Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday July 25th, 2008:
Letting it all hang out at
Helsingborg's Festival, 2008

What I think:

Just about every medium-to-"large" town and city in Sweden has a festival at some point during the summer months. Helsingborgsfestivalen started last night, so the girlfriend and I went to check it out. 

During the festival, many streets are closed off, and there are several stages dotted across the city, with all sorts of different music - something for everyone. They're not all brilliant, but depending on what you're into, many are worth checking out. It's really the only time that Helsingborg really comes alive, and has a good sparkly atmosphere. People are relaxed and chilled out; they just let it all hang out.

There were a few bands/artists that my girlfriend specifically wanted to see last night, so off we went. It was a great evening for it; pleasantly warm, and not a nasty cloud in the sky (just a few of those nice white fluffy ones).

The first gig we were to see was Mikael Wiehe and Ebba Forsberg. They're kind of folky. My girlfriend's parents also wanted to see it, so we had arranged to meet them - and a couple of friends who were visiting from Motala - at a monument nearby.

Unfortunately, by the time we made our way to the makeshift "venue", the band was just finishing their last song. But they did a three-or-four-song encore, so that was OK. It wasn't really my cup of tea, but it was nice anyway.

Because the evening had just begun, there weren't very many people around, as you can see from this photo:
When this finished, we decided to get something to eat. One of our visitors, the Pregnant One had a craving for something called Langos. I'd never heard of these before, and I'm always into trying new things, so we walked to a stall that sold them.While my girlfriend, her mum (US/CAN: mom), and the Pregnant One went to get their food, Girlfriend's dad (US/CAN: the same) , the Not-Pregnant Guy and I found some seats at a picnic bench.

But them something caught my eye. Sitting in front of me, to my left, was this guy.Now there's a guy who really knows how to party and let it all hang out. He was sitting there sipping from a can of strong lager without a care in the world, bless him.

When it was our turn to get our food, I couldn't resist snapping a closer shot of this magnificent specimen of bottom-cleavage.I know it's terribly juvenile, but I can't help "cracking" up at the sight of this. I particularly like the little strand of underpant thread on his right cheek. I consider this composition to be a genuine work of art.

Surprisingly, I was not put off my food after having witnessed this public display of grotesquery. I went for the langos deluxe. It tastes much better than it looks:It's basically some kind of flat-but-puffy bread-like stuff, with a similar texture to that of a plain deep-fried doughnut with a choice of toppings. Mine had prawns (US/CAN shrimps), crayfish (US/CAN: crawfish), and what the Swedes call "Kaviar". It is in fact caviar, but I guess it comes from cheaper fish than sturgeon.

Afterwards, we said goodbye to my girlfriend's parents, and headed of to see someone called Tingsek. Technically, the band was pretty good and tight, but we all thought that it sounded like they were trying to sound like Jamiroquai. We were sitting quite a distance from the stage, in an enclosed beer & food area, but I managed to sneak off for a moments and get close enough to take a few good photos. Here's one:After that, the Pregnant One and her Not-Pregnant boyfriend decided to call it a night, so the girlfriend and I went to another gig at a marquee that was constructed on Gröningen, which is sort of a grassy beach area near the water.

There we saw Pelle Ossler and his band. I thought they were brilliant, even though Ossler was born in Bjuv. Very unique, in kind of the same way that The Pixies are unique, if you know what I mean. My girlfriend reckons that his style would go down well in German alternative music clubs. I think that means she thinks it's good.

I spotted another fine example of Swedish fashion, and I know that a number of readers depend on me to bring them the latest trends from Scandinavia, so here you are:I think that this is the best time of the year to be in Helsingborg. I would recommend coming over during Helsingborgsfestivalen to anyone. But I wish there were more carefree people here exposing their hairy bottoms; it would make the Festival complete. The Swedish government should do something about it; maybe promote this way of dressing in a poster campaign, and maybe offer prizes for the most imaginative uses of underpant thread.

That's what I think. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008:
A Swedish Wedding -
not in Helsingborg

What I think:

Last Saturday, I went to a wedding with my girlfriend. It was the matrimony of a couple of friends she's known for a number of years.

The wedding itself was to take place in a church in a town with an unpronounceable name, near a town called Höörwhich I would wrongly (and very inappropriately) pronounce Whore.

But first, we stopped off to visit the bride-to-be, so that my girlfriend could help her get ready, and offer moral support on this most important, yet stressful, day. This was in a town called Hörby (which is pronounced rather unlike Herbie), which is located just over an hour's drive away from Helsingborg.

When we got to the church, we parked about a short walk away, and made our way to the grounds. This is where I learned my first lesson about Swedish weddings: you have to shake hands with, and introduce yourself to, everyone. There were about a hundred people there, so this took some time. I don't think I've said "Mark" as many times in all my life as I did on that day (and I'm forty-three-and-a-third today).

While we were waiting to be summoned in for the ceremony, we were being entertained by a quaint quintet of musicians. Aren't they adorable?
They played good old Swedish folk songs, like Staten & Kapitalet by Ebba Grön, and The Look by Roxette.

The ceremony itself was nice, and just the perfect length. A few songs were sung; one by the bride, and a couple more by a guest singer. a few psalms were also sung, but they didn't make much sense to me because a) they were in Swedish and b) they apparently had something to do with religion.

Afterwards, we all followed the newlyweds back out to the church grounds. As we exited, some guy at the door had a basket of sunflower seeds, handfuls of which were being offered to the guests walking past. Somewhat baffled by this, I declined. When we got outside, I discovered that these were, in fact, not for eating.

It's apparently customary to form an orderly queue to where the newlyweds await congratulations and well wishes from the whole congregation. So people patiently wait their turn to chuck sunflower seeds at the couple - and wish them well straight after the assault.
Luckily, my girlfriend had picked up on this (it was her first church wedding), and had taken a handful of said seeds. We agreed that she would throw the seeds, while I would simultaneously do an impossibly fast watercolour painting of the action. Voilà:Next, we were herded around to a courtyard next to the church to have a glass of sparkling wine and a delicious little nibble. Because of the sheer number of guests, there appeared to be a fair bit of queuing for whatever we'd do, but it was all very laid-back and good-natured. It was a nice day, and everyone seemed very happy.

The buildings were nice as well. I think they were built a very long time ago; possibly even a few years before ABBA.
But wait! What's that on the left of the image above?

Yes, it was that folk band again, this time really getting into it with Take A Chance On Me by ABBA, coincidentally.

My girlfriend really wanted to get a nice photo of me in a suit, as I only usually wearing black t-shirts with black jeans. But I was feeling a bit mischievous, so just as she was taking the shot, I stuck out my tongue and inflated my head. She wasn't terribly impressed, it has to be said.

From there, we were instructed to grab a pen and a bit of paper on which we were to mark our answers to a number of multiple choice questions. The questions were hung along a trail leading to where there would be another glass of bubbly, and where the bride and groom would join us, so that we could toast their happiness for the first time.

A note about Swedish multiple choice question and the corresponding answer forms: The questions are numbered as they should be, but rather than have e.g. a, b, and c as answers, the choices are 1, X, and 2. I don't get it.

In any case, soon after all this, it was time to adjourn to the reception hall, which was in a building in an adjoining courtyard.
Charming, isn't it?

The dinner was very nice, but it seemed as though there were about twenty different speeches, and some confusion over which platters of potatoes belonged to which sections of which tables (same with the sauce), and the guy who was serving us forgot my girlfriend's alcohol-free wine a few times...

I'm not really a very dinner-party-friendly person normally, and this was quite a long one, so I was rather fidgety, and had to go out several times to stretch my legs and smoke ciggies. But it was definitely a nice one, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly.

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay for too much of the actual partying part of the reception, as it didn't really get underway until about midnight, my girlfriend was driving, we were in the middle of nowhere (and it was pitch black), and we weren't sure of the route home. Shame; it would have been pretty easy to party until sunrise.

I had a great time, but I think that multiple choice quizzes here should be a lot more straightforward, as they are confusing to non-Swedes, and therefore discriminatory and downright xenophobic. It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. 

That's what I think.