23 December 2008


LUND--My life here has become rather like a chronic medical condition: it's not going away, I have to treat it with a mixed therapy of exercise, proper diet and medicine and still I have my good days and my bad days. I'd been having some bad days lately: a mix of the dark winter, missing my friends and the existential angst of passing though an entire year in a foreign land, turning 39 and finding myself in a stable relationship. These all have combined to make me wonder, in my darker moments, if the best is all behind me. Here I am, suddenly, incomprehensibly, almost 40, engaged to a wonderful woman, watching what I eat and drink, having quit smoking, started wearing underwear and often more content sitting at home Friday nights with Chinese take-out and some DVDs of "Friends" than out drinking, arguing and hunting for the next love-of-my-life.

My life is far from boring and even though I am often bored I have always been often bored so that is nothing new. In the past year I have moved to Sweden (after spending a month in El Salvador filming a documentary), learned to speak a new language passably, traveled to Budapest, gone back to Budapest on my way to Transcarpathia, Ukraine where I spent a month filming a second documentary, returned to deal with helping the actual love-of-my-life through the death of her father, traveled with her through Croatia, Italy and back to Budapest, got and finished a freelance job making seven short films and photo-series, hung a exhibit of photographs and taught myself to make a good Perigeaux sauce. And all these leave out all the smaller trips, little jobs, everyday victories and setbacks that add up to one extremely busy year.

So this past Saturday night I found myself listening to a Scanian windstorm, watching the trees bend in the gusts and a cellular tower whip back and forth and thought, "Hmmm, maybe we should stay in tonight, rent a movie. I know we're invited to a party in Malmö and are on the guest list at the hip club Debaser where Lena's friend and co-worker Tara is DJ-ing her monthly event, "Get Laid or Die Tryin'"... but... it's windy out there...." At which point I realized I had better either shut up about having nothing to do or trade my boots in for loafers, buy a big television, start watching sporting events for excitement and develop the sorts of disfunction my e-mail spam already accuses me of.

I never have been a club sort of guy, vastly preferring the pub, the café, the coffee house or my porch to a door charge, overpriced drinks, ear-splitting music I don't like and overdressed wankers and the girls who mate with them making me feel like a big dork. Of course, not having been clubbing for years I've also gained in age and confidence and being off-the-market romantically renders a lot of the angst irrelevant. We showed up a little before 2300 and were on the guest list. We had just been to a glögg party, a little circle of Swedes drinking hot, spiced wine and Lena saw that the bar's special was a glögg cocktail so we began with those. Debaser, where we had been once before after my birthday dinner, is a good space. When I hear "club" I tend to think of cavernous spaces and VIP rooms filled with immortals. The Swedish club was a little different. The crowd, for the most part, was dressed extremely fashionably, the men perhaps more than the women who, being Swedish, needed to do no more than put on a little lipstick and anything from their closets in order to pretty much blow away the rest of the world's females. The men, being as interested as they are in hair care products, here-today-gone tomorrow sweaters and ironic hats simply can't raise the level of aggressive, threatening testosterone I normally associate with the club experience. To the Swedish guy's credit, perhaps being secure (if goofy) enough to wear such sweaters they aren't overly aggressive because, in fact, they're already getting laid by some of those gorgeous women.

My point being that the atmosphere of the club remained fun without any of the meanness or desperation one might expect from an event called, "Get Laid or Die Tryin'." Perhaps such a name could only work in Sweden. Americans or Russians or Mexicans (just to name a few) might take it far too literally--fail to see the humor, as it were. Three bands played: some Emo guy whose music was only slightly less painful than having a roofing nail driven through your foot, a good rock band with a cute female singer and a little 17-year-old rapper, too young to drink beer even in Europe. Then Tara and her friends DJ'd and the floor was packed. I felt, if not on the cutting edge of fashion, obviously cool since I had opted for jeans, Doc Martens, a t-shirt and my old black leather jacket.

And we had a good night, a sufficient number of drinks, some dancing (Lena) and some photo-taking (me). We left before close and caught a bus back to Lund where we got late night McDonald's. And in the morning I felt much better, much more like me, much less like a couch-sitting dork gossiping about the relationships of his friends, Joey and Chandler, Monica and Ross and Rachel and Phoebe rather than having adventures of his own.

17 December 2008

Three Moments

#2: We went to IKEA to buy a new chair. It was named Franklin. When we came out it was dark and ABBA was playing on the radio.

#3: I walked to pick the car up from the shop. Then I drove the Volvo home in the dark Swedish winter afternoon.

16 December 2008

The Earth Moved

LUND--The bed was shaking, the shelves were rattling, somewhere, no doubt, people were screaming. At approximately 6:20 this morning an earthquake of around 4.7 on the Richter scale hit Skåne. We both woke up and lay for a moment feeling the strangeness of the entire world around us move, the sounds of grinding and rattling coming from every direction. We both jumped up and could feel the floor shake under our feet.

I said, "Hmm, It's an earthquake."

Lena said, "Yes it is."

It stopped.

09 December 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different!

How many distinctly Swedish things can you spot in this photo!?

LUND--Now if Sweden is famous--and rightly so--for anything of importance, it must be meatballs. Sure, they have some award thing every year and they stand as a beacon for social justice and an equitable society or something like that and make good, boxy cars and excellent artillery. But what they really do well are meatballs. Meatballs and cleverly designed, reasonably priced furnishings. So its no wonder that these two things go very well together.

Meatballs are available everywhere. Any supermarket has multiple brands in packages ranging from sufficiently sized to tide over a lonely bachelor to enough to feed a boatload of Vikings on their way to Vinland. Any convenience market has them as well and they are a refrigerator staple, always ready to nuke up when nothing else seems appealing.

Now any Swede will tell you, being human more or less, that the best meatballs are, of course, Grandma's (or Mom's, who of course learned from Grandma). The second best meatballs, however, unanimously come from IKEA. IKEA, in order to make shopping palatable for the whole family, has a cafeteria smack in the middle of its showrooms (among other tricks). And while there are various choices of foodstuffs the meatball platter reigns supreme. Dished out by well-designed Swedish girls, the plate brims with meatballs in gravy, boiled potatoes and lingonberry jam.

I had not had the IKEA meatballs since my very first trip to Sweden and a few weeks ago we were nearing IKEA on the way to the summer house and, it being around lunchtime, I suggested we roam IKEAland and eat of its fare. Now no Swedish woman can resist such an offer any more than a Texan would refuse a steak and a trip to the gun store and, well, so we dined. Of this there is little more to say. The furnishings were well-designed, the meatballs were tasty, and if you eat too many of them over too many years the health care is affordable!

07 December 2008

Nazis Schmazis

Lund--Officer Friendly and his Wonder Dog Skip maintain order near the train station.

LUND--The young man got in the big cop's face and yelled, "Why are you protecting them?"
The big cop stood, impassive in his riot gear, and replied calmly, "It's my job. This is democracy."
A hundred meters away 50 or so of the master race stood, chanting, their torches lighting the early Scandinavian night, a phalanx of more than double their number of police standing between them and over a thousand counter protestors, journalists, the curious and people trying to get to and from the train station.
A young woman, veins standing out on her neck, her face twisted in rage, began shrieking over and over, "Democracy allows fascism. Democracy allows fascism." as her face turned purple and spittle hung from her lips. I thought it better not to engage her in a political debate about the rights of free speech, even offensive free speech and instead took the moment to get closer to the Nazis. About that moment torches began to fly back and forth between the groups which were dramatic against the night but more or less harmless. I realized then that I couldn't see any bottles or stones, which are not so harmless, and that it was so dark I wouldn't get any decent photos anyway. I retreated and Lena and I followed from a saner distance until we found ourselves caught between two large groups of police. Suddenly people in front of us began to run from a police charge and we dove over a wall, finding ourselves in the old cemetery. It was cold and late and I was sick and tired of Nazi-types and the early dark I couldn't photograph in and Lena was depressed about Nazi-types in her town so we trudged back home to warmth and light.

I have been trying to figure out this phenomenon of Nazi marches and counter-protest and masked anarchists chucking stuff about even when there are no Nazis in evidence and the odd fact that I've seen more rioting and street violence in Sweden than anywhere else I have been. Strangely, it still seems the safest place I have been as well. Perhaps, in this country of mostly atheistic liberals endowed with equal rights and effective socialized health care and a climate that leaves them in the dark with unaffordable booze for most of the year the need to lash out at anything and provide the soul and body with some sort of excitement is overwhelming. Combine this with the need to believe in something, given that there is no God here, and rage and trouble bubble inevitably to the surface.

The thing that bothers me the most is that all the rioting and property destruction and overheated chanting really has the feeling of playtime. It is a moment when the bored youth can provoke the police into a little tear-gassing and clubbing and then bemoan the existence of police brutality (In the other direction, this is known as entrapment). Where they can don black clothes and masks (either side) and search out some gratuitous violence in a country that otherwise decries such activities as basically un-Swedish--more American really. My big problem with the game, however, is that real stones and bottles and torches fly through the air. These very often fly through the air around civilians and any of these missiles could cause death or serious injury. And no one seems to care about that.

In most of my interactions with Swedes they profess horror for violence, for capital punishment and for gun ownership. They complain about their weather and the lack of general excitement but mostly they seem content with their wonderland of clean water and good hospitals and timely trains. They never condemn stones thrown and dropped on Nazis though they would never say they ought to be killed (unless that slips out when they get drunk enough) and they never seem to question these same missiles thrown at working cops or passers by. Perhaps in their wonderland they don't know that rocks can kill. And what, one might ask, is the fun in having socialism without ever having a taste of the barricades, however pointless, irresponsible and irrelevant they might be.