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/

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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.

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

The masks we wear

Having lived in Sweden for just over a year now, I have begun to recognise and feel the routines and patterns of life here. Every country has it’s own pattern, woven by people going about their daily lives and more and more often I’ve been finding the threads and following them, trying to fit myself into the pattern with varied success. I have found myself questioning the process though. Do immigrants need to do this? I’ve spoken to friends about the imposition they feel from Sweden to fit in, to Learn the language, get a job, make Swedish friends, be more Swedish. And what of your own identity? The ideal should be that of lagom, not too much and not too little. Finding the middle ground or a meeting point between who you were when you stepped off the plane and who you need to be to fit into a society.

An early autumn evening

An early autumn evening

An aspect of life here that has nudged me to the outskirts, though not necessarily unwillingly, is the upcoming election. Somehow I have avoided being approached by the hordes of paper-bearing placard-wearing folk that huddle around the different political party huts. And they have actual huts by the way, some of them probably big enough for a holiday cottage, which for some reason I find very endearing.

They really like their voting

They really like their voting

I have not, however, been able to avoid sight of the posters that adorn anything that stands still for longer than 5 minutes. I walked 10 metres down a main street in town last week and passed 6 advertisements, all for different parties, hanging off lampposts, bustops and trees.
In comparison to election time in Australia, however, there have been no ads on tv that I have seen and no hint of smearing. Can you imagine an election without one party calling the other a bunch of irresponsible fanatics? I couldn’t until now, and I have to say it is quite refreshing.
The only negative responses have been a comment on an add from the Nya Modereterna (New Moderates, the leader of whom is the current PM) promising more jobs, that ‘you are not only your job’, and an add for the Svensk Demokraterna (the ‘we’re not racist but…’ party) with a swastika drawn on someones head.
Part of me does wish I could vote, if only so that I could be part of this discussion that will, after all, effect me too. The most I can do is give a thumbs up to the Feminist Initiativ folk and enjoy the lack of vitriol.

Swedifying a pie

Swedifying a pie

It often feels as though the moments when I am sitting silently and not engaging with society, that I appear the most Swedish. As I sit on the bus in the morning on the way to class, I feel a strange sense of accomplishment when I imagine that someone across the aisle could look at me and assume I am Swedish. I read my Swedish novel, wear a jacket bought in a Swedish secondhand store and the cons on my feet seem almost to be a uniform here. Of course as soon as I open my mouth the act is finished, but for a while I feel as though I fit in. Sometime in the past year this has become something to aim for, if only subconsciously. Something I would have scoffed at a year ago. The balm of anonymity. Perhaps being an immigrant is about the masks you wear, and how deep they go.

Impending things

So changes are afoot in little old Göteborg. Or to be more precise, in the little part of old Göteborg that my partner and I inhabit. Sadly our lease for our current apartment is coming to an end soon, so we have been questing all over for a new place. The trip to Australia caused a bit of a delay (note to self and anyone reading this: never plan a trip overseas within 2 months of moving) and put and end to some offers that may have turned out well. In any case, last night we signed a contract for another apartment and in a month we’ll have removed the last traces of our stay from our current home.

The search for a home has coincided with another important event for me, which was also slightly embuggeranced by our recent holiday. Yesterday morning I completed the majority of the final Swedish test that will decide whether I can continue to SAS and if so which level. Once SAS is completed I will be qualified to study at a Swedish university and be at a level where I can more easily be found suitable for jobs here. So there’s a lot riding on it. I will have the final part this morning, and the results at the end of the week and then after the summer holidays hopefully I will start the next level. I’ve been stressing about it for a while, so it’ll be a relief to have it done, for better or worse.

A sunny perspective at 9.46PM

A sunny perspective at 9.46PM

Meanwhile my partner’s parents arrived from Australia on Friday and our spare time has been taken showing them around and helping them to settle in. Fortunately they are very low maintenance, and seem happy to wander around the city and explore, and they have somehow managed to snaffle the only 3 consecutively sunny days that I can remember in a while. It’ll be Midsummer on Friday, which I have repeatedly been assured is a guarantee of poor weather, so we’ll see how long the Swedish summer can hold out.

Glad sommar!

Glad sommar!

While they’ve been here I’ve quite enjoyed the role of tour guide, showing off the pleasant and interesting aspects of my home town, and enjoying their enjoyment. Thus far we have been on a brief walk around Liseberg, stuffed ourselves at our favourite restaurant and picnicked by a lake. There are many things that they have done that I will have to hear more about, but suffice it to say that they seem to be enjoying their visit and we’ll miss them once they continue on their trip.

Fun at Liseberg

Fun at Liseberg

In two weeks we’ll be joining them for part of the journey, when we all go to Norway to visit some fjords. I haven’t really done much research about the area we’ll be visiting, but I think no amount of imaginary grandeur will be able to match standing by a fjord. We shall see, and those reading this will see pictures.

For now the sun is out and plans are coming into place, and a final test is looming.

The holiday ends

With rain and a number of mishaps, the weekend has ended and with it the break as we settle in. Now it’s work, study, the reasons we came here and all we’d told ourselves we’d get into.

Yesterday it began, with my partner going off to work, meeting new people and those he’d met before and finding out just what he’d travelled across the world to do. 

For myself it was investigating language classes, IDs and all the other things I’d decided would fill my days. The ideal of getting into study, writing, violin and regular runs in the forest still needs some foundations laid, though it’s very tempting to wander around the forest for hours. 

Yesterday I went for a short visit, to scope out paths for future runs, and encountered a squirrel and an old wall. Perhaps not old, it was difficult to tell without archaeology skills, of which I have none besides those picked up from Elizabeth Peters novels. Moss covered, tumbling apart and running along the side of a shallow valley.

Wall in the forest

 

Further exploring revealed no answers, though it was a very lovely place, and I did find out that I am exactly as stealthy as those characters in films that run off into the forest and are eaten by the resident monster/bear/wolf pack/T Rex/serial killer. More practice is required. The squirrel could tell I was one of those types, I think, as it was very insistent that I go away, lest I draw the monsters to it’s tree. At least I assume that was what the foot-stamping, glaring and chattering carry on was about. 

An indignant squirrel

I mentioned in my previous post that this is a cycling city, designed with paths and prioritising cyclists. Yesterday I was able to ascend the pecking order, and it makes sense now. Of course everyone should give way to cyclists! With my partner on his new, beloved bike and myself on one of the hop-on-hop-off bikes that litter the city, we trundled through the streets, past crowds outside a stadium, trams and many other cyclists. Either due to the small size of Göteborg or the quality of the paths, we crossed the city in no time, and were able to sit in a restaurant by the harbour to watch the sun set. Later today I will hopefully have my own cykel. More on that in the next update.

Göteborg harbour in the evening

Today I have given myself a number of tasks to complete, but as with yesterday, the temptation to continue the holidaying and procrastinate is very strong. Will power! 

For the moment at least I have tea, silence from the amusement park, I Giorni by Einaudi playing in the background and washing to put in the drying room in 5 minutes.

 

Geat Castle: A beginning

As I write this, I’m sitting in our apartment in Göteborg, with the scents of roasting potatoes and onions and the sound of screaming (One of these concerns dinner). Jason has just gone out to try out his new bike with much enthusiasm. Göteborg, it turns out, is a city of cyclists. As we were informed last night, the pecking order is 1) Trams 2) Cyclists 3) Pedestrians and 4) Cars. As neither of us have much interest in getting a car and working out how this mad opposite-side-of-the-road driving works (walking on the opposite side of the footpath is bad enough and has already resulted in a few near misses!), this seems perfectly logical and sensible. Which is the case with many things here in Göteborg. It has the sense that everything is as it should be, and the rules are followed by all. Neatness and politeness rule, from the streets to the design of buildings.

In case you haven’t read the Wikipedia article, Göteborg, or Castle of Geats, is a sprawling city on the west coast of Sweden, full of the clatter of trams echoing off old stone buildings. It is now also my home, for at least the next year or two. My partner and I arrived on Tuesday morning 5 days ago, trailing baggage and jetlag, and have since explored the city with the strange feeling of not-quite tourists. Head to all the major landmarks right now, photographing everything that moved or didn’t? No need. This city will be our home, and the getting to know it has been leisurely.

On our first day, after meeting our new landlady at our new home, we settled a bit and enjoyed the much anticipated showers (OMG a hot shower after a long flight), then headed out for supplies. Bedding and food were the main priority, and thanks to advice from the landlady we found what we needed. This was the first time I was confronted by the quick change Swedes make when they realise you’re an English speaker. Even when you try a bit of Swedish, they tolerantly  and politely accommodate you. I keep wanting to explain that I’ve only been here since Tuesday but they’d probably nod politely while thinking I was a very odd person.

On the second day we set out on another shopping expedition, this time for slightly less life-and-death items such as sim cards and clothes. This involved catching trams, walking, more trams, carrying things and relaxing and eating to make up for all the rest. It was yet another sunny day, very much like the Perth spring we’d left behind. I’ve been told that this has been the last gasp of summer, and the last three days have been descending more and more into light showers and overcast skies, with short bursts of sunlight. Soon I’ll get to discover whether I really am a winter person as I’ve always claimed

.Canal in Göteborg

On the third day, Thursday, we decided to try out the touristy thing, wandering around the city and checking out the City Museum. The pre-history and Viking exhibits were really good, and I loved the open-ended question style of the descriptions in the pre-history room. ‘These tools were found unfinished near a camp site. Why were they unfinished? Had the craftsman been interrupted, and by what?’ The Viking exhibition had the remains of the only one of it’s kind in Sweden, which looked like a pile of planks until you looked down from the second storey and it became ship-shaped. After that things became a bit modern and the English translations tailed off, so went headed out for more adventures. After more wandering we went to Haga, which is one of the parts of town where the old buildings are more intact, with tree lined cobble streets and cafes at most corners. Crowning it was a small fortress, which had never seen battle but which had a lovely golden crown and I believe it’s name related in some way to this adornment.

The fourth day was a chance for both of us to do our own thing and I took myself off to the forest near the apartment. It was exactly what I’d hoped. You know the fairy tale forests with glades, birch stands, hidden valleys and old oaks? Yeah, it was that. When I eventually left the quiet, leafy greenness I felt rejuvenated, my batteries a little more charged.

Which was just as well because that evening we met up with one of Jason’s friends who’s been here for 5 years and who had places to show us. Places that involved food and drink, particularly the latter. We ended the night at Publik, a bar situated underneath the headquarters of Sweden’s most left-leaning political party. I couldn’t make out how much party politics was being discussed, but it was the loudest, liveliest and most un-Swedish place I’ve yet seen. It was pretty great.

The fifth day was when the week finally caught up with us. We’ve both been nursing some sort of cold since we arrived, and myself before I left Perth, which hasn’t been helped by the jetlag and general rushing about. The previous night may have contributed as well… So when we got out of the apartment around midday to get some lunch, our fridge now consisting of margarine, vegemite, frozen beef mince and soft drink, we decided to take it easy. More shopping and another walk in the forest, and the ride I mentioned as the start followed, culminating in the first meal cooked in the apartment.

Göteborg from the forest

As I type this, the passionfruit sorbet next to my laptop is slowly melting to an edible consistency and the patrons of the amusement park across the motorway are still screaming. From the sounds of it the rollercoaster is going around the tracks, perhaps in the time to come I’ll be able to tell which ride it is by the pitch of the voices…

The sorbet is getting edible so until next time, hej då!