And A Happy New Year!

The full moon over our hotel in Corralejo, Fuerteventura. You can see the twin stars, Castor & Pollux, to its left.


Holiday - Vacation!

Tomorrow we are going away. This year, we will celebrate Christmas in Fuerteventura, Spain. We have been looking forward to this for months, going to visit the Sun in the middle of the longest, deepest, darkest winter months.

I will not be blogging during our time away, but I will certainly post some holiday snaps when I return. We will be walking on sand dunes, lie by the pool and read, eat hearty and healthy meals at the hotel restaurant. I have a Mary Russell&Sherlock Holmes-mystery on the Iriver, a Hashim the Eunuch-mystery in a library book, and Mr Kindle, well, I think I will leave him at home. We will even bring a few films with us.

I suppose I´m not that keen on Christmas anyway. What I like is to spend time with nice, happy people, eat good food, read and rest. Add work to that equation and you pretty much have what I want all the time. The truth is that for many, women in particular, Christmas is the most stressful time of year. There was a long article in today´s paper about how important the BRIS (Children´s Rights in Society) support telephone lines are for children during the holidays, when so many parents with alcohol and drug problems and rocky marriages make their children´s holiday a nightmare rather than a celebration. I wonder if the pain of the distressed isn´t deeper during Christmas because you´re supposed to be so happy. It´s like this mega worship of Quaint Family Happiness blessed by visits from Coca-Cola Santa, rather than, what was it now? something to do with a baby star, and three wise guys? Whatever.

No seriously, I do always try to do some somber reflecting these last days of the year, try to balance the books, so to speak, and form some kind of idea of what I want from the new year. Not exactly resolutions, not any more, but a few questions perhaps, a few focusing sentences that I can return to during the year, to renew my awareness of what I´m doing and what I want to have going on. For this next year, I have indications there is change in the air, work-wise. I´m not keen on it, but not afraid of it either. Unlike so many, I have margins and options.

But for now, it´s all about getting away from it all.


Kindle. My Name is Kindle.

Got my Christmas present today, brought to me by car delivery! To my door! Amazon, you shouldn´t have... The grand entrance was followed up by the smoothest introduction a new piece of gadgetry has ever done of itself. In all my life I have never seen anything like it.

Not a single piece of paper came with it. Just an instruction on the screen that said how to start it. Press the button. And then it guides you through connecting to your wireless, installs your profile with another single press of a button, and you are provided with a very easy-to-read introduction brochure. And with no effort at all, the few kindle-books I have purchased before, (convincing myself that I would read them on the computer, but never do) were down-loaded on this charming reading tablet.

Not that the Iriver Story was particularly hard to get on with, I love it, too, but this was an experience on another level, I must say. Someone has been thinking, and that will win me every time. Even the box it came in was elegant, and so easy to open. And you know what that´s usually like. I can not fault this. The whole process was so darn elegant.

Now, I need to design a cover that is good enough for it. Can´t do another crafty crochet&plastic-solution here. I need something that looks more like... a tuxedo.


A Second Thought

I had just finished my post on Bond, when I read Une Femme´s post on Newtown, and left a comment there (about how we must stop iconizing the archetyp The Lone Gunman). I had barely closed my computer when it occured to me, that perhaps I was being a bit ambiguous about the glorification of violence. I had to think about that.

I think most scientists agree that the capacity for violent behaviour towards other humans is a characteristic that has been evolutionary advantageous. Increasing populations and competition for resources have made those prepared to steal and kill, even wipe other tribes out, survive and pass on their genetic makeup. Perhaps the Neanderthals died out because they were more peaceful than we are. However, this capacity for violence must be controlled, so that it does not become self-destructive.  Going berserk/into a Martian rage has been considered a good thing, but not anywhere, anytime. So, every society must have systems to guarantee inner safety, like tools for socialization (family, school, religion) and control (police, military, hospitals, prisons). Who said that if you want to learn about a society, study it´s prisons and mental asylums? Foucault was one who did.

How do we protect ourselves now? And from what? *
One of the objects of art and science is to expand our consciousness about our nature, and encourage us to ask questions, to ourselves and each other. They can also offer solutions, ways out of ethical and emotional dilemmas. That´s why Bond is so satisfying. Both "Golden Eye" and "Skyfall" is evidently about the enemy being the Warrior/Champion gone awry, becoming a danger to what he has once pledged to protect. He is someone who has turned from the greater good and service of society to a perverted individualism. Actually, the traditional, megalomaniac Bond-villains may be even better examples of that. Like Eliot Carver in "Tomorrow never dies", who I believe was modelled on Rupert Murdoch. He has lately become a posterboy for capitalist mechanisms going ape.

I read somewhere that in the 70´s, child psychologists wanted to remove all the deadly violence from the fairy tales, such as Hans and Greta pushing the wicked witch into the oven. What they found was that this made children feel unsafe. Their reasoning required that the evil one died, they couldn´t grasp the more complex and mature concept of reform and change in an individual that had proved itself evil. And even though we, as adults, can understand that, entertainment violence (Bond kicking ass) wouldn´t be as emotionally satisfying to us if we had really integrated this insight fully. We cheer when the Bond-villain is blown up by the very bomb he intended for us. How many of us can say that we really have empathy with the Evil one? There are signs that some have come that far.

So, can we change our image of the Lone Gunman as a cultural hero? I have no good answer to that. The archetype is like the weapon itself. It depends who is wielding it. (We certainly don´t want to send Bond out there unarmed, even though he assures us, again and again, that weapons of mass destruction is no match for his cleverness. He pushes the wicked witch into her own oven every time.) Also, archetypes work together, in complex patterns, within individuals and societies. The larger, more global and inclusive society becomes, the more difficult it will be to control this part of our psyche and give it an outlet. We are simply running out of enemies. Where do the superfluous warrior go? I understand that if a single cell is removed from the body, and no longer gets signals from other cells that it is needed, it dies. The same goes for humans. Without confirmation from society they will wither away or explode, depending on what their dominant archetype is.

I believe that the next big challenge for human kind is to integrate the separate cultures. You may have heard social analysts and commenters say that the wars of our era are not fought between nations, but between cultures. Perhaps Newtown is another alarmbell going off, that this is not a war that we can win. What if we must channel our energy into changing the way we function, fundamentally, as a species, if we are going to survive? Perhaps we can delete the Lone Gunman from our psyche. Perhaps this will require nothing short of an evolutionary leap. Can we do it?

What´s the alternative? I would hope that future history books mentions Newtown as a turning point, when a new awareness was born, and the seed of a new collective psyche was sown. The dawn of a New world, instead of an apocalypse (another archetype that we are much too fond of). I can at least say that I have become a bit more aware of my own thinking, or lack of it. And as always, change begins with ourselves.

And I also want to say, that I see no reason whatsoever why anyone who is not a soldier, a policeperson, or a licenced and trained hunter, should ever see so much as an inch of a firearm. Ever.

* Södra Åbergsfortet, Boden, 2012.


Analysing James Bond

Warning! If you haven´t yet seen the movie, "Skyfall", this post may give away elements of the plot you may not wish to know beforehand. 

Finally, we got our act together and went to see the new Bond movie. We don´t go to the movies as much any more, but have always, always seen Bond at the theatres first, ever since we memorably saw our first Bond together at the theatre in Leicester Square in London. That was" Golden Eye", the first adventure with Pierce Brosnan as Bond. It was also Judi Dench´s first time as M. At the time, they played it like she was the one having to prove herself to him, being the misogynistic "dinosaur" of the old ways. 

I liked Brosnan very much as Bond, I think he was the most natural Bond of them all. I am of the Roger Moore-generation, and he was very much known in Sweden at the time for doing "The Persuaders" with Tony Curtis. We loved that show, and to us there seemed to be little difference between Bond and Lord Brett Sinclair. You expected Moore´s Bond to have an Eton tie always tucked away in his luggage. Apparently Ian Fleming made Bond Scottish after he had been played by Sean Connery on film. Which brings me back to the latest Bond movie: "Skyfall".

Of course, Bond never plays by the rules.*
Everyone has their own favourite Bond-villain (and their own favourite Bond-girl, perhaps), and Bond-villains should be grandiose megalomaniacs with super-weapons, trying to take control of the entire world, alternatively bring it to an end. A classic Bond-film climax should have an alarm going off, signalling an imminent explosion, walls falling in, flooding and fire at the same time, bad guys falling over and dying all around, while Bond brings himself and the Girl to safety. (Then Bond must prioritize calming the girl by petting her, before he reports back to M. And everyone thinks he´s such a lad.) I liked Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan/Janus, because he was like the anti-Bond. I also liked Isabella Scorupco as Simonova, because she was clever. (And she is Swedish. But so is Maud Adams, she is even from my town, and I didn´t much care for Octopussy at all.)

This time, the villain is another anti-Bond. In fact, he is not after the world at all, he is after M. M, as in Mother, this time. Bond is practically being psychoanalysed, I think, and the mother/son-relationship-seed was sown already with Daniel Craig´s first Bond-film, Dench being by that time well established as M and Craig being the new, young guy having to prove himself. (Remember the hate from some of the fans?)

First, he is metaphorically torn from M´s breast by herself, being deemed expendable in action. Everyone thinks he is dead, but he is really just sulking on a beach in Turkey. Until M is under attack, when he comes rushing back. Turns out, the bad guy is another sulking ex-agent, another favourite she had to sacrifice for the greater good of British/World safety, but one who took it personally. Well, turns out Bond can be personal, too. He whisks M away, as she can clearly not protect herself anymore, brings her to his old, deserted castle in Scotland, where she is humanised and given a makeshift name by his father´s old caretaker, Kincade, who thinks "M" means Emma. We are never, as far as I can remember, told what M´s real name is. In this film, she states that she is a widow, but it seems unlikely that she has children (considering her career) and this reinforces the idea that she tends to create this mother/son-bond with some of her agents. She says to Bond in one scene, that "orphans make the best agents".

It´s all so mythological it´s almost funny. Now the threesome, father-figure, mother-figure, and son, prepare for battle, on a string, but with a twist. There is much symbolism here, if you are inclined towards Jungian analysis. Water, for example, as a medium for death and rebirth. Old houses for old Selfs, hidden cellars/priestholes for tucked-away trauma and subconscious metamorphosis, animus/anima-symbolism, cleansing fires. And in the end, an inverted pietà, with Bond himself as the Mother-figure. (No, Bond is not the new M!)

This film is in many ways a reset, a return to the old ways. M is once again a man, Moneypenny and Q are reintroduced (thank god there is no more R, who was the Jar Jar Binks of the Bond universe), Bond is again a middle-aged, mature man who can take care of himself. All is well with the world, even though underneath, everything is changed. I feel reassured, actually. Perhaps it´s all that psychoanalysis talking to my subconsious. Also, there is a satisfying amount of ass-kicking, which a good Bond-film should have. I recommend you all to see it, if you haven´t already. See it a second time. I think I will.

My husband is also a great Bond fan (they share initials and both look good in a suit, clearly they are soulmates), and he actually once took me on a weeks vacation to Nassau. "Nassau?" I asked. "Where is that?" "I have no idea", he said, "but Bond was there, so it must be all right." Well, the tickets were booked, we ended up on this wonderful beach, which turned out to be the exact strip of beach where, supposedly, Craig-Bond goes for a swim in those iconic blue swimming trunks (in "Casino Royal"). Paradise Island, it is called. Except we bathed there twelve years before Craig did. On exactly which beach Connery and Andress bathed I don´t know (as the British Secret Service didn´t have mega-computers and digital satellite systems then), but if they hadn´t, nor would we have.

Bond is an icon of the modern world. In an age where so much change has and is happening: technologically, socially, psychologically (some even argue that we are living in the middle of an evolutionary leap), Bond is you (and me), the little guy who is again and again faced with the end of the world as he knows it, but who, through his wits, bloody-mindedness, and a little help from his friends, will come out of it, perhaps not unscathed, but alive and kicking. We all need a bit of Bond in our lives. 

*Photo was taken by my husband on a visit to Kelvedon Hatch.


The Spiritual Bookshelf

I have been in a spiritual mood lately. My knee started hurting and I had to stay home for a week, resting it. This felt really weird, not going to work and not having a fever, severe coughing and the rest that goes with a really bad cold/flu, which is the only kind of sick leave I have experienced in my whole life. The knee turned out to be fine, through my boss I got an orthopedist to look at it and he said it was just an overexertion, gave me a shot of cortison and a few more days of rest.

I could have kissed him. And I realized how much my identity rests on the foundation of physical strength. Ok, it´s not all that I´m about, but it sure is a larger chunk of me than I had realized. Like being a practical, hands-on kind of person. Someone who has clever hands, if you know what I mean. It wasn´t always like that. As a child, I was considered the clumsy one, the one with two left hands or the-thumb-in-the-middle-of-the-hand. It didn´t take me many years of adulthood, though, to realize that this was completely not true. I also realized that growing up in a large family with lots of siblings, it´s easily done to "brand" one another and for parents to allot their children a certain stereotype.

I think it´s natural that some kind of division takes place within a group dynamic. It makes sense that different members of a group takes on different roles and divides "the labour", as it were. I have certainly, both instinctively and consciously, used different kinds of energy and behaviour in different kinds of work places and projects during my private and work life. We all do, I´m sure of it. I think we are wired to sense what is lacking in a group, and then we try to supply that, to create a balance that makes a group more viable. The important thing, though, is to realize that your role is not all you are.

I think that exploring just that, all that we are, rather than trying to "find" ourselves, as if we have some "real" core that needs discovering, is what spiritual work is about. If there is anything that needs finding, it is the courage to expand, rather than limit ourselves and make do with the role and position that was once given to us. Which too many people do. For me, spiritual work is to learn new things, whatever they may be, particularly things that are outside my comfort zone, that are perhaps not what others would expect of me. It is also to ask questions about what I´m doing, why I´m doing it, what I´m thinking, and again: why. Why, why, why. Being spiritual is to never let go of that inquisitive child you once were. That´s the part of you that you need to nurture.

In the spiritual part of my shelves, you will find some of what you might expect to find on such a shelf. A few different versions of the Bible, for sure, as I am a practicing Christian. The Koran. The Bhagavad gita. Jung. Thomas Merton. C S Lewis. All of these, and more, are friends that help me ask those questions. And a few years ago, a particularly bad year, I found that there is a whole spiritual movement connected to knitting. Which totally makes sense, if you have ever done any crafting at all.

When I´m in a spiritual mood, I will make a selection of books that feel relevant to me, that have some kind of "pull", park them on my bedside table and leave them there for a month, or until I feel finished with them. Sometimes I will deep-read one of them, sometimes I will leaf through them all. Sometimes I find something new, either at the library or at the bookstore. It´s all about finding a relevant question, one that will bring me that next step forward. It doesn´t have to be an obviously spiritual book, either. Anything will do that speaks to me.

This time, I think I have realized something about how much that which is seemingly going on around me, actually mirrors what is also going on inside me. Probably, it´s a two-way dynamic, but it has reminded me, and stressed, how important it is that I make conscious choices about what I expose myself to. Both in the sense of protecting myself against repetitive, negative stuff, and exposing myself to novel ideas and even looking at the familiar from a new and different perspective. Which takes some real consideration. And what might at one point be positive, can turn sour if it keeps you from moving on. It´s all too easy to identify with a process that´s supposed to help you on, and get stuck in it forever. (Yes, come to think of it, our ability to identify is just another thing that make us work so well in groups...)

Twelve years ago, I travelled to Gothenburg to visit the Swedish Bookfair, and one of the seminars that I remember best was about holy texts (owing to the fact that a new Swedish translation of the Bible had just been released) and how they are percieved in the three large, monoteistic religions. I will never forget the representative for the Jewish faith, he said that for the Jews, there are no holy texts. For them, studying and disputing the religious texts was a holy act. This made a great impression on me, it rang true in every way, and since then, I consider intellectual sloth to be my greatest sin. One that I sometimes need to be shaken out of, rather violently. Like with the pain of a hurting knee.

Chameleon Photographer

The other day, I picked up this new book on a whim, as it was displayed just beside the "hole-in-the-wall" at the library where you return your books. It´s a publication by MoMA from this year, "Cindy Sherman", about, well, Cindy Sherman. She is, as you may or may not know, a famous photographer of the artistic kind.

I have been aware of her work as long as I can remember, reading about it and seeing her pictures in magazines of different kinds. I can´t remember any particular exhibition that I actually went to, but I may have been exposed to her work that way, too. I mostly associate her with the collection Film Stills that she made in the 70´s. She does there, and has continued to, use herself as a model in her photograps, and she has transformed herself to take any and every role you can imagine.

One reason that Sherman has stuck with me, is that every time I see her, or a version of her, I think about how important it is how we choose to look. Certainly, for most of us, that is a more or less unconscious choice, but it is a choice all the same. Even being "natural" in a world where it is normal to tweek and enhance, is affected in a way, particularly if you´re a woman. Ok, here in northern Sweden going without makeup is not controversial or unusual, but I bet in some cities, in some arenas of activity, it would be quite strange (and perhaps brave) to meet the world bare-faced.

I could easily dress head to toe in something like Gudrun Sjöden, wear my hair in a blunt, red-coloured, fringed bob, wear blue-framed glasses and put on twenty pounds. And you would percieve me as being a completely different person. Or, I could perm my hair, high-light it, surgically correct my myopia, wear tights for trousers with high-heeled boots, short biker-jackets and statement handbags full of studs. Both those options would be ok, I would look perfectly acceptable in this world, but it wouldn´t be me. Not as I´m known today. And I´m sure that each of those possible personas would inspire different responses in the people I meet, give me different kinds of opportunities, and subject me to different kinds of influences. It´s important to dress for the life you want, and sometimes I wonder where I would have been and what I would have done today if I had favoured a different aesthetic.

Unfortunately, the book made me sneeze pretty badly, so after a quick leaf-through, I returned it. But there is plenty of Sherman´s work on the internet, for anyone who is curious.


From My Photo Album

Yesterday noon. The bleakness of winter.

A Modern Pilgrim

A few weeks ago, I was lent a friend´s e-book reader. We have done this before, as some e-books can´t be lent to other´s readers, at least not in a way that us old ladies can figure out. The book she had recommended for me was "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce. I had never heard of it, or the author before. The first few pages didn´t woe me, but when my friend said, almost apologetically, that "it get´s a bit new age-y in the middle", that made me more determined, being in a rather spiritual mood. In the end, I read it in what was pretty much one sitting, that lasted two days.

Joyce is mainly a dramatist, and the story of Harold Fry was originally an afternoon play for BBC Radio 4, broadcast in 2010. It was then turned into her first novel, published 2012. It has the structure of a serial, with chapters that work almost as short stories, with proper titles and each one a small, separate adventure on this journey of Harold´s. The language is beautiful, clean and plain in a way that made an impression on me from the first page. I imagine it is like this because it is meant to be read out loud.

Harold Fry, the hero, is a recently retired salesman in Kingsbridge, Devon, who one day recieves a letter from Queenie, a woman he worked with twenty years earlier. She writes that she has cancer, and wants to give him a last greeting before she dies. He writes a response and tells his wife Maureen he is taking a walk to the mailbox. But when he gets there, he can´t bring himself to post it. So he goes on to the next mailbox. Same thing, so he goes to the next one. After a few hours he is almost out of Kingsbridge and goes to a garage to get something to eat. A young girl heats a meal for him and says something about an aunt of hers having had cancer, but "you must believe" or some such thing. Harold then decides to call Queenie where she is, at a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, and when he speaks to the nurse (Queenie is asleep, she says, and can´t come to the phone):
 "Small clouds sent shadows scurrying across the land. The light was smoky over the distant hills, not with the dusk but with the map of space that lay ahead. He pictured Queenie dozing at one end of England and himself in a phone box at the other, with things in between that he didn´t know and could only imagine: roads, fields, rivers, woods, moors, peaks and valleys, and so many people. He would meet and pass them all. There was no deliberation, no reasoning. The decision came in the same moment as the idea. He was laughing at the simplicity of it. 
"Tell her Harold Fry is on his way. All she has to do is wait. Because I am going to save her, you see. I will keep walking and she must keep living. Will you say that?""

That´s how it all begins, and what follows is a journey where Harold, on foot, in a pair of sailing shoes, crosses the entirety of England to get to his friend. His wife, of course, thinks he has lost his mind. But things start to happen to her as well. And after a while, we realize that not all is well in Harold´s life and marriage. What, and how it develops, would not be fair of me to say, but the story plays out like a classical Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story, where Harold encounters figures of mythology and classic literature, like oracles, helpers, sages, tempters, discouragers, sirens, ghosts of the past, fellow searchers and pilgrims. Some days he is walking through hell, other days he is in heaven. He gains faith, and looses it again. No doubt, you could write a lengthy essay on this book. Or several lengthy essays, in fields like literature, psychology, and theology. No name a few. It would be an excellent choice for a reading circle.

It´s a cryer. I have read books ("Uncle Tom´s Cabin" comes to mind) that made me cry before, but no book ever made me cry like this one. Really, if you decide read it, have a fresh box of tissues at hand. It really got to me, and I am rather cynical usually, or I used to be, anyway. That said, it´s not a depressing story at all, it´s on the contrary very uplifting. A feel-good-er. Harold does, in a way, save Queenie. He saves himself as well, and more. What a great movie it would make. Tom Courtenay would be great as Harold. A bit short, but great.



I found this fun article in the Guardian, and it made me think about bookmarks. I have loads of them. Somewhere. These few on your right, I found within arm´s reach. Three are from the University bookstore at Cambridge, an example of those free paper marks that also carry information about opening hours, etc. You can get them at our local library as well. And the metal mark is also an advertising trinket from a publisher of school books.

For a while, I used a fringed leather bookmark, a souvenir someone gave me from somewhere. You know which type I mean, they sell them everywhere. It was actually rather functional, it created enough friction against the paper to stay put and not slide out of the book. But I suppose it must have eventually, because I have no idea where it is now.

Remember those bookmarks that we collected as children? Did anyone actually ever use them as bookmarks? I can´t remember doing that, or seing anyone else doing it. My mother still collects them, I think, in albums. We used to fold the pages of comic papers, like Donald Duck & Co, and fill each fold with marks. Then another collector would "dip" one of her marks in the book, and whichever mark was under that particular page would be traded for hers. I say her, because boys didn´t collect bookmarks, it was strictly a girl thing.

This is what it looks like on my bedside table most of the time. I know some book lovers think it´s bloody murder to do this to books, but I don´t really care. Most books get read once. Perhaps twice. Library books are sturdily bound. They are not that fragile.

What I am a bit sensitive about, though, is when other readers make permanent marks in the books themselves, like notes scribbled in the margins, underlinings, and such. I really puts me off my reading rhythm, and I suspect that it forces me into someone else´s perspective, when I´d rather have my own. And if I re-read a book from my own shelf, underlinings and notes from a previous reading will, I think, prevent me from discovering that book anew. People who read with pens in their hands should be banned from public libraries. I do know, however, that not everyone agrees with me on this. Perhaps they are less impressionable. I think the need to scribble while reading might be why some people are so negative towards e-books.

If I´m studying, I will read with a mico cassette recorder in my hand. I have a dication machine from the 80´s that I still use, as I learned to when I worked as a secretary. In the Dark Ages. My mother-in-law´s book hadn´t been written without it.

And what about dog´s ears? Are they abominations, or what? I´m actually not that bothered, though I don´t do them myself. Bottom line, I think it´s the words that matters, the story, the text.


Birds and Birds and Birds...

I got out of bed yesterday morning (more like lunchtime to you), came down into the kitchen and outside the window the birch was full of birds. Not any of our regular tits either, but large, beautiful waxwings (Sw. sidensvans).

I came close to one of them on a spring morning a few years ago, it was only a meter away from me and it stayed there for several minutes as I stood frozen still, just watching. Birds are such beautiful creatures, and while I am nothing like a twitcher, I can get quite excited about them now and then.

Of course, it was impossible to take proper photos from indoors, in the crappy light of December at our latitude, but perhaps you get an idea. All the trees further away were also full of them, there were many hundreds, perhaps thousands in the air, all around the house. It was like watching one of those shoals of herring in a nature programme on television. Overwhelming. And simply impossible to photograph.

And then they were all gone.


The Likeability of Awkward

I much admire Jonathan Franzen. Some of the articles he has written has been a great influence on me, on how I think about writing and, well, life. This weekend I have devoted to his collection of what? essays? articles? memoir? - "The Discomfort Zone", a book he has dedicated to his two older brothers. It can´t be easy to write a book like this, being so very candid as he is. Nor can it be easy to have a younger brother baring it all, though his success must be of some comfort. I hope.

Franzen, to me, falls roughly in the category of comedians like Ricky Gervais and John Cleese. Reading his novels is a bit like watching an episode of "The Office", where David Brent makes one big social cockup after another. Or like when Basil, in "Fawlty Towers", goes into a spin and makes a big problem out of something that wasn´t even an issue before it came into contact with him. I sit in my sofa and want to look away, but I can´t, so I put up my hands to cover my face, but still look through my fingers. I talk to the screen, nonono, don´t go there, don´t do that, dooon´t...

That´s what it´s like for me to read Franzen, that´s what "The Corrections" was like, and "Freedom", too. He is so very clever at getting his characters into just that, yes: that dis-comfort zone, that each of us have been in for ourselves and will be in again. And, I laugh. Cringe and laugh. So yes, absolutely I think he does great comedy, though that isn´t how his writing is labeled.

In this book, he writes about his childhood in Webster Groves, Missouri, where he grew up as the youngest son of three. As a child, he identified with Snoopy, as if, being the youngest, he wasn´t really considered as human as the other members of his family. I suppose this early outsider position is a hotbed for a novelist in the making. And he continues to be a bit offside, a bit nerdy, a bit undiligent at most things that his father considers useful and formative. He should have been an engineer, of course (who shouldn´t have been that?), but instead he persists and studies German. It doesn´t surprise me that he knows his way around Goethe and Mann, having read his novels. And the way he tells the tales of his life makes it clear that just like with Flaubert, his characters are him. At least a bit of him. Or a large chunk of him.

Even on television, Franzen comes off as being rather awkward. He is not particularly likeable, and from that famous Oprah-incident and on, he has been gauche every time I have seen him. But it kind of adds to his writing, makes him more authentic, in my mind at least. It makes me like him more that he is a bit lacking in the charms department. He gets his work out there, is having great success, and makes a significant contribution to my reading, as well as other peoples.

And one thing that I keep thinking all through this read is, what does it cost to keep the past so alive? Particularly a past that is painful. Some writers are so great at writing about awkward stuff, they seem to remember the past in such detail, and I can´t help but think that it must take its toll on them. Of course, the artists who can, may be of great help to others, and I imagine there is great reward in this. I am, personally, a great believer in balancing one´s books and then closing them; moving on in life, looking forward and not dwell on the past. I just can´t imagine ever wanting to write anything as personal as this, myself.

If you haven´t read Franzen, if you think those novels seem lengthy and heavy, do read "The Discomfort Zone". It´s actually a great introduction to Franzen´s work. You will get an idea of where he gets his stuff and how he writes. I highly recommend him.


Pewter Pins

As you may know, I have lately begun to collect brooches. Of course, it is impossible for me not to answer to this invitation from Une femme d'un certain age. (I´m not a style blogger, so please kindly overlook the un-stylish photography. This post is really all about the brooches.)

Update: Go see all the other brooches at Une femme d´un certain age

I´d like to show you some of my Swedish pewter brooches. I remember these from when I was little, ladies of my grandmother´s age would wear them, and brooches were really popular in the 50´s and 60´s. Not so much now, though. About six months ago I walked into the major jewellery store in Luleå and asked for brooches. They couldn´t turn up A. Single. One. Really. I find mine on Ebay, where you can get them at ridiculous prices. However, I have an inkling they are coming back in fashion. Personally, I started wearing them because I wanted to add some more sparkle to my style, and necklaces don´t work well with the way I move. Everytime I sit down at a dinner table, the dangly things fall into my plate, and sometimes there is food on there. It just became a very unstylish mess, much of the time.

Sweden has been organized into provices called landskap, at least since the early 17th Century, when Sweden was bureaucratized by king Gustavus Adolpus and his chancellor Axel Oxenstierna. This was when Sweden was a European super-power, a warrior nation feared on the continent. In some languages, prison bars are still called "Swedish curtains". Every province has its own symbolic flower, and in the 1950´s several pewter smiths started making series of jewellery with these flowers on them. I have two brooches symbolizing the provice where I was born, Uppland, and the province where I grew up, Sörmland, and I toyed with the idea of collecting them, but honestly, they are pretty ugly and stay in my drawer most of the time. These two were both made in 1956 by Rune Carlsson, who later changed his name to Tennesmed (pewter smith). I have them because they remind me of wonderful old ladies who were important to me.

One of my favourites is also by Rune Tennesmed, and it´s this one, with a green glass bead. When I bought it, it was oxidized almost completely black, and it took some intense polishing to get it to where it is now. I was at it for weeks, actually, to prevent my arms from going numb from all the rubbing. He made several styles of these, and I wouldn´t mind owning more of them. It doesn´t have a year stamp on it, so I can´t tell when it´s made. I wear it often, but it´s quite heavy and needs a sturdy base, like a jacket or a coat.

This one is pretty ugly, but in a cool kind of brutalist way. It´s a stylized viking ship. Do you see the viking king standing in the front of the ship, with his crown and golden collar? No doubt all prepared to jump off at the shores of Britain, to kill, rape, and rob the poor English of all their silver. As they did.

It was made by Erik Fransson in Älmhult in 1955. I am very interested in history, particularly the Iron Age, and these motifs appeal to me very much.

Erik Fransson also made this leaf, which is my latest aquisition. I have seen several of these pass through Ebay, but prices have always gone a bit too high for me. This time, I was the only bidder, so much luck! (20 SEK = 3 USD!!!!) I haven´t used it yet, but pinned to my winter hat I think it looks really, really classy.

I do think that brooches with flower/plant motifs are very easy to wear, they dress up almost anything in a neutral, pretty kind of way.

These two, I love. You´d think they were made by the same person, but they are not. The square one is also by Erik Fransson, in 1962, and the rounder shaped one is by Knut-Erik Wallberg in Vittsjö, of Wege Tenn. It was made in 1969. The motif is Swedish petroglyphs from the Bronze Age.

When I was about 12, a very rainy summer, my mother took my siblings and me on a tour around the south of Sweden. I remember how we looked at petroglyphs, all wearing matching yellow raincoats. In spite of the foul weather, it was one of my best vacation trips, ever. This may be why I love these brooches so much.

Pewter is also a material often used in Sami handicraft, a specialty here in Lapland. The embroidered leather bracelets have been all the rage among fashionable youngsters (I have even seen them featured in magazines like Vogue), so you may have seen those. I picked this one up at a flea market for pennies. I have taken it with me when I travel, since it´s rather light-weight and will work even with tops in a lighter material. It was made in Jokkmokk, where the Sami artist Lars Pirak, among others, worked as a designer. I can´t tell, though, who made this particular brooch, or when.

This one is also rather small and pretty, and made here i Luleå by Lars G Svedjestrand at Gammelstad Konsthantverk och Tennsmide, in 1987. He doesn´t have a webpage that I can find, but some pewter jewellery from Lapland can be found here. No brooches, though, as far as I can see. Because they are not fashionable, I suppose.

I´d like to finish with something that is not pewter at all, but silver. And it´s perhaps not technically a brooch, either. It more like an Iron Age safety pin. I bought it at Birka, a museum built around the archeological excavation of one of the oldest known towns in Sweden. I think it fits with the general theme here, and I love it.  
 Hope you have enjoyed! And many thanks to Un Femme!


Killer Cats

Roman killer cat in action. 2011.
Knowing this, I still prefer cats to dogs. Some of the reasons are listed here. (Really, this made me laugh hysterically.) Thank you HONY for linking to this site.


The Importance of Being Edited

This week, I have read a local author. The book was recommended to me, or no, not recommended, I was informed and a bit warned. My friend said, "I read this book and suddenly I realized that it was set in Piteå, at the School of Music." Which is where she grew up and my husband works. And I instantly knew who had written it, a former music teacher who quit to focus full-time on his writing.

KG Johansson is mostly known for his sci-fi and fantasy books, which are, I believe, written mainly for younger readers. I have seen his work at the e-library, but haven´t really been that tempted. Sci-fi and fantasy is something I was very keen on as a kid, but not so much any more. However, this is a novel for grown-ups, and well, I just had to take a look.

"Kärlekssekten" (= the love sect), is centred around two young women, who are sisters but not friends. We get to follow them both during a year when a religious sect seduces a majority of the Swedish people. It starts out all love-y and nice, but quickly turns nasty as the sect turns out to really be some kind of cross between the mob, Hells Angels, and neo-fascism. The older sister, Anna, a music teacher at the school, stays firmly out of it, and gets into trouble for that, while the younger sister, Viktoria, gets involved both spiritually and financially, and gets in just as much trouble. As if that wasn´t enough, they both also become involved with the same man, for whom Anna even leaves her family.

The novel is 453 pages. That´s about 200 pages too many. I get the impression it hasn´t been edited at all. Perhaps the author was keen to publish and didn´t let it cool long enough to look at it with fresh eyes. Perhaps too many words are his style. A quick look at one of his sci-fi novels seem to indicate something in that direction. The most common advice given to writers starting out is to "show, not tell". Well, Johansson shows and tells, then explains, then shows and tells some more. I keep mumbling get on with it! to the pages. Very little is left to the reader, and as a result I don´t feel engaged.

Also, the plot is not particularly realistic. Which in itself is ok, I´m fine with fantastical stories. But you have to at least have believable characters, saying believable things, to get away with an improbable scenario like a religious sect converting more than half the population and even turning university professors into biggoted, spineless citizens of the village of the damned. Still, there are some pretty good scenes in here. Only a bit more work would have made this book a lot better.

In one segment of the story, the older sister Anna is assigned a tin-eared accompanist, a student at the school. She complains to her superiors, but is told that "no one else hears that", the idea being that most people in an audience, who are not specialists, will be oblivious to the nuances that separate a quality performance from a run-of-the-mill one. I can´t help thinking that it´s the same with literature. That even a ferocious reader, like a well-practiced musician, isn´t necessarily sensitive to the difference between, say, Umberto Eco´s "Foucault´s Pendulum" and Dan Brown´s "Da Vinci Code".

Again, I think stern editing would have made a big difference. Actually, I think the ability to edit is what make great writers great and most writers not so. One of the most celebrated authors in Sweden constantly says to reporters that he writes "a heck of a lot of crap" and I believe that. Everyone does. A first draft is almost always crap. That´s when the real work starts. And, of course, there is that small matter of taste.

This Made Me Laugh

Do you ever feel like the computer is taking over your life? You may be right.


On Intelligence

I have just finished "Hjärnrevolutionen; Varför din intelligens påverkar allt du gör - och allt du gör påverkar din intelligens" (= The Brain Revolution; Why your intelligence affects everything you do - and everything you do affects your intelligence) by Johan Norberg. I expected it to be interesting, but reading this made me jump to attention:

"Only about 5 percent of the population has exceptional cognitiv ability. That´s a very small share, but in a population like the Swedish, it´s still about 450.000 people. And that is 450.000 people who, through their ability to handle information and solve problems, are disproportionally well-represented among leaders in their respective fields. They are the people who run politics, economy, unions, media, universities, and organizations. This is probably you and most of the people you know - because most people who select a book of this kind has a cognitive ability above average, and we often hang out with people who are like ourselves." (my own very quick and dirty translation, and my own highlight)


Talking about IQ and intelligence can be very controversial. There is an implicit brutality in measuring intelligence - we may end up placing people on a scale from good to bad, from valuable to crappy, if we are not very careful. And this goes against what most of us consider decent and ethically sound.

Intelligence is not about knowing lots of stuff. It´s about the ability to learn and solve problems, and there seems to be a consensus on this, at least. But, as Norberg points out, being intelligent is no guarantee that life will turn out well. Many bright kids are, at least in the Swedish school system, held back by a firm resistance to what is sneeringly called "elite classes" and it is actually illegal for a school to only admit bright students, and home schooling is also illegal. Norberg is a liberal debater with right-wing leanings and is, not surprisingly, an advocate for a school system that stimulates scholarly bright children, as well as support those who have other talents. Not that the less academically inclined are the main focus here, this book is an appeal for the "clever" ones. At least in our culture, which is very focused on the group, on homogenity and normality, we want to pretend that all are created equal, that enough money and encouragement will turn anyone into an Einstein or an Olof Palme. Those who don´t agree with Norberg would argue that his society is an unequal society where rich stands against poor, elite stands against, as Basil Faulty would have said, riff-raff.

I find that I partly agree with Norberg, even though he is on the other side of the political spectrum from me. It can be challenging to be a bookish kid in a Swedish school, and no doubt that goes for most school systems where children are taught in groups that are put together on the basis of home adress. But it can be equally challenging to be a slowly developing kid, a functionally challenged kid, a socially troubled kid, whatever. Norbergs bottom line, as I understand it, is that a more intelligent population will create a better future, for themselves as individuals and for society as a whole. And it´s a pretty thought. Perhaps he is right. I would like to think he is, but I have my doubts. Intelligence and goodness do not go hand in hand, at least that is my experience.

He also advises the reader on how to remain intelligent as we age. Not surprisingly, active and curious reading is the Fountain of Youth. And excercise. If you also have the good sense to marry another curious person with whom you can have interesting and stimulating conversation, you have done what you can to stay on top of your game.

Considering that pensions are shrinking and care for the elderly is increasingly difficult to finance, health is probably one´s safest investment, although that´s a conclusion Norberg lets this reader make herself...


A Theory on Creation

I have to share this story with you that I found on this wonderful blog, Fanciful Devices. Enjoy:

The best story from this weekend was when 3yrold Marcela mentioned something about God. To which 6yrold Carlos very sarcastically retorted, "Who doesn't even exist!" 
His mom looked just as quizzical as I felt. We're all basically atheists in my family, but she's certainly not teaching it to these little ones, that's not the kind of thing you want them going on about at school. Especially now that Marcela's going to a -very good- Catholic school. "Carlos,"said my sister, "you can really upset people if you say that. They're teaching Marcela about God in school- which is great!"
"So then how did we get here?" asks a suddenly articulate Marcela. Carlos considers.
"Maybe a dinosaur was laying an egg and he laid a human by mistake. Then he laid all the humans."
A dinosaur. Laid. A human.
And then he laid all the humans.
So there you have a truncated version of human evolution by Carlos Rios Klaus, who is way too logical to believe in God.

A dinosaur. Laid. A human.


Ceremony and Celebration

It has been the yearly Academic Festival at the university, and I was invited to hobnob with the honorary doctors, other illustrious guests, and members of the university staff, being the wife of the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

When I was very little, we had a neighbour, an octogenarian widow who called herself doktorinnan. That´s the feminine form of doctor, like actress to actor, but I have never heard the form doctoress, or any other feminine variety of doctor. She was not a doctor, her husband had been a doctor. She had been a very successful owner and manager of a large hotel. However, her status was all about her husband´s work and title. Similarly, the wife of a major would be called majorska, a general´s wife would be generalska, and so on, exept in the fields where women actually worked, like teaching and nursing. A teacher´s wife was called just that, a teacher´s wife, while a "teacheress" (lärarinna) was an actual teacher, who happened to be a woman.

These days, neither women nor men measure their status by what their significant other is doing for a living. We are much more individualistic and focus on our own careers or jobs or whatever we choose to do and however we like to define our identities. Still, at times, we are required to do duty as wives and, increasingly, husbands. It can be challenging to go to a function where you know no one, where no one will be particularly interested in who you are or what you do, where you are likely to be not very interested in what the others are and what they do, that will require fancy dress and uncomfortable shoes, long hours without food, long hours eating fancy food served in small portions while listening to long-winded speakers talking about things you have no idea about, trying to make small-talk with strangers you are likely to never see again. And your husband or wife is more or less officially working the entire evening and not particularly focused on your needs.

I know that plenty among the significant others are not particularly amused, and some do eventually refuse to go, or perhaps they will go to the ceremony but skip the dinner, or skip the ceremony and go to the dinner. Some enjoy it, of course. I personally never look forward to it, but I am usually surprised that I´m having as much fun as I´m often actually having. It´s a bit of a lottery who you are going to sit next to, but I have been lucky most years. And the older I get, the more philosophical I become about the slow bits, the dodgy singing, the unsmooth behaviour of some, and my own occasional awkwardness. And these days, I often bump into people I know a little.

This year, one of the Honorary Doctors was a proper celebrity, a Major International Superstar, in fact: Benny Andersson, of ABBA, Chess &cetera-fame. In all the years I have attended, I can not remember the atmosphere having been more charged than this time. My own husband bestowed him with the honors during the ceremony. Personally, I only came within speaking distance very, very briefly twice, barely managed to say hello in a civil manner and say my name, and then was pushed out of the way by all the people wanting to have their piece of him, a look, a chat, an autograph. I find it all baffling, since people of his magnitude, people who have had, in different ways, a profound influence on my life (I know all the songs by heart, as I´m sure you do), make me dumbstruck. He is, of course, very nice, very gracious, very generous. And I imagine even he sometimes cringe about things he said, or failed to say.

Since my husband´s term as dean is up at the New Year, it may be a few years before we get to go again. I am both relieved and a little sorry. I have some great memories, and some interesting experiences. And a few very nice dresses.


Going Shopping

Here is a reading recommendation for you: an article about two guys going book shopping. I don´t much do bookstores anymore, because of my asthma, but I have certainly been exactly where these guys are. But seriously, how many books does it make sense to own? Perhaps it depends on the quality of one´s public library. Mine is excellent.

Favourite quote from this article: 

"you don’t get to be the best-read man in America by giving a damn about someone else’s taste. You buy and read books that entice you for small reasons like a good cover or an intelligent introduction, books that appeal to your eccentricities. You keep as many books as possible nearby because they are in fact the very record of your eccentricities."

I like that. I often sit to table with other enthusiastic readers and they go "have you read this? have you read that?", and more and more, I find that I haven´t read the latest novels, the ones on the best-seller-lists, that everyone reads. And if this used to make me feel embarrassed, it doesn´t any more. The world is full of great books, old and new. The only good reason to read something is that it adds to your own experience or gives you much pleasure. Making book choices to "keep up" is a waste of time. Unless, of course, you are a critic or something like that, and have to read for work. Which is a totally different thing.

I think that generally, one should follow one´s heart. In all matters. 


The Woodland Cemetery

Last weekend we went to Stockholm, to lounge in a great hotel, visit my sister-in-law and her husband at their new apartment (which is stunning), see a show (La Cage aux Folles), and generally just do whatever we wanted.

We slept in Saturday, had breakfast in bed, and watched a documentary about Skogs-kyrkogården, the Woodland Cemetery. It was All Saint´s Day, and they were expecting about 70.000 visitors. We decided to add two to that number, since lighting candles at the cemetery is a tradition we have observed for many years. The Woodland Cemetery is on the Unesco World Heritage list, and I have been wanting to see it for many years. And now it just became the natural thing to do.

The cemetery is very large, and each part has it´s own style of burial.

One corner is for the Catholics. There is also a Jewish Cemetery.

The Chapel of Resurrection, that looks very much like what I imagine a Roman temple would have looked like.

At the other end of this long road, Seven Springs Way, is the hill where we finally lit our candles.

Inside the chapel, designed by Sigurd Lewerentz.

The same architect, Lewerentz, also designed these outhouses, consciously brutalizing the beauty of the chapel.

I couldn´t help wonder what my father-in-law, the mason, would have thought about this.

The tall forrest gives the whole place a cathedral-like atmosphere.

Towards the big Chapel of the Holy Cross and the Crematorium.

Looks like a hobbit´s house.

The Woodland Chapel.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross.

There was some kind of service going on, so we didn´t enter, but it´s always nice to have a reason to return.

The view from the big chapel towards the hill.

The Chapel of Hope. I love how the visiting family mirrors the family depicted on the altar painting.

The benches are angled, so the mourners can sit closer to one another. Talk about attention to detail!

The grave of the head architect, who died from exhaustion only a short time after the consecration ceremony.


It was a wonderful afternoon, even though the light was bad and there was a hailstorm. We really had this sense of community, and this is what it´s like on most cemeteries in Sweden on All Saint´s Day. We passed the grave of Greta Garbo without seeing it, so that´s one more reason to return. I´d also like to see the cemetery in summer, in full bloom.

Halloween has been a controversial, and commercial, import the last few years, but it´s mostly considered a masquerade party thing for the children. Still, some older folks think kids dressed up as ghouls and skeletons are offensive on a weekend traditionally reserved for stillness, meditation and rememberance. But I suppose times change, and traditions will, too.