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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Observing Sweden- Heavy Metal

A Night On The Town

Big night out in Borlange, Sweden. Went to see my son law, Patrick, and his Heavy metal band – Civil War. I had expected this to be a labor of love. As you might guess, Heavy Metal is not my cup tea and there was a four hour wait before his band Civil War came on the final attraction. We passed part of the time with a leisurely dinner. I had a New York steak, which was passable. They don’t really understand steak in Sweden and keep destroying the flavor with all kinds of spices, but maybe it’s just a matter of taste. The highlight of the dinner was the potatoes which were disguised as mushrooms. I was sure they were mushrooms and cut one in half to prove this to my wife. The insides looked exactly like mushrooms, but the taste test proved my wife was right. She’s been right several times this year. They were potatoes. No idea how they make them look like that.

 There was still a lot of time left after dinner. There was a dance floor next to our table and they started playing music (Heavy Metal of course) at ten o’clock. After watching the dancers I had a need to join them and after some friendly persuasion got the wife to join me. I only lasted for one dance, but it was great fun. “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m good once as I ever was.”
Then we went upstairs to where the bands play. I have no idea how many people were there but you had to squeeze between bodies to move from one place to another. People kept hugging me and giving me a ‘thumbs up’ I guess impressed that someone with grey hair was there, or maybe that I was still alive. I think the wife and I were the only ones over forty and probably the only ones without a tattoo. The Swedes are number one in the world for the most people having tattoos and cell phones. Civil War came one at 11:00 P.M. and played until 2:00 A.M. So many hours standing was not easy and this morning my legs still remember last night. But I had a wonderful time. We drove some of the band members home. People in Sweden do not drive after they’ve had a drink, even one. Fines are astronomical if the cops catch you. My wife does not drink.  I am one of those lucky men with a permanent designated driver.

It was 4:00 A.M. when I got home, slightly drunk and totally wasted. It was a very good time!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Observing Sweden - Dala Horses

Horses everywhere . . . a graphic stampede. They’re on curtains, rugs and key chains, lamps and pillows, paintings, flags . . . statues at filling stations, mail delivery trucks. The Dala Horse is everywhere in Central Sweden – the Dalarna province. Horse carving here began with bored woodsmen during the long, dark Swedish winter evenings long before the advent of TV and cell phones. They used wood scraps and red paint produced by the enormous copper mine in Falun.

The horses remain one of the few living folk traditions of Sweden and are sold to both tourists and locals. Yesterday we paid a visit to Grannäs, a tourist stop in Nusnäs, Sweden – about an hour’s drive from where we live. They carve Dala horses there.  



Sunday, June 23, 2013

When Big Brother Was Little Brother

It’s interesting remembering ease dropping in the age before satellites and internet. Back then governments only spied on other governments, all governments – both friend and foe. I was in the Army Security Agency, stationed in Asmara, Eritrea - East Africa, some 2000 meters above sea level, a good place to listen to radio traffic. 
 Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Spy
There was a forest of antennas, hundreds of them which directed their interceptions to a compound surrounded by a double row of concentric anchor fences with barbed wire on top and dogs patrolling the corridor between . . . gate guards of course.
Inside the compound enlisted personnel sat at typewriters called mills. They had a spiked platens that took six layers of drill paper with five carbons in between. Do you remember carbon paper? The mills were in use 24/7, eight hour shifts. The typists listened to earphones and copied code as it came in, five letter code groups that looked like this.
xuskj ebjvx  mneod covd bncvd h2nd
voizd krudt  wjcbe   cifog wodht fotue
tpgom domxs djerg bmfm foldy eudgr
Thousands of pages of it . . . endless.  Sometimes the typists, called operators, went nuts. At the end of the shift their work was sorted by traffic analysts like me. We had no idea what the messages were about, only who was interested in looking at it. Carbons were removed and papers labeled, US  UK  Canadian Eyes Only and shipped by air to interested parties.
Pre Internet Security:
At the end of  each 24 hour period the carbons and papers no one was interested in were put into large paper bags, stapled shut and taken to a square anchor fence cage with a large incinerator inside. Burn detail was rotated; my turn came once every two weeks. It took about three hours to burn all the bags in the cage. Then the ashes were removed and put into a barrel. There was a hose to fill the barrel with water and a large paddle to stir the contents with. The mess was stirred until one had what was defined as a slurry. Then the sergeant was called out to inspect the slurry. He would probe the contents with a stick and if no particle larger than a quarter could be found the contents were officially declared a slurry. The barrel was then picked up by a truck which took it someplace and buried it.
It was in interesting job. We didn’t know much about what was going on, but enough to know that the general public had no idea what was going on. We copied Russian ships carrying missile parts to Cuba months before Time magazine announced: Missiles In Cuba! I remember we were called into a briefing and told it didn’t matter what was said in Time magazine, or in the papers. If we said anything to anyone about the subject we could get twelve years in the Fort Leavenworth stockade – which was a very bad place to be. Asmara was considered a hardship post, but it was easy duty and I fell in love with Africa. It was one of the happiest times of my life.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Buckminster & Amber 55 Amber Croft Tale 1 Part 4

            Hmmm . . . what to do? I take a leisurely karate swat at a pine cone and watch it fall. Direct hit on the Angel’s snoot, and wow! He’s gone berserk, jumping around like a gerbil on crack. I look down and hiss at him, then glance toward the house and see Bucks scoot under the deck in the back yard. He’s safe there. As for me . . . the coyote’s making surprising progress up the tree trunk, coming close enough for me to smell his stinking breath. Your average feline would be somewhere between scared stiff, frozen with fear, and terrified. Needless to say I am none of the above.  

            I make an elegant pounce to the rotten branch, knocking it loose, then jump to the limb above as it drops. Direct hit, right between the eyes this time, and the branch had some weight behind it. Dog-face yelps with surprise and decides he’s had enough. I make a leisurely descent as he trots away and go back to the house where I find the servants have closed the laundry room window. Humans, go figure. 

            Might as well join Bucky underneath the deck. “That was the dumbest thing you ever did,” I tell him.
            “It was not,” he argues.
            “Yes, I’m sure you’re right.” He nods agreement and I spend the rest of a long, boring night remembering stupid things he’s done in the past. By morning I decide my first assessment was correct. His previous faux pas were embarrassing, but not life threatening.

            At seven our male servant opens the back door on his way to the garage. “Their back!” he yells to his mate.
            “Thank God!” She calls back as we saunter in.
            “Yeah, right. The terminator has returned. So what’s for breakfast?” I meow.
            After a low carb meal and a few welcome home treats I decide to take a snooze on my surprisingly expensive carpet from Kathmandu.
 It’s been a long day’s night.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Observing Sweden - Midsummer 2013

Photo above taken at 12 p.m.

Summer solstice here tomorrow. It never gets dark and the Swedes go nuts.
A good time is had by all.

There will be celebrations. Giant Maypoles are slowly erected in what may well be
the world’s most phallic celebration.

Daylight grows shorter now. The growing cycle ends September. Then the long and cold, dark days.                                                                   (They all go nuts again at Christmas)

Looking forward to the snow

No lawn to mow

Great time to write

Up late at night

Watching it all come down.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Buckminster & Amber - 54 Amber Croft: Tale 1 Part 3

Amber Croft  A Cat of Nine tales
The Pine Cone Ploy

Well, you know how Bucks is - big snake, no rattle. It was up to me save his tail. There wasn’t time to think twice about it. I found a laundry room window the servants had forgotten to close and catapulted out onto the lawn being careful not to get my coat dirty.
             Bucks was frozen like a deer in headlights. “Run dummy!” I tried to communicate telepathically, but it was like trying to read in the dark. Nobody home, and probably just as well. The Angel is fast and Bucks is more fat than fiber.  The Angel was totally focused on what he thought was a free lunch. “Not today, dog breath.” He didn’t see me coming. I went into warp drive and was airborne by the time he did. I landed squarely in his stinking back and dug my claws in, holding on for the ride of my life. Where are those humans with video cameras when you want them? 

            It was like one of that cowboy bull riding contests humans watch on TV. The cowboys are usually thrown off after a few seconds, but not this cat. The Angel bucked barked and snarled, then went into a corkscrew maneuver. It seemed like the neighborhood was spinning around me, but I was locked on tighter than a gymnast’s spandex. With an evil snarl he headed for a pine tree hoping to scrape me off me off, but I retracted my claws and leaped from his back onto the lowest limb. The Angel went pounding past, fumbling to a stop a few yards beyond, then turned and made a surprising leap up the tree trunk, frantic with rage. I wanted to go higher but the next limb up was rotten. There was no way it would hold my weight.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Observing Sweden - Culture Shock

Culture Shock
Wow. I’ve been on a honeymoon and didn’t know it.
This transition has seemed so easy, but these last two weeks, something . . . .
I thought it was just exhaustion. I’ve been packing and unpacking since March, and my room still looks like a bomb went exploded in it. I notice little things are starting to piss me off. Today may have been the straw on the camel’s back. I was trying to buy a bottle of alcohol to clean the keys on my computer. Sounds simple right? Not! The label said alcohol (in Swedish of course) but it was something to put on mosquito bites. Not rubbing alcohol available at any grocery store in the U.S.  A small thing. Then I was trying to buy a hose that fits into a appurtenance on our new lawn mower which is stinking up the garage with rotting grass, and also my crow’s nest in the attic which is the only place in the house where I can write. There are two sizes of hose in Sweden (go figure) and trying to get the right one – when mixed with metric and English – has became a mind boggling quest.
Such small frustrations. Some of you may have read Charles Bukowski who wrote about broken shoestrings – minor frustrations that drive people crazy when they stack up. I could write a list of these, and thought today was just another one - then came the epiphany. Culture shock! I looked it up on Wiki.

The four phases
Honeymoon phase:
 I fit this one chapter and verse!
During this period, the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new food, the pace of life, and the locals' habits. During the first few weeks, most people are fascinated by the new culture. They associate with nationals who speak their language, and who are polite to the foreigners. This period is full of observations and new discoveries. Like most honeymoon periods, this stage eventually ends.[4]
Negotiation phase

After some time (usually around three months, depending on the individual), differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. Excitement may eventually give way to unpleasant feelings of frustration and anger as one continues to experience unfavorable events that may be perceived as strange and offensive to one's cultural attitude. Language barriers, stark differences in public hygiene, traffic safety, food accessibility and quality may heighten the sense of disconnection from the surroundings.

While being transferred into a different environment puts special pressure on communication skills, there are practical difficulties to overcome, such as circadian rhythm disruption that often leads to insomnia and daylight drowsiness; adaptation of gut flora to different bacteria levels and concentrations in food and water; difficulty in seeking treatment for illness, as medicines may have different names from the native country's and the same active ingredients might be hard to recognize.
Still, the most important change in the period is communication: People adjusting to a new culture often feel lonely and homesick because they are not yet used to the new environment and meet people with whom they are not familiar every day. The language barrier may become a major obstacle in creating new relationships: special attention must be paid to one's and others' culture-specific body language signs, linguistic faux pas, conversation tone, linguistic nuances and customs, and false friends.
In the case of students studying abroad, some develop additional symptoms of loneliness that ultimately affect their lifestyles as a whole. Due to the strain of living in a different country without parental support, international students often feel anxious and feel more pressure while adjusting to new cultures—even more so when the cultural distances are wide, as patterns of logic and speech are different and a special emphasis is put on rhetoric.

Adjustment phase
Again, after some time (usually 6 to 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more "normal". One starts to develop problem-solving skills for dealing with the culture and begins to accept the culture's ways with a positive attitude. The culture begins to make sense, and negative reactions and responses to the culture are reduced.
           I remember that line from Evita: So what happens now? Will I adjust? Maybe by Christmas. Funny, before I left the U.S. I predicted things would start to settle by the New Year. Hope I was right. There is sure as hell no going back, but one can always move on.
              Tomorrow: Rare photo of what my room looks like after 3 months.