Day 54 — Apologies to Volvo

Some good news about that horrific auto accident I posted pictures of yesterday: the driver survived and, though in critical condition, is alive. Apparently it was a young man who just got his drivers license and must have been acting on an impulse to cut it loose and see what his car would do. Big mistake. I was talking to the guy in the bike shop who was repairing the puncture in my puncture-proof tire this afternoon and he said it was all over the papers. The people at the preschool where Mariette was working were talking about it, too.

Well, he survived, and I survived my second day of Swedish classes. Despite a lot of rain and high winds today, all is well. 


Day 53 — Back to School

Jag heter Dan. My name is Dan.

Jag är 63 år gammal. I am 63 years old.

Jag bor i Halmstad. I live in Halmstad.

So began my first day of Swedish classes at the adult education center in town. And I’m in the “advanced” class, i.e., immigrants who have some college education in their home country. There are about 20 of us in this class and there must be 25 other classes because the school has about 500 immigrants learning Swedish at present, just in Halmstad. There are several people from Iran, at least two from Bosnia, two from the Netherlands (who have been in the country for two years and are just getting around to learning the language), Hungary, Croatia, Poland, Hong Kong and yours truly from the U.S.

My classmates have been in Sweden for between 1 month and 2 years, most a few or several months.

The teacher, a 26 year old woman who came from Romania when she was 4, is cheerful  and extroverted and will probably need plenty of both to drag us into and understanding of Swedish, but most seemed up to the challenge. By coincidence there about 6 in the class who are also 26. Most are in their 20s. I am the oldest by 15 years.

Thankfully, the teacher ended class an hour early because my brain was spinning and my eyes were strained from looking up words in my English-Swedish dictionary. There are three extra vowels in Swedish, ä, å, and ö that come at the end of the alphabet and it really messes with my training patterns when looking up a word. All in all, though, it is a nice building, clean, very well organized and seems to be one more example of a system that works. I guess that “socialism” runs the gamut from North Korea to, well, Sweden. They are not the same.

The day began with weather that was, once again, all over the map, including thunder, lightning and hail.

The weather is psycho-dog here but I don’t mind it (yet). Here’s the school:

But just to balance the tone of “how great everything is here,” on my way home I came upon this grisly sight:

Some guy wrapped his car, a Volvo no less, around this tree less than 100 meters from where I turn into our neighborhood. A few minutes earlier I had passed an ambulance steaming into town and came upon the mess.  I semi-communicated with a man standing there and apparently the driver was doing 150 km/hr when he went off the road and stopped very suddenly. To convert kilometers per hour to miles per hour, you divide the kilometers in have and add 10%. 150 divided by 2 is 75, plus 10%, which is 15, means the guy was going 90 mph when he hit. Not even Volvo can do much for a head on at that speed, as you can see.

 The road is one lane in either direction with a posted speed limit of 40 km. What the guy was doing at 4X that speed is, I gather from these pictures, between him and his Maker.

Hey, my only agenda with this blog is to report the events of the day as we see and experience them. I will take wrestling with how to pronounce sjuksköterska (nurse) any day over what those people went through. By the way, sjuksköterska is even harder to pronounce than it looks, if you can believe that. Mariette says even Swedes have trouble with it.



Day 52 — Weather, Weather Everywhere

The East Coast is not the only place getting serious downpours. Here, however, it only lasts for a while and then clears up, clouds over, rains, clears up, rinse and repeat. You definitely need to consider what is going on in the immediate present around here to plan your next hour’s activities.

After watching Usain Bolt disqualify himself in the 100 meters at the world championships in Korea (track and field is a big deal in Europe), the sun was out so I took down the tents from yesterday’s housewarming party and then Mariette had the idea to go down to the sea which was clear (for the moment) but stormy and have some fika (that is the mid afternoon coffee break with a cookie). I took the opportunity to go for a swim so off we went. Marietta documented it with her camera. This place seems to be beautiful no matter the weather conditions.

You-know-who came along as well. On September 15 dogs will once again have the run of the beaches.

The conventional way of changing at the beach is to wrap your towel around you and slip off your clothes and slip on your swim trunks. Some people are amazingly adept at it. I still struggle.

Navigating my way through the seaweed which was whipped ashore by the storm.

The water remains very pleasant, much more so than I ever remember in Northern California or Lake Tahoe. My snorkel mask didn’t work, however, and the mask kept filling with water.

Before we knew it the clouds were rolling in again.

Two minutes after we got home . . .

And so it goes.

On another topic, we learned that  some 300 children get cancer in Sweden each year. Fifty years ago, nearly all died. Today, 75% survive. Aside from all their treatment being covered by the state, their parents are able to be home with them for the greatest percentage of the time while retaining their jobs and salaries. That is unbelievable to me and softens the blow each time I pay the 25% sales tax. Many items are generally more expensive here (particularly almonds–oh, for a Trader Joe’s in Halmstad) but the quality of life seems awfully high. Apparently, Sweden is the third most solvent country in the world.

Back to reality: tomorrow I head off to school.


Days 50 and 51 — “Välkommen till Sverige!”

“Welcome to Sweden!”

After getting our place finally set up with a studio for me and a piano for Mariette, the next order of business was to prepare for the housewarming party for her large family of parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, children and close family friends.

The weatherman said there was a chance of rain . . . or maybe not. So, we rented chairs and tables and our landlord graciously lended us some tents. We spent Friday setting things up, picking flowers and blackberries and buying the last of the food to feed the 40 or so guests.

It was another gorgeous day on Friday and we happily proceeded with our business.

Tent set up with tables and chairs. Check.

House ship-shape. Check.

Serving tables. Check.

Wildflowers. Check, check and check. Things are looking good and the outlook for tomorrow’s weather is hopeful.

This morning I got up and took the dog for a walk. The sun was bright red. The thought, “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning,” passed through my head briefly but I soon became distracted by a rumbling I have never heard before. Like a big diesel motor off in the distance. Oh, well, does not sound like thunder, so no big whip. I went back home to do our final set ups for the big day.

A half hour later the sky suddenly became very, very dark. Soon, Odin, Thor, the Ice Giants, elves, Loki and everyone else in the Norse pantheon were pouring out their greetings and showering us (literally) with their hellos.

 Oy, yoy, yoy, as they say in Sweden. But, no matter–in 20 minutes the thunder, lightning and downpour faded. I plugged back in the TV, wireless modem and computer and we carried on with our preparations. The sun even came out. (“If you don’t like the weather, just wait a bit,” began to sing in my head.)

Mariette brought out the grub and things were looking good. First to arrive were Mariette’s mom and dad. Olle sat down to try out Mariette’s new piano and pronounced it “Underbar!”

Punctuality is a Swedish characteristic. If you say the party starts and noon, everyone arrives at noon.

Also returning, as you can see, were Thor and his cohorts. The party started in a torrential downpour. The timing was unbelievable. The only thing more unbelievable to me, a transplanted American, was how little anyone but me noticed the weather. This was a clan gathering and instantly the house was flooded to overflowing with cheerful greetings and the chatter of kids from, literally, 1 to 85.

Had Mariette not starting moving people out to the porch for the food there is no telling how long the conversations would have gone on. As it was, the ensuing feeding frenzy barely interrupted the talk.

After some time the rain began to let up and the kids began to burn off their lunch.

Little Tåge here is 2 and is going to be a giant in about 16 years with an energy level to match.

With it obvious that the weather was taking a turn for the better, Mariette marched most everyone off to show them Prins Bertils Stig, the little fish market and our swimming spot at the beach. I stayed behind to be with some who wanted to visit.

No sooner had they left than the gods blessed us with another torrential downpour complete with sound and lighting effects. Sometime later, guests returned in groups of 5 or 6 and again, no one mentioned the weather. Swedes remove their shoes upon entering a house and our entrance was filled for several feet with shoes sandals and boots. I should have thought to take a photo.

As soon as the downpour mostly stopped, people were outside again playing.

And so it went throughout the afternoon. I’ve known for years that Mariette’s extended family is the sweetest bunch imaginable but our earlier gatherings have always been during beautiful Swedish summer weather. Now it is late August and today I got a taste of what is in store for Autumn. I also got a strong reality on how lucky I am to be part of such a wonderful bunch of people. With thunder, lightning, cats and dogs raining down for a good part of the afternoon, they took no apparent notice and reveled instead in Mariette’s smorgasbord, Olle’s piano concert and each other’s company.

The walls of our little house are still reverberating with their cheerfulness. Welcome to Sweden, indeed!

There is a lesson in here somewhere. Thank you, Odin.


Days 48 and 49 — Set up at last

Yesterday, we were finally able to pick up the stuff we shipped from the U.S. I dropped it off at the freight company in San Leandro on June 10 and it didn’t leave the port until a month later. It finally arrived on Sunday in Gothenberg and was released through customs yesterday. The customs form was daunting so I called the customs office in Stockholm and they directed me what to do, warning me that there might be long lines at the customs office in Gothenberg. A new friend picked me up in his van at the train station and we drove to the customs office. There was one person ahead of us and when she finished a very nice lady did the forms for me and we were out of there in 15 minutes. Quite a relief. She said she worked at the airport 2 days a week and knew the easy way to handle what I needed handled.

We next drove to the warehouse and after sending the shipping agent a fax of our payment for handling the warehouse released our stuff. Compared to most people moving overseas, our crate was dinky.

But it contained everything I needed to set up a studio in our garage. Finally, a place to paint.

Just need a couple more lights and some heaters for when my paints freeze in a couple months.

For some reason I find myself inspired to do Grim Reaper paintings all of a sudden.

The big deal for Mariette was getting a really, really nice electric piano this evening at a really good price. We will get her a stool and we will consider ourselves set up at last.

After taking 10 minutes to enjoy the amount of progress we made in the last 24 hours, we are now going into panic mode for the housewarming party we are throwing Saturday for all Mariette’s aunts, uncles, cousins and their families as well as some neighbors. Hopefully, it won’t rain, but if it does we have tents set up already. They have a saying here, which I just made up, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad  tents.”

Day 47 — A Day to Remember

My first jellyfish sting! Swimming in the ocean this morning, I suddenly felt a burning on my arm and across my chest. Ten hours later I can still feel it. Not as bad as some I have heard about but definitely interesting. Swedes call it getting burned rather getting stung, which is a more apt description from personal experience.

And the day started so beautifully. I was about 10 minutes late for what were some spectacular colors but here are some pretty nice shots of what we were treated to on this our third day of Indian Summer. (It is supposed to cloud over tomorrow and then start to rain on Friday and Saturday, just in time for the housewarming party we are throwing for Mariette’s aunts, uncles and cousins. Lucky we got a tent. Being Swedes, no one is going to mind the weather.)

For everyone suffering the heat, hurricane threats and now earthquakes, don’t worry, we’ll get ours soon enough I’m sure. But these last few days have been great.


Day 46 — Life Without a Car

When we moved here we decided not to ship our car or buy one here to begin with. So, we are living with bicycles and public transportation, which is basically excellent. I have come to the realization that a lot more happens when you ride a bike than when you ride in a car. Today, I dropped some blackberries off at Mariette’s parents’ (this year is a bumper year for blackberries, they are seemingly all over the place and our freezer is already packed with berries to enjoy this winter), then went to the train station in town to buy a ticket for a trip Wednesday to Gothenberg to pick up our belongings which arrived yesterday by ship. On the way into town, I saw an old guy running along the bike path, more of which later.

After buying my ticket (about the same price as a train ticket in the Bay Area on Caltrain), I biked out to the shopping center by the airport to buy a bunch of beverages for our housewarming party this weekend as well as tons of paper towels and toilet paper. I piled everything into the little trailer behind my bike, strapped it down and pedaled back home. On the way, I ran into Mariette’s father who was coming back from taking some stuff to the garbage dump (not like your mental image of a garbage dump — this one is super organized and virtually spotless–unbelievable, actually;  it’s a GARBAGE DUMP–someone needs to teach Swedes what disorder is). Twenty minutes later, just as I was about to turn onto our road who do I see but the old guy I saw jogging two hours earlier. He had run from town the 8 km to the beach evidently and now was heading back. This guy must be in his 70s. Amazing.

You definitely see more on a bike than you do in a car. You probably see more walking than you do on a bike, too. (I might wonder if you see the most simply standing still but that is getting a little philosophical for this blog.)

So it is not all blather today, here are a few photos of our after dinner walk around the neighborhood this evening. The light is wonderful when the sun is lower and, as a friend who used to live in Alaska pointed out, in winter it is golden hour all day long since the sun is so low most of the day. Should be interesting.

The final meatball of the day for Bianca.