Monday, November 30, 2009

Have You Any Matches?

Joe Advent is here indeed, and you know what that means: giant straw goat time! Yes, our caprine friend has reappeared in Gävle, and this afternoon I hopped a train (it's only a 45 minute ride) to give him a quick visit, and to check out Gävle itself.

Gävle has a reputation of being a cute little city, with a nice river running through it, and a well preserved old town full of brightly colored wooden houses. Due to the goat's influence on local tourism, they also pride themselves on being something of a Christmas-time destination. So it seemed like Gävle might be a cheerful place to spend yet another grim afternoon. I had forgotten, of course, that Gävle is in Sweden. Expecting tourists to come to your Julmarknad? Time to tear up every street and square in the downtown area! And while we're at it, better dig ditches over two-thirds of Gamla Gefle.

What's more, after finally giving in to popular demand and agreeing to sell plush minibockar, the city ordered only 2000. Naturally, one day into the holiday season, they are all sold out. "More expected next week," I was assured. Surely they could be shipped, right? The response from the tourist info lady:
Many people have asked that. The problem is that everyone wants a goat, so we cannot send them. You would have to beg someone to send you one.
Actually, I was rather under the impression that I already was begging someone to send me one, namely her, but she seems to have thought that I should go and beg someone else. I am reminded of a story I once heard on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me…": the cafeteria in a Swedish factory served very good food, so good that people who lived in the town started coming there for lunch, which made it hard for the employees to get their lunches. Instead of expanding the cafeteria, or opening an employees only eatery, the factory solved the problem by closing the cafeteria. That'll show 'em!

OK, rant finished. Despite the construction, frustration, constant rain, and the fact that virtually every tourist attraction in town was either (a) closed for the season, or (b) closed on Mondays, I actually had a pleasant afternoon. Said "Hi" to the goat, and to his little brother*, then spent a comical 10 minutes on my mobile phone with Jennifer trying to coordinate waving at the webcams (that's me in the yellow jacket in the video above). Wandered around the parts of Gamle Gefle not too heavily under construction. Visited the big church downtown, and then walked along some of the parks lining the riverfront. All that, and I was back on a train before dark (although it was admittedly getting dark by the time the train actually left the station…)

*Little known fact: there are actually two straw goats built each year in Gävle. In the 80s, the Merchant's Association got tired of dealing with the burning goat every year, and decided to stop building them. So a local student association built a goat for the townsfolk. They started small, but in a few years they were building the biggest goats yet (they still hold the world record). These days, the Merchants build (and promote) the big goat, and the students build the little one.
There was a period of bad blood between the two goats for a while, but now they seem to happily co-exist. After all, who wouldn't love that adorable little guy?

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