Day 170 — Ending the year with a bang

It was stormy this morning but not as stormy as we thought it was going to be. Still, the lighting was dramatic and, once again, we pinched ourselves to be living in such an area.

Mariette heard someone on TV today saying that because of the climate change that Sweden may no longer experience winters in the south but just a long period of fall-like weather that moves into Spring. I hope not, but I am probably in the minority around here.

When the sun comes out the colors are very saturated because it does not get above 20 degrees or so at this time of year.

What really made today great, however, is this:

FIREWORKS! Fireworks are legal in Sweden, at least for New Years, and from what I hear, every house sets them off to ring in the New Year. I remember fireworks as a kid and loved them but bit by bit they were more and more outlawed until now you have to go to one of the officially sanctioned events put on by cities in the Bay Area to get your fireworks fix at 4th of July or New Years.

No longer. We have our own and some of these skyrockets will shoot up 100 meters. The biggest thing we ever had as kids was pop bottle rockets. I got a high end package that has things in it like Cruiser and UFO. Can’t wait to see that one.

Two days ’till showtime!

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Days 168 and 169 — Going to the movies

The last couple days have been anything but exciting, though fun and relaxing all the same. Mariette’s parents biked out yesterday against a strong wind for fika (they are both over 80) and to look at some paintings. Bianca enjoyed it as much as they did.

This morning she (Bianca) treed a squirrel, which was the high point of our walk.

The highlight for us was going to a movie for the first time since we have been here. And it is possible to compare the entire experience from setting to subject matter.

For starters there is only one theater in Halmstad, albeit with 6 screens. I guess this is what passes for a multiplex in Halmstad.

Tickets were an outrageous 16 bucks. Apiece. Popcorn was better tasting and comparable in price to the U.S. The godis were cheaper. Seats are assigned, not first come, first served as in the U.S. Mariette remembers there being a few theaters when she lived here growing up, even with a smaller population and many fewer young people back in the day.

We were here to see the Hollywood remake of “Men Who Hate Women” — er, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Just as the American publisher softened the original name of the book for an American audience, so has Hollywood softened the story for the U.S. market. More on that in a minute.

Stairs up to the individual theaters.

We did not see a popcorn machine. The boxes were sitting in a heated case next to the soft drinks.

Godis bins and packaged candies.

Upstairs.

Cornball signs were a nice touch, I thought. Mariette was unimpressed by the whole place and says she misses American cinemas, even though the seats were comfortable.

The shots I took inside were too bad even for me to post (which is saying something) but suffice it to say that there was only one coming preview and most of the ads were for local services (many of them governmental or union-based, such as propagandizing farmers). The production values would be laughable in the U.S. but the content was no better or worse than the U.S.

Now, down to the film. Mariette was a huge fan of the later Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and we have seen the films more than once. They showed them to us in school so, I have seen them 3 times each, I guess. In English, of course, it was easier to follow the story line.

The title sequence of the Hollywood remake is really cool, even though it had nothing to do with the film that I could tell. Both Mariette and I agreed that it was good to see the Hollywood  remake but that the Swedish version is actually quite a bit better in just about every respect. One thing that Mariette read about the actress who played Salander that tipped her off was Rooney Mara saying in an interview that she did not think that the Salander character was a vehicle for women’s rights or feminism. Larsson’s girlfriend took umbrage at the remark and said that were Larsson alive today he would be using the success of his books and the films as a platform for their messages.

My biggest gripe about the Hollywood version is that all the characters seem to have been somewhat flattened compared to the original film. Salander is not as messed up as in the original. (Stieg Larsson said he created Salander by imagining what Pippi Longstocking would be when she grew up.) Mikeal Blomqvist is not as crushed by losing his libel case, Bjurman (Salander’s second ward) is not as slimy, etc., etc., and so it goes.

At the end of the movie, people took their garbage and dropped it in a garbage can that had been moved inside the theater just as the end credits rolled. At least some people did. Being American still, we didn’t.

All in all it was good to go to a movie in Sweden and see what it was like and on the way home, I realized another good thing about Sweden–it is possible to pee almost anywhere you need to. I really had to go after we got off the bus. I realize that this advantage also exists in many places in the U.S., but Mountain View is not one of them.

Tomorrow, another great thing about Sweden–you can buy fireworks for New Years Eve!

Day 167 — Annandag Jul (Second Christmas Day)

The day after Christmas Day is another official part of the Christmas season. When it falls on a weekday, as it did today, people get off work. It signals the beginning of the middle days, or the days between Christmas and New Years. As in the U.S., this is the time for post-Christmas sales in stores. In America, the stores probably opened at midnight as they did on Thanksgiving. Here, the stores were mostly closed. Some of the stores in the center of town, like H&M, were open from noon to 4:00 p.m. Clearly, Swedes have a lot to learn about consumerism. Other than this, I have no idea what special significance Annandag Jul holds.

An old friend from Mariette’s school days came over with her husband for fika this afternoon and we shot the breeze, had fika and went for a walk. That was it for Annandag Jul. Watched a documentary about the hockey player Peter Forsberg who recently retired after a stellar career for the Swedish national team and in the NHL.

On my morning walk with Bianca, however, we came across a mystery in the forest: lots and lots of Christmas type trees newly cut and just lying there. I have no idea what this is all about.

Many were obviously too large for use in someone’s house but many would have made nice Christmas trees.

There must have been 100 trees cut down in just this one area. Maybe one of the natives reading the blog can enlighten us because I have no idea. There certainly is no shortage of trees in the area so it may be someone just thinning the forest. That is just speculation on my part, though.

Day 166 — Juldagen (Christmas Day)

The 25th is not the big day in Sweden. That was yesterday, but the big event on Christmas morning is called julotta. It consists of getting up early and going to church at around 7:00 a.m. So we did, courtesy of our neighbor who drove. The weather turned lousy again and it began raining around 0300 and was just stopping around the time we left for church.

I actually took this photo after the service was over after 8:00. An hour earlier it was too dark for my camera.

Lighting the candles on the chandeliers with a propane torch.

The pews were about half full. Bad weather probably kept some away.

The organ music and singer were excellent. A collection was taken and the proceeds will to a girls’ school in Palestine. Swedes are quite supportive of the Palestinians in their efforts for statehood. I can’t comment on the sermon and forget now what Mariette told me it was about.

After the service we went back to our neighbor’s house for very strong glögg, coffee and biscuits with some other neighbors. The weather cleared somewhat but was kind of stormy most of the day. Bianca and I went for a long walk through the forest and came upon this hill that provided a nice view of an abandoned quarry.

Other than that, the 25th is an anticlimax here. People spend the day playing with their new toys, out walking, weather permitting, or going to movies in town or watching them on TV. We talked to family in the U.S. and watched “Amadeus” tonight on TV without commercials, which is a matter of course on Swedish TV on some channels.

Hope you all had a great day. In the U.S., the 26th is usually a mad day to return items and take advantage of the after Christmas sales. I have no idea what to expect tomorrow here, but I highly doubt it will be that. Stay tuned and we will find out together.

Day 165 — A California Christmas in Sweden

It rained most of last night but by around 9:00 this morning it stopped. Julafton in Sweden. It was a Christmas unlike any I have celebrated and was the same for many Swedes but for a different reason. Usually it is snowing or raining or cold and miserable here on Christmas, but before noon the sky was crystal clear.

Further proof:

But I would be getting ahead of myself if I did not cover what happened this morning. First a pack walk along the beach.

Proof I was there. Afterwards I went for a workout on a hill along Prins Bertils Stig. I run up the hill and walk back down eight or so times. At one point coming back down I heard whoops and hollers and what sounded like splashing water.

Those little buildings are saunas and those guys just came back from skinny dipping in the sea. The trick to bathing in the ocean in winter, I am told, is to get really, really warm before hand. It’s a Scandinavian thing.

On the way back, I took a shot of our favorite scenic spot. This could very well be a summer shot. Blue skies, no wind. Incredible for winter.

Meanwhile, Mariette took some photos around the house to show what the beginning of winter has looked like this year. She and all residents here are shocked. There were plenty of people out jogging, walking and enjoying the bright sunshine and mid-to-high 40 degree temperatures. Mariette’s parents later said they could not remember weather like this for Christmas. I take full credit because in all my years in Redwood City I could not remember a Christmas where it was NOT like this, except one. I must have brought the weather with us.

Our living room. Note the extreme low angle of the shadow on the painting. This was taken about 11:00 a.m. and it is already low in the sky.

Yet, the lawn is still a lush green. I may have to mow it again soon. This blows Mariette’s mind as she never remembered green grass later than October.

But enough of that. It’s Christmas here in Sweden, so over the river and through the woods to Mariette’s parents’ house we go. Mariette’s mom was lying bundled up on her chaise lounge in the sun as she will do on any sunny winter day. She and Bianca were obviously happy so see one another. You can see them here catching up on the latest.

Very Swedish Christmas tree: spare branches, only white lights, few ornaments and tinsel.

Mariette’s mom is partial to angels and her Christmas angels were out on display.

So was the Jul bock. This was more or less how presents got delivered in Sweden before Santa Claus.

The decoration that Mariette sewed when she was 11 was on display also.

After a few pieces of steak for Bianca, we took a walk down to the beach.

Last month’s storm eroded the dunes and the beach is now about 10 meters wider than before, which will be great for next summer.

All this is still lead up to the nationwide “official” beginning of Christmas. It is an event that has a higher percentage of Swedish households tuned in, I am sure, than the Super Bowl in America. The roads are empty, the TV sets are tuned to SVT 1 and the family is gathered  round to launch the year’s Christmas celebration, as they do every single year, with . . . . . .

(drum roll) . . . . . . . . . . . (cymbal clash) . . . . . . . . .

Donald Freaking Duck!!!! I kid you not. Every Swede watches a collection of Disney cartoons from 3:00 to 4:00 on Julafton and that signals the start of Christmas. The mind boggles. I thought all-song in the rain was over-the-top. Donald Duck is known here as Kalle Anka and they show the same cartoons every year and have been doing this since at least since Mariette was a child. All the Disney characters are represented. I even remember many of these when I was a kid but have not seen them in over 50 years.

Mickey is called something like Mussi Pigg in Sweden.

Half the cartoons have nothing to do with Christmas.

Mariette had warned me about Kalle Anka but I was still amazed and not in a bad way at all. The thought of 90% of the people in the country watching these 60 and 70 year old cartoons year after year is incredible. There are quite a number of broad agreements in Swedish society that I have learned about since being here and Kalle Anka, for sure, is another. (One exception, Mariette’s mom says she has never watched Kalle Anka and never will. She has a contrarian streak in her that is wonderful.)

Afterwards, Olle tickled the ivories while Ella prepared the Christmas feast.

My favorite: pork chops, potatoes, green beans with gravy and lingonberry jam all washed down with Jul Must, a seasonal cola drink. For dessert we had incredible apple strudel like things with vanilla sauce. Very different from the julbord meals we have had in recent weeks, but as satisfying in its own way.

Time to really get down to business, the appearance of tompten to hand out the loot to all good girls and boys. In fact, tompten is supposed to come in hollering “Are there any good children here?” but I came in singing “Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.” Fortunately, I remembered my lines in time so it wasn’t a complete disaster.

Tompten hands out the gifts and then the unwrapping begins.

Bianca went crazy.

We got handmade ornaments from our little friends Sam and Emily that are already hanging on our tree at home.

Bianca getting her big gift, a bone. She was so stuffed with steak and pork chops and cookies that she decided to save it until tomorrow. That was a first.

But wait, there is more national TV viewing.

At 7:00 every year a show comes on called something like Karl-Bertils Christmas. I doubt if the people who control U.S. media would permit this to play in America even though 99% of the populace today would enjoy it. It is the story of a poor little rich kid who works in the post office over Christmas and who dreams of being Robin Hood. First, he sneaks his father’s copy of the national tax registry which lists the income of everybody in the country. He then takes all the presents being mailed to rich people and goes down to the poor part of town and gives them to the poor people. His rich father hits the roof when the son confesses and bemoans the fact he has a communist for a son. The next day he takes the son around to confess to everyone he has ripped off. Every person he confesses to says they hated those gifts anyway and are glad that Karl-Bertil gave them to people who appreciated them. Dad is suddenly proud of his son and Karl-Bertil is a hero for fulfilling his Robin Hood fantasy. The show is a far cry from the Disney style of animation but the message is pure Swedish egalitarianism.

The busses stopped running at 5:00 this afternoon and every taxi in town was booked after 9:00, so we had to head home at 8:30 but that still left an hour for the evening fika.

When we got home, the sky was clear and the stars were out in force so we walked down to the beach to appreciate their splendor. I think I could really learn to like this place.

All in all, it was a pretty full day. And a pretty wonderful one. We hope all of you have an equally happy, full and satisfying day tomorrow with family and friends.

GOD JUL från Mariette, Dan och Bianca!

Day 164 — Lilla Julafton (Little Christmas Eve)

I recently found out that Swedes celebrate Christmas on the 24th which seemed kind of sacrilegious until Mariette pointed out that Swedes have been celebrating Christmas since before there was even an America. End of argument.

The day before the day before Christmas is called Lilla Julafton and it is a day that people can take off work, I think. You basically make your preparations for Christmas, which happens tomorrow. So, we did, along with much of Halmstad. People were out in force today doing their last minute business.

For some reason, flags were up all over the place including our neighbor two houses down. I’m not sure what that is about, but national and EU flags were evident in town.

The central square was busy as were the surrounding streets.

Long line in front of the ATM. Mariette obviously thought it was a stick-up.

Pretty bad street scene shot, that. There are little shops like this one we went into nestled in alleys amongst the H&Ms and larger department stores.

Fuzzy is better than nothing, I guess. Sorry.

Courtyard leading down into the shop.

All kinds of little handmade items.

This is a painting that Mariette’s dad and I have been collaborating on. It is only included here because we are showing him the blog tomorrow. They are not on the ‘net at her parents’ house.

Tonight, we topped it off with a fantastic smoked salmon dinner prepared by Mariette with blueberries and ice cream for dessert.

Finally, for anyone who did not receive this via e-mail:

Enough said. God Jul från Halmstad!

Day 163 — A longer day

Today, the sun rose one minute earlier than yesterday.

School is now closed, Mariette is off work and we are sliding into the holiday mood. A lot of Swedes do not put up their Christmas trees until a day or two before Christmas. We have had ours up for a while along with our decorations.

Not going to be a white Christmas. In fact, it will be in the 40s and even sunny on the 24th. There is a lot of snow now in the middle of the country but not here on the coast.

Tomorrow is Lilla Julafton or Little Christmas Eve. It is sort of a pre-Christmas Eve. Swedes really milk the season for all it’s worth. And we are enjoying it immensely.