Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Delad glädje är dubbel glädje

In Sweden there is a saying that shared happiness is double happiness (the meaning of the title). Here in Sweden I have had my family and relatives to share my happiness with, in places with many shared memories, such as the lake near the house where I grew up or the island in the archipelago where even my dad spent his childhood summers. In Jordan however, in a country I’ve never visited before, comes the daunting task of finding new people to share my experiences with, and above all to have people to share memories with once I return home. When I volunteered in Ecuador for a month at the age of 16 I knew no one there and had never been there before, and neither had my family. I met wonderful people there, but no one my age or from any of my countries of residence (Sweden, Malta, the USA) and there are really only one or two people I still stay in touch with from that trip and I only share some memories with them. My experience in Ecuador also taught me that reverse culture shock is often worse than initial culture shock and I’m fully braced for this in going to Jordan.

Now it’s time to return to the present, and thus my present location, which is no longer Stockholm but the small town of Resele, in northwestern Sweden. Our road trip up here (a 5 hour ride without stopping) was pretty eventful and included swims in two different “landskap” (Swedish “states”). First, we stopped to pick up my aunt and cousin, who were hitching a ride to the town of Söderhamn. Second, we arrived in my hometown of Vallentuna, just north of Stockholm, which I could barely recognize due to widespread construction. Even my childhood home is growing up! There we met my other cousins at the graveyard to visit my grandparents’ grave. We also went into the beautiful Vallentuna Church and I was shocked to find that after studying medieval art at college, I could analyze the architecture in a way I had never done before. I also found out that the church was built in 1200 and home to one of the oldest books in Europe, which resembled the very manuscripts that I studied in my college course. It’s remarkable what you find when you come back home after a long time away.

We then swam at Sparren, my childhood lake, and had the leftovers from the impromptu picnic at Nacka Strand the day before.

Our next stop was Söderhamn to drop off my aunt and cousin and we were met with a magnificent fika by their hosts, which was followed by a refreshing swim in their local lake.

Finally, just as the sun was setting at 10:30pm, we arrived at our little country house in Resele.

By the way, big news: I BOOKED MY TICKETS FOR JORDAN! It looks like I will have a day in Istanbul both on the way there and on the way back since I am flying Turkish Air. I’m getting more and more excited!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Åh det är skönt när mitt Stockholm är grönt

Last night three generations of women were sitting under 16th century wooden beams, listening to a smooth and sparkling summer jazz that trailed through the night like the cool summer breeze that blew in through the open door leading out to the verdant garden and ashen, tear-stained sky. The scent of carefully prepared meats with wine sauces and roasted potatoes rose to the ceiling with notes from an antiquated organ and a saw strummed with violin strings. The women were me, my mother, and my grandmother, and our friends and family. The jazz was performed by the talented Rebecka Törnqvist and the great food was prepared at Skottvångs Grufva.

There are few things I love more than a jazz concert in summertime.

Speaking of things I love, I had a wonderful day revisiting childhood memories with my cousins at Skansen. It is the closest you can get to a zoo in Stockholm and a great way to get a sense of the diversity within Sweden without leaving the capital. They also have craft houses where you can view glass-blowers, potters, and bakers use techniques employed in Sweden for centuries. Most of the houses close by 5pm, only five of them staying open until 7pm, but the whole area is open until 10pm. We arrived at 4.30pm and had the whole tourist-hub practically to ourselves!

Finally, what is a blog in Summer 2012 if it doesn't mention the London 2012 Olympics?! After a wonderful picnic watching the sun set over Stockholm, we stayed up until 2am watching the opening ceremonies in London while chewing on Swedish candy. When I saw the Swedish costumes the fashionista in me had to cringe. They certainly stood out, but I don't think Sweden has ever looked so dorky. Nonetheless, London did a great job with the opening ceremonies, focusing on culture and history, which are certainly two of Great Britain's greatest attributes. The olympic torch for this year is certainly the most beautiful I have ever seen!

PS. The title for this post is the opening line for one of my favorite songs about Stockholm: Monica Zetterlund - SAKTA VI GÅ GENOM STAN

Friday, July 27, 2012

Swedish summer evenings

The beauty of my hometown and homeland leave me at a loss for words, so I will let my photography and a nobel laureates poetry get the message across to you. Once I get the photos off my camera I will share my excursions to Skansen (Stockholm's outdoor museum) and Fotografiska Museet (The Photography Museum) so I promise more chatty posts to come.

It is always so early in here, it is before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. I am grateful for this life! And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.

A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.

Excerpt from The Blue House by Tomas Tranströmer (Translated by Göran Malmqvist) Source: http://tomastranstromer.net/poetry/

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

صباح الخير

It's a sunny morning in the Swedish archipelago. I'm up earlier than the rest of the house doing some work and listening to happy songs. We all had a late night last night watching X-Men First Class after returning late from a day in Stockholm spent eating cake at a 17th century underground cafe in the Old Town and looking at the sculptures outside of Moderna Museet, the modern art museum in Stockholm (which is unfortunately closed on Mondays).

My family and I came to the conclusion that the sculptures depicted industrialism damaging mother nature, but a French artist also admiring the sculpture garden believed that it displayed paradise. Please comment with your interpretation! Anyway I should get back to work before my cousins wake up. I just wanted to share a happy song, a good cafe, and an interesting sculpture with you. I want this to be a travel blog, and how would it be one without some travel recommendations for other adventurers out there? I hope your tuesday is as sunny and temperate as mine looks like it will be!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sol, vind, och vatten

I don't really know what to say, the past few days have been such a flurry of family and friends, the beautiful Stockholm archipelago and one of the oldest towns in Sweden, Sigtuna, so I will let the photos I promised speak for me.

The birthday card we gave to my cousin, in which I wrote her name in Arabic (practicing for Jordan)
Me with my cousin's adorable dog in a courtyard in Södermalm
An adorable little girl looking out at Stockholm from the boat to Ljusterö
Classic Swedish summer on smooth cliffs sloping into the icy Baltic
Giant Swedish raspberries go perfectly with kladdkaka

Thursday, July 19, 2012

You can take the girl out of Sweden...

...But you can't take Sweden out of the girl, as my grandma says. My sister and I have never been away from our homeland for this long, so it was a surprisingly moving experience to be back. The flight, which I earlier said I looked forward to so much, actually passed by quickly and insipidly compared to my expectations. I found time to watch three movies, which I all really enjoyed.

1. Salmon fishing in the Yemen, by Lasse Hallström, was a beautiful, funny, and sad film which very originally demonstrated political attitudes, and realities, regarding the Middle East. I never read the book but found the cinematography beautiful. I also paid special attention to what the women were wearing in the scenes filmed in the Middle East as inspiration for outfits to wear in Jordan.

2. Friends with Kids by Jennifer Westfeldt, was funny and made me think of all the things to come (all in good time of course).

3. War Horse by Steven Spielberg, is a brilliant war epic with gorgeous cinematography. I've been fascinated with historical fiction ever since I could read, so these historical epics are always exciting to me.

The trip was not without its misadventures, though. On of them was that I forgot my passport, but fortunately I'm a dual citizen, so I had an extra. :)

The first thing we did when we arrived at our residence for the coming week, in the area of Danderyd, was take a walk and go swimming in one of those cool, clear, beautiful Swedish lakes. Jumping off the smooth cliff into the refreshing Nordic water of my childhood was the definition of simple happiness. But that happiness was short-lived as our second misadventure occurred and I was shaken to the core by the horrible site of my dear grandmother falling over the jagged rocks above. My mouth started screaming as if it was separate from my body. Fortunately she only got cuts and scrapes, and it reminds me how fine the line can be between an accident and a tragedy. It's no wonder many people believe that that line is threaded by guardian angels.

Onto happier things, I experienced another simple happiness as I had my favorite meal of the day (breakfast) as I can only have it in Sweden. Hallon/blåbär filmjölk (like milkier, more sour yogurt) with musli, walnuts, and fresh strawberries, toast with hjortronsylt (cloudberry jam) and herrgårdsost (Swedish hard cheese), orange juice, and a cup of strong Swedish coffee.

Being back in Sweden and seeing my beautiful cousins and aunts and uncles after a year of separation (which is unusual for the close-knit Velander clan) brought me close to tears. Tomorrow I'm taking the boat out to the archipelago to spend more time with my cousins, so expect to see pictures, because I know my sister and I will be snapping away. There are few things more beautiful to me than the Stockholm archipelago on a sunny Swedish summer day.

Going Home

NB: This was delayed in publishing. I wrote this on July 17, before leaving for BWI to fly to Sweden.

“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.” - Rumi

Today I started this blog to chronicle the next 5-6 months of which I will be traveling through Sweden, Malta, Istanbul, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel. Some of these places I have already lived in (Sweden, Malta), some have been visited (Israel) and others are completely new to me and makes it all the more exciting to visit.

The quote above by the mystical Persian poet Rumi is usually affiliated with spiritual love, but to me, someone who is hopelessly in love with traveling, it speaks to me of all the adventures and new discoveries I will make in the coming months. The secret sky is my unknown future, and the hundred veils that fall are the misconceptions that will be removed as I am exposed to new cultures and new people. And "to take a step without feet" to me means to take a risk, let go of my roots (although I don't think I was ever a homebody) and to go where I've never gone before.

But before all of that comes the long-awaited return to the familiar, to my homeland Sweden, in the company of my parents, sister, and grandmother. Ironically, I'm almost more excited to be going to airports and on air planes again than returning to Sweden. For someone who flew the first time they were six weeks old, I have always felt comforted by airports and airplanes, a sort of mainstay in life, the one experience that feels the same. I still feel, 10 years later, the anticipation and excitement of going on a long trip that I would feel at the age of 9. And I warn you: travel tends to make me very introspective but I will try to not write too many sappy blog posts about good byes and "internal journeys". Flight will be leaving in a few hours so I need to go. THE JOURNEY BEGINS!!!