Saturday, March 28, 2009

That's some Sirius bandy

Jennifer I've made it to two bandy games this season, both in Uppsala and featuring local team Sirius. Bandy, you might recall, is a fairly Scandinavian-specific sport, played outside, on a soccer-sized field covered in ice; the players wear skates and carry clubs that they use to smack around a soft-ball sized orange ball that's made of golf ball material. On the evening of 10 december 2008, in heavily falling snow, German student M. and I drove over to Studenternas IP, paid our 60 SEK, and found a good place to stand just behind the fans of the away team, who had arrived in a bus, ready with their drums and banners. It was quite cold, but the glögg and lussekatte at halftime helped, and any sport that requires the halftime services of both a snowplow and a Zamboni must be good, right? Sirius won handily, beating the visitors from Örebro 7-1. An Örebro supporter (who was at least two sheets to the wind) turned to congratulate M. and me on our team's win. Geniality among the fans is another hallmark of the sport, something I appreciate.

Sirius did much better than expected in the regular season, finishing third in the league, and earning a play-off spot. On 18 mars 2009, we went to Sirius' semifinal game against league winners and last year's champions Edsbyn. Most bandy games are rather sparsely attended, and we should have gone much earlier to this one, which ended up having 8900 fans.The stadium organizers were clearly not ready for so many people, and had not opened up the north and south stands: the east and west ones were already packed, and we got rather pressed into a corner, while trying to find a place. So... the fans started getting into the stands anyway, crawling through rails or leaping over them, as dictated by youth and vigor, a near riot by Swedish standards.

But "a near riot by Swedish standards" is not, by any means, a riot in the usual sense. With all these people crowding in next to each other, no one was actually touching each other; no one pushed, no one rushed. And when they inevitably did bump into one another, it was okay: the bumper was too embarrassed to admit they had bumped, the bumpee, too embarrassed to admit they had been bumped into. In some places you might worry when two burly strangers collide and spill each other's beers, but here, the two immediately look away from each other. No words were spoken or exchanged (heaven forbid!) between strangers. (This shyness is so extreme that it leads me to wonder how on earth these people ever manage to reproduce, but that's a topic for another time perhaps.)

We ended up in the southern stands, in the extreme southwest corner of the field, a not so great vantage point from which to see what turned out to be the worst bandy game I have seen. Good thing we had thought to bring along a thermos of Irish coffee with which to pass the halftime; the respectable looking couple behind us were openly pouring whisky into a camping cup and sharing it. (It's a little more traditional to try to mask the alcohol in a thermos.) In the northeast corner, in a brilliant marketing ploy, someone had set up a giant hot tub, from which a number of lucky people watched quite intently. They had about as good a view as we did, and were a little warmer (it wasn't that cold, really), but the end result was the same: Sirius crashing out of the tournament with a 1-7 loss, in a mirror image of the game from december. Sic transit Sirius.

Oh, there was one advantage of being in the corner: we got to be on TV! That's Joe, in the yellow jacket to the left, and half of J!, to his left, in the white hat. Don't confuse Joe with the ball boy (who also in yellow but on the ice) or J! with the player taking the corner (who is also wearing a white hat, but is on the ice, has skates, and a club in his hands)...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Teaching Part 2

Jennifer Many of you who may be reading this have been or are teachers yourselves, and the rest of you are acquianted with at least one teacher, so you know pretty well the highs and lows of this noble profession. Teaching university students in Sweden is much the same... but different. See the paragraph at the end of this post for more general observations about students overall (it turned into a little bit of a rant, thus its banishment to a footnote).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The March so far

JenniferI asked my officemate S. today whether there were any specific phrases or poems or songs in Swedish about the month of mars, because it seems to me that mars in Sweden is a time of change and upheaval, of good and bad, and there are no half measures. Till exampel: last year in mars we had the fire that destroyed the lab; I went to my first bandy match; I got sick and had to visit a doctor for the first time; we had to move at the end of the month. Some of what happened last year can be accounted for by acknowledging that it was the second month of living in a new place, but so far, the twists and turns and highs and lows of mars 2009 are on a par with the last one, and not just for me.

Monday, March 16, 2009


JoeIt's exam week again here at old Uppsala U. Not so much for me, actually; my semester is a little strange, with two classes that have no exams and another two that last all semester instead of just one half, which leaves just two normal classes. Of the latter category, the class that ended last week also happened to have it's exam on last Wednesday, before classes for the period actually ended. Long story short, while I've still got plenty to do for the period, my exams are, thankfully, over for now.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fika småpratar 1 (small talk from fika): Sauna

JenniferJoe and I have each been unusually busy of late, and so not only have we not had much time to write, but frankly we haven't been doing too many fascinating things. I will therefore take the opportunity to start what I think will be a series of shorter posts, covering the odd topics that tend to come up at fikas.

I may have mentioned before that we have a sauna in our work building; I still have not used it, nor has anyone that I know. "It's mostly those botanists who use it," I was told at fika a couple weeks ago. "Oh, by the way," post-doc K. said, "Did you know that there is a Sauna World Championship? There is. You can watch a video. I think they have had to drag people out, because they pass out before admitting defeat. These Finns are crazy," she said, shaking her head.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Vasaloppet 2009

"I fäders spår för framtids segrar"
In the footsteps of our forefathers for the victories of tomorrow, motto of Vasaloppet

JenniferVasaloppet was this morning, the 90 km cross-country ski race commemorating the return of Gustav Vasa and his followers to the city of Mora (Joe wrote a summary of the history of it last year). We did our Patriotic Duty and got up early to watch the mass start, which is quite entertaining when the "mass" numbers thousands and thousands of people—it takes well more than ten minutes just for everyone to get past the starting line, and of course there are tangled poles, improperly fastened skis coming off, bags of discarded outerwear that must be navigated around, and so forth. (In the picture above left, the clothing is being shoveled into a front-end loader after the starting area cleared out.)

The serious competitors are seeded and placed in the front of the pack, so that they can focus on their race and not be distracted by the far more numerous skiers who are perhaps hoping merely to finish. TV reporters find most of the people willing to be interviewed at the back of the group, including a couple fellows dressed as faux Vikings, in furs and horned helmets (and, incongruously, bright red fanny packs); a guy who had to do the race wearing a Swiss hockey jersey because he lost a bet on a hockey game; a pensioner whose starting number was 19,082 and who was skiing this race for the 30th time (his best finish was 6,265th). Performance-enhancing chemicals, in the form of blueberry soup, are freely handed out along the course, and race officials estimate that thousands of liters of the stuff are consumed. This year we had some blueberry soup for breakfast, in a gesture of solidarity. I guess the soup works as a stimulant for athletes working hard in the cold; however, for this observer (ensconced on the couch under a blanket in a nice warm apartment), that cup of blueberry soup was a one-way ticket to nap-ville.

But I did manage to wake up in time to see the winners, who finished around three hours after starting. In the picture at left, the female winner is being greeted by a rosy-cheeked handsome smiling youth dressed in historical costume, who is about to hang a laurel wreath around her neck as she skies past. The finish line remains open for 12 hours past the start time, and as I write this, at 8 hours past, skiers are still streaming into the finishing gate in downtown Mora, each pumping a fist in the air in joy, or relief, or both...