Fika is a Swedish institution, and it means simply to sit down, have a break and a cup of coffee, tea, or other drink, sometimes with a sweet bread (which is often called fikabröd, fika bread), cookie, or sandwich. The word comes from a sociolect, a manner of speaking among leather traders. It is a scrambling of the letters in the dialectal word “kaffi” which means coffee. The word fik is often used to mean café, as in långtradarfik, or lorry/truck driver´s café.

Lunch fika at Café Fägnan.
Lunchfika at Café Fägnan. That´s a sandwich with pannbiff (Swedish hamburger) and Béarnaise sauce.

Sometimes fika can be used to replace other meals, like you might have morgonfika instead of a sturdy breakfast of porridge or sour milk with müsli (which would be your first option, I´m sure), or kvällsfika instead of a properly cooked dinner. Or even after a properly cooked dinner, as vickning, a late light supper. This suggests a simple meal of a hot drink and a sandwich. When I was a kid, we always had tea and sandwiches in the evening, calling it kvällsmat, or evening food. The hot meal was eaten in the middle of the day, according to traditional farming culture, at least where my mother was from.

The local folklore museum, Hägnan.
The local folklore museum, Hägnan (=fence), where café Fägnan (=delight) is situated. Our favourite hangout place in summer.
Horse fika.
Horse fika.

In the workplace, we have two fikas a day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It is important to take part in fika as this is when we relax with our work mates, develop a relationship with our boss, talk about this and that and get to know each other. It is the glue that holds collegues together, where we become friends and forge loyalty bonds that sometimes exceeds most other kinds of relationships. Having a job is important to a Swede, it is essential to be needed, to pull one´s weight in society, to count for something.

Ye Olde Phonebooth.
Ye Olde Phonebooth.

This can also make it a bit hard to stick to a healthy diet – in some groups refusing fikabröd (particularly if it is home-made) can be a bit like refusing communion or disown someone´s hospitality and offer/reaffirmation of friendship. It´s tricky.

The photos were all taken during last Sunday´s outing, with T Tuesday at Bluebeard & Elisabeth´s in mind. Happy T-Day!

Had to sketch, naturally!
Had to sketch, naturally!

Midsummer at Gultzau-udden

IMG_5470Well, summer started on Midsummer eve, isn´t that perfect? The mum-in-law had dressed in traditional Luleå valley dress, 1912´s model, which she has weaved and sewed herself (the matching hand warmers were knit by me). She offered me to borrow it once, for a wedding, but I can´t see myself in it – I grew up in dirndl (having Austrian descent), after all. She half-expected to be photographed by German tourists, but not this time. Personally, I was taken completely by surprise and left the house in a raincoat.

The old town hall. It is hard to imagine that the entire upper north of Sweden was once administered from here. It had offices and over-night facilities for the Mayor and the Governor, an inn, a prison, and under the roof they stored taxes that were delivered in kind!
I think this sketch of the mum-in-law is almost Matisse-like, and I'm not sure that's a good thing...
I think this sketch of the mum-in-law is almost Matisse-like, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing…

Most people were sprawled out on blankets, soaking up some much-desired sun, and didn´t participate as much in the dancing as last year, when everyone needed to warm up a bit.

I sketched and the husband took some photos with his iPhone camera, which is very good, I think, at least compared to the one I have in my phone. I like this one, where he caught the crowd, a bit of the old town hall, and in the far distance, the new “skyscrapers” that symbolize the new, modern Luleå.


IMG_5473We went home, had some traditional Midsummer food which the husband cooked while the mum-in-law and I had a nap (in my defense, I had been working all night). It was all very laid back and restful. I took a photograph from our window at midnight, even though the summer solstice was, I think, on Sunday the 21. One day here or there, it doesn´t make much difference.


Royal Tea

Saturday, there was a Royal wedding in Sweden, probably the last for many years, as the King married off the last of his brood, the Prince Carl Philip. The bride was Sofia Hellquist, a former glamour model (once elected pin-up of the year by Slitz magazine, the Swedish equivalent of Playboy) who is also famous for a brief stint on reality show “Paradise island” from which I hear she was promptly out-voted for being too nice and not creating enough drama. She is perfect, really: exhibitionist enough to enjoy the attentions of the press, pretty as a Hollywood actress but with normal-looking teeth, and seemingly unable to behave scandalously, even in slightly seedier surroundings than the ones she inhabits nowadays. I understand she had to laser off a few too prominent tattoos, but what doesn’t one do for love? If you look under her veil in back (film provided further down the post), there is a kind of sun tattoo still there, and I saw one on her ankle earlier.

The tiaras I made, propped up on chess pieces.
The tiaras I made, propped up on chess pieces.

European royals marry late nowadays. Usually, they have been partners for years, living together like normal Europeans do, and the marriage is more about being taken into the “Royal Firm”, so to speak; the Royal houses don’t have ruling power any more, they are more like a PR family firm for the country. When the Crown Princess Victoria married regular Swedish guy Daniel Westling, he gave up his business, became a prince and joined the Royal Family. When the youngest, Princess Madeleine, married Irish-American businessman Chris O’Neill, he declined the offer of Princehood and remained a private person who still runs his business. She is, however, still a princess of Sweden, and their children are also. The Swedish gossip press seems to have forgotten that this poor man has a job, and keeps declaring that he has “abandoned” his wife and that their marriage is on the rocks every time she is in Sweden alone, doing her job. No wonder he does not want to live here. I can’t remember the press ever bothering about the King’s brother-in-laws, who were all professional people. I feel for the poor O’Neill.

Raspberry, white chocolate, meringue, and gold pearls.

Not since Diana in England has a young virgin been selected from the aristocracy to be a royal bride (we all know how that went), and this new generation of royals have all mostly chosen professional, often media-savvy partners, tested for years to make sure there is enough integrity and affection there to stand the test of time and the glaring spotlight. This is not your normal marriage or home life we are talking about. Think of Mary of Denmark, Letitia of Spain, Charlene of Monaco, Maxima of the Netherlands, or Maria Theresa of Luxembourg. These were no blushing virgins; the queen of Spain was even married before! The Pope was fine with this, apparently (the Spaniards are all Catholic), as she had not been married in church the first time. Mette-Marit of Norway had a child when she met her Prince.

I read that the invitations to the wedding said that “tiaras may be worn”, so I decided that the mum-in-law and I should each have one. We had tea, naturally, which we take the English way, with milk, and my own ad hoc version of the Sofia tarte, which has been composed for the wedding by Haga bakery, limited edition only. We drank from the mum-in-law’s gilded royal blue cups, which I naturally forgot to photograph…

The mum-in-law and I in front of the telly.
The mum-in-law and I in front of the telly.

Gunnar Lindberg put the entire thing, as broadcast by Swedish television, on youtube and the wedding itself is about 1.30 hours into this very long film. If you are into fancy dresses, it´s fun to see the guests arriving to church. (The Crown Princess Victoria wore a dress from off the rack at H&M, to applause from every fashion journalist!) Also, the music is very, very un-traditional. I was a bit shocked to begin with, but really warmed up to it and I think the spiritual version of Beethoven´s 9th (Ode to joy) played as they exited the church was a winner! You have never seen a royal wedding like this one, it will be talked about for years. And I loved the very serious woman in page boy dress (she had a sword!) who attended to Sofia’s veil and bouquet. Last, but not least: everyone seemed so happy and relaxed, smitten with the amazing radiance of love (even an old cynic like myself had to admit and surrender) emitted from this very happy couple!


Luleå dancing in the streets

Foto0011We took a quick walk around town Saturday to check out the Pride festival. I have never been, due to my awkward working hours, and we could just take a quick look today, since we had places to be and things to do. I have to say, it looked like a lot of fun. Other than the hbtq activist, also taking part were the Church of Sweden, the university, and the Swedish military, and many more. Next year, perhaps I shall march, too!




Queueing up for the parade.
Queueing up for the parade.

The Student Song

It has been a week of celebrations: first our national holiday and then all the graduations from the Swedish equivalent to high school. Swedes are notoriously bad at celebrating the nation; we haven´t really had a national holiday until a few years ago, and to get it we lost Whit Monday, which some are still bitter about. It´s not that we don´t like our country, really, we think we live in the most splendid country in the world. We just don´t like to point out the obvious, and anyway, it might sound boastful, which it is not a virtue in this country to be. Also, the national anthem, which refers to the days when Sweden was “great” in the 17th Century and fought, killed, pillaged and generally were being bastards down on the continent, can feel a bit embarrassing. There are still countries where they refer to prison bars as “Swedish curtains”. Quite a lot of people feel we should change the lyrics. Others say we should be more like the Norwegians, who go crazy with joy on their national holiday, forgetting perhaps that the Norwegians celebrate being liberated from Swedish oppression…

Balloons and streamers in the colours of the Swedish flag are more used for high school graduations which is the coming of age celebration in a young person´s life, and I bet more Swedes know the words to Studentsången (= the Student Song) than to the national anthem. The Student Song was composed by Prince Gustaf to words written by Herman Sätherberg, and it proved surprisingly difficult to find a good performance of it on youtube (the most outstanding was by a Norwegian choir and I just couldn´t post that after writing the above). This is from Walpurgis Night celebrations at Umeå university a few years ago. The students singing are wearing the traditional student hat, which in the old days (when people wouldn´t go out the door without wearing a hat) were worn every day by young men studying at university.

Sjung om studentens lyckliga dar / låtom oss fröjdas i ungdomens vår / än klappar hjärtat med friska slag / och den ljusnande framtid är vår / inga stormar än i våra sinnen bo / hoppet är vår vän och vi dess löften tro / när vi knyta förbund i den lund / där de härliga lagrarna gro / där de härliga lagrarna gro, hurra! 

Sing about the student´s happy days / let us be joyful in the spring of youth / still our hearts have healthy beats / and the bright future is ours / no storms dwell in our minds / hope is our friend and we trust its promises / when we make our alliance in the grove / where the wonderful laurels grow / where the wonderful laurels grow, hurray! (my quick&dirty translation)