The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
- Saint Augustine

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Home Sweeeeeeeden Home

I made a trip to the homeland this week. Sweden. The land of crystal lakes surrounded by evergreens, pointing up towards the gold sunrises like arrows. The people stand tall, white and strong as the birch trees that surround them. The snow slightly dusting the cottages like frosting on a gingerbread house.

To say your heritage is American doesn't really fly. People want to know what nationality you were originally from. On my father's side his ancestors can be traced back to the Mayflower (Resolved White, look that sh*t up) so I solely identify with my mother's side. The Swedes.

To give you some heritage, let's start at around 1910. My great grandmother Ana, immigrated to the US through Ellis Island with her four siblings, leaving two siblings and their parents behind in Sweden. Ana was 17 at the time. Originally the move was supposed to be temporary. They were going over to get jobs and figured they'd be home in five years or so. But after two world wars, and financial issues, the seven siblings were not reunited until 1955. At which time they were well past the prime years of their life. They never saw their parent again. Ana moved to Seattle, Washington gave birth to my grandmother, Elise and the rest is history. So when I went to Sweden I went to meet the relatives of Britta, Ana's sister who stayed in Sweden when her family emigrated. 
In the old photograph there are Ana and her sister Ida taken in New York just after they arrived. Ana is on the right.

So I boarded a sleeper train up north to Ă–stersund where my Aunt Karin lived. Karin is Britta's granddaughter. Spry, quick and energetic, Karin was a blast to guide me through the small Swedish town. 

The first night she took me to the Biathlon tournament held in the town. If you've never heard of a Biathlon, I'll give you my first impression. Red faced men skiing uphill with rifles attached to their back. Then, nearly delirious with exhaustion they pull off the lethal weapon strapped to their person, set it up and shoot targets 50 meters away and then races on. This is one lap. They do this for 20 kilometers (or for you American folk, 12 miles). By the way, the Swede won! 

Thinking we were better than these Vikings, we tried out hand at the shooting range. I made zero. How ever Karin made all five shots in a row and won a prize. Here I am, looking awkward holding a rifle for the first time, and Karin beaming away after her victory.

Apparently gaming is a big thing in Sweden. Later in the week Karin prepared a delicacy, a  moose that her husband Hannes SHOT. (A friend noted, "I didn't realize Sweden had an 'Outback'")

Karin was big on me doing things my ancestors did. So one crisp morning before the snow began to fall too strongly we went for a hike around the frozen two lakes in her town. She enthusiastically explained the extraordinary principles and benefits of various Swedish shrubbery and led me to a natural spring where I drank "the purest water!"

From Ă–stersund I took an early morning commuter train down to Uppsala to stay with Karin's sister Ana. Like most families, there is one historian. And thankfully for me, Ana was that member. Her mother had saved every letter written from the siblings who had emigrated to the US in the early 1900s.

The letters, written in the colloquial "Swenglish" a fusion between the two languages, were known to the Swedish family as "The America Letters" and served as the only connection that kept the family together. 
Here Ana and I are looking through some of the documents. Included were baby portraits of my grandmother, letters of children's growth, complaints of various medical conditions, and original death, birth and wedding announcements. 

Ana has four children. Her second eldest daughter, Elsa (ironically the same name as my grandmother) who is my age, showed me around the town of Uppsala. We were accompanied by her French boyfriend Raphael. It was fairly adorable the amount of language confusion. Elsa and Raphael had met in Spain where they both studied. Therefore they are most comfortable in their second language of Spanish but were fairly good at English as well. So I would ask I question in English, Raphael and Elsa would mumble in their respective, French and Swedish, then confirm in Spanish and then answer me in English again. Needless to say I felt severely lingusticially challenged. 
My tired tour guides sitting on "the biggest bench in Uppsala!"

Finally after some hot glogg, buns, a delicious dinner and some good bonding, I slept soundly, knowing I would wake up to the last leg of my journey Stockholm. 

I took a tour of Stockholm's city hall, went to various shops to find the coveted Dala horse for my mom. It was cold; I drank glogg. 

However I did get a kindly Japanese fellow who was avidly clicking his camera in the direction of his stoic companion to take my picture with City Hall in the background. Does the fact that it was negative 3 Celsius explain the bundling?

Perhaps the coolest thing about going to Sweden (besides the weather) was that I felt as though I opened up communication with the ancestors of my age. Karin's children Frida and Olle were three years younger than me, yet we got along famously. Ana's children, Kajsa, Elsa, Hannes and Joel goofed around with me while eating ice cream and discussing Swedish films. 
We are now all facebook friends. Perhaps some day they will want to explore California, and even come to San Francisco. All I can say is they'll find a home with me.