Sunday, June 30, 2019

Farewell to Sweden

And so ends two weeks in Sweden. Thanks to the Swedes for their hospitality, sane form of socialism, beautiful countryside and water, water everywhere. At the airport, en route to Reykavic and on to Toronto and tomorrow, Halifax, flight predictably delayed and time to bid a ritual farewell to Sweden. Some notable features:

• Kite birds hung on fishing poles that fly around in the wind and perhaps discourage pigeons. (SF School, take note!)

• Money that some stores won’t take, the whole culture going to electronic transactions (credit cards) and something on their phone called Swish. No more paying under the table (or even over the table) and gone the concrete physical object that my granddaughter loves to hoard and count. 

• Liquor stores run by the government, with set hours and some sense of lessening the temptation to casually buy whiskey at the corner store (not sold anywhere else).

• Red houses are everywhere and related to an iron pigment from the history of mining easily visible. The yellow houses tend to be upper-class manors flaunting that they could afford more expensive paint.

• Scooters everywhere around Stockholm, an electric kind that I’ve yet to try. Bicycles popular, helmets not. Didn’t see many joggers. 

• Driving license is apparently quite a chore to get, having to take classes on basic car maintenance and changing flats and such. Makes sense, but we would never stand for it. Penalty for driving while drunk apparently very, very severe. 

• Beds and bathrooms in hotels, the first a trifle too saggy and soft for my taste, the second, the smallest I’ve ever seen. You can shower sitting on the toilet. 

• Pickled herring and pink pickled onions two memorable foods, the first of which I would never eat (hate fish) and the second which I liked quite a lot. 

• Pizza-Kebab restaurants always advertised those two things together. 

• Folk Festival actually means a lot of rock bands with way too much drumming. 

• Expensive it all is, but pretty close to San Francisco. And more uniformity between restaurants and hotels. 

• Sunrise was at 3:30 am every day, sunset around 10:30. Visiting in December would be a whole different experience.

But happy to have been here Midsummer. Thank you to Sweden! See you again when you invite me for the Nobel Prize in music education. Ha ha!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Toronto Blues

Toronto and I go way back. It was the first foreign city I ever visited, a family trip I took back when I was in 7thgrade. Later, it became the place where I gave a 5-day Orff Course just about every summer since 2000. They seemed to like me there and would invite me back each year to teach whatever I wanted— a jazz course, world music course, poetry and music course, pedagogy course. All taught at the Royal Conservatory of Music, where Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman first introduced their ideas to North America in their one and only historic trip to the continent. That was in 1962, one year before my trip—wouldn’t it have been interesting if it had been the same year and if I was on the same tour of the Casa Loma as them?! I can feel a short story coming on.

After all these years, I know scores of wonderful teachers who keep coming back for my courses. I have my little routines that I look forward to.  Dinner with a friend at Hemingway’s Bar and Grill or the Thai Restaurant, night at the Jazz Club, barbecue at a friend’s house out in York. Getting nut bars at the store next to the Bata Shoe Museum, enjoying the daily walk on Bloor St. and so on. Along with Madrid and Salzburg, it’s a city I’ve taught in over and over again. It’s an old friend.

But now everything has changed. It’s as if my old friend stole my girlfriend and betrayed me. I’m talking about the Raptors beating the Warriors! I’m still not over it and need a special Sports Therapist to work through my issues. I didn’t see that final game and am thinking I need to watch it to better process my woundedness. I’m actually taking a rare year off from teaching in Toronto because of my course in Halifax, but tonight I will spend the night there before flying on. So last night’s dreams were all about that final game I didn’t see. 

On the surface, I know what to say. Hey, it’s just a stupid game. And the Warriors were severely handicapped by the absence of Kevin Durant. And the Raptors played extraordinarily well and deserved their victory and I should be happy for them. All of that makes sense. But there is some deeper layer that I can’t quite get to and it’s a total surprise, because I’m not a rabid sports fan and only tune in when the Giants, 49’ers or Warriors make it to the playoffs. Why did this end up meaning so much to me?

Well, I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, I will still talk to my friends in Toronto and hopefully, teach there again another summer. But only if the Warriors win next year! J

The Living Museum

I visited a Folk Arts Museum in the state of Rajasthan, India back in 1979. Standing next to me looking at an exhibit of women dressed in their “folk costume” were two women dressed in the… same folk costume. It struck me forcefully that the folk life being depicted in the museum was alive and well and vibrant outside of the museum. That was strange. And instructive. 

For mostly museums are collections of things “they way they used to be,” a collection of objects, facts, stories, images from times long past. As such, they can be interesting and occasionally fascinating, but lean much more to the nouns of life than the verbs. As such, many museums (except for the hands-on science varieties) are deadly dull for kids and can be a challenge for adults as well. I often spend more time looking at the people looking at the paintings of people than I do at the paintings themselves. 

So here on my last full day of Stockholm, I had to choose between visiting one of the many, many museums or wandering around or working on my book. And so I did all three. Wandered to the Museum of Modern Art, a walk that included buying a Pippi Longstockings book for my granddaughter and stopping at a Brazilian samba dance workout at the Folk Festival stage, had a curry soup in their café and sat looking out at the river editing Chapter 5 of my book. Which meant looking at the screen instead of the river, but still lovely to look up every once in a while. And then wandering a bit through the gallery actually looking at some paintings. 

By the way, those “many, many museums” add up to 97 according to the Museum Map of Stockholm. They include topics such as sports, silk-weaving, ABBA, the army, toys, Vikings, the Post Office, Russian pillaging, royal coins, porcelain, dance and movement, the police—and of course, many types of art. That would keep the museum-fan busy!

But I was happy to edit my words, look out at the river and see a little Picasso. And then read a bit of Pippi Longstockings on a lovely summer’s day. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Out and About

Back from the country to the bustle of Stockholm. Yet this unique city of 7 or so islands is hardly downtown New York. The water and parks and pedestrian malls make it, like San Francisco and Salzburg, a beautiful blend of the natural world and the urban. We boated to the parks of Djurgarden, walked over bridges to Gamla Stan and bussed back to Ostermalm where we’re staying. Whizzing by were bicyclists and the growing population of electric scooters, the Hop on-Hop off buses and fellow tourists/ inhabitants enjoying the perfect 70 degree temperature. A short evening organ concert in an old church, thrilled to hear Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, my old friend that I used to play on my high school pipe organ and again in college. Except for playing a bit by memory at my recent high school reunion, haven’t played the organ, my first instruments, for some 45 years. Suddenly I miss it.

One of the highlights of the time visiting friends in the countryside was meeting 14-month-old Caspian. We played a game of taking onions out of a bowl and putting them back in again. I taught him to try to guess which hand the garlic was in. He enjoyed my recorder music and we sang the Itsy Bitsy Spider.  So yesterday, I pulled out my Bulgarian bagpipe, just so I could say I played it in Sweden. And here was his reaction. Add your own caption.

Today is the last day in Stockholm and tomorrow back to my teaching life as I fly to Nova Scotia. Another sunny day awaits me and my agenda is simply to wander the streets yet again, sit under a tree with my journal, sit in a café with my book, pass by the museums and not go in unless one calls to me. Maybe I should try a scooter!

We’ll see what the day brings.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

This and That

After that thoroughly delightful urban day, we took a train back to the countryside, this time to the north of Stockholm to visit a friend working on the house she bought—for $40,000!!!! That would get you a corner of a garage in San Francisco. 

We had a fun “work day” cleaning out sheds, pulling weeds, moving woodpiles, pulling out nails, treated ourselves to some time at a lovely lake and then had a gourmet dinner at the old Manor House Hotel where we’re staying. They had a piano that was so out of tune that playing the right notes to a recognizable tune produced a whole new (dubious) piece of music. But upstairs was a better one and I got to play for an hour or so while the crew enjoyed their after-dinner schnapps. 

Today was a car ride to a neighboring village, a short walk through the woods, lunch at a café and visit to a church. Without the exercise of biking, afternoon napping calls to us and tonight, I’m unpacking my Bulgarian bagpipe to play for our friend’s grandson. Just to say that I’ve played it in Sweden. 

Back home, Democrats are debating, the farce at the White House continues (why oh why?), Kevin Durant is leaving the Warriors (why oh why?) and life goes on minus the six Americans touring around Sweden. Walking through these tiny villages, I can’t help but think how much simpler life is for these rural folks. No need to tune into the news each night, no daily outrage or sense of hopelessness or helplessness (or sense of hope—the American wealthy folks who recently suggested they be taxed higher!). Of course, the usual drama of health and relationships and small excitements and disappointments, but everything on such a different scale. 

On the other hand, someone like me is acclimated to the grander drama and while the ups and downs are much more steep, I suspect that the highs are much higher and there is something I find satisfying in being in the midst of all the turmoil. I’ll be back soon enough.

And I can feel it in these blogposts. No penetrating insights or poetic grandeur. Just a little bit of this and a lit bit of that. That’s my new day-to day.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

No Nobel

I awoke in Stockholm without a bike to ride. Back to my more familiar urban tourist self and though I loved every day of the rural bike ride, this felt good. After reading Walden as a teenager, I envisioned a life in the country, but life had other plans and I became a lifetime urban dweller. Which suits me just fine. The energy of the city, the artistic community, the buzz and excitement, good restaurants and jazz clubs and movie theaters and bookstores— I like it all. And plenty of parks and nearby hiking and summers up on Lake Michigan and (in the earlier days), backpacking and camping help keep me in touch with another way of being. But an urban dweller I am.

So I was delighted to set out on foot and wander through Stockholm with my companions as tour guides (they had already explored the city some 5 days before I arrived). We saw the Changing of the Guard at the King’s Palace, went into a cathedral with a sculpture of St. George and the Dragon, hopped on buses and boats with our 24 hour ticket. Of all the museums, we opted for the Nobel Museum, beginning with a delightful lunch in its café.

I had looked up Alfred Nobel before coming to the museum and read about his intriguing life as an inventor, scientist, poet of sorts and more. He was most well known as the inventor of dynamite and according to Wikipedia, when his older brother died, a newspaper mistakenly thought it was him and wrote an obituary to the tune of: 

“The Merchant of Death is dead. Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Nobel read the false obituary and in an Ebenezer Scrooge a-ha moment, decided to devote his fortune to honoring scientists, poets/ authors and people working for peace. The rest is history. Between 1901 and today, some 908 individuals and 27 organizations have been awarded the prize and the museum was devoted to featuring some of their stories. 

The major exhibit was honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, but there were short films, summaries and photos of all the others. Before entering, we tried to guess who had gotten the prizes and were correct that Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchu, Malala, Mother Teresa and others had been awared the Nobel Peace Prize. But I was surprised to learn that Gandhi never got one! And Henry Kissinger did! Go figure.

Amongst the authors, I guessed a few—Hemingway and John Steinbeck—but the list was much more extensive and included Rudyard Kipling, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Mann, Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O-Neill, Pearl Buck, Herman Hesse, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Bertrand Russell, Winston Churchill, Albert Camus, John Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Pablo Neruda, Saul Bellow, Isaac Singer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney and Bob Dylan. And many more that make me curious to read them.  

The bulk of recipients were physicists, chemists, biologists and (added later) economists. Except for Einstein, Marie Curie, Crick and Watson, Barbara McClintock and a few others, I didn't know many of them and that was no surprise. But some interesting stories.

Post-museum, we wandering aimlessly for a while and then found an outdoor Thai restaurant to satisfy some culinary longings. After Pad Thai and tofu with noodles and such, we headed back to the Rex Hotel, where there are two pianos side by side in the dining area. I decided to play one while my companions enjoyed an evening glass of wine. After playing for 30 minutes, my wife asked me to play “Happy Birthday” for the people behind me. I happily did, they treated me to cake and I asked if they were from Iran. They were and we had a brief discussion of the insanity of our respective governments and they went back to celebrating and I went back to playing for another hour or so. 

Tomorrow off to the countryside again where an acquaintance bought her Swedish “Walden” house in a remote area. But happy for the day in the city.

And sorry that Gandhi never received the Nobel. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Day 7: Farewell to the Bikes

After a morning walking around Mariefred and even a short biking around town, we got on a coal-powered steamboat for a 3-hour trip back to Stockholm. The whistle felt like we were in an old Hitchcock film, as did the ambiance of the dining car. We went down to the engine room where a young soot-smeared man was actually shoveling coal into the furnace to power the boat. The inevitable people buried in their i-Phones broke a bit of the old-world charm, but here was a family of Turkish-Swedes playing a rock-paper-scissors game and I jumped in and taught them a new version. That was fun!

We met a delightful Australia couple who had just completed a similar ride with the same company (Nordic Trails for those of you taking notes!) and exchanged all our stories. They had done bike trips in Italy, Portugal, New Zealand, Croatia and a variety of other places and we were scribbling down notes for future possibilities. 

On either side of the lake were the woods like the ones we had biked through and it was a nice switch of view to be gliding over the waters looking out to them instead of  bumping over gravel paths looking out at the lake. Made more pleasurable by having done the latter. 

We met Carmen, our host, at the dock, packed the bikes into her trailer, drove to our hotel and bid farewell to our trusty Trek bikes (well, the non-electric ones) with affection. Dinner at the hotel, where there were two pianos side by side and I got to play a bit just to see if I still could. (I could.) Nice to see people again and feel the urban vibe, to ride past restaurants and food stores after the countryside scarcity. 

Tomorrow is an unplanned day in Stockholm before we take the train to the countryside to visit some friends. To all friends far away, this a little postcard with the cliché:

“Having a good time. Wish you were here.”

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Day 6: Stay Unplugged

And then there were four. With Marcia taking a day off given her non-functioning electric bike, my wife Karen, former school boss Terry, family friend Heidi and I set off yet again through lovely countryside. The sun out yet again, the constant wind (but warm) blowing, the silence of the trees and occasional cows, horses and a few colts. A lovely lunch by the side of the lake— cheese, bread, avocado, cherry tomato, cucumber, cut on Heidi’s little board she carries with her. Some time on the main roads with a shoulder 1 foot wide and occasional cars roaring by (see photo below), then off to the dirt roads through the barley fields, down a hill with a particularly rough washboard surface. We came back to the main road and suddenly, Heidi’s electric bike gave out. We suspected the washboard jiggling jiggled something loose. Some 30 miles from our destination, we had to call the woman who organized the tour and have her pick Heidi up. And then there were three. 

On we continued around the lake and after a relatively flat first few days, these past two were constant ups and downs. Luckily, my San Francisco bike riding well-prepared me for hills, but it was still somewhat challenging, especially with the accumulated 300 or so miles we rode over the five days (with one day off). We alternated between the gravely dirt roads through fields and forests and the “tarmac” main road. The smoothness of the latter was always welcome, but it came at a price. Cars whizzing by with that aforementioned narrow shoulder. 

We finally arrived at one of the bigger (but still small) towns of the ride—Mariefred. Off for a beer at a hotel that was founded in 1609, a light dinner and a hilarious game of miniature golf in a little park nearby. Tomorrow a day to ourselves before a 3-hour boat trip with bikes and bags returning to Stockholm. We could spend the day biking around the area, but I suspect we’ll opt for casual strolling, park-sitting and catching up on e-mail.

All in all, a delightful 6 days and happy to know that this almost 68-year-old can bike some 200 miles in a week and have it feel just fine. And more than just fine, with all the pleasures of trees, lakes and fields as company, the busy mind falling out into the wind, time to refresh from an always-hard-working-industrious year. Still a week ahead in Sweden with touring in Stockholm and visiting a friend out in the countryside. With or without more bike riding ahead. 

“Stay unplugged” was the take-away after the failure of the electric bikes, but also good advice to unplug from that always-busy self. Gratitude to bicycles, nature, friends and Sweden’s hospitality. 

Day 5: Falafel on Midsummer's Day

After one of the best meals we’ve had yet and memorable conversations with our hosts Carl Michael and Leif, we set off yet again for another 50 kilometers or so of biking. Food was on our mind because of these three observations about the Swedish countryside:

1)   There are very few people here. I’m sure I’ve passed more people walking a half a kilometer in Ghana, Bali or India than biking 70 in Sweden.

2)   There seem to be very few cafes, restaurants or places simply to buy food. 

3)   The few we’ve encountered have often been closed and since it was Midsummer’s Day and a National Holiday, we were concerned about lunch.

So we were thrilled to pull into Malmkoping (mentioned in the book I’m reading about The 100- Year-Old Man…!) and find a Pizza-Kebab-Falafel place open. Right next to the park where the Maypole (okay, I know it’s called something different) was being prepared. So I had falafel for lunch, served by a Middle-Eastern man who was one of the many immigrants come to Sweden. 

At 2:00 sharp, exactly the time we were told, they began to raise the pole while two fiddlers, a bass and a keyboard played. There was a crowd of perhaps 100 people (a giant group given our experience!), the women decked out in beautiful Swedish dresses and with flower garlands in their hair. Some Muslim women with head scarves were there as well and it all seemed fine and I wonder if they would someday join the flower-garlanded folks. Across the street was a Thai Take-Out Food truck (not open). Welcome to the new world.

Once the pole was up, the people began dancing led by a women singing out directions. Simple folk dances moving right and left, in and out, miming work actions and so on. Sweet. Not the intensity of festivals in Ghana, Bali, India, not the beer-drinking at Maibaum outside of Salzburg, but a simple sweet greeting of the summer on the longest day of the year. 

We stayed for a while, but as Malmkoping was only the halfway point of our ride and it was nearing 3:30 pm, we set off again. Soon after, one of the two electric bikes gave out and the rider, Marcia, was concerned about making it to the end. I offered to take the heavy battery and that helped and gave me some extra exercise. Finally arrived at our Air B&B in Skykasa and spent some of the evening checking out Swedish TV. Interesting for a bit, but not easy since none of us speak a word of Swedish. 

What will tomorrow bring?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Day 4: Singing in the Rain

There’s a forgettable movie (Ishtar) with a memorable scene. Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman play two songwriters who are lost in the Sahara desert and as they’re crawling to an oasis with their last breaths, they start to write a song and trade rhymes back and forth. 

So yesterday afternoon, we got caught in a rip-roaring thunderstorm. Out on our bikes in the middle of the proverbial nowhere, no shelter within miles and no idea what to do. The lightning seemed to be flashing dangerously close and the thunder roaring over our heads as we biked through a birch forest in the pouring rain 5 miles from the town of Blaksta, where there was a church we thought we could take sanctuary in. 

It potentially was a life-threatening situation and I found myself like Warren and Dustin in the movie, singing some songs and thinking of clever titles for my eventual blog about the experience. That's pretty weird. But hey, it seems to be a big part of who I am. Some of my potential titles:

• Get Me to the Church on Time

• Celebrating Plastic 

• What to Do When Out Biking in a Thunderstorm

We did make it to Blaksta Church, but by then the thunder and lightning and stopped and it was more important to soldier onward to our accommodation still two miles onward. We arrived with sopped shoes, dry shirts and backpacks (hence, “celebrating plastic”). After a welcome dinner, I looked up the answer to that last question.

Basically, everything you might do is wrong. Don’t be out in the open, don’t be under a tree, don’t be under an overhanging rock, don’t think rubber tires will make a difference to a lightning bolt (it won’t), don’t stop riding if the rain is strong and you’re in danger of hyperthermia from being wet and chilled or swept away by a flash flood, don’t keep riding, seek shelter in someone’s house but if there are no houses then…

Like I said, everything you might do is wrong. The most concrete suggestion was to park your bike away from you and crouch down until it passes. But they forgot the most important part. Crouch down and…


Preferably in a dry church giving gratitude to plastic. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Day 3: All Things Swedish

Yesterday was a day of rest in Nykoping. The usual catch up on e-mail and writing and then a stroll through the town in search of lunch. Water, water everywhere we’ve gone in Sweden, including canals and rivers winding through towns. Nykoping was no exception. What a difference water can make in the feel of a place. We picnicked looking over the river, climbed a hill or two and wound our way back to the hotel. At some point, we started naming all our associations with Sweden, without the help of Mr. Google. Here’s what I came up with:

• Dag Hammmerskold —U.N. diplomat

• Greta Garbo—film actress: "I vant to be alone!"

• Ingrid Bergman—film actress: Hitchcock and Casablanca. Love her!

• Ingmar Bergman—film director: even our Swedish host tonight said, "Ach! Depressing!"

• Jenny Linn—Opera singer: “The Swedish Nightingale”

• Alfred Nobel—scientist/ inventor/ philanthropist: inventor of dynamite and when his brother died, the paper made a mistake and wrote his obituary as "Mr. Death dies. Grew rich by discovering how to kill more people more quickly." After reading it, Nobel had his Scrooge "A-ha!" and decided to donate his fortune to …you guessed it, the Nobel Prize!

• Sankta Lucia— the December holiday and young girls wearing a garland of lit candles

• Swedish meatballs/ pancakes—the former served at dinner tonight, the latter for breakfast

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—the thriller series written by two different authors

Elvira Madigan—the romantic movie of my college ears, with Mozart soundtrack

The 100- Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared­—the international best-seller by Jonas Jonasson that I’m reading now. Fun!

• Saab/ Volvo— the car I once had, the one I used to hope to have

• IKEA— provider of shelves in the school music room

And of course, 

The Swedish Sisters!! —my favorite part of the story of how Carl Orff created the approach to music education that created my life as I know it. People who know me know the story! I’ll save it for the rest at a later time.

On to Day 4!

PS Found out that Ann-Margret of Bye Bye Birdie fame was born in Sweden!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Day 2: Rye Krisp and Licorice Ice Cream


    The earth expanding right hand and left hand, 
     The picture alive, every part in its best light, 
    The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted, 
     The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road. –Whitman

     I was 16 years old when I first read Walt Whitman and re-reading his Song of the Open Road, I’m drawn back to that sense of adventure, of excitement, my whole life a beckoning road before me, enticing, inviting, the delightful sense of the possibility of the unknown given language by this poet. It will be the poem to frame this bike trip and though so much of the road is behind me, still I have not reached its end and each new horizon keeps my feet pedaling with excitement and enthusiasm.

And so Day 2 of the 8 day biking adventure began with a blue sky and slight breeze as we began one of the longer rides, some 45 miles from Trossa to Nykoping in the land south of Stockholm. On the first day, we stopped at a palace and decided to swim in the lake surrounding it. Well, more jump in and jump out, as the water was colder than this old body is comfortable with. On this day, we arrived at a small sandy beach on the Baltic Sea, but with a slight morning chill in the air and a memory of yesterday’s freezing water, no one was enticed to jump in. So after a short snack of carrot, apple and chocolate, off we went into the woods and out through the fields until arriving at a small town and a large fancy Manor that would serve us a needed and delicious lunch. Except for the fact that the restaurant wasn’t open until June 23rd

We learned the hard way that the Swedish countryside is different from any countryside we have encountered in that there are hardly any small towns, more like various clusters of six houses. Hence, no little cafes or restaurants or convenience stores or Farmer’s Market stands for miles and miles and miles. (Technically, kilometers and kilometers and kilometers). And even with long stretches on a major road, never once passed a gas station, which theoretically might have some chips or some snack food. With some 20 plus miles ahead of us and no food prospects, we were a bit concerned. Whipped out our phones and tried to find if the nature reserve on the way might have something and there seemed to be a chance that one place did. 

So off we went to find out and saw a sign on the highway with a fork on it that seemed promising and headed off in that direction. There we stumbled on an industrial park of sorts that was a Tech Place with lots of cars in the parking lots. Cars, people? Must be food! So we wound around and found a cafeteria of sorts that was…closed. But a worker was there and she sold us some fruit from the basket, invited us to grab some of the Rye Krisp crackers they had and let us buy an ice cream or two. We sat on the grass with all of this for lunch and my wife Karen yelped with disgust when she discovered that her ice cream bar was not chocolate on the outside, but licorice which she hates. Well, that was a memorable meal. 

The place itself was a bit odd, hidden away in the countryside with parts of it behind locked gates with “No photography” signs. It was called a “Vital Installation” and we conjectured about creepy experiments going on there. Later, when a lovely woman helped us with directions to get to our hotel, we asked her about the place and detected a guarded, “I don’t know what goes on there” response. Well, maybe we imagined it.

Earlier, we passed a field with a horse standing over another horse who was lying down and not moving. We conjectured that it had died and its friend/ mate was mourning. But then the horse lying down sat up. So best not to jump to conclusions too early!

A lovely dinner at a lovely hotel overlooking a river and a welcome sleep with muscles toned and body well-exercised. Had a dream that Trump was deposed and Nancy Pelosi given the Presidency and in the dream, woke up and wondered if it was real and had it confirmed that it was and I was so happy. Several more times in the dream, I “woke up” and asked the same and each time was affirmed. Imagine how disappointed I was when I really woke up. Though maybe I should check today’s news!

Day 3—today—is a “day off” and well-timed as it is raining a bit and it feels good to catch up on the storyline, such as it is. More to come!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Day 1: Life on the Open Road

                                                 Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, 
                                                Healthy, free, the world before me, 
                                                The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. 

                                               Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune, 
                                              Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing, 
                                              Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, 
                                              Strong and content I travel the open road …

                                                    -      Walt Whitman
And so begins the first day of an 8-day bike ride in Sweden. Traveling and teaching workshops like I do is my idea of summer vacation, my hanging out on the beach in my island paradise. And yet it is still work and schedules and plane flights and planning and sending notes after the workshop. 

But this. This brings me back to the mythology of my childhood and young adulthood. Time spent wandering in the woods or aimless exploring a new city or hitchhiking across the great open expanse of America with Keruoac’s On the Roador Steinbeck’sTravel’s with Charley in my back pocket. That exhilarating sense of freedom, of following one’s nose, of being open to the great, grand surprises a generous Universe offers. Nothing particular to do, nowhere particular to go. Ah, how I have loved it! And how little time I’ve made for it these past years. That will now change. 

And so I set off on Day 2, the Incredible String Band song singing in my ears:

Farewell sorrow, praise God the open door
I ain’t got no home in this world any more…

 Or rather, every place and every moment is my home in this world. Ta ta!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Gone Fishing

What does a culture suggest when life’s inevitable curve balls knock you down? 

For some, it is a trip to the priest in the confessional booth. In others, you head straight to the bar and weep in front of the bartender or seatmate. Some send you to the therapist’s office, with the clock ticking as you pick apart your miseries. Some get you singing in the Gospel Choir or dancing to drums in the ring. And so on.

In a fascinating conversation with some of the indigenous Lapland Sami people here in northern Finland, I found out that there are very few words for emotions in the Sami language. The basics of happy, sad or angry, but not all the nuances of bored, disappointed, melancholic, anxious, lovestruck, confused, joyful, depressed, etc. There are many, many words for snow, for the nuances of eight seasons, for stages of reindeer development, for the flow of rivers. In short, the linguistic imagination is tuned to the natural world. 

If you’re a Sami person and you’re sad, you go fishing. If you’re happy, you go fishing. If you’re angry, you go…well, fishing. No therapists, priests, 12-step programs, identity groups and so on—whatever the affliction, Nature is the cure. 

Or at least it was before the typical signs of the invasion of mainstream, “Christian,” “civilized” governments that stole lands, forbid the native tongue in indoctrination schools, forcibly converted “the natives” to the religions of Jesus and economic development and rape of the land. The same sad story of Native Americans in the U.S., First Nation people in Canada, Aboriginal people in Australia and beyond. First destroy the culture and then introduce alcohol to get the people to drink themselves into a stupor to bear up the pain of losing one’s land, culture, language and identity. So though Nature was the preferred cure, alcoholism is a real problem. And still today, even as Sami are struggling to reclaim their heritage, there is a proposal to invade and destroy their land with a railway designed to move oil, there are no Sami representatives in government, there are only 3 or 400 remaining native speakers in two of the nine Sami groups. Again, the same sad story.

And sadder yet, going fishing won’t bring the full cure. Dear reader, if you ever see a petition calling for help to protect the Sami’s land and culture, please sign it. 

Friday, June 14, 2019

Unlocked Doors

In the dance of familiar and comforting repetition and surprising and exciting variation, travel is mostly about the latter. New sights, new sounds, new tastes, new people alongside Wifi and Starbucks. In just one day in the town of Ivalo in Northern Finland, I’ve had my fair share of the new and delightful. Amongst them:

• Drank water directly from a stream and was assured it was safe. Haven’t been able to do that out in the American wilderness since 1970 or so. 

• Went to the Sami Museum in Inari and learned a bit about the indigenous people of the area. Thoroughly “modernized” now, but holding on to their language, arts and customs. Yet there are only 300-400 Inari Sami left who still speak their native tongue, five of whom will be coming to my workshop tonight. That should be fascinating. 

• Went to a restaurant in the town of Inari (population around 580) and it could have been in New York or San Francisco. Passed over the reindeer course and had cauliflower patties with red pepper sauce, chaga mushroom tea with sweetgrass syrup and birch leaf sorbet with tar licorice and smoke for dessert. All delicious! 

• The usual jet lag and awakening at various times during the night and the sun still out no matter what time it was. (Luckily remembered to bring a sleep mask!). The Land of the Midnight Sun is real!

• The countryside reminds me of a less mountainous Lake Tahoe region in the Sierras, dry with pines and lakes. 

• I’ve heard nightmare stories about hordes of mosquitoes and my host Jessika (one of the ex-Interns in our Orff program) assures me they’re true. But they don’t arrive until next week. My timing is perfect!!! (I leave on Sunday)

• Nobody locks the doors to their house or car. Last time I experienced this was on Peaks Island, Maine back in 1987. What a lovely feeling.

Today I have some time to walk around a lake, prepare my classes and then begin teaching my two and half day course. So grateful for this life, jet lag and all. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Ball Over the Fence

Without publicly revealing too much, there were some administrative decisions made in the last few months that came as surprises to the teachers. That’s my first rule of a decision poorly made— that the people who are stakeholders in the decision, are affected directly and indirectly by it, are surprised. It’s a sure sign that some necessary steps were missed and the result is that it widens the “us” and “them” gap between teachers and admin rather than narrows it back to where it belongs as a “we.” Teachers don’t feel like they were trusted to be in on the necessary conversations and a lot of backpedaling is needed to repair the damage. But even in a school that boasts about teaching children to speak out in the name of fairness and social justice, our staff that complains at the water cooler gets a bit on the silent side at the meetings. 

So I requested a private meeting with admin to speak out on behalf of restoring more teacher voice in the things that most directly affect us, particularly when it enters the sacred ground of a teacher’s space, schedule and own way of teaching. I wasn’t quite as articulate as I hoped to be, but the good news was that I managed to maintain a calm detachment that treated the issues as philosophical vision without the he said/she said blame or shame tone and that felt good.

The next day at the elementary meeting, our last chance to speak together before summer, I was surprised that some elephants were still standing in the room while there was a long discussion about the sharing of balls at recess. I noticed comments like:

• Whose ball is it?

• When and with whom should it be shared?

• When a ball gets kicked over a fence or popped, who is responsible to retrieve it? Who is accountable? 

• Why should we get new balls if we’re not even taking care of what we have?

And it struck me—that’s exactly what we need to talk about!! One of the teachers felt her program had been mindlessly and sadly diminished by a decision she had no voice in, the same feeling as someone taking your ball during a game and kicking it over the fence and walking away. So I tried to use that window to bring out into the discussion all the things that weren’t being said about some things that had gone down recently. I parroted the above excerpts from their ball discussion back to them and asked them to imagine that the ball was our shared investment in creating the school of our vision. 

It had the potential of being a brilliant way into the needed conversation. Truth be told, it didn’t quite work, but maybe people just needed to see it in print and have more time to mull it over. 

So here it is.