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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Swedish For Immigrants - Week 7 Part 3

Wednesday: Still able to remove the key, but live in fear the lockup will happen again. Headache is gone. Still have some trouble breathing. We’re doing verbs in Swedish class. They bounce around my brain like bats in an echo chamber, but I’m happy to be done with the oldest, youngest thing. I feel like a minority. I am one―the only American on campus far as I know, amidst 3,000 students more or less. Outside of class, on breaks, the other students gather, speaking Arabic, I think, or other tongues beyond my kin. I should attempt to instigate communication in Swedish.
“You always reading,” one guy says in English. This is true. I always have a book, and am still reading, Angle of Repose. One of those long books you wish were longer. I don’t read it at home, an attempt not to devour it in just a few days. On class breaks I make a dash for a couch seat in the hall. All classes break at the same time so it’s kind of like musical chairs. If I’m ever rid of this cold I vow to start speaking Swedish at some of my classmates. I suspect we are all a bit reluctant to make the attempt. What can we say? How are you? What time is it? Are you married? Where do you live? Not easy to make an interesting conversation.

This morning I attempted to make one of my ‘in-class’ answers more interesting. When asked what I was going to do on the weekend, I responded (in Swedish), “I am going to Russia.” Easy to remember, Russia―sounds like, ‘Rice land’.
Teacher was taken aback for a moment, then asked, “How long will you be there?”
“Three years,” I told her. Class was staring at me . . . disbelief apparent. “I am lying,” I confessed.
“Oh.” She smiles. Class laughs. Ha ha. If asked again I’ll say I’m going to the moon.
*           *          *
We’re given a preview copy of the next test today ―a dictation. Teacher will read the text in Swedish. We will attempt to write her words in Swedish. The dialog has contributed to my new plan. Part of it translated, below.
Isa lar sig svenska
(Isa is learning herself Swedish)

“Isa comes from Burundi in Africa. She did not go to school in her home land. Now Isa goes to school. She is learning Swedish. She began class A last year. Now she goes to class B. Rita is her teacher. There are 17 students in Isa’s class. They come from different countries and they speak different languages. However there are some coming from the same country. They speak the same languages. They often forget to speak Swedish. Then Isa becomes angry. She does not understand their language. She wants to speak Swedish.”
Lots more to this one, which means lots of homework, and I’m feeling lousy. Headaches have come back.

Thursday: Wife cannot remove the key from car. Aha! It wasn’t me. I knew it . . . sort of. We call a tow truck. Driver comes, decides to take a look before he hauls it off and pulls the key out easily. “This happens sometimes,” he says. Wife drives car to Volvo place and leaves it. They will look at it tomorrow.

Friday: Son-in-law drives me to school. I take the dictation test, then bus back home. Volvo calls to tell us we need a new ignition switch, and there’s a wire that needs replacing. $1,700 and some change. Thank God this week is finally over!

Swedish For Immigrants - Week 7 Part 2

Tuesday: I’m able to get the key out of the car with a combination of jiggle, lift, and twist, but something’s wrong. I’ve had this car four years and never had a problem. Cold has gotten worse. I did not think it possible. We’re having a Swedish test in class this morning. A total wipe out as I struggle on, head pounding, and nose dripping like a faucet. I’m not sneezing or coughing, but my memory has disappeared like a snake in the jungle. I notice one student has answers written on her hand. Another is looking up words on a cell phone hidden on his lap. No wonder I’m so low in test score standings . . . these damn cell phones. Why do they cheat? There are no grades. Maybe just fear, embarrassment? I’m hip to that. The Swedish words I know the best are, ‘Jag vet inte’― ‘I don’t know’. Seems like I use that half a dozen times in every class. We have a substitute teacher today. She refuses to speak any English. This is SFI philosophy, and probably makes sense, assuming students have gone though the preliminary Swedish class, (Class A) but three of us have not.


After the test we’re asked to say what part of this small town (55,000) we live in. One of the students answers, “Little Mogadishu.” Interesting. There will be tide pools of immigrants wanting to be near each other. To create community and cultural bonds. If there were an American pool here I would most certainly jump into it. I remember an Italian community in my home town, Illinois . . . the early fifties. It evaporated over time, gone by the nineties. I was much easier for the Italians to assimilate into their host culture. Most were Catholics, all were Europeans, their ethnicity not all that different from the rest of us, we just arrived earlier.


Some Swedes feel the new immigrants will never assimilate, due to the vastness of cultural differences and religions. Most likely there’s a grain of truth in this. These things stay with us, even uninvited. I’m recalling words from Wallace Stegner’s, Angle of Repose.


“I am much of what my parents and especially my grandparents were –inherited stature, coloring, brains and bones, plus transmitted prejudices, culture, scruples, likings, moralities and moral errors that I defend as if they were personal and not familial.”

Some Swedes worry for the future. This is not a racist thing, it’s about numbers – 55,000 here now, 2,000 + arriving every month. Sweden’s total population is nine million. It’s a subject not spoken of, for fear of being labeled racist. No one wishes to be labeled that, but here it’s like the kiss of death. People think they might their lose jobs, become pariahs . . . worse. It’s Sweden’s elephant in the room . . . never publicly discussed. This last election bumped the Swedish Democrat party’s votes up to 18% here in Borlänge . . . higher than it’s ever been before. The Swedish Democrats were a minority party until this year, now they are the third largest and often spoken of as racist. I have no idea if that’s true or not. I suspect some of it might be shots fired by the other parties, but have no idea if  dirty tricks are used here as they are in the States. I know nothing of Swedish politics other than the party names, and the king’s name.

Speaking of names, and politics.


I’m sure you all know Edward Snowden was awarded the alternative Nobel Prize, a Swedish Human Rights award. This annual award has been front page news since 1995 in Sweden, but it’s been stifled this year. Sweden’s Foreign Ministry, withdrew the prize jury’s permission to use its media room for the announcement . . . out of respect for the United States I suppose – Sweden’s big brother. They are very pro America in Sweden.
I suspect the ministry’s withdrawing of permission gave this event more press that it would ever have gained on its own. I’d never heard of it before. Have you?

We live in interesting times.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Swedish For Immigrants - Week 7 - Part 1

Monday: Started with a massive Swedish cold and headache, tired from lack of sleep because of coughing half the night. But I’m determined not to miss a Swedish language session. I might not be learning much, but never miss a class, and always there at least five minutes early. What was it Woody Allen said, “90% of success is just showing up.”

I’m out the door by 7:30, time enough to make the fifteen minute drive to school. I pull into the parking lot ten minutes early, kill the engine, then can’t get the key out of the ignition. This is impossible. I pull and push and twist and curse, but nothing works. I have, of course, forgotten to bring my cell phone. I consider leaving the key in the car. I could throw my coat over the steering wheel so passersby would not notice, but that would mean leaving the doors unlocked. Leaving the key in the ignition might also keep part of the Volvo’s electronic brain working which might, in the four hours of class time, run down the battery. When the battery dies the car goes brain dead and forgets things, codes that have to be put in when it comes back to life. I gave it up and drive back home.

I explain the problem to my somewhat surprised wife who decides to see for herself. She removes the key easily, no problem as I watch. Amazing.

“Great,” I tell her. There’s no time to think about what’s happened. I jump back into the driver’s seat and wave goodbye. I haven’t missed all that much class time, but once on my way again I start to think, and worry. What if . . . ? After driving a few blocks I pull the car off road and kill the engine to see if I can remove the key. All the tricks that failed to remove it the first time fail me again. I can’t believe this as I start the engine, turn the car around and drive back home . . . again.

My wife seems less surprised to see me this time. “What?” she asks.

“I cannot get the fucking key out!”

“Let me try again,” she says. Once more the key slides smoothly out into her hand. This is insane! Or maybe I am . . . frustrated, pissed off. “I’ll drive you,” she suggests, “come back and pick you up at twelve.”

“Okay.” What can I say? We ride in silence as I ponder whether or not I am losing my mind first stages of dementia?

I make it to class an hour late, not bad considering. But I feel guilty, and embarrassed. Teacher frequently mentions the importance of being on time, a new concept for some of my classmates. “Min bil är dod,” I tell her. (My car is dead.) It’s the best I could do. I want to add, “I may be next,” don’t know the words. She seems okay with my excuse. Head aching, tired and stressed I slide into my seat . . . three hours to go.

This class makes me feel younger sometimes, simply by being part of this youthful group. Turns out most are not as young as I thought. New words for the day are, oldest (åldst), older (äldre), and youngest, (yngst) plus other age words. I try to focus as teacher asks students how old they are. They respond without reservation, even the girls which is a pleasant surprise. I’ll be glad when I’m eighty. Only Swedes and people suffering from emphysema can pronounce the Swedish seven properly– sju. The six is easy – sex. I’m sjuttiosex.

She writes my number on the whiteboard and when finished with statistics asks, in Swedish, “Who is youngest? Who is oldest? Oldest is no problem. I am forty years beyond the yngst. There is laughter. Some guy makes a humorous comment about my age in Swedish. Teacher tells him it is impolite to say that. I have no idea what his remark was, and don’t ask, smile instead. The moment makes me feel uneasy. How do I seem to my classmates? That crazy guy who came here from America. Why? They must ask themselves. Sweet bird of youth has taken flight. I’m feeling older. Head is throbbing. One more hour to go.

End of Part 1 – More Follows

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Contemplations - 3 Coming of Age


Divisive Devices

Thinking about devices today, the annoyance of not knowing simple things that have become not simple . . . over time. A getting-older thing. I’ve witnessed incredible changes. Those first TVs, with rabbit ears . . . four channels – black and white. A simple device, without an instruction book, no learning period required. I refused to get a remote for a long time, thinking them a needless accessory. I finally bought one in the late seventies, and soon found myself with two remotes. Now I have three, and god help us if I accidently push the wrong button. We have a smart TV that can do Internet, Facebook, Skype, all kinds of amazing things . . . if you know how to work it. I don’t dare to try. Things can go wrong, and then you have to call in a teenager to get you out of whatever you’ve gotten into, or attempted.

The young have grown up with this stuff. They all have cell phones and stay on them, texting away, talking, scanning photos . . . looking stuff up. They are totally familiar with these things, their expertise absorbed from technological osmosis. I also resisted cell phones for a long time, but got one last December. Since then I’ve made or received maybe a dozen calls, eleven of which were tests to see if the phone was working. One was a call made to my wife, asking her to pick up something while she was at the grocery store.

I’m in a Swedish language class that takes me away from home from eight to twelve every day. Sometimes I have the car, so it made sense to charge up the phone and take it with me. Battery had probably been dead for a month or more. There is no reason for anyone I know to call me. Wife makes phone calls, in Swedish . . . every day stuff. My friends get in touch by e-mail, sometimes Skype. I never get calls.

Tonight the phone rang.

We were watching a movie, and I heard this ring. Wife’s phone plays songs instead of ringing, mine just rings. I finally decided it must be my phone, which was in the kitchen. I got up to answer. Line went dead as soon as I picked it up.

“Can you see who this was?” I passed the phone to my wife. “I can’t imagine anyone who’d be calling me.”

She swirls around the display window with her index finger, comes up with the number of whoever called, pushes a button, and passes it back.

I hold it to my ear. “Hello?” It sounds like someone dropped the phone, and is scrambling around with it on the floor – funny noises, clonks and bonks as I keep waiting for a voice, someone to answer. “Hello?” Nothing, just more funny noises, not the clattering kind, now more human noises, grunts and groans. Someone in pain? Was someone being murdered? Tortured? Still no words. The hell with it. I try hang up, but can’t remember how. Pushing the red button does not seem to work.

“How do you turn the damn thing off?” I pass the phone back to the wife.

“Who was it from?” She puts it to her ear and listens. “It’s a sex line,” she says immediately. Women know these things. She turns off the phone, too late I guess. We’ve been scammed, the perfect scam. It’s me that made the call and was connected for maybe a minute and a half while I wondered who or what it was. Some kind of a joke? Somebody getting murdered? A call for help?

Now we await a huge phone bill for my minute and a half spent with a porn phone line in Bucharest, or wherever. Cell phones . . . I want to be left alone.

*               *               *
Getting old is like standing in a long, slow line. You wake up out of the shuffle and torpor
only at those moments when the line moves you one step closer to the window.
Wallace Stegner

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Swedish For Immigrants - Week 6

Swedish For Immigrants – Week 6


Still plodding along, but enjoying these classes. They were frustrating at first. They still are, but I find myself looking forward to the four hour sessions. Had two tests this last week, one pretty good score, and one not so good. The teacher seems pleased, keeps telling me I’m making good progress. Wrote, ‘Bra!’ (good) on the test shown in photo above – 12 out of 20. 60% seems less than praiseworthy. Easy to make progress when you start at zero.

I can now understand intermittent words I read, or see in subtitles on TV. I can tell when people are talking about a car, or a wedding, numbers, money, time and years . . . the days and months. This last week we’ve been into verbs which have remained beyond my comprehension. They change like chameleons with shifts in tense. I have enough trouble spelling in English, without those damn accented characters. Ӓs and Ӧs sound about the same to me. I’ve heard them a million times and still can’t tell/remember the difference. I can understand, Å, an ‘a’ with a circle on top that sounds like any self respecting ‘o’ or ‘oh’ in English, except it’s disguised as an ‘a’. I can’t remember what Swedish ‘o’s sound like – ‘eww’ . . . or something like that.

It’s hard to hang out with the mid east students. They gather in small groups, smoking cigarettes and enjoying conversation in their homeland’s languages. There is also a 40 year age gap, more than enough to create social distance, and their English is very difficult to understand. One of the girls from Africa speaks pretty good. I’ve had some simple conversations with her on our study breaks.
She showed me photos of her two kids, on her cell phone. Oldest child, a girl, is now somewhere Italy. I’ve no idea how that happened . . . her  son is still in Africa.

“You look so young,” I tell her.
“In my tribe, we marry young – “Fifteen. These guys in class, come from Somalia, and from Syria, get money. But not me,” she says.
“I thought you all got money for attending class,” I tell her.
“Only refuges, from countries, where is war. I come because I want to, so do not get money.”
“Same with me,” I tell her, but we come from very different worlds.
Last week most of the guys went to some kind of pre-employment session given by a local industry, something about CNCs, a highly accurate, computerized, milling machine that makes parts.

“I want to finish with this class before take job,” she tells me. “Too many student, they take job first chance they get, then stuck in low pay job because they cannot speak good Swedish. I’m must make good money to bring son and daughter here.”

I try to guess her age, mid twenties, maybe less, not more. How has she managed all of this?

Next week – Swedish Politics – Election Results.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Swedish For Immigrants - Week 5 - Part two

Study Photo 2

When I was teaching in Seattle, there was an African immigrant who used to some to me for help with English class papers he was working on. Some pages I will never forget started with: “One day the biggest rocket I ever saw came over our house.” Then his road trip began, descriptions of moving from camp to camp, living in tents . . . riots and fires – thieves. I meant to make a copy of his story, but never got around to it, a significant loss. It was so well said, so simple, honest, no embellishments. “This is what happened….” An incredible sequence of events.

There are some fun moments in my Swedish class when we recite. One of the most macho Somalis told us, “My boyfriend is living with my wife.” This in Swedish of course. We all cracked up, a great, long-winded, honest, laugh-out-load. I’ve had a pretty good attitude this week, and feel okay about this Friday’s test. It was four pages, the last of which I hadn’t studied, having misunderstood previous instructions again. I was clueless, but not too bad on the first three pages.

I was in school an hour early once this week, a day when my class started late. The school has a spacious, comfortable area to hang out in, soft chairs, a couch, and tables under a high, glass ceiling. A good place to meet and talk with friends. I was reading a book to kill some time across from a long table full of Somalia girls in a wide variety of dress, some in jilbabs, their happy faces peaking out. A couple wore more western outfits, others in various states of dress born of a no-man’s land between the two cultures.

One of their friends came bounding down three steps into the lobby, giddy with delight, wearing a weird pair of colorful Bermuda style shorts, and a fancy blouse of many colors. Another Somali followed her entrance dressed in equally modern, if not so blatant attire – a skirt. The were having a wonderful time of it, dancing, twirling around and laughing. Look at me!
I’m thinking, what must that be like? To be free of that tent you’re wearing all your life? I guess they don’t wear them at home. I see paranoids on Facebook, worried European women will take up this middle eastern male’s definition of what women should wear. I don’t think so. Try to get even two European women to wear the same outfit . . . let alone thousands.

I don’t mind the jilbas. The women seem happy and at ease in them. It’s a relief not to have to scan body types as they pass by, that male Pavlovian response. I can stop looking now. I’ve seen enough and forgotten too little. I suspect these Mideast customs for female apparel will eventually morph into more European styles, if only for the freedom of movement, driving car, or office work . . . operating a computer . . . machines. But the gals are good inside those things, been in them all their lives. I guess you’d have to be. It will take years for change to happen, if it ever does. Who knows what’s next.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Amber's Swedish History - Chapter 9

Amber History 9

Erik XIV

Erik XIV 
“It is better a country laid waste, than fall to the enemy.”

Erik XIV was mistrustful of his brothers and nobility in general. A good idea if you ask me. He surrounded himself with assistants and advisers of low birth. Best known of these was Jöran Persson, known as Erik’s evil genius.

Jöan Persson had a quick mind and a sharp wit. He was ambitious and ruthless. He believed astrology guided the lives of men. Jöan was raised and educated as a protestant, but was probably agnostic. Persson was elevated into the nobility, after Erik was made king, in 1560, He served both as a prosecutor, and the King’s representative. As prosecutor, he had some control over sentencing, but no one knows how many of the 300 death sentences handed down by the court were of his doing. He was regarded by many as the nation’s foremost executioner, and became very unpopular. Most Swedes thought he was under the evil influence of his mother who was widely believed to be a witch who influenced the king’s politics with sorcery. Most witches kept a cat around the house for good luck. They were well cared for and got to watch a lot of interesting magic stuff.

King Erik went to Estonia at the request of a collapsing regime there and came into conflict with its neighboring countries. He also pushed into his brother’s territory, and conflict between the two eventually led to war. The brother was defeated. Brother John and his consort, Jagiellon, were taken to Gripsholm Castle where their friends and associates were tortured and executed.

Gripson Castle   Gripsholm Castle

Brother John 
Brother John and Jagiellon in prison.
(Doesn’t look all that bad to me, but whatever.)

Erik’s move into Estonia angered Denmark and started another war. It lasted for seven years. Erik’s battle cry was, “Burn! Plunder! Kill!” Wars were basically what was happening in those days, sort of like now. Erik was most successful in Bleking, Denmark, where he orchestrated the murder of thousands. Herman Lindqvist’s History Of Sweden sites a joyous letter written by Erik.

“An enormous murder,” he said. “The water ran red with the blood of dead bodies. Our enemies were so tame we could cut them down like a herd of wild pigs and we spared nobody, but death did to all who could have carried weapons so that in the town there were no others left than some women and children, and those were killed by the Finns.”

The war ended in 1570, and despite the above, things turned out better for Denmark than for Sweden. A peace treaty was written and it was decided that Sweden could regain a fortress it had lost by paying 150,000 riksdaler in silver. This became known as the ‘First Ålvsborg Ransom’. Swedes were taxed 10% on all of the money, cattle, metal objects and grain in Sweden. Death and taxes. After a short period of time another war was started, this time by Russia.

All of this sounds so familiar.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Contemplations - 2

Contemplations – 2


Where was I? Oh, the IBM Selectric. Fabulous machine. After graduation I left Southern Illinois behind, went to Chicago, lusting for big city life: my own apartment, and all things adult. It wasn’t easy. I’d learned nothing in school about finding a job. My degree was in Conceptual Design and I had no idea know where to look for that kind of entry to the working world. At last, in desperation, I took a job as salesman for Underwood Olivetti. They made typewriters, and a huge, clunky calculator called the Divisuma . . . supposedly far ahead of its time.
I was sent to a sales school in Hartford, Connecticut for three weeks, and taught about the equipment, how to use and demonstrate it . . . sales pitches. On returning to Chicago I was assigned a territory along State Street, a shabby, run down area that sprawled dismally below the Elevated tracks. Three weeks later the IBM Selectric was introduced to the public – the ball typewriter.


IBM salesmen would walk into an office, run the flat of their hands across the keyboard, and the machine would go nuts spewing out immaculate letters below a carbon ribbon. Secretaries fell in love at first glance.  There was a four month wait to get one . . . couldn’t make them fast enough. IBM salesmen got rich. I got depressed.

I never sold a single Underwood machine, and finally gave it up. I joined the Army. Years later, after a barely honorable discharge, diligent saving, and self sacrifice, I was able to buy my own Selectric . . . around five hundred bucks as I remember, huge amount of money at the time, but the machine was worth it. I loved the thing. It was as good as it ever got for typewriters. Obsoleted by time, one still sees stacks of them in office closets, and school basements . . . sad.
The things used paper!

One sees pleas on Facebook. Don’t give up on paper. Buy hard copies . . . the pleasure of turning non-virtual pages. I agree. Paper is a nicer experience, familiar, and more pleasant than reading a monitor, or Ipad, cell phones . . . strain my eyes. But I can see the virtual advantages. Wife and I hauled better than three hundred pounds of books with us last time we moved. We have three bookcases filled with books that, for the most part, will never be read again, and any information they contain can be found easily on Google.

Twelve years ago I bought a beautiful Webster’s, 3rd New International Dictionary.
Dictionary - 2 Good
Paid almost $150 for it, weighs about ten pounds. ‘The #1 reference source for the millennium.’ it says on the cover. I’ve used it once. You can get them for $75 now, as obsolete as the Selectric.
Sad . . . this beautiful book, just taking up space. What to do with it?

There’s a huge paper mill here in Borlänge, Sweden, but they’ve laid off thousands of employees. Newspapers are in trouble. I guess toilet paper’s good for the millennium, but who knows? I remember the punch line of an old design school joke: “It’s coming out in little paper packages!”
Paper money is fast becoming a thing of the past. I paid cash for a coat last week. The salesman asked me, “Don’t they use credit cards in Seattle?”

“I’m the only one left that doesn’t,” I told him. Cash feels so much better, safer, easier. I find myself impatient with shoppers fumbling with cards, and passwords at the cashregister. I recently read about a device thieves use to pick up thermal images on keypads minutes after being used by customers. I miss travelers checks, and letters of credit. I still have a copy of my last letter of credit somewhere. “We are gentlemen,” it states at the bottom of the page. Can you imagine? We are gentlemen….
People can lose their homes without ever leaving them on on-line casinos. We have e-books, 130 million of them according to Google. I have three on Amazon US, and UK. two are long, short stories. One takes place in Brazil, the other features a dementia grandma who runs away from a care facility and is adopted by a motorcycle gang.

My opus magnum features a downsized, middle age man in Seattle who can’t find work. I’ve always been good at not finding work . . . not good at selling. My books are lost in a sea of twaddle. I’m not saying my own aren’t twaddle, just that they lie relatively unknown in an e-book Sargasso sea of digital tomes.

It’s not much better for new writers published by reputable houses. They’re given a thousand bucks to use for promotions, and told, “Go out and sell.” Some writers are good at it, but most of us are introverts who find self promotion painful. A middle/working class morality sneaks its way into the picture. Bragging is rude. Don’t blow your own horn. I came across the quote below in Wallace Stegner’s, Angle of Repose.

“I am much of what my parents and especially my grandparents were – inherited stature, coloring, brains, and bones, plus transmitted prejudices, culture, scruples, likings, moralities, and moral errors that I defend as if the were personal and not familial.”

Next week: More about obsolescence, digital distractions . . . scams.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

San Fracisco 60's - The Trip

The Trip (2) 
Roger Corman did research by taking LSD himself. Charles B. Griffith wrote the first two drafts of the script—the first one was about the social issues of the sixties, the second one was an opera. Corman then hired Jack Nicholson to write the eventual screenplay. Corman encouraged Nicholson’s experimental writing style and gives between 80 and 90 percent credit to Nicholson for the shooting script in the director’s commentary appearing on the DVD of this film. Corman slightly modified the story to stay within budget.

Whilst most of the music actually used in the film was by Mike Bloomfield’s Electric Flag, it is interesting to note that early visuals (e.g. the band in the club at the start of the film) are of Gram Parsons and the International Submarine Band, one of the earliest country-rock bands. It had been Fonda’s original intention to use the ISB’s music on the soundtrack but, in the event, their contribution was deemed insufficiently “psychedelic” or trippy to warrant inclusion and the Bloomfield/Buddy Miles/Nick Gravenites Electric Flag is what is actually heard in the film.