Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Southeast Sweden

The second leg of our April vacation, we toured a large section of Southern Sweden. We saw lighthouses, ships, castles, cathedrals, pastries, windmills, bridges, standing stones, glass-blowing, forests and miles and miles of sea and farmland.

The tall white lighthouse is Lång Erik Lighthouse. The red and white lighthouse is the Ystad lighthouse dwarfed by huge ferries and the trains.

Hunter became interested in the map of Oland (island) on the trip. He especially enjoyed looking for the tiny stars that represented the lighthouses. We saw more lighthouses than there are photos to prove.

Our first picnic in Sweden took place outside of Ystad on a sand dune overlooking the sea. What a peaceful place! Each of us took some quiet time walking along the water's edge.

A herd of cows fed among the stones Ales Stenar, "the Stonehenge of Sweden," much to our delight. The bus load of school children to swarm on the site, dangerously teasing the cows, was less interesting.

If you want to see Glimminghus outside of Skillinge (a fishing village), make sure you are there between 11 am and 4 pm. We arrived at 4:05 pm and though there was a woman working the cash register, we had to amuse ourselves with the outside of this medieval castle (supposedly haunted).

In case you wondered, the wind is always blowing. No wonder there are so many windmills and wind turbines!

We had never before seen a burnt windmill, but here is an example. The millstone is still in its working space. Most millstones we see are on the ground. There were more red with black German style windmills in Northern Oland.
The Dutch style windmill was in Southern Oland. A beautiful path ran through the woods and neighborhood nearby. A grouping of windmills on Oland was not unusual, either. We missed a five story windmill that a person may climb in because we hadn't read about it yet in the guidebook.

A trip to Oland wouldn't have been as wonderful without another visit to my favorite tea, antique and grocery store, "Gardby Kaffe and Lanthandel." We ate lunch in the front yard on a white picnic table in the sun. The lemon pie with vanilla cream and a raspberry on top was smooth and heavenly!

We managed to see the Borgholm Slott (castle) one hour before it closed. We were smitten by blue sky through the roofless building and upper windows! From the level you see here there were great views over the sea and the surrounding countryside.

In Kalmar, on the mainland, we saw the Kalmar Slott (castle)--closed for the day we were there. But the walk around the upper wall and grassy area with old ship cannons proved a beautiful view over the straight between the mainland and Oland. There was scaffolding in several places and tractors worked in and around the castle maintaining repairs before the true tourist season, which started the next day.

We drove through some of the most dense woods in Sweden through what is called the "Kingdom of glass." There were glass blowing shops every so often down the highway. But we drove down a long side road to Bergdala to see glass blowing demonstrations, tour the factory, take a lot of video and labor over what we would plunk money down on. My best photos were in the videos, but this is the tall oven stack and Hunter's favorite glass piece. Otherwise, he spent his time running around with a little girl he met, there.

A medieval church which was supposed to have Viking inscriptions on the walls, but I didn't see them.

This two tower church is in Vaxjo. I mostly took the photo for a friend in Idaho who had been an exchange student in Vaxjo.

At my friend's suggestion, we decided to spend time around Vaxjo's beautiful lake. Hunter enjoyed the large, kid-friendly park. Connie and I enjoyed watching the birds and flowers on and around the lake. There was supposed to be a castle ruin and a castle north of the city, but we became too weary to find it.

Spring unfolded before our eyes. The cabin you see down a long driveway was called "the croft." It was surrounded by woods just outside of a fishing village. We were told that if we woke up with the dawn, we might see a herd of moose passing through. We weren't awake early enough to find out...

The other cabin, the sunset and the lighted bridge photos are from Oland where we stayed another night. One door was into the cabin and the other door, off of the porch, led into the tiny shower, sink and toilet room.

One of my fika friends, who grew up in Osterlen, was especially keen that I should see the carpets of flowers throughout Osterlen in the spring. It really was worth seeing. You could walk on this beautiful carpet and not hurt the flowers.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bag Lady

At the end of the cashier counter in any Southern Swedish grocery, home improvement or hardware store, there might be a roll of thin, plastic bags like one might use in the produce department for a small amount of any fruit or vegetable. If thicker, more durable paper or plastic bags are not added to the conveyor belt of purchases, thin bags are for the taking.

No one is at the end of the counter, keeping up with the conveyor belt, packing up your groceries and putting them back in a cart for you. You must pack and be ready to pay at once, and, oftentimes, you’re not to have a cart with you. Even if you’ve not finished packing up your groceries, your purchases continue to pile up and smash your bread/tomatoes/lettuce/birthday card. The cashier simply slides a dividing board toward your items so that the next person’s groceries may easily slide past yours to do the same pile up. That sets two people to packing groceries at the end of the counter, their children and yours bumping into each other as other people move through this rapid-paced line, pay and press past those who were unlucky enough to need so many groceries at once.

If you purchase three items at a time, there is no problem. But if you get all of the groceries for a pay period, bagging is a matter of serious stress. When I mentioned the bag problem (the bigger, more expensive, sturdy bags ease the pressure at packing time) to my Swedish friends, one of them said, “That’s right. I just read in this morning’s paper that the bags for purchase are at a 200 percent markup.”

“200 percent?” I asked incredulously, deciding to continue my vigilance against buying the better bags.

“Yes,” she continued, “but we pay less for our groceries, that way…” (Groceries which are much more expensive than in the U.S., unless things have changed since I’ve been gone).

Not knowing, yet, how best to deal with huge markups, a cart-load of groceries and inadequate carrying bags, I asked, “What do people do when they don’t want to pay the 200 %?”

“They bring their own bags!” was the chorus, as another friend chimed in.

On that day, I became a bona fide (sp?) Bag Lady.

I went home after that conversation, gathered up every bag from other purchases (where someone graciously packed our items in an adequate bag, smiled sweetly, knowing that I had already paid for the nice bag with my purchase), I think I found three, and put them in the back of the car. From then on, I have tried to remember to carry my bags with me into the store. If I have already gone in, put a few things in my cart, and realized I didn’t have my bags, I unloaded the cart and went back to the car to fetch them. It’s that big of a deal for me.

I have to admit to buying a nice, new, 200% marked up bag now and then, but not very often. If someone gives me something for Hunter or for our rental in one of the nice, big, sturdy bags, it is carefully folded up and placed with the others in the back of the car. If I see Phil stealthily trying to roll up an old bag and throwing it in the trash, I practically pounce on him.

It’s not as if Phil has not understood the problem of bagging groceries. Since my earlier attempts at getting groceries with a rambunctious child and inadequate bagging resources, Phil has been going with me to shop. That way we can divide the list and fill the cart before Hunter has hidden on the far side of the store or caused a multi-cart pile up in an aisle. When it comes time to bag, one bags and one pays then helps finish bagging. If the bags are forgotten in the car, another is there to run out and get them. One time, Hunter was behaving so badly that I had to get out of line and take him to the car. That left Phil alone to pay and bag. As I left, I could see Phil freeze up with the stress of having to bag everything on his own. He was visibly shaken when he got back to the car, if not furious with me. Since then, we have made an effort to get to a store with child care in time to shop quickly before the child care closes at 7 pm. This has proven to be the very best scenario for us.

Another method we have found effective if we have left our bags in the car or our items are piling into each other so quickly that even two of us are not keeping up, is to simply put everything back in the cart. We bag everything at the back of the car (for the ease of carrying it into the house in the rain, because it rains often). No one asks us if we have purchased the goods, because this is Socialist Sweden—you can’t get out of the store without purchasing.

We are not the only people to bring our own bags. We see others draw wads of bags out of their purses and pockets just before bagging their goods.

You see, Sweden has gone green. I don’t mean ideologically, either. There are machines in the entrances to their stores where you can have your cans (in one machine) and plastic bottles (in another machine) sucked in, the label read (there must be no crease or missing label), and a credit slip spit out to you before you shop. It’s quite handy and motivating, too. If there are beer cans on the side of the road, most often only those which do not have a recycling value are to be found. Those with value have already been recycled.

I’ve seen old men getting a big kick out of putting their glass recycling in a big container, one at a time, and waiting between reloads to hear the enormous crash. There is no cash value for this recycling activity. Swedes don’t smile very often, but they almost do at the end of each one of these crashes—entertainment value.

You rarely see plastic bags clinging for dear life to a fence or tree branch in the wind. People are hoarding their plastic bags!

If your child has a mishap and you need a plastic bag, nearly anyone can whip one out of somewhere and hand it to you in the blink of an eye.

This Swedish green-ness is carried into transportation. Walking and Bicycling are the most common form of transportation coupled with riding the bus, ferry or train. There are bus stops in the country across from farmhouses miles apart. There is very little traffic in Sweden (we haven’t been here in the summer, when it is supposedly much worse, but I doubt the roads get anywhere close to roads in most other parts of the world).

The most common vehicle parked for the day, rain or shine, at a ferry terminal, bus or train station is a bicycle. These bikes are the Cadillac in bicycle design, not because of any bells and whistles (though every bike does have a bell), but because it rides smoothly, even on cobblestones, is not built for speed as much as sturdy, shock-absorbent-comfort. Each bike inevitably has one or more of these things: a basket on the front and/or back, a rack on the back (with a plastic bag tucked under the clamp), a skirt-guard on women’s bikes, and a child seat. (The Bicycle Cadillac in our rented garage is too tall for me, so I’ve had to borrow a rust-bucket with no Cadillac features other than the back rack—and the right pedal hits the chain guard on every rotation. It’s an attention-getter, that’s for sure. I’m simply grateful to my friends for lending it to me.)

Sweden is so green that you can ask for bubble wrap for packaging and you will inevitably be told, “Bubble wrap is so terrible for the environment that we only use corrugated cardboard.” There is very little “over packaging,” such that, sometimes you wonder how anything is shipped without serious damage.

The seashores are inevitably littered with plastic bottle caps, baggies, plastic ware, and paper cups (nowhere near as badly as in Central America or along many of the city U.S. shores. But you won’t see plastic six-pack rings. There are just too many shorebirds thriving in Southern Sweden to risk such potential traps. Your drinks are shrink-wrapped together, instead, so that you have to practically shred the shrink-wrap to get the drinks out.

The last time we went grocery shopping, and had put nearly everything away, I folded up the bags and gave them to Phil as he headed outside to take out the garbage (he’s an amazing man, isn’t he?!!!). I noticed he carried the bags under his arm. “What are you going to do with those bags?” I asked, worried that he might accidentally toss them in with the rest of the garbage.

“I’m going to throw them away,” he said, walking away from me so I couldn’t see his facetious grin. I knew he wouldn’t. He’s become a bag-hoarder, too.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Art Around:" Påskrunden or Konstrunden, Sweden’s Easter Week, 2008

*Bagar'n På Österlen Bageri & Cafe in Kivik, Sweden. Someone had the good humor to build this bucket-hatted snowman during a very unusual time for snow--Easter*

*the view down the road toward Kivik (pronounced Cheeveek)*

The weekend in February, when we visited Österlen, Chef Olle Södervall at the Bagar’n På Österlen strongly recommended that we come back for Easter Week, or Konstrunden, around Easter. He said it would be a bit crazy the Friday and Saturday before Easter, but if we visited the Monday after Easter and into the rest of the week, we could visit artist homes and galleries to our hearts content without the crowds. He said there were more famous artists in the Österlen area than in the whole of Sweden.

Art? Art! Individual Swedish Artists? Could I find a more perfect heaven?

The idea of seeing art and combining it with my so-far-favorite touring area was so appealing that I made arrangements with the Nanny and Phil to keep Hunter for three days while I went by myself on such an amazingart tour. But I am getting ahead of myself.

First, Phil went with me on Friday and Saturday to see as many artists as we could in the area we live. He did this again with me the following weekend. Together we visited or viewed the work of at least 24 of the 44 artists in our immediate area. To view some of the work yourselves, see

[We combined this with going to our new friends home (he’s a chef from San Francisco and she’s from Denmark) for a traditional American Easter meal and had a blessed meal that Saturday evening. It even snowed huge snowflakes out their huge Malmö apartment windows as we visited. The children colored eggs together and, after dinner, we walked to a lovely park complete with pond and ducks to hide and find eggs. Great fun! We ate our dessert with homemade hot chocolate, afterward.

Easter Sunday we attended church and had a scrumptious potluck of Easter dishes from around the world with our International Congregation. Even with so much going on, I saw one other artist that day.]

Did I find a favorite artist in our area? Well, Johnny Andersson (posing by one of his newer pieces) was a favorite. We saw his gallery on his working farm, and learned that he’d been painting for 50 years. He had an amazing ability with watercolor (or, in Swedish, Akvarell).

Tina Apelgren,, was the most imaginative artist I visited that whole week. At first her artwork takes one aback, seems a bit sketchy or unrefined, but it is truly calculated. Her work sticks with you. It’s difficult to dismiss. She was a very quiet, very shy, woman, but opinionated. These things had a strange way of showing up in imaginative ways in her work. She used some of the most unusual and ordinary canvasses— brown paper, fiberboard, cardboard, plasterboard, etc.

I was impressed with a ceramicist/sculpturist named Marianne Nordström. Her work had depth, referred to literature, opera and The Bible and her work was memorably distinct. You would have to see her work on the ksv konst site.

The work and personality (sometimes it helps me to see them both!) of Eva Cejie-Persson is delightful. She’s suffered some back problems, so it has been difficult for her to execute some of her favorite glass and ceramic work. This woman, though, isn’t finished finding new ways to express her creativity. She was inspiring to me, especially in the fact that she was still taking new art classes and finding ways to barter other artist’s art tools and machines for her work.

There are so many, really, that I do those I visited an injustice by not naming each one! I did get quite a few photos, though. These artists seemed pleased to have a photo taken of them by examples of their work. One artist even took my photo next to his work (Sven-Åke Ekberg).

When Easter Monday (a holiday in Sweden—or “Red Day” as they call them, instead—as well as “Long Friday” or what we call “Good Friday”) came around, my bags were packed. I had gathered the Konstrunden maps for Konst sections across the whole area of Skåne (where some 700 artists open their studios and galleries), and Phil and Hunter were set up to spend a nice holiday together Easter egg hunting with some of Hunter's classmates. I headed out of town, into the much dreaded-by-Southern-Swedes snowstorm (I stayed just ahead of it until I woke up to this in the morning).

By the end of three days, I had visited at least 32 artist homes and galleries and covered 450 miles of some of the most beautiful countryside in Sweden. (That's me entering another gallery--photo by Phil Munts)

I took time to visit a few hours with the artist/owner, Saga Johnsson, of my Bed and Breakfast (Elisetorp B&B), which cut into chalking up the number of artists I would see, but I especially enjoyed our chat (just how many of the world's problems, politics, wars, elections can two artists solve in one long visit, anyway?). Another diversion was that I took a hike in Stenshuvud National Park to see the lighthouse. The park was just down the street from where I stayed. It was a welcome change from getting in and out of the car.

I might have visited more artists, I sure passed enough of the little signs (you can barely see one hanging by the door of the brick building in the photo below), but if I had the opportunity to actually speak to the artist (sometimes they were taking a break and letting others keep watch or were busy with
other admirers), we would talk technique, method, style and secrets for sometimes ½ hour each. Other times I didn't get to the site before closing time and the artists were so exhausted from thousands of visitors that I didn't dare ask them to show me in after hours. I was especially disappointed to reach a huge gallery, displaying several artists, in Simrishamn just as they were locking the door and walking away. Though they saw me, they walked deeper into the gallery, turning the lights off as they went. A gallery in Ystad was charging viewers, so I left that one. Another disappointment for me was that Monday through Friday the viewings were only from 1 pm to 5 pm. It was nearly impossible for me to see as many artists as I would have liked and cover the miles I needed to see in that time. Easter weekend and the weekend afterward were more conducive to multiple visits in one day as showings went from 10 am to 6 pm. (photo of a showing in a gallery I forgot to get the artists names and the gallery name . . . tsk, tsk)

I learned how to mix certain elements together, to learn from graffiti artists, the need for stretching the wrist and arm a special way after throwing pottery or painting, artist process and mind, to consider wool as a medium, what clays to consider and with labor saving tools, that technique is limitless, to experiment more widely, to combine some of my skills and techniques (one artist machine-stitched two watercolor papers together to form an interesting duo), not to worry if my art looks like scribble or splatter or childishness, to learn something new as often as possible, the infinite inspiration travel gives to art, not to shy away from religion in art, to try Gouche, to make something out of a watercolor splash or stain, to use/never use India ink in a watercolor, to open my heart and my studio. Even more, I found out that though I feel like a novice at art compared to some of the Greats I met, the joy of talking about art—artist to artist—levels the plane. The passion of art is easily shared.

If I walked in, said nothing, and just viewed the artwork, I did not get the depth of experience I did when I walked up to the artist and asked about a piece, a subject matter or a technique. If I spoke to the artist, the artist opened up as if as a long-time friend.

It was a blessed, inspiring experience. I most often enjoyed the more approachable newer artists over the big names and their obviously famous work, but this depended on the work and the personality of the artist.

Phil sometimes had trouble with the more imaginative stuff, preferring
realism to anything else. The other fun thing we all enjoyed were the Easter candies for the taking as well as the 10-20 kronor prints of some of the work. The artwork for sale was more than I could afford. When I apologized to Gunilla Sundström, a ceramicist, she said, “Don’t apologize. The tour is for the joy of viewing, as well.” (Gunilla stands by two of her pieced wall ceramics in the photo.)

The Österlen Konstrundan website is Enjoy! I sure did.

Many of the artists who had training from outside Sweden enjoyed speaking with me in English. A few couldn’t speak any English at all. In those cases, art was our language and it worked out just fine.

Before I left Kivik, I stopped in to thank Chef Olle Södervall at the Bagar’n På Österlen. He was glad to hear I had taken his advice. So glad, I guess, that he gave me free Österlen tea and a crumpet! He said he'd take my money the next time I passed through town (which will be next week).

My big problem, now, is that some of the artists asked me to get them showings in the U.S. How am I going to do THAT? If you have suggestions, let me know!

Names of artists pictured below : Kerstin Eriksson (with large red painting and three smaller figure paintings), Annika Jägfeldt (on a stool beside her portraits of the famous), Sven-Åke Ekberg (among his menagerie of iron figures and trees), Monica Andersson (with me and her piece, "Trinity"), Ellin Oden (Smiling as I view some of her textiles; scarves hang behind her), Louise Ebbmar (in her well-known ceramic gallery), Ellin Oden's textile stamps, Hans Kindwall (standing behind me in his livingroom-turned gallery) Gert Lindkvist (among his bold paintings), Jan Lang (standing next to his favorite--too bad the flash caught it wrong) Ida Melin (standing with her yellow and orange-red painting. Her husband is also a well-known artist, Leif Eugen), Anders Rönström (explaining how he executes a watercolor portrait. Google his name--that's what his card says to do), and Kicki Hankell (showing me the Egyptian influences and artifacts in her watercolors. Her husband Bertil S. Nilsson is a sculptor). If you find me in a photo, Phil Munts was the photographer.