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

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Frozen lake, bright sky

A brief moment of sun

Even though there was a light dusting of snow last night (enough to fill a teacup), the sun is out today and the blue sky makes it feel as though the true winter is almost over. There will be clouds and rain and cold, for sure, but not the drifts of snow and frozen lakes that are a ‘real’ winter. Today then seems a good time to show you all a little bit of the winter that was just passed, the sort of winter that I love.

Snow had been falling off an on for weeks, bending down the trees under the soft, dense weight and freezing the lakes nearby. While snow is in itself beautiful, the moment it comes alive is when the sun comes out. One day we went for a walk on a weekend morning, and more than once I was quite literally stunned into stillness and silence by the beauty of the trees, light and snow.

Snow in the forest

Snow in the forest

Branches sticking up through the snow were coated in a thin, shining layer like crystals, which drifted lightly off when flicked.

Snowcrusted shrubbery

Snowcrusted shrubbery

The forest, where not so many months ago we had picked berries, was muffled and still, though at any moment I expected a breeze to tumble a branch load of snow onto my head.

Sunlit path

Sunlit path

After my fella returned home, I continued on to the nearest lake, wondering if it might be frozen. It was was, very much so.

Kåsjön alive

Kåsjön alive

Not only was it frozen, which a layer of snow covering the thick (so I hoped) ice, but it had been transformed into a park, or to my romantic mind, a winter wonderland. Children scampered about in their fleuro one-piece outfits, adults walked their dogs and people of all ages skated and skied, leaving long, crisscrossing tracks behind them. Nervous at first, I walked over the tracks, listening for the creaking of ice and then walked more and more confidently across to the island that 2 years ago I had swum to. Under wide, bright blue sky and in the centre of the vast openness of the lake, the claustrophobia of winter fell away, down into the freezing, dark water under the ice.

Walkers on the lake

Walkers on the lake

On the shore nearest to the houses, areas of the ice had been cleared and with shoes or picnic baskets for goal posts, ice hockey games were underway. Often it seemed the dads were ahead, but now and then a son or daughter would sneak past and a parent dramatically fall over, equaling the score. In sheltered bays little children were being taught to skate, knees locked in fear and well padded bottoms covered in snow.

Icehockey

Icehockey

In the distance, old couples walked their dogs, disappearing into the further reaches of the lake.
If there was ever a heaven of ice and snow under a low hanging northern sun, this was it.

Then later that week a storm hit the west coast of Sweden, bringing wind and snow. A lot of snow. By the time it had ended, there was 30cms of it in our neighbourhood, and enough in town to stop trams, buses and cars. It was, in the words of frantic sensationalist newspapers, SNÖKAOS, which I think doesn’t need translation. This resulted in many people not getting in to work, including my fella, and one of my all time favourite news bloopers. My lesson for the day had been cancelled, so after a few productive hours of work we set off for the lake, my eagerness to show off the beauty and novelty of walking across it pushing me through drifts up to my knees that hadn’t yet seen a shovel. Though there was no sign of the sun through the thick clouds and the snow-wading was tiring us out, we reached the lake before too long. It was still frozen, also covered in deep snow, but as yet without any tracks or trails over its surface. Coaxing my fella out into the open, we made it to the island and sat to contemplate the wide openness, and quiet. Still beautiful, it seemed a more severe and solitary beauty than I had seen myself on the sunny day so recently.

A brief moment of sun

A brief moment of sun

Since then the temperature rose, rain fell, the snow melted into slush and then washed away, leaving only patches of black ice to tread carefully around. We might still get snow, but the day of minus temperatures and nights of -18 seem behind us now. The question isn’t how much snow do I need for a snow man, but when will the first flowers start to bloom?

No swimming yet

No swimming yet

Perfect moments and deserving them

A couple of weeks ago we were gifted with two splendid weeks of sun and fine weather, which culminated in a perfect day.

It coincided with a visit from a friend from Australia, who I suspect now thinks I exaggerate when I say that Swedish weather is terrible. She was after nature and relaxation, and so we took advantage of the fineness to bask. It was not entirely selfless of us, as we’d thus far missed our annual dip.

It seemed that the entire city of Gothenburg had the same idea, however, as the succession of bus and trams were packed with people with packed lunches, all equally confused about why all these others were spoiling their pleasant day out.

At the harbour we were borne along by the throng to the ferry, ice-cream in hand, and were then off across the sea. If we had wanted to reach the open sea, we would have had to navigate the maze of islands that make up the two archipelagos lying at the mouth of the Göta river. Plus Denmark. The profusion of islands and distance of the truly open ocean is a bit disorienting for someone who grew up on the edge of an ocean that unfolds all the way to Africa.
We disembarked at the first stop, a little island called Asperö. A small village occupies much of the island, hedges not quite concealing cottages, filigreed in wood, traditionally painted or with modern bare planks. Flowers bloomed, branches bent under the weight of wild apples, bees buzzed and cats watched sleepily from under hedges. It felt like walking through a photo of a timeless summer.

Swedish cottage

Swedish cottage

Behind the village a path lead us into a wood, and into what seemed a painting. Birches swayed, wild flowers were spread among the moss and heaths, and ducks floated on a Monet-esque lily pad strewn pond. It was a fairytale wood, which ended when we reached the little beach.

Monet's pond

Monet’s pond

It was sheltered, partly by a rocky outcrop and a jetty that was built out from that. Families were paddling in the dark water and sunbaking on the rocks and grass, the peace broken by the giggling of children and splashing of teens jumping off the diving boards. Into this idyllic setting we settled down, little the bbq and sipped wine as the food cooked. Behind the jetty and the occasional kayakers we could see the mouth of the Göta river and the harbour we had come from. Now and then a huge ferry or other ship would slowly pass through the scattered islands and disappear around the side of our island, to quiet and distant to be anything but a background.

A beach and the Göta

A beach and the Göta

For a few hours we ate, swam, splashed and dozed in the sun. The perfect moments passed by.

Swedish summer days

Swedish summer days

That night we shared dinner with various Swedes and Finns on a row of tables on a balcony, the tables covered in food and drinks. We scoffed Västerbotten pie, vegan sausages, halloumi, salad, bread and grapes, the food and talk going on well into the night, as our eyelids got heavier. At one point a few thousand joggers ran down the street outside and we cheered at they passed, some wearing costumes and most looking very focused indeed. More so than us with our glasses of wine and beer and full stomachs.
Then, as the night drew long and began to get chilly, we set off home and in time slept.

What I wonder now as I write this and read the news is how do we deserve this? Why do we get the beautiful summer days and long summer nights with friends, in peace and scenery worthy of paintings? Maybe no one ever deserves anything. Perhaps there is no scale deciding whose 3 year old boy dies in a dark sea and whose 28 year old daughter gets to doze in soft Swedish sunlight with loved ones around her.
There is no fairness, or luck. But we do have love.

*Photo credits to https://www.flickr.com/photos/jg31/

Songs of revolution, joy and home

It’s perhaps an inevitable part of the immigrant experience that you spend a lot of your time noticing other immigrants. Sometimes it’s just a flicker on the street, or it could be heading to the local watering hole for an expat get-together. Or you may even find yourself at a concert, watching performers from around the world singing of love, politics, joy, revolution and home in a mix of languages. All the things that make us lift up our feet and head out the door, and someday find a place to take off our shoes and put our feet up.

My fella and I had spent the afternoon walking around slightly dazed in the sun, savouring ice-creams and the warmth that I still can’t take for granted. When we had finished a snack at a Greek restaurant I got a message about a free ticket to a concert. Without really knowing what the concert would be, other than that it would feature Syrian and Iranian music, I said yes. Which is how I found myself in the Stora Teatern in the centre of town on a Saturday evening, as the compere introduced us to a night of music that would show us how many world class musicians there are driving taxis or living anonymously in Sweden, and the music they have to share with us. And how much joy we can return to them.

The concert was billed as a showcase of artists who have found a home, even a temporary one, in Sweden. It seemed that often they found their way here after running away from something – as with all expats and immigrants there is a reason we leave. Two had been tortured and another had grown up in a country where love songs had been forbidden for generations, and where he secretly sang forbidden songs. There was sadness in the songs, and joy but the strongest emotion that ran through all of the songs, and through the audience as the night went on, was defiance.

Naser Razzazi dancing with the violinist

Naser Razzazi dancing with the violinist

The first performer was a tall, elegant man from Kurdistan, who sang folk songs in a deeply resonant voice. Of all of the artists Naser Razzazi was the most charismatic. He had the audience in the palm of his hand each time he stepped on stage, and what sticks in my mind now, almost a week later, was his neat white mustache, tall frame and complete confidence.

Habib Mousa was another man with a presence, who sang about love and dreams, and spoke about his old homeland of Assyria. He was quietly spoken, with a powerful voice.

The next man is known as the Elvis Presley of Eritrea, who brought rock and swing to his country and then to us. Osman Abdulrahim grooved, grinned, sang and spoke briefly about the war and dictatorship he had escaped, and told the daughter of Dawit Isaak that he hoped her father could be returned to his family soon.

Elvis of Eritrea

Elvis of Eritrea

Throughout all these performances, people coming on stage to cheers and then departing for the next guest only to return a bit later, a band had played behind and around them. Drummers, a bassist and guitarist, keyboard player and a very enthusiastic violinist accompanied all of the performers. The next performer brought his own instrument, perhaps the one he’d brought to Tahrir Square 4 years ago. Ramy Essam is one of the most well known faces of the Arab Spring, who played rock music among the crowds as the revolution swept through Egypt. He’s currently living in Malmö, having been granted safe city residence, and while there he continues to write songs about the revolution. When asked how he is enjoying Sweden, he said he liked it very much, but would always want to return to his homeland and continue the fight.

Ramy Essam, face of a revolution

Ramy Essam, face of a revolution

Finally there was a young woman originally from Iran, who grew up in Sweden and seems to me to combine the two cultures. Safoura Safavi sings in a mix of Farsi, Swedish and English, her music a mix of punk, reggae and soul and very infectious. She bounced around the stage and the audience bounced along with her, even more so when her sister joined her for a duet. She sang about pretension, life in Iran and in Sweden and was joined by the rest of the performers for a final song in Farsi that brought the audience to our feet. After they had left and the calls for an encore were answered she stepped back on stage and sang a song about Sweden, as blue and yellow lights shone on the stage.

Safoura from Sweden

Safoura from Sweden

The music had taken us all around the world, through war, revolution, oppression and hope, and then in the end it brought us home.

Vårväderstorget

As I made myself comfy on the bus on the way to work two weeks ago I got a worried email from my father, checking that I was alright. I looked around at my fellow commuters, who were reading the paper or twiddling on their phones without any sign of panic. There had been a shooting in my city and it had reached the news in Australia, but had somehow bypassed the front pages of the morning papers.
I happened to be teaching that morning, and brought up the subject with my students as they filed in.

‘We’re on the news in Australia? Really?’ Exclaimed someone in surprise.

‘Another shooting? I wonder why that one made the news.’ Commented another, blase.

‘It was gangs wasn’t it? I know someone who was shot. It’s all about drugs, you just have to know where to avoid.’ Someone else added confidently.

‘It only happens in those areas, we’re fine here.’ Concluded another of the students, as she sipped her coffee and gestured vaguely over the river.

Sleepy GBG in the morning

Sleepy GBG in the morning

Just another gang shooting, it seemed. The lid seemed mentally fixed on the topic, as if this neatly packaged the incident away. A look through reports of other incidents in the last few years revealed that the student’s comments were broadly true. Shootings were common and they did seem to happen repeatedly in the same areas. Areas removed from the centre of town by barriers of water, other suburbs and apparently of the mind. Not in my backyard.

I recalled a few weeks earlier hearing about a shooting outside a pizza shop in a suburb where I regularly drink. A local who is a friend seemed surprised that it happened in her local suburb, it being a nice neighbourhood and according to a documentary about Swedish accents, the ‘Montmartre of Gothenburg’. How could that happen here?

The week after the shooting I spoke to another of my students, and she also dismissed it as happening somewhere else. In a dissonant sort of way, the incident was both unimportant because it happened so often and because it happened outside the scope of her neighbourhood. The unspoken line was that it happened in low socio-economic suburbs, where there is usually lower education standards, higher unemployment and a greater percentage of people born in other countries. This mess of assumptions and indifference played alongside an incident just the previous day in which a man had shot his ex-partner. It had happened within 200 metres of my student’s school. This time there was no connection to gangs, rather a private disagreement. She shrugged when I asked if she was ok. Nothing to do with us.

As someone who is still an outsider in many ways, there are nuances that I miss and suppositions that I throw about the place. This I hope excuses me of offenses I may have cast in the faces of locals and aspersions I have thrown upon my adopted home. It seems to me though that you can’t find answers to questions if you don’t ask, or at least send questions into the ether.

Sending music into the night

I get the impression that my antipodean friends and family believe that a Swedish winter consists entirely of cold, darkness, dreariness and staring mournfully out of the window in between chugging down beer and eating potatoes to drive away the misery. I want to make it clear, here and now, that this is not entirely true.
Yes, the vitamin D deficiency gets us down sometimes and comfort food is tempting (oh wedges and mash, what would I do without you?), but those of us who choose to live up here find ways to cope and sometimes even drive away the darkness.

Way back in November, all of four months ago now, we were invited to a concert across town in Majorna. We were unclear as to what sort of music there would be, but trusted the inviter’s taste enough to assume it would be interesting. After passing rooms full of billiards, young men smoking on the street and closed nail-art shops we found an obscure door and were within seconds enveloped in warmth and the smell of incense. The concert had already started, so after hanging up our thick layers of jackets, beanies, scarves and mittens we shuffled and apologised our way to the corner where our friends had already taken up position.

The band

The band

On the stage was a band of six men, a guitarist, two drummers, a cellist, a saxophonist and a bassist who treated us to cross-cultural melodies that I couldn’t begin to guess at the origin of. They seemed to twine from the east to west, and probably north and south too, and had all of the feet in the house tapping along. A lady from India then joined them, singing traditional songs in a style I’d never heard before being joined by an Iranian woman whose presence took up the whole venue. She was amazing, and managed to provoke the room into breaking into a veritable orgy of dancing. Fellow audience members who had seemed typically reserved and quiet were bursting all over the stage, a long line and then circle of dancers twisting around along with the music. Or in the case of some people, along with the music in their heads which seemed to have a different tune. Being Australian, and therefore reserved in a different way, we sat and watched and sipped our wine, as I at least tried to ignore the itch in my feet.

Once started the dancing can't stop

Once started the dancing can’t stop

We followed the concert with a few drinks at a local pub, claiming paintings of vintage aircraft, dancing, guessing the names of songs and staying until closing time.

When the year had turned and we’d returned and mostly recovered from the excitement of Jul and visitors, another celebration arrived. This time is was a housewarming at the home of a good friend of mine. We turned up late, due to getting a little bit lost, and arrived to find an apartment full of Swedes, warmth and talking. We bobbed around between rooms, chatting and listening, and finally found a space in the living room to enjoy our dinner. I had seen on the invitation that guests were invited to bring their instruments, as the girlfriend of my friend is very heavily involved in music, and it seemed as though most of the others who had come to the party were as well.
As the night drew on we became the slightly stunned but gleeful audience of a sudden orchestra of violinists. A guitar and banjo joined in at various times, plus little people dancing among the legs and chairs, but for the most part violins were coaxed into life, belting out folk music and dances. They all seemed to be speaking a language I couldn’t understand, switching between styles and songs with cues I couldn’t hear or see. At the high point, there were 7 violins playing at one time, and I’d guess about 9 in total passed in and out of the apartment. Though I can play music to an extent, these people had the ability to play in the other sense of the word, in the same way that I sometimes like to do with words – throwing them around to make patterns and for sheer enjoyment.
We left late, or early, with the music following us down the street.

Keeping away the cold

Keeping away the cold

So my advice, if you want to take it, is if you are feeling cold and miserable on a winter’s night, follow an invitation for a night of talking and music. Even if you don’t bring your own violin, you can sit amid the music and forget the cold.

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.

A view in the sun

I bet those are not words you thought would be featured on this blog for a while! While most days are cloudy and it’s recently started to get really cold (the thermals, winter boots and new woolly jumper under my jacket have been required), there has been sunlight, and it is glorious.

Domkyrkan in Autumn

Domkyrkan in Autumn

The morning of a day last week dawned clear and bright, and so the planned tea and chat inside with a friend was changed to a scamper around town to enjoy the brief sunlight. As I waited at a tram stop I snapped photos of warm coloured brick buildings lining the road, lit in the sun and then blissed out for a few minutes by standing still in a beam of light and photosynthesizing. Also yes, I do know something about biology, but until someone can come up with a better word for the sensation I’m sticking with my version.

Warm walls of Vasagatan

Warm walls of Vasagatan

Our wander took us along Vasagatan, scattered with students and cyclists, all slightly dazed by the sun, and then into Haga. Perhaps inspired by the Jul decorations that went up some weeks ago, I made a stop at a spice shop and picked up a couple of pinches of Iranian saffron. You may expect this to be featured in baking adventures in future posts.

As mentioned before, no doubt a number of times, an old fortress sits in the centre of Haga, one of a pair in the city. Being round and sitting on a hill, it resembles a crown and in fact has a gold (plated I assume) crown on it’s pinnacle. It can be reached by a series of steep steps, which I always climb with my usual vertigo induced rush and babble, this time assisted by a cheerful chat about Mayan pyramids and how lucky those sacrifices were to not have to climb down all those steps afterwards.

Göteborg from above

Göteborg from above

At the top we were able to catch our breath and enjoy Göteborg spread out beneath us, lit up and quietly bustling. In comparison with the last time I’d been up there, I was able to pick most of the landmarks, and orient myself with places I knew. Around us wandered walkers, parents with prams or students resting on convenient benches and arches, treating the hill as a spectacle or just part of their daily routine. From there we were also able to spot the old observatory in Slottskogen, easier to see now that the trees were almost bare. That, then, would be our next stop.

The observatory from afar

The observatory from afar

A short walk later found us at the foot of the observatory, a strange, short and round building with a second off-kilter roof which was presumably necessarily for some sort of stargazing.

The observatory from nearby

The observatory from nearby

The stargazing has long been moved to a newer building, but there was still a fine view of the surrounding park and city. From certain points it was even possible to imagine that we were in the middle of the wilderness, with forested hills stretching to the horizon. Other angles revealed a busy European city, trams and people rumbling and rushing along the streets.

City or wilderness?

City or wilderness?

Climbing down the hill we found a sofa embedded in a stone wall. Before you get too confused about Swedish design and surrealist modern art, I can confirm that it was stone and that it was also quite comfortable, if you don’t mind a chilly rear. If I had had blankets and pillows and a book, it could have been a nice place to while away a few hours.

Comfy sofa

Comfy sofa

As the light began to fade slightly, we headed to a cafe overlooking a lake for a snack and something to warm us up, and along the way found a monument that I had never noticed before, despite picnicking near it a number of times. It was a stone pillar of some sort, and I still don’t know it’s purpose, though I’d imagine it relates in some way to memorialising someone or something. Right in front of it sat a small park bench, the two making a fine tableau in the bright late autumn sunlight, while also confirming something that I know is a fact true of all places in Sweden. Where there is a view, whether it be of a stone, a city or a forest, a place will be maintained and people will stroll, chat or simply soak in the rare sunlight, and there is almost always a bench.

A place with a view

A place with a view

A night of unexpected art

So it has been over a year in Göteborg now, and you know what that means? It’s Kulturnatta again!
Last year we went on a sort of guided tour, arranged by an long-term expat who has sadly left Sweden, from a photography show (possibly more on this in a later post…) to an opera, via interpretive dance and buzzing crowds. It was something like Kulturkalaset, except that it was packed into one day rather than a week. Every performance space was performed on, every gallery was open and any sort of expression of art was on display.

It was the same this year, but we took a different tack, and in the process discovered a new part of the city and a building that could only exist in Sweden.

Used printscreens

Used printscreens

Our evening started at the square next to Stora Teatern, where a clutch of musicians huddled under a tent in anticipation of the rain that had beset Göteborg for a few days. Luckily the rain never arrived, and instead the growing crowd were treated to some wonderful Jewish themed music, from lively dancing songs to melancholic ballads, played on violin, piano, double bass, drum and saxophone. The pianist also doubled as a singer, sometimes using Yiddish, and then switching to her native Danish, then through Swedish to English. I wasn’t the only person to thoroughly enjoy it either, as demonstrated by a couple nearby who almost provided a show by themselves.

By the end of the show most of the gang who were to explore Kulturnatta together had gathered, and we picked up our last member as we began our search for food. It led us all the way across town, though sadly it was a journey almost entirely without eating, as we had forgotten than a Friday night during a cultural event is not a good time to get a free table in the city. In the end we settled on an old favourite, and only worked out towards the end of the meal that we had missed the event we had been aiming for.
Rather than give up, though, we headed to another event further across town, in an area I had not seen before.

Interactive art

Interactive art

Klippan is a little suburb nestled between the E45 and the river, with the Älsborgsbrun looming above. It is also a bit of an artists hub, with Röda Sten sitting solidly under the bridge and a few artist collectives nestled among the maze of tall, red brick buildings.

The first one we found was especially surprising, given that from the outside it seemed to be a castle, with a setting and view that any where else would suggest very expensive apartments. Here, however, it meant galleries, workshops and small art factories, winding around a steep staircase. I suggest having a look for Gamla Älvsborg on Google Maps, and looking at the street view, or if you’re in Göteborg, popping down for a look. It’s unexpected, to say the least.

Artistic folk

Artistic folk

It seems to me to be an example of a type of place that wouldn’t exist anywhere else, where a collective takes over control of a very fine bit of real estate and uses it purely for art, and the sharing of that art. If this sort of thing exists in other places please let me know, because I’m quite curious about how they work and are maintained when property prices are rising and cultural priorities change.

What was even more unexpected, more so even than the workshops and kilns and bronze smelting rooms, was the sudden party. Inside what looked like a storage room was a crowd of people, sitting, drinking and talking while listening to a live band.

An unexpected band

An unexpected band

Among the crowd were men in top-hats and cloaks, drinking from brass tankards and generally acting as if this was perfectly normal behaviour. When the dog arrived with the pensioners, we decided to continue our Kulturnatta explorations.

We found a band playing Greek folk music, swing-dancers, drunk-dancers, the end of a light show more art, tucked away on various floors of the cluster of buildings.

Red Riding Hood was also surprised

Red Riding Hood was also surprised

Even once we had decided to call it a night and waited at the tram stop, we were treated to the toneless humming of an old man with headphones, perhaps deciding to join in on the festivities. He was then replaced by a younger man who, slightly less tunelessly but more annoyingly, sang hits from the Backstreet Boys and other 90s acts in people’s faces.

Maybe it’s an example of how the general community gets involved in art and culture, and uses the opportunity to express themselves.
Or simply alcohol + boisterousness = pop songs sung badly.
Whatever the reason, the evening showed me that art can be found in unexpected places, if you are willing to explore.

(All photos in this post are used with the permission of goddohr31)

City reflections and the Semla saga

Church reflection

Late last week I was asked if I could come to an interview at the okristlig (‘ungodly’) time of 8 ‘o’ clock, in a school across the city and the river. Obviously I refused and slept in.

Ha.

After the interview it was still early, the more so as autumn has officially Set In, and was gradually becoming bright and chill, with blue skies and a slight breeze sweeping through the streets. As there was no point going home only to head out again soon after for Swedish class, I decided to take a stroll around my adopted city and watch it waking up.

Brunsparken in the morning

Brunsparken in the morning

My plan was to find a cosy cafe and ensconce myself with a warm drink and some sort of pastry. Considering my general indecisiveness and habit of being easily distracted, I was quite fortunate that morning in having a destination in mind.

Earlier that week a friend of mine from Swedish class convinced me that what we really needed more than anything else was a semla. This is a traditional Swedish pastry, usually a soft, sweet bun filled with almond paste and cream and served in a bowl of milk. We asked our teacher for any tips about how to find them in the city and he suggested an old cafe that he was fond of. They would have semlas if anyone does, he said. Hurrah, we replied, and thus armed with a goal and an appetite we hit the streets.

A short time later we were victoriously marching into the cafe in question, and asking the ladies at the counter for their best semlas. Alas, they had none. They seemed surprised that we would ask for them, as they usually only come out after Jul. Oh, obviously, we said and went outside to consider our next move. We could both recall recently seeing semlas but couldn’t recall where they had been seen, so we decided to do some general looking around in the hopes that they would turn up.

An hour and a half later found us semlaless but a bit heavier by two pancakes a piece, complete with jam and cream, seated outside one of my favourite cafes in Haga. It was Thursday, you see, and Thursday is pancake day in Sweden. I do not question this wisdom.

Pancakes!

Pancakes!

I mention this saga because it was during the morning stroll around the city that I decided to give that first cafe another chance. It was nearly empty when I stepped in, aside from a few pensioners and regulars darting in to get their takeaway breakfast snacks. I chose a warm, sweet drink and a similarly warm, sweet pastry (with fruit!) and seated myself by a window to enjoy them. More customers came and went, reading the paper or sipping coffee and watching the world slowly move past outside.

Soon my dishes were empty and I joined the people walking past the window, the air chilling my face just enough to wake me up. From there I walked around, not aimlessly but rather making up my route along the way. I passed closed and opening shops, chattering students and people on their way to work. I caught Göteborg at a time I hadn’t before.

In Kungsportsplatsen King Charles’ head was just beginning to catch the sunlight.

King Charles IX

King Charles IX

Old churches and new construction was reflected in canals, as well as autumnal trees in the city park.

Church reflection

Church reflection

Pigeons stared back at me as I watched them and tried to look unruffled as they settled their feathers.

Suspicious pigeons

Suspicious pigeons

Trams and buses jangled past carrying a city’s worth of inhabitants, dinging to warn pedestrians whose were darting in front of them.

A young woman dared the morning chill with a short skirt, striding along with her thick jacketed friends.

Ducks foraged among the flowers in the cemetery and squawked around a mother and her daughter feeding them seeds.

As I wandered I was reminded of a chapter in The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, in which a man wakes up in the dream of a city. Whether or not cities dream, and whether or not it is possible to escape from them once that happens, or what should happen if they ever wake, I enjoy playing with the idea of a living city. It has a personality, a sense that sets it apart from all other cities and which it’s inhabitants recognise without being able to articulate.

Kungsportsbron on a clear morning

Kungsportsbron on a clear morning

As part of getting to know someone you need to see them in all seasons, times and weathers. The morning face of Göteborg in Autumn is cold, bright and calm as the surface of the canals, lightly riffled by the sea breeze that also spreads multi-coloured leaves across footpaths to be crunched under foot or tossed into piles.

Even if I can’t articulate the Göteborgness of Göteborg, I hope I can now at least describe one of her many faces.