We Go to Stockholm: Fulbright Ceremony

Harry’s been telling me I should create my blogposts in MS Word and then copy/paste them into wordpress. So I’ve done that with this post and the next, and it seems to have worked…for text, anyway. It should help us while the internet’s down, too, since I can write at home and then just post when I’m at a wi-fi hotspot. We’ll see what happens with the next post, which includes pictures. Keep your fingers crossed!

Thursday afternoon, May 22, was the annual end-of-year recognition ceremony for all Fulbright awardees. We asked to have our return train tickets delayed until Sunday evening so that we could stay in Stockholm as tourists. Our friends in Linköping were excited for us, telling us what a beautiful city Stockholm is, and many of them adding that they wished they could live there. The weather forecast, unfortunately, was for cool weather – in the mid-50s. Other than that, though we were looking forward to a good trip.

Our first challenge upon getting to Stockholm was finding our hotel. We thought this should be pretty easy, since the map showed it being down a little street directly across from the station, and the hotel’s literature said that it was only a two-minute walk. It took us about half an hour to find the hotel! The biggest problem was that we didn’t realize that the streets in downtown Stockholm are on two levels, and we exited the train station on the wrong level. Adding to the confusion was a construction project that blocked our view of the hotel. At any rate, we were able to check in, freshen up, and board a bus to take us to the US ambassador’s residence in time for the ceremony.

Amb. Mark Brzezinski is the son of Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor. He’s been in Stockholm for 6 months now, and I could relate when he said that his 3-year-old daughter speaks Swedish far better than he.  While mingling with the guests prior to the ceremony, he was informal and congenial. And so young! It was hard to believe that he was an ambassador. Other than the obligatory speeches by the ambassador and Dr. Lars Haikola, University Chancellor of Sweden, and the awarding of certificates and pins to each of the awardees, the ceremony consisted mainly of brief reports by the student awardees (but not the post-graduate awardees, like Harry) of their personal and work experience in Sweden. It was interesting to hear the broad range of their studies—everything from modern Swedish folk music to stem cell research. Given that range, each of us found some of the presentations fascinating…just not the same ones! Harry listened most attentively to the two stem-cell researchers, while I could have listened much longer to the cultural linguist describing her research among the Lapplanders, whose dialect is being suppressed. I would have liked to hear more about the scholars’ Swedish Adventures; or maybe they found, as Harry has, that “everything in the lab is in English anyway.” One student thanked her host for “making it seem like I’d never left home.” I hoped she didn’t mean it literally! It reminded me of Anne Tyler’s book, The Accidental Tourist, whose main character wrote tour guides for Americans who had to travel abroad but didn’t really want to leave home; instead of focusing on what set a country apart, he told them where to find McDonald’s. What a missed opportunity!

After the reception we made our way back to the hotel. By the time we arrived at this “conveniently located” site I was sure my feet must be bleeding from my relatively-new sandals. (They weren’t.) We’d gotten off the bus prematurely, and then once again had trouble finding the hotel. While sight-seeing the next day, we realized that about half an hour before we reached the hotel we’d come within a 5-minute walk of it! Although we referred to it often, the city map was little help: it seemed backwards. Sadists should not be allowed to study cartography!

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Sorry for the delay…

We’ve been without internet at the house for over 2 weeks now. Arrgh!! (In that time, coincidentally, I’ve learned that the Swedish for ‘angry’ is ‘arg’. Hmm…) Anyway, since this is an online blog (you know, weblog?), it has severely impacted my writing, and your reading, experience. I do apologize. Please hang in there!

I’m working online from a free-wi-fi hotspot in a coffeehouse, which is why I haven’t posted anything lately. In the time since you last heard from me, we’ve been to Stockholm for 4 days (half a day of Fulbright recognition ceremony, 3 days of sight-seeing).

My biggest and most exciting development has been my continuing growth in Swedish-language skills. I still usually speak English, for the convenience of everyone involved, but a few days ago I spoke Swedish for about 3/4 of a 90-minute encounter with my manicurist (captive audience?). Anyway, it worked! For the most part I was able to come up with words, in their correct form, as I needed them, and to pronounce them well enough to be understood. It was downright exhilarating!!

It’s still cool here–temperatures and otherwise. We froze for 90 minutes of the airshow–more in a later post when I can take my time at home–and then went home. We’ve had company over, and fed them a Swedish-American lunch on Swedish National Day (June 6).

Pictures and more details on all of the above will follow.

We got train tickets today to get us to the airport for our return flight to the States. We’ll take the train to Stockholm on Friday, 6/29, and fly home on Saturday.

With any luck we’ll have our internet back tomorrow. (hope, hope)


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Ah, Community! No poisons, and low walls.

I don’t spend much time with poetry. Two lines in particular, though, among others, have hung on since high school: “Good fences make good neighbors,” and “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” They sum up the classic boundary issues in two lines; I was surprised to (re)discover that they came from the same Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall,” where the neighbors cooperate each spring in re-building their boundary wall even though only one of them values it.

The lines came back to me today as I reflected on our growing relationships here in Linköping; they are becoming more real and interpersonal instead of being restricted to people’s role descriptions–hair stylist, neighbor, artisan, Harry’s co-worker. I saw Håkan, the gifted woodworker, in the grocery store on Saturday. It’s always marked a turning point for me in a new community when I start seeing people I know in places other than where I first met them. My manicurist works weekends at the candy store; when I saw her there I just stared: she looked like Madeleine, but…finally she smiled and said, “Yes, it’s me. Hello, Melissa.”

In the past week relationships have grown beyond mere out-of-context sightings. After dinner last Tuesday evening I walked through the spindly hedge-to-be to chat with Valentin and Lavinia about their kitchen project that had started that morning. The woman with them looked vaguely familiar; their children were running around them and munching on rhubarb stalks from our garden. “I thought uncooked rhubarb was poisonous!”  I marveled, but they assured me that only the leaves are poisonous and that they’ve all been eating raw rhubarb for years with no ill effects–except for the one time Viktor ate too much at daycare, and…well….

Emma, the oldest, flitted by a bit more often than the other children, and eventually it dawned on me that she was speaking English! This is her first year in the English school, and up until now I’ve heard only a few words from her in “my” language. Her accent is barely perceptible to my native-speaker’s ear. She and I are learning one another’s languages in parallel, and it’s turning into a special bond. When I used my Swedish to compliment her English, she beamed, and said a perfect “thank you.” A little later she let drop, in English, “Next week is my birthday.”

“Really?” I said. “When?”

“I don’t know.”

“What?? You’re how old, and you don’t know when your birthday is?? Oh, you don’t know how to say it in English.”

“Right.” So we put our heads together and figured it out. (It’s today, by the way…Tuesday, the 22nd of May.)

That night I thought of a fitting birthday present: an American birthday card! So the next day I asked her, in Swedish, how old she would be. “Tio.” And I called Sharon to request immediate shipment of a birthday card for a 10-year-old girl. It arrived yesterday, and it’s perfect! It’s waiting in Emma’s mailbox for her to come home from school.

And what would go with that? An American birthday cake, of course! Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. The only Swedish cake I’ve eaten was very different than American cakes. It consisted of a thin cake layer supporting a 2-3″ high mound of whipped cream, all covered with about 1/8″ of sugar-dusted marzipan. This is what they picture on their birthday cards, too, although when I googled “Swedish birthday cakes” looking for a picture to insert I found lots of different cakes–just like in the US–but not our usual layer cake.

I had planned to make a 3-layer cake, but  I couldn’t find cake pans–nor has Rosaura in her 16 years here. So it’ll have to be birthday cupcakes. And I just read on a blog post from another expat that the Swedish birthday starts in the morning with the birthday kid being “surprised” in bed with birthday cake. Oh, well. On top of that, the cupcake papers I found in the store didn’t fit Monica’s cupcake pan, and they mushed up the cakes; so I’ll make a second, paper-free batch and hope for the best. Needless to say, Emma will get her cake in the evening, like American kids. For now I’m headed back to the kitchen for Attempt #2!


PS One other thing that  came out of our rhubarb chat–an invitation from Therese and Richard, on the other side of Rosaura and Rafael, to join them (along with Valentin et al.) for rhubarb pie and coffee on Sunday afternoon. I’d met Therese only twice: the first week we were here, when I was looking for my bank log-in-card reader and thought I might have left it in her car (which Monica had borrowed to take us to town for the bank and our first grocery run); and Tuesday evening–she was the “vaguely familiar” woman in Valentin’s yard. I’d never met Richard, and Harry didn’t know either one of them. It turns out he and Lavinia hadn’t met, either. (Really, Harry, you should get out more!)

Sunday afternoon was delightful! A balmy 70°, sunny, with a light breeze. We sat around on the patio for 3 hours sampling rabarb knacken (similar to our rhubarb crisp but with a smoother topping) and rabarb paj (rhubarb pie, of course, but much shallower and with no bottom crust), with a choice of vanilla sauce or vanilla ice cream on top; and drinking home-brewed coffee and sipping a home-brewed wine, from Lavinia’s uncle, out of communion glasses. And how fitting to bring things full-circle: the rhubarb came from “our” garden! It was the last of their frozen stash from last year. Therese will be coming back for more this year, with our blessings: there’s way more than enough to go around, and Heaven knows we don’t have freezer space: ours is full of fish! It was fun to get to know the neighbors better, relaxing in the back yard and enjoying each other’s company with no agenda; watching the kids, supervised but not hovered over, adding lots of toppings to their ice cream, stirring it all up into a mush and then abandoning it so they could change clothes and run through the sprinkler; the youngest trying valiantly to protect what was his and to keep up with the “big kids.” It felt like the 1950s…except for the battery-operated bug-zapper gadget and the iPads.

The byline of the afternoon was, “It’s not poisonous.” I think as much as we come away from Sweden with “It’s a very short walk,” their lingering impression of us may be “It’s not poisonous.”

This neighborhood has only low walls–boundary markers, but not dividers. Just like the 50s, kids play in the street…and Wizard sits in the street…untroubled by Stranger Danger or traffic. The back yards are connected by paths through the woods. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

PPS Emma loved her card! She’s really into Hannah Montana, so the card was a major hit. (So Harry guessed right: it was Hannah Montana. It hadn’t even occurred to me that it might be someone in particular. I guess I need to get out more, too!)

Emma blew out the candles–10, and one to grow on!

The birthday cupcakes were a real hit, too. The chocolate frosting was a bit goopy, but hey–it’s birthday cake! We sang “Happy Birthday” in English, explained about making a wish, and she blew out her candles. She and Valentin declared the cake delicious, and Emma went back outside to play with the neighbors while Harry and I visited with Valentin and drank Swedish sparkling wine–very good! And they have 15 cupcakes to spare. That’s the way to bake: eat some and give most away! (Lavinia will get hers later: she was doing mom duty at the schools. This evening was new-parent orientation for Viktor’s first grade class next year, and also parent-teacher conference night for Emma’s school.)

Valentin assured us that when both parents work and both kids are in school, the birthday child does not lie abed waiting for an early-morning cake. It’s 10 minutes to wake them up and 20 minutes to get ready and out the door, just like any other morning.  I suppose the other scenario was in the Swedish version of Leave it to Beaver…

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We haven’t seen the Fuller Brush man…yet

Last Tuesday was a big day for doorbells and ice cream bells.

First of all, you’ll be happy to learn that Jehovah’s Witnesses visit door-to-door in Sweden, too, and employ the same methods. Two missionaries rang my bell this morning, one standing on the porch and one just off the bottom step. “Are you feeling hopeful about the way things are going in the world today?” They were very nice ladies, and we talked a few minutes about what a Quaker believes (the nearest Friends Meeting is in Stockholm, 200 km away), the name “Jehovah” in the Bible, and so on. And, of course, they invited me to Saturday morning meetings which include an English-language translator.

Glace båt

Late in the afternoon the ice cream truck made its rounds; in the mood for a treat, I grabbed my change purse and hurried outside to meet it. I soon figured out that the name on the truck, “Hemma Glace,” translates to “ice cream at home” for a reason. This ice cream truck is for the grown-ups, not for the kiddies! They sell individually-wrapped ice cream treats by the box. So I emptied my wallet and bought a box of 10 glace båtar (ice cream boats) for the freezer…9 of them made it that far, anyway. A glace båt is a boat-shaped ice cream cone filled with vanilla and strawberry ice cream, with a chocolate coating on top.

I hadn’t even gotten to share my guilty pleasure with Harry yet when, as we were cooking dinner, the doorbell rang again. A tall, smiling blond man greeted me with his prepared speech, of which I captured a few words including “fisk”  (fish). I explained that I spoke only a little Swedish; could he speak more slowly? He took a deep breath. “O…K….I’m…selling…fish…that…has…been…caught…in…Norway…” I grinned. “It’s OK. I speak English plenty fast. It’s Swedish I’m having trouble with!” He already knew from Leif, across the street, that we would be here only until the end of June. Their business is based in Jönköping, and they come to our neighborhood every 3 months. People all up and down the street were buying fish from their truck. They sell a wide variety of species, including the biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen, heavy with eggs, even! Due to limited freezer space, I had to limit myself to two choices–cod steaks and monkfish filets–since the smallest purchase option is 2.5 kg. It’s a good thing they took plastic, since the ice cream man got all but 4 kronor of my cash. So we have 6 weeks to go through 11 pounds of fish! I guess we’ll be eating seafood twice a week…or serving it to company…

Who will ring our doorbell next? It’s spring, and everybody’s out!


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A Visit from Harry’s Family

A couple of weeks after Julie returned to Lexington, Harry’s family visited from Maryland. Since we would need a full-size car while they were here, the clerk at Statoil recommended another service station because it has several larger cars to rent. Although the Statoil stations are all part of the same system, they don’t move cars among themselves; each has its own fleet. Getting to that Statoil turned out to be a bit of a project: a 30-minute walk to a bus stop, then about a 15-minute bus ride, followed by another 10-minute walk! Ah, but in Sweden perhaps even that was “a very short walk.” Fortunately I had left the house in plenty of time, and I arrived at Linköping’s 3-gate airport just in time to see their plane from Copenhagen taxi to a stop and the 3 of them climb out.

Puddle jumper from Copenhagen to Linköping

That plane was even smaller than the 50-seaters in Lexington! I’m guessing 20 seats.

We weren’t sure how the visit would go. Swedish decorating uses a lot of woven throw rugs on hardwood floors; we pulled up every one to minimize fall hazards. Wizard seemed lost without his rugs! We couldn’t eliminate the ubiquitous doorsills, some almost an inch high. Would Dad hit one with his cane and fall? All of us watched him like a hawk, and reminded him often, and he made a point of stepping over them. Whew! One hazard dodged!

On Saturday, Harry’s 2nd cousin, Peter Wibert, and his father, Jan (pron. ‘yawn’) visited from the Stockholm area. We were amazed to learn that Peter knew Harry’s co-worker Per from their college days at Linköping University! He and Per’s future wife, Åsa, were in the economics program together, and Peter even went to their wedding. Small, small world. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Peter and Jan and look forward to seeing them again when we’re in Stockholm for a Fulbright dinner and some sightseeing the weekend of 5/25. We’ll get to meet Peter’s wife Elizabeth and their toddler daughter Alexandra then, too.

With a whole week to work with, everybody got an individualized introduction to Sweden. Sharon and I had a full day of shopping with whimsy and human interaction mixed in. In Gamla Linköping, we lingered over a late lunch in a cafe and spent time in a delightful little gift shop I’d just discovered the week before, chatting with the owner, a young Chinese woman from New Zealand who came here 3 years ago to be closer to her fiance. It turns out that in addition to New Zealand, Beijing, and Linköping, she’s also lived in Raleigh, NC, working for IBM in Durham.  Small world again!! And, of course, no guest of mine yet has missed Kanevad, the fabulous wood-artist’s workshop in Gamla Linköping. Sharon liked her visit, but Kim was totally entranced there! He chose a pair of tongs with a striking woodgrain at the beginning of his visit, but when his absentminded squeezing eventually broke them, the owner apologized for poor design, broke them more thoroughly, and tossed them in the trash, then insisted on replacing them for free. (Note that Kim had not yet bought the first pair, and had offered to buy both the broken one and the replacement!)

Both Kim and Sharon wandered in the pedestrian malls downtown. Sharon and I shopped till we dropped on our day; Kim took a shorter, more errand-focused trip, but declared the grilled hotdog he got from a pushcart vendor the best he’d eaten in years. The whole family went back to the pedestrian mall on Saturday for a restaurant lunch with Peter and Jan.

Restaurant Lunch with Peter and Jan

On Tuesday Harry stayed home from work to visit with his dad; Kim, Sharon, and I left a bit earlier than usual for our BIG day-trip: the Kingdom of Crystal! Although it was an exhausting, 13-hour outing, we did ourselves proud. We stopped for lunch on the way at an unassuming, local pizzeria. (Here’s another cultural difference: at each such cafe I’ve been in over here, lunch includes a salad, which is just a medium-sized mixing bowl of non-descript shredded cabbage set out on a table near the serving counter. Usually I’ve shied away from it, but this time Kim took the first bite. I was pleasantly surprised!) We arrived at Målerås, the last store of the day, just 10 minutes before closing time, and when we walked inside our jaws dropped. It was a wonderland of unusual and creative designs! You’d think we’d just won a sweepstakes that lets you buy all you can in 30 minutes. We rushed from one discovery to the next, amassing a growing stash of purchases. Whenever we apologized, the shopkeeper laughed. She must have been working on commission.

Dad’s turn came on Wednesday. Sharon and I took him to Jönköping, a little over an hour south, for lunch overlooking Lake Vattern, the 2nd largest lake in Sweden. Unfortunately, it was a bleak day so he couldn’t appreciate the view of the beautiful lake that Kim, Sharon, and I had admired from the car the day before. Harry’s mother’s family came to the US from Jönköping before she was born, settling in the tiny community of Colfax in southeastern Washington state. (When asked why they didn’t settle in Minnesota like the other Swedes, her father said, “If I had wanted to live with Swedes, why would I have left Sweden?”) Harry’s mom was the youngest of three girls; her mother died when she was little, and her father took his daughters back to Jönköping to stay with friends and family until he could find another wife. While we had neither the information nor the energy to find where she had lived, the return for lunch established an emotional connection with the place where Dad’s late wife had lived, however briefly, as a child.

As the last of the visits in the middle phase of our Adventure drew to a close, it occurred to me that we have grown comfortable here. We still discover new ways that even the simplest things are different from the United States, but we were truly able to host our guests: not only did we take them to see the sights we’d discovered, but we could also point out those things that set Sweden apart from our home country. We both appreciate and understand the differences, in a deeper way than even the best vacation travel can afford. That may be the biggest gain of all!


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Första Maj

They were putting up risers in a parking lot near the cathedral when I rode my bike into town late Monday morning, April 30. When I came back a couple of hours later I biked past an a capella choral concert on that spot. A seriously dressed-down band waited their turn “Stage Left.” I parked and listened for just a moment, but I had to get back to my computer to return a phone call from the States. Durn!!

From here till the end of June it’s one holiday after another! Spring is in the air. After getting through a 6-month winter, Swedes are in the mood to celebrate, and they do it often. When a holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, the lone day next to the weekend is treated as a virtual holiday, and hardly anyone goes to work. Not only that, but workplaces shut down starting at noon the day before a holiday.

Fittingly, the first such holiday is Första Maj (the 1st of May), which starts during the day on April 30 and celebrates the coming of spring and the end (or approaching end) of classes. The university becomes one big bacchanalian fest. Most communities have a bonfire, which traditionally served to drive the evil spirits away from the summer crops. I imagined that our neighborhood would have one on their fotboll field, and that perhaps I could take last year’s dead growth from the gardens to add to the pyre. Rosaura chuckled. “It’s not that kind of bonfire,” she said. Valentin explained that nowadays, Linköping’s only bonfire is on a barge in the middle of the canal downtown. I guess that’s safe enough for anybody! But how can you get the feeling of fiery heat on your face and a chill on your backside from a safe remove?

Valentin told us about a big motorcycle caravan–2000 or so–that leaves downtown Linköping sometime 4/30 every year and travels to some spot an hour or so away. He said that even people who aren’t into motorcycles come out to watch the parade. We missed the bonfire, but we saw the whole parade! We rode our bikes back into town late Monday afternoon, and parked when we started seeing people setting up lawnchairs in the easement. We waited about 40 minutes, while more and more people gathered to watch. Several drove antique vehicles (called “veteran cars” here). Everybody was in a festive mood. Finally, here came the motorcycles, led by a police escort. Every kind of motorcycle imaginable! Antiques, side-cars, cruising bikes; souped-up, toned-down; tough guys, family guys; staring straight ahead, waving at the crowd. All of it quiet, at a tame pace, with virtually no gas fumes! The motorcycles took 15 minutes to pass our viewing point. Not quite the procession for Holy Week in Seville, but definitely impressive in its own right!

When the motorcycles had passed we rode farther into town to see if there were other festivities, but turned back before getting to the canal. We did hear fireworks at dark; but after a few booms, when we went to the window to watch, the show was over! I guess instead of an exclamation point it was more of a period at the end of a big day.

Our next holiday will be Ascension Day, Thursday, 5/17. Again, since it comes on a Thursday the next day will be pretty much of a holiday too. Then comes National Day, on Wednesday, 6/6. And then the biggie–Midsummer’s Eve, on Saturday, 6/23. Of course, true to Swedish tradition, the celebration–and time off from work–starts on Friday. Cheers, everybody! Or rather, Skoal!


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On Saturday the Planner Went Crazy…

Site under construction (see Alhambra post). We had to choose our final outing, so Julie and I went separate ways.

Barbary apes are cheeky.

She toured the Rock of Gibraltar, and spent time with the Barbary apes (macaque monkeys). Although Julie is not in this picture, she, too, was perched on by an ape. And when she got back to Corinthian II she hit the showers!

Casares, a Spanish puebla blanca

I crossed back into Spain to tour Casares, a picturesque mountainside white village. After a perfunctory tour we were turned loose for about 45 minutes, since it’s impossible to get lost in such a tiny village. I did a pretty good job, however! I lingered at the church taking pictures of the village below, then took another road back down the hill. The road got smaller, then became a path, then meandered through a couple of back yards. I saw the German shepherd before he saw me. Man, was he massive! And he made it clear I was not welcome in his back yard. ‘That’s OK, I didn’t want to go there anyway. Watch me ignore you…(thank goodness for the locked gate between you and me!)’ After I’d pored over the little map of the tiny village for a few minutes, I located the tour bus and boarded 20 minutes early. I wasn’t sure I had time to explore something else and find myself again.

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