Last Friday, I celebrated the Swedish holiday of Midsommar with some wonderful friends and met some new and memorable people as well.
Many Swedes have tiny country homes, garden houses, or small vacation houses outside the cities. It is a Swedish national custom to celebrate the midsummer holiday at your country home or the place of friends. Large gatherings are not uncommon. In fact, the streets of Stockholm were all but abandoned during the afternoon. It was like walking around an American city when the Super Bowl is on television, or through Louisville during the two minutes of the Kentucky Derby race.
Our friend Axel’s parents were out of town at a country home, so he was kind enough to invite a group of friends over to enjoy their empty house in Stockholm.
While there was no pole to dance around and no girls with wreaths of flowers in their hair, there was an amazing, extensive feast with traditional Midsommar dishes, accented with a round of snaps (“schnapps”), as is the custom of the day. Actually, it seems the custom calls for endless rounds, but even though I did not arrive home until after 6:00 the next morning, our party was not so extreme on the tiny shots of sweet, strong liquor.
Here are some highlights from the day:
Tiny, fresh potatoes
Some crazy, twin-yolk eggs that Axel’s parents purchased from a local farmer who sells them door-to-door. Axel said there was nothing unusual about the man, “He just lives right over there by the nuclear power plant.”
After Therese decorated the eggs they looked much less freakish and more like delicious works of art. The black stuff is like a vegetarian imitation of caviar. Soooo salty and tasty.
Erik prepared some vegetable kabobs for the grill which were coated in…
American Barbecue Sauce. This flag appears on pretty much all food that contains high fructose corn syrup. You know, the good shit.
French cheese cubes with very artsy illustrations, from the brand Glad Ko (“Happy Cow”).
Over the weekend, I made custom iPhone icons for several of my websites. You can see them in the top row of icons in this screenshot from my iPhone.
If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch and you add one of my sites to your home screen bookmarks (using the + symbol in Safari), it will appear with a custom icon on your home screen. You may have to shorten the page titles when you add them, like I did here, so they appear nicely in the limited space under the icons.
One nice feature of this is that I can change or update the icons at any time. When you visit the site again the icon on your iPhone will update automatically.
Saturday afternoon I went for a long walk and relaxed in the park to recover from Midsommar festivities. During my sunshiny day, I enjoyed some Reese’s peanut butter cups my parents recently sent from America. Mmmmm….
A couple people were also taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to row a boat out into the water between the city’s islands. I caught this view from LÃ¥ngholmen (um… “Long Island”). The tall building with the green and gold top is the City Hall – Stadshuset.
Here’s something I’ve never seen on the Long Island in America, but I’m sorry to report that I have no idea what the story behind it is. Perhaps the Beatles left it here because it wasn’t in their color.
I’ve mentioned before that there are no truly unacceptable words in the Swedish language. Every word in the the language can be used on television. The same goes for English in Sweden. It is not only the ubiquitous second language, but it is also totally uncensored. This shop window demonstrates that. “Summer Sale – but we also have some expensive shit.” This store recently had another sign up that said “Stor JÃ¤vla Rea!” (“Big Fucking Sale”) Hilarious.
Another example of the acceptance of all vocabulary is that when the cooking show “Hell’s Kitchen” airs here, nothing Gordon Ramsay says is bleeped out. I can’t tell you how much more enjoyable that show is when you can actually hear what he’s saying. That man really has a filthy mouth and it’s what makes him so entertaining. I’m not sure why you would want to broadcast the show any other way. I think the FCC must have some very good reasons for treating Americans like children who can’t be allowed to hear anything scandalous.
Here is a nice building I can’t afford to live in, but I bet they have amazing views and lovely dinners. I’m happy for them and I hope whoever lives here will invite me over some time. Please click the contact link. Thanks.
Here are some scenes from the Tunnelbana station at Bandhagen.
The art installed at this location includes a gigantic measuring tape which bends through the entire station, from the outer sidewalk in front of the station all the way to the boarding platform.
The station was built on one of the green lines in 1952, between the central city and HagsÃ¤tra, where my first apartment with the crazy Dutchman was.
The ruler installation was designed by Fredy Fraek and added to the station in 1983.
The sculpture also includes a carved boulder of sandstone that weighs 19 tons and is wrapped by the ruler.
These photos were taken Saturday morning at about 5:00 am, while I was doing the “walk of shame” – that’s when you’re coming home from partying while people are going to work. This was the morning after the all-night Midsommar rager.
As you can see, it’s more of a ruler-style sculpture and not actually accurate for measuring anything. The numbers are not equidistant (yes, English also has some cool, efficient words).
This weekend will bring the Midsommar Festival in Sweden, a tradition which goes back many centuries and marks the longest day of the year. As you might have guessed, midsommar means “mid-summer.” Swedish ain’t so tough, see?
This time lapse image from the Slussen webcam shows one photo from every hour yesterday. As you can see, there’s really nothing left of our old friend, the nighttime. Don’t worry, though, like an unwelcome guest he’ll be back in the winter. It’ll seem like he’ll never leave.
Although the past couple days have been sunny and breezy, it’s unfortunately looking like rain will fall all over these festivities. But weather permitting, there will be lots of singing of traditional Swedish songs, eating tiny fresh potatoes, drinking schnapps (“snaps“) people dancing in circles around a flowery May-pole-style post (“midsommarstÃ¤ng“), acting like frogs and wearing wreaths of flowers in their hair.
The Swedish word for “the wreath” is kransen, so the midsummer wreath is midsommarkransen. In honor of the significance of this holiday in Swedish culture, there is a nice neighborhood in Stockholm called Midsommarkransen. Part of the art in the Tunnelbana station there includes a giant midsommarkrans hanging from the ceiling.
If you ever had a book about different cultures of the world when you were a kid, the Sweden page probably had a picture of the Midsommar celebration.
(I think the Germany page probably had a picture of Oktoberfest, the England page had a dainty gentleman fancying a biscuit with an umbrella and a cup o’ tea with Big Ben in the background, the China page had one of the imperial temples, and the American page had a picture of a cowboy. The new version that kids have now probably has a picture of a blingy gangster rapper counting Benjamins and cappin’ a ho in the face. Click-clack!)
Swedes love to celebrate and will use just about any excuse to do so. It seems there has been a big holiday just about every month since I’ve been here. Midsommar and the recent National Day are non-religious holidays, but I couldn’t believe what a big deal Easter was, especially since such a small percentage of the Swedish population – only about 20% – considers themselves religious.
Currently, there are advertisements all around the city encouraging debate about the large role religion plays in society – even here.
The signs, sponsored by the Humanist Society, have the slogan Gud Finns Nog Inte. When I first saw them in the Tunnelbana stations, I thought that meant “God is not enough” and my first reaction was that this type of advertisement would never be allowed in America. Religious people (that’s code for “Christians”) would shit their pants and cry about it until every last sign was taken down and the people responsible were boycotted out of existence.
In reality, Gud finns nog inte actually means something more along the lines of “God is not probable” – which makes my original translation seem downright tame and my first reaction absolutely right. I don’t think such a campaign would even be attempted in America, namely because none of the companies who sell advertising space would risk the backlash from accepting the ads.
I should make it clear that I’m not trying to disparage anyone’s beliefs and I’m only bringing this up to compare the differences in cultures and perceptions. I certainly believe everyone is entitled to their own as long as they don’t infringe on anyone else’s ability to believe. That’s common sense.
Of course, if you’re interested, there’s plenty more of my opinions and those of people who disagree (and many who generally miss the whole point) in my fantastic, amazing, critically-acclaimed, hilarious, wonderful, insightful, captivating, page-turning book Letters to Saint Clinton, available now from fine online retailers like Amazon.com and K Composite.
As a graphic designer – and one who is not particularly religious but nonetheless peripherally interested in religious stuff – I have found it ironic that the Swedish flag appears to have a crucifix-style cross on it when hung vertically. The flags of all the Scandinavian countries are in this same style. The designers of this campaign have taken advantage of this characteristic in the ads by using it in a series of religious symbols. A nice touch.
Okay, enough already. Bring on the snaps and frog dances! Click-clack!
The Blue Line Tunnelbana station deep beneath T-Centralen hub was designed in 1975 by Per Olof Ultvedt. It’s a multi-level station with monstrous caverns of exposed rock, gigantic escalators and moving sidewalks.
My snapshots really don’t do it justice. Some professional images of the same sites can be seen at ArchiBase, an architecture site.
Despite a long weekend of rain, tens of thousands turned out Friday and Saturday for the Where The Action Is music festival in Stockholm.
The rain was punishing and relentless. Sometimes heavy, sometimes cold, sometimes sideways. More than one person asked me if I was enjoying the Swedish summer and if I was having any second thoughts about coming here. I’ll stick with my original story that when the weather here is nice, it is astonishingly stunning. This weekend’s consistently rainy weather was unusual, though, because lately every day has included every type of weather.
Waiting to see if the rain would let up and holding out for a change, we missed the first few bands on Friday. Before eventually diving in and deciding to brave the rain, we enjoyed some drinks in the city at Iida’s new favorite bar, the Vampire Lounge (more not-so-subtle proof that all Swedish people are vampires).
Many people would consider the lineup of bands to be spectacular, but I think there may have only been a couple of them that I would have gone to see had they been playing a show on their own.
As you may know, I am an old sourpuss who only really loves about six bands, but believe it or not, I do enjoy seeing other bands sometimes, especially those who are legendary, popular or influential.
Erik was nice enough to get some free VIP passes for Therese, Iida and myself. This was fantastic because I was on the fence about laying down the 1400 kronors (more than $180) for the weekend pass. I knew the weekend would be entertaining, a great spectacle to see, a fun social event and a really Swedish experience, so I really can’t thank Erik enough for the pass. Since I expect he might read this, I can say it again: Tack sÃ¥ mycket, kompis!
I would have liked to have seen The (International) Noise Conspiracy, but we got there just after their set time was over. Back in 1999, I did a solo tour opening for them all around Sweden, from which I have some fond memories. Unfortunately, our paths have only crossed briefly in the ten years since, including once when I was living in Los Angeles. Dennis and Lars recorded a really cool version of a song I wrote back then for the Metroschifter Encapsulated album. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch them again soon since I’m in their part of the world now.
Not seeing The Pretenders was something I couldn’t have planned better if I had tried. This is one of those bands that I just don’t get. I never have. They are just not for me. Whooooo caaares!
The Pixies were playing when we arrived. The festival was held on the grounds of Stockholm University and it was truly surreal to walk up to the festival gates through the school campus, hearing them playing songs like “Head On” and “Gouge Away.” I felt like I was walking back in time.
I guess I never realized just how many familiar and memorable songs The Pixies have. Like almost every band I saw over the weekend, I’m not a huge fan of The Pixies, but they were really great and I’m so glad I saw them. Kim Deal even messed up the bass line at the beginning of one of the songs. That was one of my favorite parts, not because I like seeing people make mistakes, but, yeah, I guess it is because I like seeing people make mistakes. It’s refreshing when there are ten thousand people watching and you’re like, “Uhhh, whoops. Those were the wrong notes. Let’s try that again.” I’m paraphrasing her thoughts, of course. I don’t know exactly what anyone else is thinking.
Neil Young ended the festivities Friday night with a phenomenal performance. He opened the set alone, playing several songs with just a guitar and harmonica, without his band. The rain paused softly and a hush literally fell over the crowd when he took the stage.
I caught myself thinking about how insane it was to be seeing a legend like him – whose music seems so inseparable from the outdoors – in this beautiful setting, surrounded by the silhouette of the treelines and blanketed by the dramatic Swedish sky.
The audience’s quiet and respectful response was just as breathtaking. I couldn’t believe how many thousands of people I was seeing, reverently listening, still and muted, captivated by one man playing a song.
It goes without saying that the harmonica is the most annoying instrument in the world, but Neil Young seems to use it in a way that doesn’t wail or blast or destroy the rest of the song. When his band joined him onstage, the worship service instantly morphed into a rock concert, for which he had a list of countless, timeless anthems – okay, maybe they can be counted.
The festival had a policy of not allowing umbrellas for safety reasons and to ensure that everyone could see the bands. Because of this, the fences around the entrance to the festival grounds were decorated with hundreds of umbrellas that people hung there when they were told they couldn’t bring them in.
Our friend Therese unknowingly brought an umbrella and was forced to leave it behind at the gate. When we left the festival late that night, her umbrella and, it seems, all the others, were waiting outside, right where they were left earlier in the day.
This reminded me of a short story from the winter about how Swedes have a habit of hanging lost gloves, scarves and jackets in adjacent tree branches or bushes. If the owner passes by the same place again they can easily spot their lost clothing. Nearby statues are also dressed up with lost items.
As I told Therese, I think if people hung their umbrellas up like this at a festival in America, some assholes would come by and take all of them. If it was still raining later, they would probably try to sell the umbrellas to people leaving the festival. (U-S-A-! U-S-A-!)
It was just after midnight, so of course it was almost daylight out. To beat the crowd, we skipped the end of Neil Young’s set – which I can only imagine included “Keep On Rocking In the Free World.” We avoided the Stockholm University Tunnelbana station where everyone would be going. Instead, we walked toward Ropsten, a nearby neighborhood where Iida and Erik used to live. This backroad route took us a little closer to nature than we expected. We happened upon a field full of sleeping cows and later crossed a shaky footbridge over a creek, before reaching Ropsten.
A warm Volvo wagon with Erik’s parents in it was waiting to collect us in Ropsten and deliver us south to the homestead. On the way home, Erik’s mom jokingly asked me if I used to drive a Hummer in America. Nice people, and funny, too!
We began the Saturday show with Tiger Lou, the band Erik plays bass with. They seemed to be having a good time despite the conditions, and I think it translates to the audience when band members are enjoying what they’re doing. It would be very easy to phone it in if you were playing in such a tough venue… outdoors… at a festival… in the afternoon… when it’s raining. The crowd can feel it if the band members are on the same page with the audience and it becomes more of a shared experience instead of a “performance” with a wall between the stage and the audience.
Tiger Lou was accompanied by a minor downpour that I actually think enhanced the ambience of their set. The band’s fans actually are pretty fanatical about them which is always fun to see. It seems that most of the people who come to see them know the words to all their songs. This appeared to be true even at a festival event like this, where people are there to see any number of bands. It doesn’t hurt that the songs Rasmus Kellerman writes are the type that get stuck in your head for days on end.
Because we expected a lot more rain and a much longer day, we were a little more prepared. There was, of course, a wide variety of rain gear on hand. Some people were in serious head-to-toe rainsuits. I tried to shop some boots and a raincoat in advance of the festival at some secondhand stores, but returned empty-handed.
Without any proper rain gear, I had to resort to purchasing this “emergency poncho” from a street vendor outside the Tunnelbana station (seen here with Johanna). “Quick! How much is this?! I need a poncho immediately! This is an emergency! I can’t get wet!”
I think this guy had the coolest emergency poncho of the whole festival, one from the Legoland theme park in Denmark.
These Swedes combined their blue and yellow emergency ponchos into a perfectly Swedish scene.
For some of the day we hung out in the VIP area, where you could get rained on just as much as anywhere else, but alongside famous Swedes. And, yes, several famous wet Swedes were on hand to supply such an experience for us. I mean, nobody really famous like BjÃ¶rn Borg or Liv Ullmann, but famous in the Generation X sense.
Some of our friends were not super-exclusive VIPs like us (Viktigt Imponerande Personer?), so we kindly mingled with the common folk in order to accommodate them.
While Moneybrother was playing, Iida invaded my emergency poncho, using the arm hole as another hood. I presume it was an emergency.
I could not have been more excited about seeing Annika Norlin’s band Hello Saferide. Last year, my friend Emma introduced me to an album of Norlin’s previous band SÃ¤kert. That band’s songs were all in Swedish and I fell in love with them without really understanding what all of the songs were about.
Since then, SÃ¤kert has kind of become a barometer of my comprehension of the Swedish language. Over the past year, as I’ve heard the songs over and over, they have unfolded more and more in front of me. As I have begun to understand some of the words, I began putting the stories together, piece by piece, in my head.
I recently looked up some of the lyrics online, just to be sure she was saying what I thought she was saying. I can’t think of another artist whose songs are as painfully honest as hers. Some of the songs, while having almost a slightly fun quality to them, are still heart-wrenchingly sad. This is true of both her bands. I would hate to use the words sarcastic or ironic to describe it, because I think that would discount how sincere her songs are… but just because I can’t think of any better words doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about.
I like Hello Saferide almost as much SÃ¤kert, but Hello Saferide is sometimes hard for me to listen to. I think this is probably because the songs are in English and there’s no mystery or language barrier to filter the lyrics for me. Everything is laid out so bare and her truthfulness is brutal.
Sure, not every single song of hers is going to tear your heart out, but she has many that are agonizing enough, and I kind of have to look away sometimes. It’s not always entertaining or fun to listen to something that is so traumatic, but I suppose that’s what – for me – makes her such an admirable artist. She is willing to go there.
Seeing them live was a highlight of the weekend. It was like riding a roller coaster – as soon as it ended I wanted to go again. Finding something I really like this much shouldn’t be such a unique and isolated experience!
Right when Hello Saferide was beginning, I met up with some more friends, including the gang Johanna hooked me up with for the A Camp concert back in April.
Here are Kajsa and one of the 2 million people in Sweden named Anna. Kajsa enjoys forcing me to speak Swedish. I can’t tell if she’s doing it to help me or only to be entertained by my awful pronunciation and sentence structures. Maybe a little of both. Either way is fine with me. I think I owe her some laughs because I could not get enough of how funny I thought it looked as she was multi-purposing the hood of her emergency poncho as a hands-and-beer hole.
Almost as priceless is the look on the guy’s face in the back – not the least bit amused by my camera. Sorry, dude! What you can’t see in the photo is that Duffy was playing, so this guy was getting drenched in rain while being crowded by people and surrounded by the sound of a baby-voiced girl singing retro sixties numbers. Double sorry, dude!
The Telia telephone company had an inflatable tent on hand with a ping-pong table and DJs inside. Here we see Johanna and Kajsa’s sister Marja taking a round of circular ping pong. I don’t remember what this is called, but the game starts with dozens of people walking in a circle around the table. Each person hits the ball once. If you miss, you’re out, and the game continues until it’s just down to two opposing players. Marja is a ping-pong enthusiast and writes an entertaining blog about it called Mitt Pingis (“My Ping-Pong”). Don’t get hooked on it, though, because I’ve been told she is a serial blog starter who may soon abandon it for another hilarious idea.
Erik, Therese and Iida
Erik and Iida
Fever Ray, a band I had never heard of before, totally blew me away. I don’t remember any of their songs and I’m not sure I could even describe what kind of music they play, but it was filled with the kind of insanely loud and deep sounds that move your clothes.
As you can see in this image, their light show included everything from lasers to house lamps. I could continue on for a while about them, but I simply don’t know what I saw or heard. I do know that it seemed like the fog machines they were using were presented in 5.1-surround. Yes, they had smoke machines behind the audience, too. Crazy.
The weekend ended with Nick Cave, another artist who is fanatically admired by seemingly everyone I know, except me. I don’t dis-like him, I just think I’m missing whatever it is he’s doing that everyone else is getting.
Kind of unrelated to this, Iida was telling me about how she had to ask for someone’s ID when working in the post office the other day. The person presented an old ID card that was no longer valid and Iida said she couldn’t accept it as legitimate identification. The customer became furious and said that the card works everywhere else. Iida explained that it shouldn’t work everywhere else. It only works everywhere else because nobody else is following the rules. She said basically, “Everybody is wrong except me,” a priceless quote.
Nick Cave sounded pretty fantastic Saturday, so it occurred to me that this might be an opposite case to the ID situation in the post office. Maybe everybody is right except me. It’s possible. But then again, the music I like is just my personal taste and preference, there’s no right or wrong. I don’t have to like it just because it’s loud and exciting and ten thousand Swedes are having a great time.
Sure, maybe I think too much and I should loosen up. I’m here for new adventures and such, right? Maybe I am in complete control of what I enjoy. Is it possible that I can just flick a switch and suddenly like Nick Cave or The Police or Bad Brains or anything else that everyone likes except me?
As much as it would allow me to have more fun more often, I don’t think it’s possible. Believe me, I’ve tried. Maybe I’ll just be reassured in knowing that when I go into a record store, there’s nothing I think is worth the money, so I can leave without spending a dime – or a kronor. Of course, every time I’m in a record or book store, I am also overwhelmed with the feeling that I’m wasting my life and my contributions should be represented on the shelves… but that’s an entirely separate bucketful of words.
Let’s just leave it with the feeling that I had a great weekend and I got to share it with some wonderful people. Even though it was raining the whole time, I think that added a lot of character to the experience. As I’m looking back at these pictures from the weekend, I couldn’t help but think that Sweden is still beautiful and fun even when the sun is not out.
And that reminds me of another great Iida quote: “This is really nice weather, if you’re a fish.”
The daylight and the colors and shapes in the sky are continuing to fascinate me (as is the dark, blurry line in my camera’s lens). These images are from late Thursday night/Friday morning around 1:00 AM. Fresh!
Let’s take a look at a selection of photos from last Saturday which was Sweden’s National Day. How does that sound? Would you like that? Hmm?
I’ve heard a lot of talk about how Swedes are so modest and not especially proud or nationalistic. That’s mostly true. Granted, there were no fireworks or any boisterousness equivalents to the familiar “U-S-A!” chants. I think there certainly is a lot of national pride here, but like everything else, it’s a little more reserved and quiet. Either way, there were thousands of people out celebrating everywhere last weekend. The weather was nice, so that helped bring out the crowds. The outdoor bars and restaurants were jam-packed and the parks were full of picnickers.
The Royal Palace was open to the public free of charge, so I stopped by there to have a look early in the day. The castle was swarmed by the people when I arrived (whoa, I said swarmed not stormed).
This was a already several hours after Princess Madeleine had done the ceremonial honors of opening the dump for the day. I would have liked to have made the scene a little earlier to catch a glimpse of my favorite princess, but since I had been up late the night before and because she has never called me – not once – I slept later and missed her.
I can only imagine that she was scanning the crowd relentlessly, looking past every face in hopes of seeing mine. “He simply must be here somewhere,” she thought desperately, all the while maintaining a coy yet official state-sponsored smile.
This isn’t your typical medieval castle with towers and a drawbridge. Because Stockholm is a city built on about a dozen islands, a moat and drawbridge would be kind of pointless. The Swedish Royal Palace is actually based on the French castle at Versailles – kind of a theme since, as we’ve learned, the Swedish Royal Family also came from France.
Completed in 1754, after fifty-seven years of construction (bo-o-o-o-oring!), it is the world’s largest royal palace that is still in regular use by its head of state. Of course, the heads of state in Sweden are ceremonial, but they still use the old shack. And why wouldn’t they? This little cabin home on the hill has a paltry 608 rooms. The photo above is from the center courtyard. You may notice several people in the photo who do not have blonde hair and are not dressed entirely in black. Rest assured, those people are tourists.
I recently met the woman who designed the directional markers and signage around the palace. Naturally, we talked about her font choices and the color combinations she used. While I don’t have any photos of those signs, I can share with you something she said that I’m not sure I will ever forget:
“The worst thing about America is the coffee… except for the racism and poverty.”
Yeah. I’d say those two things are probably worse than the coffee. Adding sugar or milk to a racist doesn’t really make it any more tolerable.
As I walked out of the royal compound to leave the oldest part of town (so old they call it “Old Town”), I passed some of the official guards in fancy hats. I guess a lot of countries have these guys who stand there all day dressed like they’re in a marching band and walk around like robots when it’s time to clock out. They’re not gonna stop anybody from doing anything and it seems that in modern times the true nature of their duties involves keeping a straight face while odd and assorted shenanigans and jack-assery are acted out in front of them.
The Swedish guards aren’t so strict. They actually smile and will speak with tourists who want to have their photos made alongside the guards. I guess there is even a bit of lagom in ceremonial guardposts.
Everyone knows that Americans are crazy about their flag, especially around July 4th, but the Swedes are really giving theirs a pretty good showing for June 6th. I guess I’d have to say that it’s not really limited to Nationaldagen, the Swedish flag seems just about as omnipresent in Sweden as the American flag does in the United States.
In the photo above and the one right below, I counted 16 flags in each. There are probably more in the distance, but Old Timey Tower can’t see so well out of these old peepers. Suffice it to say that business is still booming at the local blue and yellow ink factory.
The image above is the Grand Hotel. When this photo was taken, Bruce Springsteen was probably inside this building. He played three concerts in the soccer stadium in Stockholm over the weekend and stayed at the Grand, as most illustrious visitors seem to. Since this was taken Saturday morning, I would presume he wasn’t out raging.
Had he been, he could have joined me at the Smaka På Stockholm Festival (“Taste of Stockholm”). In years past, I have seen this festival on television in America, so it was pretty cool to be living here and to just walk through it. Smaka is a typical street-food fair with quite a variety of cuisines from around the world, sponsored by Stockholm area restauranteurs.
One tent that caught my eye was called Latino-Cajun. I thought, “Oh nice, a little something from the Bayou or the Deep South.” Well, sort of.
Their menu board had jambalaya but also a little shout-out to my homeland: Kentuckyfriterad kyckling (you guessed it, “Kentucky fried chicken”). Kentucky isn’t anything close to being Cajun or Latino. What is considered Southern-fried or Kentucky-style fried chicken (even outside of the restaurant by that name) isn’t really the kind of fried chicken they had here.
It’s still really cool to see “Kentucky” on a sign so far from home. Most people in Kentucky don’t even know the difference between Sweden and Switzerland, so I’m not gonna get all upset because somebody here isn’t schooled in the minute details of American menu items, geography or “culture.” However, this may be the only place in the world that sells “Kentucky fried chicken” and also has a wine list.
Without fail, every single time someone asks me where exactly I’m from in the United States, and I say “Kentucky,” the next words out of their mouths are, “Oh, Kentucky Fried Chicken!” I smile and laugh, “That’s right!”
While there are a lot better things Kentucky could be first known for (Muhammad Ali, bourbon, Johnny Depp, George Clooney), there are really a lot worse things also. I don’t eat animals, but all things considered, being known for a type of food isn’t so bad. My German teacher in high school, Klaus Mittelsten, said the thing he always heard was that “Kentucky is famous for its beautiful horses and fast women.”
Wait a minute. Did I just say “shout-out” a few paragraphs back? I’m sorry about that. I try to keep my writing a little more gentlemanly and proper than that (and not “proper” in the MC Hammer sense).
Other than being a national holiday, it was also a big weekend for sports in Sweden. The Volvo Ocean Race was rolling through Stockholm. This race is nicknamed “The Mount Everest of Sailing.” I’m sure you can see the similarities: these multi-millionaires on their boats know exactly what its like to freeze or starve to death alone in the cold. Riding on a sailboat followed by a television crew is just the same as breathing thin air at the top of the atmosphere with ice all over your face, then arriving home to have your frostbitten toes amputated.
Maybe it’s a clue that your sport sucks if one of its highest pinnacles is nicknamed after a high pinnacle from another sport. Can you imagine one of the climbers turning to Sir Edmund Hillary following their brutal ascent to the top of Mount Everest and saying, “Sir, that historic climb was more punishing than a sail boat race. I mean, they should call Mount Everest ‘the sail boat race of mountain climbing.'”
Also happening in the big weekend of real sports, Sweden’s own Robin Söderling surprised tennis spectators by meeting Roger Federer in the final of the French Open, and the Swedish national soccer team was hosting neighboring rival Denmark in Stockholm.
As I made my way out of the Kungsträdgården park, where the food fest was, I was quite accustomed to the sea of blue and yellow flags. When I turned the corner and reached one of the city’s main plazas at Sergels Torg, I gasped in horror as my breath was taken away.
What laid before me was a hideous mess of Danish football fans, cloaked in their foul red and white, singing drunken soccer anthems, and surrounded by piles of garbage in a mess of Tuborg and Carlsberg cans. They had posted their flags around the square like red blood stains splattered on a beautiful blue-and-yellow day.
The whole disgusting display turned my stomach. Like an obscene parasite on the city, these filthy Danes had all the aristocratic etiquette of a bunch of Yankees fans parading through Boston.
(Note: I actually love Denmark and I thought it was really pretty hilarious that all these guys were making a ruckus in the middle of Stockholm, I’m just trying to assimilate in Sweden by acting offended.)
Some countries have rowdy soccer hooligans who flip over police cars, trample other fans, or get in fights, but perhaps you’ll enjoy this take on some more respectable fans in Sweden. This is from a Swedish sketch comedy show called “Hipp Hipp” from a few years ago. It’s all in Swedish, but I think you can get the idea.
Syntest = vision test Pengar kommer så småningom = Money will come eventually Slut på kontot = End of account Sopa = Sweep Vem får inte följa med in = Who may not follow me in? Hunden, katten, glassen = dogs, cats, ice cream
In keeping with the theme of public transit, on a recent Saturday, Erik and I paid a visit to the Stockholm Spårvägsmuseet. The name literally means track-way-museum, but you can call it the Transit Museum.
Anyone who knows me also knows that one of my general interests is old timey shit. Boy oh boy did they have some reeeeaaallly old timey shit at this place.
Naturally, they have all kinds of super cool old trains, buses, uniforms, maps, clippings, and pictures, but they also have old ticket booths, turnstiles, snack kiosks, and totally reconstructed historic bus shelters and Tunnelbana environments. Museums are always advertising “you can walk back in time” and it was kind of like that. The whole experience was a sweet deal for only 30 kronors (less than $4) and a great way to kill several hours on a Saturday afternoon.
Oddly enough, the transit museum is not located near any of the subway stations. I was as amazed by that as some of the actual exhibits because I kept wondering how they got all those trains to the building and put them inside. Trains are kind of big and heavy, you know?
Since you have read every single story on this website, you know that one of my favorite things about the Stockholm transit system – other than the fact that it eliminates the need to own a car – is that all of the Tunnelbana stations have been designed by different artists.
Several stations have features that aren’t really art but are nonetheless creative, for example directional compasses carved or embedded into the platforms. This photo shows one of those as well as part of an extensive prism of illuminated walls in the station at Bagarmossen.
“The world’s longest art exhibition” is what Stockholm’s subway system is sometimes called. Because of this, one entire section of the transit museum is dedicated to art in the underground and surface stations. There is so much art and information crammed into this single room that I could have spent a couple hours there and still not have seen it all. I think the art area could be expanded into an entirely separate museum and it would still be worth the price of admission. I suppose this isn’t necessary since “the world’s longest art exhibition” is just outside.
Some of the highlights you’ll see in the panorama are: actual ticket booths and electronic entry points, a bench shaped and painted to look like trees, some old street cars, Erik enjoying the exhibits, a station-by-station guide to every installation, a re-creation of one of the arched tunnels from the Kungsträdgården station, a section of the gigantic tape measure that snakes all the way through the Bandhagen station, a bus from the 1970’s, and some little kids riding in a miniature train that winds through the museum.
This miniature train is presumably safer than the one at the Louisville Zoo which crashed this week, sending 20 people to the hospital. One of the reader comments on The Courier-Journal newspaper’s website said, “more proof that light rail won’t work in Louisville.” Brilliant!
Radio Documentary Train
Not to be outdone by all the visual art in Stockholm’s subways, the national broadcasting company has commandeered some of the trains in the system and outfitted them as rolling museums.
When you take a Tunnelbana train anywhere in Stockholm, you may randomly happen upon a Sveriges Radio train, like the one pictured here. It will take you where you want to go just like a regular train, but it is packed with a variety of audio documentary stations.
The outside of the SR train has been colorfully decorated with graphics which are a distinct difference from the typical solid blue and silver color scheme. The doors are emblazoned with Sveriges Radio logos and the greeting “Welcome inside Stockholm’s fastest subway wagon” (…presumably because your trip will seem faster if you’re hearing something interesting. I’m sure if the train actually was traveling faster than other trains that could turn out to be a problem.)
When you step inside the train, all the usual advertisements have been replaced with red information panels and, upon sitting down, attached to the handle below each window, you’ll find a small red box with audio jacks. Just unhook your headphones from your iPod and plug into a documentary.
Each set of seats has a different story so if the train is not too crowded you can pick a seat that has a story you’ll find interesting. The day I was lucky enough to have a chance meeting with the documentary train, I was unlucky enough that it was packed with commuters coming home from work. Suckers!
One of the few open seats was next to a box with a documentary about kidnappings in Kashmir. The little bit of Swedish I am able to understand is easiest when it’s on the radio and people are speaking slowly and clearly, but you don’t have to understand much to grasp how depressing this story was.
Another box in the train had a story about Raoul Wallenberg, a famous Swede from the World War II era. Wallenberg worked as a diplomat in Hungary and saved thousands of people from the Nazis by issuing them fake Swedish passports.
Renting dozens of buildings in Budapest, he helped house more than 35,000 people in an impromptu compound of buildings disguised with fake signs of offices and research institutes.
What an awesome dude. I mean, he saved tens of thousands of lives and here I am just typing on the internet about other people’s art. Oh well, maybe I’ll do something cool tomorrow.
Three cheers for Raoul Wallenberg on Sweden’s National Day! … oh, right, I forgot. June 6th is not only my parents’ anniversary (45 years!) it is also Nationaldagen in Sweden.
The Sixth of June in Sweden
Nearly half a dozen significant events in Swedish history have transpired on the sixth of June, including Swedish independence from the Kalmar Union, various transfers of power, and some royal weddings (though the one next year of Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling is oddly scheduled for June 10th).
Although the importance of June 6th in Sweden goes back nearly 500 years, it was not declared an official national holiday until 2005. It’s like the Swedish 4th of July and it’s practically brand new! The date was traditionally celebrated as Flag Day but recently the Swedes finally decided it’s not too nationalistic to celebrate your country. I celebrate their country every day, so I’m glad this weekend everyone else is joining me. There are outdoor festivities and music going on everywhere.
These National Day celebrations are being augmented with the endless racket of thousands of high school graduates in their traditional, white, sailor-style graduation hats, riding around on the backs of giant trucks, pumping loud music, screaming, drinking beer, and otherwise generally shattering everything I’ve said about Sweden being a reasonable, quiet place.
Such a truck is called a studentflak (student flatbed truck). They have huge sound systems and are covered in homemade banners, flowers, and sometimes trees. Yes, there are trees on the trucks with the kids who are partying. Maybe you should just see for yourself.
I didn’t take that picture and I didn’t make this video of trucks riding through Stureplan, I found them on the website of a company that rents the vehicles, but I think they capture the idea. (Click the HQ button to see it in higher quality) There are companies who specialize in renting out these trucks, just as they would any other party supplies.
Last Thursday, I posted a story about the upcoming reconstruction of Stockholm’s central Slussen interchange. In detailing the project, I discussed how it reminded me of a gargantuan project in Louisville. I took the opportunity to compare the different approaches the two cities are following.
Louisville’s undertaking involves the expansion of Kennedy Interchange, including Interstates 64 and 65, and the construction of two new spans across the mighty Ohio River. This project, which includes placing 23 lanes of traffic between the city and its waterfront, is absurd in scale and cost. That has not gone unnoticed.
In March, the American transportation site The Infrastructurist proclaimed it Number One in their ranking of the “Most Ridiculous New Roads Being Built In America.”
All this came up in my discussion of life in Sweden because Stockholm is faced with a similar situation at Slussen. The difference is, in my humble opinion, that Stockholm is continuing to do everything right and Louisville is digging itself deeper into obsolescence. These divergent paths go all the way back to the 1940’s – public transit, airport expansion, streetscapes, you name it.
As I said last week, when you think about what has happened to oil prices, driving trends, and auto manufacturing, just in the past couple years (Louisville’s traffic congestion declined by 39% in 2008 alone), a fifteen-year project like this truly deserves to be Number One on that list.
It brings me a lot of pain to say things like this, but I think the people in charge in Louisville simply aren’t seeing the big picture. (Really, Scott? Why don’t you do something about it like run for office?) What’s more, they’re not listening to what the informed public wants.
Today, more than 11,000 Louisvillians are registered members of 8664, an organization that has proposed an alternative plan to send thru-traffic around the city, restore a sense of reason to the project, and reconnect the city with its riverfront. And a recent poll showed Louisvillians favored routing traffic around the city by a margin of 2 to 1.
Last week I tried to sell the case that making tough choices and doing the right thing is sometimes not popular. The more I think about it, though, making the tough choice in this case would be popular!
With the governments of Kentucky, Indiana, Louisville, and the United States facing such revenue issues, it seems to me like giving the public what they want and stopping an obscene, multi-billion-dollar construction project is a no-brainer.
Louisville’s light rail project that was shelved in May 2004 had a pricetag of $1 billion, if I recall correctly. 8664 and light rail could both be built for the cost of the currently planned monstrosity, and at a savings of nearly a billion dollars.
For readers in Sweden: Yes, it’s true, Louisville is a metropolitan area of over a million people and has no rapid transit system. Further, despite its central US location, within several hours from a dozen major cities, Louisville is not even served by any passenger trains to other cities.
The reason I’m bringing all this up again so soon is because I wanted to mention that my comparison of the Ohio River and Slussen projects was cited Saturday on The Urbanophile, a Chicago-based site that deals with Midwestern urban and transportation issues.
Then on Monday, to my surprise, the 8664 website itself referenced both my discourse and The Urbanophile’s analysis. Fantastic! When I received the 8664 update newsletter in my email today, it also included a mention of the two.
I started this blog (shudder) as a way to provide updates and my thoughts to friends and family about my adventures in Sweden. I’m pleased and surprised that it is serving a purpose for people who may not know me. Kanske ska jag glöm inte att det är på Internet och alla kan läsa det. Kanske också att jag kan inte ännu pratar svenska. Eller…
Back in March, my friend Johanna interviewed me about my move. She is a student at Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (The Swedish Royal Institute of Technolgy) where she is studying, well, it seems she is studying just about everything.
I’ve heard her talk about the Media Technology program she’s in and it includes everything from graphic page design to voice synthesis. One of the projects she showed me was a software application she made that can announce the time of day in her voice. Awesome, creepy, scary – I don’t really want any machines talking in the house, especially not in my voice. My sarcastic inner monologue and constant attempts to translate everything are plenty.
Another project of the program she’s in involves the periodical publication of a magazine. The program is supported by companies in the printing, paper, and graphics businesses, so the end result of their work – called Uttryck – is quite beautiful. It’s a full-color, perfect-bound magazine on matte paper, assembled by Swedish design students. Let’s just say it’s not your typical college newspaper. The colors are rich, the printing is sharp, and it smells of fresh ink. Mmmmm ink.
The name Uttryck is another one of those Swedish words like tjänst that means about billion different things: expression, display, statement, utterance, phrase, manifest, et cetera. Ut means “out” and tryck means “print” – so there’s probably some connection or play on those parts. I don’t know. I’m having one of those I’m-never-going-to-be-able-to-speak-Swedish days. You’d think it would be easy to learn a language that only has 37 words.
Although the magazine is all in Swedish, I was interviewed in English. This was just a few weeks after I arrived and my Swedish was even worse then than it is now. You can read some of what I said in my March 27th post. That post also includes some charts I made that weren’t used in the published article and the English version of my lists about Sweden and the United States.
The story covers all the bases including why I decided to move to Sweden, what I miss about America, and what I don’t exactly love about both places. We also talked about the process of learning Swedish, food, my then-locked iPhone, and my band, Metroschifter.
If you want to use this as an opportunity to start learning Swedish, thereby doing it faster than me and making me feel even dimmer, here is a link to the article on the Uttryck website. The title means “The American Dream – in Swedish.”
On the flip side of the coin, I was also interviewed last week for Velocity Weekly, an entertainment newspaper in Louisville. The subject matter was similar, though it was more focused on the new Metroschifter album which is coming out June 30th. Joseph Lord did that interview, which also touched on Kentucky politics and my Senate campaign last year. I’ll provide an update and a link when that comes out… I know you must be desperately hungry to read even more of my chatter.
Here is another 360-degree image I made recently in Stockholm. In this view from Slussen, you can see Gamla Stan (the old town) across the water, the circular Berg Arkitektkontor (Berg Architecture office) building, and Gondolen, a tall elevator-and-bridge observation structure.
Click images to view full size
Slussen is a central point in the city. It is the location of one of the live webcams in the left-hand column on this site. From that camera’s position on the Gondolen, you can look down on the position where this 360° view was made. The yellow Hilton Hotel is in the left side of both views, and the satellite view below shows these landmarks specifically.
The greater Slussen site is a major junction that has been built upon for decades to accommodate the growing traffic demands of all the cars, trains, boats, bicycles, buses, and pedestrians who use it daily.
It’s one of those types of places where you can feel that there was never a master plan. Things are randomly arranged in a confusing fashion. Some areas seem closed until a car comes through and surprises you. When you’re crossing one of the streets there, it’s sometimes not clear which direction you should look to watch for traffic. The current version of the site is nearly 100 years old and is in dire need of repair. This black and white image is how it looked in 1935 and at first glance it seems not much has changed since then. Today, the complex includes twenty-four bridges.
Its central location makes it a popular meet-up spot, not least because five of the seven subway lines pass through every few minutes. Underneath the streets, where you can walk to the Tunnelbana station or visit some underground shops, much of the concrete is old and crumbling. While it probably seemed like a futuristic nexus in the 1930’s, it’s quite primitive by today’s standards.
The whole scene down there is oddly out of place in this otherwise clean and organized city. You can see some of its deterioration if you look at the handrails and concrete infrastructure in the detailed 360° image.
In the next few years, Slussen will be completely rebuilt and modernized. Through a massive reconstruction project, the new plan will open up much more public space and access to the water. A victim of this renovation will be the Debaser Slussen nightclub which sits under all of it adjacent to the boat locks. The area where Debaser sits seems like it will completely disappear in order to accomplish the new vision. The circular Berg building in the center, truly a landmark, will also vanish.
This picture from the Dagens Nyheter (“Daily News”) newspaper website shows a rendering of the new Slussen. It’s much more sleek and open.
I know many Stockholmers have a lot of sentimental attachment to the Berg building, Debaser, and the general familiarity of Slussen. Understandably, some people are freaking out about the changes, but it seems that the area is falling apart so something must be done. It’s nice that the opportunity is being taken to do something truly forward-looking that embraces the water and enhances the public space.
Here is an overview on the Stockholm City website of the challenges involved the project, which includes several pictures truly worth a thousand words.
The Slussen controversy reminds me a bit of the 8664 debate that has been going on for a few years in Louisville. Some businessmen and activists (supported by more than 10,000 members of the public) are pushing to stop the expansion of downtown highways to an absurd 23 lanes.
The alternative plan they are advocating would route thru-traffic around the city and replace the giant, elevated highway with a ground-level, tree-lined waterfront parkway. Aside from reconnecting the city to its riverfront, it would also save billions of taxpayer dollars. Naturally, the higher-ups aren’t listening.
With driving rates continuing to decline, it only seems comical to continue building monstrous automobile infrastructure. I’m continually returning to the idea what kind of public transit a couple billion dollars could buy for Louisville, instead of the proposed 23-lane monument to yesterday’s sad love affair with the internal combustion engine.
The image you see here is not an exaggeration by the opposition, it is from the actual Ohio River Bridges Project website. It’s really quite shocking how the project absolutely dwarfs entire city blocks of houses and businesses, and is placed directly between the city and its waterfront. If you’re having any trouble imagining the size of this monster, compare it to the baseball stadium in the bottom left of the picture.
If everything goes according to plan – which construction ventures never do – the project will be finished in fifteen years. When you think about what has happened to oil prices, driving trends, and auto manufacturing, just in the last two or three years, a fifteen-year project like this is nothing short of senseless, foolish, and wasteful. It is a prefect example of doing more of the same thing and expecting different results.
Stockholm, a city roughly the same size as Louisville, is literally blanketed in a web of public transit. This access grew out of investment and planning dating back to the 1940’s, when Louisville was foolishly dismantling its electric street cars. The result today in Stockholm is a beautiful city that is drastically quieter, cleaner, and more accessible to everyone than Louisville is. In my several months here I have been inside a car only a handful of times. Buses, bicycles, pedestrians – they all coexist in the same space and breathe the same air.
Just like Louisville, Stockholm was originally founded because it was a natural stopping point for shipping. The boats had to stop here and therefore a community grew around that pause in the transport of goods. Sure, Stockholm is more than half a millennium older than Louisville, but that should make its lessons of modern growth more of an example than not. Despite the age difference, the two cities share a lot of parallels and similar challenges when it comes to transit – namely, a similar population, surface area, high water table, commuter culture.
The difference is that in Stockholm they made tough choices for the greater good. They moved their air traffic away from the city instead of continuing to expand an old airport in the middle of where everyone lives. They built an extensive underground rail system which meant carving deep into the bedrock below lakes and rivers.
Both of these things happened more than sixty years ago and neither was cheap, but in the long run, they were ultimately worth it. They required sacrifices but they became gifts to future generations that people today are enjoying.
With all the investment UPS has put into the Louisville airport and the city’s cost of buying out homeowners to expand it, they really should have built an entirely new airport somewhere else. Jumbo jets regularly flying a few hundred feet over houses and schools is insane, not just because of the noise, but because of the danger. It only takes one accident to ruin a neighborhood and scar a generation of life in the city. In the same respect, individuals driving alone in their cars from the east end of the city to their jobs downtown is doing nothing but slowly burning up the planet and filling the local air with noise and toxins. There is plenty of land in surrounding counties for a truly international airport and plenty of daily mass commuting in and out of the city to support collective transit.
If you build it, they will come, you just have to make the tough choices and understand that you can’t please everybody. Lincoln wasn’t popular and the Kennedys certainly weren’t overwhelmed with love, but we don’t remember the popular guys as being anything but popular. We remember the guys who had a vision, the ability to get us to see it, and help them remake things for the better. In a 200-year old city, it may be difficult to see 100 years into the future, but you must do that.
I miss a lot of things about Louisville, but I certainly don’t miss the noise level, the exhaust, the need to drive or the cost of driving. Louisvillians think of the city as clean, quiet, and easy to get around. By American standards, that’s pretty true, but you really haven’t seen anything like Stockholm.
In Louisville, you always hear a motorcycle, an airplane, a siren. When I hear one of those things in Stockolm, I notice it as unusual. I feel like even if I live another fifty years, it may not be long enough to enjoy this in my own hometown.
There is a school between the apartment where I live and where I catch the train to go into the center of Stockholm.
The students I pass when I walk through the Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (The Royal Institute of Technology) are of all ages – teens to adults. When the weather is nice, there are people hanging out in the grass or on wooden platforms that dot the field, presumably placed there for picnicking or sitting in the sun.
While walking to the train today, two rings of dandelions laying on one of these platforms caught my eye. It appears someone has been practicing the art of making headbands out of flowers in advance of the Midsommar festival next month.
I continued walking by, but after a few steps, I decided I had to return to document this. The tall trees, the rings of flowers, the green grass, the crystal clear air and sunshine – it was just too Swedish to let it pass.
Hermans is a fantastic vegetarian buffet restaurant in Stockholm. Their food is augmented with tons of outdoor seating and an amazing view of the city.
We ate there Monday night because the weather was perfect for such a visit. I don’t have any pictures of the food because my four plates of it disappeared so quickly, but are a few photos of the scenery and some important Swedish words.
A blurry arc has recently appeared in my point-and-shoot camera’s lens, which you can see a little bit in the first two images. That’s not good. I may have to throw down some kronors this summer and get a new pocket camera if it gets worse or starts ruining my pictures. We can’t have that, right?
Uteservering = outside dining Solnedgång = sunset
Utsikt = View (as in scenery) Gamla Stan = old town
Roligt = Funny Te = Tea
Ansikte = face Trött = tired Fars skjorta = my dad’s shirt
I would like to say that I’m starting to get used to the surplus hours of daylight in Stockholm, but I can’t. I still find it so amazing.
During the past few weeks, it has been fascinating to me that each day has been noticeably longer than the day before. It is beyond surreal to see the sun still going down after 11 pm and coming up again at 2 in the morning.
The pages at those links are updated live in real time, so you can check them periodically if you want to see how each day inches closer and closer to midnight sunshine. Sweden is six hours ahead of Eastern Time in the United States.
The daylight hours will continue to get longer and longer here until late June. The longest days of the year are celebrated with the Midsommar festival. Midsommar is responsible for many of the stereotypical or recognizably Swedish images that foreigners have of the country. Singing, dancing, eating outside, and girls wearing flowers in their hair.
This picture might not mean anything to you, but it is really big news for me. This is the screen of my finally-unlocked iPhone displaying my balance with a Swedish telephone operator.
Yes, it’s true. After many attempts during the months I’ve been in Sweden, I have finally successfully sprung my iPhone loose from AT&T’s shackles and unlocked to use it locally. It was made possible by a new process that just surfaced in the past few weeks which allows for the reverting of the modem firmware update back to version 02.28.00. Blah blah blah this isn’t an iPhone site. Talk about funny Swedish shit!
The whole process took nearly three hours. It was not easy and is not an undertaking I would recommend to anyone without a great deal of patience.
I am now happily out of T9 prison and texting again at the speed of thought. One less device in my pockets!
Today’s story has been in the works for more than a few weeks. It has a lot of personal information about my thoughts, feelings, and ideas, so if you’re more interested in the Swedish culture stuff, pictures of stairs, and fake charts, this monologue might not be for you.
Hard to believe, but true, sometimes I think about myself instead of what coins look like, what spännande means, or what the King is having for breakfast.
Honestly, this story might not be for anyone but me, but since I’m sharing my thoughts on everything else, why break the streak now?
One of the main attractions for me in moving to Sweden was that I thought it would give me the opportunity to “turn off” for a while.
I don’t know nearly as many people here, so combine that with Sweden’s more reasonable speed of life; not having as many expenses; therefore not having to work so much, et cetera. All these elements would theoretically come together and allow me to explore some larger, longterm projects that I ordinarily wouldn’t have the ability to. More rest, more quiet, less pushing myself to do new things, less need to try to change things.
I’ve had several conversations lately about whether it’s okay to live without goals. I know there are millions of people who just go to work, eat, sleep, and maybe hang out with their family or friends. That’s all they do. There’s no larger plan for their career or anything else. For them, day-to-day life is the plan. It goes on for decades and there’s nothing wrong with it. For a lot of people, especially in places like America in a tough economy, that’s all that they can afford to do. Others aren’t even that lucky. For some, just doing something is all they need to be happy.
There are those people in the world who know exactly what they want to do with their lives when they’re twelve years old. Doctor, lawyer, photographer, fireman, news reporter, forest ranger, computer programmer, teacher, president. Whatever it is, some people know instinctively what they want to do. I just wasn’t one of those people. Sometimes I envy them. Okay, most of the time. It seems like it would be so much easier to just know.
Instead, I have needed to invent big projects for myself to keep me busy. I’ve always felt like I was supposed to be doing something special, but since I haven’t known what that special thing was, I have tried just about everything that interested me. These undertakings entertain me and occasionally pay my bills. Usually they overlapped and I ended up doing a dozen things at once.
I haven’t needed luxuries like a fancy car, a DVD collection, concert tickets, nice furniture, a big wardrobe, home ownership, fancy dinners, et cetera. It’s always nice visiting people who do have those things, but over the past decade – even before moving across the ocean – I have gradually been downsizing the volume of my belongings.
When I moved to Rhode Island in 2001, I rented a moving truck. Less than two years later, when moving to California, I committed myself to keeping only what I could fit in my Volvo wagon. That was liberating.
The lack of owning so many things has permitted me to live with a little more freedom. Not having monthly payments for a mortgage, car, whatever, has made it possible for me to explore larger projects that require dedicated time and resources. Whether the project has been publishing a magazine with interviews of my friends, writing songs, putting out records, building a social networking site, running for office, or whatever, these projects have added a lot to my life and hopefully have engaged or entertained others.
A lot of the projects I took on had the theme of being unique: either no one had done something like it before, or it needed to be done and it seemed no one else was going to do it.
I don’t know if other people don’t have the same kinds of ideas I have, or if other people just don’t pursue them. People are always saying “wouldn’t it be cool if…” but if I have an idea like that, I try to do something about it instead of letting it remain in a conversation. That started a long time ago and has built progressively with each project. I suppose the ability to do such things comes in small degrees.
I think in moving away, I wanted to put all that on hold for a while. My efforts to expand my own boundaries weren’t necessarily starting to take too much away from me, but something was happening.
Specifically, running for state senate was a dream I had for a quite a while. It was a big goal which unfortunately turned out so unlike my expectations. Rather than being something positive and influential, a lot of the time and energy in my campaign was spent fighting just for the right to participate. It was just exhausting at times when it should have been exhilirating. Of course I’m glad I did it, and just participating in the process was an achievement I’m proud of. I don’t regret it and I would do it all over again. Maybe one day I will. (I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.)
I met hundreds of people during the campaign and I received priceless support toward the effort from just as many. Because of that support, I felt a constant drive to do everything I could to not let anyone down. Once someone gives you their hard-earned money and asks you to see if you can make a difference with it, it’s nearly impossible to not keep fighting, even when all the odds and money are gone. I can’t say too much about any of it yet, really, because here I am on the other side of the world and I can feel myself starting to get all worked up about it. The lawsuit that disqualified me and its plaintiff – my opponent who was re-elected as the district’s senator – are not my favorite topics… Yet I’m still being very careful to be kind with my words. (Using the term “re-elected” is one way of being very kind.)
The day after the election was bittersweet. I was so relieved that Barack Obama had been elected. I still kind of can’t believe it. (Every time I check the American news, I am impressed and ecstatic at each new overdue misconduct he is trying to take on. It’s almost too good to be true.) The day after the election there was also a sense of relief that the public aspect of my campaign was over. That might be the day I decided for sure that I was moving to Sweden.
I remember saying to a friend, “I could stay in Kentucky and continue fighting for the rest of my life, or I could just go where everything is already fixed.” That’s an oversimplification of things and I think it’s unnecessarily harsh and childish, but maybe it captures the feeling of the time. I don’t like fighting. I don’t want to spend my life being angry over things that I may never be able to affect. I would rather create things or just throttle down a bit. Unwind, reset, breathe. What would it be like to relax, or have the time to read, or go on a date, or do anything else most people do that have somehow eluded me?
I thought that moving to Sweden would be a great way to turn off my need to continually generate new materials and ideas, to not have a project, and to be somewhat anonymous.
The anonymity aspect has turned out to be much as I expected. Sometimes it’s too much. Everyone knows the feeling of being alone in a crowd. Maybe some of the lonliest people in the world are those who are living in big cities, surrounded by other people who are talking, laughing, holding hands, chatting on the phone, and otherwise carrying on.
Even in a year-round Casual Friday community like Louisville, where people are always saying things to people they don’t know, it’s still possible – if not very easy – to go an entire day without speaking to anyone. That’s even easier in the iPod Age where everyone has headphones and you’re in a country where those who don’t are speaking a language you don’t understand.
The several-month project of selling and giving away virtually everything I own was obviously an overwhelming endeavor. As you can imagine, it was at once painful and liberating. My move to Sweden made moving in a Volvo look positively posh. I arrived here with only a rolling suitcase and a guitar case. With the exception of a few boxes in my parents’ basement, if I move back to Louisville at any point, there’s not any material “stuff” there to go back to. My car, apartment, furniture, books, music, dishes, everything – it’s all gone.
I expected that once the process of shedding my earthly belongings, saying farewells to friends and family, and getting on the plane was finished, that would be the moment I crossed the line and I would really be able to turn off for a while. From several previous, extended visits, I already knew the basics of finding my way around Stockholm, the public transit, and stuff like that. I could unpack my few things here and just let go.
I’m not sure how it could have escaped me that moving to a different country with a different language is, in itself, a huge project.
I’m sure it is self-evident to anyone reading this, that learning a new word for everything and an entirely new way of talking is a really big project. It’s like if I started att skriva this helt på svenska du… I mean, if I started writing this totally in Swedish, you wouldn’t be able to understand any of it.
The good news is that even though it just occurred to me last month that this language thing is a gigantic project, I am way beyond the point of all the words looking and sounding crazy. I had a couple years of a head start in dabbling with the Swedish language in Louisville, which has proven to be helpful, but only a little bit.
At the very least, I understand the topic of most conversations. Depending on who’s talking or what’s being discussed, I understand a little more or a little less. Sometimes I don’t believe that the sounds my roommate Iida is making are actually talking. It’s so fast and I may only catch a word or two during a few minutes of listening to her and Erik chatting. On the other hand, sometimes when I’m reading, I have moments when I feel like I get it. Headlines and advertising are getting easier faster. If I’m watching Swedish television and the closed caption text in Swedish is on the screen, my comprehension skyrockets.
Even if I’m still less than 20% able to comprehend or carry on a real conversation comfortably in Swedish, I’m on my way toward it. It would be coming so much faster if Sweden wasn’t such a bilingual country. Here, it’s not like how some people in America speak Spanish and some speak English. Seriously, everyone in Sweden under 50 speaks both Swedish and English – and both languages well. A blessing and a curse. As soon as I begin speaking, even if I’m just ordering a coffee, the other person will inevitably start speaking English to me.
You might ask, if everyone speaks English, why bother learning Swedish? Honestly, I feel rude not knowing the language. If I like the place enough to live here, I owe it to everyone else to speak their language. If I’m in a group of people and they’re all speaking English because of me, well, it makes me feel silly. More often, I’d rather the conversation continue in Swedish, even if it means I’m not involved, just so I can hear more of the language in context.
Also on the plus side, I love the way Swedish sounds. It is beautiful and cool and like a song. There are special ways to pronounce things and a lot of it has a nod-nod-wink-wink quality to it. (Skiva is pronounced “whuooeevah” but skriva is “skreevah.” Ljug is pronounced “yoeg” and själv is “whhelf.” Sig is prounounced “say” and de is “doam.” This shit’s crazy! And those are short words! Not only that, but seeing it in print isn’t even a hint as to the inflection. Jävla betoning!)
The world around you looks different depending on the sounds that come with it. That’s something else I’ve been thinking a lot about. For example, if you’re walking around the city listening to Slayer on your iPod all day, your perspective will be different than if you’re looking at the same things while listening to Mexican mariachi music. (Most people I know have tons of mariachi music on their iPods.) I think the same is true of the sounds in the language you speak and hear. Whether it’s a harsh language like Russian or a mushy language like French, constant exposure to these sounds must have an effect on the people who speak the language.
The singing, fun, and active dynamics in the Swedish language must be somewhat responsible for the attitudes and personality the Swedish people have. In the same respect, the artistic and caring nature of the people must also influence the way the language continues to develop. When I first came to Sweden in the nineties, I fell in love with the entire package: the landscape, the people, the design aesthetics, the sound of the language. I’m still seeing everything I saw then, but now it is part of my everyday life.
I listen to several hours of language every day on my iPhone, whether it’s news or instruction or comedy. I push myself to hear more, even when I would rather listen to something in English. Even then, if I’m thinking about other things, not exactly tuned in to what’s playing, or sleeping, it’s still there and I believe I am subconsciously absorbing something from it.
Trying to figure out what everyone is saying all the time is no small task. My brain is getting a serious work-over every day. I think an hour of trying to keep up with a Swedish conversation probably equates to four hours’ worth of English brain work. It’s like flipping through a turbo dictionary upstairs every time somebody talks. I’m pretty used to getting really tired really fast.
For several weeks, I was intentionally starving myself of American entertainment in order to submerge myself deeper into Swedish. That just ended up making me crazy. I’m starting to seek a balance now so I can build my Swedish while keeping my English sharp.
I’m on the case and I’m getting it. I’m just not sure how I missed the idea that this whole move is probably one of the biggest projects I’ve ever taken on. How could I have thought all this wasn’t a project at all?
Here are a few photos from Vasadstaden, a central Stockholm neighborhood that originated in the late 1800’s.
These photos were taken from the top of a hill in Observatorielunden, a park that surrounds the Stockholm Observatory. The observatory is about a hundred years older than the surrounding neighborhood and was an influential early astronomical research center. It is believed to be one of the oldest continuously operating observatories in the world. Weather measurements are still made there daily.
This fantastic orange is the Stockholms Bibliotek (public library), completed in 1928. It was designed by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund. A couple interior shots of this unique building are below.
I wrote earlier about the absence of Starbucks in Sweden. Personally, I don’t miss Starbucks, but it seems there are those Swedes who feel their country has been left out of this worldwide phenomenon of “coffee culture.”
Maybe they were left out, maybe they opted out, maybe they escaped. I’ve heard several explanations of Starbucks’ conspicuous absence in this otherwise fully-westernized, participating-locations country.
One story goes that there once was a Starbucks in Sweden which was closed by the government because the products did not meet health standards. Starbucks felt it was better to close the store instead of changing the formulation of their beverages. After exhaustive web searching, I really couldn’t find any information from any reputable source about what may or may not have happened.
I did find an article from the Puget Sound Business Journal which reported Starbucks had plans to open stores in Sweden during 2000.
Regardless of whether they got around to opening any shops in Sweden, a number of imitators have picked up the slack. My favorite Starbucks tribute shop is one whose name is Coffee Culture, but I call it Fake Starbucks. Anything look familiar about the menu board?
The cup sleeves at Fake Starbucks – I mean, Coffee Culture – even say, “Careful, the beverage you are about to enjoy is hot,” which is only one word away from being the exact phrase from Starbucks’ cups. In fairness, their coffee is not bad and the price of 20 kr ($2.50) for a take-away latte is very affordable in the area.
I apologize that the photo is a little blurry, but I think you get the idea. I didn’t want to look like a corporate spy taking pictures of their shop.
Starbucks recently sued a small shop in Göteborg called Starcups after the owner refused to change his store’s name and logo. Perhaps that’s a signal Starbucks is planning on moving into the country.
I just don’t see the point in copying something or opening a business that is so recognizably derivative.
I really miss some of Louisville’s independent shops like Quills and, of course, Jackson’s who, without question, sells the best coffee I’ve ever had. Anybody wanna send me some?
A few images of dark clouds moving in over Gamla Stan (The Old Town) last week.
The gold-tipped building is Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset), completed in 1923. You can see one of the old-style Tunnelbana trains passing in the foreground. Most of the trains running through the city are very modern and from the 1990’s or later. Occasionally you’ll board one of these Cx-type wagons which have been in use more than 30 years.
I recently walked with Iida to the local post office to pick up a special delivery. It was her driver’s license.
Getting a license to drive in Kentucky has gotten a little tougher since I first got mine – you have to be doing sufficiently well in school to qualify – but the process still would seem comical to anyone who has done it in Sweden.
I got my first driver’s license when I turned 16. This is the case for most kids in America, except those who live in huge metropolitan areas like New York City where driving isn’t necessary to get around. In a lot of cases, and certainly in mine, getting a driver’s license provides as much freedom for the parents as it does for the new driver. It’s really hard for me to believe that I’ve been driving for over twenty years.
Learning to drive for me was very much the same as learning to ride a bicycle. I think my dad taught me to ride a bike and my mom taught me to drive. That seems about right. My dad was always the one swimming and running around with us while my mom was wearing sunglasses and reading a Robert Ludlum book. I’m kidding, of course, they’re both really active and were always playing tennis and going bowling – you know, the usual hilarious stuff adults did in the ’70s and ’80s.
When I was learning, my mom and I just took the car out in our neighborhood a few times. She drove first, showed me some basic things, and then it was my turn to try it.
Everything inside the car was was pretty familiar to me by that age because, like I’ve said, in Middle America you’re in a car pretty much every day of your life. I already had sixteen years of seeing how it was done from riding in a car anywhere we would go. Bicycles were used for recreation, and the places we could get to by walking were limited to just neighbor’s houses. All I really had to learn to take the driving test was how to use the clutch. Apart from that, it just takes experience behind the wheel to get a feel for where the car should be on the road and how long it takes to stop. Of course, you have to know the right-of-way rules and that kind of stuff, but whatever, man, this is America, I can do whatever I want!
In Kentucky, at least back then, the process of getting your first license began with going to your local Transportation Cabinet office to get a learner’s permit. This permit was good for 30 days and allowed you to drive a car immediately, as long as there was a licensed driver over 18 in the front seat with you. The office sends you off with a book that has pictures of road signs and basic rules in it. Naturally, there are pictures of menacing Kentucky cops on the cover to scare the shit out of you.
Once you feel like you’ve got it down, you return to the Transportation office. You fill out a form, take a visual test, and do a driving test in a closed course with someone who is probably very old and frightening. For this article, I grabbed a copy of the paperwork from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s website and it is shown here. Seriously, this is it. I noticed in the top corner that it was revised in 2008. Looks great, guys!
The process Iida went through to get her license – and all Swedes must complete – is a study in contrasts to Kentucky. I should say it’s not just Sweden that has a much more demanding gateway to automobile access. It’s like this in most European countries for a variety of reasons which range from public safety to environmental preservation. In neighboring Denmark, sales tax on automobiles is 100%. That is, if you buy a car that costs $20,000, you’ll pay $40,000 for it.
The journey to a driver’s license in Sweden can easily take more a year. Steps in the undertaking require the new driver to attend individual driving lessons from an authorized instructor. These mandatory classes are run by private companies and are not cheap. It would not be unusual if simply learning to drive in Sweden ended up costing you more than $2,000 (16.000 kr). In Kentucky where any licensed driver over 18 (like a friend, parent, or my older brother) could hop in the car next to me before I got a license, just getting one of your parents to teach you during your learning period must be approved in Sweden. That approval process can take up to a month and costs about $125 (1000 sek) per driver.
A typical driving instruction program is comprised of a combination of lectures, books, and in-vehicle instruction. Behind-the-wheel training is extensive. Because Sweden’s weather and daylight hours vary so dramatically, new drivers are obliged to learn and be tested in driving on ice and at night.
When your instructor clears you to proceed to the actual test administered by Vägverket (the government agency that handles licensing), there are more fees waiting for you. The lengthy, official, daytime-only driving test costs almost $100 (700 kr). If you want to drive when it’s dark or after 6 pm on weekends, that’s extra. If you want to drive a truck or a car with a trailer, that’s extra.
Then even charge you for the photo and the manufacture of the license, which I must say, is a pretty substantial card. This thing has about a dozen security features and I can’t imagine how anyone would even begin to try to fake one. The photos here don’t really capture what a piece of artwork and technology the Swedish driver’s license is, but I think they accurately represent how funny my Kentucky one looks. Iida’s photo came out looking only a little bit like Marilyn Manson.
If you fail the test – which is apparently pretty easy to fail – you have to pay the $100 fee again to be re-tested. Iida’s first test was unsuccessful because the guy said she was taking her turns “too fast for the environment.” Well, he said that in Swedish where it’s easier to understand what he meant. I had to ask her to clarify if he meant the environment as in miljö which means “nature” or the environment as in område which means your immediate surroundings. I could see where it would be important to take turns at a speed that respects the neighborhood you’re in, but he really did mean that her turns were too fast for Earth’s ecosystem. That’s certainly something that is not part of the criteria in Kentucky.
Essentially, it seems they just don’t want people driving cars here. If you must drive, though, they want to be sure you’re safe and you know what you’re doing. I’ve mentioned before that it is strangely uncommon in Sweden to hear someone with an intentionally loud vehicle, hot-rodding, peeling out, or otherwise making a ruckus. The licensing process may be partially to credit for the lower noise level, whereas in Kentucky, any jackass can get a driver’s license. Pass a common-sense test, fork over $12, and drive off the lot. Fill ‘er up at the next corner for $2 a gallon.
Americans love to complain about “high gas prices” as much as their “high taxes.” A 2008 survey of prices from around the world showed that gasoline was more expensive in 107 other countries than in the United States. It’s around $5 a gallon here (10 sek/liter). Two dollars per gallon would be about 4.1 sek per liter.
The real difference is the taxes. In Europe, much of the cost of automobile infrastructure (and sometimes public transit) is included in the cost of gasoline. In America, those enormous costs are shouldered by the general public regardless of whether you drive a car. Since everyone pays, the taxes on gasoline are tiny. Last year when presidential candidate John McCain proposed a summer vacation from the Federal Gas Tax, he was essentially offering 18 cents off the gallon price of gas (38 öre per liter). That’s not even a sale.
Safety is a big concern in Sweden, but it takes on a decidedly different character here than it does in the United States. It seems to be built into the system here. Volvos, the world’s safest cars, are Swedish.
I’ve learned that fine print and the excessive warning labels in America are very funny to Europeans. Libertarians call this the “nanny culture.” I was on a tour in America in 2001, opening for the band Favez from Switzerland. We crisscrossed the continent and they got a pretty good uncensored view of the country from coast to coast. The thing I remember them being most amused by was the warning on wide-angle mirrors: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.
If I could go back to the ’80s and see the machine that I took the visual driving test on, I’m sure it would be hysterical. This part of the test was a multiple-choice survey where they would show you a yellow traffic light and it would say, “What does this signal mean?” You could choose from four answers. I presume they administer the test with a computer now, but back in then it was on this bulky, wooden machine that was like a cross between a school filmstrip viewer, a slide projector, and a hearing test machine. The buttons on it were exact replicas of the buttons in the world’s first elevator. Kentucky taxpayers probably shelled out half a million dollars for a room full of these behemoths that had all the modern elegance of a rotary telephone.
I remember the whole testing process taking less than an hour. I missed a few things on both the driving and visual test, but my score was good enough to legally set me loose on America’s roadways. They took my awkward teenage picture and my driver’s license card was produced on the premises. I walked out the door with it and drove home. So long, suckers!
It was nothing but excitement after that. Road trips to Cincinnati to see all the bands that didn’t come to Louisville; going to field hockey games after school; driving to high school instead of carpooling with the neighbors from around the corner; exploring the backroads of Middletown and J-town; getting a job at the ice cream shop in the mall; driving to practice with my synthesizer band Pink Aftershock; meeting new people; you name it. I didn’t start drinking until I was 27, so this was all good, clean fun.
In America the open road and freedom are inseparable ideas. I could be a jaded cynic and say the automobile lobby and advertising have pounded those ideas into our heads, but for me, getting a driver’s license was the beginning of what I remember about my life. Before that happened, there’s not a whole lot I can recall. I remember isolated events – like not letting my mom leave on my first day of school or seeing the Space Shuttle take off when I was 11 – but those are all just blips. After I got my driver’s license, my memories become more of a narrative and I can see the timeline when I think back.
It seems in Sweden the driver’s license is anything but a rite of passage. It truly is a privilege, or even a luxury, to have a car. In Stockholm, aside from the rare occasions when you may need to move furniture or go somewhere far outside the city, having a car would add a lot of expense to your life and I’m not sure it would be worth the hassle.
A couple weeks ago, I actually did have to move some furniture, but I’ll save the tale of that adventure for a future episode.
Every year, the reporters who cover the White House get together for a big fancy dinner – almost as fancy as the Stockholm Grocery Store Owners Association dinner.
Typically, some comedians will come out and roast Washington officials, then the president will take the stage and return the favor. Stephen Colbert’s 2006 appearance with George W. Bush is a painfully hilarious classic that perhaps proved him to be one of the bravest men in America.
Just in case you didn’t see Barack Obama at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, this video is President Obama’s response from this past weekend:
Stockholm’s subway system is not just extensive – 100 stations in a city roughly the size of Louisville – but also quite beautiful. Each Tunnelbana station has been decorated with art and some of the stations themselves were designed by artists. I’m going to continue adding photos of different stations periodically.
This week I bought my summer pass for the transit system, so theoretically I could visit all of the stations. Of course, I haven’t been to all of them yet, but so far, one of my favorite stations is Solna Centrum, just north of the city.
Some of the older stations are dug into the bedrock and have bare, exposed rock walls instead of finished interiors. In the Solna Centrum station, this exposed rock has been painted in a super deep, vivid red. These pictures really just don’t capture how intense the red is or weird it feels to be walking into a tunnel painted this color. As always, you can click on any photo to enlarge it.
As you go down the escalators, you begin to see that it’s not just entirely red everywhere. What you were seeing is part of an enormous painting and all that red is the sky. Little black silhouettes of houses and a horizon begin popping up around you as you descend.
Once you reach the train tracks, you are surrounded by an endless landscape that stretches all around the bottom level of the station. When you walked into the station above, all the red almost looked demonic, but after seeing the entire picture, it was the top of a sunset.
The landscape includes a spruce forest, lakes, waterfalls, bridges, factories, more little houses, and people. The detail of the artwork has a childlike quality that makes the massive scale of it very tickling.
The panorama runs all around the station and is nearly 1000 meters (3000 feet) long, according to posted information. Solna Centrum station was painted in 1975 by artists Anders Åberg and Karl-Olov Björk.
It says the scene depicts “rural depopulation, the destruction of the environment, forests and nature” which were big issues when the station was built in the 1970s. I guess you could say some things haven’t changed.
In some of these pictures you can see heavy cables and what look like transmitters in the ceiling. These carry 2G and 3G cellular telephone signals. Even deep beneath the bedrock, surrounded by stone walls, your phone works just fine.
Life in Sweden is not all sunshine, cool breezes, wild strawberries, and two-hour coffee breaks. I’ve been keeping busy lately, working on several projects.
As you may know, I make my living as a designer and writer, both for the Internet and printed materials. Lately, I’ve been doing much more designing than writing, at least in the for-hire department. My clients are all in the United States, so I’ve been doing all this work over the Internet and telephone. Some days I am loaded with work and other times I’m free to sit in the park or explore Stockholm.
A few big projects I’ve been involved in recently have just launched. I thought I’d share them so you can see what I’ve been doing.
CityScoot is a designated driver service in Louisville. If you’re out having a few drinks and it wouldn’t be safe to drive, these guys will come to wherever you are and drive you home in your own car. They travel to you on small motorized scooters that fold up and are stored in the customer’s trunk or back seat. After you’re home safely, they unfold the scooter and drive away.
I built CityScoot’s website and have done all their design work since they launched the company about five years ago. Their website was designed back in 2004, so needless to say, it was time for an update. You can see an image of their original site on the right and the new version above. The overhaul took a few months, but they are (and I am) very happy with the new design. The working version is online at www.cityscoot.com.
Drinking and driving seems to be a much bigger problem in America than in Sweden, if only due to the proportional number of drivers. In Stockholm, public transit is ubiquitous, so the opportunity for it to happen is greatly reduced. Most people don’t drive anyway, much less when they’re going to have a drink, and yes, I meant to say a drink. Sweden’s blood alcohol limit for drivers is 0.02%. In Kentucky, and I think in most of America, the limit is 0.08%. I know from experience that just a few drinks can put you over the 0.08% limit, even if they’re spaced out over a couple hours.
In the wide-open spaces of America where walking, biking, or public transit aren’t options, CityScoot is a wonderful thing to have available. It’s kind of strange now that I haven’t driven a car in nearly three months. Automobiles are such a big part of life in America and yet I’ve only been in a car a handful of times here. In Louisville, even if I wasn’t the one driving, I was typically in a car pretty much every day. Earlier this week, I shelled out the kronors for my SL Sommarkort which gives me four months of unlimited access to Stockholm’s public transit. Where do I want to go first?
In the same way that CityScoot offers an unusual delivery service, so do some other people I work with in New York City. Two of my friends started a company called Relax Already which delivers yoga sessions to busy people in the city.
They work with a lot of stressed-out Manhattan executives and banker-types who are unable to take the time out of their days to visit a yoga studio. Making another stop during your day in New York could add an hour to whatever you’re doing. Relax Already “brings yoga to you” so they end up running relaxation sessions in conference rooms, offices, homes, or wherever their clients happen to be.
This is another company I’ve been with from the very beginning. Their logo, business cards, brochures, and website are all my handiwork. Their website just launched and you can check it out at www.relaxalready.com.
Monkey Drive Screenprinting is run by one of my best friends, Chris Reinstatler, who also plays drums in Metroschifter. He operates this company that prints shirts and all sorts of other stuff for bands, small businesses, and other groups. In started in Cincinnati in 1998 and moved with him to Louisville about ten years ago. Monkey Drive also has a partner company by the same name in Frankfurt, Germany, that offers printing and shipping all over Europe.
I just finished doing a round of updates to his site, including a new page for hoodies and a redesign of the company’s logo. The Monkey Drive website is at www.monkeydrive.net and the European site (which I did not design) is at www.monkeydrive.de.
My sister Greta recently moved back to Louisville from Chicago where she had been building and repairing violins. A few years ago, she opened a shop in Evanston, Illinois, called Col Legno that I made the website and print materials for. The name “col legno” is a term for the sound that is made when the wooden part of the bow strikes the strings.
Now that she’s back in Louisville, she has opened a string instrument workshop called G. Ritcher Violins. Her space is in one of the city’s beautiful, old, downtown buildings. I tried to give the website for her new shop an old-timey look that would reflect that setting and the work she’s doing.
You can see the G. Ritcher Violins site at www.louisvilleviolins.com and the older site for the Chicago-area shop at www.collegnoevanston.com.
Over the weekend, Comedy Central began blocking online viewing of videos on their website for anyone outside the United States. This includes The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.
How the hell am I supposed to get any real news in this damn country full of liberal socialists if I can’t watch these?
Of course, I can circumvent the restriction and trick their servers by entering an American IP address into the proxy settings in my network connection preferences. That’s what I ended up doing last night to catch up on a few episodes. What a pain in the ass. Life really sucks, huh? You can’t watch free comedy any more? You poor dear.
The same situation was already the case on other major US network sites like ABC and Hulu. There are actually a quite a few television sites that are blocked outside the US or are redirected to local media partners.
For some reason, I’m just not afraid of the swine flu. It reminds me of the bird flu and SARS and everything else in recent years that has been hyped up for us to be scared of.
It’s possible that I’m not afraid because I’m invincible! I never get sick because everything always happens to other people. I don’t need to worry about it because it will never happen to me.
Sickness, disease, car wrecks, broken bones? Never heard of ’em. Those things just aren’t my bag, baby. Other people do that stuff. Sweden’s universal health care is nice because it keeps everyone around me healthy, but of course, I would never need it.
The good news for all those sick and injured people is that they don’t need to worry about someone stealing their debit card number and cleaning out their bank account. I’ve got that covered. And don’t worry about your senator suing you and mocking you in the media. Been there done that.
I think the really scary thing is the changing climate and everything that brings. Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, vanishing mountain water runoffs, and all that kind of stuff is terrifying. It’s frightening that casual observers are able to notice a difference in the climate that has occurred during their lifetime.
Sweden is a land of extremes when it comes to seasonal weather and daylight hours, and Stockholm is a city built on more than a dozen islands. The smallest differences to annual temperature ranges or ocean levels are felt in places like Stockholm long before they reach places like Louisville. Yet, unusual extreme weather has already become painfully evident in Kentucky. Whether it’s the wind or snow or tornados or heat, you don’t need to be near the ocean or the ice to notice that things are not the same as when you were a kid.
The video below is from a recent 60 Minutes episode (the story is about 12 minutes long). The swine flu may kill hundreds of thousands of people, but it is containable and manageable to some degree. With last month’s news that Arctic ice is melting faster than even the worst-case projections from a few years ago, the prospect of billions of people being displaced or not having access to food or water is maybe the scariest thing around.