A room full of love

Many months ago, not very long after we’d arrived in Sweden, I found out about a school that I very much wanted to work at. I was at the time looking for relief teaching work, and sending my CV hither and thither in the hopes of finding something, anything.
I added an extra sentence to the email, and hoped that my enthusiasm if not my experience would attract someone’s notice. It did. I got an interview and soon found myself Englishing at ladies from all ages and backgrounds, coming in every few weeks or so to cover for sick leave or training.
In time I was asked to take over a class for the second half of a term, and then this year I was asked to take a class for a whole term. I obviously said yes to both, having grown to love the school, for opening its doors to me and for what it represented.

Fast forward a little to last Friday. The term is over, the last class has flown past (don’t forget the deadline for logbooks ladies!) and while for some this is a pause before getting back to the books next term, for others it’s the end. Graduation day. This term it includes not only many students, some of whom I have taught, but a teacher who has meant a lot to me.
There were no trucks or sailor hats for these women, but rather a party. It celebrated the ending of term, the beginning of the holidays, what had been achieved, who was leaving and what the school had come to mean to those who were a part of it. And love. A lot of that.

It started with one of the MCs stalking off in a huff. The huffer and huffee were students of mine, I was proud to see, and the huff obviously false. They did a quick costume change and then sashayed back into the room in a suit and a cheerleader outfit to pounding music. From there the party was launched, and the first order of business was to launch ourselves in good order at the smörgåstortor (sandwich cakes) along the sideboard, which had been made by one of the classes. They were all vegan and tastier than I would have thought, given the suspicion I have viewed them with in the past.
As myself and the other teachers and students stuffed ourselves with cake, a stool was set up at the front of the room. A young woman sat on it with a guitar and started to sing. She sang about friendship, surprises, learning and her experiences at the school. As she sang I looked to my left to see two teachers hugging as tears fell down their cheeks, and behind them the principal’s eyes were overflowing. When the song ended the room erupted, cheers rising and tears falling from all parts of the audience of 100 or so women. From that moment, if not before, we were all in it together.

The song for the school

The song for the school

What followed was 2 hours of dancing, poetry, speeches and films, the students and teachers performing to each other in turns.
A group of mostly Somali women did an interpretive song and dance with the theme of water.
The media class played 4 short films, about a feminist taxi making it’s rounds of town, a dreamy short about trans issues, a stop-motion raft almost capsizing and finally a music video for ‘I Will Always Love You.’ They ended the last video with a sing-along of the last chorus, accompanied by the rest of the room and with rainbow flags waving behind them.
‘Jag jävla älska dig’ (I f*****g love you) cried one of the MCs as they sat down. There were many hugs.
Teachers impersonated each other and then famous feminists to huge applause and laughter, the principal at one point upstaging one of the teachers with an uncanny impersonation of her which she didn’t at first clock on to. Marie Curie/the science teacher impressed us all with some flashy test tube tricks, and was followed by speeches from Frida Kahlo, Simone de Bauvoir, Emmeline Pankhurst, Emma Goldman and others.

Audience and bunting

Audience and bunting

One teacher called us cracks in the wall, inheritors of those that had brought down the Berlin Wall, and told us to never give up.
Then a student blew us all away with her story. She went on stage bedecked in bright blue robes and shimmering jewellry, telling us that from the time she was a child she had been by teachers that she couldn’t achieve what she wanted, and told by her mother to keep doing what she needed regardless of what anyone said. In SFI (the free Swedish course all immigrants do) the teacher expressed disbelief that she got the highest marks. No, she said, I will show you that I am more than you think. She switched languages and belted out ‘Still I Rise‘ by Maya Angelou, bringing yet more deafening cheers and tears to the room.
A poem was performed in Farsi and a song sung in Swedish by another student, who lead a group of students and teachers in a singing line, encouraging them all to launch into a second performance with much enthusiasm.
Soon after my class performed their disconnected, collected lines of poetry, and one of them, who had been one of the most nervous of my students took part in an energetic flashmob dance.
The party was now drawing to a close, and before it ended the singer from the beginning was called back onto stage for an encore. There were fewer laughs and tears this time, but at the last line love and applause rocked around the room to calls for it to become the official song of the school.

After which the principal tore up her prepared speech, declaring that nothing she could have prepared could possibly follow what had come before. She told us that this day, these experiences, were knots that we would tie on the pack that we all carried with us, strengthening it and marking a stage of our journey. Then we all joined together to clean up the room and the stage became a dance floor, Persian dance music thumping away as teachers and students twirled in a circle, taking turns shimmying in the centre. A woman in a wheelchair got an especially big applause as she was pulled on, and a few more eyes were full yet again.

The dance floor getting underway

The dance floor getting underway

I got hugs and flowers, thanking the teacher who was leaving who had first called me in and being thanked by a student for speaking up for her. I left hoping to be able to keep the feeling of the day intact. Perhaps by writing it down I’ll keep it alive, so that even if I never visit the community again, the feeling of love will never fade.

Advertisements

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.

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 end and the beginning

The days after our return from Lillehammer were filled with…nothing much in particular. We unpacked, nested, ate leftover pepparkakor and started planning and gathering supplies for the end.

We had two fellow country folk visiting to celebrate with us, so bits of planning slowly built up until the 31st finally arrived, accompanied by our visitors. After they got off the train there was only a brief window of sunlight in which to show them our hometown, so we gave them a quick tour via a tram and a walk, and then headed home. Then followed a little smörgåsbord, some drinking, music, chatting and relaxing, and a gradual build up to the big moment. It seemed though that others were not as patient, as crashes, bangs and flashes continued around us almost without pause.

Finally, with 15 minutes to spare, we went out to the pre-arranged location. Chinese lanterns floated beneath the clouds and lights filled the horizons, and at 12 our own supplies were lit. Within seconds 36 fireworks went off, filling the sky with colour and our ears with noise. It lasted about 10 seconds in total, and pretty much as soon as it was over I wanted more, and thanked whatever luck had ensured that fireworks were not banned in this country. Across the road another party wished us a happy new year and we returned their cheers, laughing and coughing slightly from the drifting smoke.

For another half an hour the celebrations continued all around us, some crackers in backyards, fireworks shooting horizontally up streets, an occasional fire engine and the horizon lit up on all sides. The previous year we had been in the middle of town, and though it had also been full of barrages of fireworks, the open space of our new neighbourhood gave us a better sense of the number of celebrations and the excitement felt in the community. Whether it was due to excitement at the profusion of fireworks or greeting the new year, the night was filled with happiness and a little bit of danger, which is a good sort of beginning.

Trying to photograph fireworks

Trying to photograph fireworks

The next morning we would have to get up early, so we went to bed as soon as we got home, and seemingly moments later were awakened by our alarms and were then out the door. Our destination was Stockholm, and the journey there featured measuring the speed of the train (quite fast), remarking on the tinyness of the cakes and failing to catch up on sleep. We soon arrived in the big city, and after dumping our stuff at the hotel set out to explore.

Streets of Gamla Stan

Streets of Gamla Stan

I had visited Stockholm twice before, so the size, charming old streets and lovely harbours were no surprise, though it was nice to see it through new eyes. We headed to Gamla Stan first, and spent hours wandering up and down the wide and narrow streets and alleys, checking out the shops and taking a lot of photos.

Lights at night

Lights at night

As it got dark dinner was had and as if carried by the thick, cold winds we made our way back to the hotel to while away the hours with chatting, snacking and laughing.

An old saint, getting into some slaying

An old saint, getting into some slaying

Sadly, our visitors hadn’t come alone. With them they had brought a strain of flu, and so on the second day in Stockholm one of them was struck down and unable to join us for adventures. So instead three of us set out, making our way through the cool morning air to Djurgården.

We took the long walk to the island, winding along the banks of the river past the palace, bridges, elaborately fronted apartments and even a bird feeding station, which was very popular with the locals.

Stockholmers at breakfast

Stockholmers at breakfast

Once on the island we dodged the rain to the Vasa museum, and managed to get there before the long queues. The ship was impressive, as usual, a great dark hulk that seems to take up all available space. I had tried to downplay how impressive it was to our guest so that she would be even more impressed, but I think she saw through my ruse. Possibly my excitement gave it away.

The Vasa

The Vasa

We spent a while admiring the ship, and trying to sort out an issue that had come up, and before we knew it the time had come to head back to town. This time we took the shorter route through the main streets, passing giant elk, shops, squares and a lot of busy city folk. Having already packed we then went over to the train station to eat and wait for the train. Following its arrival and many farewells, we climbed aboard and discovered to my delight that we were in a booth that had a distinct Hogwarts Express feel. The novelty never quite faded, and the pianist at the bar kept the glee going for the remainder of the ride back home, where we were pleased to discover, it had just snowed.

A mid-Autumn weekend dream

Quiet recovery

Every now and then you get a weekend that seems to meld into one long day in which you barely get a chance to come up for air before you are off again.
Case in point: last weekend.

Sometimes you go to a party that combines great company, a lovely setting, delicious food and getting just tipsy enough to wobble but not enough to fall over.
Case in point: last weekend.

Every so often you plan an event on the spur of the moment, rush the prep while hungover and it still turns out wonderfully.
Case in point: last weekend.

The old belfry

The old belfry

My weekend started with a morning run, trying to time my steps to Don’t Stop Me Now and the Buffy musical soundtrack and not get thrown off by tolling from the old belfry as I crossed the river. It passed into breakfast and preparations for the day at weekend speed (approximately .25 of weekday speed) and then picked up tempo when the actual reality of time passing began to set in. Baking ensued, biscuits and bread, and they were still hot and steaming when our lift arrived.

As the bbq wasn’t mine, and I don’t know the people well enough to presume, I’ll just say that everything was wonderful. As with another party at the home of a Swede on New Years, the organisation was seamless and we as guests happily slipped along through the courses and after an impromptu piano performance worked out how to open the whiskey cabinet.
And the night would not have been complete without learning a new word – skamkudde (literally shame-pillow) which is how you feel when trying to avoid watching someone being humiliated – and being treated to impressions of Minecraft-gubbar by 5 year old boys.

By the time we got home and collapsed it was about 4 and before too long, or so it seemed, we were up again and making preparations for our own party. I had thrown out the suggestion on Friday that we ought to use the final days of sun and have a picnic somewhere scenic. Murphy’s Law being what it is, we awoke to news that Sunday was forecast to be rainy and cold and so quickly changed the plan to an indoor picnic.
A dash to the shops and shuffling of furniture later, and very importantly a playlist on Spotify chosen, our first guests arrived and the party was on.
A few hours later the last guest left and silence fell, unbroken by the need to bake, cook or do anything preparational.
Of course the next day I had an exam, and then there were lessons to prepare for classes, and work to get ready for and the weekend to basically get its act together and pull us under again.

Quiet recovery

Quiet recovery

But for a little while I was in a car on the highway heading home, my head resting tipsily on my partners shoulder and Håkan singing something nostalgic from the stereo. Unlike my Swedish friends, I may not have grown up with him, but now I can say that I have my own Håkan memory. And it is one to treasure.

Happy tipsiness as I lean on my partners arm and listen to En Midsommarnattsdröm.

A party in Göteborg

In the week that we’ve been back, we were lucky enough to be part of a great national event here in Göteborg. An event that had about a 10th of the cities’ population singing and cheering, lining the canals and having picnics on rooftops. People spent the day in costumes and sang in public and the sound of the celebration and the fireworks of the finale reverberated around the city.

No, I’m not talking about Swedish National Day. I’m talking about a concert performed by someone who may not be known outside of Sweden, but is adored in his homeland – Håkan Hellström.
Brief backstory for those not in Sweden – Håkan Hellström is a rock/pop musician from Göteborg who was a drummer and bassist in a couple of Swedish bands before he decided to go solo and has since released a number of records, all in Swedish. Months ago a concert was announced in Ullevi, the biggest stadium in the city, and sold out pretty quickly. I heard snippets about it from Swedish friends who were either going or wished they could go, but it wasn’t till I saw fans in sailor outfits wandering around the city, overheard people singing his most famous song in a park and heard that the venue had reached a record breaking capacity that I realised how important the event was for a decent percentage of the population of Göteborg.

Relaxing by the canal

Relaxing by the canal

My partner works in a building near the stadium which has a balcony, so our plan was to view the concert from high above. (Unfortunately we couldn’t get access to the top floor, but at least we know more for next time) We set off from our apartment with a bottle of wine and some glasses, just in case, and strolled along the canal that leads to the stadium. From the moment we stepped outside our apartment we could hear the concert, and as we got nearer it got louder, covering the screams from Liseberg and the rush of traffic. The volume of Göteborgare also increased as we got closer, from people sitting on benches with picnics, or on the grass lining the canal, standing around with their arms around each other or sitting on the wall of the canal, feet dangling down above the water. The rooftops nearby had new residents, and the road near Ullevi had been closed off and was packed with people singing along or just standing and smiling. It was a city celebrating and vicariously sharing a few hours of music. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The contrast to the concert was National Day, which seems to have been popularised within the last few years and the mention of which was greeted with ‘what? Oh yeah, that thing’ from the Swedes I questioned about it. Hoping to get some sort of cultural experience, even if it was manufactured, we headed to Slottskogen on Friday, to listen to the orchestra and watch some folk dancing. Unfortunately the weather didn’t seem to have realised that it’s summer so it poured from the moment we stepped outside. While I do love a bit of Ode to Joy, standing in a crowd feeling the rain seeping through your jacket is not the ideal way to enjoy it.

Orchestra in the rain

Orchestra in the rain

The folk dancing seems to have been rained out (though why they weren’t more prepared baffles me – I take it they of all people would know they are in Sweden), though I did enjoy the costumes.
Speaking of which, a question for readers: Does anyone know why ‘folk’ outfits seem to date from the 17th centuries? Why not the 14th, or 19th? I suppose the equivalent nowadays would be a suit or cocktail dress.
There were of course crowds of people at the National Day celebrations, and those who can stick around in the rain must have some good reason to do so. However I didn’t get the same feeling of love as at the concert the next day. Perhaps people have to decide what to love.

Prior to checking out the concert, we had a picnic in a park, a long and relaxing affair in which we ate, drank, talked and I got slightly sunburnt. Now that summer is beginning to show its face I hope it stays for longer.

Picnicing in summer

Picnicing in summer

Life has otherwise been settling down to the usual routine, or classes and chores, looking for work and another apartment and reconnecting with friends. The holiday in Australia is passing away and life is returning to normal, back in step with the city around us.