Jul 28, 2013

This is where it's happening!

-       We were so fed up with Umeå when we left, but now I feel like this is the place, this is where it’s happening!

I am standing at the south shore of the Umeå River right across downtown Umeå with Trouble 2 and Audrey. They arrived from Paris the day before, and I am giving them a finger pointing guided tour through the big building projects in their home town: the new building for cultural arts Väven right across the water, the city center mall in the Forsete block, and of course Konstnärligt Campus (The Arts Campus) some hundred meters downstream.

Trouble 2 has been living a nomad life pretty much since high school. Staying at different Umeå locations including my baker’s cottage combined with working saving up money for trips and stays abroad. Trouble 2 is and has always been a very organized young man, and you can be sure there is always a trip going on in his head long before I get to know about them. So, there was three months in Seattle at our friends Matt and Elizabeth, three months with his dad in Indiana, a spring in Asia and a fall in Berlin. To mention some. And so last October he, girlfriend Audrey and friend Jonatan moved to Paris for nine months and just got back this summer.

Jonatan and Trouble 2 met at the film program in high school and has been best friends ever since. They are both drummers who have moved their rhythmical talent to the electronica techno field, creating music with their duo Gidge. And that’s how they ended up in Paris. They were signed by a French label and have been living the inspiring starving artist life in Paris that artists should and have done through generations. They loved Paris of course but were ready to move back after a weather-wise miserable winter and spring, knowing that they will always be welcome back.

So, Trouble 2 and Audrey are picking me up at my chiropractors’ the day after their arrival. It’s so great to see them! It’s so wonderful to have them back! And it’s warm, the sun is out, the Swedish summer is at it’s best, as to say welcome home you guys!

And I am pointing over at Väven telling them about the façade which is coming up this summer. For a couple of years now we’ve seen the drawings, the pictures from the Norwegian architect firm Snöhetta. The lower parts of the building the more public areas; as the city library. And then there is the tall part in behind, the hotel U&Me, conceptualized by the storytelling Stylt Trampoli.

The Umeå landmark tree, the birch, inspires the exterior of the buildings. Seattle and the Northwest have the red cedar. Umeå and Västerbotten have the birch tree. The black and white graphics of the stem is transformed to giant glass pieces now slowly coming up one by one. They are extremely heavy and to get them in the exact right location is an impressive work of millimeter precision. And the price tag for the glass façade is 110 million Swedish crowns (today about 17 million dollars).

For me it is truly amazing watching this happening. We’ve seen the drawings and the exterior looking so cool it’s hard to imagine it actually becoming a reality. But it is for real! The glass coming up now looks exactly like promised!

For Trouble 2 and Audrey who have been away for a long time it’s even more amazing. They left Umeå being bored with it and came back astonished!

The being bored, the feeling of fed up of course is a lot about everything in a place being too familiar. Which is often the case with those places where we grew up. We want something to surprise us. We need to widen our perspectives, a change of views. We want to learn something new. A different bus system, street names we don’t recognize, food we haven’t had before. Smells that will always remind us about that special place, weather patterns that are unfamiliar, inexperienced flora and fauna, maybe even a language we don’t know. These are all healthy desires; let’s go for them!

So Trouble 2 did. And Paris is now a part of his system. But as wonderful as a big city is, as wearisome it can be. Loud, crowded, hard to grasp, and endless to get around.

-       Umeå is so manageable. I’m just hopping onboard my bicycle and in a couple of minutes I am at the grocery store or a friend’s house. Such every day luxury! And if I want to start a club here, it’s just doing it! And looking at Väven, coming from Paris, I can’t believe I am saying it seems like this is where things are happening!

They’ve been back for a month now. Today three of their close Parisian friends arrived for a one week Umeå visit. They all showed up at my front yard this afternoon.  And, as if I had ordered one, a deer strolled across the field above my house. Then, of course, a tour of Kojan, the tree house, and a slide down the cableway for the most courageous. And right now they are sitting by a sweat little lake in the woods eating hot dogs grilled over an open fire.

I must remember telling them about Väven. About a building for cultural arts most likely echoing through Europe during The European Capital of Culture 2014 because of it’s extravagant facade, yet firmly anchored in Umeå by the birch tree. And Trouble 2 is right about his old hometown. This is where it’s happening! 

Jul 21, 2013

Getting together at the foot of Dry Mountain

 -       I’m sorry, I had the night shift. That sounds nice though, I’ll be there!

Magnus lives in the house at the start of my road. I am at the last one. We accidentally woke him up; he is rubbing his eyes at the bright daylight. But yes, he’ll be there.

My neighbor Jenny and I are on a friendly crusade on our road, knocking at every door inviting people to a pretty impromptu potluck at my place. Jenny and Hannes will make their potato salad. Ondina will bring quiche and a green salad. I will make my special semi freddo, an Italian kind of ice cream. So, just bring something to barbeque and show up!

Now, this is something I started planning the first day I met my new neighbors Jenny and Hannes this spring. Such nice people! Such fun people! I remember talking to Trouble 2 in Paris that evening telling him that I wanted to organize a summer party when he got back and he replied “I’m all in!”

And we picked the right day for it too! The Swedish summer is continuing be a very Swedish summer around here: 60°F (16°C), partly cloudy, showers, and a never resting extremely annoying strong wind. Monday had been heavy rain. Tuesday gale. Wednesday came with sun though, 68°F (20°C) and more of a breeze. It was a summer window opening up right when we asked for it!

Considering the two days of notice that Jenny and I had given our neighbors I was amazed about the show up at my front yard that afternoon. We were 16 persons gathering round the barbeques, taking seats under my grandfather’s apple tree at the foot of Dry Mountain!

Now, this would have been a good number if it was an annual summer tradition. But it isn’t. I have lived here for 32 years and this has never happened before. So, what happened?

I would say Ondina, Jenny and Hannes happened. The two middle houses at the road had new owners this winter and they are eager to get to know people and become a part of the village. The rest of us have been here for 20, 30 years, and some all their lives. We are just here… not a big deal.

And now we are all having potato salad and barbeque together at my place in the afternoon sun. Trouble 2 and Audrey were here in before hand and moved around all my garden furniture and rinsed the strawberries. Roger brought his barbeque earlier in the day so there was one more of those. Emil and Gunnar came walking with an extra table for the buffet. Jenny and Hannes transported their goods in the wheelbarrow. And Sören joined when he was done in the barn, in perfect timing for the meet being done on the grill.

I am sitting under my grandpa’s apple tree with Trouble 2, Audrey, Jenny and Hannes. This is the first time they are meeting and they are clicking like that. At another table there is the newcomers Ondina and her around-20 children Emil and Oliva in vivid conversation with Roger, Melker and Sören who have been here all their lives. At the third table Ondina’s partner Gunnar, Trouble 1 and Fay, Magnus and his 4-year old son Loke. Magnus is a couple of years older than my sons and they haven’t seen each other since Trouble & Trouble were in after school care with Magnus’ mom. Loke, a pre school reminder of when they all were that age, is playing with treasure boys toys kept in a big wooden box in the woodshed, waiting, it seems, for this day to come.

I am taking this all in. Alida, 96, didn’t want to come. She wasn’t up for that much people, and we have to respect that. But everyone else. My two sons and their girlfriends. Old neighbors and new ones slowly getting to know each other. And we were lucky with the pots. Coffee, semi freddo and strawberries. Interesting discussions and big laughs. Ondina’s home made cherry brandy. Blankets so the day could last even when the clouds moved in and the mosquitoes joined the party.

Finally raindrops found their way through the greenery of grandpa’s apple tree and we had to call it a day. But what a day. Ever since my family moved out I have been longing for life at my place. Life and people. New life. More life. And here I was. Magic.

Jenny keeps asking me why this hasn’t happened before. There are a lot of explanations to that. But I am a very social creature, so the question is legitimate. Why haven’t I made an effort for something like this to happen?

I am thinking, you need a wingman. You can’t pull something like this off all by my self. But then, one day, all of a sudden, Jenny moves in, and I have a wingman! Or, maybe even more correct, Jenny moves in and I become her wingman! We become each others wingmen (women) and hey, what do you know, 16 neighbors at the foot of Dry Mountain are having food, talks and laughs together under my sunny apple tree until the rain forces us to finally say bye and thanks. For now though. Because I have a feeling this was only the first time of many. This was the start of something new and valuable to all of us. And I am so happy and grateful.

Jul 14, 2013

Looking in our cells and veins for the great Northern Sweden outdoor concert venue!

Washington and Seattle have The Gorge. Dalarna and the Siljan area have Dalhalla. Västerbotten and Umeå have nothing. Yet.

Driving (to be more accurate, having a ride) back from Dalarna last week I am so inspired by Dalhalla. The old limestone quarry found by a remarkable woman who was looking for a place to create the Verona of Sweden, the Scandinavian Avingon. Margareta Dellefors is the school teacher, opera singer, journalist and music producer with the Swedish National Radio, who at her retirement set her mind to establishing an out door stage and scene that would attract artists from all over and make Sweden richer in culture and wider in reputation.

And she did. Her focus was on opera and classical music, but the concert schedule has developed to a wide range of genres and world famous artists on tour who doesn’t seem to have a problem with an arena that that doesn’t seat two digit thousands, but has other qualities. From the summer 2013 schedule: Toto, Sting, Patti Smith, Malena Ernman (Swedish mezzo soprano) Earth Wind and Fire, Melody Gardot and The Rhinegold in a production specially set for Dalhalla.

So. I am thinking. Dalhalla is the most northern permanent out door venue in Sweden. It’s an 8-hour drive south from Umeå. Driving 8 hours north from Umeå you reach the most northern town in Sweden; Kiruna. There is a 16-hour drive south north that covers pretty much 2/3 of Sweden and doesn’t have a permanent out door concert venue! I know, this vast area is as sparsely populated as eastern Washington, but I am thinking the IKEA way here.

And, what’s that? Let me get back to that.

I need to tell about The Gorge. The Gorge Amphitheatre. Located at the Columbia River east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington. As Dalhalla it’s a spectacular place. But if Dalhalla is an intriguing hole in the ground (Sting: “We have played a lot of holes, but never one like this”), The Gorge is a wide screen panorama where 20 000 + people are seated on a green grass slope facing the river and the gorge. The Gorge is simply gorgeous, and it’s considered one of the most scenic concert locations in the world! It’s a 150-mile (278 km) drive across the mountains from Seattle, and I won’t put it in hours because all those miles could be a bumper-to-bumper adventure (I’ve been in one of those…) on one of the big festivals or concerts happening there.  

So, what about the IKEA way? This is what I am thinking: IKEA establishes their stores based on population. For decades there was only one in Norrland (Northern Sweden), located in the more southern part, attracting that whole population of the huge area. Some years ago a second one opened up, way up north, at the border between Sweden and Finland. And now a third one is in the makings, right here in Umeå, covering the mid range of Northern Sweden.

If there is an audience for three IKEA stores in Norrland there must be one for a great spectacular outdoor venue, right?!

So, the question is, what would be our spectacular place? And who would make it happen?

Now, I used to be a teacher. And a journalist. And a Swedish National Radio music producer. I am not an opera singer though. That might be my week point. Or will a devoted choral singer in the nr 22 choir on the Interkultur’s world ranking list do?

We’ll see. It also so happens that I am a part owner of a quarry, what do you know! Svartberget (The Black Mountain, great name too!) is very much work in progress though and will be for many decades still. I am an extremely persistent person, and Svartberget is so cool already and would be perfect only 8 miles from Umeå, but not even my persistence will do beyond my days, so I think I am better off letting that one go.

Now, I think the trick is to look outside the box. What is so natural too us that it’s exotic? What is so close that we can’t see it? What’s covered in our cells and runs in our veins?

We are driving through those typical northern Swedish pine forests. Flat sand moors covered with inviting moss, the low sun casting tall shadows in huge pillared halls, dark green clouds creating a safe ceiling above. Might this be a concert hall? Our wild rivers running through the northern Swedish woods and fields, creating steep banks and smooth curved rocks, gentle sceneries or spectacular settings. I am sure there is just the perfect place somewhere here for a stage and a some thousand audience in the light northern Swedish summer evening.

July 14. The first half of three Swedish summer months has passed. The second half is yet to come. The light is slowly fading each day now but at 11 PM it’s still all light outside although it’s a semi overcast evening. Imagine Toto, Patti Smith, Sting and Melody Gardot continuing north after doing Dalhalla, amazed by the sun setting north on the compass. By the fairies, the siren of the woods and the water sprite. VIP mingling having salmon from our rivers, Västerbotten cheese from Burträsk and Meadowsweet ice cream from Glassbonden (the Ice Cream Farmer) in Selet, made from mountain cattle grazing at the Vindel River banks.

So, the menu is all set. Now it’s just coming up with the place for it. Or maybe I’ll just plant the idea so firmly with Trouble & Trouble that they will take it on and make our quarry at Svartberget the epic Northern Sweden outdoor concert venue for the next generations to come! The project will still require my solid persistence…

Jul 7, 2013

#Sting#Dalhalla#summer 2013 dream nr 2 come true

I have been having two hot dreams for this summer 2013, both beyond the reach. Since it is the 20-year anniversary between my family and Seattle, I wanted to take all my kids, sons and girlfriends, and fly over. There is the picture of Trouble 1 & Trouble 2 in front of the skyline at Kerry Park at the age of 5 and 7, and then another one at 15 and 17. For ten years I have been planning for the one at 25 and 27. But it’s not going to happen. Too expensive, and Trouble 2 and Audrey just moved back from Paris (yes they have!) and don’t really feel like traveling. And also, of course, I am yet not flyable. So, I just have to let that one go, it is not going to happen.

Dream nr 2 occurred when I got to know that Sting was going to be in concert at Dalhalla this summer, the most spectacular out door concert venue in Sweden. I love Sting. What can I say, I just love him. This amazing songwriter, musician, singer and creative director for his different magical music projects. I have most of his albums, and of course my sons grew up with Sting on the loud speakers in their home. Over the years Trouble 1 and I have shared the dream once to hear Sting live. Trouble 1”: it’s never going to happen mom!” Me: “It is going to happen at some point, we are going to see Sting, be patient.”

So, this spring Trouble 1 suddenly announced: “mom, I quite don’t know how to say this, but Fay (girlfriend) and I are going to see Sting this summer. At Dalhalla.”

What?! STING? At DALHALLA?! One of those is absolutely good enough, but together!!! Since then my desire for this occasion has been unlimited and the possibilities for it to happen zero. A utopia.

Zero because there was no way for me to get there. Mostly. Could I even sit in a car for eight hours? And was there still tickets available?

Yes it was. And because of that, the utopia stuck with me as glued. I just couldn’t let it go. Now, two months ago there had been no way for me to make a trip like this. But June arrived with a bit more stability in my pelvis and changed the utopia into a dream.

Perhaps my friends Mats and Agneta would be heading that direction to visit grandpa and grandma at that time? No, one week later. Peter, my home care angel, didn’t he need a mini vacation? Indeed he did, but wasn’t a Sting fan and didn’t feel like driving eight hours one direction even though I asked very politely, equally was extremely stubborn, pushy and persistent for days. His response was no. Damn!

But. I have this special friend who is the most flexible person you could ever find and her possibility to swing most everything is extraordinary. One week before the concert I called Eva. Sting? Well, she wasn’t a big Sting fan either, but she had never seen Dalhalla, so why not?

Can you imagine my unimaginable joy at this response?!

Wednesday Eva and I headed south. Dalhalla is located in the region Dalarna, at the lake Siljan, one of the most beautiful and picturesque areas in Sweden. I have been here many many times before, hanging out with dear friends, listening to music at the yearly festivals. First as a young light-hearted woman, then as a responsible mother and wife. Now I am returning after 15 years. There has been a divorce. Children growing up. Parents lost. Cancer. Unrequited love. Oceans of time in yearning for being a regular working member of our society, when trapped in a no good body of constant pain. It’s been grief, it's been being brave, and it's been trying my very best.

Back now, I am treating myself with two nights at a really nice hotel in the most idyllic of places around Siljan, Tällberg. The light-hearted girl stayed deep in the woods in a cottage with an outhouse. The mother-wife at a practical cabin park where the kids ran around in safe chaos. The after-all-that Maria in a resort with a nice restaurant, spa and beautiful indoor pool.

Thursday evening July 4 (could there be a better way celebrating when not in Gasworks Park?) I am finding my seat in the arena. Dalhalla is an old quarry, naturally shaped as an amazing amphitheatre. Eva helps me make the seat as comfortable as possible for me. I am not at my best. 80% of my focus is on the pain. But I am here. With Eva. Trouble 1 and Fay are sitting ten rows beneath, waiving at us. And Sting is entering the stage. Exactly on time.

It is unreal. The pain makes it hard for me to focus. It is Sting, down there, at the bottom of the quarry. He is for real. This is for real. That soft sandpaper voice and mumbling articulation, which covers every emotion on my life’s scale. I am closing my eyes. I am looking up the rough walls of the quarry. The light evening sky (yes, this is Sweden, the summer evening is light). The crowded arena. I catch a glimpse of a shining happy son ten rows down. Our old dream has come true. It’s unreal, real, amazing and beautiful.

I am squeezing Eva’s hand. Thanking her for doing this for me. Making summer 2013 dream nr 2 come true.