Day 296 — Walpurgis Eve and the official beginning of Spring

I knew it was going to be a good evening when we spotted a UFO on the way into town.

It was hovering over an old folks home and these aliens probably like their Earthlings well seasoned. You won’t see anything in the news about this tomorrow because tonight was Valborgsmässoafton, a celebration that precedes Christianity in Sweden by hundreds of years. It honors an 8th Century German abbess, St. Walpurga but is really a pagan festival that celebrates the onset of Spring and the promise of summer days. The days are definitely getting longer too. It is light at 5:00 a.m. and stays light well past 9:00 p.m. It was about 65 F. today, so things are getting really, really, really nice around here.

The original purpose was to celebrate the growing season, ward off witches and burn all the dead and dried of winter and the signature event is a large bonfire. There were several celebrations around town but we went to the main one in the main park in town.

Usually, this park is the hang out for stoners and the death metal crowd. Tonight it was filled with everybody else.

Some people brought their fika, but most simply stood and watched the proceedings.

First, a band followed by some dignitary giving a speech about Spring and welcoming it in.

Meanwhile the crowd began growing.

After the speech there were a couple choirs, which were not half bad, singing songs about the star of the show, the weather, specifically, Spring.

In total, probably about 5,000 people turned out, out of a population of 55,000 for Halmstad proper.

Around quarter to nine, a canoe came down the river with torches and lit the fire in the middle of the river that bisects the town. Maybe Halmstad is a sister city with Cleveland, Ohio, which once had a river so polluted that it caught fire. I will have to check on that.

You can see the canoe on the far side of the fire.

In just a couple minutes it was going pretty good.

When it was really roaring a line of people in kayaks came down the river, each with torches in the bow and stern, which represents the parade of torches that sometimes accompany bonfires on land.

Here you can see some of the kayakers paddling back past the bonfire. They may need their torches tomorrow because it is May Day and every town in Sweden holds demonstrations pro-working people and other causes. It is a holiday here and in 80 other countries but tomorrow will have a special significance because of the other protests set to be staged in countries that don’t normally celebrate May 1st, like the U.S. More tomorrow.

Days 294 and 295 — Nice shot

Today’s post is not about Sweden but instead about where we moved from last year.

This incredible photo was taken from space and shots the San Francisco Bay Area. There are over 7,000,000 people in this photo, which covers an area of  maybe 70 miles north and south and maybe 25 miles west to east. That is maybe 1500 square miles. In all of Sweden, which covers 173,000 square miles there are now 9.5 million people. For readers unfamiliar with the Bay Area, San Francisco Bay is the largest natural harbor on earth. A lot of it has been filled in and it is probably only 60% the size it once was. San Francisco lies at the tip of the peninsula and San Jose is at the south end of the bay.  North of San Francisco at the very top of the photo is the beginning of California’s famous Wine Country. The Golden Gate Bridge joins San Francisco with Marin County just across the water to the north.

On many days, especially during summer dense fog comes through the Golden Gate and blankets the City. While San Francisco can be cold and fogged in, the Peninsula, where we lived was always sunny because of the mountains that run along the coast and block the fog. Mark Twain is reported to have said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco.”



Days 291, 292 and 293 — Mouse ears

Mariette says that they used to call the first leaves on the trees and bushes “mouse ears,” and they are now showing up at the end of April. It seems that the flowers came a couple weeks before leaves, which I didn’t expect. I thought it would be the other way around. But it is starting to happen around here, finally. I am used to seeing the trees blossom in January, February latest in the Bay Area and today I saw the first blossoms I have noticed. Was quite startling.

Meanwhile, in other news, the new water slide they are building in the local amusement park keeps growing. Neighbors are now beginning to protest because the thing is 50 feet high and they fear that the thing is going to generate a lot of noise when it opens this June. Personally, I can’t wait to try it, especially that blue and white striped part on the right. I have no idea what the part the extreme right plays in the whole affair.

Speaking of monstrosities, we have some awfully large daffodils growing in our yard. My fraternity in college used to sell them every spring to support some charity, but I don’t recall any this large.

I have been reading some commentaries about the Swedish system and how it is not all that it is cracked up to be. But on a day like today, you would have had a hard time convincing anybody here of that. So, I will leave it for a later post.

Day 290 — Money, money, money

Money was in the news today. Swedish banks are making a killing thanks to the interest they are collecting on mortgage loans but they say they have no plans to lower rates. Bankers are bankers everywhere. What else would one expect. Someday, one hopes, the creation of credit will be a public utility like the roads and water.

On a lighter note, the government announced new designs for the kronor notes today. Check these out.

The 20 kronor note (about three dollars) features Astrid Longren and to the right is the figure of her most notable creation, Pippi Longstocking, who Stieg Larsson said was his model for Lisbeth Salander in his Millennium Trilogy series.

The 50 kronor note will feature Evert Taube, noted Swedish troubadour.

The 100–Greta Garbo. How can a country be serious about money when it is not drab green with pictures of dead presidents?

The 200 kronor note is new and features Ingemar Bergman. The backs of the new notes show scenes from the are where they lived, in Bergman’s case the little island of Fårö and the beautiful rock formations that I showed in a post on the blog last month. You saw it here first!

The 500 note will feature Brigitt Nilsson, legendary soprano.

And, finally, the new 1000 crown note will show Dag Hammarskjöld, former Secretary General of the U.N.

I found these other pictures of themes that were considered for the notes.

This theme was Aurora Borealis.

And finalist this was a movie theme, all with the same characters. The notes will be in circulation in 3 years. Plan your trips for 2015!

Day 289 — A Swedish dump

Yesterday I posted some photos of the willow tree in Mariette’s parents’ yard, which needed a haircut. All those branches needed to go somewhere, so today, since I didn’t have Swedish class, Mariette’s father and I hauled everything to the dump in town. When  I was a kid, going to the dump in Redwood City was a fun adventure. It was located right down at the shore of San Francisco Bay and we would have the car full of whatever junk needed to be gotten rid of. We would pay our couple of bucks and drive into the dump and find a spot to unload. The car was backed up next to a huge pile of stinking refuse and the detritus of 1950s post war Americana. The place had a unique odor which is hard to describe other than “it smelled like the dump.” Seagulls were everywhere and the wind was usually blowing. It was always fun to start pitching stuff onto the pile, seeing how far we could throw it or trying to break glass objects. Little did we know of the damage we were doing to San Francisco Bay. Times have changed and the local dump there today is in San Carlos but it is still a filthy stinking place except that it is inside a huge acres large cement building. You still pay to drive your vehicle in but paint, motor oil and other hazardous items are dropped off in a special area. The dump is still a dump but now that it is indoors is not nearly as much fun.

If you want a contrast between the U.S and Sweden I can’t think of a greater one than comparing dumps. Here are some pictures of a Swedish dump.

Instead of just chucking everything into a general area, everything is placed in one of about 25 different dumpsters for different items. Here is where we dumped our tree trimmings.

This means branches and twigs. Other bins are for bigger branches, compost, lumber and you name it. Socialist neat freaks at work. I wouldn’t be surprised if everything is recycled by Ikea and turned into furniture.

This stuff is definitely recycled. Little recycling centers like this one at the dump are all over town. Supermarkets have recycling centers that pay you for your old bottles and cans.

One final touch–crash proof planters with spring flowers blooming. “Only in Sweden.” I said to one of the workmen who came over to admire my bike trailer. He had to agree.

Speaking of recycling centers in supermarkets, the post office is there too. I went to the nearby giant supermarket and mailed a couple letters. You can also play the horses at your local market and buy all manner of lottery tickets. Everyone takes a number an patiently waits for their number to be called.

On the way home I passed one of the local churches and thought it might be neat to check out the graveyard in springtime. They did not disappoint.

The weather was incredible today, 60 degrees and sunny for the most part. Most comfortable weather in months (though I was in the U.S. in March and  missed some beautiful days). And the dearly departed are looking comfortable too with spring flowers decorating their resting places.

Also on the way home was another distraction, a beautiful nature preserve with the best ice cream shot in all of Halmstad.

Fields all ready for planting.

Here is Riccardo’s self-proclaimed world famous Italian ice cream shop.

Here’s Riccardo himself. He told me he was in California in November and went to LA, Las Vegas and hiked down the Grand Canyon. He loves America and has bought the story that if you work hard in America you will make it. I agree, up to a point.

And here is the reason for my visit, handmade cherry ice cream. We will definitely be back.

While I was losing 2 out of 3 falls to Serendipity, Mariette was hard at work photographing the spring flowers that are now popping up all over the neighborhood. Here camera is light years better than my phone camera so allow me to treat you all to some Swedish springtime.

These are more of the wood anemones that I posted a shot of yesterday, which Mariette called truly pathetic. I had to agree.

This is from the yard next door and there were literally 1/10th of these little suckers there yesterday as today.

One more view of those wood anemones which showed up literally overnight.

I didn’t think to take my temperature today but it occurs to me now reviewing this post that I may have been running a bit of a fever. No envy, please. I will be back in class tomorrow in my life and death struggle with that boa constrictor known as Swedish.




Days 286, 287 and 288 — Population boom

Sweden’s population hit 9.5 million on Friday, not bad for a country that is 173,000 square miles in size. They made a big deal of it because it only took them 8 years to go from 9 million to 9.5. They couldn’t wait a few more years to announce that it was now a nice round 10 million.

California is 10,000 square miles smaller and has a population of 37.5 million.  According to the article in the main Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter (Daily News) half of the people born today are expected to live to be 100. Half! Most will probably still be riding bicycles, too.

Meanwhile, spring is rather late and slow to arrive. A friend who lives in the middle of the country called yesterday and they had 10 cm of snow overnight and 20 the week before. But down here the weather has been a little cooler than normal, but I have found it pleasant and we don’t seem to have had too much rain. At any rate, we have a little plot for a garden all ready to go and yesterday Mariette’s parents prevailed on me to trim their willow tree which was getting out of control in exchange for a fabulous spaghetti dinner. Mariette’s mom makes the best spaghetti I have ever tasted.

And then there these little guys, called vitsippor or wood anemones.

They are a sure sign of spring and Mariette says the forest floors are covered with them in some places. We live down by the shore so they aren’t as prevalent here, but they are around for sure. I saw some this morning on a walk and then this evening when we went by the same spot there seemed to me a lot more, so maybe things are about to take off, vegetationally speaking. Either way, we are really, really enjoying life here. What’s not to like about 14 hour and 45 minute long days that are only going to get longer for another 2 months.


Days 284 and 285 — Something like a miracle

Last autumn when it started to get chilly I went and bought myself a nice pair of knit gloves so my fingers would not freeze when I biked. They worked great. In late November we had a huge storm that trashed much of the coast. Coincidentally, it was the start of the Christmas season here and we went to town and took in some festivities including seeing the 40 foot Xmas tree in the town square blown over in the wind. Anyhow, the next morning I went on a bike ride to survey the damage. I was wearing my gloves at first though the morning was actually kind of pleasant. I took them off and stuffed them in the pockets of my jacket and kept riding looking at what the storm had done. Later on I checked for my gloves and, damn! one had fallen out of my pocket. Stupid me. I stuck them in the wrong jacket pockets. I thought I remembered where it must have fallen out and traced my path to when I took them off but no luck. My damn glove was gone. I really liked those gloves too. Oh, well, I thought I better get another pair. So I did and they were fine all winter.

What does this have to do with anything?

Yesterday I am out walking the dog. I take a wrong turn in the forest and wind up on the main road that runs from town out to the beach at Tylösand and past where we live. We are walking back along the bike path enjoying the beautiful morning. For some reason I happen to look to my left and I see a glove hanging from a tree branch. It immediately catches my attention because it seems somehow familiar. I grab it off the branch. Damn, this looks just like the glove I lost 5 months ago. Knit glove, gray and black, funky strap at the wrist. Hey, could it be? I stuck it in my jacket pocket, the same jacket I was wearing when I lost my glove and thought I would see if it was the match to the glove I still had. (I am somewhat loathe to throw things away. I figured back in December that if I lost one glove there was every chance I would lose another and if I kept the odd glove, it might come in handy.)

To make a long story longer, I got home fished around for the other glove and sure enough, the one hanging from the tree was an exact match to the one I had tossed on a shelf at home. Fit perfectly and except for being somewhat dirty it was none the worse for wear.

There is a sort of agreement here that if you are walking along and find something like a glove or scarf or cap or something like that you hang it on a nearby branch so it is visible. Someone evidently did that with my missing glove, though it was at least a mile from where I was sure that I had lost it in November.

I’m not exactly sure what this has to do with moving to Sweden, but I was happy to find my long lost glove.

And here it is, the Prodigal Glove.

Go figure.