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… we’re going to have to pay. In Sweden the tax that pays for public television is collected separately from other taxes, to prevent political influence on the content of programming. Isn’t that great? The only problem, of course, is that it’s real hard to get people to pay it. In fact, when the current right-wing-by-Swedish-standards government was elected in 2006, the person initially appointed to the post of culture minister was found not to have paid her TV tax in 16 years. The scandal made lots of other people feel guilty about not paying their TV tax and Sweden’s Television had a good year.

I’m not a big TV watcher. I hate most of the crap that is put on TV and I hate being advertised to even more. Although I’ve occasionally lived in residences with TVs since leaving home for college, I’ve used the TV mostly for watching movies, except for 1999-2000, when my housemate Klaas and I had a tradition of watching The Simpsons every day. Kostia has similar feelings about television, and although we’ve spent countless hours staring at our computer screens watching movies, we didn’t feel any need to get a TV.

Since coming to Sweden, though, I’ve been agitating for one. Swedish public television is really high-quality, and I thought it would be a good way to improve my Swedish passively. But it was only when the monitor on Kostia’s old laptop died that he started to consider my point of view. He’s got a new laptop and we’ve been using the old one as a sort of media center, with a big old-fashioned monitor borrowed from Dima as a screen. So we needed a new screen, and I thought if we were getting a new screen we could get one with a TV tuner while we were at it.

Then it turns out our friend Olga was trying to sell a TV. So we got a nice TV at a reasonable price, and we’ve already wasted several hours in front of it. We can get basic cable free through the housing rental company, but for now we’ve decided to resist getting the box since there’s plenty to distract us on the four public channels we get already.

The TV taxman came to our door in the spring and Kostia was able to tell him honestly that we didn’t have a TV and were therefore exempt from the tax. But I guess next time we’ll have to pay. Which I don’t have a problem with, because Swedish TV is good.

Here are a few photos from Tjejmilen weekend:

On the train to Stockholm. This lady was like something out of a children’s book, and actually she quite resembled a triplet from “The Triplets of Belleville“. The man on the left was her equally eccentric-looking husband.

Me, before Tjejmilen, grimacing

Kostia and “the Russian fil”, fil being a cousin of yogurt. They don’t seem to sell kefir in Falun so Kostia was excited to find it in Stockholm.

Here is a photo from last weekend:

We were invited to a party and instructed to bring a pie, a savory one, not a dessert one, so I looked in my Russian cookbook and made a kulebyaka, which is basically a big pirozhok. This one has meat inside. That’s supposed to be a hedgehog on the side. The decoration leaves something to be desired but hey, it was my first attempt.

MonaSahlin, in an anesthesia daze

Poor MonaSahlin went to the vet today to get some vaccinations and to get her ear marked. In Sweden they have this system of marking and registering dogs and cats so if they get lost they can be more easily identified. I guess it’s a tattoo, but as you can see she’s still got the bandage on her ear so I don’t really know what it looks like yet.

A woman from the animal rescue organization took her to the vet. When you adopt a cat they take care of the first vet visit, which is convenient. I was going to tag along, but it turned out the woman had to take a smaller car than she was planning to so there wasn’t room for me. When the woman brought Mona back, she was just waking up from the anesthesia. It was one of the saddest, most pathetic things I’ve ever seen, this sweet little cat wobbling around the apartment, falling over now and then, falling into her water bowl, falling asleep and being totally unresponsive, throwing up bile. She’s so heroic though: she still made it to her litter box when necessary. She’s such a good cat.

Now she seems to be more or less her normal self, albeit a bit orange from iodine and still a bit sleepier than usual. She’s purring again. Of course, she doesn’t like having the bandage on her ear. The cat rescue woman said eventually she’d work it off herself. She has already shredded the gauze a little so she looks a bit dissheveled. I feel so sorry for her, poor little thing!

We went to Stockholm this weekend and I ran Tjejmilen, the 10K for women. It was an interesting experience. After all my agonizing over which pace group I should join I found myself passing walkers for the duration of the thing. I probably ran more than 10K since I had to do so much weaving around them. I sort of wanted to finish in under 70 minutes although my fastest training time was 72 minutes. I finished in 70 minutes 23 seconds. Don’t laugh, at least I ran the whole thing unlike most other people in the field. One of the walkers I passed had two energy bars in her hand. It’s 10K, people, it’s not a marathon. Usually I don’t drink or eat anything over such a short distance, but I did try one of the fancy sugar cubes they were handing out at the 6th kilometer.

The whole thing was OK but not the best race experience I’ve had. Sometimes I miss living in DC where there was a fun run every other weekend. Still, I achieved my goal of getting up off the couch (or away from the computer) and even feel motivated to keep training and improving my time. Soon it will be winter again in central Sweden. I need to find a gym.

After a pretty easy 8K a few days ago, and after receiving my race info packet from Tjejmilen, where I learned that at my current pace I should start in the eighth of nine pace groups, I decided my conditioning is good enough to complete the 10K and I should use the remaining few weeks to work on my speed so that I can start in the seventh pace group. It’s a sad goal, but it’s important to have goals nonetheless, right?

Even though I’ve been running fun runs off and on for almost 9 years now, and even ran a marathon six years ago, I’ve never really done anything in particular to try to improve my speed, other than just push myself to run faster and sometimes do fartleks (it’s a Swedish word, but in common usage!) where you change up your pace for short distances. When I did the marathon I did a training program, the goal of which was just to get us to finish the damn thing, so there was no talk of improving speed.

I did some internet research on improving 10K times and now I am doing all kinds of crazy shit like walking lunges around my apartment on my off days and running 5K at just under a pace that would kill me. Today I went to the track and ran fast 1200 meters alternated with slow recovery runs. The total time for the 6K I ran was more than it would take at my normal slow pace, since the recovery runs were really slow. Well, also I was running in the outermost lane, so maybe I ran more than 6K.

While I was running I was treated to the scene of two American football teams warming up for their game. To clarify, the teams weren’t American, the football was. Actually, I think one of the coaches was American, since he was shouting at his team in English. I didn’t stick around to watch the game, because one of the reasons I’m an expat is that I hate American football. But American things like football and classic cars are really popular in the Swedish redneck community, which is pretty sizeable around here.

Last week the weather was warm and beautiful, and Kostia and I went swimming almost every day. I like swimming but I hate chlorine, don’t like salt water very much, am a wimp about cold water and obviously don’t like dirty water, so my opportunities for swimming are pretty limited. But for five lovely days last week, Lake Varpan was perfect for swimming. (We also went to Lake Runn, but it was dirtier.)

I foolishly thought the nice weather might continue a bit longer, and had this idea of going camping. Happily, it wasn’t hard to persuade Dima, who has a car, a tent, and all the nifty camping gear. We drove 4.5 hours to the border of Dalarna County and Norway, hiked a few kilometers, hunkered down in a cloud above the tree line about 100 meters from the actual border for about 15 hours, and came back home. Whee!

Back in Falun it is chilly and rainy now and we actually have the heat on in an attempt to dry out our shoes.

They had a carnival in our ghetto and the parade went past our door.

I baked some gourmet pizzas. The one has caramelized onion, spinach, and mushrooms, the other has this beet pasta sauce. I love the stuff but am bored of pasta, so that’s why I started investigating pizza dough.

We went to Uppsala for midsommar, the Scandinavian solstice festival. There was folk music and dancing around maypoles at Old Uppsala

I liked this fountain in Uppsala proper

The Linneaus botanical garden

On the night of the solstice I made Kostia and Dima go for a walk at 1:00 a.m. If you know me, you know that it took a supreme effort to stay awake and leave the house at that hour, but it was worth it. Here you can see the transition from dusk to dawn at 1:30 a.m.

That’s Dima

Finally, today was an historic day because Kostia cooked something from a recipe. We have several cookbooks in German that we inherited from Claudia when she moved away. Kostia wanted to keep the cookbooks, but since I don’t know German I told him he had to use them or else we had to give them away. So, he finally got around to it and made a very tasty zucchini frittata.

Yesterday was my last day at the upper secondary school where I was working this term. They say they don’t need an assistant English teacher next year, which is just as well, I suppose. It was a mixed bag of an experience. I don’t think their lack of a need for an assistant English teacher has to do with my job performance. Quite honestly, I really think I went above and beyond. I put in a lot of extra hours for which I knew I wouldn’t be compensated. It just wasn’t a situation where going above and beyond was ever going to merit more than a “thanks” from the teachers I was assisting. I had very little contact with the school’s director, who makes the decisions about these things.

I would write more about the whole experience, but I think I need to have a policy of not blogging about work, even after the fact, so prospective employers doing Google searches don’t think I’m a bad risk. So, hello, prospective employers! I’m not going to say bad things about you, ever!

Which brings me to the point. I need a part-time job this fall, so I’ve been peddling (and pedaling, literally) my CV to all the other upper secondary schools in town. In Sweden the recommended means of job hunting is cold-calling, believe it or not. More than one person has told me that prospective employers want to see your face to make sure you’re white to see what kind of a person you are before any formal hiring process begins.

Cold-calling isn’t something I relish doing under any circumstances, even less so in a language in which I’m not fluent. Fortunately, Swedes are very decent and polite people, so my stomachache went away after the first few visits. One school director was even kind enough to compliment me on my Swedish, though she also said that they didn’t have any open positions for next year.

Sigh. I do miss the St. Petersburg English teaching job market, as well as the highly motivated and/or adorable and fun students I had there.

People keep telling us that the neighborhood we live in is a ghetto. It’s called Bojsenburg, but its nicknames are Bajsenburg (“bajs” being poop) and Bosniaburg (self-explanatory). Supposedly it’s dangerous and full of scary foreigners (like me and Kostia), but the biggest dangers I’ve experienced are little kids not looking where they’re going when they’re riding their bikes.

Tell me, does this look like a ghetto to you? Click to enlarge.

Ye olde ghetto library

Courtyard with storage space and covered bicycle parking

Our apartment. We have a garden and everything. And we leave our bikes outside and nobody messes with them.

Here’s a map of the ghetto. It can be a little confusing to the uninitiated since the buildings look quite similar.

Personally, I think it kind of looks like an artists’ colony or something. The apartments are bright and spacious. The buildings are well-maintained by the municipal housing organization and the caretakers come instantly when you call, even if it’s to change a lightbulb. It’s all car-free (the parking lots are at the perimeter, though you can use a special key to open the gates if you need to pull a car up to your entrance to deliver something), which means kids and cats can run around without worry. The landscaping is lovely, and residents seem to be free to decorate their balconies and patios however they want. There are several preschools on the premises. It’s a five-minute walk to the forest, two lakes and three supermarkets. It’s a 20-minute walk to downtown Falun.

A ghetto? I think it’s utopia.

Listen to Cartman sing “In the Ghetto”

I’ve come to conceive of the seasons in this part of the world as two: Cold and NotSoCold. May-September is supposed to be NotSoCold. A week and a half ago it was not so cold. I took out the summer dresses and sandals and put away the winter clothes – though I’ve learned not to categorize sweatshirts, tights, light hats, scarves and gloves as winter clothes. Which is a damn good thing, because today it is snowing. A wet snow that doesn’t stick to the ground, but snow nonetheless. This is the first time in my life I have seen snow fall in May.

I had modest plans for the day – go to the library and return some books, return something to the electronics store, and visit a neighborhood-wide yard sale in another part of town. Grumbling, I put on tights, jeans, galoshes, scarf, earband, fleece jacket and rain jacket, wrapped all my items to return in multiple plastic bags, and hopped on my bike. I rode about 50 meters and realized that my errands could be run on Monday, there was no way I was going to the yard sale and by the time I reached the library I was going to be cold, wet, and hating life.

So now I’m sitting inside, watching the snow fall. I really do like most everything about Sweden except this ridiculous climate.

Update: It snowed steadily all day and some of it did stick. This morning there is snow on the ground and the rooftops (but luckily it seems to have fallen off the poor trees). Ugh.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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