The hills and folks

It’s been 3 weeks since we arrived back in Australia, and there’s a lot to take in and share. So I’m going to start small.

I like going on regular runs, preferably first thing in the morning when the air is clear and I can avoid having two showers. Wherever we lived in Göteborg I was able to find a path through a forest, or through town to a creek or around a beautiful lake. I relied on the surroundings to do part of the work of getting me running everyday, to see the seasons pass, the geese return from their winter migration and the berries ripen. I loved the lake most of all, regardless of the season or weather.

A brief moment of sun

Kåsjön

Now I’ve found myself in the hills where I grew up, among forests that would be best described as green and rough, and still familiar as family. Up here (for a relative value of up) the soil is rusty red and gravelly and the trees gnarled. In winter the dust isn’t able to settle so the leaves are glossy green and fragrant, and grasses and weeds are flourishing in the forests and gardens. It’s the best time of year to go on morning runs, before the heat starts to set in and there’s enough chill in the easterly winds to cool the sweat. I’ve started a routine, heading up the hill before turning so I can run partly downhill home, each day going slightly further. The gravel can be tricky and the path is never really flat or straight, swinging around corners and up and down slopes all the way, but I’m starting to learn it.

Morning run

Morning run

I’ve passed many people during my runs, walking dogs or cycling, and all have smiled and said good morning, as it has always been done up here. No longer do I make brief eye-contact and then glance away, concerned at breaking the unspoken Scandinavian code of personal space. That bubble of personal space is much reduced here, and the edges blurred. Strangers strike up conversations on train platforms, locals stare more openly at those who are different, acquaintances make comments that would be rude elsewhere and the young move easily forward to help the elderly. I have also discovered a liking for banter in public, something I’d always felt awkward about. Short questions and greetings have become chats, easy and comfortable, the slang and accent coming back to me bit by bit.

Hovea Falls

Hovea Falls

It feels new and old at the same time, the mundane now a little bit exotic and what was familiar a month ago now foreign.

Old pub in Fremantle

Old pub in Fremantle

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Leaving Sweden

I’m letting the cat out of the bag this week. It’s a rather big cat and to be honest one I’d rather keep in the bag, but as with so much in life the bag-opening decision was taken out of our hands. Too many metaphors? In short, we’re moving back to Perth at the end of May.
There, I’ve said it.
Some of you may already know, in which case you’ll know the reason. Which is an illness in the family. We can’t stay over here while people we love suffer and fade day by day. Even though there are many things about this decision that make me sad, I know that it’s the right decision.

It will mean a huge change in our lives, and rather than imagine it as a return to the old life, I’m trying to frame it as the next adventure. We’ve changed and grown, and I’m not the person who jumped on a plane into the unknown almost 3 years ago. And once this next stage is over and we’re ready to consider our next adventure, I’ll be someone else again.

Perhaps we’ll even be able to return to Sweden, or live somewhere nearby that would allow us to visit regularly. That is an unknown at the moment, though one thing we are sure about is that we want to keep moving, regardless of whatever else happens in our lives. I’ll try and take Neil Gaiman’s words with me, and continue the journey with my eyes and my heart wide open.

Spring

Spring

2015: Travels and moving forward

So 2015 is now in the past, and while like any year it creeps along at walking pace while living it, looking back it seems now to have been very full and sometimes reaching a sprint. It has been a year of travelling (7 different countries!), big steps forward (my own business) and important decisions.

It started, as all years do in Sweden, with fireworks and then a trip to Stockholm. Later in the month I met my mum in Copenhagen and traveled around with her, as we showed each other our lives in the North, both past and present.

As the darkness and cold continued to set in, there was a trip to sunny Malaga, a brief inoculation against the winter that has also left me in love with Spain.
Time passed, fear came to my home town, and then Easter and the turning of the seasons. I continued to work, relief teaching at schools and gathering private students, learning as I went. That fear seemed to grow throughout the year, rising from under the surface and at least right now it doesn’t look as though it’s going to recede any time soon.

More trips around the Nordic regions followed, including a cruise across the Baltic and a short stay in Aarhus, Denmark. Summer arrived, and with the holidays I left a beloved school, experienced my second Midsummer picnic and attempted indoor gardening. Other hobbies included joining a flamenco choir, trying to make it to a language café in between teaching and tasting the brews made by my partner.

As summer passed we flew to Malta, experiencing long sunny days, chaos, sea and incredible history. Back at home work continued to increase, with more and more private students and work through a consultancy. I found less time for writing and reflection, and for the first time since I started this blog, the gaps between posts became 2 weeks or more rather than 1. As my focus shifted, I set about making the most of the change, and formally set up my business, including a website and a business plan.

With the end of the year almost upon us, we visited London, a place I’ve long considered as a home that I’d not yet got around to visiting. It met, surpassed and left my expectations far behind, giving me yet another place that lurks invitingly in the back of my mind whenever I’m feeling restless.

Finally we returned to Australia for family, christmas and a holiday of sorts. It was intense, as any trip home to family, friends and real life is bound to be. As well as the various pressures and commitments, the days of the festive season were for the most part relaxing and enjoyable, filled with food and love. I also got a bit of a tan, though you wouldn’t think so if you asked the repairman who came to fix our dryer. I’m fairly sure I let him down a bit.

Then the year came full circle, with fireworks in the cold, cheering and friends, and a return to the long, dark wait until Spring. 2016 is still new and fresh and full of potential, and no amount of guesswork can tell what might happen. A few things are certain, and will be shared in their time, but mostly the year is unwritten, and we shall we what we shall see.

…in the morning we will remember them

At some point I lost the ability to see things only in black and white. One of the casualties was ANZAC Day, the annual day to honour those soldiers who died on the coast of Turkey 100 years ago. It was the day that the Australian nation was born. Wasn’t it? Or did it mark the start of the stretching of bonds between The British Empire and her little colony? Or was it just a failed campaign that cost thousands of lives?

ANZAC Cove

Back in primary school we were taught about bravery, sacrifice and the necessity of waging war against evil, and the nobility of those young men who died for us. The crucified man on the wall was a template for self-sacrifice and the young, tanned and wiry men in slouch hats his successors. For years, whenever I saw a sports game with fit young men I’d flash back to descriptions of the soldiers and transpose them into the old uniforms, running across no man’s land in style of Mark Lee.
As I read more I discovered a contradiction in the idea of war being against an ultimate evil. There were stories of food thrown over the trenches, camaraderie across the lines and the speech of Ataturk,

…your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Under orders young men killed other young men, but in moments of humanity they saw each other as people. This narrative echoed over and over, the soldiers victims of a stupid war that pitted them against people who could have been friends.

Graves at the ANZAC cove gravesite

Around high school I began to go to the Dawn Ceremony, wrenching myself and my dad out of bed before dawn to make our sleepy way to King’s Park. There we gathered with others in the cold, rain and occasional sprinkler malfunction to watch as wreaths were laid, speeches were given and we muttered that next year we would definitely bring fold-out chairs. Finally a trumpet was blown and 10s of thousands of people stood in silence in the dawn, as rosy hues spread across the sky and magpies called from the top of the monument, the silence broken by the Ode of Remembrance.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.

With each year the crowd would grow, and we ended up further and further back from the memorial. Sometimes we brought my brother, friends or visitors, but always it was my dad and I, talking about the old boys and the memories of the men who had left us a pauper’s grave and the medals that dad wore on his chest.

On ANZAC Day my mum always stayed at home to look after my sister and because she didn’t feel the same need to go as we did. I’d ask why she didn’t want to come and she’d say that it seemed to her a celebration of war that she didn’t want any part of. I’d try to explain my feelings about the day and what it meant to me, about remembrance of sacrifice and honouring the dead, but beneath this was an acknowledgement of what she said. Were we celebrating the nobility of war, and an ideal of humanity that didn’t exist outside of fiction? What was the difference between honouring the deaths of young men in the service of their country and honouring the necessity of the war that took them away? She has since said that she understands it better, remembering family and the personal remains of the war, and seems not so opposed to the day as she was in the past.
However, all the talk about the birth of the nation on the beaches of Gallipoli seemed to deny all that had come before. Even now the day of Federation or when universal suffrage was passed are vague to most Australians, but ask them about the date of a battle in a far off land and they can tell you in seconds.

ANZAC memorial at North Beach

Then this year, the day before Australia day, I found out about an event that had taken place exactly 100 years previously. On the 24th of April 1915 the Ottoman government rounded up and executed Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul and ordered the deportation of other Armenians across the country. The reason given is they were perceived as being a threat to the war effort, and over the coming years able-bodied men were massacred and the rest were force marched into the Syrian desert to die of starvation. In total, between 800,000 and 1.5 million people died. With the threat being removed, the focus could then shift to the shores of Gallipoli.
Though the genocide wasn’t caused by the Allied soldiers, there is a connection between these two events and for this year at least I couldn’t think of one without the other.

So it was with mixed feelings that I loked forward to the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli, and then realised that I had agreed to go on an overnight cruise of the Baltic on ANZAC Day (more on that trip later). So I kept the day in mind and regretted my poor planning, wishing I could have gone to the ceremony held by Australian and New Zealander expats. The day came and went, and I started writing the draft of this post on the train to Stockholm and finishing it on the way back.
Posts from friends and family flooded Facebook, reflecting on war, the past, Australian identity and family. On Sunday morning I saw a post from my mum, a series of photos from their ANZAC Day across the world. Rather than attend the Dawn Ceremony, dad stayed home and mum made pikelets. Then they went to the Blackboy Hill memorial, where my paternal grandfather had enlisted and trained before being sent off to France at the tender and secret age of 16. Then they visited his grave and left a temporary plaque in lieu of the official stone to replace the bare, iron numbers of the pauper’s grave. Then King’s Park and the pub, to while away the last hours of the day. Right now I can’t think of a more appropriate way to spend the day, in the company of family past and present, keeping the memory of those who were lost to the war alive.
The Monday after ANZAC Day, when I was preparing an activity for a student using coverage from the Australian memorials, I unexpectedly burst into tears when they showed the Perth ceremony, the familiar monument and sunlit distant hills bringing all of the homesickness I had thought long gone to the surface. I’ve now missed two ANZAC Day’s, and I didn’t really realize until then how much.

My great-grandfather

My great-grandfather

So after explaining what the day means to non-Australians and writing this post, I think that ANZAC Day is never just one thing, clear in black and white and disconnected from context and doubt and nor should it be. It’s a day for acknowledging the shades in-between black and white, and it’s a day for remembering.

Lest we forget.

A family forest and frozen archipelago

For us folks from little old Göteborg, it’s always a bit of a jolt arriving in Stockholm as you climb off the train and are soon enveloped in masses of bustling folk, tourists, locals going to and from work, locals between pubs, beggars and others whose intentions I could not guess. So it was this latest time, as I met my partner at the station. As I mentioned in the previous post, my mum had already arrived and my fella had just finished a day of work, so all that remained was for both of us to make our way to the house where we would be staying.
We joined commuters on the pendeltåg to Uppsala (one day I’ll follow it the whole way), and after a wander and a bus ride we arrived at our stop. My mum found us there and before long we were unloading our baggage at the guest rooms and I at least was starting to relax a bit.
After a little refreshment, we went to the home of one of my mum’s childhood friends, the lady who had arranged for us to have the guest rooms. We were welcomed into warmth with wine and conversation, and soon felt at home. We would end up spending the beginning and end of the next few days at her home, and I think we took the ‘make yourself at home’ line to heart.
We had a delicious, cosy dinner followed by lots of chatting and finally, as my eyelids began to droop, we went back to the guest room and rested.

The next morning my partner went off to work early, but my mum and I took our time getting ready, breakfasting at the apartment and planning the day ahead. Around mid-morning we were on a train bound for the city and were soon after wandering the streets of Gamla Stan. After investigating the Palace and taking photos, our first stop was a cafe that had been recommended by the daughter of our host.

A history of visitors

A history of visitors

As she said, there was a sign out the front promising mint tea, which turned out to be everything she had said and more. It was basically a large mug filled with handfuls of mint leaves, chunks of ginger and slices of lemon (and after an incident with mum’s drink, a little bit of melted chocolate), and was wonderful.

Mint tea

Mint tea

The minty, gingery warmth more than made up for the slight envy I may have had for my mum’s bowl – mug doesn’t cut it here – of hot chocolate. Thus warmed and sweetened, we continued our explorations. We had no plan and so took what streets we found, admiring old buildings, posing in front of the Nobel museum and exclaiming at the rune stone lodged in a wall.

Stockholm in the sun

Stockholm in the sun

As we finally left Gamla Stan, we had a look around the Medieval Museum, hidden under Norrbro. I’d been there once before, and it was just as interesting this time. We followed a tour guide around and poked around ourselves, admiring the reconstructed houses, monastery, markets and recreations. As before, I was struck by the poignant model of a woman realising she had the plague, and a monk eternally checking his herb garden.

A monk tending his garden

A monk tending his garden

Back outside we continued our journey through the busy shopping and business areas of the city, catching a short tram ride to Nybroplan and then finding Östermalms Saluhall.

A calm elk

A calm elk

We had a snack and took part in people watching, noting the grandparents with grandkids, old friends, couples and those who ate alone who surrounded our little table. A walk around the hall revealed amazing fish, a remarkably calm elk head, feathered chickens and countless other treats and sights.

An unimpressed fish

An unimpressed fish

Back out in the cold we took refuge in design stores and a cafe as we made our way back to the station bit by bit, finally arriving in time to relax before being served another delicious dinner.

The first time I visited Stockholm, I also trekked out of the city to visit the suburb where my mum grew up and found her old home. I’d been in a rush, as I got lost on the way, and so only made a note of the concrete pool in the front yard that she’d told me her father had made and thought that it seemed very quiet and un-lived-in. As we approached the house this time, comments about remembered landmarks and friends filled the front of the car – ‘that’s where so-and-so lived’ ‘I saw him three years ago’ ‘what happened to her?’ ‘do you remember the quiet boy at the end of the street?’ My partner and I sat in the back and stared out at the normal looking suburb, rows of similar looking houses blanketed in snow and hills covered in thick forests. We pulled up at my mum’s old house, and after showing off the letter box made by her father she lead us up into the forest. I’d heard a lot about this forest as I was growing up – days of picking berries, building huts, making bows and arrows, playing tricks on neighbours and all of the other pastimes that 4 children can invent away from the interference of adults. As we picked our way over drifts of snow and around trees she pointed out familiar rocks, a place where they built a hut, the multitude of blueberry bushes, the tracks in the distance where they skied and the path from school.

Childhood forest

Childhood forest

I imagine that as a child the forest would have been as big as a whole world, with endless possibilities and even with adult eyes more suited to measuring and creating meaning I could see the trees that would make perfect hideaways and the borders of the forest seemed to fall away.

From the forest we went for lunch at the local shopping centre, which had grown a bit over the years. At the supermarket my mum excitedly grabbed a brochure with the name of the suburb, as alas we had been unable to find t-shirts of the ‘I ♥ ____’ variety.

That night was to be a reunion for my mum and a few friends, so my partner and I had the evening to ourselves. Following a recommendation, we went to Medborgarplatsen or ‘Medis’, the most real feeling area I had yet seen in Stockholm. Rather than packs of tourists, it seemed mostly inhabited with locals and though the restaurant where we ate had English menus it didn’t have tourist prices.

On Sunday morning my partner returned to Göteborg, so us three ladies went on a boat tour of the archipelago. I had last seen it in August on an old steamer, sitting out on the deck admiring the green islands and watching families have parties on their terraces across the water. This time there were no outdoor parties, and much of the greenery was covered in a blanket of white.

Winter islands

Winter islands

It was still lovely, however, crisp and clean contrasts of dark green, grey blue and white across the land- and water-scape. The tour included a guide, who punctuated the trip with history and anecdotes, and seemed very excited to find people who could speak Swedish. He’d break off now and then and give us a tid-bit that he didn’t share with the others, and despite getting the age of a famous skiier and the Germanic ally who had betrayed the Romans in the Teutoberg forest wrong, he was an excellent guide.

Living in the archipelago

Living in the archipelago

Some final wandering through the city followed the tour, and we then headed back to the apartment for our last dinner together. We finished with a dessert that had amazed me so much the other time I ate it that I was given seconds. Who would have thought that fried pepparkaka dough, icecream, blue cheese and fig jam would be the perfect combination? If you take nothing else away from this blog, I hope it is a nagging curiosity about how this recipe could exist and a yearning to try it.

On the following day my mum and I both departed, though at different times and to different places. She caught an early train to Oslo, and then on to Lillehammer. I went later in the morning on a train back to Göteborg to return to what would become normal life. Thus ended the part of my mum’s trip that was spent with us, about two weeks of conferencing, touristing, eating, talking, walking and celebrating. She is now back in Australia, I imagine having long adjusted to normal life and a pretty dramatic temperature difference. Who knows how long it’ll be until she’s here next, exclaiming about snow, showing us how to make Thai food and sharing explorations. I hope it isn’t too long.

Family, home and snow games

Every time we have guests coming to visit us from overseas, I have to quell the urge to turn into a cross between a tour guide and a real estate agent, showing of my home city like some newly renovated town house. This urge was even stronger when we recently entertained my mum, as part of her journey around Scandinavia. Due to, or maybe in spite of, my arm waving I’m fairly sure she accepts that while it isn’t Perth, it will do for now.

Unfortunately Göteborg wasn’t doing itself any favours when we first arrived, if you’re from Australia and are missing the sunlight. We arrived on the second day of a heavy fall of snow, and as we tumbled off the train the flakes were falling in thick, soft clumps, swirling around us and sticking to our beanies. As she grew up in this sort of weather, my mum seemed pretty delighted with it, the heavy suitcases notwithstanding, and once we were waiting for the last leg of our journey home she released possibly years of a repressed need to throw snowballs and make snowmen.
Our home sometimes seems to be in a different climate, so by the time we’d reached our neighbourhood, the snow was even thicker and in order to get our suitcases home we rotated clearing a trail and takingregular rests. We would see soon eough why the suitcases were so heavy.

The first of three snowmen

The first of three snowmen

Once we had settled a bit and warmed up, an activity of great importance was discussed, the very mention of which had made my mum nearly vibrate with enthusiasm. There was just enough sunlight to make it worthwhile, so without further ado we were back out the door, my mum and partner clad in waterproof gear and clutching skis. Even though she hadn’t skied for many years, my mum soon seemed to get the hang of it, though took the chance a few times to ‘sit down’ for a little while. And yes mum, it was more than 3 times. While they sped around and tumbled, I took photos and tried a bit of art, and then as the sun set we went back to the warm apartment.

Skiiers

Skiiers

It was then that the weight of the suitcases was explained, as bottle after bottle of wine was unloaded and finally a six-pack of Little Creatures beer, a special treat for my partner. Dinner was eaten, relaxing was done and then we all collapsed in our respective beds, quite exhausted.

Yet another snowman

Yet another snowman

By some coincidence, our visitor from Australia had arrived two days before Australia Day and had with her piles of flags, bunting, balloons and local food. As Australia Day was to fall on Monday, we had arranged to have a bbq at our place on the Sunday, inviting a few of our friends over to celebrate. And so around midday, as the decorations were being hung up and the food prepared, friends began to arrive and soon the bbq was lit out on the snow covered backyard.

A bit of decoration

A bit of decoration

While we waited and sipped our drinks, there were a few snowball fights, one angel and one very happy chap with his bbq. The food was tasty, there was music and my mum took pride of place at the table, talking about Australia, sustainability and Scandinavia. It was fun and relaxing, and even if the temperature never rose above 0 and there were no fireworks, it was just the sort of party that sums up how I see the Australian attitude to life.
Plus, there was vegemite, a coffee pavlova and Timtams.

Bbq in the snow

Bbq in the snow

For the second full day, I took my mum into town, trying to make the most of the cold, overcast and snowy weather. We went to Universeum first, wandered around the exhibits, through the rainforest, stared up at mammoths and shivered, and played with the interactive science exhibits. It was fun, a bit silly and interesting, and we capped it off with a snack which in my case turned out to be extremely hot mustard with a hint of hotdog.

Mammoths, not as cold as us

Mammoths, not as cold as us

Mouth still burning, we headed out into the weather to grab fika with a friend of mine at my favourite cafe. We of course ordered a semla to share, and enjoyed it with tea, coffee and chatting as our coats dried and the snow fell outside. Soon we were on our way again, through town to investigate Scandinavian homeware brands, and coo over Marimekko and Iittala. As night closed in we met my partner for dinner at our favourite burger restaurant, and toasted to a lovely stay in our home town.

On the third and final full day, I had to work in the afternoon so our guest entertained herself, visiting museums and art galleries, and being amazed at the variety and quality of art that this little town has. That night I was also asked to do a night class, so I got home late, but in time to eat the Thai meal that she had prepared. On the morning of the next day we parted at the train station, her to begin her journey to Stockholm and me to prepare for another class.
Through some sort of strange chance, myself, my mum and my partner would all be descending on Stockholm within the same two days but at different times. The same day my mum left my partner did as well, and so for the first time in over a week I had space and an apartment to myself. I blogged and worked for much of this night, keeping the loneliness and quiet away, and as the lesson on the next day was cancelled I had the following morning to pack and prepare to join them. Which was how I found myself on a train heading to Stockholm, preparing for new sights and familiar ones, friends I had not seen in a while and new people to meet. After four hours I would see it all, but until then I had a book to read and work to do, and so I sat back and waited.

World clocks and the future

It was a chilly and blustery morning when my mum and I set out from our hotel, notebooks and minds prepared to be filled with jottings and ideas. We arrived early and as other guests trickled in after us, we had a go at table-soccer. She won. A bit of tentative mingling and checking the tea supplies followed, and then the suddenly growing crowd filled the main hall, to stare expectantly at the stage. A man strode up and with a big smile welcomed us all to the 2015 Conference On Sustanability, and so began three days of presentations, workshops, networking, a constant barrage of new ideas and the drinking of a lot of tea.

For the first day I juggled presentations with lesson planning, writing last week’s blog-post and marking. It seemed that almost everyone else was grabbing time to sit and write or type, though as I gradually realised, much of it was last minute changes for their own presentations. It seemed I was one of the very few who was there without a presentation looming over their heads, or even a Dr. next to their name.
One memorable presentation from the first day concerned ‘novel ecosystems’, environments that many people nowadays imagine are wilderness, but are in fact heavily influenced by human activity. Our ability to measure the wildness of an ecosystem decreases as our childhood memories of nature, which take the place in our minds of the ‘ideal’ environment, become more and more degraded with each generation. It made me wonder about the bush I’d grown up in, which I had thought was rugged and wild, but which had long been encroached upon. It’s still wilderness in my mind though, with the addition of a few pockets of Tasmania and New Zealand. Will I ever see truly wild nature? Whether I do or not, at least I’ll be more aware of judging what wilderness really means.

After a day of listening and a quick change, my mum and I made our way to the Copenhagen Town Hall, which was even more impressive on the inside than the outside. There were grand halls, lots of flags and the busts of many men, and on the walls and ceiling of a stairway, raised reliefs of trees, flowers, gulls circling around chandeliers and clumps of clover. The reception hall, where we were treated to the traditional pancakes that are a specialty of the old building, was hung with town crests and on one wall the crests of Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe islands and Denmark were displayed along with two gilded walrus skulls. I suppose even if you have no overseas territory anymore, it doesn’t do to let anyone else forget what you once had.
Once we were back outside we found a bookstore cafe called Paludan’s, which was extremely cosy. Bookshelves lined the walls, and most of the miss-matched tables were filled with students, office workers, tourists, parents, older couples and hipsters. A shared dinner of nachos (‘I’m not hungry, I’ll just taste yours.’ ‘Tasting isn’t eat half mum.’), tea and a well made cup of coffee followed, a good end to a quite full day.

Gulls and trees

Gulls and trees

One each of the three days of the conference, there were guest speakers before the first run of presentations started. The speaker who made the strongest impression on me was Selina Juul, the founder of Stop Wasting Food. She spoke about the massive amount of food needlessly wasted in many parts of the world and the culture of over-supply. It seems that Denmark is way ahead of many other countries in terms of wastage, partially due to her efforts I think, and it was pretty clear from her presence, passion and past efforts why they decided to make her the Dane of the Year for 2014. She was also willing to put her words into actions, happily eating an unsellable banana as she sat down.

Selina Juul, mid-speech

Selina Juul, mid-speech

My mum’s presentation followed soon after, and went really well, including at the end enthusiastic thanks from members of the audience. I blogged and worked, listened and chatted, talked to a woman from Nigerian about the reality of life in the same country as Boko Haram and drank tea. That day we also decided to wag, just a little, and so crept out around mid-afternoon and enjoyed a walk around the city and another visit to the History Museum.

Endless gears

Endless gears

My mum was also very inistent that I see a clock that she had found in the Town Hall. It was the World Clock, which was started in 1955 and includes the movements of the planets, the days of the year, the seasons and seconds. Most remarkably, it has one gear that completes a revolution every 25,753 years. Which seems as good a symbol of sustainable thinking as anything else I’ve seen.

The World Clock

The World Clock

As night descended we found the Georg Jensen shop and spent a while wandering around gasping at the designs and a lego shop which had every possible kind of lego piece you could imagine. Thus summing of Denmark quite neatly.

All the lego

All the lego

That night we had booked tickets to the official conference dinner to be held at Cafe Petersborg, an old institution in Copenhagen. It sat near the Amalienborg palace, around the corner from the Little Mermaid, in the part of town reserved for flash offices and restaurants that were too fancy or too well-established to be replaced. It dates from the 1700s, and has the low wooden ceiling and a few twisted door frames to prove it. The food was tasty and traditional and the company even better. We shared a table with a Portuguese lady who lived in Brazil and told us almost unbelievable stories of what it’s like to live in São Paulo. We heard about the hopelessness of law enforcement to the regular danger of theft on public transport and in your car, and a girl who was shot at a train station because her coddling parents never taught her to duck when she heard gunshots.
Fortunately our own ride on public transport was much less fraught with danger, the worst risk being that I wouldn’t leave when we reached our stop. The seats were very nice, considering it was a train. I’m not sure if I’d say chaise-longue, but not that far off.

Commuting in Copehagen

Commuting in Copehagen

Before we knew it, we had reached the final day of the conference. It began with a final speaker, and then a day full of ideas and talking. I sat in on a presentation about love ethics in sustainability, agroforestry in Taiwan and then a series about educating for sustainability. It was during this last series that I heard a speech about virtue ethics with reference to ancient philosophy, and Plato in particular. I very much wished, as I sat and listened and then chatted to the presenter about it later, that she had been my philosophy teacher at Uni.
By the time the afternoon ticked around there were far fewer people, most likely because many had left after their presentations of were being tourists.
Finally the end of the day came, with the final speech and a call to continue to work towards a sustainable future.

So the conference was over. For our last night we ate out at a pizza restaurant and enjoyed a final stroll through the city, talking about what we’d learnt, who we’d met and the days to come. The next day we caught a train to my home town, bidding farewell to Copenhagen, so full of greenness, bookstore cafes, endless clocks, strange accents, wonderful folk and history.

Finding family and history in Copenhagen

The last two weeks or so have been busy, with a side of gangbusters. It started off innocently enough, recovering from a cold and preparing to return to work, plus a bit of socialising and a party that included at least 10 violinists (more on that in another post). It culminated in a house warming party, the sort of party we’ve wanted to hold since we moved to Sweden.

Homemade chocolates

Homemade chocolates

There were wonderful friends, the kitchen was too warm because of all the bodies, candles, baking bread and talking, drinks flowed non-stop, snacks were snacked upon and for once I actually got to talk to most of the guests. Much later, after the last guests had left, we kept the music going and danced and chatted for a few hours longer, drawing out the party buzz and fuzz of wine.

Rather than tidy and then ease back into a normal week with leftovers and finishing off opened wine bottles, two days after the party I was off to Copenhagen to meet someone I hadn’t seen for many months. I took a train via Malmö, crossing the sea and wondering what lay under the grey waves, and how often ships must have careened back and forth many years ago, carrying warriors and loot. I eventually arrived at the central station and stumbled around, seat-sore and tired. I spotted my mum and hugs followed, and we headed out into the city, switching between Swedish, English and Norwegian and chatting non-stop. After dropping my bags off at the hotel, we hit the town.

A queen on a cloudy day

A queen on a cloudy day

I have visited Copenhagen before, a weekend trip and a taste more than anything else. This time we wandered randomly, up the main streets and past landmarks. We saw the Amalienborg palace, the Mermaid, gardens, Nyhavn, children dressed as knights and peasants, shops and streets filled with locals and tourists.

Children or mighty warriors?

Children or mighty warriors?

We ended up at a glass-walled market, filled with fish, meat, vegetable, chocolate and tea stalls, smells mingling around us (though fortunately not that of the surströmning). We settled on a shared pizza and wine, and toasted to a week on Copenhagen, before making our slow and chatty way back to the hotel.

The next day, the first full day, my mum went off for a tour of a castle that I wasn’t able to attend, and so I had the day and the city to myself. I started by sorting out some business, and then walking around at my own pace. I passed a memorial to the Charlie Hebdo staff at the French Consulate, palaces, theatres and Tivoli, and ended up at the National Museum.

Flowers for Charlie

Flowers for Charlie

Last time there had been some confusion about museums and I had missed seeing it, which was a shame as it is very good. Plus, it was free.

There were exhibits about the history of Denmark, from the neolithic to the modern era, cultures from around the world and a lot of school children. As I tried to stay one room ahead of the mob, I saw the skeleton of an auroch, and understood why they were considered to be so dangerous and featured so often on ancient paintings. They were so unearthly large and impressive, that it seemed almost a surprise that the last ones only disappeared in 1627.

An auroch

An auroch

Further on were rooms and rooms of artifacts from early hunters, then farmers and traders, giant horns, helmets, swords and coffins. There were even plaits of hair, left in bogs for 2000 years, almost all a uniform auburn. There was a text describing how the sacrifice of hair was at the same time easy and difficult, as it is so commonly found but takes so long to grow. It made me wonder about what happened that caused those people to cut their hair and throw it away into a muddy bog, thinking it would never be seen again.

Ancient sacrificed braids

Ancient sacrificed braids

There were cauldrons made by the Etruscans, Roman coins and glasses and a long ship. One of the most wonderful things was the Gundestrup cauldron.

A face on the cauldron

A face on the cauldron

Aside from it’s size and the brightness of the silver, the artistry on it was amazing, and there were many figures I recognised, especially one antlered fellow with crossed legs holding a snake and a torque.

A familiar antlered man

A familiar antlered man

There were also a few rooms with Roman, Greek and Etruscan artifacts, including the painted faces of Alexandrian mummies, a flying penis statue and interesting comparisons between Greek myths and Disney.

The Romans did like penis figurines

The Romans did like penis figurines

I then wandered through the renaissance exhibition, past ancient microscopes and carved ivory sculptures, ball rooms and a series of exhibits about cultures around the world. Eventually I found myself in the main hall again, and left for the next part of the day’s adventure; the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Renaissance room

Renaissance room

I didn’t really know what to expect when I went to the Glyptotek, which was probably just as well. After depositing my bag and jacket in a locker in the basement, which resembled a cheerful crypt, I followed a set of stairs into a room full of Impressionist sculptures of horses, people and unknown figures. Scattered among them were people sketching, drawing impressions from the art that I couldn’t see.

A goddess in the garden

A goddess in the garden

I then went into the main hall, in which a garden of palms, fountains, jungle flowers and statues sit under a huge glass dome. There was no other place like it in Copenhagen, or anywhere else I have seen. From there I found the ancient Roman galleries, full of unknown faces in marble, painted jars and countless other artifacts.

An unknown man

An unknown man

I also found a theatre that had been designed as a Greek temple, with columns statues of gods and ancient celebrities sheltering a colonnade. Yet again, I had never seen anything like it.

The theatre

The theatre

On other floors I found more modern styled art, paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh and Gaugin and enumerable others that I’d never heard of.

Sadly by this point I was approaching the artistic overload point, and so headed out into the snow and slush .

That evening I met up with my mum, who was full of stories about the castle tour, and after a wander and dinner, we slept. The next few days would be not quite as full of history, but instead ideas about the future, and we would need all of the  energy we could gather just to keep up.

The days after Jul

The day after Jul has always been associated with resting and recovering, at least in my old home. We’d wake up late, have a brunch of leftovers, reorder our rooms with the new gifts, flick through the inevitable books and consider the age old question of whether it’s sensible to float around in the pool on the new inflatable sofa while holding a full glass and avoiding spillage. And how long it would be before my sister bombied in and overturned both the sofa, myself and the glass.

For various reasons, not limited to the lack of inflatable sofas and my sister, we had a different day after Jul last year. It was on the 25th for a start.

As mentioned previously, I’m used to having Jul on the 24th according to Scandinavian tradition. I am also used to having it again on the 25th, according to Australian tradition, which isn’t followed in Norway. As such rather than two Juls we had two Boxing Days, both of which we spent in Norway. The first was spent recovering from Jul, heading out for wintery exercise and then a family meal and the second getting into a bit more exercise and finally beginning our journey back to Sweden.

The Julenek

The Julenek

After we had woken up and refreshed ourselves, we had a chat with family back in Australia. Thanks to the miracle of Skype, we were able to chat to a whole party of people enjoying a sunny bbq, and try to get our collective heads around the 50+ temperature difference at either end of the call.

We then packed on layers of jackets, beanies and gloves, grabbed some skiis and went out for some much needed exercise. It isn’t the custom in Norway to spend a whole day relaxing when there is snow outside, and it seemed that the rest of the town had the same idea. My own attempts weren’t quite as skillful, but we managed about an hour before we called home for a ride. While we waited I realised that my eye lashes were freezing together for the first time in my life, and my partner was developing long, frosty threads on my beanie and scarf. Around us the sunny weather belied the cold, and almost fooled us into not noticing the cold. Almost.

If only there was an automatic setting

If only there was an automatic setting

Back at home we unlayered ourselves and dressed up nicely for the visitors who would be arriving soon. They were the family we had met to visit the graveyard the day before, and soon after we had smartened ourselves up they arrived and the Jul celebrations continued.

The tradition on this day is to have a long lunch on the leftovers from the Jul dinner and have another go at the schnaps, which is what we all duly did. Chat, food, jokes and laughter rolled around, and soon we found ourselves under the tree enjoying a selection of biscuits, cakes and treats. The eating and chatting continued long into the evening, and then the guests departed with hugs and hopes to see each other again before too long.

Evening falls

Evening falls

In the relative quiet by the fire, my partner and I unwrapped the final gifts that had been sent my his family, that we had kept back until the Australian Jul day. More chatting, sipping wine, playing with the nutcracker, snacking and reading followed, finished off by sleepy goodbyes and curling up for one last night in Norway.

The nutcracker

The nutcracker

On our final day we decided to have one last go on the spark, and see if we could take some photos at Maihaugen, the local open air museum. The temperature had dropped even more by this time, and clouds covered the sun, so despite the beautiful surroundings and our energetic walking and kicking along, we were soon chilly. During the walk back my chin went completely numb and I ceased to have any feeling in my toes. We did have fun sliding down slopes on the spark, though and going ‘weee’ in a way that I hope didn’t disturb the neighbours.

The stave church at Maihaugen

The stave church at Maihaugen

Before too long is was time to pack and get ready to go, and as we did so snow began to fall, the first we had seen during our trip. So it was with the outside world slightly muffled by falling snow that we said goodbye to our hosts, trying to express our enjoyment and gratitude for the wonderful Jul we’d been invited to share. Then we were out, in the car and then at the station, tromping over to the waiting train.

The snow fall

The snow fall

Jul was over for another year, our first white christmas and hopefully not our last. It was one of the loveliest I have had, and I hope that my writing conjures up the memories of it for you as writing it has done for me.

Marzipan pigs, almonds, family and light

An unexpected benefit to having parents from Scandinavia and Australia is that not only do you get an untraceable accent but two christmases. I can still recall the glee of opening presents a day before everyone else I knew, and the conviction that I’d better not question it in case my parents changed their minds.

The tradition has always been to have a big lunch with family and friends, and then in the evening, when the children’s patience had reached fever pitch, someone would burst in wearing a santa suit and the unwrapping would begin. Over the years the unwrapping would creep earlier and earlier, and the santa suit was left in the cupboard, though the dinner and gathering of those nearest and dearest always remained. These are the traditions I associate with christmas, and what I had expected to an extent when we were invited to the Norwegian family Jul last year. A few weeks prior to Jul I got an email detailing what would happen, a list of traditional meals and events that we would be following. We were intrigued and I was  slightly nervous that we would upset the carefully orchestrated flow of the holidays. As it turned out I needn’t have worried, though perhaps more effort at stretching the capacity of my stomach may have helped.

Julafton morning light

Julafton morning light

So it was that when the 24th dawned and we had all enjoyed a hefty breakfast, one of the important family rituals was prepared. I set up my laptop in the study and made a call across the world, and was soon chatting to my family, who were drying off from a dip in the pool. We marveled at the snow and 30+ weather outside our respective windows, gossiped and laughed and tried to bridge the gap of distance as much as technology can allow.

After the call was finished my partner dashed off to try out his skis for the first time, which my cousin had kindly waxed the night before. While he zipped back and forth on the snow I relaxed at home taking photos and helping with some work. There were a few visitors who stepped in to wish the family God Jul and hand out biscuits and best wishes, and before too long the skiers returned, cheeks flushed from the cold and ready for a little something to eat.

Jul decoration

Jul decoration

Lunch on Julafton in this house is risengrynsgrøt, or rice porridge, served with butter, sugar and cinnamon and crucially one almond. The almond is mixed into the rice and whoever happens to find it in their serving gets a chocolate covered marzipan pig. My cousin was the current reigning champion, with the last 5 almonds under his belt, and so seemed fairly confident of victory. But what about beginner’s luck? Thus ensued a meal of careful munching, poker faces and surreptitious poking through the thick, milky rice. After the first serving no one admitted to finding the almond and so second servings were offered, and despite my stomach beginning to groan I got a few spoonfuls. With tensions mounting and suspicious glances filling the room, my spoon hit something solid. I am terrible at poker faces, so when I spat it out a few minutes later, I think I had lost the element of surprise. There was cheering though, and cries of ‘You come to my house, and you take my pig!’ from my cousin and among it all I received the pig. Victory was sweet, even if I did feel as though I could never eat again.

Traditional wafer cakes

Traditional wafer cakes

All the excitement and eating required a bit of relaxing so for the next few hours we sat around, read a bit and helped with preparations for dinner. As the light faded from the sky we headed out the door for another tradition, with family I hadn’t met and would never meet.
The first time I had visited had been a few days after Jul the previous year, and we had been taken to the graves of my grandfather and great grandparents. Their gravestones had been slightly reclaimed by the snow that had been cleared not long before and the candles were still there. It was this tradition that we would be continuing.
The first stop was my aunt’s mother’s house where my uncle and his wife were staying. After a brief stop to say hello and introduce ourselves we were on our way to the church. Inside a mass was underway, the notes of Silent Night drifting out to us as we made our way past the crowds of candlelit gravestones. All around us candles flickered and families stood, clearing snow or lost in thought. There was a continuity there that I haven’t seen in Australia, where generations are so often split up by oceans and forgetting.
Soon we found our family and after clearing the snow off the stones a candle was lit and laid by the grave of my great grandparents. I was then given a candle and as I lit it, my aunt explained that I was the first of my grandfather’s line to light his candle. It was with great care that I set the candle down and scraped snow out of the curved lines of his name, and wished I had met him more than once.

My grandfather

My grandfather

Back at home we changed into our finer clothes, and sat around to enjoy schnaps and a Jul concert on tv. The cheers and wishes for God Jul continued, and followed us as we settled around the dinner table and watched as trays of food, sauces, creams and delicacies were piled around us. The main dish was pinnekjøtt, or salted lamb ribs, which is the traditional Jul dish of the area of Norway where my aunt’s husband comes from. It was served with mashed swede and potatoes and washed down with yet more schnaps, wine and julbrus. Full of food, drink and good spirits there were speeches to accompany the meal, about welcome, family, traditions and gratitude, and cheers all round.

When we reached the point where we absolutely couldn’t fit anymore food in, we tidied up and relaxed around the fire. A box of music appeared by the piano and my aunt treated us to Silent Night and a few old Norwegian carols and I wondered if anything would ever feel more Jul-ey than this.

A skier in the tree

A skier in the tree

The Jultree soon called us and we settled around for the last of the big events. There was no santa suit or ho ho ho-ing, but anticipation as my aunt’s husband announced each gift and we all watched the unwrapping. Our gift to them, a candelabra, seemed to be appreciated and stayed lit for much of the remainder of our stay. In return we got handknitted mittens in a local design which turned out to be the warmest mittens we have owned so far. I was also given some pieces of family heritage, two wooden spoons hand carved by my great grandfather. I felt, and feel, privileged to be entrusted with them.

After the unwrapping was complete and the wrappings had been gathered, dessert was served around the tree. It was handpicked cloudberries in homemade wafer cones with cream, and was delicious.

Replete with food, gifts, drink and happiness, we sat around until late, chatting and reading until the struggle to keep our eyes open became too much. With more calls of God Jul and best wishes, we climbed the stairs and slept the sleep of the contented.