Friday, May 30, 2008

update, with photos!

Today, since I was so close (Idre & thereabouts), I drove across the border into Norway for a few minutes. Immediately the speed limit went up by ten, and all the o's were crossed out.

Here are some of those pictures I promised you:

^ The morksuggan! It's saying, "Keep Rattvik clean." And implying, "Or else."

^ Cat shaved like a poodle. How did they get it to sit still for this?

^ All of the houses are cute. (This one's cheating; it's historic. But still.)

^ See? Normal house, totally cute. Look at the tiny, tiny hut in the middle. Aww.

^ Even the hotdog stands are cute.

^ Cute bike.

^ One of my lunch stops.

^ A bear!

Best Swenglish Ever

From a youth hostel information email:

"You can also order dirnks and snaks from our blobby bar. "

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Sunlight! So tiring! Haha. I am in Rättvik, in the Swedish heartland, close to where they make those little painted Swedish horses. Everything's still irritatingly cute. Weather is insane. It's sunny and warm from like 4am until around 11pm, maybe 10:30. Very discouraging. Today I rebelled and spent a Whole Hour sitting on the hostel's front lawn and reading a Novel Unrelated to Work or School in Any Way. It was great. Otherwise, been pretty busy.

Notes of scale:
40 Swedish kronor = about 7 American dollars
cost of tank of gas = 400 kronor
tanks burned through so far = 3 (it was full when I started)
kilometers driven = 1551
kilometers left to drive = untold zillions (I've really barely started)
where I'm sleeping tonight = Rättvik
where I'm sleeping tomorrow night = Sälen
cans of RedBull consumed = only 3!

Readers' poll:
What do people who aren't guidebook writers do when they're on vacation?

Just curious.

Have realized I generally dislike exploring cities and towns of medium size. You have to go through them too quickly to be able to perceive any of their personality, which makes it seem like they have none. I have to take particularly excellent notes in medium-size towns because the second I leave, I forget everything about them. Right now, for example, I can't remember one single thing about Karlstad, except for its cool name. I'm not sure if it was Sunne or Sala whose main square was a parking lot. Wait, no, was it Askelsund...? I mean, these are places I've visited within the past week! But there are so many of them. And after about half a dozen they start to blur and smudge and fade. If I drove back through Sala or Sunne or Askelsund now it might look familiar or, equally imaginable, it might no longer exist at all.

Not to be completely solipsistic.

(I guess that's redundant.)

Anyway, Rättvik left an impression on me; I remembered it from last time. It's tiny, sleepy. Can't remember where I stayed, though - probably a campsite along the way, or maybe this was one of those nights when I slept in my car. But I remembered the long bridge and the ace konditori and the gang of feral kids hanging around the train station.

I hadn't realized until yesterday that it is also the home of one of my favorite critters, the Mörksuggan. Hard to translate. It's something like 'dark sow' but that name isn't cute enough to describe the critter's rotund, fuzzy-tailed, pointy-eared, ghoul-eyed darlingness. It's a little wooden carving thingie, painted black. It rocks gently on its little pointed feet. Margo has one. They look sort of like Moomins. Anyway! Apparently the artist was a local, and the library had a big exhibit about him. He was primarily a painter, and did some things that I believe were etchings, but none of us could come up with the precise word in English, and now I've forgotten the Swedish word (it's upstairs on a note). Forgot his name, too, but I bought a book about him, in Swedish, and the three librarians attending to me were so pleased that a stranger had exhibited interest, they gave me another book ("a gift from the foundation"). They were really excited. I was, too, enough to subject them to my poor, crude Swedish. Which I guess they dug, bless them.

Anyway. Still no wifi, but - pictures of mörksuggarna to come, along with, of course, the shaved cat, some caged bears, and many adorable (but totally unaffecting) pastoral country scenes. Stay alert.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Hi there, legions of fans. Apologies for the recent neglect. I'm in Sweden. Uppsala, to be exact. I flew in yesterday, arrived at 8 in the morning, grabbed my rental car (a Skoda, for those of you who pay attention to types of cars; small and grayish-blue, for the rest of us) at the airport, and dived in head-first to my summer job. Uppsala: conquered. Yesterday I walked my ankles off museuming. This country really knows how to do museums. Then today I drove around to all the old iron-forge villages. Very pretty (oh but for a motorcycle on these roads! Course, then I'd never get any work done).

Every time I come to Sweden, especially in spring, I realize I'd forgotten how incredibly pretty the landscape is. Everything is ludicrously green, and practically all the buildings are either cute and red or cute and vanilla or, in the cities, cute and tan. The cuteness is overwhelming. There's also a very particular feel to being here, something to do with the humidity plus the uniformly soft smell of the handsoap...I know that sounds odd, but it's true. (They use the same handsoap in every public restroom in Sweden, plus in my grandmother's house.)

This afternoon I drove through the town of Film. One-word review: picturesque! Seemed wrong to take a photo, though; all I have is a digital.

Also saw a cat shaved like a poodle.

Details and photos coming up.

Friday, May 02, 2008


Willy V's book just came out! (Dang, Powell's made me think it wasn't out until this weekend.) I have been waiting all week and am annoyed that I didn't just go look and see if they had it at the bookstore, because they probably did. You can't trust the Internet! (For reals about the waiting, though! It is going to be my finally finished-with-the-semester present to myself!) Anyway, I'm going over there right now!'s WV's playlist on the New York Times book blog.

Also, check out this sort of funny/creepy thing I found the other day: a blog post in which someone psychoanalyzes my review of WV's novel The Motel Life.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Book review!

Turkish author Asli Erdogan is speaking in NYC over the next couple of days. I wrote a review of her latest novel, The City in Crimson Cloak (Soft Skull), but I got too distracted by homework to do anything with it, so instead I'll start a new trend and make my glob vaguely timely. Here you go!

The City in Crimson Cloak
by Asli Erdogan
Translated by Amy Spangler
Soft Skull/Counterpoint

People fend off death in all kinds of ways, usually after they've done their best to court it. Take for example Asli Erdogan's heroine, Ozgur, a stubborn Turkish girl who throws herself into the slums of Rio de Janeiro and refuses to leave, though she knows the city will kill her.

We know it, too. The novel introduces us to Ozgur on the last day of her life, but even if it didn't say so on the cover, you'd be able to guess from the fever-dream intensity of her language that this girl is not long for the world. Erdogan packs her small novel with sensuous, hypnotic and hyperrealistic evocations of Rio -- squalor, heat, paranoia, drugs, noise, corpse-lined streets -- that make Ozgur's dark attachment to the city convincing. She hates the place, but she's transfixed. The fragmented story never clearly explains why she's there to begin with, but one thing you know right away is that she's not the kind of girl to walk away from a fight. And in Rio she finds herself an epic battleground and a gargantuan foe.

Ignoring her mother's long-distance pleas to come home, Ozgur lurks in her spartan room, smoking, fuming and writing. She's out of money, and she's lost touch with her friends. She's an angry girl alone in a dangerous city. Going home would be too easy. Worse, it would be a concession to the rules, an implicit acknowledgement that young girls should behave themselves, that certain places are simply unlivable, that there's no point in struggling against the way things are. Instead, with a thin notebook as her only weapon, Ozgur sets out to tame the city, to remake it according to her own vision. The novel she is writing serves as correction, accusation and lament.

"I wrote," Ozgur explains, "because I could find no other cover, no other protection against death in this city which puts a value on human life of ten to four hundred dollars per head."

The book is short but not slight. Ozgur/Erdogan writes as if she wants to grab the reader by the collar, shake him awake and then slam his face into each metaphor to make sure he gets it. Sometimes she almost loses control of language: "The violence that had grown in her heart like a stalagmite ever since she'd begun to live in this city frequently took over the reins to her being," she writes early on in the book. But the mixed metaphor actually fits here -- in a city as physically and spiritually chaotic as Erdogan's Rio, you can believe that a geological feature might seize the reins and drive a person headlong into disaster.

The stories Ozgur records in her notebook are, she tells us, "just phenomena that I've selected to replace reality, lies to lick my wounds... A few glimmering twitches in an ocean of darkness. Tremulous, plain, enchanted..."

Before long, fiction ripens into prophecy: the things she describes begin happening to her. Ozgur started writing in order to tame the city, but inevitably, the city takes over. Erdogan, a Turkish human-rights activist who has served on the PEN American Center's Writers in Prison Committee, might not have intended her second novel to be an allegory for the creative struggle, but reading it that way is no stretch.

Setting an Example

It's good to know Sweden is focusing its energy on the really important things....