When in Sweden…

Last weekend I tried skiing for the first time, however unless there is an event for slowly sliding backwards down a snowy slope while saying ‘Oh dear’, I fear I won’t be participating in the winter Olympics this year.

I’ve long entertained romantic images of myself gliding easy across snowdrifts, looking around at trees and stunning vistas and have been looking forward to trying it out while we’re here in Scandinavia. My partner was even more enthused, having been snowboarding before and eager to try again, so when he found a ski park not far from Göteborg, the plan was set.
We headed off with two friends, bright and early, though were discouraged by the recent rain and the iciness of the snow that remained. On our arrival we found that the snow had been iced over and was very slippery, and as we waited for the park to open we weighed our options. There were no lessons available and these weren’t the ideal conditions, but nothing it seemed could prevent my partner from unleashing himself upon the slopes. His first attempt on the little slope was, well, his first attempt, but eventually he set off up the bigger slopes and was soon gliding happily down, hardly ever on his back.

Ready to hit the slopes

Ready to hit the slopes

Meanwhile I decided to have a go and got myself decked out skiing gear and had my first try and skiing. Not quite graceful gliding, but after much concentration and effort I did manage to move forward. One of the friends who had come with us joined me and we set to, slowly climbing the little slope and then trying to work out how to stop or turn as we sped down again. By observing others (mostly around the age of 5 in our area) I worked out the basics, but each attempt at stopping or slowing down resulting in shooting off to the left. An attempt from the pinnacle of the little slope resulted in sliding into a pole and gradually making my way down while trying not to go tearing off into the lifts.
At the end of the day, though, much progress had been made from knowing nothing, though a descent from the taller slope was still out of the question. Next time I would like to try cross-country skiing, which I imagine would involve fewer slopes. Also lessons.

Study can be fun

Study can be fun

Other than adventures in the snow, this last week has been primarily focussed on preparing for a Swedish test on Wednesday, and another next Wednesday. This week’s was in preparation for the other which is much more important, and to show us and the teacher what we need to be focussing on. For me it was mostly writing. It seems sort of odd to me now as I happily type away that stringing words together is such a struggle, but someone the rules don’t seem to penetrate. What I need to do, I think, is divorce the forming sentences from all English grammar and think only in term of Swedish.
Subjekt – Verb – Objekt.
Q-ord – Verb – Subject – V2 – Objekt.
Adverbial – Verb – Subjekt – V2 – Objekt.
Infinitiv efter hjalpverb.
Still they are rules, floating above the forming ideas, not implanted yet. More practice is needed. Perhaps I should write an update in svenska någon tid? För en publik av en.

Getting there!

Getting there!

On the subject of writing I have also managed recently to finish a short story, the first one I’ve finished in over a year. Yay! It is currently being read out at the finest writing centre in the world (who me, biased?) by an obliging friend and getting good reviews and critiques. Which makes the distance between Göteborg and Greenmount Hill seem not so vast.

To the sea

This update was started as I sat on a rock overlooking the sea in Saltholmen, alternately scribbling in my writing pad and staring around at the perfectly serene surroundings. I didn’t lug my laptop to the coast and up that hill, and so I’m now typing it up at home, while a rainy mist persists outside.

Göteborg is a city that is tied to the sea. Since it’s founding it has lived by the ships that still meander up the Göte älv to disgorge their contents on the docks that, unlike other harbour cities I’ve seen haven’t yet been reclaimed as fashionable apartments. The Gulf Stream which passes nearby keeps it relatively warm, so far warm enough for a sheltered Australian who can only imagine snowy winters as Yule cards. (As I retype these notes, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the most oceanic music I know, has started playing, and as well as seeing the still surface of the bays at Saltholmen, I can see the dark beneath the waves.) I’ve always been drawn to bodies of water, whether rivers, lakes or the ocean, fancifully I imagine it could be because about 80% of me is water, but to be honest I don’t know for sure.

An old man sharing the sun

It is a surprise, then, that it’s taken me 6 weeks to visit the coast, and now that I am perched on a rock overlooking Saltholmen harbour, the sun on my back and the breeze in my hair, I am glad. There couldn’t be a better day to be here.

View from the rock

My plan initially had been to take a tram to the end of it’s route, in order to see more than the central city that I’ve been wandering around so far. I chose the 11, which ends at Saltholmen, an island relatively recently connected to the mainland. According to Wikipedia, this town is very popular in summer, when locals flock to swim in the protected bays. This would explain why, in October, the kiosks and icecream stalls are closed. Nevertheless, I wandered along the jetty, admiring the scrubby rocks, and found a cove. A rickety bridge spanned between worn rocks and I climbed over, seeing a rock with a 2 metre sharp drop into a warm pool below, whether drifted jellyfish, seaweed and small fish. There I sat, dangling my legs. I wrote a bit, inspired by the quiet and beauty, then sat and watched. Soon I climbed further and found a perch on the highest rock, with a view over the sheltered harbour and bays. There are others basking up here, a few couples wrapped in themselves and others reading and soaking in the light and sea. Just being. It is a fine place to be. I wish this being, right now, could be forever.

A sheltered bay

Obviously it couldn’t be forever, but I sat there for long enough to feel steeped in the sea air, then climbed down the rock and made my way to the tram. On my way I found a patch of forest, with groves of birches, young oaks and startled birds. It seemed almost absurd to find two of the places I enjoy the most, the sea and the forest, in the same place.
Then I went home. This was last week, and I can picture the scene where I sat as it is now. Windy, overcast, damp and quiet. I look forward to being there again.

Surprise forest

Omens and what next?

Yesterday I received an omen. It landed on my hand with a splat, as I sat plotting a story outside a cafe in Victoriapassagen. I’m assuming it was an omen, because otherwise a bird crapped on my hand for no reason and that’s nowhere near as interesting, though I’m not sure what it presaged. Hopefully that I was on the right track with my story.
Today I went to a cafe and didn’t get an omen from the sky as there was space inside this time. My hot lemon, ginger and honey drink, macaroon and delicious foccacia made up for the lack of signs though, as did progress with my story. It’s one that I’ve been working on for a few years now, and I’d left it on the back-burner when it got stuck about a year ago. Recently the characters and the heart of the story came back and are now creeping around my head, plotting and directing the action.

Writing assistance

Ominous bird doings aside, during the last week or so I have been mostly preoccupied with looking around and wondering what I’m doing and where I’m going. Reassessing my daily lists of Things To Do. Focussing not only what is most important, but what is actually doable. Having done this I feel as though I’m clearing the hurdle of the second stage of expathood. From my own experience and talking to other expats who’ve been here longer, the first two stages are as follows:
The first stage was the wide-eyed wow stage, when the world around me was new and everywhere I looked there was something intriguing to be investigated and most likely photographed. That still happens to me now, when I go for walks into town or cycle to a place I haven’t seen before, but my neck has been craning less and I sometimes have moments when I feel as though I’m touching the borders of being part of this place.
This second stage is when the momentum caught up with me and I had to pull myself in and really think about where I want to be and what I can do to get there. It came to a head last Friday, when all my get up and go, got up and went and I just felt tired.
What the next stage is I don’t know. With November just around the corner, all encroaching darkness and cold, I’m hoping the Swedish language classes will start soon, so I have something to throw myself into. Just in case, I bought two candles yesterday, to ward off the dreariness and provide literal and metaphorical warmth. Soon I will go in search of advent candle holders, to light up our kitchen window.

What all this writing and navel gazing means, oh readers, is that my adventures haven’t been of the adventurous kind lately. Possibly the most exciting events occurred over the weekend, starting with Kanelbullens Dag on Friday. This is a tradition in Sweden, in which it is the duty of all to eat huge, sugar coated cinnamon rolls, and who am I to deny the customs of my adopted country? They were delicious, and enjoyed in the company of other expats who then headed to a French restaurant/bar for less traditional alcoholic beverages, and discussions of B-grade shark-related films.

Kanebullen, mmmm

On Saturday we went to another of the free Foyer Concerts at the Opera House, the theme of which was Nordic cello. Again the music was beautiful, so much so that at times I risked sinking into a doze, warm and content as I was. More wanderings with expats ensued, and then other wanderings, and a visit to Universeum, the Göteborg version of Scitech, Aqua and the zoo all bundled in one place. It was great fun to stare at the exhibits, exploring the river systems of Sweden, admiring the feathery dinosaurs and stepping into the tropical rainforest section, which was a very tropical 28C. This last was my favourite, which made up half the building. Imagine a vertical cross section of a 6 storey building, and fill the left side with winding paths through recreated rainforests inhabited by birds, monkeys, lizards and piranhas. The piranhas were in tanks, fortunately. The toucans, with their giant beaks and amazingly colourful feathers and habit of staring right back at us were wonderful.

Curious toucan

Resists urge to make a two-can joke. Oops.

There was also a tiny black monkey who skittered around, jumping out from nowhere and disappearing as quickly.

Escaping monkey

The day ended with drinking a bottle of wine and watching the final episode of Vikings and then Gladiator. I had decided that my habit of sobbing messily at the end would be a thing of the past. Oh yes. Of course, by the time Russell Crowe was doing that odd turtle neck thing he does in the death scene, a little tear was dribbling down my cheek and my throat felt quite tight. Is it ‘a good man’ dying? Knowing the Empire was passing it’s prosperous period? That neck thing? I still don’t know, only that it gets me every damn time.
The next morning I showed some evidence of having drunk a fair amount of wine, and so took it easy till the afternoon, when I cycled to the nearby lake. It involved a bit more uphill than I’d planned, but it was more than worth it. Sitting on the grass watching as the sunlight crept over the trees along the banks of the lake and the little island, lighting up the still water and clearing skies brought more peace than I’ve felt in a while. If I concentrate I can feel it now, and picture the lake.
When my partner returned from his own, longer, cycling trip, we went for one last night at Liseberg. It was the last night until it opens for the Christmas season, and was free so we walked around and had dinner at the Austrian restaurant, then walked some more until the sky was lit up by fireworks.

Liseberg fireworks

It was a lovely ending to the weekend, and as we made out way through the crowds and past the beautifully lit tree near the main gate, I felt as though this week would be easier.

Tree like a galaxy, and a light post

In the short time since the weekend I’ve been concentrating on my writing and study, and creating a comfortable space for my partner and myself. There’s still a long way to go, and many more stages to be discovered and breached, but I know it’s possible and that I’m not alone on the road.

Rollercoasters and relaxation

Since the last update I have not left Göteborg. This may surprise those who have read my other posts, as it sometimes seems as though I am forever getting on and off planes or buses, but worry not, there will be travels and adventures in exciting lands in future. For the next few weeks (or the next 2 at least) we’re taking a break from the jetsetting and settling in a bit, and finding amusements closer to home.

Thursday was the first foray into the nearer sort of excursions, in which we went along to a comedy night advertised through an expat group I’d found. The first sign that it would be a great night was when a dapper looking fellow casually smoking a cigarette rolled past on a penny-farthing bicycle, on which was mounted a stereo blasting out electronica. Our joy at this absurdity was increased when he was soon followed down the street by a fleet of 10 or so people on segways. What could possibly top this? Well, a series of very funny comedians and a ‘mentalist’, plus very nice company. My partner also earned the nickname ‘The One’ and was briefly a mentalist’s assistant, while I sang a few bars of Happy Birthday while wishing I could sink into the floor. It was the only song I could think of at the time. Stage-fright keeps wit at bay it seems. The highlight for me was the first comedian, Kate Smurthwaite, who was not only funny, but a feminist atheist with a knowledge of history. Yay!
Unfortunately the walk home involved no penny-farthings or segways.

The One being magical

The next night we decided to explore Liseberg, which we see and hear everyday from our apartment. It was fantastic, with neat streets, uncluttered sideshows, gardens, good food and plenty of rides for any level of daring. My own level is more along the comfort with the minimum of up and down level, though my partner insisted that we try Balder, the large wooden rollercoaster that we can see from our balcony and that is the source of at least a third of the screaming we hear daily. I reluctantly agreed and so we lined up, my stomach churning all the while, then got on and set off, rolling along innocuously. Then… Screaming. Lots of screaming. We’ve got photographic testimony of my terror, and I don’t think I’ve ever looked like that before, and hopefully never will again. It was hilarious though, and no, I’m not going to post a copy, just use your imagination and times it by 100. This is a video if you’d like a taste.

Liseberg canal

At a more sedate pace we continued exploring and found a tiny shop that did old style photos in costume, which I couldn’t say no to. So after food we went in and now have a charming photo of a gent in a Union uniform and his lady, though with broader smiles than is usually seen in photos from the 1800s. As the evening progressed we also saw dancing, a ship, bridges, an Austrian band in lederhosen playing Disney’s ‘I wanna be like you’ and I very much wanted to visit again someday.

Dancing at Liseberg

On the next day the weekend started, and we celebrated by sleeping in for the first time in weeks. It was wonderful. We did manage to get out of the house on Saturday morning for a free concert at the Göteborg Opera Foyer, which we had been told about on Thursday night. As we got there slightly late (it had been a nice and scenic cycle though) we grabbed a drinks platform and settled in for some free music. The first half was a violinist and pianist playing themes from Schindler’s List. I was enraptured. I can still hear the final song, which I think is the signature theme. The second half was performed by a shy harpist and a horn player (hornist?), and was much more jolly. Then to finish off, the violinist, pianist and hornist did a toe-tapping Hebrew song, apparently spur of the moment, and yes my feet were tapping. What I think will stick in my memory was the expressiveness and skill of the violinist, Max Wulfsson, and the sweet sadness of the final Schindler’s List theme.

The rest of the weekend was spent with cooking, and being pleasantly housebound.
I did have one excursion of my own though which took an unexpected turn. When I was in Australia I’d been going to yoga classes, for fitness and meditation, and have been hoping to continue this in Sweden. Lo and behold there was a free class on sunday, so I set off with stretching and relaxing on my mind. Instead, I should have been preparing my chakras for some thorough scrubbing, because they were the only parts of me exercised. It seems that yoga has many meanings, and they include internal statements about mindlessness and inner purity while tying invisible knots over one’s head. Which is fine for some, but I’d rather stick to the stretchy kind. At least my chakras are clean.

Pancakey joy

In the month since I arrived in Sweden, other than travelling and a few daily routines, I feel as though I haven’t properly been working on the hobbies that I’d planned to get into once here. Mostly writing and violin, though at least this blog has helped keep the writing fingers going. So I decided on the weekend to throw off whatever else I’ve been occupying my days with and get into the creative stuff. It’s been productive so far, with the short story coming along nicely and some enjoyable fiddling through Dvorak on sunday. Today I am sick so being housebound I may as well get into something.

It’s a beautiful day outside, perhaps I’ll find a bench in the sun and write for a while.