Day 355 (or thereabouts) — Our neighbor’s garden

Mariette finished her last day of work today. Since January she began working at a preschool and has been a godsend for them per what I can see. She has not only been doing great with her kids but also filled up the place so they are fully booked this fall. So, she has earned a well deserved month of July off with pay and a bonus as described in yesterday’s post.

On her first hours of vacation she went down to our neighbor’s garden to take some photos.

It is hard to conceive that there could be that many flowers in one garden, but perhaps that is just me.

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Day 354 — Semester in Sweden

Semester to an American refers to a school term, usually half a year long. Here it is the Swedish term for holiday or vacation. That is kind of fitting because the amount of vacation time Swedes get is about the length of a school semester in the U.S.!

About 70 years ago it became law in Sweden that workers have a legal right to a holiday each year. Today this now amounts to about 30 or 32 days of vacation time with pay for all workers, which comes out to more than 6 weeks for most. Six weeks! With full pay! Oh, and Mariette received her pay this month there was an extra amount wired to her account. She inquired about this extra amount when she went to work yesterday and it turns out that on top of their pay, employers add an extra 2 1/2% of the person’s salary as a little something extra to spend on the vacation.

Years ago, nearly everybody took their vacations in July and the country just  about shut down. Other parts of Europe take August off and because many Swedish countries work with their counterparts in other lands, some Swedish companies are taking August off now.

Either way, many folks will take off the month of July or August off and then take another two weeks sometime in winter when it gets too bad for them and jet off to Thailand for some Vitamin D.

Yes, six weeks off, and the clouds have cleared, the wind has died down and we could actually be moving into summer for real around here.

Workers’ Paradise, indeed.

 

 

Days 350 to 353 — Da ‘hood

The weather has been unsteady as all hell recently. I know the calendar says it is summer but yesterday Sweden has record-setting rainfall in many parts of the country. Hey, what gives? It should be nice now and heading towards super nice. I accepted the weather in fall. I accepted the weather in winter. I accepted the weather in spring but now it is summer and I expect nice weather. Dammit! That was my state of mind when I went out this morning to look around the neighborhood and remind myself how great we have it here. I, and hopefully you, will be the beneficiaries.

Fishing tackle shacks. Unused.

Our local fish stand is open for a new season and, boy, did Mariette make a great salmon dinner tonight.

The neighborhood is a mixture of summer houses and permanent really nice houses.

Everybody has a fabulous view of the ocean either from their windows or, like us, a one minute walk.

Swedes love their windows.

There are open tracts throughout the neighborhood where no one is allowed to build, so these spaces will always be here.

This is Mariette’s favorite house in the area, maybe all of Sweden. Gotta love those upstairs windows. They are 100 meters from the sea.

Rich guy lives here. Never seen him. I don’t think he is ever home.

I didn’t fudge the color on these. This place could be Vermont, it is so green.

Neighbor across the street. He played in the World Cup for Sweden in the late 70s.

Next door neighbors. Super nice folks. They lend us a car when we need one. I primed and painted their new garage. He keeps saying he wants to pay me. I keep saying no. The struggle rages on.

Finally, our own little slice of Halmstad, rented though it may be.

Well, that is our turf. No rival gangs come through here shooting up the place but there will be some rowdy summer rentees in a week or two, weather permitting.

 

 

Day 349 — MIDSOMMAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today is, without a doubt, the most important day of the Swedish calendar. It is Sweden’s combination of the 4th of July (outdoors, gobs of food and summer celebration) and New Year’s Eve (booze, wantonness and babies conceived–more babies are born in March here in Sweden than any other month).

Strange that the day is called midsummer, when summer only started yesterday. But long ago, the first of May was considered the beginning of summer and here we are six weeks later in what would have been the middle of summer.

Midsummer has its origins in pagan times despite the church’s best efforts to preempt it with the feast of St. John the Baptist. A lot of feasting does take place. Whatever. It is the happiest day of the year signifying that summer is here and that vacation is right around the corner (most of the country shuts down for the whole month of July–most Swedes have a full six weeks of vacation a year and many take off July or August and use the rest during winter to get away from the darkness and cold).

With as spectacular a day as we had yesterday, could sunshine strike twice? Here is how it looked.

Flowers everywhere and they play important role.

Something about girls picking 7 varieties and dreaming about their future husband that night.

Midsummer celebrations preferably occur outside urban areas on an old farm someplace or at the family summer house.

We went to a farm about a mile from our house. The symbol of midsummer is the midsummer pole. It is a pagan fertility symbol, which will become more obvious once it is, um, erect. The buckets contain flowers that kids will use to decorate the pole.

Once it is in place, Swedes dance around it to age old folk songs accompanied by an accordion or violins.

Mariette was intrigued by the flowered wreaths that the kids and women wore.

Strawberry torta, a summer staple. Really, really yummy. Really yummy. Other staples like pickled herring, not so much. And schnapps, lots and lots of schnapps. The police will be a presence on a day like this. If you are caught behind the wheel with more than .02 percent blood alcohol you are toast. They don’t mess around with drunk drivers here.

After the dancing there was a  performance by a folk dancing group.

There always seem to be enough people interested in keeping the old traditions alive and there are enough young kids storing away enough happy memories of days like these to ensure that in 50 years time, they will be carrying things forward.

If you got the idea that midsummer is a really happy day, you would be right. What do these people have to be worried about on a day like this? They contribute a lot to the society in the form of their taxes and the society contributes a lot back to them via healthcare, education, raising children, etc., etc.

So, that is midsummer. Unfortunately for everybody here today, that was midsummer in 2010. As happens half the time, this is what midsummer looked like today:

You can’t see it but the umbrellas should tell you that it began raining around 2:00 this afternoon and kept up until 8:00.

Regardless, all were welcomed.

It was raining steadily but warm and windless, so not unpleasant at all, really.

Pony rides for the kids.

Fika for everyone else.

Still, the kids has their garlands on.

Kids getting ready to decorate the pole.

Up she goes. Still raining but no matter, the rain just ensures a good harvest later on.

Same dances, same traditional songs year after year regardless of the weather.

Back at the old homestead, Mariette prepared a fabulous midsummer meal featuring a smörgastorta (sandwich cake) packed with shrimp, salmon and the other usual suspects of summer.

Party photo. Notice something very interesting here: Bianca, Mariette, her mother and father are in sharp focus, while Ackie’s whole head is blurred almost beyond recognition. Now look at Olof. Clearly he is using some kid power to totally mess with his mother. This is clear evidence that kids are in some mystical state between demigods and humans. I will have to keep a closer eye on this kid.

But no matter, the skies cleared by 8:00 and Swedes will be partying hard tonight, all night. Tomorrow is midsummer day (today was technically midsummer eve) and tomorrow all the men will be hungover and all the women will be pregnant. No rain tomorrow. And summer begins again here in the Workers’ Paradise.

But in keeping with full disclosure, I have given a somewhat sanitized version of Swedish Midsommar. For a more factual version, copy this link into your browser and get the full feeling of Sweden in 3 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I5BGsK5ZAU.

 

Days 345 to 348 — 17 hours and 47 minutes of paradise

The sun rose at 4:16 a.m. this morning and I was there to see it. Today was the summer solstice (sun stand or stop) which is the longest day of the year. We couldn’t have had a better one.

I biked to a spot that I thought would give me the best shot of the sun peeking over the horizon.

Closer . . .

Closer . . .

Ding!

Not much happening at the harbor at 4:30 in the morning.

So far, it was shaping up to be a pretty nice. But, you can never really tell around here.

In the U.S., this course would already be packed at 5:00 a.m. Here, they usually don’t begin until 8:30 or 9:00. After handling emails, I went back to bed around 6:00, got up a little later and mowed the lawn (which takes a while) and then joined our two house guests at a nearby beach.

Temperatures were in the mid to high 70s, no wind and the crowds have not yet arrived to Halmstad from Stockholm. The population doubles or triples in summer.

These pictures help to explain the national dream of Swedes to have a summer house here on the west coast.

This is Mariette’s oldest friend, Ackie. She lives in the middle of Sweden in a ski resort area. Her grand uncle was the great pianist Wilhelm Kempff. Ackie and her two sisters got some of the genes and are also musicians. They finished fourth one year in Sweden’s Melodifestivalen in the 1980s. She and Mariette used to hitchhike around Europe in summer during high school and make money singing on street corners.

That’s her son, Olof, who at age 8 is an avid skier, boater, and now horseback rider. And voracious reader.

Today virtually screamed, “Grill! Grill! Grill!” So, we obeyed.

Olof, caught doing damage to corn on the cob, Swedish style.

By 9:30, it was time to head out to catch the sunset. People were still out on the golf course.

And still in the water, which was a pleasant 17 degrees C. It usually reaches 20 or 21 degrees C. in July, which is warmer than California, unbelievably. These bathers are maybe 50 meters out from the shoreline and are only up to their thighs. The long hours of sun and very gradual slope makes for some really nice water temperatures.

Quite a few people out enjoying the evening.

Lifeguard tower. Halmstad is one of two places in Sweden that runs a lifeguard school. The participants get room and board but no salary for their training and work on the beach during the summer. But they get to hang out at the longest and most popular beach in Sweden during summer, go to the clubs and basically have a blast all summer long.

The bistro that overlooks the sea just opened for the season a day or two ago.

This is the island of Tylö, about a quarter mile off shore. It is a nature preserve.

If you measure the degrees where the sun set from where it rose, it was about 270 degrees, which stands to reason since the day was nearly 18 hours long.

Going . . .

Going . . .

Interesting graffiti on the restaurant wall. This has been here for some time, so evidently someone likes it.

I guess we will call this a done day.

And that will do it. As wonderful as today was, and it truly was a spectacular day, it remains only a prelude to what happens tomorrow, and if you think there were a lot of pictures today, just wait until tomorrow: Midsommar, the reason why so many Swedes were born in March.

 

Days 342, 343, 344 — Looooong days

This morning the sun rose at 4:15 a.m. and sets tonight at 10:03. That equates to 17 hours and 47 minutes of daylight. Throw in dawn and dusk and there is enough light to do most anything around the clock. The days keep getting longer for 4 more days and I hope to be able to take a photo of the sun coming up and going down, weather permitting. We had about three weather changes today, from clear skies at dawn to cloudy and windy to sunny again and then some of each. It even rained a little.

We took some photos on a walk this morning which was clear but windy.

Another day here in Paradise. That guy’s blog that I mentioned the other day about all the bad things about Sweden seemed pretty far away today.

Days 337 to 341 — Swedish driving licenses

Wow, five days and not a peep. My original intention was to do a post every day for a year and with five day breaks like this, forget it.

Speaking of a year, my U.S. drivers license is valid in Sweden for a year so that means I need to get a Swedish license. There are many things different between Sweden and the U.S., but a drivers license is about as big  difference as you can imagine. I got my CA license on my 16th birthday. I went down to the DMV in one of the family cars (a very cool 1956 De Soto that was kind of a strange dark pink and dark grey with a push button transmission and a version of hemi-head pistons and it really hauled), took a written test of about 25 questions and a short  driving test and that was it. I have had a license ever since.

Things are different here. A person can get a learner’s permit when they turn 16 but that is about the only thing similar.  Luckily, one can study for the theory part of the process in English, so today I went an purchased the manual that I need to study to take the theory test. That ran a cool 450 kronor, or $65. You know where this is going. The manual is 300 pages long and it accompanied by three other booklets making the number pages to study at right around 400.

Then there is the book of Swedish road signs:

The 100 on the cover does not refer to how many roads signs there are. (I wish.) I stopped counting at 80 and was only 1/4 of the way through the booklet. The 100 refers to the speed limit, which unfortunately is in kilometers, which equates to 60 mph. You have to go to Germany where you can really let is loose on the Autobahn.

Then there are 24 pages on stopping and parking. 24 pages?!

And 24 more on pedestrian and bicycle crossings. I don’t think they leave anything to the imagination here.

I have a friend who took the written test, which consists of 70 questions, some of which are quite detailed and tricky and he flunked twice. Finally, he purchased a link to an online site where you can study old tests (for 300 kronor about 45 USD) and passed on his third try.

In other words, just the theory test is no walk in the part.

Then there is the practical tests. First, you take a class on driving on slippery surfaces, which apparently is kind of fun. You have to get your car up to about 40 mph and then spin it out of control and then straighten it out. They have training grounds that they cover in oil or something to simulate icy road surfaces.

After the risk course you take your theory test and then the practical driving test. Everything costs, too. Oh, and of course and eye exam, which also costs. I can’t face the cost for all this yet but I have heard it runs into the thousands of kronor.

For now I will content myself with cramming this manual into my head.

It hasn’t been all doom and gloom, though. I went into a bank in town to see the decorations done by a well known sculptor named Walter Bengston who was a friend of Mariette’s day. I haven’t seen the interior of a bank in the U.S. that looks like this.

Elevator doors.

The lady at the reception desk said it was an interesting building to work in.

These last three shots are just to remind myself that we did have a couple of decent days weatherwise recently, Mostly it has been overcast with some rain and unseasonably cool, though not too bad. Temperatures in the 50s are rather comfortable I have realized after minus 10 C. for a few months.

The biggest day of Swedish calendar comes next Friday and the weatherman better cooperate. If he doesn’t, it won’t make much of a difference to Swedes, though, only to ex-pat Americans.

Meanwhile I will be learning road signs and training myself out of making right hand turns on stop lights, which I did for  8 summers here before finding out last year that it is illegal. Luckily there are no police in Sweden.