Saturday, May 2, 2009

Comrade J! and May Day

[A post attempted in the vein of Wodehouse;
here's a link to Comrade Bingo in case your memory is hazy]
JenniferLast Thursday, Sista April, was a big holiday in these parts, in which all the Uppsala University students engage in entertainments like spraying champagne about and pelting each other with baguettes. The older and more restrained alum show up as well, in their student hats, and reminisce about the good old days, though they generally prefer to filter their champagne through the kidneys first, rather than pour the stuff directly into the drains leading to the river. As previously reported, Monty and I had met up with such a bunch in Engelska parken, where the alum of a certain age loll on the grass. It was there that we met up with my old pal Kipper (post-doc K.) and her claque, eating their s. and sipping their ch.

As we talked it happened to come up that tomorrow was första maj, that is, May Day, the Worker's Day. Kipper and her bunch were going to be spending the day in the nearby suburb of Bälinge, where Charlie and Emma (a couple of Kipper's friends sprawled on the blanket opposite us, who took a little umbrage when Kipper referred to their fair hamlet as the "countryside") have a house. We announced our intention to be in town, to watch the parades of Socialists and Communists and Syndicalists and this year even Christian Democrats. I popped a wine-soaked strawberry into my mouth and ventured my opinion that high taxes are good, because it helps us all that we pay so much so that other people's kids can have free day care. If we get so many benefits from a 40% tax rate, who knows what kind of luxury we would be living in if only we paid 50% of our salary in taxes? I would therefore be protesting tomorrow in favor of even higher taxes. "Yes, I quite agree," said Kipper, a most egalitarian type if there ever was one. "But hang on, old thing, you have a stipend, you don't pay taxes!"

That last assertion was fair enough, I suppose, but I saw no reason for the mere truth to get in the way my enjoyment of speeches excoriating imperialism and unfair labor practices and only six weeks of vacation per year and rubbish like that. So yesterday morning, at civilized hour of noon-ish, Monty and I girded our loins for the upcoming struggle and boarded a bus to the castle park, from where previous experience had shown us that one could get a taste of all the parades at once. Just like last year, the city gnomes had done an admirable overnight job of cleaning up Sista April's forgotten blankets, empty alcohol containers, and the odd inebriated undergraduate or two. The Syndicalists were observed massing in Engelska Park, site of yesterday's revelries, but we passed them by and picked a spot at the top of the natural amphitheater behind the castle. Our timing was impeccable; within a quarter of an hour Vänsterpartiets parade came marching up and emptied itself into the bowl, complete with a bull-horn wielding chappy egging them on. We toasted with water, being still rather shy of the ch. after yesterday's festivities.

It was remarkable how much this year was like last year, except perhaps we understood a little more of the speeches this time. We nibbled daintily at our brie and crackers while Comrade Bullhorn greeted us heartily as "Kamrater och vänner!" and then got down to ripping into the Idle Rich; a Palestinian spoke in English about how peaceful her people were; another speaker told us that the real enemies of the People are poverty, illiteracy, and disease ("Well, that's true enough," I thought, warming to their rhetoric). Then a sensitive fellow came down front to serenade us with a guitar and a song about how love crosses all borders, but just as he was really getting going and whipping the crowd into a nap, the brass band for the Social Democrats started drowning him out. We hauled ourselves up by our bootstraps and crossed the yard just in the nick to catch the Syndicalists tripping down Drottningsgatan, then we proceeded across the street to inspect the S.D.'s impressive amount of signage. I don't know about you, but I find reading signs while they are being marched in a quick-step down a hill is a chore, especially when they're written in a language with which one is only acquainted on a head-nodding sort of basis. What I mean to say, is that Swedish and I greet each other cordially enough, and I'm sure that, were we to run into each other in some far-flung corner of the earth, surrounded by speakers of Uigher casting rummy glances in our direction, we would fall into each other's arms and be the best of chums; here, Swedish has a distinct home-field advantage that one feels keenly at times.

That was pretty much the day, rally-wise. We sauntered along in the tail of the parade up the street and to the bus stop, passing hordes of natives re-enacting the October Revolution, in which the parts of the aristocracy were being played by ice creams on sticks. We took the hint and also the next bus for home, in order to fill a couple glasses with ice and the refreshing orange soda that we had purchased from the communist's table, for the princely sum of 10 SEK—how they expect to make any profit charging only 10 SEK for a bottle of orange-ade strains the old bean but they know their business best I'm sure...

1 comment:

  1. we have loyalty day here. i gather you're supposed to make little candy and treat baskets and leave them on the doorsteps for the kiddies. it is perhaps somewhat telling that almost no one at the office other than the chinese woman knew that yesterday was may day, not loyalty day, and it really had nothing to do with bribing children to be good capitalists. they just ran around saying "did you make your baskets? why are we making baskets again? will we get egged if we don't deliver any baskets?"