Friday, May 27, 2011

Red-Carpet treatment

We just spent two days visiting Mark's relatives in (and around) Hishult, Sweden -- it was an absolutely splendid trip and we had a great time with Carolina and Christer and their family. They fed us great food, took us to see all the places in the area related to Mark's family and made us feel so welcome in their home.

We stayed in the little red house that belonged to Christer's mother, which is only a little way from the main house, but is very quiet and private. We got to walk by the Scottish cows every morning on our way up to the house -- yes, they have Scottish Coos. Carolina bought them from someone online who wanted them to "have a good home" and so now they have five big fuzzy red cows in the field across from their house (a neighbors field, actually!). We joked that now they would never be able to sell them...the man they bought the cows from has actually visited them to make sure they are happy. If they ever sold the cows...he would know. They have a bull, two cows, and two calves right now. I imagine if we visit in a few years, they will have a dozen!

They drove us out to the family farm in Putsared - which Mark remembers from when he was last in Sweden, it belonged to his great-uncle and now the family pastures cows there and sometimes stays in the house in the summer time (even though it does not have running water). We stopped by to visit Evy (his mother's cousin, which makes her his..oh, I can't figure out the family tree past first cousins) and her husband Stig in their house in Hishult. They are moving soon to an apartment in Laholm where it is a little easier to take care of things, so they are busy packing and planning. Stig built the house himself (which I find rather amazing...I've only known of one person who build their own house, and now I know three of them!).

From there we drove to meet Lars (ok, let's see, a second cousin to Mark?) in Hoor. (sorry, can't do the o-with-umlaut thing, please imagine them there). I met Lars thirty years ago, when he visited Mark just when we started dating. He looks the same -- and we decided to ignore/deny the fact that thirty years had passed. Perhaps ten, we decided, that would be ok. Lars was terribly excited to show us his latest project: a spectacular new pipe organ for the church in Hoor. He is SO proud of it, and so obviously passionate about the music and the organ that it is contagious.

I have never actually been inside a pipe organ before, and not only did we get to hear Lars play a very complicated piece designed to really show off the different "voices" the organ has, he unlocked the little door in the side and let us climb inside (not while he was playing..that would be painful, I think!). I never realized just how much goes on inside of something like this -- and this organ is built with the technology and materials of the 17th century - oak and pine and lambskin and wooden bellows. No electronics, no motorized blower, no carbon fiber. Every key is attached to the pipes and air with wooden slats and small metal pegs -- it is like a complicated sculpture inside with pipes and bars and levers and tabs everywhere. I can't imagine what the plans look like to build it, but the end result is really fascinating.

We collected a few more family members on the way to get ice cream: Carolina's son Emil,and Lar's wife Birgita and their son Magnus. We even had a brief visit from Alice, their daughter, who whirled in with a bunch of her friends, waved hello, and then (with the embarassment that teenagers have about their parents in full show) bolted to be with her friends. She and her father had a conversation entirely in Swedish (which neither Mark nor I speak beyond takk and ja/nej) and yet we understood exactly what the conversion was about -- the tone and facial expressions said it all, and we laughed all the way to dinner. It was really good to see Lars again - hopefully we won't wait another 30 years!

Our hosts plied us with even more food and tasty treats when we got back to their farm, and we slept like stones.

They wanted to show us some of the more local stuff on Friday, and so we visited the church where Carolina works now -- a small stone 11-th century church in Ysby, and the new project Christer is working on (the building renovation for a new dairy/cheesemaking endeavor that someone in town is starting). Yes, they both have jobs in the daytime, and farm "only in the evenings" Christer says. Uh-huh. That's two jobs. At least. Then we drove up to Bastad (bow-stad) to see the beaches and the amazingly ugly (and expensive) new houses build along the water. The town is absolutely mad in July, she says, and they don't drive there at all until after the tourists leave. We stopped in the little town of Boarp at a deli to pick up some ham that Carolina wanted us to try, it is a speciality they have locally, but they were out.

But I still had a grand old time with the town....BORP! I can't quite pronounce the vowels properly and now the town will forever be BORP, at least to me. Just saying it makes me giggle. It actually made me chuckle out loud even as I typed this. Yes, I'm easy to amuse. BORP! BOORP! I can't help it. I think after this, they decided to try to teach me to pronounce things properly, but I just can't manage the a-with-the-little-o over it. It's pretty funny when I try, though.

We finally got to see their other house -- the one they built several years ago, intending to move from the farm house they are in. It's beautiful. I thought that had hired someone to build it for them -- Carolina designed it -- but it turns out that no, Christer and his sons built it themselves. We also got to see the new apartment in Laholm because we all drove to see Ebba (their daughter) play in a recital. The school was so unorganized though, that we did not attend -- I think Ebba was very glad, since we told her we would stand in the front row and do The Wave and take lots of flash pictures and tell everyone that we were there just to see her! She said later that it was good that no one came, it was an absolute disaster. At least she was laughing about it.

We had dinner and sat and talked for hours afterwards -- one thing I can say, Carolina made sure we had food, good food, and lots of it! Every time we stopped anywhere, food appeared ! And what can I say? Any culture that involves chocolate and marzipan for breakfast is ok in my book.

Southern Sweden is beautiful, and seems very, very familiar to me -- and i realized why: it looks like southern Minnesota. All those Swedes left Sweden and traveled until they found a place that looked just like home.

Tomorrow? Off to Copenhagen via the ferry to Helsingor (and Kronborg Slot -- Hamlet's Castle). Can I just register now that I don't really like boats? And especially boats onto which they drive trucks? Gah.

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