Saturday, March 11, 2006

Friday, March 10: Nice weather for a barbie

Today I put on skis for the first time. I even attempted to use them. By 'use' I mean that I slide-walked for about 200 metres and fell over three times. By the time I reached the real snow, Henrik charitably suggested that it would be easier for me to walk the rest of the way. He was probably right, but as I trudged through 40cm-deep snow and tried to keep my balance, I still probably looked like a crazed and dehydrated person in the desert lurching towards a mirage.

I was lurching towards lunch, a barbeque by a frozen lake. Not that I could tell it was a lake: it looked just like the snow I was walking on, only without the surrounding trees. Henrik guessed that the ice was 40-50cm deep. "Five centimetres is enough to walk on, but ten is probably safer." Hmmm, I think I'll stick to the water's edge, wherever that is. Here's a widescreen shot. It's puny, and yet you can still see the dodgy seams between photos.

Johan and Johanna's dog, Astrid, is somwhat subdued by the cold. Ummm, that's the back of her head poking out of the coat.

Wednesday, March 8: "Floorball"

"Floorball" was Johan's translation for what appears to be indoor hockey. Played on a basketball court with shin-height goals, a hollow plastic ball that is easily smacked out of shape by macho males, and plastic sticks shaped like those used in ice-hockey. They reminded me of kanga-cricket bats.

Self-sufficiency Sweden-style

I was really quite thrilled to have my own cabin (my own kitchen!) a short walk from my desk. The cabin has four single beds. Cutlery and coffee cups for four. But no kettle, pots or pans. No plates or bowls. Johan was unimpressed by what he had been assured was 'self contained', and quickly sorted out a few cooking implements for me.

Then, as I prepared to cook pasta on my first night in, I noticed another problem. The stove didn't work. Inquiries the next day revealed that the stove was not activated or permitted to work. The reason for this is the absence of a fan over the stove, or even space in which to install one. (I wonder why the stove was installed.)

It brought to mind an email I had just received from Aussie-in-Denmark, Lynda, where she described Sweden as "the land of blue eyes, blonde hair, and a zillion rules and regulations... (makes Denmark positively fijian by comparison)." Can't wait to visit Switzerland...

Here's a recipe, for all those who must resort to microwave dinners only...

Cindy, primitive Swedish can-opening implement and a conquered can of "tomater krossade".

One can crushed tomatos
One sachet of vegetarian taco mix
One can red kidney beans
Half of the biggest zucchini you've ever seen
One small green capsicum (my shopping docket called it 'paprika')
Rocket leaves
Weird Swedish cheese, inappropriate for Mexican cooking

1. Open the can of tomatos with a primitive Swedish can-opening implement and pour into bowl. 2. Add the taco mix, stir, and microwave for 2 minutes.
3. Drain the beans and add to tomato mix.
4. Slice the zucchini and capsicum on a dinner plate, using a butter knife.
5. Distribute the tomato/bean mix, zucchini and capsicum between two bowls. Reserve the second bowl for breakfast.
6. Microwave the first bowl for 4 minutes, then a tortilla for 10 seconds.
7. Fill the tortilla with the bean and vege mix, some chunks of inappropriate cheese, and a handful of rocket.

8. Dinner (and breakfast, and another dinner and breakfast) is served!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Random notes

  • Waking times during the first week: 5:00, 2:30, 4:00, 4:00, 5:15, 6:00, 6:15
  • (It took all my resolve to *not* graph the course of my jetlag)
  • On my first three days at Grimsö, the temperature ranged between -5 and -8 degrees. On the fourth morning it was -25, and I barely noticed the difference. As long as the wind isn't blowing, cold is just cold and cold is tolerable for up to half an hour.
  • There is a sauna downstairs in the office building.
  • Twice, locals have casually mentioned the practice of having a sauna and then jumping naked into a hole cut in the ice of a frozen-over lake. I wonder if this is akin to Aussies discussing drop-bears and going to primary school in the pouch of a kangaroo. Scarily, the Swedish seem to be genuine.
  • Once a fortnight, Grimsö staff can sign up for a Swedish massage.

Grimsö: Welcome to the middle of nowhere

As Johan drove me to Grimsö, where I'll be living and working for the next 8 weeks, he joked "Welcome to the middle of nowhere". Ha. So I guess it is actually kind of isolated. The Grimsö research area covers 14000 hectares. The closest town, Riddarhyttan, is about 10km away, but Lindesberg is visited more commonly and is 30km away. It's a 'city' because it has two police cars and 8 or 9 pizzerias (but possibly no other restaurants. Apparently Turkish immigrants have a tendency for opening pizzerias in Sweden.) But I guess Redcliffe's a 'city' too, isn't it?

There are about 30 people working at Grimsö at any one time. Full-time permanent researchers, field technicians, a handful of admin and caretakers, and then students, staying for anything from a couple of months to a full PhD candidature. Consequently there's enough cheap accommodation at Grimsö for at least two dozen people. There's a sharehouse known as 'the villa' along a snowy track beyond the research building. It's probably actually a sealed road, but everything's made of snow at the moment.

Then there's Grimsö Manor, adjacent to the research building. It has nine single rooms, a rec area with a TV and internet, and downstairs there's the mess. At 9:00, 11:30 and 2:30, all Grimsö inhabitants meet in the mess for fika (coffee), lunch and more fika. The mess is furnished traditionally in a style that is typical of this part of Sweden. (So says Johan, anyway: all I know is it's the only room I've seen without anything labelled Ikea.)

A few metres further down the road there are a handful of cabins, and I stay in one of them. On the outside it has the same red-shed-with-white-trimmings look of every other home of any age in the area, but inside it's completely modern. Including (thank the Lord) state-of-the-art heating, which can be left on unattended at all hours without any risk of setting the curtains on fire.

Saturday, March 4: Welcome to nowhere

Sweden welcomed me prematurely when I sat next to Lena and Tina on the flight from London to Stockholm. They were heading to Bålsta, the town I was supposed to catch a bus to, and Tina assured me that her ex would be happy to drive me to the train station there. During the 80km trip Tina put a compilation CD on and picked out the Swedish tracks for me. They all reminded me of Eurovision. Apparently the last song featured her ex, the driver. I noticed Crazy Frog on the tracklist, too... imagine trying to explain to your grandkids why that was a claim to fame for about 2 seconds in 2005.

As we reached the outskirts of Stockholm, Tina announced "Now we're entering nowhere". For the last few months, whenever anyone had asked me where in Sweden I was going to, I responded vaguely with "A wildlife research station, I think it's in the middle of nowhere, I can't remember/pronounce the name of the nearest town..." I thought I was just a townie with a crap sense of geography. Maybe Tina was another townie.

At Bålsta train station I became Hopeless Foreigner Who Can't Speak the Language. All signs and conversation were in Swedish. I bought a ticket by helplessly pointing at the name of my destination, Örebro, on a piece of paper. I couldn't operate the public phone to call my hosts at the other end. A nervous hour and a half later in Örebro, it must have taken a dozen more attempts to successfully make a call. But by 4pm I was safely in Lindesberg, the home town of my supervisor for the time being, Henrik.

Hosting duties for my trip have fallen to Henrik's PhD student, Johan. I reckon he probably owes me more than Henrik, anyway: my airflights, accommodation and wage are being paid so that I can write a bit of code for a paper that Johan will get first-author credit on. Not that he owes me much, for the reasons I've just mentioned: my airflights, accommodation and wage are being paid just so that I can write a bit of code!

Johan's first task as host was to keep me awake until at least 8pm, to minimise the effect of jetlag. This was accomplished by having his partner, Johanna, prepare a fantastic meal for me, Henrik, and Henrik's family. Dinner included a stew with mushrooms hand-picked from the forest (Best. Mushrooms. Ever.) , and moose meat, most likely shot by Johan himself. Dessert was a cake with fresh blueberries and home-made custard. Furthermore, I stayed awake beyond 9:30. Sweden is looking pretty sweet.