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.