Monday, July 30, 2007

How much does comfort cost?

I woke up this morning with a little bit of a sore throat and weak body. I imagine being out in the cold rain until 2:30am would do that to a person. I’ve been drinking lots of hot ginger tea and staying inside. It felt very good to get home today and be in a warm house where I could take a hot shower. I booked my first hostel in Barcelona this evening on the internet. I admit that I’m a little bit frightened to experience staying in a hostel – I’ll be sharing a room with 10 other people… But I’m up for the challenge, I am getting more excited about it as I think about it. In a way, my trip is officially starting when I go to Barcelona because I’ll really have to figure things out for myself. Money definitely buys you comfort when you’re traveling. Sometimes I have to make the decision of “should I pay the extra money to just be comfortable?”… It’s a difficult decision sometimes. It definitely makes me appreciate my home life and how simple life is when you create a home for yourself.

Rudolf the reindeer roll

Today was the PDOL festival – (Piteo dancing and smiles). The festival was in the evening, so after breakfast in the morning we took the car to the main town Piteo and went shopping together. Were you aware that H&M is actually a Swedish company? I actually found some clothes that I really liked. Its fun to buy clothes in another country, because they’re just a little bit different than what you can get in the states. The whole day was a little bit rainy and grey, but we dressed warm for the festival and saw some good Swedish bands. There’s one band that we saw which I guess is very famous here – The Boo Caspar Orchestra - I was very close to the stage and everyone seemed to be having a great time and dancing with each other. There was a whole avenue of street food and I happily devoured a Reindeer Roll. This is flatbread with reindeer meat, lettuce, sautéed onions and some kind of mayonnaise sauce. It was awesome. I realized that there was a miniscule chance that I could have been eating Dasher, Dancer, Donner or Blitzen – but that did not stop me.

Boxcar Children

We decided this morning to pack up the car and head out to the summer cottage and see the Piteo music festival. On the way we picked up Johanna’s boyfriend Peter and we were all driving and laughing in the car together.
This cottage was much more luxurious than the cottage I stayed at before in south Sweden – there was actually electricity and fresh water via water hose coming to the house.
The first night I went out and picked blueberries in front of the house at 11:00pm, it was still light out. We all had to work together as a team and clean the cottage, preparing the beds and making sure we have water to drink. It reminded me of the Boxcar children series. I don’t know if anyone remembers those books, but basically there were some children without parents, and they had to figure out how to live, so they lived as a family together in an old boxcar of a train and lived very well. We stayed up and watched Harry Potter on my laptop, all snuggled together on the couch with a fire that Julia had built for us.

During my trip I have introduced my new Swedish family to the fine cuisine that America has to offer – Peanut butter & Jelly Sandwiches…and S’mores. They were disgusted at first, but I believe I’ve created a new s’more following in Scandinavia – They got the name confused sometimes and were calling it “Smears”. Tee hee.
I slept so well in our bunk beds, I didn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning.

Camping in the Front Yard

Since I got here us girls had the fantasy of building a tent in the front yard and sleeping in it. We finally got around to doing it tonight. Johanna and I put the tent up and then we all filled it with comfy mattress pads and blankets. Although we were too tired to really stay awake in our new outdoor palace, we still stayed awake long enough to get a few laughs and strange pictures in. Forgive me if I offend anyone with my pig face. I didn’t know I had a pig face…but now I believe its my speciality.
Earlier in the day the girls and I went into the main town on our bikes and visited the travel agency. Travel agents are my new best friends. They speak English very well and help you figure out where to be and when – I decided to take another night train down to Stockholm, but this time I reserved a cabin for 3 people instead of 6. We’ll see if that is worth the extra $30.00. There’s something about the trains that I did not account for – Although I bought a Eurail pass, that only covers the price of the ticket.. but for all long train rides, it is necessary to pay for a reservation on the train. I have been told that it is usual for people in Sweden to simply not talk to strangers on a train or bus, and even for Swedish people it is very boring to sit amongst strangers. This time I want to break that barrier and hopefully make some new friends. It feels so uncomfortable sometimes to make a conversation with someone when it very much feels like they don’t want one with you. I’ll be more brave.
The girls and I made a special visit to Ingmar’s house (their uncle), and en route, we got caught in the rain… typhoon-like rain. We were completely soaked by the time we got to his house. Ingmar is very good at keeping records of our family, and he had a whole collection of photo albums to show me with pictures of members of my own family including my grandmother as a child and her mother (the one who looks like me) as well as my great grandfather, etc. It was so special to see all of the people I know interacting with each other in the past.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Julia´s Birthday

Julia was awoken this morning by a whole singing family and presents layed upon her bed. We sat and watched her open each present on her bed and enjoyed some birthday cake this morning after breakfast. Johanna and I painted outside for a little while and I showed her some sketching techniques I had learned in art school. Julia and I were her models and I helped her to draw the correct proportions and how to “gesture sketch.”
I could have chewed someone’s arm off for some peanut butter today, so I bought my very own jar at the store. No one in Sweden eats peanut butter, and it was in the specialty baking section. We all prepared the food for Julia’s birthday party and around 6:00pm, the guests arrived. The guests were more members of my distant family and I was so pleased to spend time with them. Sweden has fantastic summer time games for the outdoors, I ran around and sang and opened packages – it was wonderful.
In one of the pictures, I am standing above a man with his head turned... This is Ulla´s eldest brother Ingamar, who has spent time with my father and both his parents in America back in 1970. This is very special because my Grandfather had died even before my mom could meet him. I will visit his home this week to look at pictures from the past. Very heartwarming.

I have so much love for these girls, I feel like they are sisters that I never had. Tomorrow we plan to go shopping in the nearest town - I can´t wait!

We all think we are fat

I love this family so much. We all wake up and have breakfast together, talking and laughing. There is so much happiness here, and everyone is real and true. We went to the beach today which was not by the ocean, but by a pristine lake. The beach was punctuated with people when we arrived, and this seemed to be a community hangout for the people of Boden. Everyone was saying hello to each other and getting ice cream from the cart. The girls and I packed a lunch earlier in the day and bicycled down to this beach where we layed in the sun together, watching people.
The topic about female image has been very interesting since I arrived. It seems that all of us girls are a little self-conscious of our body image. Yet when I look at them, all I see is beauty, and I think that’s what otherssee as well.
We then went to a field together to pick strawberries. The sun was setting and we were all busy crouched over the bushy plants. When you find a strawberry, its like finding a secret jewel coveted by the plants. Because it is Julia’s birthday tomorrow, the rest of us girls stayed up baking cakes. No one had heard of Ganache (A thin chocolate icing for a cake just made of dark chocolate and cream) before, so Yvonne made a chocolate cake, and I decorated it with my famous chocolate ganache and chocolate leaves.
Later in the evening Johanna and I stayed up to wrap presents and make cards for Julia’s birthday which will be the following day.
Johanna made me laugh so hard, I took a crumpled ball of paper and set it on the table saying “here, I bought a gift for you” and she looked up in my eyes and gave a surprised look, then she lovingly grabbed the crumpled paper and threw it behind her like she was getting rid of it without me noticing.
We went to sleep again around 1:00am, and I felt like I had just lived for three days.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Beautiful Family

I was picked up by Ulla’s brother Gunnar this morning at 6:45. He took me back to his family’s house where I felt comfortable and at ease. I took a 2 hour nap on his daughter Johanna’s bed which she has graciously given to me during my stay. I had such a peaceful sleep and woke up feeling thankful.
This whole day has been fun like summer camp, I have made such a beautiful connection with this family, especially the two girls Johanna and Juhlia who are about my age. We laugh and run around, take bike rides,explore, play games,talk, sunbathe and cook. This family is incredibly good in the kitchen, we ate excellent, excellent pasta with a salmon cream sauce and thyme which Yvonne (their mom, Gunnar's wife) last night and Juhlia made a Rhubarb Raspberry pie.
I find these girls to be so beautiful and special with their kindness and warmth. Their whole family is currently working in situations which educate and help either children or the elderly. Us girls stayed up until 1:30 in the morning having tea and watching a movie…It was still light out when I went to bed.

The night train blows.

I was enthusiastic about it and was definitely up for the adventure, but this was just painful. So I got to my Cabin which was shared by 5 other people. I had no idea how to put my heavy bag up on the racks near the ceiling, so I had a tall man help me. There were 3 teenagers in the room with me so far, I started a conversation, but they did not know how to speak English very well. Their actions however were entertaining enough to watch.. On a night train, the beds aren’t set up when you walk in, there are two bench seats facing each other with 3 people on each seat with a fold down table coming from the window. It is a little bit difficult to not look around and have eye contact with your opponents all the time, which adds a little bit of discomfort if you can’t speak with them. There were two older men who came in and finished the wagon quota, They were both silent, making no eye contact with me. I decided to draw a little bit and listen to my music. After a short time I started a conversation with the older man next to me, and although we did have a good conversation about what where he is traveling to and what he does for work, the moment we stopped talking, he was completely silent after that. I know life is a mirror, so I was careful to observe my interactions with these people…maybe I come across that way to strangers?
The sun here does not really set during the evening…It is called “the Midnight sun” so it was difficult to fall asleep once the beds were put down, and I was constantly awake due to the sounds around me, including the sound of two teenagers doing something full of movement in the same bed above me throughout the night.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Music Therapy

Tonight I went to see Kalle play again...
When I got to the venue where Kalle was playing (The Glenn Miller Club) it was so so small – I stood in the stairwell for the first set, and I was directly behind the drummer and saxophone player. It was absolutely phenomenal – I recorded some of it with my camera. After the first set, Kalle and I came outside to talk with the rest of his band. The people he plays with are such lovely people, I loved talking with them all very much - They have such a different lifestyle than I do and are so good at what they do. I found a seat in the crowded restaurant for the second set and the music was literally caressing all the people in the restaurant. We were all either closing our eyes or gazing hazily towards the singer Elizabeth Kontomanou who is North African and Greek. She brought her two protégé sons with her who sang and played the blues guitar like masters. The singer was such a powerful woman that she was controlling the band and telling them which songs to play (and some of the songs had not been practiced before the performance, so much of their playing was off the cuff) and sometimes she gave the band cues as to which key to be in or how to use their instruments to accompany her voice. She commanded such attention in this little restaurant, and she was pleasing us all.
After the performance I had the chance to speak with her and her sons outside and they were all such loving, friendly people. We talked about my travels and her life – I was admiring how she had raised such strong, beautiful and talented boys. They really had a special bond about them, and loved to perform with each other. I was enchanted by her free will and huge soul that she had shared with us all – I will try to buy her music when I go to a country where it is distributed. As I have been traveling, things have become so beautiful. I don’t know if they have become so beautiful because of my perspective, or because I have opened myself up to receive beautiful things. I felt so lucky to have shared that moment with all the people in the restaurant, and feel love for each one of them for simply being there.

I’m glad I could spend time with people in my generation, and am very much enjoying how people from different parts of the world can just open up and have a special connection with each other.

Tea with Billy Holiday


I have been back to Stockholm now for 3 days and feel more and more like I need to extend my trip. I have only seen a few cities in one country and there is so so much more to see, and so many people to meet. I made a new friend Tobias at an internet café in Stockholm and we visited the Stockholm National Museum today. The national Museum is quite large and has art works from around Europe…but the most beautiful pieces I thought were from Swedish artists. I feel very attracted to Swedish design, even in their older works from the 17th and 18th centuries.

If you did not know, Sweden still has a Royal family, and their lives can be followed in the newspapers and tabloids. The crown princess Victoria has just turned 30 years old and has a boyfriend who the country anticipates she will marry. Victoria is not necessarily known for her physical beauty, but there is a quality about her that the people love – which is that she is real. She interacts with the public and has no sense of arrogance about her. It seems that the whole royal family has this characteristic of being approachable, and even the King of Sweden likes to drive himself to work every morning. Some people think that the family is even too common.

Yesterday evening I was invited to a Jazz club to meet the piano player of a band called Fredrik Noren. The piano player is the son of a neighbor which I met in the countryside earlier in my trip. His name is Kalle and he did a very good job of welcoming me into his routine. I got to sit and talk with his band. They each are masters with their instruments and have a caring warm attitude that was very comforting to be around. Kalle's father was a jazz musician as well, and although I do not know the full extent of it, I know he was very successful in his career.

They played fantastic music and the vocalist that evening had alot of Billy Holiday in her. I went up to the bar to order a cup of tea and the bar tender said “it will be 20 crowns“ and I said “I’m here with the piano player” and he said “oh, well go right ahead”… giggle.

Ulla showed me a picture of my great grandmother-to my surprise, she looks just like me. I included a picture so you can compare - its very very strange and comforting to see that you are a product of someone who lived before.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I’ve been doing a lot of painting…took a bath in the lake, did some yoga outside…said hello to a bunny…prepared food, cleaned dishes, took walks. I’m here with 3 people besides myself, and much of the fun is just being around them in a quiet place. Mostly we sit around talking, reading, cooking or cleaning together. At night there is no electricity, so we light the house with candles and kerosene lamps. Stina caught a fish yesterday and we grilled it for dinner.

In this old way of life, days were spent by simply making a means to survive. The women would prepare the necessities for the day, and the men would go out hunting and farming. Now that we all live in comfortable homes with our food and clothing already prepared for us, what are we doing with our days? What has humanity’s work and inventions over the ages granted is the freedom to do?

For each person, they have their birthday celebration as well as their “names day” celebration. A Swedish calendar has written which names fall on which day. The name Jessika for example falls on July 6th – which would be celebrated just like a birthday.

It’s been somewhat of a challenge for me to figure out how to eat while traveling. The schedule is so different than what I am used to, and many times there are a large amount of sweets available. Normally in the states I might eat something sweet once or twice a week, but here I’ve been eating sweets a couple times per day – I figured…”it’s ok, I’m traveling, I’ll walk it off” – but my pants only fit tighter and tighter… I think I have to figure out a happy medium.

The magazines here are the same as in the states with one exception – All the models have not been photo shopped! There are women with normal bodies and crowsfeet on their eyes and freckles and hairs on their upper lip – its not such a traumatic experience to look at a magazine, you actually sympathize with the models.