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.

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