Next month I am taking part in a little exhibition at the studio of a noted Swedish sculptor named Walter Bengston. An area about a mile from our house was a place where artists hung out and did landscapes of the rocky coastline, sky and the sea. His daughters run a cafe and exhibition halls where their father’s work is on display. Two acquaintances and I are renting one of the halls in September to show some of our work. It should be fun, my first exhibition in Sweden. Here is a poster we had done up announcing the show.
Here in Halmstad we have avoided the 100 F. temperatures that have plagued much of the U.S. for the last 2+ months. In fact, I think the highest temperature ever recorded in Sweden was just over 100 for one day someplace. We have have 70 F. temps most of the month but things are cooling off a little and we have had rain showers the past couple days. Living near the coast we can still enjoy a walk in between showers so rain does not make that big a difference for us here.
Some colors of fall are beginning to appear and Mariette went out and took some shots to share.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .
Walking with Bianca this evening we happened upon a moose about 200 meters from our house. A neighbor says that they come into the area when the apple trees are laden with fruit and this one has been around for at least a couple days because I spotted it earlier this week. I didn’t have my phone with me then, but did tonight, so here you go:
From the forest to the beach, last week the beach volleyball tour stopped in Halmstad and the central square was converted into a stadium virtually overnight.
Meanwhile, last Saturday there was the annual race along Prins Bertils Stig, the path that runs from town along the coast all the way to Tylösand and then turns back inland to a nature preserve. The 13 km marker was near where Bianca and I walk.
Finally, this is Prada with one of the daughters of the breeder we got her from last Sunday. This girl went through a three year program on raising dogs and she knows dogs from A to Z, actually A to Ö, this being Sweden. Her own dog does agility training and has won all kinds of competitions. The girl is going to show us how to train Prada because the breeder wants to put her in shows as a puppy and a one year old.
The only thing that could be better than having one super duper Danish-Swedish Farm Dog would be to have two. So, that is what we did. The mother of the breeder where we got Bianca last year also breeds Dansk-Svensk Gårdshundar. In June she had two litters and there was one little female that the breeder was going to keep for herself but when we came for a visit in July, the little girl took to both Mariette and me instantly. After we sent the breeder pictures of where we live and, seeing how healthy and happy Bianca is, she decided to let us have her.
Not only let us have her, but basically have her for free. Breeders sometimes make arrangements with new owners to give them a female at a discounted rate in exchange for a litter of puppies from that dog sometime down the line. Well, we worked out an agreement to give the breeder two litters and in exchange we get the puppy. Mariette has a knack for working this kind of thing out in every area of our lives. She is flat out brilliant at it.
Anyway, now that I passed my exam and am done with school I can work from home and watch the new addition to the household pee all over the place, which has happened about 20 times since we brought her home yesterday. Bianca was more than 2 when we got her and long since housebroken. Prada (the breeder named the litter after fashion lines: Prada, Hugo Boss, Diesel, etc.) is 9 weeks and cute as hell and also unhousebroken as hell. We took up all our rugs to save them and this was a smart move. Puppies must have bladders the size of a grape and this one drinks a lot so we were finding little puddles all over the place.
Like her new big sister, Prada has more papers than either of us and the breeder wants to enter her in some shows for puppies and as a one year old, so we will be doing that in addition to returning her twice for breeding and litters. Ordinarily, a dog like this would cost around $1800. Males a a bit less.
Anyway, without further ado, meet Prada. (If the name doesn’t grow on me I am calling her Pravda, Russian for “truth.”)
Minus the peeing, we are really happy to have her.
Bianca not so much at the moment.
This picture expresses how the day went today.
But first, a little background music. Swedish for Immigrants is a state-run program that teaches Swedish to non-native speakers to teach them the language and help them integrate into society. Sweden takes in quite a number of people from war-torn and other oppressed areas of the planet. For example, one town near Stockholm, Södertälje, took in more Iraqi refugees after the U.S. invasion of Iraq then the entirety of the U.S. and Canada combined. I have met many people from there as well as other rough parts of southeastern Europe, such as Kosovo, Bosnia and other Balkan countries. Also, Syria, Palestine, Iran and even Somalia.
The need for such a program is therefore obvious. Sweden can’t have all these refugees gumming up the system, although a growing political party, the Sweden Democrats, is based almost exclusively on appeals to anti-immigrant attitudes. The other 95% of the population probably feels “Well, life is pretty good for us, what right to we have to deny it to others?”
One of the ways Swedes try to deal with the influx of immigrants is to teach them Swedish. With a population of only 9.5 million, there are probably 10 million speakers of Swedish in the whole world, with probably 4 million Norwegians, another few million Danes and some Finns able to understand Swedish. In other words, Swedish is not a major language by any means. Hence, SFI. By law, any immigrant is entitled to free education in the language.
I started the course last August 29 and five days a week, I spent my afternoons knocking heads with a new and generally difficult language. Of course, any 4 year old learns languages like a dream. Kids of multi-lingual parents have no trouble at all learning two languages and differentiating between them. For them it is a no-brainer since they are at a stage where they are little sponges and soak up everything in sight (or in earshot).
Sixty years later, it is a different story, and I literally had to have the language beaten into my skull, filtering everything through a lifetime of conditioning in English. Because there were more than 25 different countries and languages represented in my classes, the entire course was taught in Swedish. With so many different languages intermingling, it could not be taught in any other way. This is verrrrry different from high school French or Spanish where the teacher can clarify things in English when the nuances of French get tricky. Not so in SFI. It is Swedish all the way from the first “Hej.” (Hi.) The teachers become very adept at communicating with their hands.
I had it easier than others because Sweden’s second language is English (Swedes take several years of English in grammar school and English TV programs and music are everywhere), so the teachers would occasionally resort to an English translation when the blank stares became overwhelming. I had classmates from Syria, Palestine, Russia, Iran, the Philippines, Nigeria and other places who also knew some English, so that became the fallback option at times.
With these obvious obstacles inside the classroom and other obstacles outside (no job, no income, can’t communicate to others, etc.) it is no wonder that the program is not a 100% success in all cases. Far from it. Only 60% of immigrants take advantage of the course and of those only half successfully complete it within four years.
Now you know the reason for the cheerful picture above. To make a short story long, I finished my final exam for the course today and passed. What a relief! Fortunately, there are no 4 year olds reading this blog to say, “What’s the big deal?” Listen, kid, it’s a big deal for me! In 60 years you are probably going to be wrestling with Cantonese.
What this signifies is that I now know enough of the Swedish language, its grammar, its syntax and verb tenses, its pronouns and adjectives, to butcher it mercilessly anywhere I go. A little Swedish is a dangerous thing, so watch out, Sweden, here I come.
The program administrators and teachers could not have been more helpful. They were always cheerful and understanding of the plight of newcomers to their happy society.
Of course it is not all smoked salmon and schnaps here. Right now there are political pressures and a creeping Americanization chipping away at the way things were even a few years ago. I don’t know enough of the inner workings of the country to know if these efforts are meant to maintain the quality of life here, which some claim are unsustainable, or if they are simply trying to undermine things to enrich the few at the expense of the many, as is happening in the U.S.
A case in point: one of the mid-level bosses here is trying to suck up to the local right wing political party honchos by “trimming the fat” here at the school. The program was relocated to different (and poorer) quarters in June and some teaching positions have been eliminated, as well as other personal such as cleaners, all of which is going to lower the quality of the program. (Keep in mind, though, that the right wing in Sweden is still miles to the left of the Obama administration. No one in Sweden is about to commit political suicide by suggesting that healthcare be privatized, for example. They may try doing it bit by bit, however: my teacher said today that she was having to clean the teachers lounge kitchen, something that a few months ago was taken care of by a posted cleaner.)
Despite that, it is amazing to me that it is established law that any immigrant is entitled to free language education. Imagine such a program existing in America. What a difference it would make. Paul Haggis could never have written “Crash.” And you would actually be able to ask a question of the help at Walmart and understand the answer. As a note, I used to marvel that the clerks in stores here in Halmstad invariably spoke better English than the clerks in stores in Mountain View, even the non-native Swedish clerks in the ice cream stands.
The course is free. The textbooks are free. They even offer an incentive to get people to complete within a year: a 12,000 kronor bonus, which amounts to about $1800. At times, it was frustrating and painful but I have learned a new language, which made today, with its warm sunny summer weather, an especially great day in an especially nice country.
Every year there is one day during summer when all the small museums hold open houses. People can come and connect with the cultural history of the country. Mariette’s maternal grandparents established just such a museum, which I have posted about in the past but today was a special open house.
The weather report last week predicted mucho rain for today but the prognosis lightened up considerably and today was a perfect Swedish summer day: warm but no too warm, just right actually, for which there is a Swedish word: lagom; blue skies and no wind. We borrowed our neighbor’s car and brought a special visitor with us to the open house. He was a curator for the regional museum here in Halmstad and on our drive to the museum about 25 miles to our north, he pointed out several burial mounds from the Bronze Age that he had excavated. The guy really knows the history of the area.
He was coming to explain to visitors one of the important parts of the family museum collection: the more than 700 oil prints that Mariette’s grandparents collected over the years. Oil prints are a relic of the Industrial Age in Europe. They are a lithographic process where an image is inked (or coated with oil paint) and printed. Today, printing uses 4 colors. Back then they would use up to 20 colors to capture the subtle colors in a painting.
The upper classes could always afford to have original oil paintings on their walls but oil prints were the decoration of choice for the homes of the growing middle classes of Europe.
But enough of that, let’s see some photos.
Here is the curator, Lennart Lundborg, long retired but still active imparting his knowledge of all things artistic and cultural.
Mariette’s cousin and his son.
And his daughter.
Another cousin with her son.
And daughter. I wish I had gotten a better picture of this little thing because she is truly adorable. What a smile on a two year old.
Some visitors checking out a clog making apparatus.
A closer look.
A whole assortment of 19th Century tools.
Inside, one of Mariette’s uncles (at left) and two friends were playing wonderful Swedish folk music. Violins and accordions are the two staples of folk music from back in the day. I have a video that I will try to post to Facebook of one of the songs they did.
Okay, now for some oil prints.
Many of these were copies of well know paintings.
Like this one, for example. It shows one of the Swedish kings being carried down from a mountain after being killed in battle. We have seen the original, which is about 8 feet by 5 feet in size. It is one of Sweden’s most famous historical paintings so no wonder it was made into an oil print. There must have been thousands of these throughout Sweden in the 1800s.
This is my favorite, probably titled The Polar Bear Kicking Some Ass. I don’t think those spears are going to do much good, especially the bear’s dance partner.
Even Honest Abe made onto an oil print. Gawd, could the U.S. use a man like him again.
Portraits and more mundane subjects were also popular. August Strindberg wrote in support of oil prints in Sweden’s biggest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter (The Day’s News) in 1874. They helped educate the masses about art, history and culture.
Of course there is much more in the museum, such as this variety of porcelain coffee cups and pots.
Then there is this: the probable inspiration for the cliche, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door,” because that is exactly what this is–a mousetrap. The block is positioned at the top of the posts, the mouse eats the cheese in the pan below, it trips the mechanism and the rest is . . . further R & D on mousetraps. I love this thing.
I also love this pencil sharpener.
And this guy.
And his friends.
The whole place is fantastic. Our curator friend shared his extensive knowledge of the oil printing process with the visitors and himself was impressed with the extent and quality of the collection.
Just think, museums all over were doing the same thing as we did today, though they may not have had the fabulous lunch that we did, prepared by Mariette’s aunt Margareta who is surely an angel that has come down to make Sweden even better. She is a nurse who works with cancer patients and must be making enormous deposits in the Karma bank this lifetime. I should do a post about her sometime. Well, Mariette’s entire family, actually, because they are really a special bunch.
What a day.