Saturday, September 29, 2012

Never Mind the Bigos

JoeIt's raining in Kraków.

I've been in the dwarven city of Wrocław this week, about which I promise to say more later. Right now, though, I've had a long day, what with the getting to Kraków and all, and the being too cheap to spring for a cab. The Wrocław train station was only 3 km from my hotel, and the same in Kraków — a nice walk through the city! So I checked out of my hotel at noon, hiked to the train station, figured out what train ticket to buy — a non-trivial task in Poland, as there are several companies offering wildly different levels of service (e.g., "reserved seat in an air conditioned car," versus "standing room only for five hours because we responded to the financial crisis by selling most of our rolling stock") — bought a crappy sandwich in a bar in order to have enough coinage to get a luggage locker, then spent the next two hours dwarf hunting (that would be the more, for the later). Five hours later: Kraków! The walk to my hotel was blessedly sans the rain from the morning's forecast; nevertheless, it was already 9 pm when I got to my room. Deciding that the half of the aforementioned sandwich which I had ingested instead of throwing away was no longer cutting it, I took a quick shower, then went for food.

The rain had arrived in the meantime, but it was jut a steady sprinkle, so I set off anyway. Turns out that my hotel, which I selected in a hurry based solely on tripadvisor reviews, is a scant two blocks from a restaurant filled square in the Jewish quarter. My quick glance at the map hadn't left me expecting to be spoiled for choice, so it took me a while to choose a place; the rain had rather made up its mind to stay, unfortunately, so by the time I took a seat I was a little bit damp, a little bit cold, and bordering on more than a little bit grumpy. I ordered a plate of peirogis and a glass of beer, and spent the next several minutes bemused at the incongruity of the Swedish Christmas goat sitting atop the shelf in front of me. Then my food came, and I forgot to take a picture of it. (The goat, or the food, take your pick, because I didn't. Take a pic. Of either.)

Best. Food. Ever. I am not even kidding. Just simple dumplings with a sauerkraut and mushroom filling, topped with a smattering of caramelized onions, but it was without a doubt one of the finest things I have ever eaten (not excepting my first ever plate of Bigos — again, with the later — whence cometh the title of this post).

On the walk back, belly full of cabbage and onion and beer, I realized that Sweden, despite its best efforts, has not yet succeeded in destroying my love of cities in the rain. Its something about the sound of tires on wet pavement, the way the stop lights glint off shining sidewalks… I can't put my finger on the quality of it, but I'd always loved it. In recent years, I've started to worry that my love of rain has been deadened by moving to a truly rainy place, but tonight I think maybe its just been dented a little. Or maybe I've just had a long day, and a good beer, and some yummy onions.

Either way: it's raining in Kraków.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Scotland part one: Kilts and flags

JenniferI was fortunate enough be able to go along with my friend and native Glaswegian S. to Scotland last month, and attend a few soccer games of the Olympics in Glasgow. I guess London figured it had enough to do with all of the usual Olympic things, and hosting soccer games was just one more thing. Hence, early round football (for both women and men) were played in satellite locations in Coventry, Manchester, and Glasgow. (Presumably everyone who cares about the Olympics has followed it as much as they cared to, so I won't say too much about them in general other than to say that I enjoyed them quite a lot, as I always do, and that the coverage by SVT, Sweden's state-run television, was fantastic.)

Of the two large cities in Scotland, Glasgow is the more modern and 'real' city. Edinburgh, by contrast, is a bit more touristy, with a castle and stuff like that. "You won't hear bagpipes and see people walking around in kilts, that's more Edinburgh stuff," said S. at some point during our journey to her hometown.

Glasgow played host to a group that, for the women's soccer tournament, included the US, France, Colombia, and North Korea. The city didn't really have much in the way of Olympic spirit going for it, other than one of the bizarre mascots in the train station (please note the kilt), a set of Olympic rings in the main square (above) complete with warning sign, and a lonely volunteer handing out literature on the main shopping drag; no beer tents or fan areas (as per the Women's World Cup in Germany last year).

The most important thing to do, after finding our living quarters (there was a kilt store just across the street), was to get some curry. We went to Charcoals, an Indian place about three blocks away, and nearly were in tears over the food, not because it was overly hot, but just because it was so flavorful. Swedish food is tasty but bland. I think many immigrants decide to open restaurants here, seeking the flavors of home and seeing the complete lack of them, but as a whole, Swedes just don't seem to be into strongly flavored food, and some little while after opening, all restaurants take the spiciness down. For some reason, instead of mints, this restaurant brought us jello shots with the bill.

Next day, two soccer games: US versus France followed by Colombia versus North Korea (with synchronized ball boys as an unadvertised bonus, right). A free shuttle bus took us from the train station to the venue (on the way, US support was spotted, as were Questionable Establishments ("Is it seedy here?" I asked. (long pause) "Well, I wouldn't go to an unknown bar in this neighborhood," said S., as we peered out the bus windows). At the drop-off point, a volunteer in a pink-and-purple polo shirt (and red plaid kilt that did not match) led us to the park. The venue, Hampden Park, is home of the Scottish national team. As we arrived, a bagpipe could be heard bellowing across the parking lot from the upper balcony.

The evening was sunny and warm enough that short sleeves were enough, and the first game a fun one to watch, as France gave eventual gold-medalists US a real scare by jumping out to a 0-2 lead within the first 15 minutes (the US eventually won 4-2). In between the games, we ate our picnic lunch and were entertained by a ~20-piece fife-and-bagpipe-and-drum core. Who were all wearing kilts, of course.

A pack of young men appeared from entrance near us. I nudged S. with my elbow. "Look, Swedes," I whispered, going by their clothes and haircuts. S. looked at them surreptitiously, just as one of them started talking in a language that sounded familiar... but wasn't quite right... "Close," she muttered at me, and we nodded in agreement: Danes. They sat behind us, laughing and joking with each other and showing signs of being, let us say, in fine spirits. The crowd had diminished perceptibly after the first game, revealing the white-on-blue saltire of Scotland in the end-zone seats (see picture below).

Suddenly the stadium erupted with whistling. Why? What was going on? Why was there a North Korean flag displayed on the jumbotron, hovering menacingly over the saltire? "It looks like North Korea is taking over Scotland," S. chuckled. Wait, what time was it, anyway? A quick check of our timepieces showed that the kick-off should have happened five minutes earlier. In fact the stadium had introduced the players; in retrospect we are slightly ashamed to admit that neither of us had noticed what had happened. The whistles continued; a wave started and made it seven times around the stadium, which is pretty impressive given how few people were there. Eventually a voice came over the PA system, apologizing for the delay and saying that it was a result of "... An issue behind the scenes." (Well, yes, thank you, we had kinda figured that out already.) The field had been cleared for the game, but now a couple of coaches from Colombia came back on to the field and put out practice cones. The whistles from the stadium turned to boos. The Colombian team came back to warm up.

A few smses later, and Joe had informed us, from reading the Wall Street Journal blog (why on earth was someone at the Wall Street Journal live-blogging the North Korea–Colombia soccer match? don't they have international monetary crises to cover?), that a security worker at Hampden said that the team was angry because the wrong flag had been displayed next to the North Korean players on the displays.   Eventually the North Koreans were satisfactorily apologized to, and the game started more than an hour later than it should have, with the Colombian team getting enthusiastic cheers during their anthem, and the North Korean team getting heartily booed during theirs. The only thing of note that happened during this game was that I got hit in the head with a ball: a clearance came skipping over the low wall, smacked the arm of the chair in front of me, and gently grazed my forehead. Note: no, this incident is not the source of the picture that some of you have already seen...)

The next day, officials at the stadium blamed the pre-made media package that they received from London. I'm not sure when Glasgow started trusting things sent from London, but I'm sure they won't make that mistake again! It's still unclear why the flag showed on the jumbotron for nearly an hour. Perhaps the stadium officials were trying to say "See, we do know what your flag looks like"?

Coming soon in Scotland Part Two: A pub, a park, and a passel of friends and relations; two more games and I get the ball again, but this time for real.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Glorious Fourth in Stockholm

JenniferWe spent the Fourth of July this year in Stockholm. It was an unusually beautiful day, with clear skies and sunshine, and warm enough to go without a jacket. (Days like this have been rare so far this summer; it's been mostly cloudy, often rainy, and in any event too cool for shorts and sandals.) We bought food from Cajsa Warg (Stockholm's closest thing to Zingerman's) and picnicked on Korean beef, samosas, baguette and ginger beer in a tiny park overlooking the city, which has a rather disturbing monument (too many thumbs!) dedicated to Swedes killed in the Spanish civil war.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Midsommar 2012

JenniferYesterday was Midsummer's Eve, in some ways the most important holiday of the whole year., the official website about all things Sweden, has put up a variety of informative texts about it in English, like this one here. Or, you can watch this slightly snarky video, also made/endorsed by the official website (so you know it's not too off-base...).
Midsummer remains a somewhat perturbing holiday for us poor immigrants, because the cities shut down completely (the street scene of Stockholm on Midsummer's Eve in the video above is not an exaggeration!) and all the natives disappear. Nevertheless, we had a very pleasant day. The sun was shining, and we packed a picnic of spice-rubbed chicken, dill potato salad, grapes, strawberries, and homemade lemonade, and took it to a nearby field. Joe leaves soon for a workshop in Turkey, and it was nice to just hang out and relax for a day.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Language notes part 7: A strange moment

Just a quick note, in the midst of finals. I had a odd language moment the other day, courtesy of Joe, my visiting cousins E. and S. (more on their visit later), and the fact that the four of us ran into one of my Swedish teachers from last term, at random, on the street.

Teacher T. (she of the 'we have nothing better to do in Sweden other than compare our hands' incident) and I saw each other and I said hello, then I started to introduce people... in Swedish, because that's all I've ever used when speaking to T... Joe and E. and S. stared at me... And then I suddenly realized that I should speak English, but wait, I had never heard T. speak English, and oh my gosh, what do I do now? What language should I speak? Using English just felt wrong, like it would be cheating or something, and I became briefly (but truly) tongue tied. I think this sort of thing has happened to T. before though, and thankfully she quickly took over and introduced herself to all (of course she speaks English, better than I do probably, don't be silly).

We all talked briefly about Uppsala and the weather, but I found myself switching back to Swedish when talking to T. I don't think I was intentionally showing off — in retrospect I suppose one who is studying something obscure (like Swedish) is glad to when an opportunity comes along to display one's knowledge, however imperfect.

(Quick, someone ask Joe about separation logic.)

Anyway, learning and using a foreign language certainly has its odd moments. I guess I expected it to be more like history or something fact-based — you study it, and then you know more about it, and that's nice. I've never studied/learned something that results in moments of pure disorientation...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Witches of Easter

JenniferAnd now to start catching up on some of the stories and fun things that have happened in Sweden in Spring of 2012.

First, Easter, or in Swedish, Påsk. (Quick refresher: in Sweden, Easter is the holiday (well, Skärtorsdag, to be precise) when the witches come to beg for candy... and a couple years ago, a father came by with his two adorable little girls dressed in their adorable påskkärring costumes, and said, 'You can always give them a little bit of money, 5 or 10 kronor. Or fruit. Fruit is good.')

So this year, the witches came early. Before noon!, which is hardly fair. Needless to say, we had not yet gone out to get candy. I tried to delay the påskkärringar at the door while Joe frantically hunted about for something to give them. We had a couple wrapped chocolates sitting around but that seemed a little light, so Joe grabbed a couple of blood oranges to give them as well.

They took the oranges and looked... a little dubious.

I wanted to sneak a picture of them because their costumes were so fun, so I nipped out on the the balcony and looked back toward the door that they would come out of. I was therefore in plenty of time to see the older one, who was holding the door open for her companion, pick the orange up out of her bag, and give it a look that I will generously describe as one of disapproval.

Right. Note to selves for next year: "fruit" is not an appropriate present for the Easter witches. Do not listen to the advice of their dads!

I just hope we haven't earned ourselves a curse or anything.

For Easter dinner on Sunday we went over to our Swiss friends, and were joined by three other friends and a visiting mother (French, Swedish, French-Swedish, and French, respectively). Their citizenships are important because it meant a whole new group of people to introduce to cascarones! It's always entertaining, introducing this custom to new people... there are about ten seconds of hesitation, between picking up a cascarone and choosing a victim... and then the victim realizes that maybe they would like to avoid getting a confetti-stuffed eggshell broken on their head, and so they run away, and then the chase is on (see picture to the left). (And the exercise was welcome, because it was just above freezing outside, and started to snow a little bit while we played a very poor game of kubb.) This was also Baby N.'s first Easter, and I'm only too glad to have seen to it that she — a Swiss national born in Sweden, with a temporary French passport — should have enjoyed a Mexican Easter tradition that my Irish grandmother picked up America.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Många stulna saker

JenniferThis post is in progress, and functions at the moment mostly as an excuse to put a link to our visit to the National Gallery (aka the "Crap Sweden Stole during the Thirty Year's War" museum) in Stockholm last February. To the left, Carl Larsson's famous art nouveau-ish 'Midwinter Sacrifice', made to fit in the main hall.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

School daze

JenniferAt US universities (well, in the Midwest anyway), a 'student fair' usually means a chance to get candy, leaflets, pens, and maybe cheap or free condoms from your school's safe-sex organization. In Sweden, at the 'student fair' you get candy, leaflets, pens, and free condoms distributed by several state-sponsored safe-sex groups. Here's a picture of the swag I was handed at last week's Humanities Day fair in my classroom building. I think it is a pretty accurate representation of student life here.

Clockwise from upper left: bookmark from the Studies in Arts, Languages, and Theology; Linnaeus bookmark; student government sink scraper (it says "You don't have to take the shit alone" on it) holding a condom from the Condomera, or 'More Condoms' (they do nothing else except distribute condoms at the university); 'hon-han-hen', advertising for the debate about gender pronouns in Swedish; the red thing, a postcard for the government-sponsored sex-ed organization (they distribute condoms both at the university and to high schools); postcard of a moose, with a chocolate from the local cultural museum sitting on it (the chocolate is an ad for their current exhibit about coffee breaks); a postcard for Culture Night with a teddy-bear face reflector and yet another condom sitting on it; a bicycle trail map for the city; yet another condom; yet more chocolates (the square black things saying 'Uppsala' on them).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A study visit to parliament

Jennifer This term's Swedish class is going full steam ahead. At the end of this course we will be allowed to take something called TISUS, which is the Swedish equivalent of the TOEFL; passing TISUS also certifies that the holder has a high-school equivalent knowledge of civics and society. Therefore, on top of the language work, this term of class includes a once-a-week civics lesson. And last week, we took a class field trip to Sweden's parliament, which is in Stockholm and is called riksdagen. (Note that lack of capitalization; they did that on purpose so the the politicians won't get above themselves.) My assignment for Tuesday is to turn in a short summary of the visit, including what I learned or found surprising, and after that, a brief commentary. So here, for your reading pleasure: Version 1 of my assignment in its entirety.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

JenniferMy translation of the local newspaper's review of the recent movie "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo":
Despite a slight surrealistic feeling when the actors speak English while the surroundings and everything else is in Swedish, the American version of "Men who hate women" is really good. Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig have chemistry between them and Drottninggatan in Uppsala has an important role.
Right, let's take that last part first, the part that reads "...Drottninggatan in Uppsala plays an important role." As readers of this blog may remember (here's the relevant post), we who live in Uppsala, and especially those of us who travel by bus, were inconvenienced for more than a month last year by the filming of this movie. People I met on the bus were happy to grump about it a little, but also seemed secretly pleased of course. Who isn't pleased when one's beloved hometown gets some face time in a Big Hollywood production?

Except... Drottninggatan doesn't play Drottninggatan, and for that matter Uppsala doesn't play Uppsala. The three-block stretch of Drottninggatan that appears in the movie plays the entire small town in which a parade happened in the early 1960s. (Hence a little bit of extra time was needed to remove modern road markings, street signs, etc.) The existence of the street is important to the story, sure, but the events don't take place in Uppsala, and in fact these scenes could have been filmed almost anywhere (anywhere that the architecture was right, of course). To say therefore "Drottninggatan in Uppsala plays an important role" is perhaps a wee bit of an exaggeration... if not wishful thinking...

(Don't get me wrong, I fully intend to see the movie in the theater, and to cheer, only inwardly and silently of course, when Uppsala shows up!)

(And allow me one quick "I'm showing off my Swedish" note: on the movie poster above there's a tagline at the top: "What is hidden in the snow comes forth in the thaw." In Swedish it is an aphorism and sounds better because it's shorter and rhymes: "Det som göms i snö / Kommer upp i tö."

(Oh, and two further bits of amusement: Haven't or don't want to read the book? Check out the New Yorker's parody, "The Girl who Fixed the Umlaut," which focusses on the heroine's technical genius. Haven't or don't want to see the movie? I recommend "The Girl with the Tramp-stamp Tattoo," which imagines the heroine as a ditzy Valley Girl type rather than a punk-goth type.)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Snow, Runes

JoeIt was a crisp, sunny day in the midst of a grim, muddy winter. We celebrated by tromping through a bit of horse pasture to see our pair of local runestones. It turned out to be a good time to see U 897 (pictured, on the right): the light dusting of snow was enough to bring out its rather faded lines but not enough to make the field impassable. In the summer, the stone is covered in dense vegetation; in the spring and autumn, the pasture is treacherously muddy.

Coincidentally, just yesterday morning I wrote up a bit on the other runestone in this same field.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Year's Booms

Joe I think we mentioned previously that New Year's is one of the big three annual fireworks days here in Sweden. New Year's is unlike either the first Sunday in Advent, when Uppsala has a large municipal fireworks show, or Walpurgis Night, when large neighborhood associations all over town have medium-sized displays. Swedes, or at least Uppsalabo, ring in the new year with a barrage of individual displays. There's generally a light peppering one or two nights beforehand, then on the day itself we'll hear increasingly frequent booms in the distance. But when midnight hits, suddenly there are fireworks going off everywhere.

Living right on the edge of town as we do, it's a pretty impressive display even from our balcony. This year, though, the night was cold and clear, and there was no snow on the ground, so it seemed like a good time to check out the nearest little gathering up close (we've previously seen evidence that the local football field sees pretty heavy use as a launching pad, we've just never gone over there as it was happening).

Video of the proceedings is above. The cluster of lights in the lower left hand corner is the local neighborhood children, who marched up to the field bearing torches just five minutes before the stroke of twelve. The foreground is the (semi-official?) neighborhood display at first, with some random locals joining in as it progresses. In the background there were at least half a dozen other displays going at the same time (you can see bigger stuff from at least two other locales in Norby in the video, plus a few small items from the farmhouse down the road). The best part is the unintentional ground display that starts at about 20 seconds in — don't worry, no one was injured!