Saturday, 19 March 2016

välkommen till sverige!

Taking a one-post hiatus from my normal blogging routine of waxing lyrical about the sunrise and mooning over Keats, I thought I'd give you a lowdown on how to survive in Sweden. 

- Have a go at the language. Generally Swedes speak great english, but it is nice to hear someone having a go (or a good laugh - I look back to my apalling pronounciation when I first arrived in shame, but I'm sure it brightened up the cashier's day at least). Best to have a little practice beforehand, though, all those ö's, ä's and å's take a bit getting used to.

- Never do the swedish chef impression in front of Swedes. Ever.

- Know how to dress like a Swede. Sweden is a country of ridiculously good-looking and well-dressed people. Appropriate attire includes slim-fit anything, paired with trainers, because if you're not cycling somewhere, you're walking. Wear white in the summer, and black every other season of the year. And if you're not in to looking smart 100% of the time, invest in some fitness gear. Fitness is celebrated in Sweden, and practically everyone runs or goes to a gym.

- Need a haircut? No problem, because there are literally a minimum of 2 hair salons on every street. I'm not joking, and I don't understand this at all.

- Get naked. Saunas are installed in most changing rooms of swimming pools, and swimming costumes are generally not allowed. Changing rooms are communal, as are the showers, and it's totally normal to strip off. I also love it as it exposes kids and teenagers to normal body sizes and shapes in a non-sexualised way. All along the coast, there are "bath houses" open throughout the year where you can go to sauna, and then take a plunge in the sea.

- Take your shoes off. When entering someone's house, it is expected that you remove your shoes. Even in schools, children leave their shoes by their pegs.

- Buy your booze early. You can only buy alcohol from Systembolaget, a state-run store. They close around 6pm on weekdays, at 3pm on Saturdays, and are shut on Sundays. Going out will cost you a fortune (prices for a beer start at around £6.50). And note that alcohol is measured in centilitres here, so don't bother asking for a pint.

- If you eat out, have lunch. It's super expensive to go for dinner, so going for lunch or fika (see below) is much cheaper.

- Get on yer bike. No, seriously. Sweden is a country of cycling, with dedicated cycle routes throughout the country, and free bike pump stations to top up your tyres. Cities are much smaller than in the UK, so cycling is often the quickest way to get around.

Four strange Swedish phenomena:

- fika. If there is one word you need to know in swedish, it is 'fika'. Take your pick from kanelbullar (cinnamon buns), kladdkaka (a rich chocolate cake served with cream), or seasonal treats like semlor (a cardammom bun with cream and marzipan in, available up to easter) or lusselbullar (christmas saffron bun usually shaped in an "S"). Coffee is drunk black, and is as strong as petrol. It's usually available as "vanlig kaffe" on a refillable station, so you can have as much as you want.

- fredagsmys (friday coziness). "mysig" is a swedish term, a little similar to the danish term "hygge", which means something along the lines of cozy, although it can't be directly translated to an english word. It can be anything from sitting down to a film with some dill crisps, to having a glass of wine or three, or relaxing to your favourite music. In the darkness of winter this usually involves candles, and in the summer, being outside by your summer house.

- smörgåstårta. This literally means "sandwich cake" and is something of a building project, using white bread as the bricks and a healthy mix of mayonnaise and cream as cement. Incredibly filling.

- spotta groda. A particularly disgusting/fun party tradition (depending on how childish you are) in which grown-ups and children alike take turns in seeing how far they can spit a green frog sweet.

And finally, some useful phrases:

Hej!/Hej då ("hey"/ "hey door") - hi/bye

En kaffe och en kanelbulle, tack. ("en kaff-eh ock en kan-ell-buller, tack") - a coffee and a cinnamon bun, please.

Ska vi fika? ("scar vee feeka?") - Shall we have coffee? I'm getting withdrawal symptoms.

Skål! ("skorl!" - sort of.) - cheers!

Såg du melodifestivalen igår kväll? ("sorg doo melodee-festivarlen ee-gore kvell") - Did you watch Melodifestivalen last night?
(Melodifestivalen is a month-long contest to pick a finalist for Sweden in the Eurovision contest. It's so popular that even other countries join in and vote.)

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

"a dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware..."

"I am nervous, I own, and may think myself worse than I really am... I look back upon... the ecstasies in which I have passed some days and the miseries in their turn, I wonder the more at the Beauty which has kept up the spell so fervently... Now I have had opportunities of passing nights anxious and awake I have found other thoughts intrude upon me. "If I should die," said I to myself, "I have left no immortal work behind me - nothing to make my friends proud of my memory - but I have loved the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remembered."" 
- Keats to Fanny Brawne

The past week has been one of extreme highs and lows; spending some days curled up on the sofa, others dancing around the apartment to my newest favourite song, exploring Malmö with a dear friend, crying myself home along the dark swedish lanes, listening with wonder to the sweet birdsong in the early mornings.

 - journal entry, wednesday 9 march -
I could see a sliver of a peach-tinged sky from the gaps in the blinds this morning. The cycle to work filled me with pleasure - the sun finally breaking over parts of the hilly landscape in Sankt Hans and casting long rays over the grass; turning the silver carpet of frost to a warm gold. Waking up has been so hard of late, but the cycle almost always makes up for it.

snow in sankt hans on sunday afternoon.

 On saturday I celebrated my birthday, and had the privilege to share it with Anna by exploring Malmö, eating at Misoteket, talking about my already-arranged marriage (??), and being gifted with an beautiful handcrafted pot. I also received some beautiful cards and presents, amongst them a notepad from Eva, Nicklas, and Linus, and a whole package of things from my sister, including an exquisite little handpainted plate.

The notepad is now my new journal. With such a beautiful thing I have decided to make a wholehearted effort to work hard on this journal; rather than using up the pages documenting my existential crisis over not being an adequate writer/journaller (usually about 60% of the contents of my journals) I have decided it is time to give this one a Purpose - "to record more fully, eloquently, with purpose, and at length'. Spending so much of my degree studying Victorian literature, with its intricately detailed diary entries (whether fictional, or real) of near-transcripts of conversations and exciting daily events has somewhat spoilt me. How hard it is to recreate that, and not just scribble down the first mundane thoughts that pops into one's head and a brief overview of the day (or increasingly, week)... something that I almost unerringly end up doing. Wish me luck.

 I am so thankful for all of the people who have kept me in their minds. The song I've been dancing to this week is Ghengis Khan by Miike Snow. The video is great in every way, from the editing to the story to the dance moves (...especially the dance moves).

"You are after all 'a dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, / Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam / A body of England's... / Washed by rivers, blest by suns of home...'"
- l.g. to j.g. quoting Rupert Brooke

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

spotlight: 'greener world' and 'genius loci'

The weather here in Lund is, as usually, unceasingly miserable. The rain somehow seems to hang suspended in the air, clinging to your hair, skin, clothes. Wearing all of your waterproofs at once is not only a glamorous look, but the only way to go out, if you must go out at all. To fend off the oncoming cabin fever of another day in the apartment, I thought I'd share the music and art that has enchanted me of late.


'Greener World' is the first track from Gwilym Gold's newly-released album A Paradise and is best listened to through headphones. If my week was made into an unnervingly pretentious short film, it would feature this playing in the background as I stare at the buds blooming on the trees and bushes on my daily commute in the gathering light. Gold's voice is just divine... this song is divine. Needless to say it's been on loop all week.


Sweden, Gotland. Collage print.

'Genius Loci' adorns the walls of one of my favourite cafes in Lund, Coffee Break. These pieces are the work of Russian-born artist Anastasia Savinova, who now lives and works in Umeå, Sweden. At a first glance, I thought these were painted works, but upon a closer look, they are in fact intricate architectural photo collages. Each piece is based off a city or country, ranging from Sweden to Russia, France to Israel. In her artist's statement, she writes,
"While architecture and landscape are visual components of the integral image of the Place, at the same time, this image is inseparably linked with a mentality and a way of life. It is saturated with “an incorporeal something”. Ancient romans called it “genius loci” – the protective spirit of a place. In contemporary usage, “genius loci” refers to a location’s distinctive atmosphere. A Big house on each collage is composed of many buildings, which are typical for a particular country or city, in their connection with the land and the spirit of the Place."

Belgium. Collage print
Skåne. Collage print

Sweden. Collage print.

This week I've started a new sketchbook/collage book, and a book for researching artists; celebrated St David's Day; played more Beyblades (or "bley bleys", as Linus calls them) than I think I've ever done in my life; and made some anniversary presents for my parents. And I've finally reached Harry Potter och dödsrelikerna (The Deathly Hallows) in my swedish reading challenge...

My leaving quote is, in a nod to my reading challenge, a quote from Professor Dumbledore's notes to 'The Warlock's Hairy Heart' from The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

"This... speaks to the dark depths in all of us. It addresses one of the greatest, and least acknowledged, temptations of magic: the quest for invulnerability... No man or woman alive, magical or not, has ever escaped some form of injury, whether physical, mental or emotion. To hurt is as human as to breathe.