Friday, January 12, 2007

Schnapps, sing-along songs, lots of men, fireworks and - oh yeah - lots of champagne

Dressed for success...? (or trouble? you'll be the judge)

My parents gave me a new dress for Christmas. Luckily my father has better taste when buying presents to others than when selecting what to wear himself, and the dress fortunately had little resemblance with the hideous Hawaïan shirt he wore at Christmas... Equipped with a new wrist watch with satin band (an early birthday present from my sister, to match the party dress, I was told) so I would not miss the midnight ring-in of the new year, I headed to Skansen in Stockholm for what was going to be a great New Year's party with 50 other people.

Skansen is the oldest open-air museum in the world. It is also a zoological park. Skansen is located on the island of Djurgården, a royal park near the center of Stockholm, and basically open every day of the year. In summer-time you can go dancing to big swing bands or Swedish folk music. On the four weekends leading up to Christmas, there is an outdoor yuletide market, popular among tourists and Stockhomers alike, where you can buy traditionally made glögg, ginger-snap cookies, candy, sausages and handycraft while enjoying Christmas carols from a choir or vocal ensemble next to the market stands.

Some friends of mine threw a New Year's party, arranged last-minute, at Gubbhyllan, a quaint café on the Skansen grounds. After welcome drinks and mingling, we all sat down to eat a three-course dinner. Seating was free so I took the opportunity to get to know some new people. I picked the table where I saw the most guys - well there were only men sitting at this particular table, eight of them to be precise - and walked up and asked if they'd be ok with me joining them. Immediately three or four of them stood up (glad to see that chivalry has not yet ceased to exist in Sweden) and I was offered a chair. I had a great time that night! Like a rooster in a hen-house, but the other way around! :-)

On New Year's eve there is always a big show on the large stage at Skansen and thousands of people waiting for the traditional New Year's speech by a Swedish celebrity ("Ring, bell, ring! Ring the new year in!" or something similar, a translation and slightly amended version of a poem by Alfred Tennyson), followed by a count-down and ringing in of the new year at exactly 12 o'clock midnight. Ever since I was a kid this has been broadcasted on radio and TV, similar to e.g. the ball drop on Times Square which is always aired on all the news channels and caught on camera by thousands of people every year. Well, also the capital of Sweden has its tradition. The "New Year's Bell" speech has for decades been read by Swedish actors. Jarl Kulle (in films and plays directed by Ingmar Bergman, among others) succeeded another old actor Georg Rydeberg in the 1980's, and after him came actress Margareta Krook. These three have all passed, and the past few years I believe the honors have been given to Jan Malmsjö, a play and musical actor but to most grannies and mothers in law also a well-known and loved singer, something of a Swedish Julio Iglesias but not quite so slim (nor with as smooth a voice, if you ask me).

10 minutes before the count-down the 50 party guests at Gubbhyllan grouped up in parties of four, grabbed a bottle of champagne and glasses and joined the crowd up on the big Skansen area in front of the outdoor stage. Well, actually we couped up in the outer circle next to an old, wooden windmill and I couldn't see a thing. The gentleman sitting next to me during dinner offered me to sit on his broad shoulders so I could see over people's heads. He was over 2 meters tall so I accepted his kind offer and could therefore enjoy the fireworks fully! He probably had spilled champagne and mud from my shoes all over his coat to thank for it.

After this followed hours of joyful disco dancing at Gubbhyllan but after a while I had a stroke of bad conscience and felt that I should make an effort to help out with keeping the party going so I volunteered as bartender. At 2am most people were rather tipsy so they didn't even notice that I started making drinks with Skåne aquavit instead of vodka or gin (which coincidentally we ran out of)... Maybe that's why there were some forgotten suit jackets, ties, cameras, memory cards and various other stuff left for the cleaning ladies the day after.

Random photos from the night below... I hope that my friends will not be upset with me for publishing their photos on a public web site, but they look rather well-behaved on the photos, so hopefully it's ok. :-)

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Christmas in Värmland

This past Christmas, I spent an entire week visiting my parents and my sister and her family in Glava in the Swedish country-side in the province of Värmland. My parents' house is located by the beautiful lake Glafsfjorden. It hasn't been such a warm winter in decades and my father still had his boat in the lake!

The great thing about going home is that there is absolutely
NOTHING to do except taking it easy and contemplating life in

Apart from eating my mother's home-cooked Christmas food, I did as little as humanly possible. I was sleeping, sleeping, sleeping to regain some energy after a hectic work fall. Naturally Mom prepared "Jansson's Temptation" (a kind of potato gratin with anchovy), Swedish meat-balls, traditional sausages, herring, omelette with stewed mushrooms etc to feast on. I played "fetch" with Mom's dog Wilma, ate some more and read the Swedish comic strip book "91:an" about a soldier in the Swedish army. It's not Christmas for me without reading this comic strip - I've done it every Christmas since I was a kid, for some reason, and there is always a Christmas edition of the publication which is extra long... I had coffee with my parents, played card games with my Dad, took a nap on the kitchen sofa, ate some more, had coffee again, played fetch, ate...! Well, you get the picture!

My sister's kids got new mobile phones for Christmas - don't know what they had done with their old ones, see photo below, but it looked like they had played soccer with them on the school-yard or something and my Sony Ericsson heart almost broke when I saw them in pieces. The phones were (barely) held together by - you won't believe it! - brown duck tape!

Well, with the new phones, they got totally absorbed by the new features, playing games for hours (no "game-snack" there!), listening to music in the Walkman player, recording their own "Pop Idol" show with friends using the built-in camera etc.

On Boxing Day, my two nieces participated in a horse-jumping competition in town (Arvika) so my sister and mother and I went to watch. My eldest niece who is now 14 has competed every Boxing Day for several years, but it was the first time for my youngest niece who is 12 so she was rather nervous. They both did very well and the eldest won a ribbon.

My nephew who is 10 years old played an ice-hockey cup and had scored a number of goals that day. I found it quite cute and laughed when I was told the kids play "hoot hockey" up until they are 12 years old, meaning that both teams have to change all players on the ice every time they play a hooting sound in the loud-speakers, which happens every 2.5 minutes - this to make it fair so that all kids get to play. Perhaps it was not such a bad idea, for by the time my nephew's team reached the finals, the whole team was so tired they could hardly skate at all. They won silver medals but this could not make up for their extreme disappointment over the loss to another hockey team from Värmland.

Arvika Hockey

Jonathan 10 years old

My sister is running a shop in Arvika selling furnishings, some furniture, candles and such, and just recently moved to a more central location right by the town square. One of her sales aids called in sick the day before Christmas, so I had to rush in to help out.

A couple of days after Christmas, the outdoor temperature finally dropped below freezing point and I could take a walk and try to catch the beautiful ice crystals on camera. Results displayed below. Two hours after my photo excursion, it was raining again... Looking forward to my ski trip to Engelberg in February!