Sunday, December 24, 2006

Tänk på döden

A cheery message for the holidays: "Think of Death!" I spotted it yesterday above the wrought-iron gate of the local cemetery here in Härnosand. Pics to come eventually; my stolen interbot connexion's kinda shaky at the moment. But I found the message compelling enough in these dark times to post it right away. Bah humbug and all that,

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


God Jul = Merry Christmas, Stockholm style.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Probably unfair, but still funny

I was doing research, honest, when I stumbled upon this. Now does anybody wonder why I've never hooked up with a Swedish guy? :)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Borat on Sweden

In case not all of you keep up with the Stockholm dailies:

Borat on Princess Madeleine and the new Swedish prime minister

I still haven't seen the movie, but the clip in here at the antique shop is eerily reminiscent of how I spent last week.

Stockholm Rock City

Sweden is impervious to rock and roll. It's sad but true: if you want to shake your booty in Stockholm, don't go see a rock band, unless you want to get the kind of looks ordinarily reserved for public nose-pickers, puppy-kickers and people who jump the queue at the liquor store. On this trip, what with night falling at 2:30pm, there's been a lot of sitting around sipping glogg and lighting candles. The urge to hibernate is fierce. But sometimes you just have to cut loose. So, in a fit of homesickness, I crept out Thursday night to see the Thermals. The show was at my second-favorite rock club in Stockholm. It used to be a System Bolaget. There are pix of Howlin' Pelle and the Raveonettes on the walls. When I arrived, the openers, DAP (Destroy All Planets), were on their last song. When they finished, I bought myself a $7 Swedish lager and waited for the rock.

Pretty soon a very tall handsome fellow approached. I could tell he wasn't Swedish, because despite being under 40 he actually spoke to me. "We came here all the way from Germany to see the Thermals!," he said. "I have seen them maybe like five times!" He and his buddy already had tix to see the band again in Cologne on the 19th. They were even more excited about being there than I was.

The Thermals sounded awesome, not that Sweden noticed. For half the set, no one moved at all. The singer's eyebrows outdanced everybody. Luckily, this worse-than-Portland deadness did not ruin the show -- mostly thanks to the Germans. Two songs in, they started to twitch, and their dancing quickly escalated. They hugged while pogoing! Difficult to do. After a while, one Swedish guy started jogging in place next to them, and it was officially a three-man dance-off. A ring of frosty Stockholmers stood around the dancers, looking nervous. Cartoon thought-bubbles over their heads said, "Why can't these people stand still and behave?" But the Germans kept on dancing, and the other guy kept on jogging in place. On the last song, the only punk-looking girl in the room finally moved her feet. Yeah! Partial victory. Or maybe she was German too.

"I've never seen a crowd like this," said one of the guys from Cologne, distraught. But the band didn't seem to mind. I talked to the drummer afterwards, and he said the band was psyched that people showed up at all; it was their first time in Stockholm, and at 10pm there'd been nobody there. Better a crowd of statues than an empty room, I guess. But still -- I fear for this land. Didn't the Swedes once pillage monasteries and go berserk on foreign coastlines? Didn't one of their parties once get so out of hand that revelers pelted the guest of honor to death with the bones leftover from dinner? (Yes!) Now they seem to have grown so meek they won't even dance for fear of jostling someone. What went wrong? Are Stockholmers really going to stand by and let themselves be out-danced by Germany?!?

For a better-edited review of the show, go here. (And thanks to the best-ever high-school yearbook staff for the editing! You guys RULE. xo)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Just how polite ARE these people?

These signs are all over Sweden:

Looks sort of uncomfortable....

In a semi-related note, the local paper just reported that public-transportation buses in Stockholm will soon be fueled by human waste. Awesome!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

It's nearly 2pm here in the Stockholm suburb of Tyresö, and the sun just set. Weird! Half the people I know would never see daylight if they lived here in winter (although most of them probably wouldn't miss it). So far it's not too cold or snowy, which is good, because all of my warm clothes are in my checked bag, adrift someplace between here and Chicago.

Every time I come back to Sweden, that old joke gets less funny. You know: how is Swedish toilet paper like John Wayne? They're rough and tough and they don't take shit offa nobody. It's slightly less effective than using, say, a magazine, or giftwrap, or something laminated. I guess they export all the good stuff.

This morning Dad and I made our mandatory first stop at System Bolaget, the state-run likkker store. It used to be (and in some places still is) totally Orwellian; you had to take a number, wait your turn, stand at the counter and hand over your order sheet, like at an old or really formal library. The clerk would frown disapprovingly, then vanish into the booze labyrinth to report your excesses to the king and, eventually, fetch your meagre stash. Most of the System shops now are just like normal liquor stores in the states, except three times as expensive and arranged on sleek blond Ikea shelves with museum-quality lighting. Some of them are even open for a few hours on Saturdays now! Hot.

We picked up some glögg, four cans of beer and a huge box of wine. Should get us through til Monday morning, anyway.

While Dad was in the grocery store, I sat on a bench guarding our booze cache and staring blankly at a little old man who was trying his drunkest to talk to me. I'm always slow at getting back into the rhythm of Swedish, and even slower if the other person in the conversation is slurring heavily.

Swedish sounds kind of like English as spoken underwater by a karaoke artist with a tongue injury. If you're as immature as I am, a lot of the words are hilarious. Good is bra. Look is titta. Angry is arg! Something really small is inka pinka. A guy is a kille. The word gift means married, poisonous, and a fee or penalty.

Sweden is the secret source of my oft-maligned tendency toward sarcastic dancing. Swedes cannot dance. It's cute that they try, but they're just awkward about it. ("They," she says.) It's like all the world's musical ineptitude has been visited upon one unfortunate nation. But why?

Wow, it is *really* dark now. Not even 3pm, and it's totally nighttime. In summer it's the exact opposite. Last time I was mostly up north, and I was sleeping in my rental car (travel-writer's budget!), but it never got dark. Hard to sleep with the sun in your eyes; even harder to pee discreetly in broad daylight.

Here's a tangent: One of the most important things I learned on that last trip is that I personally contain, at any given moment, enough blood to feed five million hungry mosquitos. Imagine what that must look like to the mosquito. Picture it in steak. There you are, buzzing around the forest, when suddenly along comes a giant walking buffet table laden with 5 MILLION juicy T-bone steaks, completely unguarded except for two pathetic little steak hands you can nibble on as they swat at you in vain. The risk of death is negligible compared with the likelihood of satisfaction. This got me to thinking about DEET and how it works. What is it like to be a mosquito in the presence of DEET? Is it like that same steak buffet table, only wrapped in see-through plastic? or is it more of a flavor-based shield, like the table of steak sprayed with essence of cabbage (or some other icky thing)? If so, how can the mosquitos tell it's bad before they taste it?

If anyone knows how DEET really works - from the insect's point of view - please email me. Thanks.

P.S! Important CORRECTION: My friend Jennifer is Swedish, and she's an excellent dancer. Exception to every rule, etc.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

So long, daylight

Heading to Sweden in the morning with the parents. Lots of work to do, but it'll be fun, too - or at least an instant education in Swedish bureaucracy. But it's always cool to be there this time of year. No real daylight, just a few hours of slightly diminished gloom, then it's night again. Candles everywhere. Cozy cellar bars, hot wine, saffron bread. (Reindeer in tubes!!! What a country.) For the last week of the trip we'll be up in Harnösand, several hours north of Stockholm on the coast, where it's REALLY wintery. (That's where my future cabin/hideout is.) I'll send dispatches as often as the excitement level merits. :>

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Close-ups of the gigantic icicles hanging from the gutter of my parents' house:

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Grouch? Who, me?

OK, so it seems that I might have come across as a tad grouchy in that last post. Humble apologies. I blame the fact that I'd been in isolation for many weeks and had not yet re-adjusted to the complexities and demands of human society. Also that I hadn't yet gone out. All month. However! The following night (Saturday) my brother and I went down to Ol'Zan's (the bar) to meet our uncle, Mark, for a few beers. It was interesting, to say the least. This bar has been the site of some really heinous debauchery, and not all of it committed by me. (It was the location of one of the two frail excuses for barfights I've ever been in. The other one was just up the street.) Luckily, almost no one I knew was there that night. The main notable feature was a guy who arrived at the bar wearing a ... oh, how can I describe this adequately ... well, you remember those satin jackets that were big in the '80s? Puffy, but sleek? Well, this guy had a blue one of those, only, emblazoned on the back of it, REALLY BIG, was - you guessed it - VIAGRA. Yep, dude was wearing a Viagra team jacket. How ballsy do you have to be to strut casually into a bar wearing something like that? Yeah, I know. But last week's visit was nothing compared to tonight's - for tonight, Ol' Zan's had karaoke. Oh yes. It is true.

(pause for deep breath)

First, we went to the birthday party of the new girlfriend of my uncle's best pal. She was turning 24. I was disqualified from making jokes about this, even though the age difference here was WAY broader than anything I have ever personally experienced. You know who you are. Anyway. Dudes were watching football, etc. There wasn't a lot going on. We drank a beer, made an effort, did a shot of Canadian whiskey in the kitchen out of a shot glass shaped like a tiny tiny beer barrel. Then someone started talking about what was in store at Ol'Zan's that night. All you need to know is that the words "midget" and "karaoke" were linked in the description. SOLD.

It turns out that on alternating Saturdays, midgets and people with developmental disabilities flock to Colorado City's one and only hot, happening nightlife spot to sing the classics of the country and western genre. Either that, or every single dude at the party AND at the bar had instructions to tell me the same damn story. But considering the enthusiasm with which half the party followed us to the bar, I think midgets were a realistic and expected part of everybody's agenda.

Alas, the bar was free of anyone shorter than, um, me. But there was indeed karaoke. A guy who had been in my class in school and then my brother's class did a couple of Garth songs. He turns out to be dating someone in the class ahead of me, a semi-babe he NEVER could've scored while in school. Props for hanging around until the right moment, I guess. There's no smoking allowed in bars in Pueblo County anymore, but half the people at the bar were puffing away anyhow, and the bartender (girl I fought with in that not-really-a-bar-fight) kept bringing fresh ashtrays. Someone told me that when the sheriff comes in, the whole place goes speakeasy - people hold their breath, the barkeep sprays Fabreze around and everyone with an ashtray hides it, quick as you can say $5000 fine. Ah, community. It's a beautiful thing.

Anyway. I'd like to describe all the folks there and how hilarious the entire evening was, but I'm not sure I can do it yet without feeling exploitative. Or exploitive. So I'll wait, but they'll show up somewhere, because they and the whole scene were amazing. One dude (who told me I was "hardcore" and "hard to figure out" because I didn't want, more than anything else in the world, a man who would just take care of me - "it doesn't even seem like you WANT to change," he wailed) kept asking me why I was smiling. It took a while, but I finally figured it out: it's because I DON'T LIVE HERE. :)