2013-12-30

Resolutions

I am always tempted to make resolutions the week after Christmas. It is natural, I think, as the old year draws to a close and you buy a new calendar, to sum things up, reflect on what you have achieved, and think about what lies ahead. Also, there is the hangover from the gluttony, food-related and otherwise, of December, and the long, dark winter. I long for water, natural hunger, sunlight, a warm breeze.

This year, I am thinking about buying more elk and reindeer meat; I like the idea of eating animals that have enjoyed a natural lifestyle. I am also thinking about making more hot vegetable- and fruit dishes. The husband wants to eat more fish; I am fine with that as long as I don´t have to eat salmon all the time. I am thinking about less sugar (and eating home-made, chocolate-covered cindertoffee as I write this). He says, more hours in the gym. I say, I want to see more concerts and theatre. And shopping, do we really need to do that ever again? We probably own more clothes now than our grandparents did in their lifetime. Local produce, wholefood, ecological, it´s a no-brainer, really. The trick is just getting out of the rut and establish new patterns of behaviour.

I just watched a programme on television about the climate change and now I feel terribly bad about planning to fly to England this summer. However, I have wanted for years to take the freight vessel from Gothenburg to Immingham, so perhaps that is what we should do, and at least halve our flying. I know, those planes will still fly whether I´m on them or not, but if everyone wanted to go by boat, wouldn´t they start the ferry traffic again? Whatever I do it seems useless against the horrid pollution suffered by inhabitants of places like Beijing, the melting glaciers, and the rising temperatures. And the thought creeps up on me that neither democracy nor capitalism seems able to solve this particular problem...

..but I shake it off and focus on organizing my desk and my wardrobe. And I make the firm resolution to read one Alice Munro short story a week for the entirety of 2014. Last year, I felt that I was at the end of something old and stale; this year, I feel like I am at the beginning of something new, something I can´t really grasp yet. It´s a good feeling and I am quite eager to begin.

A Happy New Year to you all!

2013-12-29

A Boxing Day Walk...

... at noon, and it was a clear enough sky to see the sun for a bit. These photos were shot at 11:54. However, as everyone keep pointing out, it´s getting lighter and lighter, day by day!



2013-12-23

Have an Excellent Christmas

The other day I came across a reference (I think it was in the Guardian) to art critic, etc John Berger´s BBC series "Ways of seeing" from 1972. All the episodes are on youtube and it was two well spent hours, though I confess I did skip most of the episode two feminist discussion about the male gaze. I understand the text that this series is based on is still used for educational purposes. What Berger pointed out, among other things, and that I hadn´t really thought of like that, is how the history of the photograph and the culture of photography is very much linked to advertising, which is about depicting what is desirable. Or, as Berger puts it, glamorous.

I remember a kid I know, who a few years back, when I asked him to pose for my camera, immediately started behaving like a fashion or glamour model. It was a bit eerie, he would have been six or seven, but telling, I think, of the photographic culture that he had grown up in. And don´t we all, really, attempt to make ourselves, our home, and our lives look just a little bit extra charming, enviable, and desirable for photos? Most of us probably don´t even feel particularly weird about the idea that we are selling ourselves to the world, even to those we call friends and family.

Yesterday we visited five supermarkets in our search for everything we need to make a perfect Christmas for our closest family. We try to make it simple and traditional, but it seems we have rather particular demands on certain things, like the brand, type, and weight of the ham. As we stood in one check-out line after another, I saw many women´s faces marked by stress and anxiety, whimpering kids, and grumpy grandpas. And it occured to me that Christmas has also become glamourized. Even if we don´t buy magazines, most of the supermarket chains send their own versions to all registered bonus point-collecting customers, and the newspapers all have lifestyle supplements. There is no getting away from it. 

The only way I can think of to resist, is to be aware. I am reading Brooks Jensen again, and in my notebook I have written "What is my definition of excellence?". He is writing about photographic projects of course, but it´s a good question to ask oneself concerning most endeavours, I think. What is my definition of an excellent Christmas? What is yours?


2013-12-21

Four Days Until Christmas

It´s been raining all over my Christmas spirit. This photo is taken at 2 am yesterday but it might as well have been at 3 pm. Also, someone at the post office has "mis-sorted" a parcel of mine, and they can´t find it. Nor do they seem very interested in looking for it. It contains a 50´s watch I bought on Ebay, a kind that I have been wanting for a long time, so I am pretty distressed about it.

At least my traditional vörtbröd (a traditional rye bread made with brewer´s wort) came out smashing this year, and in triumph I carried part of the loaf to mum-in-law. She had, in spite of near blindness, made a second attempt in as many days to bake hallongrottor (literally: raspberry caves).
She showed me a tin full:
"I think this batch looks much better than the first one."
Well, I could see the raspberry, but no cave; there was a sorry pat of jam on top of a slightly burned, thin layer of flour in the paper baking cups she had used.
"I think you may not have used enough flour", I said.
"But I followed the recipe exactly!"

There was a lot more Christmas spirit at my friend Oscar´s tenth birthday bash, as his mother is a champion decorator and a black-belt shopper. She was particularly happy about the tree this year, and rightly so, I thought.

I am trying to learn how to use my camera better, and this low-light season is very challenging. As you know, the road to proficiency goes uphill and is paved with failure, and I came home with around eighty very, very bad photos. Sometimes, however, a bad photo goes so bad, it turns around and comes back kind of good in an unexpected way. This is, of course, not a sign of improved skill, but rather blind luck.

Today, I have the big pre-Christmas cleaning to do, Sunday is the big Christmas shopping day, and Monday is meatballs and ham frying day. Tuesday, it´s Christmas Eve, which is the Big Day for us in Sweden, when we eat ourselves sick and watch the eternal and obligatory re-run of "Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul" (= Donald Duck and his friends wish a Merry Christmas). And drink liters of glögg.

2013-12-20

2013-12-19

A New Perspective on Storytelling

Now notice who is reading this book. Again see if you can connect with a sense of looking out at the world from behind your eyes. Notice that you are here in this moment reading, and notice too that the person behind these reading eyes was there when you ate breakfast this morning and was there when you were a child. You’ve been you your whole life, though there have been many changes in your thoughts, your feelings, your roles, and your body. At the very moment that you gaze at these lines of ink on paper, notice who is gazing. Hello. You have been you ever since you showed up in early childhood as a conscious human being, and your infantile amnesia fell away (about the same time that these deictic frames of I/you; here/there; and now/then made their appearance). This “I” is what some call the observing self (Deikman 1982). It is a sense that transcends both time and space, not literally but experientially since this sense is everywhere you go. Whatever happens to you, it is this “I” that will be part of your verbal knowledge of that experience.
That is a quote from one of the most useful and interesting books I have read this year: "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy" by Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith. I read one of those agony aunt-columns in a newspaper, and became curious about this so called ACT, acceptance and commitment therapy. I decided to investigate and picked this book out from a selection available on amazon.

Bottom-line, this is about the practice of mindfulness, which I have learned a bit about from Eckhart Tolle. The root to suffering, says Hayes and Smith, is that we (or as Tolle calls it, our egos) tell stories about ourselves, other people, our lives, and our world, that define what we are and what we are able to do. This can be empowering, but often also causes distress and in some cases hinder us from doing what we want or need to do.
This is our point: humans suffer, in part, because they are verbal creatures. If this is so, then here is the problem: the verbal skills that create misery are too useful and central to human functioning to ever stop operating. That means suffering is an unavoidable part of the human condition, at least until we know how to better manage the skills language itself has given us. 
The therapy part of this book is about learning to defuse from the stories, and go beyond these self-imposed limitations. It is not easy though, to defuse from labels put on oneself by parents, friends, teachers and others.
There is an alternative: you can learn to look at your thoughts rather than from them. These cognitive defusion techniques are a core component of ACT. They help you to make the distinction between the world as structured by your thoughts, and thinking as an ongoing process. When your thoughts are about you yourself, defusion can help you to distinguish between the person doing the thinking and the verbal categories you apply to yourself through thinking. Defusion leads to peace of mind, not because the mental war necessarily stops but because you are not living inside the war zone anymore.
This is so interesting, and I have learned some useful techniques for my hangups, although I must say that considering some of the examples of problems patients struggle with, I can only say (and with a great sense of gratitude) that I really have no problems. Perhaps the most useful thing about reading this book, for me, is a greater understanding of the suffering of some of my friends, which has at times been incomprehensible to me.
...the conceptualized self fits into a story that provides reasons for your actions and a self that provides coherence for your experiences. It is a kind of comfortable but suffocating coherence that leads relentlessly toward “more of the same.” Have you ever noticed that if someone thinks he is unimportant, most events in his life appear to confirm that view? Or have you ever observed that if someone sees herself as a victim, somehow she keeps ending up (in her mind or in actuality) being victimized?
If you are interested in how the mind really works, how our thoughts govern our lives, and want to try some interesting new ways (at least they were new to me) to deal with whatever levels of discomfort or behavioural limitation that you experience, this could be a good read for you.

2013-12-18

Christmas Meditation

Sunday the 15th we went to church and listened to Erik Westbergs Vokalensemble celebrating their 20th anniversary with a Christmas concert. Among other things we got to listen to the first performance of composer Jan Sandström´s "Veni, Emmanuel", which was a real treat.

But now, a few days later, as I think back, my favourite piece was Morten Lauridsen´s "O Magnum Mysterium". I found a version of it on youtube (put there by GP Eleria) by the Nordic Chamber Choir, and here it is.




2013-12-16

Here Be Dragons

It´s been a crap kind of winter so far, with temperatures bouncing up and down every other day between plus five and minus ten. This morning we had kramsnö, which is a wet, heavy kind of snow that is excellent to make snowmen from. This didn´t just lure out the kids, but a pair of artistically inclined, grown-up neighbours, and this is what they made:



It only lasted a couple of hours, though. I took this photo at half past one (the sun was setting, as you can tell), and by the time I got home, at six, it had fallen to pieces. Great initiative, I think.

2013-12-14

Charming Comedy

You never know how a new author is going to enter your life. E F Benson (Edward Frederick) came to me like this:


Now, Rye is not a place from which the view is particularly spectacular; rather, Rye is a place people go to look at, as did we, on recommendation by a friend who had been there some months earlier. It is the quintessential English small town, and just what the English themselves seem to love the most. We only stayed for a few hours, strolled around (with our bags in tow, as we were in transit), had lunch, a long fika (as it began to rain rather heavily), took a few photos, and just generally roamed about. For some reason, probably the weather, all my photos from Rye are terrible and dreary, which is why most photos in this post are the husband´s. Also, a telephoto lens is crap when you want to photograph quaint alleys.

Referencing another, more famous author.
I had never heard of E F Benson, and nor had my friend (the one who had visited Rye before me and who has introduced me to some great British literature), so I investigated. Turned out, he wrote six novels about these characters and four of the books were set in a ficionalized version of Rye called Tilling. The first book, "Queen Lucia" is available for free at the gutenberg-project, or you can get it at amazon, also for free. 

This is social comedy, or a comedy of manners, perhaps. Emmeline Lucas, or Lucia, as she wants to be called, dominates the social life of small town Riseholme by having set herself up as a paragon of culture and good taste. She hosts parties with musical entertainment and poetry readings (her husband Philip, whom she calls Peppino, is a retired lawyer and self-published poet), she has a penchant for tableaux, and has even invented her own dresscodes for parties. Her tastes go beyond the social and she has written a memorable essay on "Humour in Furniture", which she has read to the Riseholme Literary Society, advocating the use of brass milkcans as receptacles for sticks and umbrellas, displays of realistic stone fruit, and man-made insects crawling around the home.

Lucia´s right hand man is Georgie Pillson, a half-old bachelor, more girl than man, who adores Lucia in a most chaste manner. There are other wonderful characters as well, like Daisy Quantock, who likes to play first fiddle herself, and occasionally puts up a bit of a fight for the throne. The village green is referred to as the parliament, and gossip is what fuels the inhabitants of Riseholme. Everyone wants to know everything about everyone and everyone wants to be interesting and talked about by the others. Information is the most valuable currency.
Georgie felt very much like a dog with a bone in his mouth, who only wants to get away from all the other dogs and discuss it quietly. It is safe to say that never in twenty-four hours had so many exciting things happened to him. He had ordered a toupet, he had been looked on with favour by a Guru, all Riseholme knew that he had had quite a long conversation with Lady Ambermere and nobody in Riseholme, except himself, knew that Olga Bracely was going to spend two nights here. 
Riseholme is, at the beginning of the story, a paradise to those who live there. As faulty as its inhabitants, perhaps, but paradise all the same. Then, the snake moves in. Or actually, a woman takes up residence in Riseholme, a woman who really is everything that Lucia pretends to be, and awkward and amusing things start to happen. And that´s really all I can say without spoiling your pleasure.

The author Benson reminds me most of, that I have read, is Nancy Mitford, who published her first novel about ten years after "Queen Lucia". Both write amusingly about their social circle, which is upper class in Mitford´s case and solidly middle class in Benson´s. However, and I say this with the reservation that I have yet to read Mitford´s most praised, later novels, Benson has a lot more depth to his characters and the plots have more layers.

I don´t know if he planned a series when he wrote this book, or if the success of it demanded the sequels, but for sure, it feels very complete. Towards the end I realized that the story has a spiritual quality as well. You might say that it is a story of the enlightenment of Georgie Pillson, who are, I think, at the centre of the story. This is a delicious little paragraph towards the end, about a portrait Georgie is making of his new neighbour:
Then Georgie had the other picture to finish, which he hoped to get ready in time to be a New Year's present, since Olga had insisted on Lucia's being done first. He had certainly secured an admirable likeness of her, and there was in it just all that his stippled, fussy representation of Lucia lacked. "Bleak December" and "Yellow Daffodils" and the rest of the series lacked it, too: for once he had done something in the doing of which he had forgotten himself. It was by no means a work of genius, for Georgie was not possessed of one grain of that, and the talent it displayed was by no means of a high order, but it had something of the naturalness of a flower that grew from the earth which nourished it.
I have to say, the language is wonderful all through the book; it is pure joy to read Benson´s sentences. His characterisations are so funny (he is a master working with clichés), but he never portrays anyone without reason to sympathise with them and even like them. His most flawed characters are also his most amusing and dear, which is perhaps why Lucia lasted through six novels. You cringe when she makes an arse of herself, but can´t help liking her anyway, because no one can get away from the fact that there is a Lucia in all of us. There is also a television series from the 80´s, starring Nigel Hawthorne, Prunella Scales, and Geraldine McEwan as Lucia. I have bought the dvd from amazon and can´t wait to see it!

I started this book with curiosity, not expecting to get hooked or read another. Now, I am an ardent fan of Mr Benson, and will absolutely return to him at some time. "Queen Lucia" is an entertainment read, certainly, but it is so well written, has so much heart and depth to it, that it is also very satisfying. Benson seems to have a devoted following still, and this charming blog is dedicated to the Riseholme/Tilling universe. I also like this cute and nerdy little tribute on youtube, by Kevin Riley.

Highly recommendable!

2013-12-12

Art Gallery Anniversary

The Art Gallery, which has been situated in the Culture House since it was inaugurated in 2007, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with an exhibition of highlights from the Luleå municipality collection.

Every year, the municipality buys a number of artworks to display in offices, receptions, and other buildnings. There is an annual exhibition at the gallery of the artworks being considered, and the first years only employees of the municipality could suggest what they would like to have on their walls, but I voted anyway for a number of years, and protested that I am as much a part of Luleå municipality as those who work there, and would certainly like a say in what goes on the walls at my local emergency room or at the library, for example. I was not the only one to do this, and the last few years everyone has been invited to give their vote.

There were two works I was particularly happy to see again, and one was Åsa Davidsson´s "Bevakad" (= guarded, or watched). Her work was exhibited in 2011, and I remember this one very well. It has a particularly eerie feel to it, I think, and so do many of Davidsson´s works. Her images often display young girls in scenery that is a bit off, off the road, as it were. There is something intermediate about the things going on, like something has just happened or is about to. You can see more of them here and here.

I was also delighted to see this painting by Swedish art legend Bengt Lindström. He lived most of his life in France, but has made a lot of famous murals and eye-catching sculpture in Sweden, like the Y in Timrå, Akkats powerstation, and Åbyverket. I remember the exhibition well, though it must have been more than ten years ago. This, "Stranden" (= the beach) was one of the smaller paintings and I´m not surprised the municipality didn´t buy a larger one, because the prices were very, very high. I remember going several times to enjoy this exhibition. Lindström used more paint in one work than many artists use in a year, I´m sure. They have a very tactile appeal, it´s very tempting to let your fingers run over the powerful brush strokes.

I´m afraid the light was bad in that corner of the hall, and having only my little Samsung with me this was the best I could do. The close-ups worked better; I become very near-sighted in front of a Lindström painting.



Actually, I think Lindström is more enjoyable up close. Doesn´t all that lovely paint make you happy? It does me.

2013-12-11

Old Images Brought To Life

I just read an article in a ladies magazine about artist Sanna Dullaway, who does colour work on old photos. She is amazing, and has worked for Times Magazine, among others. Do check out her website, and be impressed!

2013-12-09

Cheerful Art, of the Season

There is an exhibition at the Art Gallery right now that I am enamoured with. It is Anu Touminen´s "Isvattenfärger" (= icewater colours).

Touminen is a Helsinki-based conceptual artist who makes installations of what she finds, both at flea markets and at home. Her exhibition has a strong Christmas theme, and I get an almost tangible sense of having my grandmother with me (in spirit). Much of what´s on display here are things I associate with her, like crocheted potholders. Many potholders. Touminen has an entire wall full of potholders looking like Santas.

"Grupporträtt av säsongsarbetarna" (= group portrait of seasonal workers)

Touminen says in interviews that the seasons are very important to her and always present in her exhibitions. Orange is to her the colour of autumn, and there is much of it here, besides the red of Christmas. 

If you are anywhere near Luleå during the Christmas season I heartily recommend a visit; Touminen will lift your spirits. She is exhibiting until January 12, 2014.

"Badande" (= bathers)

At the Culture House website there is a kind of poem by Touminen, a sort of declaration, perhaps:


"En dimmig morgon" (= a misty morning)

Detail from "En dimmig morgon".


 
"Sötvattenisbrytare" (= sweet water icebreaker), inspired by Finnish icebreaker "Urho".
Hyvää Joulua! (= merry christmas, in Finnish)



Can´t figure out what the title of this was, but they are irresistable!

"Tidig morgon vid havet" (= early morning by the sea)

2013-12-08

Panache

My new favourite drink is something I have just been taught by my Swiss sister: it´s called Panache, and it´s a 50-50 mix of lager and Sprite (or German lemonade, if you have it). She says that in Germany it´s called a Radler (cyclist) because of it´s refreshing and low-alcoholic qualities; it is unlikely to make you so drunk that you cycle back home by way of a ditch (or, in the Alps, a deadly-steep slope). I googled this and it appears to be a version of what the British call shandy. Mixing their beer with anything is not something Swedes are inclined to do (we have light beer, after all), but it really is highly recommendable!


2013-12-07

Fashion Film Fun

Swedish blogger Torsten Kälvemark alerted me to the treasure trove of the Swedish-speaking Finnish television archive. Among other things I found this fashion show from 1920 (it´s narrated in Finnish which I don´t understand, but it hardly matters). The dresses are lovely, and the models move awkwardly, but it seems to have been the way it was done, judging from this other film from 1939. I suppose the idea was that the audience get a really good look at the garment. The three children that finish the 1939 fashion show are just too cute!

This is also cool: a 1930´s film about the virtues of tricot. We see a historical expose (ever since ancient times...), we go on a visit to a stocking factory, see pretty girls in bathing suits, moms keeping themselves and their children in warm winter underwear, and of course there is a fashion show towards the end. It´s not just pretty dresses, but sportswear as well.

Leaning more towards the hilarious: an over-choreographed fashion show from 1972. The models are still waving their arms about like they did in the 20´s clip...

2013-12-04

High Altitude Adventure

When we were in Cornwall a few years ago, we became aware of the chough, a popular bird that had been extinct in Cornwall for more than fifty years, but had come back early in the noughties, and is much cherished and protected by local birdwatchers. I had hoped to see one, but the closest I got was this decorated tableware.

This weekend, we went to Switzerland for the first time (first for me, anyway), to visit my sister and her partner, who is a native of Lucerne, about a one hour trainride from Zürich. They have lived mostly in Phoenix since they met a few years ago, and then travelled much in the US, New Zeeland, and Australia, before returning to Lucerne this summer and deciding to settle there.

Sunday, we were lucky enough to have fine weather for an outing to their local peak, Mount Pilatus, which is pretty impressive and higher than Sweden´s highest mountain.

On a clear day, you can see it from my sister´s flat, but it had been densly cloudy both Friday and Saturday, and it was pretty hard to imagine what the mountains looked like above the grey lid of clouds.

It´s a comfortable trip up there on the cableway, though many like to hike. Hiking seems to be a national sport and the main attraction for the tourists as well, though I might have guessed it was skiing. My sister and her partner are very enthusiastic hikers, climbers, and divers, and having a peak like Pilatus nearby is excellent for keeping in shape for more exotic challenges, I understand. In winter the Swiss hike with snowshoes, we saw a few of those from the cable car on our way up. You can also go up from the other side of the mountain, on the world´s steepest cogwheel railway, but that isn´t open in winter. The recommended route, in summer, is to take a boat from Lucerne to the railway station, go up the mountain, have lunch there, to down with the cableway, and then catch the bus to town. They call it "the golden route" or something like that.




The summit has a definite Blofeldt-vibe to it. There is a tunnel that goes all around the peak and allows you to get a view shot in every direction, and the wind through that tunnel is unbelievable!


See that little church in the lower left corner?

An act of faith, building a church there, I would think.

If it´s too cold to go outside you can stay indoors and look at the view. This building is quite new, only a year or so old, and much appreciated by the tourists. Or you could bed yourself down in a recliner and have a nap outdoors in the mountain air, which some did. There is a nice hotel, if you´d like to stay the night, and a nice restaurant. We had lunch in a cafeteria and I have no complaints about the Swiss sausages; actually, the food is great! In the three days we spent in Switzerland we tried to explore as many local foods as we could, and I am going to try make their excellent, not-so-sweet plum cake, which they often have for lunch, I understand. I wouldn´t mind having it for dinner...

Wikipedia tells me there is a fort underneath the hotel and cableway station, but it´s not open to the public and probably still in use. Switzerland has, to my knowledge, been neutral for a long time, and it is not part of the EU. Due to the geographical inaccessibility (the Alps), it´s been called the island without a coast in the middle of Europe, and I understand the Swiss are very special people, who like to do things their own way. It is my intention to educate myself a bit for our next trip; I know nothing about Swiss history or culture, and now I have all kinds of questions.

But, back to the birds: you can´t miss them; there are lots of them, and the only type of bird I could see up there. It was pretty cold (not terribly, but around minus 5 or 10 degrees, perhaps) and the winds were strong; the birds seem to surf, rather than fly. It is not allowed to feed them, but naturally, the tourist pay no attention. I am not a birdfeeder myself, but I confess, it´s kinda cool to photograph people with birds on their heads. Not sure I would like them there myself...








They are not the same kind of chough you see in Cornwall. These are Alpine Choughs, slightly smaller, with a yellow bill instead of a red one. They are very photogenic, and I shot so many frames that I filled up my memory card (for the first time!) and had to do some quick editing of pictures from the day before to even get a shot of the fabulous view. Unfortunately, I had not brought the best lens for bird photography, but rather the wide-angle lens suited for city- and grand view photography. I think I did pretty well, considering.


My sister and I photographing each other.

The hotel & restaurant.