Stockholm The view from Södermalm looking toward the old town.

 

In walking from Södermalm– the island I live on– to Gamla Stan the other day, I took this photo. I loved the patterns the clouds made in the sky. And the time? It was sunset. Officially right now, that’s 9.05 pm. But the light lingers in the sky much later than that. And sunrise is at 4.24 am.

The night is not so long these days.

And that’s one of the many things I love about living so far north. How north are we? Think where Alaska is, my American friends. That’s the part of the world I inhabit.

What am I not liking about living in the north right now? The weather. It feels like it has been gray and chilly for weeks. In skyping with my mom earlier for mother’s day, she mentioned it was 80 degrees f (26 degrees c) in my hometown of Cincinnati. I could barely control my jealousy. The high temperature here today? It was 9 degrees c (48.2). Stupid weather.

 

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Stockholm Spring still life: Moving the season inside at Debora’s house.

 

Yup, it was snowing again last night just before I went to bed.. It’s spring in Stockholm. From my many years here, I know that snow in May  happens just about every year. So I expect it. I laugh and carry on. Because at least at this time of year, the snow does not usually accumulate. And lots of things are blooming, even if it is not warm.  So it is chilly, but pretty.

 

Stockholm The path less traveled. 

 

Stockholm Hill of flowers. Stockholm Blooming feathers.

 

Stockholm A flash of yellow.

 

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Stockholm The SL “buy summer tickets” campaign.

 

Stockholm So travel!

 

The summer advertising campaign  for SL, Stockholm’s subway and bus transport system, has been the talk of Stockholm lately. Why? It features a cartoon dog and a bunch of nonsensical statements like “Very buy,” Much financial,” and “So travel.”

For the most part, it’s been confusing the heck out of people. I’ve heard people talking along the lines of, “Wow, SL really messed up that one. They hired the wrong agency for working with English” and so on. It’s been funny to read and hear all the dialogue about it on line as well. And the first day it was up in the subway, I heard two 30-something Swedes talking about it. “Do you get it? No. Me either.”

So what’s behind the confusion? Basically, the dog is mostly associated with pictures of Shiba Inus (nicknamed Shibe) and internal captions on Tumblr. Shibe is a meme or an idea and the odd little phrases and pictures of the dog have became a big hit on Twitter and other forms of social media.

According to SL, “This is a campaign aimed at people in their 20s , and it lies within the range of people who are likely to have seen this message before, and recognize the imagery.”

But for everyone else who is riding the subway and bus and seeing the signs, the campaign doesn’t make sense. And I’ve been wonder whether in a country where English is a second or third language for most people, is it a good idea to use confusing sentences like these in a campaign?

Then again, it really does feel like a lot of people are talking about this campaign, and isn’t that the best thing that SL could hope for in terms of a “buy summer tickets” ad? After all, I can’t remember any other SL ad that had people talking like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stockholm Jhumpa Lahiri and interviewer Josette Bushell-Mingo at Kulturhuset.

 

Last week, I went to an interview with Pulitzer-prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. It was a busy day, I had a lot to do that night and I was going on my own, so I was tempted to skip it. But I’m so glad that I went.

When I arrived at Kulturhuset for the International Writer’s Stage, I right away saw my friend Cecelia, so I was able to sit with her and another friend. And then I was completely pulled into the conversation between her and Josette Bushell-Mingo. (I’ve written before about Jhumpa and her books and how well I think she captures trying to fit into a new country and culture.)

Not surprisingly, she said a lot of things that resonated with me and my life in terms of living far from home. She talked about the themes that appear in all her books of longing, regret, identity and what it means to move, to leave things behind. How much we feel guilty at leaving our families, our friends, our histories. What it’s like to have a love/hate relationship with the place you move to and to begin to figure out how things are done. ”Nothing is connected, but you acquire some vital knowledge everyday when you build a life from zero–when you have no friends, no language, no knowledge, no connection to the history in a country you don’t consider home.”

Looking back on my arrival in Stockholm, that was me. I knew no one besides Robert, I did not know even one word of Swedish. I had no cultural heritage or connection to Sweden. No Swedish husband or distant relative. I had no formal job. And I felt so lost, so very, very far from home that I was not sure I could handle the transition.

Just to have something familiar in my daily life, I would come home from Swedish class and turn on the TV. At that time, we did not have cable, and there was one station that played some American sitcoms in the evening. That was it. Everything else was in Swedish. So religiously as I cooked dinner, I would watch Friends and The Simpsons. Funnily enough, I did not watch these shows in the US. But in Stockholm, they were in ENGLISH and became my lifeline to the US, to familiarity. At a time when even going to the grocery was a confusing experience that required a dictionary, these two shows became my companions.

It’s so fascinating what you do to cope, to learn to live again, to make a new home when you are very far from home.

 

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Stockholm Valborg on Riddarholmen with Stadshuset in the background.

 

Stockholm Watching the fire on land and sea.

 

I went to valborg–the big bonfire on Riddarholmen tonight. This is the annual pagan ritual to celebrate the end of winter by lighting a huge bonfire. We went to the fire on Riddarholmen overlooking Stadshuset or city hall and the water. It’s become a tradition to go to this fire–you can see some of last year’s photos here.

It was a beautiful night that gradually turned cooler. And just after I got home at 11.3oish, it rained and then hailed. And it’s supposed to turn to snow. I made it just in time.

Trevlig valborg or happy May day!

PS. And here’s a May Day update. I woke up this morning (May 1) to snow. Obviously, the bonfire did not work.

 

 

Stockholm Another view.

 

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R1 reactor Listening to music inside a nuclear reactor at KTH.

 

Kulturnatt The “help me” sign inside the reactor elevator was a funny touch.

 

Last night was Kulturnatt– Culture night– in Stockholm. And that meant from 6 pm to 5 am, there were seemingly endless possibilities for fun, free and arty things to do in the center of town. Options for what to see included everything from ballet and street dance to classical and baroque music to modern, manga, tattoo and classical art. Palaces, theaters, churches, galleries, museums, studios and embassies were all open and the streets around town were hopping. It was a lot of fun.

The last time we went, we were much more organized with our choices and planned out the evening. This time, we just went with the flow and with our maps, did a walking tour of the options. We started out by stopping into some of the galleries on Hornsgatan. At Grafiska Sällskapet (the Graphic Society), you could try your hand at etching or block printing while eating scones.

On Gamla Stan, we saw a baroque choir at the St. Gertrude’s church. Founded in 1571m the German cathedral was packed with people of all ages. And it was the same thing at the Nobel Museum. To correspond with a fashion exhibition there, you could create your own dress designs on wooden mannequins using fabrics, laces and ribbons.

From there, we went to the campus of KTH for something called drone night. We waited in line about 40 minutes to get into the old R1 nuclear reactor there. (Fun fact: Madonna shot a music video there.) You had to be taken 25 meters down into the reactor hall via a slow elevator lit with ominous red lights. In the old core area, a DJ and sound system was set up with a huge screen. Black light lit up the cavernous room and huge pillow cushions were spread out on the floor so you could lay down and let the music and light pulse over you. It was crazy stuff.

My only complaint about Kulturnatt: I would like this to go on for the entire weekend, not just the night. There were moe things I wanted to see than what there was time for!

 

Stockholm Fashion designers of the future at work at the Nobel Museum.

 

Stockholm The outside courtyard at Tessin Palace on Gamla Stan. Since Adam had not been before, we stopped in briefly.

 

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Stockholm A box full of pansies.

 

Stockholm Not quite ready to bloom.

 

Spring in Stockholm does not get much better than what it was here today. Combine that with the long Easter holiday weekend and I can definitely say that life is good. To take advantage of the weather and the day off, we had a picnic lunch in our local park Skinnarbacken today. We kept it simple: wine, cheese, salami, olives, tomatoes. Oh, and there were yummy chocolate chip cookies for dessert. (I made them for some friends and kept a few for us.)

This town always clears out for a holiday weekend and this one was no exception. But there were still a good number of people in the park today also having picnics, as well as BBQs, and sleeping, reading and playing guitar. The weather was just too good to resist–sunny again and warmish.

I meant to take photos in the park, but somehow got distracted. Instead, the photos here are from Mälarpaviljongen– a floating restaurant/bar on Kungsholmen. I met some friends there yesterday afternoon and couldn’t resist looking around the small garden store that’s also on the boat. The place was just bursting with spring.

 

Stockholm A bowl of lemons, with the lake in the background.

 

Stockholm Hanging pots.

 

Stockholm Flowers for sale.

 

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Kungstragarden An up-close view of the cherry blossoms.

 

Stockholm The fountain and blossoms at Kungsträdgården.

 

They’re back. The cherry blossoms at Kungsträdgården are blooming and casting their magic glow once again. And since today was the most gorgeous day we’ve had in Stockholm all year–it was sunny and 16 degrees c (about 60 F)–we had to get out and enjoy them. Robert and I spent the afternoon walking around and sitting on the steps by the fountain at Kungsträdgården. And all the rest of Stockholm was there too, taking pictures of the blossoms and themselves in front of the them.

It was glorious. Happy Easter everyone.

 

Stockholm I love the pink haze.

 

Stockholm Cameras were at the ready everywhere you looked.

 

Stockholm A pink walkway.

 

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Sydney The BBQ platter at Papi Chulos.

 

Papi Chulo Pickles were served on the side of the platter.

 

Growing up just across the Ohio river from the American south and with a southern mother, I’ve tasted a lot of fantastic southern cooking. So I was a little hesitant to say yes when our friends Jenny and Bill invited us to Papi Chulo, a BBQ restaurant in Sydney’s Manly Beach. It was the end of our time in Australia and what I really wanted was another good Asian meal like the one we had at Ms G’s.

But since Jenny and Bill always take us to amazing restaurants, I said yes. And I am so glad I did as we were not disappointed. Papi Chulo calls itself “the real deal American BBQ” and is located right on the wharf at Manly. On the menu are dishes from the deep American south like smoked pork ribs and grilled corn on the cob and also some classic South American dishes like ceviche and empanadas.

Together,  we shared ceviche of kingfish with jalapeño, celery, pineapple and crispy corn. And oh my, it was so good. We also had Dan Hong’s (not a) chopped salad – a light salad of raw and grilled vegetables. And then we went for it and had the Papi Chulo BBQ platter. It included rack of lamb ribs, wagyu brisket, chopped pork and pork belly and was served with pickles and bread. All the BBQ’d meats were done really, really well, even the pork. And we were all pretty happy with the BBQ sauce too.

If that wasn’t enough, we also had some really tasty curly fries. And there was dessert, too, including a warm chocolate chip cookie, with vanilla malt ice-cream, butterscotch sauce and macadamia brittle.

Yum. It was all amazingly well done. I even felt like I could be somewhere in the American south–with  big open to the water windows, ceiling fans, shutters and a casual atmosphere with good service. I felt a bit homesick.

 

Papi Chulo Dessert.

 

Papi Chulo The view from our table. A big thunderstorm came in while we were eating and we could see the lightning flash across the water.

 

 

 

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Sydney James in front of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Sydney James and I at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Yes, that’s the Sydney Harbour Bridge just behind us– the view from the cafe terrace is amazing.

 

My friend James took me for a mini art tour in Sydney. We started at White Rabbit, a contemporary art gallery that he thought I would enjoy. He was right. This gallery is one of the best I’ve been to in a long time.

Founded by Kerr and Judith Nelson, the gallery focuses on contemporary Chinese art produced after 2000. The art is exciting. Thought provoking, really. And it gave James and I a lot to talk about. The show we saw is Reformation and it is still there. “The gallery explains that “China is home to a creative re-formation that is making waves around the world. It draws inspiration from classical calligraphy and the European masters, Taoism and the Internet, Shanghai street life and global business, kung fu and genetics.”

 

Sydney art MadeIn Company’s Play 201301 at White Rabbit.

 

 

White Rabbit While it looks like this man is getting an close-up view of the art, he is actually the art in Zhou Xiaohu’s You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.

 

sydney There’s a wall of large paintings on the first floor of White Rabbit.

 

Sydney Also on the first floor of White Rabbit is a gift shop and tea room.

 

High on the list of installations that make you think is MadeIn Company’s Play 201301, a mixed media installation of leather, chains, spikes and torture devices done up as a series of gothic cathedrals and hanging from the ceiling. White Rabbit describes it is a “darkly humorous cliche-fest of leather, whips and chains that prompts questions about the lust for pleasure and where it may be taking us. Is erotic torture really analagous to religious exaltation?” I found it fascinating and disturbing in equal parts. Read what James has to say about it in his blog.

Given my art background, I was intrigued by Dong Yuan’s reconstructions of European master paintings. She does old master style oil paintings with a twist. So in her Repeated Illusions series, there’s a canvas painted with an empty vase in a dark, Dutch-masters style. Hanging above it on a clothes line from pegs are cut-out shapes of beautifully painted tulips.

And James and I were both fascinated by Zhou Xiaohu’s You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, an installation piece of a two figures on either side of a wall, together with a video. Both men look astonishingly real–in fact, we both wondered why the one guy was standing so close to the video screen. There’s a lot more art, including installations, videos and scultpures, well worth checking out if you are in Sydney.

Our next stop was the Museum of Contemporary Art. And while we meant to look at the art, it had been so long since we had seen each other that we actually just had a glass of wine on the terrace overlooking Circular Quay and talked instead. The gallery has been renovated since I was last there and the space looks amazing, so I’ll have to check it out more next time. I did love the mural along the stairs as you enter from Circular Quay. It’s by Guan Wei and titled Coming to Australia.

 

MCA Sydney The entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art has a beautiful mural by Guan Wei titled Coming to Australia.

 

Sydney The Wurrungwuri sculpture in the botanic gardens.

 

From there, we wandered through the botanic gardens to make our way to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for Art After Hours. While drinking champagne, we listened to a panel discussion with the student winners of ArtExpress 2014 and then saw the show. Many of the students had some rather profound things to say about their art and I was left impressed with the overall state of art in Sydney.

It was a whirlwind day, but oh so inspiring.

 

Sydney On the first floor of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, with the room set up for the art talk.

 

White Rabbit Bring on the reformation!

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