Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Heather Times Two

Sunday after church we picked a friend up in Malmö and drove south toward home for another try at seeing the heather in bloom. This would be a repeat of what we did the first sunny weekend back in Sweden (August 2009), only this time the weather threatened rain, teasing us with tiny patches of sun.

Instead of going first to Ljunghusen (say, Yoong hoozen) beach, I wanted to see the Viking museum’s boat up close. The open air museum was closed, so we stood above the Höllviken (Hullveekin) Harbor, near the obviously unused old wooden sail boat (there for effect), watching the wind blow a nasty black cloud immediately over us. The perspective on the water revealed that the wind blew toward us with the force and target of a thousand arrows. We could also see blue sky on each side of the black cloud.

Back in the car, light rain on the windshield, we drove south to a favorite nature reserve. We hiked across several meters of dead heather—a sad sight, but we don’t know why (unless it is due to a heather beetle I read about)—over a bike/horse/walking path, through the beech trees, over a wooden footbridge (it must get boggy in the wet season) and out into more heather. The effect of the few blossoms we could see was lost on us. We started thinking like Hunter’s protest before we left, “I don’t want to go see more heather!”

But we found the site, immediately the other side of the Höllviken Harbor from the Viking Museum. The cloud had blown over. Fenced in from roaming cows was a wooden wind blind big enough for several people to lay their sleeping bags (one side completely open to the view), a round, cement fire pit and surrounding wooden benches. Hunter noted the ashes were still warm in the pit.

Phil blew the fire to life, Ania added small twigs. I brought out muffins and tea for fika (tea time). Hunter played with the camera. We wore our coats, but the clouds soon passed and the sun grew warm on our backs.

From there we walked south through a nice beech wood path to a shooting range. It was closed for the day, but shot wads and broken clay pigeons lay everywhere among the undergrowth (including heather) right there on the harbor. Phil collected a few unbroken pigeons like the rest of us might collect seashells. He checked out the rest of the complex for a later (open) date.

We didn’t get to see any of the cute cows (as I refer to highland cattle). We headed back north to Ljunghusen.

We turned east toward the Baltic and the Ljunghusen stradband (beach). We expected the heather there to appear as a 20 foot wide pink and purple ribbon between the fancy houses and the sea. But it looked grimmer than two weeks ago. I was hard-pressed to get a decent photo of the purple blooms, let alone get a rooted sampling for my upper window flower bed! The beach was deader than two weeks ago as well.

When we arrived the Saturday before school started. Sunbathers lined the grassy sand berm overlooking the Sea. Naked children built sand castles and played with the clear, non-stinging jellyfish washed ashore. Teenagers (and Phil) splashed into the sea from the end of the dock (it is shallow a long way out, like Lake Erie). My friend and I walked awhile along the sand dune pathways in the tall grass, then along the sea. More people arrived by the minute. Phil was uncomfortable on the shore amidst what another friend calls the “meat market,” so we went home after standing in line to use the toalette.

This time, the toalette doors hung slightly open, as if abandoned. A woman drove up, took four large IKEA bags to her beach hut, unlocked it, filled the bags, locked up and paused long enough to tell us (as I was contemplating pulling up some blooming heather) that she was taking everything away because her grandchildren were now gone for the school year. It was no use to keep towels and other goods at the beach.

Since the heather was so underwhelming, we walked over the dunes to the beach again. A few lovers walked along the shore where sea grass, garbage, and jelly fish had piled up after a two-day wind storm. The sun was warm enough for us to enjoy the beach without jackets. The heat must have been deadly for the hundreds of jelly-fish washed ashore. We each handled a jelly fish, gently tossing them past the sea grass into the sea. Only one swam away; the rest didn’t respond.

I thought we might find a bit of amber when the wind was not so cold as to blur our eyes with tears. But, though the sand was littered with tiny tidbits of shells, seaweed, wood, rocks and ladybugs (!), there seemed no sign of amber.

Once, I was so absorbed looking through the easy surf and water pooling up inside little walls of sea grass, that I startled myself as well as the duck sitting in the sea litter at the shore. She seemed wounded and unable to startle into flight. She sat skewed, somehow, and only blinked away the flies and sand flees flitting around her eyes and body.

When I yelled to Phil, waving my arms for him to come, he couldn’t hear me above the surf, nor did the duck leave. Finally, Hunter came running toward me, like this:

After receiving a tackle kiss, I explained to Hunter what I thought was going on. He started making high, chirping sounds at the duck while I tried quacking (only the duck knew we were fools, the rest of humanity around us only heard the surf and the wind). Hunter’s chirps finally did it. The duck limped into the water and swam away, drinking the water as she swam.

“Now THAT’s how you get a bird back into the water,” Hunter said with a teacher’s authority. He went on to explain, but I was laughing too hard. He soon ran back to his dad.

If you’re like me, you haven’t seen much heather other than the name of a classmate or coworker. Well, the reason I have been so determined to see the heather in bloom is that we visited a Ljunghusen artist’s (whose name I cannot find right now) studio, during the Easter art round, whose prolific watercolor paintings depicted long sea paths lined with purple and pink heather. When I asked her where she saw such beautiful beaches, she waved her arm along a row of windows as if to point that the beach and the heather was simply out there. And it was, but it wasn’t in bloom. She told me I could see it in August and September.

Ah, so that was why I had never seen the heather in bloom along the sea. I’d never been in the Swedish Riviera during August and September. Now you know why I was so interested to see the inspiration of her paintings (the thought has crossed my mind that she may be taking Artist Yarnell’s painterly advise never to paint ONLY what you see).

By the way, ljung means heather, peaceful, or calm. Husen means house. If you ask someone from around here how they are, it is not uncommon for them to reply, "ljung." For a country proud of their Viking roots, it's a startling reply.

Ribbons of heather, or not, we enjoyed a peaceful afternoon in the sun.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Learning the Language (or not)

Before the drenching and our failed attempt at reaching the island. Boat-seclusion from Swedish (though the two behind me speak or are Swedish). Phil took this photo with my camera.

The Swedish romance is gone. I mean, it’s still there, but we’re experiencing a restlessness, a do-or-die, a feeling of belonging here but not quite. It’s like being ill and reaching that point where you’re sick of lying in bed, so you decide to change the furniture, the curtains, the oil in the car—something!—but your head still hurts and now you have a bigger mess on your hands (I use this example because I've been laid up the last two days with a touch of the flu. Don't worry, I have all they symptoms of Swine flu just as every flu does. I've already rearranged the furniture).

The grocery store is the same grocery store, selling the exact items I purchased last spring. I know because I’ve been back to fill the refrigerator twice since we left the U.S. August 8th (only twice because we have done as much leaching as possible…). But I find that I’m having to learn all over again. I mean, it seems to me they want $100 (but it’s really kronor per kilogram—still!) for a cut of beef, but I can’t tell if it’s really beef because they sell it by the cut in Swedish or French, neither of which I understand.

I still get lost in the dairy/non dairy section. I now calculate when I’m finished grocery shopping not by ticking off everything from the grocery list, but by how HEAVY my cart-load is and how difficult it will be to pack it all up at the cash register while my food piles on top of itself, torturing the bread, lettuce and eggs. Last time, I nearly ran out of there in a confused, overwhelmed frenzy (this won’t surprise my children—they know I am easily befuddled while shopping).

Really, should I be made to decide between the weight of milk or of a small bag of potatoes? Either or, not both? Must I really decide to come back tomorrow for what I left behind today? Yet another trip to the foreign grocery store????

Similarly, we went back to our beloved Pentecostal Church. The International Congregation has been fazed out except to enjoy a sermon in English now and then AFTER the shaking of hands at “intermission.” Only, that week’s English speaker was ill. Sunday school was not yet “open” for the year, and the translator--for whom we wear the ridiculous orange sponge covered earphones--accidentally turned off her microphone for a large section of the service. Hunter begged to escape to the upper tier of the theatre-style seats or to be allowed to run up and down the hall outside the sanctuary—that or torture Mom and Dad with every misbehaving antic in the book. All because Swedish is not yet dawning on us and it was again sweeping over our heads like the sheets of water from our failed boating attempt in Alingsas.

Phil’s company conducts all of its internal business in English. Hunter attends an English International School, we speak English at home and with our international friends, even our Swedish friends. But we’ve all had enough. It’s time to tune our ears and forks (er, tongues) for the Swedish language.

True, my adopted brother from Finland tells me, Swedish is understood, even if only loosely, in six countries compared to only one Finnish-speaking country—it would be a good choice if you’re going to hang around much longer. My friend from Poland just got into Swedish classes after a year-long waiting list. For this great privilege, she had to become a temporary citizen, fill out miles of applications, wait in long lines, and nail-bite during waits for rejections, approvals, and permits. And she was already a citizen in the European Union! We’re trying NOT to become ex-patriot's—we just need to speak the language, that’s all!

No matter how often I force myself to listen to Swedish phrases on cd’s, the radio (only to find out it’s really Danish), Swedish television, or listen patiently to native speakers converse easily among themselves, Swedish just isn’t dawning on me. I keep waiting for that Aha! moment when the language has finally soaked into my understanding without my having to take grammar classes and flip through vocabulary index cards in my copious spare time.

Instead, I answer in Spanish, or relax into understanding every 10th word, then have a panic attack when it is my turn to reply. This has even affected my Spanish! One of Hunter’s classmates is enjoying a visit from his Mexican grandmother. She and I tried to converse in her language, but she soon reverted back to English for my sake. Sigh.

When we attended church in Alingsas, I could tell the preacher was telling the truth, grounding his admonishments in the Scriptures. I could decipher between words (this is an achievement for me!), but I could not understand! How I wished the Holy Spirit would help me hear the sermon in my own language as thousands did while Peter spoke at Pentecost.

My Skanian friends have also decided it is time. They’ve begun not only speaking to me in Swedish, but writing e-mails of same, leaving me to my own (inadequate) devices/despair!

Yes, it’s definitely time to learn the language of Sweden. If only I could learn it by eating one Swedish pastry at a time. Then, I think the language would stick—-even if to my bones.