Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zoo ~ Wild Animal Park at Kolmarden

Theme ~ Swedish Rhapsody

It was the first day of summer, June 2005, my 65th birthday, I was in Sweden and my friend Inga wanted to make this a special day for me. She took me to so many places that day and made it one of the most special and memorable days of my life. The first part was a visit to Kolmarden's Wild Animal Park, located in a big forest a few hours drive from Stockholm.

We started out visiting the tame critters and I, who love goats so, found a baby one nursing.

Looks like they are all resting here.

All enclosures are large and well designed.

This really got me. ~ Tigers wandering about in a Swedish meadow.

Testing the water. It's the first day of summer so it may still be cold.

I think I'll be brave!

Nothing like a swim to give you a good appetite.

 Soon we came upon a large meadow with an animal population straight out of Africa.

I saw Swedish pine trees, tall and slender, in the background, but look who lives here: Rhinos, wildebeest, giraffes and antelope…all together in this large area. 

Soon the rhinos started out on a walkabout around the pond.

As the rhinos approached, the antelope started to move away, except for one who was butting horns with a wildebeest. 

Extremely tall fences and sturdy gates enclose the areas you can drive through. Our first encounter was with a moose, looking relaxed as we drove by.

Then we got lucky ~ a brown bear approached the road.

And since this was such a special day for me, of course he walked right in front of our car. 

In another enclosed area, we came upon this peaceful scene. It was still difficult for me to wrap my brain around seeing these animal in such a typical Swedish setting.

Toward the end of our drive, we came upon a pride of lions

playing in a meadow.

This made me so excited, my camera somehow got out of focus.

Right before we left, we came upon the best of all, lion cubs. They were lined up against the fence and a bit difficult to capture. Thanks again, Inga, for a wonderful day that I will never forget.

And so ends my Swedish Rhapsody and the A to Z Challenge 2012. Thank you for following me on this journey or for  stopping by every now and then. I appreciate your comments so much, it has been fun to watch you discover the beautiful country of my birth. I'm thrilled that I may have inspired some of you to visit Sweden, maybe even taking a cruise through the Stockholm archipelago or visiting the historic city of Uppsala, the castle at Kalmar, or the smaller town of Ystad in the south. Maybe you will go to your library and check out the Wallander series of detective novels by Henning Mankell; revisit Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren; or read The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, by Selma Lagerlof to your kids, grandkids or just enjoy them yourself. I hope so.

I have learned so much about myself on this journey. I especially learned that my parents gave me a wonderful and special childhood and young adulthood to look back on. You never heard the concept of creating good memories back then, but that's exactly what they did. 

Just a Note: I'm only interested in zoos that take good care of their animals. I had intended to write about the Stockholm zoo here because they changed a lot since I lived there and seem to be doing a good job now, limiting their animals to Swedish species only. I had reserved W for this park, but then Why I Came to America seemed more important since so many of you, my blogger friends, wondered why I left Sweden. 

The A to Z Challenge has been a wonderful experience for me and for that I want to thank the hosts:

Arlee Bird, Alex J. Cavanaugh, Stephen Tremp, Jenny Pearson, Matthew McNish, Tina Downey, Jeremy Hawkins, D. L. Hammons, Shannon Lawrence, Elizabeth Mueller, Damyanti Biswas, Konstanz Silverbow and Karen Gowen: 

Thank you so much for your efforts to ensure the success of the A to Z Challenge. It has been a great experience for me.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Ystad ~ The Town of the Wallander Books by Henning Mankell

Theme ~ Swedish Rhapsody

OK, so there I was, staring at the letter Y and could only think of two Swedish words beginning with Y: Yla = howl, which I wrote about last year for the coyotes here; and Yxa = ax -- who wants to write about an ax? Then it came to me, Ystad, the town in the southernmost province of Skane where Wallander lived. Well he lived there in the wonderful fiction written by Henning Mankell, who made Wallander so real to me that I feel like I also know the town where this fiction took place, Ystad. 

Those of you interested in crime fiction have probably heard of the Swedish writer Henning Mankell and may have read his books. In the books you follow Kurt Wallander, one of the most compelling and human of fictional detective inspectors, through his 40s. He gets divorced, he meets someone new, but it doesn't work out, he has many disappointments, many resolutions to change his life but is never quite able to follow through. He loves his daughter, but he is a prickly dad, difficult to get along with. So he goes on, like most of us, living his old habits and wondering if his life is passing him by.

The books are masterful descriptions of police work and procedures. I like to read crime novels and police procedurals because the author has to set scenes and describe a place and time carefully. And Mankell does that so well. These books take place in Ystad, a harbor town, where the surrounding land is flat; it's often windy, very windy and you can feel the wind and the chill in the stories that take place in the fall and winter.

When it rains, the fields turn to mud and there is much talk about the mud in these books. The cops seem to always be sloshing through it, with mud sticking to their boots (gumboots in the British translations). But in summer the rape fields are filled with yellow blooms that sway in the wind and you can picture them as well.

Ystad has a harbor with fishing boats and ferries that go to Poland and the Baltic states. Wallander likes to visit the harbor to think, sitting down on a bench, surrounded by noisy gulls, he works through the details of a crime. There's the medieval church and many lovely old houses, as you can see in the first picture above. What else? Here I am trying to describe a town, give it some flavor, and yet, I have never been to Ystad. But Henning Mankell does such a great job, I feel I know the place. I know there's a large park in town. I know there must also be an abundance of pizza parlors since the detectives seem to live on pizza and coffee while working a case.

Henning Mankell is a very intelligent author who is able to describe detective work just as it must be in real life, with coffee, more coffee, and all those pizzas. The plots have many layers and many characters and Mankell follows through and builds the story, the people, and the suspense in a way that's very satisfying to this reader. The detectives are so human: they forget things, they lose stuff, including their tempers; they worry, they doubt, they suffer from setbacks and disappointments. After a while, the four or five detectives on Wallander's team become just as real as he is.

The crimes are gruesome at times and a changing, more violent, Sweden is frequently addressed. I don't recognize it much from the country I left so long ago, the country I have talked about in this Challenge.

I know that what I've described here may sound a bit gloomy, with Wallander hitting middle age and not being satisfied with all levels of his life; cops working around the clock and living on coffee and pizzas; a Sweden full of problems, crimes and disappointments. But Mankell is a great writer with a talent for character and story development. His intelligence shines through each and every book, leaving you ultimately very satisfied.

Then, after several years, Mankell published the last Wallander book. It came out in the US last year. It was no less gloomy, just as well written, but sad. In case someone wants to read it, I will not talk about it here. Suffice it say, that both my friend Jane and I were deeply saddened by this book. For both of us, Wallander had become a real person, warts and all. I don't think you can give a better compliment to an author.

Some of these novels are shown on Masterpiece Mystery, every now and then, with Kenneth Branagh in the role of Wallander. I don’t know where the shows were filmed, but everything seems authentic and Swedish, from uniforms to cop cars with their blue lights flashing.

Should you decide to read these books, its a good idea to read them in order because they cover the lives of these detectives chronologically and often refer back to events that happened in an earlier book. This is the correct order, not always listed in the books correctly:

Faceless Killers
The Dogs of Riga
The White Lioness
The Man Who Smiled
The Fifth Woman
One Step Behind
The Troubled Man

In addtion to these, there is another book: The Pyramid, that Mankell wrote after he was so successful with this series. It describes Wallander's early years, when he first decided to become a policeman; the early years of his marriage; and his relationship with his dad, the man who made his living painting the same landscape paintings over and over, one with a grouse, the other without. Wallander's eccentric dad often featured in the other books.

I hope I was able to convey some of the flavor of this harbor town in Skane. A town I have only visited in my mind, a town that has come alive to me thanks to Henning Mankell, a great Swedish author.

Flowers for Leontien

Dear Leontien,

Sending love, hugs, and prayers.  ~Inger

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for X-Rated

Theme ~ Swedish Rhapsody

In the mid to late 1950s, when I was out and about in Stockholm, Swedish girls had an X-rated reputation. We got a lot of, not always welcome, attention particularly from Italian boys and young men. Every summer, they arrived in Stockholm to work in restaurants and spend their free time annoying us, or me anyway. I'm sure many Swedish girls fell for the charms of these dark and handsome young men and maybe that's how it all started. But all my life I blamed it on this one film:

Fellini's La Dolce Vita, featuring well-endowed Swedish actress Anita Ekberg, dancing in the Fontana di Trevi in Rome. Imagine my surprise when I got these pictures and found out that the movie didn't come out until 1960.     

Swedish guys were really easy to be around, they understood our limits, they were not pushy, they were not loud, they never grabbed us, they never, ever followed us around, speaking in a foreign tongue. Well, of course they wouldn't do that! And they most of all did not think that being surrounded by all these pretty young girls was deserving of any special attention. Cool dudes, in other words.

I always wanted to tell the story of how my best friend, Marii, and I caused a big commotion, that even got the police involved, one summer night on the island of Djurgarden. Since the letter X and Swedish do not go well together, this is  the story of Marii, the Umbrella, and the Italian Boy.

First my friend Marii, this is her: One day, when I opened the major Swedish morning newspaper, DN, I got a big surprise. There on the front page was my best friend, Marii, with the American producer Carl Foreman all google-eyed over her. He, the producer of The Bridge Over the River Kwai, was in Stockholm scouting for a Swedish actress for a part in his new movie, The Guns of Navarone. Of course I called Marii immediately for the scoop and found out that she, and another student at her acting school, had somehow been invited to meet Mr. Foreman as he arrived at the Stockholm airport. I never forget, when I asked her where the other girl was, Marii replied, "I kept talking to him the whole time, that's why his face was turned toward me. The other girl was on his other arm." 

There may have been another reason too: Marii was one of the most gorgeous young girls in Stockholm at the time. She was my best friend from when I was about 16 to when she left for California and I left for England when we were 19. During those formative young years, Marii and I had many adventures together. And we shared one major annoyance: Italian boys! 

One summer night Marii and I were leaving the island of Djurgarden as the restaurants, the amusement park, and other venues closed. There were lots of people walking home in the light summer night. A group of young Italian men had been following us for some time. When one guy touched Marii, who happened to be carrying an umbrella, she instinctively turned around an hit him with the umbrella, smack in his face, causing a severe nosebleed. Not a pretty picture and it got to be a big to do -- police on horseback arrived, we were questioned, the guy was getting help, and now I don't even remember how it all ended, but we didn't get arrested at least. 

Since La Dolce Vita came out in 1960, it was not the source of our summer annoyance. I have no idea what started this X-rated idea of Swedish girls, but I know that it spread and for many years was an image abroad, even in the United States. 

How weird that I have ever since blamed it on Anita Ekberg and La Dolce Vita. And I was so wrong, sorry!

Then I lived for 12 years in New Jersey, a state with a huge Italian population, and I had no lingering problems with Italian young men. Now as  I look back, I have to smile as I realize I could have had a lot worse problems than those.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Why ~ I Came to America

Theme ~ Swedish Rhapsody

Here I am, presenting Sweden in the best of light so of course many of you have wondered why I left. Writing about Sweden, finding all these pretty pictures, thinking about how nice it would be to have a fully, 100 percent secure old age, seeing my friends and relatives, and so on, I must confess that I have wondered some myself. There was a saying back in the day, "Life happens while you're busy making other plans," well, I didn't make a lot of plans, but my life just sort of happened.

Here are some of the reasons I left:
1.  When I returned from England, I was 22 years old. I had lived as an independent adult for two years, working, studying, and being responsible for myself. Sweden at the time, suffered from bostadsbrist - no apartments were available to rent. So I had to live at home with my parents, which was like going backwards for me. No real problems, but I felt confined. I tried living with a friend, but that didn't work out either. 
2.  Having lived abroad, Sweden seemed so small to me. I was young and though I appreciated the beauty, history, and culture that I have posted about here, the bureaucracy that ruled, made me feel boxed in. Who cares about security when you are 22? 

A picture of me at 22, taken in London. 

3. And then there was this other thing I couldn't put my finger on until I read Eat, Pray, Love by Liz Gilbert. When in Rome, Liz befriended a young Swedish woman. At one point Liz and her friends played a game where they associated a place with a word. Someone said, Stockholm, and the Swedish girl replied: "Conform." Checking the dictionary, you will find the third definition to be: To act in accordance with rules, customs, etc. In middleclass Stockholm, this concept was adhered to very strictly back then. So much so, that I came home from London and felt like an outsider. I guess there is nothing basically wrong with this conformity, but there tends to be judgement about other people involved. I know now, it was killing my free spirit. I had been free in London, totally responsible for myself, with no one looking over my shoulder.

4. All these feelings of going backwards, being made to conform, and feeling boxed in made me sick. I came down with a case of agoraphobia. Seriously! This made my mother realize I had to get away. Yes, I had a great mom. America was really the only option; I spoke the language and my cousin had recently moved here. So my mother dragged an unwilling me to the US Embassy to get my visa. 
So, I who could barely cross the street without breaking out in heart palpitations and a cold sweat, off I went on a plane to become a Swedish version of The Help to a really weird family in Tenafly, N.J. They sponsored me, so I was  stuck there for a time, kind of a modern version of an indentured servant. I was supposed to look after the kids but that's not exactly what happened. How I escaped from there, moved to Princeton, and created a new life for myself is another story that I perhaps will tell some day. However, being faced with an unpleasant reality without a safety net, no family here, no friendly welfare state to take care of me, provided an instant cure for my agoraphobia. The minute I landed in the US and in that family, my agoraphobia completely disappeared, never to surface again. 
In my mind, I never emigrated from Sweden; I never intended to live out my life in America. I'm pretty sure though that in the end America was better for me, for the kind of person I was, and the kind of person America helped me to become. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Vasa ~ The Unbelievable Story of a Royal War Ship

Theme ~ Swedish Rhapsody


As the 30-year war between protestants and Catholics raged in Germany, Swedish King Gustav II Adolf, decided to get Sweden involved in assisting the protestant cause and adding to Swedish possessions abroad. With this in mind, he mobilized his army and built up his fleet of warships. One of these ships, the Vasa, was to be a Royal Ship, a designation for the largest type of naval vessel of the 17th century.

Quotes from the Vasa Museum's brochure:
"Stockholm, summer 1628. For three years, carpenters, pit-sawyers, smiths, ropemakers, glazier, sailmakers, painters, boxmakers, woodcarvers, and other specialists had worked on building the Navy's new warship - the Vasa. The Vasa was designed to be the foremost of Sweden's warships, with a hull constructed from one thousand oaks, 64 large guns, masts more than 50 meters high, and many hundred gilded and painted sculptures. 

In 1628, the Vasa was moored immediately below the Royal Castle. There, ballast was loaded, as well as the ammunition and guns required for her maiden voyage. 
By Sunday, August 10, everything was ready for the maiden voyage. The weather was fine and the wind light. On board were around a hundred crew members, but also women and children. This was to be a great ceremonial occasion, with pomp and circumstance, so the crew had been given permission to take their families on the first voyage out through the archipelago."

This was the Vasa as she was supposed to look, a proud warship, sailing the seas and helping to win the war. But that was not to be. 

Quote: "The sailors climbed the rig and set four of the Vasa's ten sails. The guns fired a salute and slowly, serenely, the Vasa set off on her first voyage."
An eyewitness account: "When the ship left the shelter of Tegelviken, a stronger wind entered the sails and she immediately began to heel over hard to the lee side; she righted herself slightly again until she approached Beckholmen, where she heeled right over and water gushed in through the gun ports until she slowly went to the bottom under sail, pennants and all." And there she stayed for over 300 years. The Vasa had only traveled 1,300 meters or about 1,422 yards. 

Then in the 1950s, an engineer by the name of Anders Franzen, an expert on naval warfare in 16th and 17th centuries and a specialist on wrecked naval vessels, began to look for the Vasa. After searching for several years, he succeeded on August 26, 1956. After he persuaded the authorities to lift the ship to the surface, no one knew how to accomplish this. Such a large ship had never been salvaged before. 

It would take up too much time and space to go into how it was done, suffice it to say that it was accomplished and she was lifted to the surface on April 24, 1961. The Vasa was so well preserved that, after being salvaged and drained of water, she was able to float unaided.
Since waterlogged wood starts to split and shrink in warm, dry, air, preservation was the first priority. This work continued for 17 years in a temporary museum building, where the ship was sprayed at intervals day and night with a special solution. I saw the Vasa there for the first time and remember the humidity of her temporary home. To this day, in her permanent museum, the Vasa requires exact and special care. The Vasa will be preserved for ever.

The Vasa Museum today. I really enjoyed my visit to this museum and was impressed by what had been accomplished in salvaging and preserving this ship with all her treasures and stories to tell. 

Since I grew up on the Baltic Sea and also sailed here with my husband, I love all things associated with ships. And I'm very interested in how people lived and worked in different eras. The many museum displays more than satisfied my interest in how a 17th century Swedish sailor lived. 
Here are a few of the many, many things that were salvaged:

King Gustav II Adolf was known as the "Lion of the North" and many statues of lions were found on board.

Mermaids, according to tradition, are supposed to keep sailors safe and voyages successful. Sadly, that was not the case with the Vasa. About 50 persons went down with the ship and 25 skeletons were found near her.

The sculptures found on the Vasa draw on many sources of inspiration.

A small box contained a comb, a thimble, sewing thread and wax.

An officer took a board game with him on the Vasa, as an off-duty pastime.

The photos and quotes above are from my brochure from The Vasa Museum, Stockholm, Sweden 

Should anyone want to learn more about the salvage and preservation of this magnificent ship,  you can also check here:


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