Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Smiling at Strangers II

I’m incorrigible. I’m still grinning madly at strangers.

I’m conducting my own little anthropological study about the influence of the weather on the interactive tendencies of Swedes. My hypothesis is that more Swedes will crack a smile in the summer. So far, the evidence to support my hypothesis is mostly absent. There are a few statistical outliers, but they’re not generally factored into any serious analysis. My research shows that Swedish people out walking are no more inclined to smile at a stranger in the summer than they are in the winter.

But today I think I saw my man! The one who kissed me on the bridge in the winter! (See this blog - "Smiling at Strangers", 24th February 2010) This is how it went. I was fartleking through the park and I was in the cool-down phase of my Podrunner Podcast so I was happy. Smiling! Well I think I was smiling, but I might have been grimacing. Slightly. An old man walking towards me started smiling and applauding, mock serious, my clumsy, sweaty efforts. He was old and he wore glasses, just like the man in the winter who proved that not all Swedish people are introverted and grumpy in the winter! I broke my stride and was about to stop, but I'm a runner now and the imperative is to keep moving, so instead I did a grateful Namaste gesture, smiled again and waved as I went on my way.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lessons from trees

I’m impressed by Swedish trees. I think I have a lot to learn from them.

In two short weeks, the view into the neighbouring apartment building has been obscured by a verdant curtain. The new leaves are an incredibly intense shade of green. Perhaps the chlorophyll is all enthusiastic and keen to do its thing after being redundant through the winter.

The thing I’m impressed by however, is the sheer tenacity of the trees. Well, they’re generous too, unstinting and munificent. And did I mention beautiful?

The average temperature in Stockholm in April, a mere month ago, was 5 degrees. The mean minimum temperature was 1 degree. On April 22 it snowed. Now if I was a tree, I’d still be in shut-down mode. No rising sap and the promise of Spring for me. Any burgeoning buds would be disowned. I’d be braced against the wind chill, silently watching scarf-toting Stockholmers wade through the remnants of one of the coldest winters on record.

But here’s the thing. Trees don’t think like that! They don’t complain, they don’t whinge about expectations, about being ignored or neglected and having to do the same old thing year after year. Reliably, unquestioningly, bountifully, patiently they push out millions of lush new leaves for the enjoyment of whoever happens to nearby and they rarely even get hugged for it.

So next time I’m feeling a little bored by routine, a little jaded, or when I next feel like spitting the dummy or throwing in the towel…I’ll look humbly and respectfully to a Swedish tree.


Thursday, May 20, 2010


Fart.lek - noun
a training technique developed by Swede Gösta Holmér in 1937, used especially among runners, consisting of bursts of intense effort alternating with less strenuous activity.

Many months ago a client of mine suggested I should check out the Couch to 5k website. She was not implying I was fat, nor was she seeing me to deal with her obsession with exercise. She was simply sharing a resource she had found useful in her own journey to mental health and physical fitness.

I looked it up. It was interesting, logical. It didn’t appear to involve suffering, well, not too much anyway. But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t start running.

Why on earth would I? I’m seriously old and I’ve never been a runner. I get all beetroot-faced and I can’t breathe and my legs hurt and my insides feel as if they’re falling out and I get a headache and afterwards my muscles ache and I groan a lot. You get the picture.

Nevertheless, here I am in the home of fartlek not to mention the fact that it’s summer and everyone is out running. The “…it’s too dark and cold after work…” excuses don’t cut it at this time of year because it’s still light enough to see the pavement you’re pounding at 10:00 pm and sunrise today was a 4:04 am.

The challenge was inescapable.

Googled the website. Read the blurb. Downloaded the podrunner interval-training podcasts. Bought new earplugs, the sort that won’t fall out. Took a deep breath.

Yes folks, I’m out there! The doof-doof of my iPod keeps me moving and the interval-concept of alternating fast and slow makes this new endeavour possible. For some reason I’ve always known about fartlek, even though I’ve never tried it. I think fondly of the time when Daughter Number 2 learned about fartlek when she was 11 years-old and training for the Zone cross-country. As you can imagine, Aussie Primary School kids think the term is hysterical. Fart-leg…are you serious???

I think it’s funny too, but for a different reason. Fartlek translated from the Swedish means Speed-Play. This amuses me because I am neither speedy nor playful. I shuffle and I puff. I am not poetry in motion. But I am out there!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Off Two Bed!

In our last apartment, the bed was all of 140cm wide. It was cosy to say the least. Spooning was essential and turning over had to be synchronised to avoid knees in unwelcome places and elbows to unsuspecting heads.

Our current apartment is bigger. Yes, we’re luxuriating in all 66 square metres of space and our water views are expansive. The bed is also bigger, but therein lies another dilemma. It’s the Swedish two-beds-in-one problem. It’s quite literally, two beds side by side. There’s a fault-line right down the middle. There are two mattresses and two duvets. It’s complicated.

Also, we don’t really know the protocol regarding who invites whom over to play, so we’re trying to be fair and equal and hopefully, suitably Swedish. The fact is, we’re used to the one bed concept so despite the bountiful space, the enforced lack of proximity (no one likes sleeping on the join) and the sheer independence of the sleeping experience is unfamiliar and frankly, unacceptable.

Perhaps the Swedes think sharing a mattress, duvet and skin flakes is altogether too disgusting. I don’t know. Can anyone please explain?


Thursday, May 13, 2010


In Stockholm the free blue and yellow bus departs Regeringsgatan 17 on the hour. I had decided I needed a “Dave” so that when I tire of working at the kitchen table, I can easily relocate to the rooms at the front of the apartment looking out over the water.

For those of you who don’t know (and that would be the Aussies, not the Swedes) Mr. Ingvar Kamprad named the company using his initials and the first letters of the name of the farm where he grew up, Elmtaryd, and his home parish Agunnaryd, in southern Sweden.

My shopping experience was testament to the fact that IKEA stores are the same the world over, but the key difference between IKEA Kungens Kurva, Stockholm and IKEA Richmond, Melbourne is the number of Swedish pensioners enjoying a cheap, traditional Swedish lunch! I dare say there are a few nostalgic Nordic pilgrims who, pining for lax and köttbullar, dine in the Melbourne store. Sadly, they won’t find a prinsesstårta for dessert in the land downunder.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Almost Summer

Stockholm has thawed. Bicycles, tulips, daffodils and tiny grape hyacinths are back. Park benches are home to rows of sun-oriented faces and all the bus-stop billboards are emblazoned with bikini-clad nymphs.

In the space of a few short months, the snow has disappeared and somewhere between frozen and fecund, a veil of tentative greenness is covering the city. It is sunny today and Stockholmers are out in force. Never mind that the fact that it’s only a cool 13 degrees and you still need your scarf. This is it folk, it’s almost summer!

By contrast, the Age newspaper in Australia announced today that Melbourne has been hit by a cold snap, with overnight temperatures plummeting from 17 degrees at midnight to 7.6 degrees, making this the coldest day so far for 2010! Newsworthy stuff! Only a few months ago in Stockholm, my intrepid husband set off for work around 7.30am and it was minus 23 degrees. The bus didn’t come. I think it refused to leave the depot. For weeks the mercury didn’t get over zero.

Melbournians, it’s time to toughen up. It’s colder here today than you had it at midnight last night for goodness sake and the general mood here is that summer’s arrived. We’re going for an after-work drink at a bar on the water and whilst you huddle over your heaters, we'll drink mojitos or rosé because that’s what you do in the summer.