Boston Blatte

Raised in Boston, remade in Sweden

Archive for June, 2009

Snooping Stockholm-style: My old digs

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

I am a snoop. Well, I was yesterday evening when I went to the open house showing of my former apartment. We only moved out last July, so the curiosity was killing me to see what they had done to it.  Can that justify snooping? Would you have gone too?

I’m not in the market for a 1-bedroom apartment, so I was entering under false pretenses.  But hey, an open house is just that, open.

I did open a few cabinets to see how they used the space and was most surprised that they used the butler’s pantry as a storage space for general stuff rather than food stuff. (pic below).my-butlers-pantry1

The best part about this wonderful, practical cupboard is its open canal to fresh air making it a cool storage most of the year, like a basement food cellar.

That pantry was a test and  is a testimony to my relationship with my wonderful Swede. When we bought the apartment and started renovating we fought long and hard over it. It was 70s-ified with bright orange doors. The detailed, bead board planks were smoothed over with Masonite covering and it looked horrific.  The Swede wanted it ripped out and I fought to restore it. And that restoration took weeks of loving care with a heat gun gingerly clearing out the multi-layers of paint gunk.

There’s another showing this evening if anyone wants try out a semi-legitimate form of snooping.

Don’t forget to admire the bathroom. I desinged it.

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Cliff diving Stockholm: Orlando Duque off of Västerbron

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Orlando Duque dived off of Västerbron (The Western Bridge) from 27m/90ft the other day. Here’s the YouTube clip. Unsurprisingly, the dive was not approved and he’s sponsored by Red Bull. I can’t help but wonder if Red Bull gave Orlando an extra nudge to make the plunge to spite Stockholm officials who changed the original venue the Stockholm Red Bull Air Race which would have used Västerbron as part of its course causing Red Bull to cancel the Stockholm competition entirely.

Duque wants to stage a high-diving championship off the bridge because of it’s perfect conditions but has been turned down. I’d imagine that the reason involves a fear of encouraging suicides off the bridge.  I have a pretty personal experience on this same bridge with a complete stranger who did kill herself by jumping (I didn’t witness the actual jump,  but the  account is not really in line with the high jumping dude’s story, so maybe another day.)

As for jumping for fun (and well…living),  seeing the photo in SvD and watching the You Tube clip means a lot to me. The husband loves to dive from high cliffs or anything really. Back when we were young(er) and crazy(er) he used to jump the fence and climb up the underside of Västerbron and dive off (head first) the cross spans where swing ropes used to hang (also unapproved –until someone got seriously injured or killed by bad timing and a passing boat.) I never ventured out there with him but would watch anxiously from the “right” side of the fence playing over the scenario of what I might do if he got hurt after a dive (I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of jumping in after him.) His highest dive was 18m(60ft) and he’ll admit himself that it was pushing the limit of too much.

I’ve seen cliff divers in Acapulco and the timing needed with the tides make those dives more amazing. But having no personal reference to a cliff in Acapulco it was just another circus act to me. Orlando Buque’s dive was so much more real.

I only wish I could have seen it live.

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Midsummer Viking hero: (nearly) winning at varpa and the booze lottery.

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

I just discovered that my husband is an elite,  viking sport athlete in the ancient game of varpa. While he failed to make the final *cough choke* he did manage to knock out the local favorite in quarter finals during the midsummer celebrations yesterday.

Varpa is best described as a game along the lines of throwing  horseshoes except you throw a round disk with finger holds which kind of reminds me of a kid’s finger prints in a cement cast.


But now I sound like I’m mocking the game, ehem, I mean sp0rt.  (How can one doubt the magnitude of this sport when you can find a YouTube video of the 2007 Swedish championships?). Like in boules, points are scored when the throw comes closest to the marker.

Tomas, the local  favorite, enjoyed a cheering squad. Any time he won a point the crowd went wild (well, the 4-7 of his buddies shouted enthusiastically at least.) I was busy watching the kids, so I only gave a resounding cheer when the husband appealed to the crowd for some support on his side. Our two other friends on the sidelines (knocked out earlier in the competition) cheered silently.

It was obvious who was through to the semi-final by the silence after the final throw.

The calm at first worried me that there might be an angry mob marching on our friend’s cottage later in the night demanding a moonlit rematch. Instead,  in true sportsmanship spirit (this a viking sport after all), Tomas pepped the husband that he would likely take the title. We already know that my champ didn’t make it through the semi-final. But the crowning moment was in fact that quarter final victory.

Strutting off the pitch he turned to me in response to an earlier naive query  if he was familiar the varpa technique and smugly asked: “Are you still wondering if I know how to throw one of these?”

I guess I was a winner too. I got to take home the new hero.

Oh, and I won the alcohol lottery later that night. No pitchforks or torches to report thankfully.

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Midsummer dance. When frogs speak duck.

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

The upcoming high holiday of Swedish midsummer associates  mildly with frogs. It’s all because of  a classic song sung as you dance around the midsummer pole. (Which ironically is also sung when dancing around the Christmas tree–I haven’t figured out why it’s sung/danced at both. )

However, consider the lyrics:

Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.
Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de.
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa

Roughly translated:

Little frogs, little frogs, are comical to watch(repeat)

They don’t have ears or tails (repeat)

Quack quack quack (repeat a lot)

Now that’s the part I take issue with. In Sweden frogs say: “Quack” –well…with a Swedish accent. But so do ducks (also with a Swedish accent.) So I guess they’re more likely comical to hear.

THIS IS WRONG. Frogs don’t say quack, they say ribbit (add Swedish accent.)

I don’t care how long I’ve lived here. I don’t care how rude it is to reject my host country’s traditions: Frogs don’t quack. And you can never convince me otherwise.

But for artistic integrity I’m sure I’ll be chirping “quack” as we dance around the midsommar pole.

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Driving home Swedish. The prodigal saab returns.

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

My SAAB 9-5  just became Swedish and something inside me stirred.  In case you missed the news today,  Koenigsegg Group is set to buy SAAB from GM.  What stirred? I don’t know exactly, but I’d liken it to patriotism or national pride.

True that I’m an American born and bred, but after more than 15 years in Sweden I’ve found a fondness for my host country and I have been quietly rooting for SAAB through the doom and gloom of the fall of GM.

Me and SAABs go way back to my childhood home and neighbors. The guy living in the house behind us and my friend’s parents up the street both had  SAABs which  looked probably a lot like this. I thought they were the most horrifically ugly cars out there. Probably second only to the Volvo 240 the neighbor across the street had. Yet, somehow in the early 90s the convertible won my heart. I guess living in Sweden has helped me get over and remaining prejudices. I could even own a Volvo today, though that’s not Swedish yet.

I am not sure that Koenigsegg will be able to ever make  SAAB profitable. Why would he when no one else has succeeded in most of the car’s modern history? But I am pleased that it is now in Swedish hands again. And if anyone could pull it out of the crusher it’s probably some eccentric, high performance car designer with big ambitions.

And a sense of Swedish pride.

I got me some Swedish pride.

And a Swedish car.

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Consumer Evangelicalism: Praising good customer service and great sausages.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Customer service is slowing getting better in Sweden. I know many of you will scoff at that, but in the past 16 years customer service has indeed improved. At the very least, there’s now a will to pursue better service. But the burden to make things better isn’t exclusively in the hands of the service provider. It’s also in our hands, the customer.

I started saying years ago that I can just as well stop complaining about bad service if I am not prepared to do something about it. If I don’t express my dissatisfaction why would or should anyone make things better for me? They must be thinking things are just hunky-dory since no one is complaining.

So I write the occasional complaint letter.

But the letter of complaint can’t be where my responsibility as a consumer stops. In a day and age of buzz words, we must endeavor to be more pro-active in our consumer duties.

We must preach. We must praise. We must promote.

Today I realized I am a self-anointed consumer evangelist. I sing the praises where praising is due. Today I am in the pulpit promoting Taylor and Jones. These guys not only are amazing butchers and traditional English savory pie makers, but they are just the most amazing customer service providers.

I dashed in today to discuss an order I need this week. I want delivery on Friday earliest. The first guy (a very friendly bloke) broke the bad news to me.

-Sorry, we’re not delivering this Friday.

So I asked for Gareth Jones (my primary contact is in fact David Taylor, but the lazy sod is off enjoying a month holiday back in Ireland.) Gareth knows me from my years of customer devotion. Gareth says:

-We’ll deliver for you and only you this Friday.

Now, THAT’s what I wanted to hear. THAT’s what I needed to hear. Now, these guys aren’t going to special deliver to YOU just because they’ll special deliver to me *insert wink* but they’re going to make every effort they can to provide you great sausages, pies and other food products freshly made or imported from the UK (their menu is staggering and their prices are amazing.)

I’ll gladly climb a pulpit any day to promote this amazing shop, this dynamic team. Their products are outstanding and their devotion to their customers is unparalleled. At least in Sweden.

Perhaps if there were more consumer evangelists there would be better service. People would raise the bar of expectations and demand the best. Shops would have no option but to cater to the customer’s needs.  So get out there and preach about your favorite shop, mechanic, supermarket cashier or crossing guard.  Become the consumer evangelist.

This one is looking forward to her Friday delivery of sausages and other yummy BBQ favorites.

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EU election. The vote is cast

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

I voted today in the EU parliamentarian election. It’s a democratic duty. While I have always sort of believed that, it’s only been after living in Sweden that it really started to mean something. Swedes are very committed voters. Well, nationally at least. Over 95% of an area in the town I now live in voted in the last national election. Impressive.

So it really surprised me a few days ago to hear my husband say he wasn’t thinking of voting. I shot him a glare and gave a tongue lashing complete with the rant explaining how the power of Brussels and Strasbourg exceeds the national level and if he believes it’s important to vote for the sake of democracy he had better not shirk his duty.

Then I had to drag his still somewhat indifferent butt down to the voting station.

This morning, on the front page of one of the large daily newspapers, SvD, people gave reasons for why they would or wouldn’t vote in this election. Reasons to not vote included things like “Brussels feels too far away” or “I am not interested in any of the EU election issues” or “It doesn’t feel like my vote will make a difference.” I don’t get why people can think it’s so important to participate in the democratic process on a local level but feel unattached on the level that truly holds the power.

Thankfully my neighbors re-instilled a feeling of faith. On our way to the polls Birgitta from across the street asked me if we had voted (an obvious but gentle reminder to vote), we ran into our backyard neighbor, Fredrik, and then my mother-in-law announced that our next door neighbor,  Fredrika was working at her polling station.

Last election only 38% of Swedes voted.  I wonder how many did this year.

Maybe I ought to run on the “Party of One” ticket next round.

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Audio summer: Hearing the season.

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

I was invited to a “Summer Music” event by a friend on Facebook.  Didn’t give it a thought with each new response to the event thread; all normal to me. Until today. Today I reflected on it.

What exactly IS summer music? Is it warmer? Does it blossom and thrive like wildflowers? I guess it is supposed to evoke what summer is supposed to be. Audio smells of sorts.

The list of favorite summer songs ranges from old classics to modern party tunes. One song which pretty much every Swede I’ve asked agrees captures that “Sommarmusik” feeling is Lilla Idas Sommarvisa.

Swedes have a much closer tie to the seasonal changes than I remember growing up in Boston. Swedish culture is loaded with music which directly links to a season or a holiday time.

Certainly like the Sankta Lucia song,  Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer evokes Christmas and winter, but I can’t come up with one flowing ode to summer in my American upbringing. Maybe “Take me out to the Ballpark” should trigger the spring fever of baseball season, but as the Red Sox were working hard on maintaining what turned out to be an 86-year losing streak while I grew up a few miles from Fenway Park, baseball wasn’t big on anyone’s seasonal planning in my town.

Well, now that the Sox are smokin’ and summer is on its way, I had better think me up a summer song.

Anyone know of any baseball summer songs in Swedish?

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Giving of self, literarlly and royally.

Monday, June 1st, 2009

More people have signed up to donate a piece of themselves after news that the future Queen of Sweden’s future husband got himself a new kidney. In Daniel’s case, his own living and still breathing father gave away one of his. I suppose the lion’s share of new donors only plan on parting with body parts if their untimely end presents itself.

I’m a self-proclaimed organ donor. That means that I’m not sure if I’m officially registered or if my “living will” would do. That living will is simply the understanding between me and my next-of-kin that I would donate anything anyone was interested in snatching.

I might have checked off a box officiating my donor status when I registered to donate blood. I should check that out. My Massachusetts driver’s license lists me as a donor. I doubt that any Swedish authority would recognize or respect that since, well, it’s not Swedish.

What is Swedish in this case was Victoria’s duty before devotion. Victoria was not at Daniel’s side during the operation. She was away on a research expedition to Greenland to study climate change with her Danish and Norwegian counterparts. I know that a lot goes into the planning and execution of an event like this, but I can’t imagine anyone would have thought it very strange if she had arrived a day late.

I can somewhat imagine that since the donor operation was kept under tight wraps until post-op, any deviance in the princess’s schedule might have drawn attention and encouraged some investigative digging, but the dutiful heir apparent wouldn’t even cut her trip short to return to the side of her recovering prince-in-waiting.

Swedish pragmatism and its perpetual pursuit  of emotional restraint can be quite practical and for the most part I admire it. But this time I am a bit amazed that Victoria could ignore her heart to hold a hand in the name of duty to country. And I’m equally perplexed that I haven’t heard much of a public voice debating her decision. It seems people expect the future monarch to put duty before devotion.

I’m glad other people are more focused on selfless acts of medical donations than my own selfish criticism of a woman’s call of duty.

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