Monday, May 24, 2010

Linnaeus weekend, 23 maj

Jennifer When last I left you, it was Saturday, 22 May: sunny (all the Swedes got sunburnt), warm (more like 25C than 20C), meadows full of wildflowers, fruit trees in full blossom... it seemed as if summer was finally in Sweden to stay. The next day, Linné's birthday, was quite a different affair...

The plan for the day was to take a hike along Herbatio Danesis, one of the trails through meadows and along a small river that mirrors one of Linné's famous teaching-excursion trails (another one, Herbatio Gottsundensis, is a forested walk that runs just past our apartment). The walk was 5 km, however, so I opted to meet the group at their destination, which was Linné's other house in another suburb called Sävja. This house is preserved, but the grounds are not, at least not to the extent that Linné's Hammarby is preserved. The Sävja Linné campus has been turned instead into a combination horse riding school and art colony. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

The day was noticeably less sunny than the previous day, but it was not until I had been up for while that I noticed how much colder it was (12C). Also, there was a little bit of a drizzle—not too bad, but not great either. Well, this is Sweden after all, and there's no way that they would cancel a walk because of a little cold and rain (not that they would be happy about it, mind you...). I packed up my things and headed out to the bus stop, not putting on my raincoat because it wasn't raining at the moment... and that's when the big thunderclap came, and the heavens opened up. I got completely soaked, just getting to the bus.

The lightning had apparently taken out some electricity south of town, because some traffic lights were out, so it took a while to get down to Sävja. When we got there (classmate Stina had also skipped the walk, and joined me on the bus about halfway), we wandered around a bit in the courtyard, wondering what had happened to our comrades. Eventually our teacher John must have heard us talking, because he came out into the now-gentle rain. "We are here," he said, looking a little grumpy and pointing into the main house. It turned out they had not stopped for lunch, so they were tired, wet, cold, and hungry. But we had our little tour, and heard the story about Linné's dog Pompe for the fourth time in two days, but did also get to see a Fritillaria meleagris (the famous kungsängslilja, a species originally planted by Linné in the botanical garden in town but spread to the meadows in the south), and some nice pressed specimens.

We had a spot of luck, though—that afternoon, a couple of troubadours were going to be there singing songs from Bellman, the famous Swedish song writer, a rough contemporary of Linné. I have heard of him of course but never heard his music performed live, so I was quite eager for the tour to end to get to the music. The wet Swedes, still a little grumpy perhaps, said it was too hot inside the cafe. I went in anyway, and it was really nice. The music is quite fun—besides "real" music, he wrote what might be called popular tunes, some comical, and I partially understood one to be about some students from Stockholm and their adventures at the University of Uppsala. Many of these tunes are still well known, and so there were quite a few of sing-along moments. (The proprietor of the cafe was so moved that he treated the musicians to a beer on the house.) It didn't take long for the rest of the class to come in, and I think they enjoyed it too despite themselves. The rain poured down, the wind lashed branches across the windows, while inside we had candlelight and music and hot coffee... not perhaps what you want from May (it was down to 10C, cold enough to see your breath), but quite fun nonetheless, at least for me, still a tourist in many ways.

The concert ended—some of the students had left, and the rest went to fetch the car while the botanist and I went back to the main house's kitchen, where we spread out the plants she had collected on the walk, and gave me a lecture about them even though I had not made the trek. So there it is: I've had a genuine disciple-of-Linné experience, getting a private lecture from a botanist in Carl von Linné's own house. I think we can call that weekend a success. Now I just need to finish my essay and pass the class...

An odd coda to the day: when we drove back into town, we took a bit of a detour and drove along the river. The botanist in the back seat suddenly exclaimed "Soldiers!" and pointed. Sure enough, stretched out over about four city blocks, probably around a hundred soldiers were sprawled out, with full face paint and even twigs in their helmets (plenty of greenery in this part of town), all with guns, some of them in teams with big machine guns, pointed at the river, some of them wiggling forward on their stomachs across the lawns or pavement. They have to practice somewhere, of course, but it was surely a strange thing to see.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Linnaeus weekend, 22 maj

Jennifer I've mentioned before that I am taking a class about the life and science of the famous 17th century Swedish botanist Carl von Linné (Linnaeus). The class is web-based, so I had not met any of the other participants, but yesterday and today we as a class went on a couple field trips to various historical sites connected with Linné.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What I do for my country

Jennifer So I have been amusing myself these days by trying to catch up with two months worth of Swedish homework in a week. This is not a good idea, and I don't know if I will be able to do it, but I am learning a lot of Swedish. We have to take self-administered computer tests: reading, writing, speaking (we speak into the microphones and make sound files that we then attach to the test), and... listening.

Normally I enjoy practicing listening; it is a real pleasure when I suddenly understand something that I didn't before. But the people who made up this test thought it would be good if we could understand Swedish being sung. Normally I would even agree with that. But this particular test... "Idas Sommarvisa"... and I have to listen to it over and over until I can get the words... oh god, please make it stop! Click here for a youtube video of it... the lyrics scroll along the bottom so no, I have not watched any more than it took for me to verify that yes, this is the version I am listening to about a hundred times.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Alpine Adventure

JoeWell, there. The sun came out for long enough that the organizers decided lectures this afternoon were a losing battle, so they rescheduled the last one until after dinner—and given the amount of wine that gets drunk at dinner, I suspect the 8:30–9:30 lecture slot is going to be a rough one.

le Banquet

JoeLast night was the "banquet" for this little shindig. Once again, I have no pictures, but I know some exist, so I'll try to get copies if possible. Anyway, the banquet was held in the same room as all the other meals, at the same time as every dinner every other night, and no one dressed up, so you would have been hard pressed to realize it was the special meal if you hadn't been warned going in. What set it apart was that we had to work more for our food: instead of prepared plates, each table had a plate of raw meat (chicken, pork, duck and beef) and a… well, a marble slab mounted to a gas burner. So you sautéed little strips of meat, then seasoned them with mustard or tartar sauce. Odd, but effective. Even the sole French person at our table thought it was weird and Asterix-y; then again, he was from Brittany, so he probably feels that way about most of France.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Just like home

JoeMy camera battery died last night, and the web cam on the computer doesn't have the resolution to pick it up, so until I can bum someone else's pictures you're just going to have to take my word for it: it's snowing. Hard. Looks unlikely to accumulate in town, but for now anyway it's coming down pretty fast.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Aussois: Day 2

Joe We're on our morning coffee break now, and I've had two espressos, so I'm feeling like doing a bit of speed blogging before the next lecture. Woke up at 7 this morning to only light rain, so I decided to get in a little walk through town before breakfast. Not too busy a place at 7 on a Tuesday morning in early May, but cute. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Did find the fromagerie, and it's open on Thursday and Friday afternoon, so I'll have to try to stop by on my way out of town. Also about half a dozen creperies, but I don't know how likely I am to hit any of them this week.

No time (or bandwidth!) to link the pictures individually, so you'll have to follow the gallery link. Sorry!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Aussois: Day 1

Joe So I'm in Aussois in the French Alps for a week, attending a class on constraint programming. It's being held at a sort of resorty place, which is run by something called the Comité d'Action et d'Entraide Sociales (the Action Comittee of Social Caring?) with vague official overtones. It's an odd sort of place, kind of a cross between a resort and the Bio Station at Pellston. It's hard to argue with the location though—and if it ever stops raining, I'll be sure to take advantage of that fact.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Two rainy hours in Turin

Joe I'm in France for the week, attending a constraint programming summer school. I'll send more details later—I've been traveling since before 7 this morning, and I'm beat, and there's no internet in the room (insert indignation here), all of which means I'm about to prioritize getting a shower over writing an in-depth blog post.