Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Love This City!

Over the weekend I walked the town here and there, basked in the sunshine and what the newspaper said was the last day of riksommar (real summer) and sure enough cool fall weather has set in. Time will tell whether or not I miss the Chicago heat, but right now I don't care. I come from a town of great modern architecture and on the whole, Chicago beats Chicago, but where Chicago has the new, Stockholm has the historical. The picture above shows Sergels Torg ("Sailor's Square"), a fascinating display of classic modern design. The chess-like floor creates an aesthetic of order that rolls out in all directions. The tower beyond the square is glass (I believe made by Orrefors, the glasbruk (a crystal maker from Småland, a southern provence). On the other hand, stadshuset (the photo to the right) where the Nobel ceremonies take place every December upholds tradition and stands as a symbol of the city and country.

Later in the weekend I spent some time soaking up the sun on a beach area a short ride from where I stay. At first the sun reached out one last time for the summer,

but in a flash, the rain charged in and I had to take cover, but soon enough the sun returned:

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stockholm Ink Bash! / Tattoomässa

This past weekend I attended the Stockholm Ink Bash, a trade event that attracted tattooists from around Europe and a few from the States. On the whole I found what I expected, including contact info for Circle Tattoo where Hannah Aitchison worked while in Sweden. Hannah did both of my upper arms. I may as well plug her, too. Although soon enough she may turn out to be a household name (at least in some households!), as she currently appears on LA Ink. Nevertheless, I saw the painful,

the pre-historic (Viking-style tattooing),

and everything else:

If it weren't so crowded I would have enjoyed taking more time to look at the work of others, but alas... It was. Good environment there. It took place on Södermalm, the part of town my grandfather grew up on. He came from a well-to-do family. As I left I wondered if he was looking down on me and approving or shaking his head.

Why I am Here--At least in Part

I was wandering around Gamla Stan (Old Town) here in Stockholm a little over a year ago. I had certain experiences, rather mundane occurrences, that rippled up under my skin: a working class Swede doing his job on the street as a song that resembled Springsteen (perhaps Ulf Lundell) blared out into the open street; the cool morning air hung vaguely damp under a perfect blue sky; the wandering of the labyrinthine streets of old town; the heaviness of heart that frequently set in whenever I knew it was time to leave Sweden; and then, this song came on my iPod. Everything coalesced. A great sense of destiny made itself known, as a dream often has a sense of meaning without meaning anything in particular. This is why I am here.

The song is called "Ballad of the Sin Eaters" (despite the misprint on the intro reel to the recording), and it is by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. I was lucky enough to see this particular performance and I do believe a good friend was able to listen vicariously through a voice mail I recorded when they played it. Nevertheless, there's a lot of me in there.

Monday, August 13, 2007

On the Wrong Side

My friend Mike (a fellow Chicagoan who moved here two years ago for his girlfriend) and I attended our first Allsvenskan match this evening. Allsvenskan stands at the top of the Swedish football leagues. A British co-worker ranked it above the MLS in general ability but below the major European powerhouse leagues (i.e. Spain, England, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, and France). After now having seen a match, I agree. There are some good players here but the overall skill is not there. That's pretty much why all the really good Swedish players mostly head south.

Since arriving here, I realized I would have to pick a team, as there are four teams in the Allsvenskan that are based in and around Stockholm. I thought about it some, read some team history, and settled on Hammarby, the traditionally work class team that locates itself in Södermalm, and since my grandfather Alf Thufvesson comes from Söder, it seemed right. They currently stand at the middle of the table currently, so it wasn't a case of picking the best team.

I figured a good derby (a match between two teams from the same city) would be a good place to start, since it would be heated and therefore extra fun and intense. That's exactly what Mike and I got. The match took place at Rådsunda, the stadium where the national teams play most of their matches, which is also a fifteen minute walk from where currently rent a room. Their opponents: Djurgården. Nevertheless, we decided to take the tunnelbana (Stockholm's "L" train), which turned out to be an event in itself. We got down to the station (it's like three stories down underground) and waited. The stop also serves as a place to change trains, and so, a huge crowd of drunken fans got off after a few minutes and waited to get on the train that leads to Råsunda, followed by a dozen of Stockholm's finest clad in full combat gear. The goons were every-so-swiftly cordoned off to the far end of the platform (click on the photo to get a larger view, where you can see in greater detail):

We soon realized that it would be quicker to hoof it to the stadium rather than wait for a train to pass that actually had room for us. Unfortunately by the time we arrived we were to too late to get up into our nose bleed seats because they lock down sections once the game has gotten started for crowd control purposes. Security reigns omnipresent, even if hooligans get a mircophone to get the crowds chanting (once again, click on the photo for more details):

As a result of our tardiness, we had to find a vacant place to stand, which ended up being immediately behind the goal:

What a view that was!

Unfortunately, when I purchased tickets for the wrong end of the field, where the Djurgården fans relentlessly sang, chanted and shit-talked Hammarby. Behind us stood an amry of blue (Djurgården). I didn't feel comfortable shouting for Hammarby with thousands of drunken fools shouting me down and breathing down my back. There was no getting to the other side to hang with the Hammarby fans, so we had to put up and shut up. Our team lost, despite looking better for most of the match. Next time we'll know! We won't be on the wrong side again.

Friday, August 10, 2007

From the Scarp Heap of History and Gloomy Weather

My mom always talked about the automats of Stockholm, where you could buy a herring sandwich off the streets of Stockholm. These machines stood in rows in a room off the street. (Mom, if you're reading this, feel free to comment and correct what I've gotten wrong.) I don't know what was cheap for then but it still seems cheap to me now: one or two crowns per item! Here's a photo of an automat that now serves as kitsche in a hipster coffee shop on Södermalm, the hipper part of town, where rent is expensive and the ambience resembles a co-mingling of Greenwich Village and Soho (London):

The weather here has not outshined last summer here. No, scratch that. It's been competing with Seattle summers, really. I don't know if it's because I've been in such flux or because I haven't yet suffered the entire dark winter here like everybody else, but I haven't gotten down about it, at all. Here's a photo of the gloom from my balcony, which by the way, is a pretty nice balcony:

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Starting Up

I started the school year today with an introduction to schools, the principals, and the foundation that runs the schools (three high schools and a jr. high). But last night I was out for the last free night of the summer to see Moneybrother, a great band from Stockholm. The opening acts were openings acts, deservedly so, not really worth mentioning. Moneybrother, however, rocked, rolled and romanced through their set. He is a single man with a solid back up band, very good players, really. I haven't seen so many grown women swoon like little girls. That guy must have no love problems but for too many loves. His voice is very soulful, a combination of Bruce Springsteen, Joe Strummer and Al Green. Here they are rocking out:

(Sorry for the low quality photo. Camera phones, camera phones...)

I also found out yesterday that I will be traveling to Istanbul with my colleagues in a team building and curriculum development trip. I know, it almost sounds like a joke. The punchline: I don't pay for a thing. It's in December, so I'll be gone one week for that, then back a week to wrap up the semester, then back to the States for the holidays.

Hope all is well with everybody!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Great Sunny Sunday in Stockholm

After about 4,000 days of rain, we got a warm sunny day. After a few hours of writing and doing laundry, a new friend (an American, named Tim) called me up and wanted to go for a ride. Because he commutes to work almost every day, he kicked my ass all over this hilly city. I'm sure after a few months of riding here I'll attack these hills with the vitriol that I used to eat up long open spaces with no traffic in Chicago, but until then, I'll be humiliatingly eating these diehards' dust. After a healthy ride, he invited me back to his place where his girlfriend had been preparing the food we would eventually take out to the park for grilling near their place in Midsommarkränsen, just south of central Stockholm and up another hill (it was much more fun on the way home, going down the hill). Eleanor (raised in Sweden) can cook! Damn, I haven't eaten that well since my going-away breakfast at Joe's place! Wine, great food and sunshine... what else can make a better Sunday afternoon. What a simple pleasure it was. Here they are:

Here's a shot from our picnic place:

I cycled back down that hill and across town around ten p.m. when I took this shot from the bridge connecting Södermalm (literally "southern rock," which is a where I spent so much time growing up) with the southern outer ring of Stockholm where they live:

Friday, August 3, 2007

Two Tidbits

I've always found myself curious at how well Stockholm and Sweden in general blends nature with culture, at least in terms of the aesthetics of the city. Take this photo for example: I was cycling around Djurgården (a larger island that is full of parks, an amusement park, an outdoor theater for music, etc, a cool TV tower with a great restaurant, among other things) and found myself on this trail (pictured below). Farm land right up to and within the city! I mean how much more integrated can you get? The buildings off in the distance include a TV station and a bustling residential part of the city.

Park life in Stockholm attracts everybody. I've never been much of a park-goer, aside from one very nice afternoon under the new music shell a few years back with a special person and one afternoon I fell asleep grading papers early this summer in Wicker Park. Ok, wait... I've also played some fun pick-up soccer games lately, too. But anyways... I think I could get be a park regular here. They invite all into their loosely formalized dwellings with food and snacks (man, I love eating), statues, benches, grass/weeds (funny side note, weed is Swedish is ogräs, meaning nongrass) and flower beds.