Beyond Nils Holgersson

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I am sitting in a clean, cushioned chair that obviously is part of an interior design concept and around me bell-like female voices sing about the importance of freedom. Did you guess where I am? Yes, at a Swedish university (hint: the cushioned concept chair) at my friend Malin’s choir practice. Her choir is due to perform at the welcome ceremony for the new students tomorrow morning and there is only one other girl in her voice who can be there so she did her duty and attends the practice. And I get to blog to a living testimonial to the choir culture in Sweden.

Yesterday, after more than seven hours of traveling, I made it to Karlstad where Malin lives nowadays. I am actually in Sweden for work, for a conference on Wednesday in Stockholm, but why flew up several times if you can combine trips. Karlstad is the capital of Värmland and the largest city in the province with 91,000 inhabitants. I have only been in Värmland three times in my life but I have had great times at Värmlands nation in Uppsala when I studied so I hold the province in high regard. It is also home to some famous Swedes, among them the founder of Ericsson, singers Zarah Leander and Monica Zetterlund, poets Nils Ferlin and Gustaf Fröding, and I believe most known: the grande dame of Swedish literature, Selma Lagerlöf.

Today, Malin took me to Lagerlöf’s estate Mårbacka for a guided tour. As a preparation, I had even started reading the only book by Lagerlöf that I own, “The Emperor of Portugal”. On the tour of the house we were the only people under 60 but I attributed this to the fact that it was after all a Monday. The estate was impressive – and modern, as she had such things as internal telephone lines installed in the house. Selma Lagerlöf, I learned, was an overall rather avantgarde woman. She took a loan to study to become a teacher when her father denied her an education, she cut her hair super short in 1891 she was the first woman to be awared a Nobel Prize (and the first Swede!), the first woman to be elected as a member of the Swedish Academy that awards the prize, she became a very active political influencer (as we would call it today), fighting for women’s right and suffrage. And she dated a woman.

And here we thought she was just that elementary teacher who wrote Nils Holgersson…I am putting some more Lagerlöf classics on my to-read-list.

 

Mårbacka has lots of apple trees and we tasted a tiny apple that was surprisingly delicious.

 

Selma Lagerlöf had a thing for peacocks. There was a sign with a story about how as a child, her leg was paralyzed and meeting a peacock healed her. Peacocks are still around and, as the sign informed me, are called “Sara and Pharao, as tradition demands”. I had no idea that there was a peacock naming tradition but I am glad I know now in case I ever get myself one.

 

 

 

 

Ack, Värmeland

Just when I was starting to google, “Do I have a cold or am I actually dying of swine flu or something?”, my health condition improved. Today, I could be around people without them immediately noticing that I am not exactly in good shape. Malin and I took advantage of my return to the socially acceptable sphere and drove to Kristinehamn. (I have a vague recollection of having once written a story that was set in Kristinehamn, mere happenstance as I had never been there before.)

I like slogans and for some reason, we were going through Swedish town slogans on Friday night. Kristinehamn has one of the best/hilarious, I think. “Picasso chose Kristinehamn, you’re welcome, too”, it reads. Picasso is the creator of Kristinehamn’s biggest sight, a giant sculpture on the Lake Vänern shore. Picasso himself had never been to the place but that’s insignificant to the marketing.

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Picasso was here, well almost.

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So pretty at the lake!

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On the way to Kristinehamn,  we stopped in Gustafsvik to see a recently renovated former manor. Actually, only parts of the manor because most of it burnt down 50 years ago. Now you’re wondering why we would go there. Well, it’s actually like a big deal – because Ernst Kirchsteiger was the one renovating it. This person with the extremely German-sounding name is

“well, he’s more of an institution really. “No summer without Ernst” is something that Swedes seem to all agree on. Ernst is the epitome of the word folkkär or loved by the people – which doesn’t mean that everyone loves him really, but rather that everyone knows who he is and will have an opinion on him”

Born to an Austrian dad and a Polish mom, he has become a hugely popular interior decorator who provides the Kingdom of Sweden with hilarious quotes such as “How is it that some fir trees actually decide to become a Christmas tree and others just are ugly?”, “When a cat lies in a room and sleeps, there’s not much more work to do for a decorator”, “Has it ever happened that you have found yourself falling in love with a stone?”, “You have to see the pillows like an orchestra” and “This window provides a very good contact between inside and outside. It’s like inside and outside want something of each other.”

The quote machine has, in any case, renovated the remaining parts of the manor and it was very nice! I, all event manager, immediately thought about how Kristinehamn could use these for company conferences and parties.

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But Swedificiation does not come about by simply idolizing Ernst, there’s many more things to it. Like folk dances.

Malin works with many different projects nowadays, one of them being a cultural encounter between refugees, or nyanlända (newcomers) as the Swedes call them, and the local folk dance team and accordion orchestra. The newcomers live in the middle of nowhere, half an hours from little Kristinehamn, so we went there and did some extra advertising for the event. (Getting in direct contact with them and their living arrangements is quite an eye-opener. Not that the housing isn’t good but it’s just really far away if you’re trying to integrate/learn Swedish.)

A handful of young men got on the bus Malin had chartered and we took off to the Hembygdsgård which is the house of the local history association. Almost every Swedish village has one and they are often nice places. The Hembygds-organisations are not so much only about history but rather cultivate traditions and customs. Folk dance is one of them. The ladies and gentlemen first danced for us with the orchestra playing merrily, some tunes I even recognized, and then they made us join. What a sight – middle eastern men, Swedes and the German with a cold trying to coordinate a traditional Swedish group dance! It worked rather well though and it was quite an experience. I feel I can check off one more item off my list. Not Värmland though. Chance are rather good I’ll be back.

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After my 3-hour-train ride back to Stockholm, I met Andrea for dinner…

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…at the pretty Prinsen restaurant

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“Det var trevliga toaletter, i alla fall handfatsområdet”.

Bless you!

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Every move I make, every step I take – I was sneezing. People say a cold gets better after three days, well not for me apparently.We went to the pharmacy to ask for something stronger/more useful than what the German pharmacy had given me, only to be told, “Maybe you should be in bed”.

It was a rather slow tour of Karlstad we could do due to my condition but I did get to see some of Värmland’s capital. They have so many beautiful houses! “Karlstad seems to really have been spared by the war”, was my first thought which shows how deeply ingrained the effects of WWII are in my brain. Obviously, there has been no bombings here. But in 1865, the town burned down, however it seems to not have done too much to the charm of this place that has set up countless post-1865-buildings that had me marvel at them.

Karlstad is also full of water, here’s a stream, there’s a lake and around the corner waits a river. Just what I love in a city! They even have a beach literally in the middle of town where we sat and rested a while. The good thing with visiting close friends is that, even though if certainly it would have been interesting to be healthy to do more sightseeing, the main purpose of the trip, hanging out and talking to Malin, could be fulfilled even when sneezing like a crazy person. (She’s very tolerant and boldly takes the risk of being infected.)

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Quite a great slogan: “Lawyers’Office: We know about love, death and money”.

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At the very pretty Värmlandsmuseum they had quotes on the outside, this one saying, in local dialect, “Give me a globe but preferably one with only Värmland on it”

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Malin with Värmland’s famous son Nils Ferlin

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Malin with a moon balloon and the Karlstad Cathedral

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City beach

 

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“De skulle väl på nåt kyrkligt eller?” “Nej”. “Men du sa ju mässa?” “Ja men jag menar företagsmässa”. “Jaha. Hade nån annan sagt mässa hade jag tänkt på företagsmässa men när du säger det utgår jag ifrån att det är mässa i kyrkan”.

“Hur ser norrskensprognosen ut?” “Det är risk för norrsken ikväll”.