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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Dog Daze 6



Xmas Dog - Crop

 I have to tell you this
on the day-after blog
‘cause I know you all know
I’m a very good dog.
But my oh my, oh me, oh me
they’re saying I pissed on the Christmas tree.

It was the cat!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Beginning of Winter - 3




Sun Goddess FiX 

In the Northern Hemisphere, today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. It’s officially the first day of winter and one of the oldest-known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years, before humans even began farming on a large scale. Many of the most ancient stone structures made by human beings were designed to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun.

Some ancient peoples believed that because daylight was waning, it might go away forever, so they lit huge bonfires to tempt the sun to come back. The tradition of decorating our houses and our trees with lights at this time of year is passed down from those ancient bonfires. In ancient Egypt and Syria, people celebrated the winter solstice as the sun’s birthday. In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated with the festival of Saturnalia, during which all business transactions and even wars were suspended, and slaves were waited upon by their masters.

Taken from Writer’s Almanac – 12/21/2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Amber's Swedish History - Chapter 11





Amber's History Ch

I’ve been so distracted lately. Having a dog in the house does not make it easy. Hmm . . . where was I? Oh yes, 1587 with Sigismund the sluggish.

SIGI 1

He was King of Sweden and Poland, but there were other Swedes who thought they could do a better job of it. They were probably right. Duke Karl (Karl IX) of Södermanland was one of them. He was a brutal, ruthless sort of fellow, but had good economic sense. Karl founded Göteborg, and planned to use it as a shipping port in order to get out of paying Danish tariffs. The Danes thought this was a bad idea and burned Göteborg to the ground. After that Karl turned his attention to removing Sigismund from the throne.

He held a meeting with his former enemies in Uppsala. They all wanted Sweden to be Lutheran, and Sigismund was Catholic, but nothing much came of their decision. The nobility feared Karl would become a despotic king with no respect for their high rank.

Sigi 2

 This is a painting of Sigismund with his dog. They often kept dogs as pets because they were subservient creatures more willing to take orders than cats.

Things finally came to a head at Stångebro in 1598 – another war over religion. Will they never end? I mean, really. Thousands were killed. Sigismund was captured, but allowed to go back to Poland. The dog probably went with him.

Staragbor
The Battle of Stångebro

Karl IX set to work as soon as Sigismund was gone. He gleefully executed his enemies in Stockholm after announcing that Sigismund had been deposed. He summoned a new Riksdag in Linköping. Several councilors were beheaded in the town square at what came to be known as the Linköping Bloodbath. Swedes were very into bloodbaths in those days. Karl was crowned King of Sweden in Uppsala in 1607, then went north to Finland to try an open up another seaport. He had a thing about seaports and once again his predilection started a war with the Danes. He defeated them at Stångebro, but then another war was started, this time between Sweden and Poland.

Karl did pretty well at first, and made his way into Livorna, but then the Poles counter attacked.

Livonia

 Karl’s army was defeated and he tried to get back to Sweden by crossing the Gulf of Finland, but the sea had started freezing over. His boat sank and he and his family almost went with it, but they made it to land and spent Christmas at Åbo castle. After that they took a long and very uncomfortable sleigh ride back to Stockholm.

As soon as Karl got over his sleigh-lag he assembled a new army made up of Swedes and mercenaries from Germany, France and England. He then led them to Livonia where they were totally destroyed. The survivors ran back to Sweden as fast as they could, and an armistice with Poland was signed in 1611.

Main while, in Russia, Ivan the Terrible had died. Pretenders to the throne started showing up, and bands of Cossacks began to plunder and ravage (an old Viking tradition) until a Swedish army led by Jakob De La Gardie liberated Moscow and installed Vassily Shuisky, as tzar.

De La G 

Jakob De La Gardie

 De La Gardie had been held prisoner in Poland for four years as a young adult and after his release served under the Dutch general, Maurice of Nassau. He was Impressed with the Dutch way of waging war and introduced Dutch methods into the Swedish army upon his return to the service of Sweden. De la Gardie’s victory in Russia was short lived. He was forced out of Moscow when Poland stormed into Russia with their own candidate, Sigismund’s son, Vladislav. Vladislav became the new tzar, but not for long.

Next week: De La Gardie Returns

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Swedish For Immigrants - Week 16




SFI TEST A1

Verbal abuse
These verbs I know
will someday be of use
these tenses do so stress
I must confess
but will endure
these eight more days
I didn’t know were still to go
I never seem to know
what’s coming next
these texts a complex sum of words.
I do not fit
this SFI curriculum
designed for immigrants
much younger than myself
some dozen years at least
and coming from the middle east.

*                       *                       *

I’d thought I’d be on holiday by now, but have misunderstood. Still two more days to go, the last test Wednesday, then a party Thursday, then I’m done. New classes start the second week of January. I am far from able to rise up to ‘C’ level this next semester, but the majority of my class will stay in ‘B’, though they know more than I. Most of their problems are with writing, I believe. One has to write text of 100 plus correct words in order to move on. I was able to write 50 words with only one mistake last week, but they were written in present tense and the test called for past tense. Duh. Strangely enough I scored a 95%, a 90% and a 70% on the last 3 tests. A vast improvement, but still so far to go.

One of my classmates showed me photos of his house and homeland in Afghanistan last week. They were so picturesque they made me sad. The little town, houses and village school were modest, but idyllic, green pastures, farmland and mountains on the horizon. There were photos of his 19 year-old son who is still there. What’s going on behind those images I wonder. Why has he come to Sweden. Can’t be easy.

I cannot resist sharing one more poem by Binnie Andersson, first in English (my translation) then in Swedish from the original.

From: Swedish For Immigrants – Published by Immigrant Institute
Suddenly I am a Foreigner
by
Binnie Kristal-Andersson
Suddenly I am a foreigner
suddenly I am alone
in a foreign country
foreign eyes
staring at me
I try to look friendly
I try to explain
with my quiet humble eyes
why I am here
in your country old lady
who sits beside me on the bus
and stares at me angrily.
Why do you look so angry?
I know that I don’t
look exactly
like the others
I know I cannot speak
your language
as well as you
but believe me old lady
I want to love you
and your country
if you do not count me out
before I get
a chance.
*                                 *                               *
From: Svewnska för Invandrare
by
Binnie Kristal-Anderson
PLӦTSLIGT ӒR JAG UTLӒNNING
Plöbtsligt är jag utlänning
plöbtsligt står jag ensam
i ett främmande land
främmande ögon
stirrar på mig
jag försöker se vänlig ut
jag försoker förklara
med min ödmjuka tysta blick
varför jag är här
i ditt land, gamla dam
och sitter bredvid mig i bussen
och stirrar argt på mig
Varför ser du så arg ut?
jag vet att jag inte
ser ut precis
som de andra
jag vet att jag inte kan prata
ditt sprak
lika bra som du
Men tro mig, gamla dam
jag vill älska dig
och ditt land,
om du inte domer ut mig
innan jag får
en chans.
*                                 *                                  *
Christmas will be a new experience for them . . . and snow.
I hope it’s a good one for them, and for you, and for all of us.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Free Concert



Postcard From San Francisco – 1968 FREE CONCERT

Concert

Sunday in the park
September – San Francisco

Band Shell orchestra
beneath the last of warming suns
conductor taps his wand
preparing for the anthem
some now stand
but others are too old, or tired.

A flock of pigeons flare above us
startled by the sudden blare of brass and drums
their loose formation makes a graceful, sweeping curve
with military grace
above the scattered crowd.

Eye glasses glitter
watching as they wheel against a hard blue sky
returning bravely to their nests when the triumphant noise has ended.

They all know the score.

Published Breadline Press West Coast Anthology 2012

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Beginning of Winter - 2




Sun Good
Borlänge, Sweden 2 P.M. 9 December 2014

Lawns white with frost
sun skirting far horizon
blinding light.
Forecasters tell us snow will wait
but they are almost never right.

Dog Daze - 5



E  A 2- Fixed A 

I’m trying to make friends with Amber and she seems open to the idea. We were discussing our trips to the vet yesterday, and my grandparents' rat hunting skills. She’s been trying to help me understand Swedish politics, which isn't easy. I wrote this poem for her today.

It’s as simple as that
said the much learned cat.
She had quite a fine coat
and refused to hunt rats.
We talked about doctors
and trips to the vet.
I’ve had my first shots
but they’re not yet the last yet.
 
What about the Iron Curtain?
I asked her today.
Will it ever come down
so we’re able to play?
I suppose that it might
if that’s what we want
but until that day comes
We’ll live with detente.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dog Daze - 4 Amber's News & Views




First let me say I have not been spying on Ellie. It was a boring day and there was nothing better to do at the moment, though I must admit I was curious. This morning I climbed over the Iron Curtain to see what she was fussing about.

Swedish politics . . . Hmm. Seems easy enough for me to understand. Politicians are human, and humans are a flawed species. Most of them are just looking out for themselves. The good ones are looking out for their pets.
“It’s as simple as that,” said a much learned cat.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Ellie - 3 Dog Daze


I’m not a paranoid hound. I never have been, but last night I was reading an article about Swedish politics in the newspaper. Swedish politics is difficult to understand, but seems very similar to American politics . . .  which is impossible to understand – whatever.
I started to have the feeling I was being watched, and when I looked up I saw Amber the Kat staring at me from the other side of the iron curtain. If you look closely you can see her in this photo take by the security camera.
Dog News 4 JAP A

I didn’t say anything and neither did she. I wonder what she is up to?
This could be interesting.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ellie - 2 Dog Daze




 Ellie - A Crop

I was thinking about the iron curtain in our living room yesterday, wondering if it would ever be lifted, when a remarkable thing happened.

Amber the Kat, came in looking for a sip of white wine. She didn’t seem at all afraid of me. Some kats are like that, they’ll do anything for a drink, but you have to admire her courage. Of course the house woman was there as well, so there wasn’t a lot of risk . . . but still.

I kept an eye on her but didn’t say anything.


Ellie -  Amber 4 good-Crop
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Friday, November 28, 2014

Swedish For Immigrants - Week 14



Sometimes you get lucky.


Another Friday test today. I’m guessing (optimistically) I might have gotten 70% correct, but last week I scored 85%. A miracle. First good score I’ve had since I began.
After the test I stopped by the liquor store for some beer, but it had not opened yet, so I walked over to the library to kill some time. I ended up browsing in the “Free Used Books’ section and noticed this amazing title: Svenska för invandrare. Swedish for Immigrants? Incredible. I grabbed it and took it home for my wife to help me translate. Below is the first poem. It totally blew me away.

From: Swedish For Immigrants 

 Published by Immigrant Institute

ISBN 91-85242-08-X

Suddenly I am a Foreigner
by

Binnie Kristal-Anderson

Suddenly I am a foreigner
suddenly I am alone
in a foreign country
foreign eyes
staring at me.
I try to look friendly
I try to explain
with my quiet humble eyes
why I am here
in your country old lady
who sits beside me on the bus
and stares at me angrily.
Why do you look so angry?
I know that I don’t
look exactly
like the others
I know I cannot speak
your language
as well as you
but believe me, old lady
I want to love you
and your country
if you do not count me out
before I get
a chance.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pirene's Fountain - Bushido Steel



My poem - Bushido Steel - has been published in this new issue.
Pirene's Fountain
Pirene’s Fountain’s tradition of excellence in writing and thought continues in this special double-feature edition. Features, interviews, reviews, and brilliant works of poetry are brought together to inspire and nurture the creative spirit. The voices in Pirene’s Fountain create a meaningful and lasting dialogue for all lovers of exceptional poetry and writing.

Lampião's Band



Lampião - A 
Lampiāos Band

They fought against and incredibly corrupt Brazilian government. His right-hand man was known as the Blond Devil, and his woman, Maria Bonitas (Maria the Beautiful).
The relationship of Maria Bonita and Lampião is firmly rooted in Brazilian folk history, much like the ‘romance and violence’ fame that Bonie & Clyde achieved in the USA. The story of Lampião and Maria Bonita, has been the subject of innumerable Brazilian folk stories, books, comic books, songs, movies, and TV shows, with all the elements of drama, passion, and violence typical of “Wild West” stories.
Lampiao -  C 
At the youtube site below Maria’s photo you can find the popular Brazilian song “Acorda Maria Bonita” celebrating the cangaceira (outlaws).

Maria-2 

On July 28, 1938, Lampião’s band was betrayed by one of his supporters and ambushed in one of his hideouts by a police troop armed with machine guns. In a quick battle, Lampião, Maria Bonita and 9 of his troops were killed, though some 40 others escaped. The heads of the dead bandits were cut off and sent to Salvador, the capital of Bahia, for examination by specialists at the State Forensic Institute, and later, for public exhibition. In 1969 were the families of Lampião and Maria Bonita were finally able to reclaim the preserved heads to finally bury them.

Lampiao - B


Lampião’s Band
Bruce Louis Dodson

Who were the last that stood?
Lampião’s Band.
How would you die?
In bed?
Or with the Blond Devil and Maria Bonita
making your play on some hot hill
amidst the smell of cordite, oil, and old rifles
without fear of death.

Where does the battle end?
Not any time or place you dare to make a stand.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Swedish For Immigrants - Week 13





My ride on the emotional roller coaster continues. Lessons are fun most of the time, good teachers, and I enjoy my classmates. They continue to be friendly & helpful – watching out for the ‘old man’, but it remains difficult for me to understand most of what they are saying. Seems they all list English as a second language, but it’s an English totally unfamiliar to me. I don’t understand their Swedish more than very basic comments, and Enshala (incorrect spelling) is the only Arabic I know, (It is God’s will), a word I have started to use frequently.

My most frustrating problem continues to be understanding test questions (note photo above). The teachers give lengthy verbal explanations – in Swedish of course – and I can usually figure things out by looking at the test paper, but not always. I get blindsided once or twice a week.

This week we had a verbal test. We were divided into teams of three, two Somali girls and me. We were suppose to give a classroom talk on what people ate, what they did for exercise, and what they did to feel good. The girls understood each other, but were not clear on how to organize what each of us needed to do. I had a pretty good idea about how to get things in order, but understood less than half of what they were saying. It was a Chinese fire drill. Finally the teacher helped us. I took a rough draft home, typed it up, and had my Swedish wife make corrections. I went to class the next day with copies for the others on my team and felt good about it, confident. I had extra notes on my copy to help with pronunciation. We practiced our presentation for a half hour. One of my teammates had memorized her answer. I was so impressed. “I could never do that,” I told her, but doubt if she understood. The following day we stood in front of the class ready to do our thing. I was ready. This time I had the answers in my hand. All I had to do was read what I had written. Then the teacher said, in English, “No papers. You cannot read your work.”

So many times I feel like Charlie Brown holding to football. It was total humiliation. Sheesh. I felt so stupid. I had no idea we were supposed to memorize our answers. Our team had to stand down. I was able to memorize most of my part and did a sloppy recitation in for class two hours later. Went home feeling very down. I seem never to know what the hell is going on, and 60% is still the best I can do on tests. There are only two major tests left to do. After that, tallied scores will determine if students go on to ‘C’ level. There is no way I will pass, and have no idea what will happen. Maybe I will do the ‘B’ class again. I think what I really need is to go to ‘A’ class and get some kind of a running start at this language thing, but I have requested before and told I didn’t need class ‘A’.

Whatever. Sometimes I feel like I will be taking these classes for the rest of my life, and the time spent is taken from hours I would ordinarily spend writing. It’s hard to find time even for these blogs now. Yuk!

If we don’t change the direction we are headed we will end up where we are going. – Chinese proverb.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Contemplations 4 - Part 1





Politics, publishers & Money.

Private

Has there ever been a time when it was different? The rich are always with us. Kings and queens, shaping the lives, and often deaths, of the working class. Royalty has always had advisers, experts, specialists and priests. Nothing has changed except the wardrobes. Last U.S. priest was Billy Graham – at times had almost total access the White House. “God has made this man our president,” he declared over three consecutive presidents. “God’s will,” he said, determined who would be elected. “God’s will.” I love that kind of talk . . . been said for ages. I remember Eric Berne, (Transactional Analysis, Games People Play). His description of jazz: “Sounds good, means nothing.”

Medieval royalty hired brutes for body guards, now we have lawyers, and still a few brutes as well I suppose. Our modern kings and queens have shed the weight of crowns, prefer to live in opulence behind the scenes, surrounded by those eager to encourage favor, lavishing gifts in hope of requests granted. But why bother gift shopping? Cash is better and more portable . . . checks delivered by lobbyists.
TPP

“So far only corporate lobbyists have had access to the negotiations: from Monsanto to Nestlé, corporations are all scuttling around Brussels to get their agenda into the treaties. European citizens have teamed up with more than 250 partner organizations across the European Union to form the self-organized, EU-wide citizens’ initiative against TTIP and CETA.”

Good luck with that. Don’t count on it.

They’ve privatized the railroads here. Yesterday the trains stopped running, again, in Sweden. This has happened two or three times since I’ve been here – a little over a year. Thousands stranded in Stockholm. People trying to get somewhere for the weekend. They’re also privatizing schools.

Contemplations - 4 Part 2




The literary royalty:

  Writing is work I think, not easy for most of us. But we can all self publish now, compete with big time publishers, the houses, agents, marketing . . . lands of submission. I stumbled on these words a couple weeks ago:

“As relatively modest as their salaries may be, people in publishing are still by birth and education and cultural assumptions members of the emerging American over class, self-replicating and increasingly isolated from the conditions of American life outside the big cities and campus enclaves. Working class people who pay the punishing financial price that going to college extracts these days are unlikely to be attracted to publishing, with those “relatively modest salaries” as their payoff All of which means that voices from and on behalf of the working class have that much harder a time getting read, understood, and published. Absent some unforeseen cultural shift, they are likely to remain unfashionable.”

“I know that sounds pretty bleak when it comes to what I’ve called literary democracy. And yet the vitality and toughness of working-class life has a way of producing voices that demand to be heard. Fiction, of all the arts, is the one that has the strongest allegiance to a realistic depiction of the world as it is, however advanced the formal means by which that representation is achieved. The strongest talents in American fiction, the ones that have the most impact and durable staying power, tend to be rooted in place and local culture and informed by human struggle.”

I’m not sure where I read this, or who said it, was probably something in Paris Review.

*       *       *

I listened to an interesting interview with Stephen King this week. He thinks we’re beginning to look like 1984, and worries we’re getting ourselves into a place where there is constant war. Back to the future again. Seems like it’s always been that way to me. When were there no wars? At the end of WWII we had the best army that ever walked the earth, best equipped, the best moral, best everything. Then we sent them to Korea and war that could not be won. When we finished there we sent them to Vietnam, another war that could not be won, and now the middle east and battles you can’t even imagine being won. Life on earth.

“World peace,” the beauty contestant’s mantra.

I saw a Facebook petition to sign if you are for world peace. Most of us want world peace. I’m not sure signing a petition advocating it will do much good. There should be a petition for getting rid of bad guys, the Hitlers, Stalins, Attila the huns, those crazy Isis bastards, and on down the line to thieves and murderers and cyber scams. What is it that creates these people? Something more than genetics.

A recent report from the Social Security Administration confirms what many other studies have shown over the last 40 years. The United States is experiencing the kind of obscene levels of wealth and income inequality found third world countries. Since 1999, the median income has gone down by nearly $5,000. Americans are working longer hours for lower wages. Half of all workers in the U.S. made less than $28,031. The wealthiest 110 workers received a $14.2 million increase in average pay.

Money itself is an interesting subject. It disappears into a fantasy of paperwork: promissory notes and bills of exchange, a fantasy world of secret deals between royalties, the Rothschild’s, Rockefellers, and Morgans – banksters. No legal case has ever been won against a banks. Corporations have been given the same rights as people.
I remember listening to Buckminster Fuller as a student at Southern Illinois University. He predicted a financial watershed, around the year 2000 he thought. A coming confrontation between the haves & have-nots was a popular discussion in the academic world of the late 50’s. Also worries about populating growth. We were three billion people on the earth back then, now we are six billion. Half or more of those six billion would be considered poor by most European and Americans standards. It’s interesting how much money some people have. What do they do with it, besides influence governments?
Some build houses. I just stumbled on to this one.

BILHUD

It’s owned by Mukesh Ambani. Six underground levels of parking, 600 staff to keep things running smoothly. Three helicopter pads. Value one billion U.S.D. One billion!
Guess where it is. Mambai, India. The mind boggles.

Enough. I am without solutions.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Dog Days 4 - by Bucks





Bucks Revenge

You won’t believe what happened yesterday. I was minding my own business when I noticed the gate to the iron curtain was open. This is supposed to mean Nellie, or Ellie, or whatever her name is, is in jail or outside pooping somewhere. But she wasn’t and we met face to face. I stood my ground, as always, and she began to ramble on about herself. “I’m a poet,” she told me. “Would you like to see what I wrote yesterday?”

“Whatever,” I said. I’m always polite, even when I don’t want to be.
She handed me a chewed up piece of cardboard with some words written in doggerel. I looked it up on Google Translate, which was a bad idea. She called me a pussy, and you won’t believe the second line.

His fur was quite long and he looked somewhat fat.

Somewhat fat?! Today I learned the bitch has posted it on Facebook.
This is an obvious case of internet slander! I’ve been trying to contact my lawyer, a New York weasel, but he’s gone fishing.

Amber says I should forget about it. Easy for her to say.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dog Days 3 - by Ellie


Elllie - 1

Ha! The Bucks is taking a nap. He does a lot of those, so this is a good chance for me to introduce myself. My name is Ellie, the same as the Swedish Crown Princesses daughter. I was born in Sweden, but my great grandparents were Irish. My dad is a well known show dog, but I’m not interested in that sort of thing. I’m going to be a poet when I grow up. My new home is giving me lots of ideas and I’ve already started composing.

This is my first:

I once met a pussy called Buckminster cat
His fur was quite long and he looked somewhat fat
I’m the boss of this house, he told me one day
So what’s the big deal? I just want to play.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Amber Does Dog Days - 2


Amber Redux 

This note is just to tell you followers I’m still alive. Bucks and I have been staying high, which is always a good thing. The dog stays at ground level so we feel reasonably safe . . . but paranoid. I’ve been keeping an eye on things, always watching from a safe distance.

Amber Watching

An iron curtain has appeared. It separates the kitchen and living room from the rest of the house, and was put up on the same day as the Berlin Wall anniversary. Bucks thinks there’s some kind of symbolic meaning in that, and we have been arguing about it.
“It’s no coincidence,” he says.

Whatever. The hound’s name is Ellie. She gets put in jail every night about ten o’clock. We feel safer then and have free run of the house late at night, but there are dog smells everywhere. Bucks had an encounter with Ellie in the kitchen yesterday after someone left the gate open.

Iron Curtain - Crop

He puffed himself up so big he looked like a black & white watermelon. I’ve never seen him do that before. It was weird.

The servants are giving us lots of snacks lately, probably because they feel guilty, and they should. I mean, really! Bucks is meowing about the computer now. He probably wants to tell you about his meet up with Ellie, but it wasn’t a big deal, if you want my opinion.

I’ll be back.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dog Days 2 - By Bucks




Bucks & El-fix

I had a talk with the hound today. Things do not look good, but at least she didn’t bark or try to bite me. I think she’s got that ‘attention deficit’ thing. Can’t seem to hold still, and running around the house like a gerbil on crack. I tried to tell here who’s in charge here, but she doesn’t understand. She probably can’t speak Catonese, and I am sure as hell not going to learn Doggerel.

As the nun said, “This is not good.”

Monday, November 3, 2014

Amber Does Dog Days - 1





OMG! I can’t believe it. Sunday in Sweden and this animal appeared. A dog! Why would anyone bring a dog into the house? She’s already barked at me twice. Dogs are so rude! Thank god it can’t climb. I’ll be okay here on the top deck of this cat tree, but I worry about Bucks. He’s never been would one might define as emotionally stable, and now this.



Buks F
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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Swedish For Immigrants - Week 11




LANGUAGE-Crop

Nothing exciting this last week. Some progress maybe, and I know where my three classrooms are, plus Friday tests held in the Jussi auditorium. We had a Friday test this morning, doubt I passed it, but think I failed less than the last time. Some of us have started speaking Swedish to each other this last week. ‘How are you? Are you married? Do you have children?’ Scintillating conversations. But it’s nice. It’s good, and I’ve relaxed a bit, accepted how it is, this language thing and me. I can tell you my address on Foreningsghatan (fourteen letters!) and converse with a health care receptionist, or ‘emergency’ people over the phone. I’m sure anyone ending up on the other end of such calls will be able to speak English, but good to know, just in case.

I’ve learned how to use the coffee machine in the lounge, can say numbers up to the thousands, and tell you what time it is . . . in Swedish. Small steps, but progress. I have still not memorized the number of the cell phone that I never use, or my person number. Person numbers are about the same as one’s social security number in the States.

Teacher keeps telling us, “Stop speaking Arabic!” No problem for me, but we have five women in this class who like to chatter about things in the classroom lecture they don’t understand, or maybe something else entirely. We’ll never know. When more than two of them get going it’s a real cacophony. Their language seems incredibly fast, staccato. We are told to speak only Swedish while in school, and wherever possible. There’s no need to forbid English. No one is speaking English.

It would be great if could learn to talk in Swedish with classmates. I’m sure they have interesting stories, but so far our conversations tend to stall out while talking about family and cars.
“My dad had a Buick,” one tells me, and he had a car, also American. How the hell did these cars get to Syria? I don’t know much about Syria, except for the madness shown on TV news. Some kind of complicated civil war – 190,000 dead so far.

Syria War 
The Mind Boggles

I don’t have an image of people driving around in nice cars. Why has he come here? I wonder what happened? Some of my classmates have caromed off two or three other countries before ending in Sweden. One of the woman has just deep gotten her four-year-old daughter back from Italy. The child has been there for sometime, a year or more – reasons unknown. It must be completed, things like that.

She’s from the deep south and the wrong side, of Africa. Was part of a tribe. What was that like I wonder. In her late twenties now, been here for eighteen months. I’ve missed her this last week. Thought she’d dropped out, but saw her in the hall today, looking for one of our teachers. She’s been intent on learning Swedish, and been doing better at it than I am and speaks the best English of all my classmates. I don’t think she gets any money for attending classes – something to do with her status here, and getting her kid back. I hope she’s okay. She looks okay. Problems at home I guess.
I keep thinking about language as a thing in itself, beyond accents, countries, nationalities, and at the same time making things possible. The power of language . . . words. Is there thought without words?

“Language must be taken in a wider sense than speech, Jung says. “Speech is only the outward flow of thoughts formulated for communication. Were it otherwise the deaf mute would be extremely limited in his thinking capacity, which is not the case at all.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Swedish For Immigrants - Week 10



My Life – and welcome to it.

Monday: Phase two Swedish classes have begun. Wife had to have the car today. I took the bus. Should have been easy. Bus stop is in walking distance, and I’ve rode the bus to school before. Surprise. The bus stop shelter’s gone. There’s nothing left, no signs. The city has been messing with the streets, last chance before the snow falls I suppose. Had no idea if the bus still stopped in the same place, so started walking north to where I thought there was bus stop shelter. Half way there I saw the bus, now coming toward me – right on time. I started waving franticly, and by some minor miracle it stopped. The doors hissed open for me. Benefit of looking old? It’s just a fifteen minute ride to school.

There are ten other students in my ‘Slow’ class. All of them seem to be learning faster than myself. Most of them still fresh off the boat. Perhaps an advantage of youth, their memories not full yet. We started today’s class by telling our names, then each student repeated the names of the others aloud. I can remember a new name for about ten seconds, on a good day. I tend to berate myself for getting old age short-term memory problems, but in truth it was the same for me when I was twenty. Others in class seem to have no problem with it: Fahan, Nader, Nimca, Nura, Amina, Anab, Sanaa, Yusrqa, Sajidah, Abdullahi. Maybe they already knew each other – probably some did. At least I know my limitations and had written the names down as we introduced ourselves.

Tuesday: was easy, sort of. Practicing the alphabet – alfabetet. At last something I am vaguely familiar with, except a lot of the letters sound different, and ‘W’ is missing, they use ‘V’s instead. Ӧ and Ӓ are still a problem, seem to sound about the same. I have three teachers now, each one refusing to speak English. “We don’t speak Arabic, and we don’t speak English,” one of them told me. It’s for damn sure none of them speak Arabic, but seems like they could give me a boost with a couple English words now and then. I’m sure their way of teaching makes sense in the long run. I’m a round peg trying to fit a square hole. The new classes are being taught in three different classrooms, one for writing, one for listening, and one for conversation. So many words . . . so little time. Test coming Friday.

Friday: Bombed out on Swedish language test this morning. No surprise. As usual I had, at best, an 85% understanding of what the test would be about, 15% was a surprise. The Ӓs & Ӧs remained beyond my grasp. After ninety minutes listing to them pronounced on a computer program I still can’t seem to hear the subtle difference. Test teachers read the Swedish alphabet aloud. We were to write them down. I probably got 60% of the more familiar characters right, but was surprised by a page of diphthong-ish sounds, pö, py, sy, etc. They’d been sounded out and practiced in class for ten or fifteen minutes earlier in the week. I hadn’t paid that much attention after, so much else I’m struggling with.

It feels bad to fail these tests, and I feel bad about feeling bad, which doesn’t help. This was a big test, in a room I’d never been inside before, a modest auditorium decorated with photos and memorabilia of a famous opera singer, Jussi Björlilng, born in this small town.

Jussi

There were better than a hundred of us seated for the test, from Africa and Syria, and Vietnam . . . just one American, yours truly. I think most who took this test will pass. Some will excel. Somali women in my class seem to speak Swedish pretty well, and have discussions with the teachers. Why are they here? To learn writing skills, I suppose. The Alphabet must be a quantum leap away from what they have grown up with.
Why am I here?

We had a half hour break time between two test sessions. Students gathered in small groups at tables and couches in a lounge area that has microwaves, and candy and coffee machines. There are Somali groups, and Syrian groups. Vietnamese occupied a couch. I’m envious of students hanging with their homeys. I feel so damn out of it sometimes–the only American within a quarter mile.

I’ve been missing America, the things I knew, familiarity of places and ways, a cognitive map constructed over years. Feel like a blind man in a labyrinth. America, that land of affluence and things obtainable, now less than years before, I guess, but still a damn good place to live, perhaps the best. A house of cards that defies gravity, survives financial earthquakes. Working class lose jobs and homes as money changes hands. Life tangos on, dance of diversions, ISIS, and Ebola . . . wars, assassinations and beheadings. Life on earth.

They think there’s been a Russian submarine submerged somewhere in Swedish waters. Navy here’s been looking for it this last week, and planned to force it to the surface, but they’ve given up now. “Russian underwater operation . . . plausible,” they say. I love one of the ships they have been searching with – HMS Visby, weird design. A stealth ship.

HMS Visby

It was not the first time this has happened. It’s a game that Russia plays. I have observed a sense of vague uneasiness, a Swedish gestalt of things and thought quite new to me. There’s nothing like it in the States. No worries Canada might jump us, or the Mexicans attack. But here, potential enemy is right next door, a big one who is still pissed off about wars fought a couple hundred years ago. There’s talk of Sweden beefing up its military, but it’s complicated. Russia supplies fuel to warm the Swedish winters . . . gasoline for cars.

Nothing is simple anymore, perhaps it never was. We didn’t know so much knew before these days of television, internet, and cell phones. Not sure what we really know today . . . what we are told–as always. Thoughts is passing as I waited in the lounge for session two.

“Sit here.” I’m taken by surprise. A young Somali girl has invites me to a place beside her on a hallway couch. We make awkward small talk. All my classmates are polite and friendly. Some of the Somali women have been looking after me.

“Time to go class.” They pull me from a book I’ve lost myself in, pointing to the proper room. We change classrooms every hour to be with different teachers. They are worried the ‘old man’ might lose his way. I’m happy for their help. Another benefit of age? I am by far the oldest person here. I’ve met one student in his forties, most are still in their late twenties, and I’ve learned my teacher’s father is years younger than myself.

What am I doing here?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Amber's Swedish History - Chapter 10



Amber History 10

Erik Gets Married

Erik had ambitious marriage plans. He sent his ministers to proposition every single queen and princess they could find. Both Queen Elizabeth, and Mary Stuart (Scotland) turned him down. He fooled around with mistresses while waiting for a wife, and fathered several kids. One of the peasants who took care of them was red-haired Karin Månsdotter. She also gave birth to one of his children, Gustav, when she was sixteen.

Erik became more and more paranoid. He thought some of the nobles were plotting against him and had them thrown into prison. Four of them were murdered there. Then Erik disappeared. They found him wondering the hills with some serious mental problems. Karin Månsdotter was the only person able to calm him down. She finally got him calm enough to marry her in the cathedral at Stockholm in 1568. It was a good career move for Karen. She was now eighteen, and queen of Sweden.
Erik’s family and high nobility did not accept the marriage. This turned into a revolt led by two of his brothers. (Paranoia is often a heightened state of awareness.)

They surrounded the castle in Stockholm and Erik’s supporters decided it would be better to support someone else. Erik was force to hand over Jöran Persson (Erik’s Evil Genius – Chapter 9). The rebels had a good time torturing him, then chopped his head off. Jöran had it coming, then they killed his witchy mother for good measure.

Erik was deposed and spent the rest of his life imprisoned in both Sweden and Finland.
Karen almost went to prison, but the new King, Johan III gave her a nice estate in Finland. Erik was poisoned ten years later, and son Gustav died outside of Moscow.

Johan III 
Johan III

The fancy hat he’s wearing means he was a college grad, and had a doctoral degree. People still get doctoral degrees but the hats have gone out of style. Johan was fairly weird. He kept a silver hammer hanging from his belt and threw it at anyone who came with bad news. Sometimes he hammered on the table with it. He was smart, but impractical and clueless about money.
Johan III Copper 
Copper Coin From Johan’s Reign

Johan liked to build things. He assembled master architects and artisans and involved himself as much as he could in their work. They built castles in Stockholm, Kalmar, and Uppsala, and built churches everywhere. His wife, who was eleven years his senior, died when she was forty-six. He then married a sixteen-year-old, Gunilla Bielke.

Gunilla Bielke 
Gunilla Bielke.

Gunilla talked him into becoming a Protestant. He made many new rules about religious services. Clergymen were made to iron their shirts, stop wearing boots and spurs to church, and were no longer allowed to throw their caps and mittens on the altar. Johan built many monuments as well, and royal graves. He never worried about cost. The economy suffered. Inflation got as high as 100%, but nobody mentioned this problem to the Johan. They were probably worried about the hammer. He built more than any other king of Sweden.

When the Polish throne became vacant in 1587 Johan put forth his son, a crown prince named Sigismund, as a candidate. He was crowned in Cracow. Poles remember him as being stubborn, sluggish, and silent. Johan died in 1592, and Sigismund became King of Sweden.

King Sigismund
 Sig Coin
Sigismund Coin

Next Week – Sigismund and Civil War