Tuesday, December 27, 2005
So what is special about Christmas in Sweden besides of course that this is the land of snow and reindeer?
First and perhaps best, there is no multiculturalism to spoil the fun. No Happy Holidays, Kwanzaa, Hanukah, or baby Jesus crap; just guilt-free food and drinks. In Sweden Christmas is called "Jul" which has the same root as out English word "Yule" which refers to an old pagan midwinter feast. In short, Swedes recognize that Christians holiday-jacked an old pagan feast, they did not invent it.
One of the more savory traditions is the julbord, or "Christmas table". Swedes are always going on about their "tables", and perhaps the most used Swedish word in English also comes from this word, smorgasbord, which mean literally "open-faced sandwich table".
What is on a julbord? Just about everything, really. Normally the meal begins with a shot of snaps (spiced vodka) and some jul öl (Christmas beer) and cold herring in a creamy flavored sauce with warm potatoes. Some of the flavors for the herring sauce are quite creative and include mustard, garlic, wine, and even curry. Along with this one has delicious gravad lax (specially prepared raw salmon with sauce), caviar, hard boiled eggs, lunch meats, and crispy bread.
Oh yeah, and of course more snaps and beer. The way snaps is traditionally drunk in Sweden is in little shot glasses. Everyone downs the first one in one gulp. The next time everyone drinks half and then half again. Then it's a third. And by then almost everyone is buzzed and people go at their own pace. Technically snaps is between 70 and 85 proof, and it provides a much needed kick when too many relatives gather in one place.
After the 'appetizer' most people are already drunk and full. But then comes the main meal, a combination of as many meats as can be fit on the table including any combination of ham, beef, ribs, reindeer, and even occasionally bear. Then there is more snaps and beer and maybe a little wine if one is feeling sophisticated. For starch there is a the ever present potato dishes, red beets and other traditional dishes which every Swede could identify but certainly not I at this early stage of my Swedification.
After dinner Swedes have coffee and cakes and then perhaps a little stroll outside in the wintry sub-zeros the help the digestion process. After that it's glögg (spicy red wine with raisins and almonds) by the fire and a lot of bad singing.
Now for the real question... does Sweden have a Santa Claus? You betcha. Jul Tomten, or the "Christmas Troll", makes an appearance after dinner on Christmas Eve and hands out the presents to everyone. Normally an older male member of the family will dress up and actually do this, regardless if there are kids around or not. Christmas is a special time in Sweden where even the normally frugal (due to insanely high taxes) Swedes give generously to everyone.
In short, if you pick a day to be in Sweden, Christmas is not a bad day at all to do it. But don't be late, as the Swedes celebrate the eve of holidays, not the holidays themselves. Why? Think of all the extra days off work.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
That's me, Slothlock Stockholmes, in 221b Baker Street sitting by the fire in my Deerstalker hat and smoking a pipe at the Sherlock Holmes museum. For legal reasons, of course, you can't see the hyperdermic for my daily cocaine injections. When in Rome, do as the Romans I say. Whenever it works to my advantage, anyway.
Seriously, London is probably the biggest and best major city I've ever seen. I say this a lot but its really true. Really, it's as cool as Paris, only much bigger. No city I've ever seen can match its size, diversity, character, and style. The more I go there the more I like it. If you add together all the time from my different trips there, I've spent over two years of my life in London! And every time I go back I check out something different and maybe redo one or two things as well.
As I get older I love museums more and more. Why do people even take kids to museums? Even non-sentient Republican mouthpiece Condoleeza Recently agrees that torture is a bad idea in theory if not practice (healthy doses of hairy man ass notwithstanding).
But surely children are not a threat to national security. They should not be tortured by museum visits unless there are at least two dinosaurs for every Renaissance painting. I'd like to see that in the next Geneva Convention really, but I digress.
This trip I saw the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the Museum of London in the Barbican, The Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, a kickass Edward Munch exhibition at the Royal Academy of the Arts, the Tate Britain for the third time, and probably a few others I can't remember because I was too hungover.
My mate Dafydd kindly took me to five new places in six hours inclduding Foyles Bookstore, 2 Victorian pubs, a pan-Asian restaurant, and the 12 Bar Club to see a very intimate (not to mention drunken) evening of Welsh pop music with Euros Childs ex of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci.
The rest of the time I spent in the pubs eating healthy british food like mince pies, fish and chips, and unfortunately on my last day whitebait in Greenich for a final farewell pub visit with Svenja and friends. Whitebait, for those who don't know, is whole deep fried baby herring. It may be okay in very small doses, but a whole plate of it for lunch on an empty stomach is not a good idea. I was burping up this crap for the rest of the day and I kept thinking about all the little fish heads and tails and I was thought I was going to hurl a river of ale and little fishes all over the airplane.
And finally, I just want to thank the people of Britain for making London so cool. You are certainly not as bad as the rest of the world say you are.