Journal of Travels and Teaching in SWEDEN (May 2002)
+ Travel / Fieldwork in SOUTHWESTERN FRANCE (June 2002) -- go to this section
+ Teaching/Travel in Sweden (2nd Stint -- July-August 2003) -- go to this section
Note: Most of this was originally written in emails home to family and friends.
I have made it to Sweden without problem. I left May 1st on Air France, which was on time, comfortable and had good movies (I watched the French film Eight Women). I had a tight connection in Paris but made it and got to Copenhagen at 9:30 am. It's a nice airport and I could tell it was a more socialized country because the little carts that you use to wheel your luggage around were all free and abundant, thankfully. The toilets (first thing I used off the plane) reminded me of elsewhere in Europe. They have a "half flush" and a "full flush" option (to conserve water unless you really need it). So far, absolutely no one has checked my passport at all. Well, I guess I did go through a passport control in France -- but I guess flying within Europe requires no further check. I was very concerned about making my tight connection at Charles de Gaulle -- only 45 minutes layover to go through customs AND go through security again. But somehow I made it. Then I hopped on a train right at the airport that ran from Copenhagen to Lund – it was fast and direct, so I was here by 11 am. I called Cecilia (who had been my contact here), and she came and met me at the train station and took me (via taxi) to the university guest house where I am staying.
The guest house is posh – a huge mansion in the university mansion district, just a couple minutes walk from the English department, which is next to the library. It's a very beautiful campus, with red brick and limestone buildings, lots of trees and nice architecture. The guest house was just refurbished and has a very nice, large kitchen that all the residents share, a huge living room with sofas and a grand piano, a TV (no cable and all the channels were in Swedish when I was watching), and oriental carpets. There's also a dining room and a patio for common use and a laundry room downstairs. It's a very luxurious and beautiful place, much nicer than I was imagining (which was basically a type of dorm).
There are 8 rooms for residents plus one complete apartment. My room is I think the smallest and cheapest one, but it's fine. I think it’s cheapest because I have to use a bathroom in the hall (all the others have bathrooms built into their rooms). My room has two small beds, a desk, an easy chair, a table, and lots of little closets. Everything is furnished there with Ikea. It's nice – clean and modern. There is a kind of semi-circular window in my room (# 4) and a little alcove where the desk sits. There are also steps up to get to the door, and then more steps down to get to into the room.
Cecilia and I walked around the town for a couple of hours right after we dropped off my stuff at the guess house. This was when she had scheduled time to show me around -- where the banks, grocery store, etc. are. I was sleep deprived, jet lagged and cold (though it was about 60 degrees out). So I'm not completely clear on where everything is, but it seems like a very lovely town, with lots of cobblestone streets, medieval buildings and churches, and a daily market. It seems like a typical European town in some ways, maybe a little nicer than most. It was a gorgeous sunny spring day, with tulips and daffodils blooming. I also had my first meeting with Lennart (department head this year) yesterday. He and Cecilia have both been great. I have a lot of work to do, over 40 students so far (in two classes). Plus I'll be giving lectures for another class.
I met a few of the other housemates, who seemed anxious to talk. But I couldn't keep my eyes open by about 8 pm. I ate some of the food I'd bought while at the store with Cecilia that morning, and then tried to sleep for 12 hours last night. I had to teach my first class right away today (the 2nd day here). But in fact I only managed to sleep from 8:30 pm until 5 am (which I guess isn't too bad). Today I feel jet-lagged and sort of out of it, but much more functional than yesterday. Luckily so, since I taught my first class this morning. The students seemed pretty good, but mostly I lectured because I figured that they wouldn't have read anything in advance.
So far the "everyone speaks English there" maxim is true, though obviously some speak it better than others. But I feel bad not knowing any Swedish at all. It's not easy to pick up either (at least not so far). Well, "Tack" is thank you, so that is easy. After traveling in France where I am always so happy I can speak the language, read the menus and signs and everything, it feels much more alien here, where I can't, for instance, even read the instructions on the Xerox machine to figure out how to run it. But I suppose I will pick up some of it as time goes on. It's all still brand new.
Everyone in the department has been quite friendly. They've provided me with some office space including a desk and a computer (another visiting lecturer shares the office). So thankfully I have free internet access.
That's about all I can think of to report for now. Please forgive my errors and sloppy language. I am really weary and out of it.
Everyone at the guest house has been pretty nice; they're mostly all researchers from Europe—ranging from about 30 to 70 years old, all PhDs except one advanced grad student in bio-chemistry. I'm the only American and the only one teaching. Some people are staying for a month (like me), others for 6 months or a year. I have seen a little more of Lund, but my schedule hasn't allowed for much touring yet. I taught two more classes today and have meetings with my writing students tomorrow. The Native American lit class seems to be going quite well so far. The students say they're enjoying it and have good comments and questions. It's a lot of work and will be a lot of grading (probably 60 essays the last week).
Thursday is a national holiday (feast of the assumption I think – even though no one really practices any religion, they have clung to traditional religious holidays), so classes will be suspended for a long weekend, when I hope to do some sightseeing.
Some things I have noticed about Sweden:
All the doors have latches that require a key to open them (at least from one side)—even within the university buildings you cannot just push the door to get from one part of the hallway to another, but must turn a handle (I notice this because when carrying heavy trays of slides or armloads of books it's harder to get from office to classroom here).
Yogurt comes in cartons like our milk (liter size) and you pour it out.
Potatoes are the cheapest vegetable in the grocery store (but not sweet potatoes). In general the produce is not so great but about like it is in most U.S. grocery stores. What's cheapest and most abundant seems to be cheese, butter, milk & bread.
The cost of living is not so different from what it is in the US, although with the dollar falling in value, that might seem different to me in a week. People from elsewhere in Europe find it much more expensive than at home.
Almost all Swedes seem very healthy and thin. The British man at the house was joking about this last night. "They must eat no more than one bite of cake per year," he said, "and then hurry to the gym to work out." I guess there really is a protestant work ethic here. Everyone seems to stay in the office all day long here in the English dept.
I have not yet heard anyone speak English with an accent anything like the stereotype of Swedish immigrants in the Upper Midwest. Most Swedes learn English with a British accent pretty successfully.
The classroom and office set up is not very different from the states. Similar resources, decor, even personalities.
Bike riding is EXTREMELY popular. There are cars, but more or as many bikes as cars on the road. When crossing the street you have to watch out for bikes. Huge parking lots (with bikes racks) for bikes exist all over town—there must have been at least 1000 bikes parked outside the train station when I walked by there on Saturday afternoon.
The public library is used even more than the one in Bloomington and is about the same size (which is to say it is huge and used A LOT by all kinds of people). And they have automatic book check out machines there. You put in your card like in an ATM and then your book goes in a slot that draws it in, processes it and spits it out ready to go, with your card and receipt.
I'm happy to be here. It's spring, so forsythias, lilacs, and flowering trees are in bloom. Wrens and Rooks are hatching and noisy in the trees on campus, and it's been rainy and cool most days. Most evenings they play American movies on TV (in English). One night we (those of us living in the guesthouse – so far the others are all men though I think there is supposed to be a Danish woman) watched The Ninth Gate and last night the first (original) Star Wars played. They have Swedish subtitles but the voices are in the original language.
I missed Saturday's morning's big market in the main square last week because I came to the university to watch a dissertation defense in the English dept (it was all in English). Defenses here are public, anyone can (and apparently does) come – for this one a big lecture hall was packed. It also differs from ours in that one person (not from the committee) is chosen as the "opponent" to ask all the questions, which were in fact pretty critical and challenging. Later the committee (without the opponent) decides whether the person passed. This dissertation was on "it-clefts" and "wh-clefts" in English (with some comparison to those in Swedish) and the opponent was some famous American linguistics professor (sorry I forgot her name). Although linguistics is not my area, it was quite interesting to watch the process. Afterwards there was a champagne celebration and ceremony, also very public.
Sverige is the name of Sweden in Swedish (I think it's pronounced like "very" only with an s in front of that and then a "hey" at end). An s at the end of the word makes it an adjective I think. I'm not making very much headway in learning Swedish, but then most of my attention goes into teaching (in English), so learning Swedish is not a priority.
Tomorrow we are discussing Erdrich's Love Medicine, which I've been re-reading this past weekend. In teaching and spending time here, though, I am learning about Sweden, from my students and colleagues and through observation.
There has been a long holiday this weekend (for ascension). There remain a remarkable number of religious holidays and celebrations considering most people profess no faith. Yesterday (Saturday) morning I went to the cathedral for the once a week free organ concert. The cathedral is the oldest in Northern Europe (from the 13th century I think) and is interesting because it has a blend of Roman arches and a more gothic vaulted ceiling. The church was packed with all kinds of people for the concert. The organist performed works by Bach and Lindgren for about 45 minutes. All through it everyone sat stiffly upright (really with the straight-backed wooden chairs or pews – they have both – you couldn't slouch) and attentively faced forward, toward the rather magnificent altar (where nothing was happening – the organ was in the usual place above and behind us). I noticed very little fidgeting or coughing, much like a church service. Afterwards everyone applauded and then filed out. I think it's interesting that they have found a way to still go to church, enjoy the architectural splendor and the somber, meditative mood, without actually practicing any religion. I am sure the church is more crowded for these Saturday concerts than for Sunday religious services.
It was a glorious spring day, in the 60's to 70's I think, sunny and mild, with flowers blooming and trees and grass greening. I'm happy to experience a second spring, especially one with lilacs (which don't grow in Georgia). There are huge lilac trees all over Lund. I walked around the town for several hours. The market here is much smaller than what I expected because my expectations are based on France, where you can find anything at weekly or daily open-air markets. Here there were a few vendors of clothes and second-hand goods, cd's, dishes, shoes, but not much. And not even that many fruit and vegetable vendors. And many of those had mostly imported stuff (not surprising with the climate here I know) quite similar to what you find in the grocery store (although actually in the grocer you can find a lot of organic stuff here and I don't think that was true at the market – though since I couldn't read their signs in Swedish I can't say for sure).
The sun seems to set around 9 or 9:30 pm now, but later by at least 5 minutes a day. And I think it gets light very early (3:30 am). One day I woke up at 5 am and it had been light for quite a while. But in spite of how far north this place is the climate in southern Sweden is much milder than you probably imagine. The winters are gray and cold, but more rainy than snowy, or so everyone reports. I think this is definitely the best time of year to be here.
Last Wednesday I took a day trip to Helsinborg, up on the coast, because I had to teach an evening class there. It was also a beautiful, sunny day, and I went early to see the sights. There is a castle tower and some other remains near a pretty town square. I climbed the tower and had a good view across the water to Denmark. Helsinborg is directly across from Elsinore, where Hamlet is set, and there is a ferry you can take there. I would like to do that one day. Apparently the castle at Elsinore is on a lovely island. I also visited in Helsinborg a cultural center (with art and local history exhibits) and sat on the beach for a while. Some young men were actually swimming, though not for long since the water had to be freezing.
The students at Helsinborg were great, older and more educated (many already had masters degrees) than those I have in Lund. We discussed Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and they had astute comments, questions and comparisons to Swedish culture.
Swedes are very orderly in general. One student in this class said there is a joke that Swedes would stand in line for a revolution. Apparently, the students said (comparing Sweden to the Alexie we’d read), alcoholism is hidden here and alcohol itself used to not be purchasable in stores (I've heard stories of seeing Swedes travel to Copenhagen to cart back huge dolly loads of cases of liquor onto the ferry from Copenhagen for personal use). Now alcohol is available (except for 3.5% alcohol content) only at state run stores (of which there are two in Lund). These stores do a good business at restricted hours of operation. There are pubs and nightclubs and I gather when Swedes go there, they often indulge heartily. But honestly this is mostly hearsay from other residents in the guesthouse.
I continue to enjoy the living situation. It's kind of like dorm-life only with more personal space and somewhat more mature, respectful people. There is a huge carnival (festival) coming to town next weekend. They've been setting up tents all week. It's a once-in-four-year event that people come from all over for, so it must be quite something. I think it involves floats and parades like Mardi Gras but also circuses and world-fair type international exhibits and tents. I'll keep you informed.
It probably is in fact greener than it is here in Georgia (which is a state dense with greenery for those of you who have never been), but nonetheless the spring here makes the green seem especially intense and welcome. The days are cool, often rainy and usually windy. But spring is in the air. After the rain yesterday you could smell the lilacs from a distance. You might be getting the idea from how many times I mentioned them that lilacs are my favorite flower and you can't imagine how many are planted around town here. Huge trees of white, dark purple and lilac colored lilacs are everywhere, all over town. There are many other kinds of flowers too. Yesterday on a walking tour we came across a building whose entire several story very large facade was entirely covered with lilac colored flowers – not sure what they are. They grew on it like ivy would, and they were all in bloom. This violet and green facade faced a magnificent square within the university complex including a fountain and another palatial, white building that I think is an administration building for the university.
My friend Hedy from Georgia College is visiting this week, so it's spurred me/us to go out and do the touristy things in town. Yesterday we went to the cathedral, which was built starting in the 11th century. The oldest remaining part (as in most churches) is the crypt, where in this case there are many pillars with interesting decorations carved into them (usually just geometrical designs spinning around them). On one near the well in the crypt (seems like many churches were built over wells that may have been sacred sites possibly long before Christianity came to Europe) there is a carved in "giant" hugging the pillar. A number of legends have sprung up to explain him. The most popular is that he represents the giant Finn (for whom the street I live on is also named – Finngaten), who made a bargain with the cathedral builders to help them finish their contract on time (giving his enormous strength for the building project). He bargained that if they couldn't guess his name by the end of the project they would have to give him the sun and moon. On the last day the builder did in fact guess that his name was Finn, but Finn was so enraged he grasped the pillar to shake down (destroy) the cathedral. But the sun came up and once its rays hit him (in the process of grasping the pillar) it turned him into stone – and so he is immortalized.
This legend is probably only a couple hundred years old (I later learned), but the pillar is much older. Other interpretations read him as a biblical figure – perhaps Samson. As he has sort of hollowed out eyes and long, lush hair and beard, this seems logical to me.
There is interestingly enough another pillar on the other side of the entrance with another human figure carved on it as though the person is clasping the pillar. This figure is crouched down and holding a baby, apparently with ropes tying the figure(s) to the pillar. Some claim this is the wife and child of Finn. But it looks more like a male figure (and most believe it is a man).
We also went yesterday to the open air culture museum, a little bit like Greenfield Village (for those of you from Michigan) or Connor Prairie (for those of you from Indiana). But it is within the city. The main building has archaeological finds from the region, including rune stones as much as 1000 years old, with interesting scenes depicted on them (one had a woman fighting a dragon-like figure). Most of the inscriptions are translated into English (and Swedish) and suggest that these mostly memorialized dead loved ones (like tombstones). Then there is a large fenced-in area behind this exhibit hall with many historical buildings gathered and reassembled here from all over Skania (this Southern part of Sweden)—including farm houses, workshops, churches, etc. Typically those from the 18th century were constructed somewhat like log cabins with sod roofs. They also had a lovely pond, with tulips and yes, lilacs trees blooming around it in the center of this fabricated "town."
The festival I mentioned last week starts tomorrow. It is apparently an entirely student run affair. They have been setting up in Sandagard (the main university quad near the cathedral) for over a week. They have all kinds of acts planned, mostly musical and theatrical "reviews," but also circuses, radio broadcasts, and probably lots of spontaneous acts as well (we’ve heard). The last two nights Hedy and I have gone to movies and walked home through this quarter around midnight, when it was completely alive and buzzing with music and activity. One of the other teachers here who also went to school here told me they usually sleep in their tents all week to guard stuff and for fellowship. But it's gotten pretty cold the last few nights. Lots of beer and loud music seem to console them. It's amazing to me how much energy they put into this, erecting huge structures, tents, towers, signs, wiring things up, etc, not to mention planning and performing quite elaborate acts, making floats, etc. I read in a guide book that it takes the lawn where they do this (every four years) at least 3 full years to recover.
The school year ends at the end of May, so for many students this is a kind of poignant moment I guess. Since there are 30,000 students here, the whole town changes in the summer. As far as my teaching goes, the students are pretty good—they all actually read the assignments and have intelligent questions about them. Though I also have students who are full of excuses about why they miss things or don't turn in assignments (just like at home). Perhaps the most original excuse I have ever heard came from a woman who said her dog is paralyzed, so she can't leave the house. That it could be true made me sympathetic, but then the administrators told me she always misses a lot of classes and has many excuses.
I'm about to start another busy week of teaching after a few days off (this time for the holiday of Pentecost).
My colleague from Georgia, Hedy, was here all week which spurred me to do some traveling outside Lund. We went to Denmark for two days. Friday we were in Copenhagen and first walked around for several hours, seeing Tivoli (an old amusement part), the city hall, the most famous shopping street (the Stroget), the most famous canal street (Nyhavn), the parliament and national theatre, several impressive squares and many lovely buildings, including the palace where Danish royalty lives and a large domed church nearby. Then we visited a few museums. I really loved the Glyptotek, which has beautiful, grand architecture, including a dome under which grow many huge potted plants and trees around a fountain. Many interesting spaces in this museum are filled with great art, including 19th century French and Danish work and ancient Roman, Etruscan, Greek, and Egyptian art. We also saw the National museum, which had a wonderful exhibit of the "earth's children" – stuff from around the world. There was also a cool exhibit of paintings of Brazilian life in the 1600's focusing on Native American life then. Displayed with the paintings were some artifacts shown in the paintings, including feather head-dresses, war clubs, spear throwers, and more. The head-dresses and capes of feathers were especially interesting to me because I have read about but never seen examples of these before. This museum also had a big collection of Viking stuff, but I only had time to run through this and see a few rune stones from 1000 years ago before it closed.
Once the museums closed we went to see the little mermaid statue in the harbor. It was fairly small and the other side of the harbor is full of factories and ugly buildings, but there is a nice park on the side where the statue sits to serve as a backdrop for pictures by dozens of tourists per hour. From there we walked through the nearby Castellet (old army barracks buildings surrounded by a moat) to another nearby park with a great church, though it was closed, so we only saw the outside. Then we caught a bus back to the train station. It was an incredibly full day. We ate lunch at a restaurant on the Stroget. Really you need more time to see that much of a city, so impressions are kind of whirling around in my brain, and I feel I ought to go back again (it's only an hour away by train which costs about 20 dollars round trip).
The following day (Saturday) was a gloriously beautiful day, sunny and about 70 degrees with one of the deepest blue skies I ever remember seeing anywhere. We went to Elsinore (where Hamlet was set) first, by ferry from Helsingborg, Sweden. The ferry ride over was windy and cold but enjoyable. There were lots of ships and sailboats out on the Sound. The ferry was full of Swedes who in fact mostly had dollies full of cases to carry alcohol back from Denmark. So that proves to be an ongoing phenomenon (as students and housemates had told me). At least half of the many hundreds of passengers on the ferry had these dollies, or suitcases on wheels, or other means of bringing back large quantities of liquor. And there is no doubt that's what they were using them for because they were all filled with the empty bottles and cases to be exchanged for full ones.
Elsinore (Helsingor in Danish) is a lovely little town. The "castle" is really an old customs fort for ship traffic in and out of the sound (the Oresund Sound is the body of water we're closest to and Elsinore sits at the narrowest entryway into or out of it). After walking around the castle grounds and courtyard I went into the town and explored there (Hedy stayed to tour more rooms inside the castle). I visited a few lovely churches -- the Danish style is a bit different from the Swedish -- for one thing they have a decorative front facade with a kind of stair step pattern built into it near the top. Houses in town and the inside of the churches were all painted, so there are many very colorful streets and interiors.
Inside, the church ceiling and some walls were painted with geometric designs and scenes of angels and daily and religious life. Houses were painted all colors outside, yellow, red, green, blue (never two of the same colors next to each other), so it makes for an eye-catching row of houses. There were also many flowers and flowering trees in bloom, under an intensely blue sky. I haven't seen much stained glass anywhere in Sweden or Denmark. The cathedral in Lund has just a few windows of stained glass near the altar, but otherwise mostly the class is fairly plain. I don't know if this is because the stained glass industry never made it up here, or because it was removed/replaced during the reformation.
While I was walking around Elsinore I stumbled upon a huge Saturday market and enjoyed wandering through that. There was a lot more for sale than in our Lund market. I bought some real "Danish" pastries to eat. Then I took the bus to Louisiana (the modern art museum in an old mansion on the sound). On the bus ride there I saw all kinds of beautiful homes on the water, thus seeing how rich Danes live. I think Karen
Blixen (a.k.a. Isaac Dinisen, author of Out of Africa and "Babette's Feast") lived somewhere along that stretch. Interestingly some of the homes had sod and thatch roofs, immaculately kept and apparently very expensive to maintain. The lawns were well landscaped and the views of the Sound were spectacular.
Louisiana (the art museum) is in one of the more secluded and luxurious of these waterside homes – really a mansion. The grounds and house are in fact part of what people go to see. Sculpture is placed throughout, somewhat blending in with the landscaping on a hill overlooking the water. There were beautiful views of the sound and a little lake on the property and you could walk around outside as well as through
the rambling museum (in modern additions added onto the mansion which is now mostly used to house the entry way and gift shops). Inside were many works of modern art, mostly by Danish artists. But they did have a great special exhibit of Georgia O'Keefe's work and life. I heard it's the biggest showing of her work ever outside the U.S. I enjoyed the whole experience there, inside and out. After walking around for several hours, I had a cup of tea at the outdoor cafe overlooking the sound for an hour or so, where I chatted with a very nice Danish couple whom I happened to share a table with.
In Denmark people also speak English very well, and in fact Danish and Swedish are closely related languages, so that Swedes and Danes can understand each other, although they are not the same language. For the most part all the exhibits had English as well as Danish captions/explanations. And usually all the signs in English have perfect grammar and spelling. But in the bathroom I read what I found to be a humorous bit of English on a sign. Posted on the back of the door facing the toilet was a sign that read "Please do not through sanitary napkins, paper towels, or other irrelevant objects into the toilet."
It was a full afternoon there. Hedy and I met back up at Louisiana and at 5 pm (when it closed) we walked back to the train station in a nearby town. I returned to Lund. Hedy, indefatigable in her touring, spent several more hours in Copenhagen. It was great to get out and explore like a tourist, but it also made me appreciate my life in Lund, which I prefer to Copenhagen or other big cities. Lund is a very lovely town, with plenty of green space, flowers, great architecture, museums, culture and history. It's also comprehensible. I can walk everywhere I need to. And I have friends, colleagues and students here now, so I can really learn something about the culture and everyday life. That is exactly the experience I hoped for and I'm very appreciative of it.
So life is good. The student carnival ended late Sunday night (really Monday morning), so loud rock concert music boomed all night. At 1:00 am fireworks displays were over. There is trash everywhere in town, and sun-burnt young people looking a bit wrung out sprawl on the lawns, steps and benches around town. I didn't see much of the festival because I was out of town and I knew most events would be in Swedish and so meaningless to me. But I did watch the parade Sunday afternoon. The floats and acts appeared all to have been done by students. They were creative and mostly aimed at being lascivious, humorous, satirical, and outrageous – like men and women dressed as big-breasted women at the playboy mansion, or a marching band that lay down on their backs to play one of their songs.
Yesterday before Hedy left for Germany, one of my housemates who's been coming here annually for many years took us on about a 3 hour (round trip) walk to a nearby village where they have a very nice little country church, interesting houses and farms. It was another beautiful (though windy) day and a good walk. We saw a village, a graveyard, a church, farms, and fields and fields of bright yellow (though smelly) rapeseed growing.
The graveyards, I've noticed, often have little, well-kept hedges that separate the graves from each other. This was actually the case in the newer section. Also, around many houses hedges serve as fences. Rather than actual fences they grow these very tightly woven and neatly clipped hedges of several kinds of plants (this is the "fence" around our guesthouse as well). I felt happily tired once we were back “home.”
It's getting busier each day it seems. Last week had its ups and downs. I was a bit sick right around the 25th, but seem to have recovered quickly. They have these fizzy vitamin C & echinacea tablets from Germany that I consumed in great quantities, apparently successfully. I had a few people over to the guesthouse on Saturday to celebrate my birthday. It was a lovely afternoon.
I also had to go through Swedish bureaucracy to try to get my paycheck transferred into dollars and sent to the U.S., a fairly complicated and time consuming procedure, and one I'm not entirely confident will work. But I'm certainly hoping it does. It disturbed everyone to think that I don't actually have a Swedish bank account. Swedes are pretty orderly. But any kink introduced into the system they've built and it’s almost paralyzed (at least that is my impression after spending hours at several banks trying to work this out). Still, eventually I seem to have found someone who knew what she was doing. Though I guess that remains to be seen. Hopefully my money won't be lost in cyberspace.
Most of my time last week was devoted to meetings with students and a few with colleagues. Feelings about my work here are positive on both my side and theirs, so they've indicated they'd like me to return to teach courses here again in the future. But many details have yet to be worked out for that to happen, not the least of which is securing space in the guesthouse. Living there is a big part of what has made this experience so enjoyable, but it's quite difficult to book rooms there. In terms of future exchanges, there are also students from here interested in coming to Georgia.
I went to the "Kulturen" museum again (the one with a sort of little village reassembled inside its walls). It's a very large place, with lots of exhibits as well as houses, so I still didn't peruse it all in detail, but I got the gist of most of it. It was another sunny and beautiful, lilac-filled day. I went there with one of my housemates, and just as we were leaving, some musicians in "traditional" folk costumes started assembling and performed some tunes that we stayed to listen to. It was a nice half hour concert, featuring mostly violins, but a few guitars, a bass, and even a nickelharper (a traditional Swedish instrument). Sounded like they were playing polkas, waltzes and other dance tunes, but the explanations were all in Swedish. I think yesterday may have been the Swedish day to celebrate Mothers Day.
I have also been on a few more walks around Lund to parts of the city that I hadn't yet visited. There are so many interesting streets and buildings around that almost anywhere I have wandered has yielded positive aesthetic results.
Tomorrow I am giving a public slide lectures about my fieldwork in the Upper Peninsula and my dissertation. Members of the English department and the ethnology department (what we call folklore) have been invited, as well as the general public. I hope some of the folklorists come, since after meeting with their former chair I see how much my work resonates with the work they're doing in that department here. And here, ethnology/folklore is much better funded and established within the university system.
So my life here is mostly about work now. I leave here Friday for France, where I'll spend 17 days, 12 of them doing research in Southwestern France. I'll be sad to leave Lund, but happy to have the time in France before returning to the States. And at least there is a possibility of returning.
I'm in France where keyboards are infuriatingly different enough that I won't write much. Paris seems less crowded than it did when I was here during July last year (link to journal from that trip), but that is not to say it is not crowded.
I just arrived Friday. It was sort of sad to leave Sweden but it looks likely that I will be able to return; so that and a trip to France are ample assuagement for having to leave. My hotel is crappy (grimy bathroom outside my room, thin walls, smoky smell, lots of noise), but it is well located, right on Blvd St Germaine in the Latin Quarter and relatively cheap (about $40 a night). I was actually supposed to stay at another place one block north -- a hotel I had researched in guide books and read a lot of good recommendations about. I called the night before from Sweden to confirm and all. But when I got there (travel weary), they told me they did not have a room for me, but had booked me at this other hotel instead. I was not happy about, but there wasn't much I could do, and the new place is about the same price and as I said, very well located. Plus it's only for a few nights.
Yesterday I visited the Musée Cluny (national museum of the middle ages, one of my favorites) just a few blocks away and also walked around some marchés, parks and avenues. The first evening here I went out for dinner at a place near my hotel. As in so many Paris restaurants, there were very few tables and they were all crammed right next to each other. I was by myself, but two American men were seated right next to me (basically at the same table). So we ended up talking for a while. One of them was just finishing a year studying in Paris, and the other was a friend from college (in Ohio) visiting. They were very nice and recommended internet sites nearby. In walking around after dinner and my internet café visit (right near the Place St. Michel), I stumbled upon a classical music concert rehearsal in lovely Eglise St. Severin around 10 pm. I was admiring the church from outside and thought it might be locked up that late at night. But I tried the door, found it open, and was able to enjoy the rehearsal in this sublime atmosphere. The next evening (last night) I saw a Spanish film (with French subtitles) called Parle Avec Elle (“Talk to Her”) by Almodovar. It was a powerful film that was thoughtful and well made, but in the end I found the message to be a little off-putting -- like basically that we were manipulated into feeling sympathy for a rapist. Today I went to St. Germaine en Laye (sort of a suburb west of Paris) where there is the national museum of antiquities in an old castle of the kings. I saw many original pieces of the prehistoric art I have seen copies of from the Southwest, where I head tomorrow.
The Southwest is much calmer, greener and to me more appealing than Paris, so crammed with tourists and noise. Of course Paris has its allure, but a few days is enough for me this time. Actually the French Open tennis tournament is going on right now and I contemplated taking the metro there to see if I could get a ticket. But after three days of touring a lot, I was feeling tired. Plus it's VERY hot right now here (90's). And the thought of sitting in the sun watching tennis probably from way up high in the stands in this heat just seemed unappealing. I'd always thought if I ever had the chance I would go to a grand slam tennis match. But instead I sat in the hotel lobby and watched the matches on French TV (no TV in my room, only in the lobby). But that turned out not to be such a bad decision, because by sitting in the lobby that evening, I ended up seeing a lot of interesting stuff. I noticed when I returned to my hotel that the road was blocked off and soon we saw why. Literally thousands of roller-bladers came skating along as I was sitting there in the lobby. All of us in the lobby went out to watch -- the clerk told me they do this every Sunday (close off the boulevard for the roller bladers). Their procession took about 20 minutes. Then just minutes after that, a procession of a mass (priests singing, first communicants holding candles and families and so on) came marching by -- for probably another half hour (they were walking mostly -- some priests might have been in cars). This one, the hotel clerk explained, one saw only once every six months.
So this crappy hotel had some pay off after all -- I would never have seen any of that at the place a blcok away. One definitely can't be bored here.
More soon, Mary
The Perigourd is just as interesting as I remember, but the weather is definitely different from last year, when it was over a hundred degrees for several days in a row. Now it is unusually cold and rainy. But it hasn't kept the tourists away. Last year I was here in late July which is high tourist season when there were tons of Dutch, Belgian and French families. I saw only a few Americans the whole time I was there and congratulated myself on finding a place that wasn’t over-run by English speakers. Now there are mostly Australian, English and yes American tourists – mostly older or at least middle-aged people, plus TONS of huge tour busses of French and English school children here on school trips.
This year I have noticed that I can perceive and pick out the often quite obscure prehistoric designs engraved in the rocks (like at Combarelles) much more easily. And now that I have read a little about prehistory and been to a number of sites and museums I can also (I think) appreciate all this 15,000 to 35,000 year old cave art much better. 20,000 years is of course a huge time span but that is how long (at least) Cro Magnan people (modern humans biologically just like us) lived here. Neanderthals were here for another 40,000 or more years before that and also left tools, some burials and other traces.
Yesterday I went to Lascaux II, a pretty well-done copy of the original site just 150 meters away from the original. It is perhaps the most beautiful site, because the designs (mostly of animals and signs) are stylized and polychromatic. The original is now closed to all but 5 visitors a day (mostly scientists – if the minister of culture accepts your request to visit the original site it takes 5-7 years to get a place), because the visitors were destroying the images through carbon dioxide they exhaled and fungus they brought in unwittingly.
But the copy was meticulously well done by people impassioned by the art and place -- they scrupulously used the same techniques and materials. In any case it is nice to see it in three dimensions, since the swell of rock and so on often is used to create or enhance the design.
I have also visited the last really interesting cave paintings open to the public at Font de Gaume and another great cave with many hundreds of engravings called Combarelles. So I don't feel deprived of a chance to absorb the atmosphere of original caves. In fact at Lascaux our guide put out the lights and used a lighter to give us a sense of how the images would appear in the light used to see and paint them from the period. It does sort of give a feeling of movement to the designs. And this (lighting any kind of fire to see the art) would not be possible in any original site (where they usually have electric lights installed or that they carry with them and leave on only for least possible amount of time to show off the art).
There are also tons of castles around here in a very beautiful setting of rolling hills, dramatic cliffs and rivers sweeping through valleys, because this was the border between England and France during the hundred years war. Definitely a dramatic past through many periods. But so far this year I have only seen the prehistoric sites. Still have over a week left here.
I have seen many caves and shelters this last week, which are all amazing, a word one of the guides told me she finds most appropriate but not translatable into French ("impressionante" seems to be the word of choice among Francophones). I have been carrying out interviews with some of the guides and people around here, which is a great way to get to know the region better. Since it's sort of a whole little community (of guides) who mostly know each other well, I'm now starting to be recognized at some places, and have gotten promises of help and future tours of lesser visited sites next year.
Basically my interviews are about questions of identity and cultural renewal somewhat related to the work I did with Native Americans in the U.P. Once all the prehistory was "discovered" or recognized as such around here, tourism and all the work surrounding prehistory became the occasion for a sort of rebirth in this otherwise very depressed economy. It has also attracted a lot of alternative types to the region, which explains how I could find a vegetarian restaurant I guess.
So there are lots of alternative types here (even a Tibetan center), as a French couple from Bordeaux who stayed one night at the Gite where I am staying told me at dinner. But then the Belgian woman who moved here 20 years ago to open the gite and vegetarian restaurant (all with food she grows in her garden on her beautiful land out in the country), told us that as far as she is concerned the whole region is full of conservative La Penn supporters. Probably both sets of people live around here, maybe like in Oregon. There are also lots of English who have bought up property around, I have heard. They can apparently live here for 6 months a year (without being citizens).
Today I revisited Combarelles which has many engravings. Since the guide was among those I interviewed he gave an especially detailed and long tour. It is an "amazing" site, with literally hundreds and hundreds of engravings that people would have done on their hands and knees, or lying on their backs, while using flints tools by candlelight. And at the time you'd have to crawl in to see the designs as well (now you walk upright because they’ve enlarged the opening). This cave extends hundreds of meters and has 4 branches. Most figures depicted are animals, though there are some humans as well. While the animals are quite representational, humans are usually quite stylized. It's always about 50 degrees in the caves, the average annual temperature.
Sunday I visited Rouffignac for the first time and also had a nice, small, longer-than-usual tour. There are lots of mammoths painted there and other figures outlined in black. There is also lots of graffiti, much of it dating from the 18th century – mostly names of tourists. And some people think that in the "grand gallery" where impressive images turn around the ceiling (once again one would have had to be lying on one's back to see most of the images) there is also a graffiti of a cross and some latin words. They think it is from an exorcism in the 18th or 17th century because these were believed to be Pagan designs. This is a very large cave in which most of the designs are at least a kilometer deep into the cave. They actually have a little train set up that takes you back to the sections with the designs.
I have also visited a few castles from the long and bloody period of the middle ages when the hundred-years-war ravaged the countryside. Throughout this region there are lovely gardens among these beautiful villages in a verdant and rolling countryside.
Yesterday I drove further than I realized I would have to but visited two truly amazing caves in the next "department" (like a country) called "le Lot" for the Lot river there. The first cave I visited is called Cougnac. It is impressive not only for the cave art but also for the very beautiful stalagtites and stalagmites and other natural formations therein. Previously, except for Bernifal, most caves I have seen have had either one or the other – natural formations or art. Cougnac's designs are also much older (at least it seems likely). Usually this art can't be dated all that precisely because nothing in the actual art contains carbon, so carbon 14 dating can't be used. So they might try to get dates from charcoal on the floor of the strata that they think corresponds to when the art was made. But that coal could have been left by "tourists" thousands of years later as well. But at Cougnac some of the actual designs were drawn in charcoal and so can be dated and go back 24,000 to 27,000 years.
I also interviewed the guide there who has a Masters Degree in prehistory, has been on many digs, and has even discovered a cave with designs himself. He was a fount of information. He advised me to also see the cave "Peche Merle," which he called the "big sister" to Cougnac – because of many similar designs and even some repeated signs (also similar ages). So I went there, although altogether it was a three hour drive from les Eyzies, so it was a long, tiring and hot day. But Peche Merle was worth it -- again a very beautiful and naturally lovely cave full of interesting formations (and extremely large which is why they can still allow visitors). Also the artwork was profoundly beautiful, especially these two horses filled in with dots and surrounded by six "negative hands" (made by place one's hand on the wall and then blowing "paint" all around it. The natural relief of the cave was used as in many other caves to form parts of the animals designed – in this cave one of the horse’s heads was perfectly shaped by a part of the rock.
The Lot valley was also somewhat different landscape from around here – bigger, somehow rougher hills (more like mountains) and different colored cliffs too (I think more red rather than the gray, black "stained" cliffs around here).
The radio the last few days has analyzed to death France's "shocking" early exit from the world cup in soccer. But most people seem to have come round to saying "we deserved it" – I think because they don't pay their own players enough to stay in the country to play between world cups (they were saying on the shows I listened to).
I have only a few days left here, but feel I have pretty fully profited from my time, though there is still plenty to see and appreciate.
There may be one more report before I return.
Report to Swedish Friends about the Trip to FRANCE:
On May 31 I left for the airport and from there flew to France. I had a very nice few weeks there and did what I hope is some good fieldwork to write an article. I interviewed about 11 people on tape. I am still working on transcribing the interviews. I actually got a little grant from my university to pay someone to do the transcriptions, so now I'm looking for someone who is a Native French speaker. We do have a student from Morocco whom I hope will be able to do it.
France was beautiful and restful in addition to being a good fieldwork site. I saw some of the same caves I had visited last year, as well as some new caves, some with pictographs (painted on walls) and petroglyphs (engraved into walls) as much as 27,000 or more years old; others with art only 10,000 years old. Part of what I find so intriguing about this prehistoric art is that the subjects, execution and symbolism (which seem very sophisticated technically and stylistically) lasted for apparently over 17,000 years, though in fact most sites are very hard to date, so it may only have lasted 10,000 years, but it's still amazing. And now interpreting it is ephemeral (we can only guess, not know, what it meant), so the mystery is intriguing as well.
I returned to Georgia on June 17, very tired and a little sad that the adventure I had looked forward to all year was over. In some ways it is good to be back, but I have been busy with work most of the time since I returned, even though I'm technically not on duty in the summer (it just means I don't get paid for coming in for meetings, sitting on theses committees, writing, etc). I'm in my office almost every day, writing and keeping myself busy.
Georgia is suffering from a drought, like much of the country. It has rained several times since I have been back, but overall the water table is very low and in fact there has been only a tiny bit of rain—once—in over a week. I have not had to mow my lawn for over 6 weeks. Only the weeds grow; the grass is brown and sick looking. I water my roses occasionally, and a pumpkin plant that is thriving in my yard. I didn't even plant the pumpkin (at least not intentionally) – I just let the pumpkin I had there last fall (for Halloween) rot in its place and it seeded itself. It seems to be doing well – with 8 or 9 blooms that I guess will turn into pumpkins. These last few weeks it's been incredibly hot and humid – sometimes 38 degrees Celcius or more. Even early in the morning it is at least 25. So everyone is using lots of air conditioning, helping to speed up the earth's destruction.
When I returned, my cats were fine, though lonely. They were happy to see me, or so I like to think (who knows what cats really think or feel). But they do follow me around and lie next to me wherever I am. I would like to get a dog, but that would make going to Europe for 7 weeks in the summer much more difficult.
I joined my family for a reunion/vacation in Michigan for about 10 days in July. We stayed in my uncle's cottage on Lake Huron, which is one of the "great lakes." It's very beautiful (though polluted by all the huge freighter traffic and the many industries built on the lakes—there is often oil or garbage on the otherwise beautiful sandy beach that you can walk along for miles). The great lakes look like the ocean – they are so big you cannot see across to the other side even with strong binoculars. Sometimes the waves get pretty big too, so it was a fun week there.
SECOND YEAR TEACHING IN SWEDEN (2003)
July 8, 2003
Dear friends and family,
I'm in Sweden now teaching a summer course. I was here for a month last year (in May) and now am here for 6 weeks (until August 13). I arrived July 1st with minimal travel hassles.
It's very nice, though not as summery as I expected—probably in about the 60's most days. Some days have been sunny (like today for instance), while others have been cloudy and rainy. Usually there is some sun each day, and days last until at least 10 pm; then it's kind of twilight for a few hours and light again by about 4 or 4:30 in the morning. I prefer this weather to the sweltering heat of Georgia these days. This Southern part of Sweden now is green and flowery. Roses are in season, so lovely, huge rose bushes abound all around town. On Sunday I took a walk through the botanical garden, which is near my house. There were many things in bloom including water lilies on the pond there.
I'm living in the same house as last year, the university guest house, a nice mansion in the historical "professor district." There are researchers now in the house from Italy, Japan and India (plus me), and more about to arrive from Switzerland and the US. It's comfortable and nicely furnished, all with Ikea furniture. We each have our own room and bathroom (and in my case I have my own little sitting room in addition to a bedroom) – this is a different, bigger roomer than I had last year. We share a kitchen and larger living room and sun porch/dining room. There is a grand entryway with some antique furniture and a crystal chandelier (and a wrap-around, wide staircase). There is also a grand piano in the living room, and the Italian guy (Giorgio) plays it quite well, regularly. He's a bio-chemist, but graduated in his earlier days from the Italian conservatory (for music). So we get nice free concerts. We also share food and cooking ideas and watch TV together sometimes in the evenings. Usually on TV here they play shows in the original language, which is often English (then they have either Danish or Swedish subtitles). We're very close to Denmark, only 45 minutes by train from Copenhagen.
I'm teaching Native American literature to Swedes in English (in the English dept). Their English is quite good. In fact it's hard to feel a need to learn Swedish because just about everyone (from shopkeepers to train station employees to librarians and just people on the street) speak English very well. But I do feel a little bad about not knowing any Swedish. If I weren't teaching and had more time I would take a class to learn a little. So far the class I'm teaching has only met twice. It's small (10 students), so it will be perfect for discussions of the literature we're reading. We just watched The Fast Runner, an amazing Inuit film. Now we'll read some traditional tales and then four contemporary novels by Native Americans.
I'm still trying to beat jet lag after a week here. It amazes me how susceptible I am to it. One of the other women living in the guest house this year is a geneticist from India. She said there is actually a gene for jet lag (or circadian rhythms I guess – which she said determines who feels jet lag), so some people are more susceptible than others genetically.
I've met up with some old friends from last year both at the university and the guest house. But since it is summer, many people are away on vacation. The English department is mostly empty, though there is another American teaching linguistics here with whom I share an office. He's nice, from University of Pennsylvania. He's fluent in Swedish since his parents are Swedes and he was raised bilingual (in the States). He's combining teaching with doing his own dissertation research.
My office has a nice view of an old pond next to the main library on campus (and many trees). I remember hearing last year that this pond was actually built by monks many, many years ago to raise fish in. I guess in those days either there was a monastery here or the monks were attached to the university. The pond still has some little cages or houses in it. I think they might be for some kind of waterfowl to live in. There are also some water lilies in it and wildflowers growing around it.
Lund University is large – with about 30,000 students, a major research university here. They have a big folklore program (called ethnology here) that is housed in several old houses right next to the guest house where I'm living. The English department is in a four story brick building only a two minute walk away from the guest house. I walk everywhere. It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk to the grocery store, the train station, the library (the public library which is huge and well-used), and many other useful places. So I'm well situated.
One of the hardest little things (or funniest depending on how you look at it) in adapting to life here is figuring out what I'm buying at the grocery store, since the labels, names and ingredients are all in Swedish. Many things I remember from last year and other things are self-evident (like cheese or bread). But some things are hard to figure out, like baking soda, wheat flour, what flavor of jam I’m buying, whether something is butter or margarine, etc. Usually I eventually figure it out, or I ask someone (I have yet to ask someone who does not speak English well enough to explain it to me). Or I just make a guess and buy something, hoping it's what I want. I got a couple of good kinds of herbal tea that way.
Overall I like the Swedish rhythm of life and am happy to be back here. I have a trip planned to Stockholm (four hours away on the express train) for July 17-21. I did not have a chance to get up there last year, so now I'm looking forward to this little mini-vacation.
July 10, 2003
My class here has started off kind of slow because I showed a movie that is long and left no time for discussion the first 2 days (we had to borrow a dvd player from the comp lit dept and needed to show the movie within those 2 days). But today we read and discussed some traditional myths. The students had some good insights and questions.
I'm still trying to readjust to the new time zone. It's so distressing to be this far out of sync. For the last 2 days after getting up "early" to teach (8 am -- I never get up that late in the states), I was so exhausted by about 2 pm that I took a long nap.
Then Tuesday the Italian guy in the house (Giorgio) had a party for his Italian friends in Lund and he invited the other house members as well. There was a lot of great food, and we entertained guests until midnight, including playing a Swedish yard game until about 11:30 pm, when it finally became too dark to see. The game involves throwing wooden sticks at stubbier wooden sticks arranged on the grass in order to knock the stubbier ones down. Once the guests left, we house members continued talking until about 1am. It’s a great place to live, though I had to spend much of the night defending the concept of feminism.
Yesterday I had to read all the myths that I taught today. Some of them I had never read or hadn't read in a long time, and many of them are very intriguing. I opened the class by saying I don't have all the answers for what they mean, and we should all try to figure the stories out together. I think the class discussion was good, and I enjoyed reading Native American mythology again – it’s been a while since I've read so much of it. Some of the students have really thought about what they could mean and why certain things happen in them (some of which are quite strange, like children being chased by their dead mother's rolling head or people putting bones of deer they eat into the water so the deer will come back to life to be eaten again – the deer instruct them in this). The students were seemed to enjoy our discussion (as did I).
Now I am listening to morning edition (from NPR, which I can get on the internet) while I’m typing this. I hear Bob Edwards say, "It's ten minutes before the hour" (of 6 am) and it is discombobulating to think about this when I have already taught a two hour class and am well into my day. It's almost noon here.
I read a lot most days. I've already finished one long (400+ pages) novel, called Reindeer Moon, set in ancient prehistoric Siberia (20,000 years ago). It was okay. Now I'm reading Amy and Isable, which I found at the house in a bookcase with many books left here by previous residents. I think this book was on the bestseller list for a while. It's pretty well written I think (in terms of character study), though depressing.
After I finish that I may have to look a little harder for things to read, as nothing else in that bookcase particularly appealed to me (it’s a lot of John Grisham and such). The public library has a lot of English books, but in a quick perusal two days ago nothing jumped out at me. I guess I find everything a little harder to concentrate on when I'm so out of sync. Maybe (I hope) within I week I'll be feeling better. Then I get to struggle to readjust once I get back to the States! Still I'm glad to be here. I wish that I had brought more of my own work. I think I could get some writing done, but did not bring much to do because last year I had no time for anything but the rigorous teaching schedule they had me on. This year is much easier and nicer.
I love exploring and wandering, but find myself a bit aimless now that I've explored so much of Lund already. I enjoy feeling comfortable in a place too, so it's kind of nice just to relax and enjoy life here (without pushing myself to explore and "tour"). I miss markets like they have in France. Unlike France, there aren't really farmers markets (of true farmers' goods) here – at least not that I've seen yet. It's more like farmer's markets in Georgia, where the vegetables are really no different from those in the supermarket. They also sell cheapo items, like socks and radios and batteries at the outdoor market, kind of like a flea market, except I think much of the stuff is new (from China probably).
Anyway, I think I need to explore the surrounding area. The great public transportation system here certainly makes it easy to get around. Tomorrow I may go to Malmö or the beach, and maybe to Copenhagen one day this weekend. There is plenty to enjoy all around.
FROM JULY 14
Hej! (Swedish "hi," pronounced just like our greeting "hey")
I am enjoying my time here in Sverige (Sweden). It's much less work than it was last year, so I find myself with more free time. Of course the next several days are now going to be really crazy because I have left the reading I have to do to prepare for class until the last minute.
My students here are quite nice, conscientious and mostly willing to talk (only 8 students come to my class—more signed up because you get some kind of benefit in Sweden for signing up for a class in summer, but they don't come). A couple of the students seem genuinely interested, while a few others only took this class because it was the only literature class being offered.
Now I need to read N. Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain for tomorrow's class. Then we start with Leslie Silko's Ceremony on Thursday. Both good reads, so I'll probably be mostly spending time at the guesthouse reading. The weather has suddenly turned much warmer and sunnier, so I may sit outside in our "garden" (yard) to read. There are roses in bloom and rabbits that live in the yard.
I think I have more or less readjusted to the new time zone, finally. I'm able now to wake up naturally at my usual time in the States -- about 7 or 8 am. And I can get to sleep usually by about midnight. But this is a recent development. Before about 3 days ago, I could barely function during the day here (night back home) so that by about 2 pm I often had to go back to my room and sleep for an hour or two.
Since I managed to get up in time, I went Saturday morning to the free classical music concert at the Cathedral (every Saturday at 10am), which they call the "domkyrkan" in Swedish. This week the organist played some Bach pieces for about 20 minutes. It was beautiful and nice to be in a masterpiece of architecture enjoying the meditative space in this way. Very few Swedes are religious (practicing, believing), but they've come up with this way to still use their religious spaces for inspiration.
Last Friday I took a tour of the cathedral and surrounding area from the tourist information center in town. It was mostly in Swedish, but the guide said he'd translate everything into English. He did, but clearly gave us an abbreviated version. He'd go on for about 5 minutes for each thing in Swedish, and then give about a 30 second version of his speech in English (only two of us out of the 12 or so people on the tour needed the English version).
But I learned a few things anyway – like one of the bishops buried in a tomb in the crypt had a statue of himself done to top the tomb, but the statue is of a man about a foot and a half taller than the Bishop was (he was sensitive about being short). Also there is a raised sculpture on the side of the well that's in the crypt that shows a giant louse biting a sheep (the louse is the same size as the sheep). We were told it's symbolic of the devil (=the louse) trying to get its teeth into we poor potential sinners (the sheep=us).
I also saw and heard that some gigantic buildings that are now museums or part of the university around the cathedral were originally private homes (for the bishop in some cases). One place is like a British manor house, with probably 40 windows on the front facade of the building, and it too was a private home. So there was definitely some real wealth here. And Lund is an interesting place today, a mixture of old wealth, cultural diversity (plenty of immigrants and international visitors) and dominated by the university and the various intellectual types such towns always attract. I am struck often as I walk around town and look at people around me how hard it is to distinguish people and what they might do here based on looks. Sometimes people look really scruffy and odd, like men with really long beards and hair and old clothes (but youngish men), but their interactions make it clear they're very respectable and "normal" (not homeless or something). It's hard to explain but my Swedish friends agree with me when I tried to explain this and they say it's characteristic of Lund rather than of Sweden generally. They think this is more or less the only town in Sweden really dominated by a university (the biggest university in Scandinavia) and thus has a very unique culture and feel.
Yesterday I walked to the big municipal park in town. It's got a nice, big pond with little bridges over parts of it and a path, trees and bushes all around. The pond was FULL of all kinds of water birds like ducks, seagulls, geese, swans and some others I couldn't identify. I sat there for quite a while and saw many apparent fights breaking out among the birds. They also flocked to any people who came near the shore (many of whom in fact fed them bread).
There were flowers (for instance I recognized tiger lilies) in bloom and plenty of people enjoying the nice weather on a Sunday afternoon. One of the things about living in a foreign country (at least when you don't speak the language) that's striking is how one becomes isolated in one's own world because the background conversation is incomprehensible. Since all this noise is uninterpretable, one is really in a cocoon. It enhances meditation I think. And then if you do hear English (once yesterday in the park a group walked by speaking in American English), it's quite startling. Whereas normally I wouldn't have paid attention to what strangers were saying, this time I couldn't help but listen to their conversation because it was so strikingly comprehensible (but not all that interesting). The reverse is also true, I guess, in that when I am out with a friend and we are speaking English in public, many more people pay attention to us (maybe even stare at us) because WE stick out by not speaking Swedish.
There's a good vegetarian restaurant in town where I've been eating lunch some days. They just have one meal a day for about 7 dollars. Healthy and tasty, and much cheaper than most Swedish restaurants (normally just an appetizer or sandwich would cost that much). This restaurant's food is all home made (even the bread) and is run by Hari Krishnas, but very nice people. No proselytizing. Just really healthy, homemade, tasty, vegetarian food. One of the family of owners was actually in my class last May. And they don't look unusual (no shaved heads or strange clothes). The food is vaguely Indian, but kind of eclectic, only one option per day, but with several parts to it (soup, stew, rice, and salad for instance).
I don't actually eat out much, except for this place, so I can't say much about Swedish food. I think they traditionally eat a lot of fish and potatoes. At other restaurants I have seen them serve a lot of sandwiches, often open faced, or on interesting looking bread (like big flat rolls). There also seem to be many pastries in windows of cafes and such. They don't look nearly as good as French pastries for instance (to me), so I have not indulged much. The people whose homes I've eaten in have served various salad and pasta dishes not dissimilar from what we eat in the states.
Shopping here is also a cross-cultural experience. There are many shops and goods like in the States, but not exactly. Styles are slightly different (at least sometimes), sizes are very different (different in terms of the number system used), and what's available is different. Most stores specialize (clothes or shoes or kitchen goods rather than department stores) and they're open only during business hours and briefly on Saturday. My office mate just told me there's a big mall a short train ride away that he suggests I visit because it's different from American malls and interesting to see what Swedish malls are like.
I head to Stockholm this Thursday. I may not write again until after I get back on Monday.
FROM JULY 24 (about Stockholm trip)
I returned from Stockholm Monday afternoon and have been so busy with teaching duties for three days in a row since then that I haven't found time to write. In this mail I also include internet links where you can see some pictures of the places I describe.
Stockholm is a beautiful city, much of it on a series of Islands in the Baltic Sea (for some pictures go to http://www.geographia.com/sweden/stockholm.html). There are actually 1000's of islands in the archipelago (which you can see pictures of at this cheesy website: http://www.geocities.com/biarne/page4.html).
Many of these islands hold very nice houses (that cost millions), most of which are summer vacation houses. The first morning after I arrived I took a 2 1/2 hour boat tour of the archipelago. It was a lovely sunny day, a little too hot in town, but cool and breezy even on the very crowded boat (though I did get a little sunburned and footsore standing almost the whole time on the prow of the ship). One of the things our guide on the boat said was that those people who live on islands here all year round get subsidized helicopter service to and from their homes in the winter. If they need to get into town to buy groceries, do business, or see a doctor, they call and can get a helicopter ride for just a few dollars (the water is frozen solid so otherwise they'd have no way to leave -- and it's too long a distance to walk). But even so, not many people live there year round, so I guess it must be too frozen for most people. Many parts of the rest of the city are also connected to the water, which winds through the islands and canals. The old town on one island is called Gamla Stan (for pictures see
http://www.terragalleria.com/europe/sweden/stockholm-gamla-stan/stockholm-gamla-stan.html). I walked around here for a few hours my first evening. There you can find the royal palace, nice churches, old market squares, many cafes, tourist shops, and restaurants.
I saw a variety of street performers in these streets (and on the long shopping street "Drottningatan"). One guy was doing amazingly complicated and realistic birds whistles (I think with just his hands and mouth, though he might have been using a device of some kind). He was offering to teach people his techniques (for a fee). There were also people giving chair massages right on the street. I watched one man doing little paintings entirely with spray paint. It took him only about 10 minutes to complete a painting with very minimal tools – he used one scraping tool, torn pieces of cardboard and his fingers – besides the spray paint. His paintings were very realistic nature scenes, sometimes outer-spacey landscapes. He had the biggest crowd watching him of anyone on that street. I saw him do three paintings. He never spoke, so I wasn’t sure where he’s from.
After the boat trip I went to Skansen – the world's first open air "folk" museum that collected and reassembled houses and businesses from various periods (mostly from the 18th to early 20th centuries) from all over Sweden (see http://www.skansen.se/eng/hgtindex.htm). There are interpreters dressed in period costume in many of the houses and craftspeople in some shops. They also have a sort of zoo, to show animals indigenous to various parts of Sweden. But those few animals I saw (a seal, some elk or moose, and some deer) looked pretty miserable, probably because it was a very hot day (most were hiding).
I thought the craftspeople working in the "old town" section were very good, including a glass blower, a potter, and a baker. Also the recreated Sami camp was interesting (the Sami are indigenous people from Northern Scandinavia), though there were no interpreters at that camp. There was also a large Maypole in the center of the park, still used (decorated with greenery) in Sweden for midsummer celebrations. There were ducks and geese in ponds and many families with children.
The next day I went to the famous Vasa Museum (http://www.vasamuseet.se/indexeng.html). Many people recommended this as a "must see" in Stockholm. I could see its appeal, but I was a bit disappointed, maybe because so many people recommended it. The Vasa is a huge, heavily decorated warship from 350 years ago that was supposed to show Sweden's power and glory to the world. But it sank only a kilometer (less than a mile) from shore on its maiden voyage (because it was top heavy – too many guns and not enough balast). In the 1950's (I think) it was raised from the bottom of the sea (itself an amazing feat) and then a museum was built around it.
I think my lack of enthusiasm stems from a few things, first that it was a war ship, and so just a symbol of human pride and violence. Secondly, IT SANK, so it was a failure (though as I said, raising it was quite an accomplishment – the film about this was good). This museum had more tourists crammed into it (and it's a big space) than any other spot I visited. Waves of tourists are shuttled through it from their tour buses. It's on a lovely garden island, the same one that holds Skansen (called Djurgarden = deer garden).
From there I took a water ferry (free with my bus/subway pass) across to the harbor of Nybroplan. Then I walked around a quieter neighborhood where the big covered market sits, in Ostermalm. I had a great lunch there, visited a nearby church where I saw the tail end of a confirmation ceremony, and then I walked to the history museum. An excellent guide there did a very nice tour in English during which she explained much of Viking culture, including rune stones (usually grave markers), story stones (something like runestones but with stories in pictures on them – rather than runes – and not situated on graves), a blacksmith's tools, and women's tools and clothing. This museum is most famous for its "gold room," where in fact one finds an impressive collection of gold and silver, apparently much of it from Roman coins then melted and transformed into beautiful jewelry and ornaments. Because of the excellent tour, I enjoyed this museum very much.
My last day in Stockholm (Sunday), I started out at the Modern Art Museum. Normally this is one of the best museums in the city, but it is undergoing construction/redesign, so I saw only a small exhibit in a temporary location near the train station. From there I went to the National Museum, an art museum in an old palace right on the harbor. It's a beautiful building with an especially nice exhibit of icons. I ate lunch in the beautiful courtyard "atrium" restaurant of this museum.
From there I walked along the harbor and then a canal bordered by city parks to the "stadshuset" (= city hall, seen in photos here: http://www.wap.org/tours/europe/stcityhall.html). This impressive building was constructed in the 20th century and is the site of the dinners for the Nobel Prize recipients each December. Although it was crowded and touristy (guided tours only), I found it to be a beautiful building, including the “gold hall" where the whole (very large) room is decorated with gold mosaics (scroll down to see all the pictures at this site: http://www.laserfx.com/Backstage.LaserFX.com/WaterFestival-SR/Tour.html. One interesting fact about it, typical of Sweden, is that ANYONE (including tourists) can get married there – in an oval room decorated with French tapestries. So many people sign up for this that couples choose either the "long service" (at almost 3 minutes) or the "short service" (at less than 1 minute). They line up in a beautiful entryway with a stone staircase and an arched ceiling to wait their turn.
After touring city hall I walked across a bridge to the old town island of Gamla Stan again. There I visited Storkyrkan (the large church seen in the background of the third picture of this site: http://web.hhs.se/secs/Photos/pictures.html). I also sat at a cafe for a while and watched all the tourists walking by. Then I walked around some more before returning to my youth hostel.
The youth hostel I stayed in was, to say the least, interesting. It was in Solna, a little outside the city in a nearby suburb. I chose it from the internet because it had cheap single rooms (about 28 dollars a night) and was described as being in a beautiful, quiet location (hotels in Stockholm are expensive and most youth hostels were booked solid). What was not advertised on the website is that it's also a kind of halfway house and camp for recovering alcoholics, addicts, and refugees. There were common areas (kitchen, living room, patios, etc.), where I met and talked to a number of these long-term residents. Their stories varied from sad to crazy. It was safe and comfortable enough (if a bit strange), but I was extremely happy to return to my comfortable and friendly lodging at the guesthouse. As much as the culture and nicer parts of Stockholm appeal to me, I prefer quieter places like Lund. So I'm happy to be back.
Thursday, July 31, 2003
Today I went to Malmö after my class. One of my students who lives there offered me a ride after class and gave me a car tour of some of her favorite parts of the city. I was there one day last year and saw the castle and a few museums, as well as the main squares and shopping/pedestrian street. This year (after the car tour) I just wandered around for a few hours, window shopping and people watching. Malmö is the third largest city in Sweden and has a lot of immigrants. It is on the Oresund Sound (part of the Baltic Sea). After a few hours of wandering I stopped at a bakery and got some “princess cake” – a Swedish specialty many people have been recommending I must try before I leave. It is incredibly sweet and fluffy – a few very thin layers of cake, with thick layers of custard and mostly whipped cream in between. The whole thing is then covered in a thin layer of marzipan.
Friday, August 1, 2003
On Friday I went with a few friends from the guesthouse to a small place on the southeast coast (on the Baltic) where some people have built and live in a Viking village – called Foteviken (you can read about it here: http://www.foteviken.se/engelsk/index_e.htm. Various people from around the region and even from other countries come and live there, more or less trying to emulate the lives of Vikings. I talked to several of the residents, who told me that if you want to live there you have to apply and talk to the council. If you’re accepted, you then start as a “slave” (probably more like an apprentice), where you are attached to a previous resident and learn how to do various things like cooking over an open fire with implements available 1000 years ago and how to make clothes of linen and wool, etc. I talked to one slave and she assured me that she is never mistreated and in fact loves her role in the village. Then after 3 months you gain a step in status and then several months later you might become a tradesperson or some other working member of the community. The shoemaker we talked to showed us some of his shoes and said his pattern and method came from one recovered by museums in Stockholm and that everything they do or make or eat has to be authenticated somehow as having been available or possible “back in the day.” Most people said they really just come to spend their weekends there because they have jobs and lives in Malmö, Lund, or other nearby towns. But they spend most weekends there in the summer, parts or all of their vacations, and have regular gatherings during the rest of the year (sometimes even living there for periods during the winter). They seem like fairly nice people. One guy told us he decided to do this because he learned his ancestors all came from Gotland – an island in the Baltic between Sweden and Estonia where there are many artifacts of Vikings. So he feels certain he has Viking ancestry that he wants to understand better, and he feels this way of learning (living it) made more sense than reading or studying about it through books or museums. The “slave” told us a number of the people who live there are archeologists and she too has studied archeology.
It probably sounds to some of you a bit like our US phenomena of renaissance festivals or the SCA (society for creative anachronisms), and it is similar in some ways. But it’s also significantly different, according to my experience of each. Mainly, renaissance festivals seem to be commercial affairs. They charge a lot of money for entry and then continue trying to sell you things throughout your visit (the majority of people there are in fact “merchants” selling souvenirs or arts and crafts). Most people also just dress up during the day and then change into their own clothes at night and go sleep in a motel and eat in restaurants. But this Swedish version was less commercial and more lived. They only charge about six dollars to get in and there was nothing for sale in the actual village. There was a small gift shop at the entryway, but no one hawking those goods. Also, they’re not overall set-up as a tourist event. They allow tourists and even welcomed us, but they were going to be there doing their thing anyway, and would stay “in character” even in the evenings and early mornings when no tourists were around.
August 2, 2003
The next day (Saturday), I was invited by some new house members with a car to join them on a tour of the region. I suggested we go to a stone circle – Alestenar, which you can see at: http://www.zwoje.com/as/aleseng.html. It’s a stone circle in the shape of a ship. There is no definitive answer about how old it is or what purpose it served, but many people think it’s from Viking times (a thousand years ago) and was either a burial site or a meeting place. It’s in a lovely location, with a panoramic view of both the Baltic and the surrounding hilly countryside.
From there we went to Glimmenguhus, the best preserved castle in Northern Europe (see it at http://www.raa.se/glimminge_eng/index.asp). It was an interesting place, with lots of fortifications and built-in ways to deflect potential enemies (like a moat, a spout over the door and over places on the stairs from which to pour boiling tar, and places for archers to attack), but we were told it was in fact never attacked. Some of the decorative stone flooring and other details were taken (probably by local farmers) over the centuries when it stood abandoned. At one point it was also ordered to be destroyed. But apart from a few fairly minor destructions (like the innovative huge fireplace that had ducts to heat the whole castle), it’s mostly still there and very atmospheric I thought (lit mostly by candlelight or sunlight from the windows). There is also an interesting bathing system in the two main bedchambers. They had an angled stone basin next to the fireplace where one could discard bathwater – it fell outside through a hole in the back of the wall. There was also a built-in stone “sofa” next to the fireplace that would have been covered with cushions I’m sure. And there were seats near the windows too (for light for reading or doing work I guess).
We also went to a “deerpark” (kind of a zoo) at the suggestion of a colleague of the people driving. It was in a pretty, wooded area. We saw lynx, another kind of wildcat, foxes, wolves, bears, reindeer, bison, and a number of other animals. They had fairly large and natural-looking environments, but I still felt sorry for most of the animals.
August 3, 2003
The other day I visited Landskroner where a friend lives. It’s a town on the ocean that was formerly dominated by the shipping industry, but has been depressed since most of the shipyards closed in recent years. Still, there’s a nice castle, a lovely coast where you can see the isle of Ven (the home of astronomer Tycho Brahe), and nice streets to walk along. We had planned to visit Ven, but strolling around Landskroner and talking took so much time that we never got there. We did visit a very nice photography exhibit at a lovely gallery in a park near the castle.
My time here is winding down. I have just over a week left and a fair amount of teaching and grading to do in that time. There are still a few things I’d like to do and see as well, but overall it’s been a great trip so far this year. More and more as I experience little bits of life here in Sweden, I admire the whole society.
August 19, 2003
I enjoyed my last few days in Lund. One of our housemates – an Italian man named Simone – had rented a car one weekend and still had a day left on it, although his girlfriend had already returned to Italy. So he offered to drive those of us from the house on an excursion. We went to a lighthouse on the Northwest coast about 2 hours away. Princy (Indian) and Raimund (German) and I went along. It was a lovely drive there, and at this outcropping overlooking the sea, we saw a beautiful sunset and moonrise. It made for a great last trip out into the countryside around here – really an inspiring evening of beauty and calm.
I also had my class over to the house one of my last days there (our last day of class). We had a number of house meals too. I made fry bread and chili and cookies for my class. They wanted to taste some of the Native American food they’d been reading about. The fry bread turned out great. It’s kind of funny how easy and fun I find it to cook here at the house. I mean I cook a lot at home too, but I don’t put in as much effort on these kinds of complicated dishes that need yeast to rise and so on. But this house and the kitchen are so spacious and nice, that it seems to be more enjoyable to spend time cooking and baking. Plus there are usually other people around to make it feel more of a community event. My class seemed appreciative. They are a very enjoyable and appreciative group, and I think the class went well overall. One woman wrote on her exam, “Thank you for the best class ever!”
My flight back home went mostly well also. I had a long layover in Washington D.C., during which I was very tired. It was already 9 pm in the Swedish time zone (3 pm in DC) when I started my three hour wait, and so I had trouble staying awake. Partly though I was kept awake by many people talking loudly on their cell phones near me. And because everything (all the background noise) was now in English, I couldn’t tune it out – it’s kind of like being bombarded with other people’s thoughts and private lives. There were a few women sitting in chairs all the way across an open space in the terminal. They were having the most inane conversation about friends and shopping. But I couldn’t tune them out completely, just because they were speaking so loud in English (though I really tried to ignore them). By the time I actually arrived at my house it was after midnight here, which means I was up all night in Sweden and it was already 6 am there (and I had gotten up to leave at 4:30 am the morning before). I fell into bed and did manage to sleep about 7 hours, though my internal clock was all out of whack. The first few days moving between time zones are for me extremely tiring.
And just days after I returned there was a big power outage in the whole Northeast. But I can't complain since I got back before the electricity went out. We always had power in Georgia, so it was not a problem here anyway. But many flights were disrupted, so I'm glad I got home when I did. My family in Detroit were in the dark for a few days. Now everything is almost back to normal there.
So all in all I made it home with only a few hassles. Funny how when I was there in Sweden, that world seemed so complete and absorbing that I almost forgot about my life here – or at least it seemed distant and less real. Now that I'm back, of course, it's Sweden that feels distant and unreal, which is a shame but inevitable. I guess in other ways it's nice to be back. Our semester started yesterday, so I’m already back into the full swing of a new semester, immersed in my life here.
To a friend from the guesthouse:
I miss being able to come home to a community of people each evening, like at the guesthouse. Here I just come home to my cats – but they are always pretty happy to see me. I've been watching US Open tennis matches lately, though many have been rained out. Last weekend (a holiday weekend here) I went to a very nice art exhibit in Macon (a city nearby), called "Empire of the Sultans." It is Turkish art. The rugs, pots and calligraphy were especially beautiful (and some of the silver work). This week they're having a bizarre (sale) and some talks to go along with it, so I may go back there again. I also went to a barbecue at some friends' and did some shopping. There are huge sales (75% off) at the end of summer (now) and I found a lot of nice stuff.
Hope all is well there. Miss you!
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