Tomtehuset: Santa's House--a special attraction during Christmas time
Welcome!! Swagat, Dumela, Valkommen, Jee Aayan Noo, Tashreef, Bula, Swasdee, Bienvenido, Tashi Delek. Thanks for joining me.....

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent Arrives: November 30, 2014

Christmas Decoration on my Door (2013:  I added the reindeer and the little felt Santa, to the hanging to add a personal touch--Oh and the snow--that just shows that it was both snowing and blowing hard enough that it came all the way to the door, and clung to decoration, to add a realistic touch)

Called Julstacken, the Christmas sticks, these seven lights resemble the menorah, only in the opposite direction.  Menorah is the upside down version, with--where the candles seem all at the same height).  These go up usually on advent which is about four sundays before Christmas.  

Another staple in Swedish Christmas Decorations is a star.  Traditionally, a paper star either hanging in the windows or on a lamp stand, but now, they are also available in these handy wire frame stars, often wrapped in jute or nylon string.  This one is run by batteries.  

A wreath being sold in the Karlstad Market.  2013

Advent, comes four sundays before Christmas, is a time that sort of puts chrismtas, celebration and fun on everybody's mind.  I first heard of it from my German host mom in Clarion.  She told me that in Germany children were usually given this advent calendar, which they could open a day at a time, and each day had a gift for the children, which built up the excitement for the final day.  Today, you can purchase calendars that are issue and gift specific, chocolates, baseball cards, barbie images, barbie accessories--thanks to the market ideology.   Earlier they were created by mothers, today most of these are bought.  

Here you can see some examples of Advent calendars ---All of the  following images have been taken from the web. 

A wooden Advent Calendar

One of the traditional Advent Calendars

But then, we are talking Sweden!!  While commercialism is the buzzword everywhere, Sweden and I think Europe in general has maintained some level of traditional celebrations.  So, my Swedish host mom called me today, 'Hey You want to go to the Alsters Jul Market?  Alters Christmas Market?

No, I am in Göteberg, taking a class, remember.  So, I spend my weekends here.

¨Oh...its advent today.  E and Y came by for Advent Fika (coffee with something sweet to each).¨

¨Trevligt, Nice!!¨

Ÿeah, and we had Pappor Kakkor (gingerbread cookies, and truly-Swedish ones are the best--slim & crisp -they simply melt on your tongue?), and Ljus bulle and saffron bulle (saffron buns often baked in the shape of angels, or S!!)

Saffron buns--a very Swedish/Nordic-thing to eat around Christmas time, especially Santa Lucia (picture taken from

Picture taken from

You should get some for yourself too!!

¨Ÿes, I have been eating Pappor Kakkor for a while already!!¨

A chuckle.....

So, are you going to go to LIseberg in Göteberg.

Yes, I plan to, but get lazy when I back in the apartment.  Its cold and I have so much to do.

'Yes, but you must'


We say our greetings and hang up.

I know I must go there, before I leave the city. But also because I want to get some footage of the Christmas celebrations. 

As I sit down, I realise, this is the difference, Sweden is not religious, but it has taken all the best things, such as traditional celebrations, special foods, special days for eating those foods, including a strong, clean character --which earlier was connected to religion--and made them a marker of a good, well-lived life.  So that is why even the young swedes are baking cakes in their dorms, most young women and men know how to cook, and year after year the simplicity of the festivals remains.  They may have become more commercial (and sadly it looks like that it will continue, and another post will come on that later) but there is a beauty to hear someone say, 'Hej its kladkaka dag' (cocoa cake day)--and rush to the groceries for eggs and cocoa.

No one will complain if you don't --but that is the whole point of tradition, that it puts our minds in a certain state, and for a few minutes it is an out of body experience--memories, friends, smell of freshly cooked food, hugs, jokes and laughter--all the things associated with good'O times.

So let me wish you all a very happy advent, the beginning of the ending of the year---and may you all make new beautiful memories during this time!!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

In the heart of Sweden's Windy City: Göteburg

A store in the area named 'Haga', where everything--or almost eve thing sold is heart shaped.  One thing about cities is that they be as general or specific and afford to be cutsie in many more ways than small towns, where shops are not that resourceful and have a larger hold on their markets. November, 2014

Second largest city in Sweden, fifth largest in the Nordic countries, Göteberg, can be easily nicknamed the windy city, although the official title of country's windy city has been bestowed on Luleå!!  Currently, I am here taking a class, as I am teaching full time back at my university.  I have been to Stockholm several times, but never really to Göteburg, unless coming to the airport counts.  It is easy to fall in love with it.  Both Stockholm and Göteberg have an older section of the city called 'Gamla (old) Stad/Stad (City or town), are surrounded by water, and are major tourist attractions.  But there was something about Göteberg that made me fall in love with it on the first day.  Tall balding trees, standing erect showing off their stiff branches, as if looking down on the fallen leaves and saying, well, you are nice, but we are beautiful even without you.  And then there are large trees in their half-autumn glory, they smile back, because they are old (er) and wise(r)--^What do the youngens know, they think¨to themselves, Ïts all beautiful, with or without, summer or winter, autumn or spring.  When they get to be our age, they will know, and feel it in their bones--how beautiful the plant kingdom is, just by its virtue....¨

Old cobbled streets, massive building both simple and ornate from old times, the new ones that are simple and state their Swedish-ness in their thriftiness--let us not spend money in beautifying all that is to be functional---But like Swedish trademark, they are all stylish, even though simplistic.  And then there is this fine network of public transport, that allows you interactions with different kinds of people.  There is life, right here, people running after buses, people holding doors for each other, little children in awe of every little thing, because there is so much to distract them....ah city life!!  I have kept away from it in many ways--because small towns allow for simplicity and certainty and a higher possibility of having a community.  But city, city provides the world, with all its uncertainties, all insecurities, that come wrapped in excitement!!  This time has brought me back to memories of living in DC, a city I started to love so much because it reminded me of Delhi, where I grew up.  But I had moved there after having lived in a small town in Pennsylvania, and before that I had lived in a southern african village.  So, DC came as a fresh experience --in so many ways.  Even though, in the beginning I was afraid, I made several friends there, very few of them are still in touch, but those who have stayed connected over the years are much dearer today.  

These following pictures are from the store where everything sold was made in heart shape.  There was no 'focus' in the store with regards to what it was offering.  
Only 'hearts'

Hearts on a pot-rest

Heart shaped, pewter candle stand

Heart shaped decoratives!

Heart shaped (christmas) lights

Heart shape candy containers

More Heart shape, more ornate!!

Heart shaped candle holder

Heart shaped wreath

A view out the window of a little cafe I had lunch at. 

And ofcourse you can the international influence, --which always includes quotes from eastern religions--

Om the symbol of sound of the universe.  The sound behind the silence.  

Haga:  Göteburg

Swedish flag next to a rainbow flag

The famous Haga Kyrkan (Church) All the pictures were taken at 1 p.m. November 2014

May be the pictures give you an idea of how much life there is --and how beautiful it is all--even in the dimming lights of autumn!! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ordinary People Like Us!!

Handmade mats, and the salesman.  Mr. Kind Smile.  Bangkok, Thailand, 2011

Originally, published on January 13, 2013----!!

What you see on the table are handmade mats.  They are made from scraps of fabric.  Nothing is wasted in developing countries. At least not yet. And in their dearth of material goods, they have also become quite creative in using the left overs.  There are numerous recipes for the left over food. One of my favorite from India is to use the left over vegetable curry and knead it into the morning dough.  So the chappatis are flavorful.  Or another one, take the dry vegetables cooked the night before, and stuff them into breakfast paranthas (shallow fried bread).  Ofcourse, we can make sandwiches from the left over potato (dried) curry.  

But I seriously do not think that it is ‘(just) the lack of having the material that makes us in Asia creative with everyday life.  I think it is civilization.  Because people have lived long (in these places) before modern technology and throw away culture arrived.  

The basic organizing principle of the lives (in developing countries) remained the same for centuries.  Let us create something.  So, the girls were knitting sweaters or sewing dresses.  Even making their own shoes.  Ofcourse there was cooking, and preserving, and maintenance of the house.  For boys, it was carpentry, knowing electricity and electrical gadgets, or automobiles.  And there were always new ways of doing things.

The trend was the same in many of what we call the ‘developed countries’ today.  Even in the US.  But the US, must have been one of the first countries to be heavily industrialized...before it could develop a deep culture around ‘home and hand made’ goods.  That disrupted its culture of creating things at home early on.  Today, in developed countries creativity often involves making films, digital media, and other activities related to computer.  

What of creativity/construction that can be applied to our daily lived experience, food, clothes, etc. In the developed countries, we have outsourced our daily living .  The smell of bread being baked only comes from bakeries.  Or rarely comes from homes.  We do not go to the local dairy to get the milk in glass bottles, where we must pass through fields smelling of animal excreta---instead pick up our choice of milk from the local grocery store--that is clean, odorless and very sterile.

In a sense we move from individual to ‘generic’.  That is why I always had issues with this idea of ‘individual’ culture of the west.  I think it is more generic.  Everyone wears clothes bought from stores, not home made or sewn by family tailor.  The food they eat often comes from boxes.  There is little concept of preserving, picking, juicing, unless done for special diets.

I will have to write a separate entry on my memories of food being preserved, throughout winter, so we could taste it in summer.

It was still fresher than the ones we get in cans....and it had a personal-family touch....

Back to the above picture.  I had seen this young man in 2009, on my visit to Bangkok.  But when I saw in 2011, I recognized him right away.  Ofcourse, he did not.

I clicked a picture with his permission.  And spent the next ten minutes chatting with him.  All the time, wondering if he can fill his stomach on what he makes by selling those handmade mats?

May be he has other ways of living, may be he deals with drugs, may be he is a recovering know all these things we are told about the people who make a living by setting up street stalls?  They live on the margins.  In reality, may be he is married, with children, and his wife makes these while he set up stalls in different places through the week to maximize on his sales.

We will never know!

But whenever I see them, and whenever I have enough time to stop and talk to them....I do..and bow to them silently, for among all the ills they may be associated with, they are merely trying to make the best of their circumstances from the information and opportunities they were given and the wisdom they gathered--just like the  most of us!!