't eligible for Försäkringskassan benefits.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cult of My Nemesis

Joe New place, new set of washing machines to beat my head against. Actually, the machines themselves haven't changed that much this time, but the washing machine culture out here in Flogsta, well, that's something different. The fancy booking system back on Dragarbrunnsgatan meant that one could book the laundry room a week in advance, and then have it completely to yourself for a three hour block. Not the most efficient system, from a washing machine usage point of view, but awfully convenient—no trudging down to the laundry room with a full hamper just to find that there's no room at the inn.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The "Lille Lennart Lottery"

JenniferSwedish names came up as a topic of discussion last week at some fika or another, as V.'s sambo is due to deliver their baby on May 5, and they haven't chosen a name yet. V. said he was thinking of the name "Lennart," which caused both K. and P., a female graduate student of a different professor, to make yucky faces and simultaneously say "Lennart?!" in the exact same tone of disbelief and disgust. I ventured my opinion that "Lennart" sounded okay to me, on the face of it, but apparently the name "Lennart" makes a Swede think of nothing as much as a 70 year old man who is both fat and disreputable.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Ladies' Night Out

JenniferA graduate student in my department decided that it was high time the womenfolk of MolEvol went out on the town, in part, she said "to cheer us up after the fire." And so this past Friday the seven of us (two technicians, two graduate students, and three postdocs—the boss was invited but couldn't make it) went out to Katalin, a restaurant and jazz bar located in part of the old train station warehouse.

Work Resumes

Jennifer Work resumed this past week on the second floor of Building 18C, for the most part. The hallway still smells of smoke, the big lab has been gutted, and our break room has been taken over by the clean-up crew, so everyone is eating in the large room downstairs ("We must all make sacrifices, in times like these," one student sighed at lunch last Wednesday). On the other hand, "the stuff" seems to be out of the air now, after they ran large air filters continuously for more than a week. We are still keeping our office doors closed, due to the noise from the cleaning, but time marches on and the situation improves day by day.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Long Morning

JoeWhen Jennifer left for work this morning, I tagged along down to Stora Torget, and then hopped a bus of my own to go to Uppsala Science Park, home of Humac, the sole Apple Authorized Service Center in Uppsala. Yup, our MacBook Pro, Surtr (better known as the hub of our digital lifestyle) went under the knife this morning. He's been having problems with DVD-R and DVD+R discs for a few weeks—burning them fine, but not reading them anymore after a while, even though they continue to work on other computers. This week it finally got to the point where the poor fellow just couldn't read recorded media at all. Obviously this is not an acceptable situation, as Surtr is not only our television but also our DVR (thanks to a wonderful little gadget called the eyeTV 250 Plus (or the Magic Dingus, as jennifer prefers to call it)), and it's no good trying to record Swedish television for posterity when your hard drive is getting full.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Foo… aw, shucks

Joe So I had this whole April Fool's post planned out, about how I'd gone to Ikea and found heir new line of Ikea Cola, where they sold the syrup and the carbonation in little packets and you assembled it at home. Yes, I know, hah very hah. Anyway, imagine my horror when, while perusing electric kettles at Åhlen's department store, Jennifer pointed out that they're selling home pop machines that let you do just that.

Better luck next year, I suppose.