blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Linnaeus' home

On May 21st (Victoria Day in Canada), while Chris was giving a presentation at the conference in Stockholm, I went to Uppsala by train. The train fares vary according to the times of day, and I was able to chose the cheapest option, arriving around midday on a quiet, double-decker train. Returning at the end of the afternoon also allowed me to sit in a quiet carriage, although trains coming the other way, carrying the commuters home from Stockholm, were packed.

Uppsala is very attractive, not big, a university town visually dominated by its castle with domed tower and the tall gothic cathedral that I shall talk about in a separate post, both buildings a warm, pinkish red colour. The shopping area near the station is modern, but mostly traffic free, which I approve of, despite the inconvenience to drivers; there are busses to take people home, running on bio-gas, and many Uppsala inhabitants prefer to get around by bike, in any case. Near the Fyris River, with its little weirs and boardwalks, is the Universitet district and cobbled Radhus (town hall) square and surrounding older streets, swarming with happy-looking students. Bicycles galore parked beside the river. The blonde girls sit on the boardwalks, dangling their long, bare legs over the placid river where ducks dabble. I had my lunch, bought from an Indian snack van, in a rosegarden behind the cathedral which was bordered by a salmon leap, an artificially constructed series of watery steps. A little boy was very interested in it, although no salmon were leaping at this time of year.

My mission in Uppsala, apart from visiting the cathedral, was to see Carl Linnaeus' haunts and report back to my sister, a keen botanist. What I should have done --- hindsight is a wonderful thing! --- was confirm that Linnaeus' house and garden would be open; on Mondays, it was not. I did find an open gate for staff only and trespassed; don't tell anybody. The lady who caught me taking photos in the garden was very kind, making allowances for my foreigner's lack of comprehension, and allowed me to take a few more, before insisting that I leave, so that she could lock up. Obviously I couldn't go into the house, which must be a fascinating museum to visit on other days of the week, nor into the gift shop. So I didn't learn much about Linneaus (Carl von Linné), other than on the internet, although it was clear to me he must have been a happy man, living so peacefully and purposefully, where blackbirds sing in the trees and the garden fountain splashes. Diagonally opposite the house, outside on Linné Gatan (of course) was a pleasant Café Linné where I sat a while under the awning, drinking tea.

Other peaceful spots in Uppsala were to be found around the edge of the University campus. Celsius came from here as well, became an astronomy prof. at the university, and his original thermometer is apparently exhibited in the main building, though I failed to go in and see it. The Wikipedia tells me that he proposed an international standard temperature scale in a paper presented to the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala:
His thermometer was calibrated with a value of 100° for the freezing point of water and 0° for the boiling point. In 1745, a year after Celsius' death, the scale was reversed by Carl Linnaeus to facilitate more practical measurement. Celsius originally called his scale centigrade derived from the Latin for "hundred steps". For years it was simply referred to as the Swedish thermometer. 
I was aiming for the Botanic Gardens, really well worth the visit, being laid in formal style around an elegant 18th century building with pillars and pale walls, up which vines were climbing, nests in them. The courtyard at the back was full of large plant pots containing a collection of Mediterranean and subtropical plants. I had this place to myself, lovely. The continuation of the gardens across the road was even lovelier. I stayed there for a long time, sitting down with an ice cream at a table outside the Cafe Viktoria as well as admiring the flower beds and taking photos. I finished my wanderings in that part of Uppsala by climbing the back steps to the castle for a vantage point overlooking the cathedral on the next hillside. Thence I decided I'd have time to walk to Linnaeus' Tradgarden, as described above.

Photos to be added later.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Swedish vocabulary, first impressions

Before coming to Sweden on this trip, I've never made any attempt to learn Swedish, although I have appreciated a few Swedish films and picked up one or two words that way. On the way here I read a small guide book about Stockholm and found a few words worth noting:

norr, söd, öst, väst

gamla stan, old town
gatan, street
gränd, lane
torg, square
museet, teater, gården, station, kyrka, slottet (castle), strand (shore)
konst, art
blomor, flowers
holmen, islands
malm, rock
sten, stone
lilla, little
bron, bridge

Since we got here, I've added a few more to the list:
tåg, train (e.g. tåg till Uppsala), billjete, utgang, ingang. For the next stop they say näste. At cafe entrances they write, Välkommen in, unless you have to board a ship and climb stairs, in which case it's Välkommen upp!

I have deduced that "not" is inte, "and" is och. "Good" is usually either bra or god.

The food vocabulary is fun, easy to remember: mjolk, smör (butter), bröd, våfflor (waffles), ost (cheese), ägg, kyckling (chicken), lax, sallad, blåbär (blueberries), soppa (soup), svamp (mushrooms), pannkakor (pancakes) ... med sirop, fisk (fish), kaffe, te.

Strange to discover, öl is not oil (olja) but beer! and the Red Cross is known in Sweden as Röda Korset.

Wild strawberries, made famous by Ingmar Bergman, are smultron, and there are places where you may sample mjod (mead). The Vikings used to drink it from their horns, hornen.

So it seems that Swedish is fairly straightforward, although the pronunciation of their language poses some initial challenges. Kärlek, meaning love, is pronounced something like syärlek. The lady sitting next to me on the flight to Stockholm told me that "Sorry!" is förlåt, only I wrote it down wrongly as verlort, which just goes to show.

While in Stockholm with Chris' colleagues, one of them (Kevin, who has made many visits to Sweden) told me that the word lagom is worth knowing, as in the phrase lagom är bäst, which means there's virtue in moderation, or less is more. Lagom may be of Viking origin, from the ancient command Laget om! meaning: take just the right amount of mead to drink when they pass the horn around. These days it stands for the modern Swedish ideal, living a sustainable lifestyle that's not too extravagant. IKEA, it seems, is playing this card for all it's worth!

At the Gothenburg Museum of Art

A fortunate discovery! Not wanting to walk so far today this morning, because Chris is suffering from mysterious muscle cramps probably caused by his demanding week of work, we merely wandered within range of the hotel into the gardens across the canal where I'd been on Friday, and from there past the Teater and up the hill towards the university buildings. A couple of blocks further, was another wide avenue, leading to important-looking buildings at its top end, one of which was the Konstmuseet. Being keen on art galleries, we spent an hour in there.

The exhibitions are on 6 floors, the most interesting part of the permanent collection being on the top two. Floor 5 has galleries devoted to 18th and 19th century Nordic art, a collection of European Old Masters: including Rubens, Rembrandt, and Cranach --- the latter's painting a rather horrible Salome with the head of John the Baptist --- juxtaposed with some equivalent Swedish paintings such as the lovely Damporträtt by an artist called Ökand (never heard of him). The larger oil canvasses were either examples of Swedish romantic landscape painting ("the sublime" much in evidence: cataracts, unscalable rocky peaks, dramatic waterfalls!) or of social realism: documents of 19th century scenes, the women pictured in Scandinavian costume. One wall was cleverly hung with a mishmash of older and newer framed pictures, including a striking chiaroscuro interior from 1959, by a Finnish photographer, Esko Männikkö: a chair in a beam of sunlight. At first glance it looked like something from the 17th century, until you noticed the bicycle wheels propped up in the background. We also found a girl's head done in black and white by Tomas Lundgren in 2014, entitled An Other.

Finally on the 6th floor, I took one glance ahead and warned Chris, "I'm going to be ages in here!" There was a whole area set aside for French impressionist, post-impressionist and expressionist paintings (Picasso had a whole room to himself). Swedish artists at the turn of the (19th / 20th) century were centred in "Bohemian" Gothenburg, so of course there was plenty of their work on display here, too. One of them, Ivar Arosenius (another person I'd never heard of) had been a versatile artist who sometimes worked on large canvasses (e.g. Vinter: a lonely little man trudging across a bleak winter landscape) and sometimes did funny little "fairytale" drawings, e.g. of a portly "knight with six maidens". In another part of the gallery two paintings, side by side, reminded me of Canada's Group of Seven. These were a painting from 1901 of Snö (snow) by Gustav Fjaestad, and a mysterious white tent(?) with a light glowing inside it and snow-laden firs all around, painted in 2015 and entitled Altarpiece, clearly symbolic in intent. Another relatively modern painting (modern in context, anyhow) was Nils Nilsson's Flyktinger, the heads of refugees with a few skulls showing behind them, one of the few paintings I found here in neo-romantic style. It was painted in 1937.

I incidentally learned a good deal of Swedish vocabulary by reading the notes against these paintings, not to mention what I picked up about Swedish history and culture.

Friday, May 25, 2018

In Göteborg

I’m writing this at a table in the Palmhuset at the centre of Göteborg's Trädgårdsföreningen, Gothenburg’s Garden Society Park from the 1840s. It is peaceful and warm in here.

We arrived yesterday, after a morning of meetings in Linköping for Chris and a drive in Kevin’s car for me, down the eastern side of Vättern Lake and then westwards, via Jönköping. Kevin didn’t need to be at those meetings but hoped to make some preparation for today’s demos in Göteborg. We passed a lakeside castle ruin, and the drive through forests and farmlands was in general very pleasant, along quiet roads, with red cottages and barns all the way. We made a pit stop at the edge of a ski resort, the remaining snow covered in enormous white tarpaulins. Chris and the others pulled off the main road to have their lunch by the lake.

After about 3 hours en route, Keven dropped me not far from these gardens at a traffic light on red. I grabbed my rucksac and leapt out, not having much clue where I was. It did “feel” quite central, however, so I wasn’t at all dismayed. Luckily, signposts stood in the parks; very soon I found a pointer to the Central Station which I knew would be close to our (Radisson Blu) hotel, so I walked in that direction, across a canal bridge in Kungsparken (as I now realise, having got hold of a map), into the Kungstorget, where there’s a canal-side market, swarming with people. Had I followed the Stora Nygatan along the edge of the canal, I could have walked straight to the hotel, more or less, but the wide street called Ostrahamngatan (East Harbour Street) seemed a more likely option at the time. Canal boats were boarding tourists below the bridge there. Signposts were still pointing towards the station, but when I reached the major junction at the Stora Hamnkanalen there was no further signpost, so I had to admit defeat and ask for directions.

 “It’s that way,” said the girl, pointing down the Brunnsparken where the trolley bus lines were leading. “Everyone is going there, you can’t miss it.”

Once I reached the Drottningtorget (Queen Square) I saw not only the station, but also our hotel on the Slussgatan, so, mission completed. I checked in ahead of Chris, as in Linköping, sent him a message, and went out for a late lunch at a nearby corner, a Mongolisk Buffe (Mongolian buffet where they stir-fry your choice of food). Then I had a rest in our room, which has windows overlooking the square, and sent the men a message to tell them where the nearest Parkhus was.

 Chris’ car arrived in good time, with a couple of hours to spare before we needed to eat again, so we explored the shopping mall beyond the station; walking through there, we reached the Opera House by the docks where a lot of construction is going on, but where the boats are. We had reached the Lilla Bommen and Lilla Bommens Torg, from which an overhead glass walkway takes you back across the roadworks into town. A 4-master tall ship is moored there, the Viking, and you can buy lunch on it. I might try that later today … And did! You order and pay for your meal at the hatch on one of the decks, add extras to it from the salad and coffee bar (95kr includes everything --- good value) and then carry your tray up the spiral staircase to the upper deck where you may sit in sun or shade with views of the various docks. Many locals up there, enjoying their lunchbreak. You're free to wander around most of the rest of the ship, which is also an hotel.

We had supper last night at a French restaurant with four of the QNX men (Garry, Adam, Grant, Matthias), after meeting them in the inner courtyard bar at the hotel, where they were relaxing with glasses of beer. More beer at the restaurant and the waiter teased Adam from Liverpool by presenting him with a magnum of champagne. I had coq au vin.

Chris and I took another short walk round the outside of the gardens after this supper, passing the Stora Teatern. Before we went up to our room, a woman who works at the hotel approached us to warn us that there would be an early morning event just outside the hotel that we might find distracting, and this morning, sure enough, with noisy music playing, a large crowd (mostly male) turned up, some of them dressed in costumes (dressed as Darth Vader, or in kilts, animal suits, Lederhosen and Bavarian hats, etc.) to inspect a convoy of racing cars parked in the entrance, all strewn with confetti. This was a fundraiser for a children’s hospice, so we forgave them for waking us up.

(Photos to be added later!)

Monday, May 21, 2018

To Stockholm by a round-about route


I'm starting to write this at the boarding gate for Flight SA7979 to Stockholm, from London, Heathrow. This will be the first time either Chris or I will have set foot in Sweden, and we're full of curiosity. According to our itinerary we'll be there for 11 days, flying back via Copenhagen on May 30th. It wasn't possible to book our seats simultaneously so we shan't be sitting together on the plane. I am in a business class seat and Chris isn't, though he does have a window. It is a beautiful, high-pressure day, with the Royal Wedding taking place in Windsor; we have absolutely no desire to be among the crowds there, though we have been seeing snippets of the TV coverage in the Terminal 2 Departures hall.

I set off last Sunday evening, landing here the next morning and travelling on to Cardiff by train in order to spend Monday afternoon, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning with my mother at her care home. I'm afraid that, suffering from senile dementia, she doesn't remember my visit. On Wednesday I was with her for over 8 hours, an exhausting day, even though we were doing little more than sitting. I had to encourage Mum to eat her meals, something she is reluctant to do and finds difficult . At nearly 99 years of age she has lost so much: sight and hearing to a large extent, her sense of balance, ability to walk more than a few steps with assistance, her sense of taste, and all of her top teeth except for one, which wobbles. Most disturbing for the rest of us is her loss of weight from refusal to eat; she looks skeletal, although when the nurse measured her blood-pressure, pulse rate, blood oxygen level and body temperature, all was normal. We had a visit from my nieces and their children on Wednesday which was a happy distraction and I also met Rhiannon and Justin for a vegetarian lunch one day, at the Fino Lounge in Whitchurch.

Now in the air, over Sweden! We have just had an announcement from the Captain that the computers at Stockholm airport have failed and we are therefore diverting to Gothenburg where we'll be delayed for a good two hours, not good news. Never mind, it all adds to the interest of the journey. We flew over some Swedish port a little while back, after plenty of water in the northern seas. In English airspace, we followed the River Thames to its mouth before heading up the East Anglian coast. The weather is still good, with isolated anvil clouds in the distance. So far, the Swedish landscape looks very like Canada, with rocky islands in lakes surrounded by coniferous trees. I have been reading my guide book, learning some Swedish vocabulary. Like Romanian and Japanese, a lot of it looks fairly understandable and what isn't like English often resembles German. The Swedish (sverige) word for German is tyska.

Yesterday (18th May) I was awake very early, following Chris' transatlantic progress on the Flight Tracker. I caught a bus to the Heathrow Central bus station and met him in Terminal 2, just as we had met George, back in January, when he flew in from Australia. There followed a fairly lazy, sleepy day, catching the bus to Teddington, seeing the grandsons coming home from school with their dad that evening, their mum arriving later. We all went out for an Italian supper on the High Street, in a noisy restaurant, full of kids, followed by a walk in Bushy Park, where a game of cricket was being played. Chris and I had seen more cricket practice elsewhere in the park earlier, young boys being taught how to keep their elbows in and their bats straight. It is that time of year. Descending into Gothenburg now, so I'll resume this later.

We are fully fuelled, ready to go, but are waiting for permission to depart once the Stockholmers have sorted out their computer failure. "Hopefully it's good news ahead," says this phlegmatic Englishman, but for the time being we have to remain on board. We shall have priority for landing, once we get there. However, before this he said we'd be waiting "for at least two hours" so I suspect we shall need to be patient. I can update my blog for the duration. So far, only 5pm, British Time.

We landed in Stockholm, finally, at about 19:20 local time and took the Arlanda Express to the city. Chris' was following our flight on his tablet and took a screenshot of the diversion: see image above!

Our hotel, the Grand Central by Scandic, is only a three minute walk from the station and the lobby vaunts the words HELLO, GORGEOUS! right in front of you in pink neon lights. We were greeted by a blonde receptionist who fluttered her very long, artificial eyelashes at Chris as he checked in to our Superior Twin room on the 5th floor. This evening we ate a buffet supper at an inexpensive Chinese "restaurang" on Kungsgatan and then strolled further through the city, seeing some of the romantic waterways and bridges near the Rijksdag after sunset. It was still not completely dark, even at 22:30.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Earth Day, Wakefield

Earth Day had already started when the sun came up, so we were told at the start of the meeting that took place at the Wakefield Community Centre on Sunday 22nd of last month. I was at the event with Elva and Laurie, who live on the way there.

A facility known as Eco-Echo was sponsering this community event, the Wakefield-Lapêche people having a lot to say about eco-friendly values, eco-citizenship, and their relationship with Nature. Led by their councillors, the locals were going to plant a little forest of organic cherry trees. "You may all know where to plant a forest." Since there were well over 100 people present at the Earth Day event, that could make quite a difference. Eventually, the Initiative (see below) "will plant indigenous trees all over the place."

"If you'd like to donate a little grove," you may plant one in someone's memory. $20 gift cards were on sale as well, to raise funds for the project. The first planting was to take place on May 12th, and you were to bring gloves and a hat, and a spade, which would be sharpened for you on site. The Quebec government was supplying some seedlings for free.

"We'll start with a song!" suggested the organiser, and two men with guitars came forward, to give us "Sweet Mother Earth, Cool Daddy Sky / Don't ever say goodbye!" The other verse was much the same, ending "Don't desert us, please!" I think these gentlemen had a whole repertoire of such compositions, because a second song went: "Once there was a wilderness, / Once there were clear flowing streams. / Now there's tourist traps ...", the final message being: "Is it all worth striving for? --- In-dis-put-ab-ly!" Later, while queuing for lunch in the lobby, where incidentally there was an impressively large, hanging twig sculpture, we heard them again, performing the music of their youth: 60s songs by the Beatles.

We had a whole bunch of retired activists present, both on stage and in the audience.

"Lapêche is running workshops to teach us to think like trees!"

A female "eco-poet" was up next, reciting a poem about a tree standing "tall and ready for rescue", perhaps the same one as the pine tree depicted on canvas on a nearby easel, this very good painting entitled "Standing Tall"; it was by Anne Swiderski.
The painter came up and spoke confidently, in French as well as English, about how much she loves the native trees known as white pines. "Ils ne brisent pas. I think they're uplifting. They are a symbol of hope and expectation. Ils continuent d'etre debout, d'etre la. Facing what's to come with strength and integrity." Her tall husband symbolically stood alongside, holding her notes for her.

Another artist told us that "trees are part of the forest", which I'd have thought pretty obvious, but what she meant was that they are a community, like us. She was the one who introduced us to the Lapeche Global Forest Initiative, also promoted by a Dutch-Canadian arborist, who spoke of what a tree does for you, and of how the forest stands together, don't forget it.

The introduction to the main event of the morning finished with the recitation of a poem by Mary Oliver. This extract will give you an idea of it:
[...]What joy was it, that almost found me? What amiable peace? Then it was over, the wind roused up in the oak trees behind me, and I fell back, easily. Earth has a hundred thousand pure contraltos-- Even the distant night bird as it talks threat, as it talks love over the cold, black fields. Once, deep in the woods, I found the white skull of a bear and it was utterly silent, And once a river otter, in a steel trap, and it too was utterly silent. What can we do but keep on breathing in and out [...] 
The main event was the screening of a remarkable, two-hour film, Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees. In this documentary, Diana Bereford-Kroeger, an Irish botanist who lives in Ontario, leads us on a world tour that "explores the science, folklore and restoration challenges of the global forest." Trees, so she and others claim, are the key to reversing climate change. The documentary records the alarming diminution of the world's natural forests due to human activity and calls for immediate action. If each of us were to plant a tree a year, an indigenous tree, to combat climate change, then perhaps the damage could be reversed.

After the film, we lined up to buy a Local Lunch: either beef or vegan chili, all served in eco-friendly pottery bowls that were washed by volunteers, by hand, and in the afternoon Tree Climbing For Kids was on offer, but we didn't do that.