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.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

(mis)Adventures in Bus Riding

JenniferSo the bus service in Sweden is wonderful—let's just get that straight from the outset. Really, honestly, it is. The busses are clean, the drivers are competent, and, for the most part, the whole outfit is quite reliable. In the past few weeks, however, there have been a few, shall we say, incidents, in which the bus service has been less than perfect.*

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


JoeWe've had a bit of luck this week. Much to our surprise, we've been offered a lease on a student apartment, which today we signed. I know that doesn't seem like such a big thing—I mean after all, we're in a student apartment right now. The difference is that right now we have a second-hand lease, which is only good through August. This new apartment is a lease in our own name, good for as long as one of us is a student here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

more SFI

JoeWhen I wrote last week about my upcoming SFI meeting, I made a crack about not expecting to start class anytime soon. I didn't really mean it, though, as I expected to come away from the meeting with a date in a week or two when I could start lessons. I should've known better.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


View Uppsala Walks in a larger map
Today is St. Erik's Day in Sweden. Erik, more specifically Erik IX, was a 12th century king of Sweden who was (probably) murdered at Uppsala, (possibly) at or near the location of the present Cathedral. His head was (putatively) cut off, and a spring (purportedly) popped up where it came to rest. Oh, and he led a crusade against the Finns. That's pretty much all that anyone knows (or at least, chooses to believe) about Erik, but nonetheless he's quite a popular Saint in these parts—despite the fact that he was never actually canonized.

Well, "real" saint or no, it's his day today, and on St. Erik's Day it's traditional to walk Eriksleden, a medieval pilgrim's path that goes from the church at Gamla Uppsala, where Erik was buried, to the cathedral in Uppsala, whence his relics were later translated. Today's weather being not only cold and windy but also quite wet, I think we can leave Erik's spirit to wander on it's own, but I did walk Eriksleden a couple of weeks ago back when it was being unseasonably warm and pleasant. At first the well marked path hugs the river bank, but then it takes off inland, going past the Tuna Allotments (more later, I promise) and through some apartment complexes before cutting over the E4, through several fields to finish at Gamla Uppsala.

Anyway, if you're curious, you can check out the gallery for an overview of the walk.

Oh, and happy belated Norwegian National Day!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The end of the "Lille Lennart Lottery"

JenniferThe "Lille Lennart Lottery" ended last week, and I saw "Lennart" this afternoon, as she was brought round by her proud if somewhat tired looking parents. Her name is not "Lennart."

A couple weeks ago, as we headed into dates that people had bet on, Lennart (the name and the yet-to-be-born infant) once more became an item of fika gossip. It was mentioned that one baby was named Lennart in 2007, so maybe there would be two this year, then four next year, eight in 2010, as so forth. "In the future we will all be named Lennart!" said N., which produced another round of hysterical laughter.

Svenska för Invandrare

JoeOne of these days I'll learn that I just can't do things at my own pace in Sweden. I keep falling for the same trap: I wait until I'm ready to start something, at which point I try to sign up for it only to find out that I should have started weeks before. You would think that our experience getting personal numbers, finding an apartment, seeing a doctor, etc., would have been enough to teach me this simple lesson, but alas it is not so.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A (Nearly) Successful Journey to Stockholm

JoeIt's been unseasonably warm and sunny all week, culminating in a weekend with temperatures around 25°C in the Stockholm area, so we decided it was a good weekend to get out and about a bit. What with getting settled in and adjusted, we haven't really been to Stockholm since we got here 4 months ago(!), despite it being just down the road. So yesterday we headed down to the train station and hopped an Intercity to Stockholm. Our destination: a football match at Kanalplan, the home of the Hammarby Women's Football program.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Help fight SPS!

JenniferMy friends, the fashionable young men of Sweden desperately need your help.

There is a terrible affliction striking Sweden. The effects are devastating, both to the victim and to the people who have to see him. And as the weather gets warmer, the plague gets worse. We noticed it first in Stockholm, in 2006. It was rare at the time, and so we hoped that it would burn itself out quickly. But our hopes were in vain. And now the plague has spread to Uppsala.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


JoeYesterday I learned two things, fascinating to me if to no one else, and tangentially related. The first is that after months of waiting, the acceptance letters for the next round of Masters programs at Uppsala University finally came out yesterday, and I'm happy to report that I've been admitted to the computer science program starting in the coming fall. The announcement was originally scheduled for a couple of weeks ago but there was some sort of delay ("caused by our national agency, not Uppsala University," according to the head of the department) which has prolonged my agony. Hmm, where to begin my story…

Friday, May 2, 2008

May Day 2008

JenniferMy goal for today was simple: find a real May Day celebration with some real communists. Signs around town advertised a variety of rallies one could attend, and I picked the one in the poster on the right, partly because of the picturesque location (Engelska parken, right behind the University library). When we got to the meeting point (10 minutes late), it looked like this:

Forsränningen 2008

JenniferThe weather for sista april this year was nearly ideal; warm, but not so sunny as to make it too hot. We got downtown at about 09.00, in plenty of time for the 10.00 start of Forsränningen. Plenty of time before the start, yes, but there really wasn't much time to spare. The banks of the river were already covered solidly with people, but we still managed to get a spot with a great view, in the middle of the St. Olofsgatan bridge. Around 10.00 a large rubber raft came down the river, hovered in the middle of the Fyrisån for a few minutes, then set off a large firework, and the race was on!

Bubbelgalopp 2008

Joe The second of the University's major public events of the day was the Bubbelgalopp. At 3 PM, all the students gather around the front entrance of the Carolina Rediviva. Then the University Rektor comes out and waves his hat at them, and they all go running down Drottninggatan waving their student caps in the air, racing back to their Nations1. All of this is witnessed by the gathered crowd of tens of thousands of people packed all around the hill leading down past the castle and into town.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Valborgsmässafton 2008

JoeValborgsmässafton is one the big three traditional celebrations in Sweden, the other two being Christmas and Mid-Summer. In most of Sweden, the occasion is marked with large public bonfires, and Uppsala is no exception—quite the contrary, actually, as the Uppsala area (or Upplands) seems to have been the origin point of Swedish Walpurgis Night bonfires.