The days after Jul

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

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

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

The Julenek

The Julenek

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

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

If only there was an automatic setting

If only there was an automatic setting

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

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

Evening falls

Evening falls

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

The nutcracker

The nutcracker

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

The stave church at Maihaugen

The stave church at Maihaugen

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

The snow fall

The snow fall

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

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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.

Heroism and enigmas

For a few months now I’ve been waiting for a day of rain and cold that would compel me to seek the shelter of the city art museum. There has been a particular exhibition on that I’ve been pining away for, but the opportunity never turned up. I regularly faced ex-Queen Christina’s look of betrayal as I thought, ‘next time for sure’. So rather than wait for the weather the provide an excuse, last Sunday we made an outing of it, thumbing our noses at the threat of sunny skies.

Which is not to say that the weather was fine and clear; rain and winds threatened as we headed into town and a couple of times we were caught in brief flurries. The flurries became meaningless when we stepped inside a burger restaurant just off Avenyn, all brick walls, low ceilings and warmth. We were soon warmed on the inside as well by a meaty, carby meal and a few drops of wine and beer.

Thus heartened, we faced the light rain again and were soon inside the Konstmuseum, and facing a rather long queue. It seemed we were not the only people to decide that an overcast day is best remedied with art, preferably inside a warm building.

Tickets purchased, we scurried up the stairs to the first of the exhibitions, a painted history of Sweden. The first thing we saw as we turned a corner was the famous photo of the US soldiers erecting an American flag on Iwo Jima. Further inspection showed a large version of the crying Vietnamese girl running naked from her napalmed village and a grainy shot of Jackie Kennedy clambering past the slumped form of her husband. Among them were various paintings from Swedish history, with heroic figures and dramatic scenes.

A tour had just started and as we tagged along, the guide explained that the intent was the contrast the use of paintings as propaganda, and to consider the purpose and impact of art on culture.
A number of the paintings showed heroic kings fighting and dying in battle, from pietà scenes, gigantic victory parades and contrasts of blonde, light Swedes and dark, bearded enemies.

On a wall opposite a huge battle scene, a tv showed a scene from the film Arn on repeat, armies lining up, serious battle-faces assumed and then forces crashing into each other again and again.
Next to this was a photo the was purported to show the moment that Osama Bin Laden was killed, watched by President Obama, Biden and Clinton, among a host of others. The guide pointed out the almost solitary emotion shown by Clinton, contrasted with Biden and others, and then the way that Obama was portrayed. He was in the centre, but smaller, hunched and intense, a different sort of heroic figure than the warrior kings of Sweden.

Queen Christina by Johan Fredrik Höckert

Queen Christina by Johan Fredrik Höckert

There the tour ended, but I spent a little while considered the final painting, the one from the advertisements. The text by the painting described the moment the former Queen found out a close friend and possibly lover had betrayed her, and sentenced him to death with a flick of her hand. She looks both vulnerable and angry, a rare image of a ruler shown outside a moment of heroism.

Queen Christina is someone who I would very much like to find out more about. From first hearing about her in University as the cause of Descartes death, to a photo recreation of a pale woman with haunted eyes at a museum in Oslo to finding out she was examined after death to confirm that she was a woman, she has floated around enigmatically, waiting for me to find out more. Soon I will.

From Swedish history we descended to investigate an heroic theme playing downstairs, and found an exhibition of darkly romantic landscapes. It included a teaser from the latest Elder Scrolls video game playing on a large screen, as well as paintings of dramatic landscapes, monsters, light and darkness. There were sinking ships, crows, mountains, travelers and cloudless nights in dark forests.

The complexity and broad strokes suddenly disappeared as we turned a corner into an exhibition of photography from a woman whose work may have been lost if not for chance.

The photography on show ranged from a shadow of the photographer, Vivian Maier, to hunched homeless men, crying children, contemptuous well-to-do women in furs and incongruous feet among cans of soup. They were all gently humourous, curious and like doors onto the streets of not terribly long ago New York and Chicago. My favourites were the portrait of Vivian and a little girl and a young man feeding pigeons, his hair curling like feathers.

Young man with pigeons by Vivian Maier

Young man with pigeons by Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier is another woman who I had found out about some time ago, an enigmatic woman who died before she became famous for the many photos and short films she made during her life. It was exciting to see her work on display and find out a little more about her life.

Finally we made a quick trip through the rest of the museum to see a painting and a room that I remember fondly from my previous visit. The painting that I had felt such a strong feeling towards seems to have faded slightly, though is still lovely, and the quirks and beauty of the little exhibition room were still charming. From there we made a brief visit to the museum shop (anyone fancy an eraser in the shape of a peanut? Or a walnut? Well your wait is now over!) and then exited into a world that seemed slightly sunnier than before.
A world for the moment free of heroic battles, betrayed ex-Queens and crow haunted lakes, but could possibly have felt familiar to a lone and curious photographer with an eye for humour and humanity.