Monday, January 2, 2017

Swedish Winter

Winter in Sweden is no joke. 
In Stockholm, during the darkest month of the year, the sky is light at 9:30am and the sun starts setting at 2:30pm. In those few hours of gray daylight, the temperatures are frigid. The Winter is long and if you are a Swede you go on with life in the dark. 

We traveled to Stockholm to check in with my parents and to take care of immigration related paperwork. I was born in Stockholm, and though my family traveled all over the world, I spent most of my childhood summers in the beautiful archipelago outside of Stockholm. I have a strong connection with Swedish custom and food, and am bizarrely familiar with the Swedish Way of things. 
Swedish cinema is good at depicting this cultural nuance. Some that come to mind are Let the Right One in, My life as a Dog, Bergman's Fanny and Alexander and of course the original mini series The Bridge. 

We boarded the 3.5 hour flight, which cost 34 Euros (one way) from a temperate climate to dead Winter. Stockholm is a bustle. Much faster bustle than Barcelona. The most notable trivial things where the speed at which people moved- much faster up North. They where also much more quiet and possibly quite grumpy in comparison to the Spanish. 

Christmas was upon us, and there were markets decorated with lights, saffron pastries, handmade toys, tree tchotchkes, and of course the iconic winter drink- Glögg, a hot spiced wine, infused with almonds and raisins. It's quite good in small doses.

This is in front of the Royal Castle in the Old City of Stockholm. The king still presides here, doing whatever modern Kings do. 
Kodiak secured a Swedish passport, which I believe is one of the best gifts I can give him- welcome to the European Union. This basically entitles him to work and live anywhere within the currently 27 countries in the EU (barring the UK now) I hope there will still be an EU when he is all grown up. 

I learned that back in the 1200's Swedes drank either beer or hot mulled wine(aka Glögg)because clean drinking water was a scarcity. The kids back then would eat a porridge made from beer. I imagine in the middle ages, the entire population was a bit tipsy giddy, and thus able to deal with Winters, "medicinal" blood letting practices, public tarring as punishment and the plague just fine. The Plagues, there were three of them, that wiped out about 50% of the population. I spent hours at the Stockholm Medieval Museum, which is fascinating.

One of the highlights was watching the Santa Lucia procession at the 13 century StorKyrkan (big church). The acoustics within those ancient walls was impressive, and the candles and singing together was timelessly beautiful. I love the many varied traditions around Christmas all over the world. The Taos Pueblo christmas eve procession (and fires) being one of my all time favorites. 

You can take the girl out of Sweden, but you can't take the Swede out of the girl.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Autonomous States

Autonomous States for the DisUnited States of America? It's a question I have been pondering for a long time, and now more than ever it seems like a relevant topic. I too, have been feeling overwhelmed by the supposed election results, with feelings delving into depression, fear, anger and despair. I know I am not alone, and I know it's normal, in light of the election and what it means for America. 
I can offer some perspective from Europe, based on what people are saying and what's covered in the news.  In Sweden, for example, todays newspaper is reporting that there is strong evidence pointing to Russia having influenced the US election in Trumps favor. That report is a front page item. It is clear, if the supposed election results stand unchallenged, that the time has come to resist in every way possible. If we all engage in resistance, in whatever way we can, we can demonstrate to our neighbours and the world that this unfortunate situation does not represent our values and beliefs. 

We are not powerless! The power of "we" is one of the reasons my family and I decided to move to Europe in the first place. It's an opportunity to show Kodiak a different way of operating in society- away from the "I" that is the foundation of the States and a chance to live within a "we" place. Both the "I" and the "We" have important attributes and this is not about putting one over the other, rather offering a different way of being.

A small but significant observation I have had in Barcelona is how much fear I carry. What streets are safe to walk on? Who should I avoid?  How late can I walk around? Am I safe alone in the subways at night? Basic concerns in America. I have repeatedly heard from friends living here, that one may get pick pocketed but they wont hurt you. You can walk anywhere, anytime as a woman. You can wear whatever you want.  Really? What? 
Oh right, I just came from a completely armed population, many of which are medicated and mentally ill. Anything can happen at any time. And terrible things do happen. 
Quite a stark contrast, non? And why is America armed again? So they can overthrow an oppressive government one day? Maybe that time is near? 

I promise I will not be blogging about the sad state of American politics again. I was inspired to design a new flag- for the Autonomous States, a symbol of resistance perhaps. I was directly inspired by the flag of Catalonia- a very independent, autonomous region- always fighting for self determination to be recognized by Spain. The Catalonian flag can be seen hanging from many balconies all over the city. 
Legend has it that the four red bars are symbolic of King Charles(the bald) bloody fingers running down the shield of the Count of Barcelona, Wilfred I (the Hairy) as he was dying during the siege of Barcelona in 897. The blood was that of the dying Count and that image was transcribed onto the flag. I have compiled a few of my favorite pictures of the Catalonian independence flag below.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

El Raval

There are many neighbourhoods, or Barrios in Barcelona. Each famous for one thing or another. We ended up renting an apartment in El Raval, in the Ciutat Vella, where buildings and people are in dense proximity. The Raval, famous for its vibrant nightlife, immigrant community and supposedly prostitution is also the home of the Boqueria, Barcelona's largest food market. It's border is La Rambla where it turns into the labyrinth of the Barrio Gotico. 

Considering our place is a 5 minute walk to a sewing co-op, playgrounds, language schools, clandestine puppet theaters, the Museum of Modern Art, the library, a woman run smithy, the Opera, hardware stores, art supplies, the metro and bus lines, clothing shops, some of our favorite expat friends, and a host of excellent restaurants and bars as well as the Boqueria, it really is unbeatable. It has just the right amount of grit as well, which I appreciate. 
Our Barrios landmark, the Raval Cat by Fernando Botero.

Kodiak is impressed with his balls. Indeed spaying and neutering animals here seems unusual, and most dogs I have seen are fully intact. Not that there is an overpopulation of dogs though..

A note on children in Barcelona. There are a lot of them! And there are playgrounds seemingly on every corner. And the playgrounds are not some old rusty swingsets, rather an array of modern wood style contraptions in various shapes and colors. They are incredible. And the kids here are out and about all day and night. It is clear that children are revered here and it is common to find a playground next to a tapas bar, where the parents are sharing an afternoon Vermut while the kids are monkeying around on high tech playground engineering. So civilized.

The elaborate entrance to the Boqueria, in November, ie. not the high tourist season. I brace myself for the amount of people this city will hold in the Summer. 

Newly dead fowl, and fresh rabbit, ready for cooking. 

...and of course fish and octopus....

El Raval is also conveniently close to the Ocean. A walk to the beach is about 25 minutes. We walk a lot every day and after a few weeks of serious shin splints, I have noticed that we are joining the ranks of Catalans with calves of steel. 

The Ocean is such a welcome respite from the hustle and the bustle of the big metropolis. 

Every morning before day break, when Barcelona actually sleeps, I can hear the squawking cries of the seagulls, I take a breath and I remember where I am.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

We arrived in Barcelona, Spain from Taos, New Mexico. The contrast of the two places is stark, and it would take anyone a little time to adjust to the change. 
We landed in a ikea furnished Airbnb on a small street with constant scooter and car traffic. Airbnb's are more and more rare in this city as they are driving the housing market up through the roof and pissed off the Hoteliers. And in Barcelona, if something is unpopular and not working for the good of the people, they take measures to deal with it-there are steep fines for those who run unregulated Airbnb's.
The noise pollution was the first thing I had to work around, with a good set of earplugs to wear at night. The city really picks up after 6PM and it goes seemingly all night long, my country living sleep schedule needed some tuning as well. 
The sheer volume of humans in this City is impressive. With over 1.5 Million within the City and almost 5 Million people around the "suburbs"; that made Taos, with it's 6000 people, smaller than a tiny section of a Barcelona Barrio. OOUF. 
To live here one has to grow a thicker outer layer of proverbial skin. 
One month has passed and I'm well into reading George Orwell's"Homage to Catalonia", and slowly soaking up the complex historical essence of this amazing place. 

This web-log will serve as my journal as an expatriate, living and creating abroad, and hopefully, keep my friends close as we stumble gracefully into the future together.