One Awfully Happy Nation

Today was the high point of the year in Sweden. Where we are we had 17 hours and 47 minutes of daylight today (to be balanced out with roughly 6 hours and 13 minutes in December), the longest day of the year and the celebration of Swedish Midsummer. If you want to see a people where misery, sorrow and evil take a holiday the place to be is a sunny Midsummer in Sweden. Last year on Midsummer is rained and the forecast today was for a torrential downpour starting at 2:00 p.m., just a half hour before the festivities were to begin. But as the morning wore on, it looked as though we were going to get a reprieve, so things were looking good.

To start with, we had a wonderful visit from a cousin of Mariette’s yesterday who stopped by on her way to be with her family. Helena is 8 months pregnant and we had a super time catching up since we last met, eating a tremendous smoked salmon dinner, looking at her wedding photos and just chilling. Naturally, like a dummy, I forgot to take some photos. Helena is the archetypal Swedish woman: beautiful, athletic, sweet, one helluva cook and adventurous. Just a few months ago, she spent a month building a house in Mexico to learn how to do it. Anyway, she is one of our absolute favorites and it was wonderful to see her again.

So, with the weather looking like it was going to hold, off we went to a nearby farm to celebrate Midsummer. I’ll let the photos do the rest.

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ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageIf you get the idea that it was a  happy, carefree afternoon, you are right. Similar celebrations were occurring in other parts of town, throughout the region and across the entire country. Midsummer, though it officially signals the beginning of summer in the U.S. is actually considered the middle of summer here, hence the name. Summer starts here on the first of May and after a long cold winter the weather has mostly been spectacular for the past 6 weeks.

We then went to Mariette’s parents’ place with a good friend. As I said at the top, all hell was supposed to break loose earlier in the afternoon but it must have been the collective will to have a sunny raising of the Midsummer pole and the rain  held off until around 5:00 and then it really came down.

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It really came down for about 10 minutes, but by 5:00 most people were probably home and dry, and enjoying one of the favorite Midsummer meals, a West Coast salad with tuna, shrimp, macaroni and eggs in a bed of lettuce. Really good. After a walk to give the dogs some air we had coffee and desert and then sat around shooting the breeze and looking at some old drawings of Mariette’s Dad’s.

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It would have been hard to script a better day than today. We’ll try again tomorrow. The weather forecast is sunny. People will be taking it easy after consuming the 300,000 liters of hard alcohol and 7 million beers that were sold leading up to today. In another week or so, many people will be taking their month of paid vacation and July should be a real good month here. To top everything off, Mariette got her vacation bonus today. She gets 32 paid vacation days each year, 22  of which are eaten up in July so she will get another full paycheck in July and then can take 10 more vacation days sometime later in the year.

Yeah, today was a good day to be in Sweden. I wish a lot of people could experience a Midsummer here. Sweden may have its problems but today was not one of them.

Finally, a few new paintings I have been working on:

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One Hella Happy Town

Friday was Graduation Day for students all across Sweden. So, people were already pumped. Graduation from gymnasiet (the rough equivalent to high school) is a huge deal here, much bigger than anything in the U.S. It starts a week or two earlier with the Swedish version of the Senior Prom, which I blogged about last year. I also blogged about this event, called “studenten” last year but it rained and even so it was a joyous affair. Friday, however, Halmstad made Disneyland look like North Korea by comparison. These folks were really flipped out. The previous day was Sweden’s national day, so everyone had the day off and could chill before studenten. The fact that the gorgeous weather continued (70 F. and sunny for most of the past month, unheard of according to one neighbor I asked) brought the happiness level up a notch.

The graduates have ceremonies at their schools and the family attends, and most make posters of the graduate showing baby pictures, a few examples of which are below. After the graduation ceremony, the kids pile into trucks or trailers pulled by tractors and roam through the streets in the center of town making as much noise as possible with whistles, horns, screams and shouts. They organize into vehicles by class or subject of study.

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Many of the kids are drinking and carrying on and blowing off steam after their final exams With the chaos that kids flipping out riding through town on truck beds and drinking creates requires a police presence and here it is:

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One cop on a Suzuki. To be fair, I did see one other motorcycle cop and one police car. No cops on the street directing traffic, no police barriers, no riot squads waiting for something to happen. 

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Translation: Thanks Wikipedia, coffee and alcohol. Without you we wouldn’t have done shit.

 

 

 

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In the but square in town, things were a little less raucous but just as happy.

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After an hour or so terrorizing the city streets, everybody unloads and makes  their way to a nearby park and the festivities continue.

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Family and friends hang trinkets or flowers around the graduates’ necks.

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There are no activities planned for the park. The graduates just hang around with their friends and family and the entire place is super happy. 

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After watching for awhile, I left to get a sandwich and then went to the Apple store to check out the new iPad. When I returned around 40 minutes later, the park was deserted and the party had moved somewhere else. All that remained was the flowers.

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That was okay because right across from the park is the gallery where I had my show  that closed last week. A new show opened on Friday and I went to the opening. This time it is ceramic sculptures not paintings but the humor was evident. The artist got a really nice big write up in the paper.

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Last month he snuck this sculpture on top of a tree stump in the park which created a stir and now the city is planning to buy it.

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He has done some humorously inspired works for the show which fits Peter Wahlbeck’s agenda for the art community here in Halmstad: inject some humor into the art scene here.

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Man, this was a happy day. Tons of stuff going on, fantastic weather and a resident of Halmstad could not ask for anything else. 

Cloud formations over Halmstad

Walking the dogs this morning I noticed some interesting “cloud” formations.

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There is no way these can be vapor trails because I see these often and they dissipate

within 2 or 3 minutes.  But these “clouds” tend to hang around and then spread out wide over an area.

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This next one is possibly the most interesting cloud I have ever seen in my life:

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Look at the angle on that thing. It looks like a knife edge.

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Hours later they were still hanging around. If these are vapor trails there must be absolutely zero wind at 30,000 feet today.

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Not sure what those puffy things are but I think that’s what used to be known as clouds. The other things I don’t think were seen before around 1997 or so. Not in all recorded history, even though jets had existed for 50 years before.

Maybe these chemtrails conspiracy nutjobs are onto something.

Wrapping Up In Style

Today was the last day of my exhibition at Peter Wahlbeck’s gallery here in town. Up until now I had sold one painting, which is not what I had hoped for but over the course the these past weeks I have met several other artists and gotten more knowledgeable about the art scene here. This afternoon when I came into the gallery Peter pointed out another red dot on the wall, another painting had been sold. And there is a good possibility that another one will be bought by the same person. Things were looking up already. Here is the red dot to prove it.

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A short time later a man came in and started looking around. We began talking and then he told me that he wanted to buy another painting, and he did! More good news.

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And the full painting:

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Here is the buyer with Peter in front of his purchase:

ImageAs we talked more about our lives, the man found out that I am a ghostwriter and later on he approached me about writing a story of his life, which seems to have been very interesting and so it looks like I will have another book to do soon, which is perfect timing since Mariette and I are doing the proofread of the last book I wrote and I would soon need more work. 

Opportunities seem to be coming my way. Our landlord approached me recently to do paintings for the showroom of his business, a granite company specializing in monuments for gravesites as well as granite counter tops. He has a nice big space that is just begging for some nice large abstract paintings to dress up its bare walls.

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To top it off, the weather has been, in the words of a neighbor, “This is why we live in Sweden.” The entire month of May nearly the whole country was sunny and warm with only occasional rain showers to keep things growing. In other words, it has been perfect here and June started off just as good. 

I have to say that connecting up with Pete Wahlbeck has been a good move on my part. Last week Peter did a City Walk around town where he takes a group around and talks about various points of interest and gets the crowd laughing while learning about Halmstad. 

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ImageAfter the walk he showed me an add that ran in one of the papers for the exhibition:

ImageThen we went over to the biggest dairy in the area where there was a kind of garden fair happening. It turns out that Peter is involved in a company that has a novel way of sinking fence posts without digging holes and pouring cement. Anyway, here are some shots of the fair. I should have taken more photos. Sorry.

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Here is  the old manor of the nobleman who owned the land around as far as one can see. Today it is a restaurant and administrative offices of the dairy, I think.

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And this is Swedish advertising for smoked wild boar meat.

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Overall, it has been a memorable month with a visit to the U.S., Prada’s stellar showing at her exhibition and a successful exhibition with 3 sales and two more likely to happen after the show closes, not to mention half a dozen new contacts in the art community of Halmstad. Oh, and perfect weather.

Damn, I like living here.

 

 

 

 

Big Day–no, Great Day for Sweden

It was a huge day for Sweden today. The national ice hockey team won its semifinal game against Finland and they will play Switzerland tomorrow for the world ice hockey championship is Stockholm. No host country has won the tournament since Russia in 1986. Switzerland smoked the US today, which was a shame because I would have liked to have seen a US-Sweden final. Can’t have everything. The next huge deal in the country today was the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest. It is held every year in the country that won the contest last year and last year Sweden won. The song contest is a Europe-wide pop song contest that is held in each country starting in late winter/early spring and the winners of each country meet in the overall Eurovision contest. The songs are basically unlistenable for the most part but there are occasionally some outside the box performances and, tonight, an inside the box performance that stood out. An opera singer from Rumania came out in a dress and began his song in an operatic baritone and then switched to a falsetto. Wild. Another guy began his song which was utterly forgettable except his main prop was a body double in a glass box  that mimicked his every move including making like a shadow as the singer stood on top of the box, so his double was upside down resting on his head. That was definitely impressive. Okay that is big deal Number 2 for Sweden. The contest was held in Malmö, the third largest city in the country and people really get pumped up for this. Me, not so much. In fact, most songs are pretty bad and they mask it with lighting effects, dry ice smoke, flames, etc. You get the idea. It’s pop.

The third and biggest by far bit of news is that the lowest temperature in the entire country was 61 F. today. Basically, summer arrived on the 18th of May. In most places it was in the high 70s or 80s. For most Swedes this is too warm but it was beautiful throughout the whole country today and that is a rarity.

The final thing, however, tops these all. We took Prada to her first dog show in a town about 60 miles from Halmstad called Hässleholm. There were 1500, yes–1500, dogs there today and not a mixed breed anywhere in sight. This is a huge show put on by the Swedish Kennel Club. 1500 today and another 1500 tomorrow. Swedes are real dog lovers and these photos give only a taste of the show today.

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As seems to be the case with many Swedish events there were no police around.

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But lots of tents, carts on wheels, lawn chairs and water bowls. The dog show culture seems to be a serious affair.

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Many, many really fine looking dogs, every breed imaginable. Our dogs are small so it was surprising to see so many really large breeds for a change.

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There were 40 rings with at least one breed showing at each ring.

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We found a spot near Ring 23 but the shade under that tree looked like a better option so we moved and camped under it for the rest of the day.

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Prada’s competition was Danish Swedish Farmdogs so I scoped out the competition. This guy is a few months younger than Prada but already considerably bigger and I thought it did not look good for us.

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Tents where you can buy anything Dog.

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Mariette fixing her number (1456) to her blouse while Prada and Bianca look on.

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Prada chowing down on her pregame meal of a bone with chicken wrapped around it.

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Bianca was not competing so she wolfed her bone down and then chilled. I think she was the best looking Farmdog there and maybe we will enter her in a show another time just for laughs. She won two competitions as a yearling.

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Mariette and Prada getting ready to strut their stuff. The woman next to them go to dog shows often and were very helpful explaining how everything works. To give an idea of the dog culture here, last January Bianca got lost for half a day and Mariette posted the saga on Facebook. This woman had a friend of a friend of a friend who sent her the story and she had actually heard of our tale of woe that day.

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The dogs show in different groups, i.e., males, females, youngsters, etc. Every dog in a group begins by trotting around the ring and then individual dogs go in front of the judge who checks them over closely, head, throat, chest, teeth, back, legs, tail, a thorough going over. Then the owner trots the dog individually so the judge can see how the dog moves from behind, the side and the front. From this the judge makes his or her decision and an assistant holds up a colored card: red for excellent, blue for very good and yellow for good.Image ImageImageThere are other grades for disqualified (such as when the dog takes a bite out of the judge) or could not be judged for reasons that were not clear to me. We did not see any of those cards, though we were a little concerned that Prada might be disqualified for being too rambunctious. To our great relief she did fine.

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Here she is getting the once over by the judge.ImageImage

Then Mariette trotted her around the ring again, the judge conferred with her assistants and . . . little Prada, our undersized, spotted, overenthusiastic puppy got a score of EXCELLENT! The highest mark. We were floored. Another contestant said that here we were in our first show and our dog came out on top (only 3 out of 11 in her group got scores of Excellent). The only things the judge marked her down on was that her head was “too cute” for the breed (which is just fine with us) and her ears were a little too floppy. We often notice when out for walks that her ears kind of fold back over her head, which to me is the canine equivalent of wearing your baseball cap on backwards. Big deal. Other than that she was fine in every respect and the judge particularly remarked that she was very free in her movement, for which I take full credit because I let her romp to her heart’s content on our twice daily walks.

It was a complete joy to come away with such a good score. The heat got to all of us (well, not me, but definitely Mariette and the two dogs) but tonight our little hero was treated to some well deserved affection.

IMG_0252Her high score will make it possible for the breeders to get her a good mate, which is good for them. (We got her for free in exchange for two litters during the first five years of her life.)

We only care that she is such a happy dog and a real joy to us and to Bianca.

Chasing the red dots

This is the best thing that an artist can see at an exhibition of his works:

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That little red dot means a painting has been sold and that the artist will live to paint another day. Hope to get a few more while the show is on.

Otherwise the first two days have been enormous fun because I am meeting new artists here in Halmstad and slowly working my way into the art scene here. For example:

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Today I met the creator of this sculpture. It is of a woman who became quite renowned for operating a dairy farm using the methods of a hundred years ago. From sitting on stools hand milking cows for so many years, her back became hunched as shown in the piece. They made a well-known documentary about her a couple years ago and she passed away just six months or so ago. The artist installed it on top of this chopped off trunk a few days ago without anyone’s permission and it remains to be seen what the city fathers will think or do. I guess he is sort of like Banksy, the well-known graffiti artist, but working in 3 dimensions instead of two.

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It definitely attracts attention, as I saw when I went out to look at it.

Here are shots I took of the gallery, inside and out this afternoon.

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 The gallery is right across from the major park in town.

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Later, I went to the studio of another artist I just met.

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From my little exposure to the scene, I would say there is a thriving art culture in Halmstad for a town that is not very large. 

Two days in and all seems okay. Three weeks to go.

Trip to San Francisco

We just got back from a 12 day trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit family and friends and we thought it was going to be fun but it truly exceeded our expectations. Usually, vacations have meant sightseeing or laying on the beach but this time we mostly visited with people who mean a lot to us, old friends and new. So, big thanks to the following (in no particular order): Mom, Toby, Jen, Tony, Juanita, Seth, Saya, Sam, Emily, Derek, Gennie, Joan, Dave, Myra, Joey and GF, Pablo, Caroline, Nancy and family, Tatiana, Misha, Peter and Litianna.

We did manage to see a few sights, starting with the Golden Gate Bridge on a perfect day, weatherwise.

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A couple of nice views of the City from the bridge.

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And a old fort underneath it. I think this is Fort Funston but could be mistaken.

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The put in a new gift shop and pavilion to give information about the bridge and the engineering feats to build it. Eleven workers died in the four years the bridge was under constructions, which was considered a great leap in safety at the time.

ImageSan Francisco is full of beautifully painted old Victorian houses. These are by no means the finest examples, since we just happened to notice these as we were driving by. 

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On Saturday we celebrated my mom’s 96th trip around the sun. There she is waving the you all.

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Really good lemon cake. 

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On Sunday, we went to the beach with two friends, Sam and Emily. Mariette was their nanny for years and we all have become best of friends. The beach was blowing like crazy, which you may not be able to tell from the pictures. 

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Lots of driftwood around that people build stuff with.

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Later, we went to dinner at their grandparents’ and had an absolutely fantastic meal.

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Here’s Sam. Don’t let the angelic smile fool you. He is taking Kung Fu and doing great at it.

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This is how the world sees Emily.

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This is how Emily sees the world, basically. Both of these kids are very sweet but alive with a capital A. I tell their parents they hit the lottery twice.

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On our last day we went with my mom to Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, near San Jose. This is the oldest Japanese garden and estate in the Western Hemisphere and is a really beautiful place.

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Costume and screen inside the tea house shown in an earlier photo.

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Wisteria arbor. It was no longer in bloom.

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Finally, a couple shots of my mom. 

Happy Birthday, again, Mom. And many more!

We took a direct flight to Copenhagen, which was great. Direct flights are the only way to go, I am discovering. Having tried a trick to avoid jet lag (eat only fruits and vegetables for 72 hours beforehand) and slammed down a couple melatonin, I slept for several of our 11 hour flight and arrived in not too bad a shape. We took the train back to Halmstad and I walked over to the opening of my exhibition, more news of that to come, so stay tuned.

Anyway, it was great to go and great to come back. Life is good.