Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Midsummer Sailing

Despite coming from a long line of superior seamen (I think we all see what I did there), I am not what can be described as an accomplished sailor. I have managed to fall in the water and be on a boat that ran aground. So it may seem strange to you that my last Midsummer in Sweden, I chose to go sailing in Denmark. It may seem even stranger that this sailing expedition was actually an amateur sailing race hosted by a sailing club in Helsingør. The key word being amateur. When I finally got back to Stockholm, my decision seemed strange to me too.

The sailing started off well enough. The sun was shining as we sailed the boat from Landskrona to Helsingborg. We managed to get our nautical maps with us, the GPS and depth meter were all working, all in all, a good start. Of course, no sailing trip with me involved would be complete without forgetting something. We chose to forget the battens (I had to look that word up in English. I suddenly have learned lots of new sailing vocabulary words that I have no idea how to translate into English). It worked though. We made it home safe and sound. We did not run aground. I did not get wet.

Friday, we set off early to be ready for the race. We piddled around between Helsingborg with scores of other boats as we waited for the start. Ten minutes before the start we noticed one of the battens was loose. We attempted to lower the sail and save the batten. To no avail. It fell out and sunk to the bottom of the sea. Just a few minutes later, my cousin’s hat, which he had spoken so highly of, also fell into the sea. Not a good omen for the trip to come. But we sailed on.

For several hours we sailed without incident. The sun was shining. Sailing was fun. Sails were changed. Dinner came and went. I went below deck to sleep a while. While asleep, the electricity went out. Completely. Which meant we were sailing without GPS. It also meant that our engine would not start. Of course, if you start your engine, you are immediately disqualified from the race, so that wasn’t a problem. Of bigger concern was the GPS. For obvious reasons. But we sailed on.

I awoke to no GPS but a shining sun on Midsummers Day. Good times. The other three members of our ramshackle crew went to bed. My cousin, her boyfriend, and I stayed awake and carried on. We decided to change sails to a spinnaker. Essentially a big ass sail that balloons out and is supposed to give you a whole lot of speed. This being a race, speed was essential. So we changed sails. No problems at all. For about 45 minutes we were chugging right along.

At this point, I think it is important to note that the boat we were sailing in was 40.7 feet long and said to be uncapsizable in just about all conditions unless you find yourself out in the middle of the Atlantic. And despite not having any GPS we had not gone that far off course.

I can, in fact, confirm that the boat was uncapsizable. Because were sure as hell tried. The three of us attempted a jibe. Basically we wanted to turn. Except jibing with a spinnaker in high winds with three people, one of whom, me, knows not a damn thing about sailing is not a good idea. That’s because the sail will be ripped from your cousin’s hand, catch the wind, and attempt to drive the boat into the water at a 90 degree angle. The ropes will be ripped from your hands, leaving blisters on the tips of your fingers. The rudder man will be helpless because the rudder itself will be out of the water and turning a rudder in the wind doesn’t do anything. Your other cousin will come running up the stairs, knife in hand, ready to cut the sail loose. He will take stock of the situation, release several ropes, which will suddenly turn into formidable whips capable of decapitating a man, and eventually get the sail into the water, thus allowing us control of the boat. And that is exactly what happened. It’s not a good idea. No one and no thing fell in. So we sailed on.

I went to bed a little while later. Excitement is exhausting. I awoke when I realized we were not moving. At all. Awesome. I went upstairs only to see that we had run aground. Straight into a sandbank right under a large bridge. Awesome. There were attempts made to free us without starting the engine. We didn’t want to be disqualified you know. They failed. Then attempts were made to start the engine. Of course, as mentioned above, the engine would not start. And so we sat there. For quite a while. Eventually, an anchor was thrown in and my cousins began heave-hoing our way to freedom. And by freedom I mean off the damn sandbank. With no engine, we sailed into the nearest port, Stubbekøbing. That’s actually Danish for Time to Stop Sailing Port. Or something like that.

And we did just that. A phone call was made and we had withdrawn from the race. The next phone call was to an electrician, who came out to us within about 10 minutes. Now my Danish is less than stellar, but it turns out that we had just managed to flip a switch somewhere along the way to the wrong side. This resulted in the batteries running down. So basically, we forgot to press the on button. Awesome. Then the friendly Dane began to babble on about the race. And suggesting that we continue. We hadn’t started our engine (for obvious reasons) and so we had not cheated. So another phone call was made and we were back in the race. And so we sailed on.

Late Saturday night, or early Sunday morning, I don’t know the time because I spent my shift on deck shining a flashlight at the compass due to the compass backlight being broken, it was just my cousin and I awake. We were clipping right along, no problems for several hours, heading straight for the lighthouse with the red light that was supposed to be on that particular compass degree. We were feeling good. Until suddenly we noticed that red light was gaining on us. And we weren’t going that fast. And it was getting bigger. Turns out it was a boat. We had been sailing on a collision course with this boat for hours. Just following the red light. The boat turned to the right. We turned to the left. Which was unfortunate because that means we essentially turned into another collision course. We turned further left. The boat this time also turned to its left and disaster was avoided. As the boat whipped by, I could have probably hit the broadside of their ship with a baseball. That ship was moving so quickly, that within about ten minutes, it had disappeared over the horizon. With everyone intact, my heart beating furiously and adrenaline coursing through my very tired veins I decided it was time for some chocolate. So I settled into my position of shining a flashlight on the compass and ate some Marabou. And we sailed on.

Several hours later I went to bed thinking we would cross the finish line right about the time I was waking up. But again I awoke to the ship not moving. My immediate reaction, because I can apparently be conditioned into thinking things, was that we had run aground. Again. I went upstairs. We had not run aground, but instead found ourselves in a pocket with no wind. Which was unfortunate because, judging from the boats closer to the coast, there was wind to be had. So there we sat. Kronborg jutting out from Helsingør was in sight. The finish line was in sight. But we did not sail on. We couldn’t.

Since we had come this far without an engine, we sure as hell weren’t going to use it. Of course, we were assuming we could get the engine started despite the GPS blinking on and off due to a very tired battery. So we waited. And I ate. Because that’s what I do when I’m bored and there is food around. It’s a damn good thing I am not bored very often or I would be a very fat man.

Finally, a few gusts of wind came by and we were able to get moving. We sailed past the finish line 49 hours and 36 minutes after having left. And we tried to start the engine. Which, of course, did not start. The battery was dead. So instead of sailing into Helsingør's port, we headed over to the Swedish side and Helsingborg. At this point, sailing into a harbor without an engine was old hat to us and we glided right in. The crowds at the café stood and applauded as we gracefully touched down, men asked for our autographs, women threw their bras at us, life was good. Or I was suffering from a lack of sleep. I don’t remember.

Having unloaded the boat, loaded the car, unloaded the car, eaten dinner, and driven up to Stockholm, I was in bed by two in the morning on Monday.

But we made it. No one was hurt. No one fell overboard. No sails were damaged. No boats were damaged. Maybe most importantly, no relationships were damaged. It was a success. Or a failure. Or a successful failure. I suppose it depends on your definition.

Welcome to Sweden. And my likely retirement from amateur Danish sailing.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

My Welcome to Sweden Moment

I moved here on June 5th of 2007. But those first few days in Sweden were spent trying to get my feet under me, and by feet, I mean trying to sleep with the damn sun up at 10 in the evening while I was horribly jetlagged. I was staying at my uncle’s apartment until I got the keys to my apartment and all of the papers signed and squared away.

So it wasn’t until a few days later that I really started to live live in Stockholm. Because up until me moving into my apartment, it felt more like I had just been visiting again.

My first apartment was out in Flemingsberg. Which isn’t always considered to be the nicest part of town. Or even considered to be part of Stockholm. But it’s close enough. Living out in Flempan means you need to take the pendeltåg in and out of town.

My time in Flemingsberg instilled in me a deep hatred for the commuter train that exists still to this day. And it all started that first day.

As we all know, seeing as how I stabbed myself in the nape of my neck with a toothpick while asleep, I am an idiot. And so it was that I decided to go out to Flemingsberg for the first time while dragging with me two suitcases. Some people might go out and do a little reconnaissance. Check things out. Find where they were going. Not me. I was unemployed and had no friends. It’s not like I had all the time in the world to travel back and forth between the city and Flempan.

So I made my way onto a packed commuter train right around rush hour on a very sunny summer evening. We made it a few stops without incident. And then we made it a couple more. And then we had an incident. We stopped. In the middle of the tracks. Not moving forward or backwards. Awesome.

Eventually, the kind conductor came on to let us know that, yes we had stopped, no we were not imagining the failure to move forward, and he did not know how long it would take before we started moving again. Awesome.

We sat there for over half an hour. Which wouldn’t be so bad. You know, if it hadn’t been summer time. And rush hour. And if I wouldn't have been hauling two suitcases. And if I wasn’t such a hairy sweaty guy. But I am. And it was. Awful.

Finally, we lurched to a start again and I made it to Flemingsberg. At which point I immediately began walking in the wrong direction. Because I am incapable of reading maps correctly. I realized my mistake pretty quickly and headed back. And started hiking. And hiking. I walked through a group of apartments, heading in the right direction. As I walked, someone above me was blasting Gangsta's Paradise through their windows. Yes.

Having wandered around for 15 minutes and not having found my apartment I came to the realization that I was living on the 12th floor. And so, if I counted the floors on the buildings I would be able to start crossing off potential dwellings as my own. So I did. I would stop in a central place, suitcases in tow, and do a 360 as I counted floors. I slowly moved my way forward, finally coming to some orange and purple buildings slightly reminiscent of rainbow ejaculate.

I started counting. Twelve floors, thirteen floors, fourteen floors. YES! They had more than 12 floors. I stumbled around the buildings in search of a building number. Found it. I kept stumbling in hopes of a street sign. Found it. I checked the key. I was in. Up I went, to a very empty apartment and dumped my stuff, promptly stripping to my boxers while opening all the windows. I told you I was sweaty.

A walk that should have taken about ten minutes, took nearly an hour. A train ride that should have taken 18 minutes, took nearly 45. This was my welcome to Sweden moment.

And so… Welcome to Sweden. And Gangsta's Paradise.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

18 Bottles of Wine on the Wall

Sweden has a population of about nine million people. It has an area of 450,295 square kilometers. That’s just a little bit larger than California.

Systembolaget is the state run monopolized liquor store in the country. There are 413 stores in the entire country. Trust me, I went to their website and counted every damn one listed.

Of those 413 stores, and for those nine million people, in that area of 450,295 square kilometers, there are only 18 bottles of a specific wine I was looking to purchase as a gift for an upcoming wedding I will be attending. Those 18 bottles were kept in one store. In Malmö. As close to Copenhagen, Denmark, as you can pretty much get while still in Sweden.

Because they are the state run monopoly and my only option when satisfying my gift giving needs, they are supposed to help out with the different types of alcohol listed on their website. So I got in touch with Systembolaget to see how I go about ordering alcohol. Sent a quick e-mail to their customer service referencing my local store, the name, price, and article number of the product and asked about the process. Turns out, it is necessary to get in contact with your local store. They then request an internal transfer of the products at which point they are delivered to my neighborhood liquor store. There is no central ordering service. Which was unfortunate since I live in Stockholm.

As luck would have it though, I was not in Stockholm. In fact, I was down south in Helsingborg. Pretty close to Malmö. Rather than having the alcohol delivered just a few minutes walk from my home, I would have to drive my ass to the liquor store and then drag that alcohol with me several hundred kilometers. But that’s exactly what I did.

I have nobody to blame but myself. I could have chosen a different wine. But I did not. I could have gone ahead and requested the internal transfer. But I did not. Of course, I could have also moved to a country that doesn’t have such strict liquor laws allowing me only choice for all my alcoholic needs. But I did not.

Welcome to Sweden. And only 16 bottles of wine left.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Wedding Traditions in Sweden

My cousin just got married here in Sweden. It was quite a nice ceremony and a glorious dinner and party afterwards. All in all, a lot of fun. I haven’t been to a whole lot of weddings, but they seem to be getting more and more frequent, apparently I’m at that age.

This was the second one I’ve been to in Sweden though and so the different traditions didn’t seem to foreign. Despite that, one tradition did stand out. Not because it is something I would have paid any attention, but solely because I have been paying way too much attention to the news.

In Sweden, the bride and groom walk down the aisle, to the altar, at the same time. Together. It is quite nice really and is supposed to speak to equal roles both parties play in the marriage. I quite like it.

In the US, the bride is usually walked down the aisle by her father. It is usually referred to as the bride being given away by her father. Some people believe this speaks to some sort of ownership of the woman and is, in fact, sexist. And it very well may be if too much stock is given to the idea that a father can give away his daughter. That being said, it can also be seen as a display of love and affection as the bride walks down the aisle with a man who has (hopefully) played a very important part in her life.

Honestly, I prefer the idea of walking down side by side, but maybe that’s just the Swedish part of me. What I don’t prefer, is the ridiculous discussion being had in Sweden right now as the royal wedding approaches. Crown Princess Victoria has expressed interest in walking down the aisle with her father. And people have been outraged. Both the church and feminist groups think it goes against Swedish tradition and harkens back to sexist views of selling a daughter into marriage.

The church can think whatever the hell it wants to think. In Sweden it is a fringe institution with dwindling membership and very little to offer. The feminist groups on the other hand, boggle my mind. Because suddenly, a woman, who has chosen herself to be walked down the aisle by her father, is being attacked for following sexist traditions.

The feminists seem to have missed the forest for the trees. They have given power to symbols that are not even prevalent in Sweden and lost track of the fact that the woman has made her own decision to walk down the aisle with her father.

As far as I’m concerned, equality is not conforming to ideas of equality set forth by feminist groups with a clear agenda, but instead making independent choices and decisions and having the opportunity to act out those choices and decisions. You know, like on your wedding day.

Of course, in a country where feminists felt it necessary to change Herr Gårman to Fru Gårman, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Welcome to Sweden. And extreme feminism. Again.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pick-Up Lines in Stockholm

As I mentioned earlier, while bitching and moaning about Americans, my younger brother is in town. We’ve gone out once or twice since he’s been here. A few days ago, we were out drinking one night, nothing too horribly exciting.

We had found another group of non-Swedes (a few girls and a few guys) that we were talking with. They were all taking a few days to explore Stockholm.

Nice enough people really. I happened to be talking to an Irish girl when suddenly another guy tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was Irish. It’s got to be the bright orange beard. He was Swedish. I responded in Swedish, that no, I was not, but this girl was. And pawned her off on him. That’s just the kind of wingman I am. Even for people I don’t know.

Turns out, he was not appreciative of the girl being pawned off on him. Turns out he was gay. And turns out, asking if I was Irish, was his pick-up line. This was revealed to me later, by my loving brother, who had encouraged the whole situation.

CBCC had been asked if he knew me. He kindly said, yes, of course he did. We were brothers, perhaps he should talk to me. So the guy did just that. I guess he needed an ice breaker. Personally, I would have preferred being asked if it hurt. You know, when I fell from heaven. But instead, my orange beard was just too hypnotizing and he worked with what I gave him. Which was not much considering I immediately, and unknowingly, shot him down before turning back to the rest of the group and letting the gay man talk to the Irish girl.

Despite my hairy Village People chest, I’m not gay, and apparently, I have no sense whatsoever of people who are. I live my life oblivious to most things, and gay men trying to hit on me is one of them. In the end though, I’m just pumped someone tried to pick me up in a bar. It’s the little things really.

Welcome to Sweden. And bad pick-up lines.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Beginning of the End

I have lived abroad for 1099 days. That is three years and a couple of days. I arrived in Stockholm on June 5th, 2007. That means I just passed my three year anniversary of living abroad the other day. It felt good. I think.

I think, because my time in Sweden is coming to an end. I will be moving back to the US on June 30th, 2010. I’ve quit my job. I’ve been travelling. I’ve been taking full advantage of all that Sweden and Europe has to offer in these closing weeks. And it feels good. I think.

I think, because I’ve been here for three years and I have a good life here. Good friends. Good job. Good everything. But I think because it is time to go home. Staying longer I run the risk of settling here. As much as I enjoy Sweden, I am American. I don’t want to settle here. And I tend to be a grass is always greener on the other side. It just happens that this time the other side is across the Atlantic.

The US is home. Even if in the last three years I have spent less than 10 weeks in the United States. Even if I am moving to a state I have never been to. To a city I have never been to. To a place where I don’t know a soul. I suppose home is relative.

The blog will continue until I leave. It will continue again in the US. I’m not sure exactly how. Or why. But the closer I get to my date of departure, the more worried I am about the culture shock I will encounter in the US. I have grown accustomed to my life here. There are plenty of things I don’t like about Sweden, but plenty of things I do. There are plenty of things I don’t like about the US, but plenty of things I do.

I’ll probably bitch and moan about the US like I’ve done about Sweden. Because that is just kind of what I do. I’ll probably still end up stabbing myself in the neck with toothpicks while I sleep or electrocute myself in the bathroom. Because that is just kind of what I do.

I am excited about what is coming. I’m nervous as it gets closer. I am excited about what I am moving to. I’m nervous about what I am moving from. It’s time though. Time to go home.

Welcome to Sweden. And my last few weeks.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Toothpicks and Self-Mutilation

As a general rule I struggle. Sometimes more than others and the other night was one of those evenings. Because I stabbed myself with a toothpick. In the nape of my neck. In the middle of the night. In my sleep.

I chew toothpicks on a regular basis. I even carry them in my wallet. Oral hygiene is very important to me, especially because I hate flossing. Toothpicks do damn fine work in keeping my pearly whites free from debris. And my gums healthy. Obviously.

I do a lot of things with toothpicks in my mouth. Eat. Drink. Hell, I have even kissed the occasional girl with a toothpick in my mouth. All that action (the toothpick action, not the kissing) makes for some soggy toothpicks. Seeing as how I love the environment, I don’t want trees being felled just so I can chew on things. So I reuse my toothpicks. To do this though, after having thoroughly chewed and soaked through a toothpick, I tend to put it behind my ear. Where it stays until it has dried out and is ready to be chewed on again. Some people may think that disgusting. But those people hate the environment and club baby seals in their spare time.

Sometimes I forget to remove said toothpick from behind my ear. But when getting ready for bed, taking my shirt off tends to rip the toothpick from my ear and all problems are solved. Notice the use of the word tend. Tends to. Not always. Like the other night.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a toothpick sticking out of the back of my neck. I had to reach around and physically pull it out of my neck. I gently placed the toothpick on my bedside table (I might want to reuse it you know) and as I turned over to go back to sleep, I knocked the toothpick from the table. I remember all of this.

In the morning, I still remembered all of this. But it was hazy. I usually don’t remember my dreams unless I have a night terror and despite the horror of having a toothpick sticking out of your neck, this was no night terror. So I was confused. Until I looked beside my bedside table. There was the toothpick. Somewhat bent and clearly guilty.

I immediately picked it up and chewed the hell out of it to prove a point. That’s not true. That would be like autocannibalism. Gross. Instead, I threw the toothpick away and started in on a new one. The toothpicks will not scare me. They will not deter me. I will win.

Welcome to Sweden. And stories that have nothing to do with Sweden.

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