Sunday, 30 November 2008
That done, I look desperately around for some great gift ideas (that's what the shops advertize: "Great gift ideas"). Apart from Christmas gifts, I need two birthday gifts. Naturally, everybody expects something very original and English. But how am I to know what is original and English and isn't available in any department store in Stockholm? Tea mugs saying "Greetings from Cambridge"? That's always the last solution. There are lots of books and games, but they are wasted on small kids who cannot read English. The older kids can. Oh that boring Granny, always coming with her silly books... Another shop assistant gives me a compassionate look. "Haven't they written their wish lists?" and "You may try Cambridge Toy Shop". Another doll? Another teddy bear? By the way, Borders gave a large teddy bear for every £25 spent in the shop. I only came home with two. I bought some books for myself and a CD with carols sung by King's Choir (not a chance to hear them live!).
Baby and children's clothes are fun to buy, but they are also appreciated by parents more than kids. Oh that boring Granny with her silly sweaters. At least a piece of clothing always come useful. "Boys or girls? For boys, our most popular colours are..." I feel like a real shopper. Bother, how old are those kids? What size are they?
Well at home, I look at the pile and realize that I will need to leave most of my own clothes behind if I don't want to pay a fortune for excess luggage.
I hope I have set up a tradition.
Saturday, 29 November 2008
When I started the gingerbread this morning I realized that I had given Julia the gingerbread forms. Stars and hearts and piglets and moons and moose. I thought I would ever need them again. How silly! I hope Julia makes use of them.
But there was another thought that made me still more melancholy. I had already lost my Christmases once. Despite my name, I come from a Lutheran family, and in the Communist Russia we had a family secret: we celebrated Christmas. It was not an religious occasion, but an extended family gathering, with carols and the smell of candles and the taste of honey cakes and nuts. It was such a wonderful night - that no one of my classmates had - and I had always thought that I must keep the tradition for my children's sake. I did, with my oldest son.
Then we moved to Sweden and a different tradition, different songs (though "Silent Night" was still there, therefore I can never near it without tears, it brings back the memory of relatives long gone), different food, different wrapping paper (there wasn't any in Russia, it was just plain paper), different candles, different decorations, different meal times. Christmas was also official and commercial, and "Silent Night" was played in supermarkets. I was upset because we never had a large family gathering. No cousins, no hords of aunts. Occasionally, Staffan's mother would come to spend Christmas with us, but never his beloved uncle. He did not celebrate Christmas.
I kept some of my childhood customs, incorporating them into my new life. I wanted my children to feel the way I did when I was a child. Saffron buns and gingerbread and hyacinths (there were no hyacinths in Russia, not in winter). It was hard to make the kids sing, not until they were old enough to pamper me. They had enough of singing in school.
For many years, we used to flee from Christmas stress to a warmer climate. We moved Chrismas Eve two weeks ahead to gather all the children. It it so difficult to manage Christmas with several sets of stepparents and grandparents and eventually in-laws.
The two Christmases in California were funny. We sat on our sundeck in shorts and T-shirts.
By the time we came back, the first batch of kids had kids of their own, and their own Christmas traditions. Every now and then one of them would decide to grant us either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I tried to preserve my childhood traditions and give them to my grandchildren, so that many years from now they would say: "Do you remember Christmas at Granny's?" The two younger kids moved away from home, but faithfully came on Christmas Eve. At least for a while, on their way to another party.
"Old folks' Christmas" is a short story, I think there is an old silent movie too.
Now I have lost my Swedish Christmas as well. New traditions. They don't even celebrate Christmas Eve here! I have brought my candlesticks, my tree decorations and some other trifles. It feels weird to decorate the house just for ourselves.
I am happy to think that Julia is coming over soon.
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Next weekend we have invited friends for a genuine Swedish glögg. Glögg is, as I wrote in the invitation, hot spicy wine with raisins and almonds, imbibed at this time of year accompanied by gingerbread and saffron buns.
It is always hazardous to bake in a new country. You are not familiar with flour or yeast or their relationship with each other and with other ingredients. You are not familiar with the oven. But I took the challenge.
The first thing I discovered was that saffron came in shreds. Luckily, I do have a mortar. The dough didn't really behave the way it should, but there was nothing I could do about it. The culmination of my despair came when it turned out that there were no baking pans in the oven. Apparently, baking pans do not come automatically with ovens in England. Since I had the dough ready I had to think of something really clever and I did. I put baking paper direct on the grill. It worked fine. The buns taste slightly different, but at least I know now that I can do it.
My next deed will be to bake gingerbread.
Friday, 21 November 2008
Thursday, 20 November 2008
I have bought a new bike for everyday use.
(Tokens of love are the lights and the bell).
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
I just did.
In Sweden, I missed live music but had no company to go with. I like to do things with someone, so that you can afterwards say: "Wasn't it gorgeous!" I went on my own for a while, but it was no fun, so I stopped. Somehow, I never managed to make a habit of taking the children to classic concerts, like my parents did with me.
But yesterday we went to Corn Exchange to listen to Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, playing three goodies: Weber's Oberon Ouverture, Beethoven's Triple Concert and Elgar's Enigma Variations. Balm for the soul. The building is fantastic. And I must admit, being a music snob, that Cambridge music-goers have my approval. I feel it in the air.
But Triple concert brough back memories. On December 30, 1970, I heard it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, with three brilliant performers, Sviatoslav Richter, David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich.
Friday, 14 November 2008
Worse still are some colleagues who believe that if you can understand a scholarly text it isn't scholarly. Oftentimes I wonder whether those who write these convoluted texts understand them themselves. It is easy to use ready-made blocks of phrases and put them together, while if you ask the authors exactly what they mean they get confused. All scholarly work must at least be translatable into plain English.
My favourite dialogue from Winnie-the-Pooh:
“The atmospheric conditions have been very unfavourable lately,” said Owl.
“It has been raining,” explained Owl.
“Yes,” said Christopher Robin. “It has.”
“The flood-level has reached an unprecedented height.”
“There is a lot of water around,” explained Owl.
At home, with our little fake gas fire, I must constantly remind myself not to throw paper and nutshells into the flames.
Thursday, 13 November 2008
We could also state that we felt privileged to have so little teaching and so much time for our own research: we had not been spoilt with such conditions at our previous working places. We liked the campus and found eating places pleasurable. Neither of us had been invited to join a college yet, and apparently it would take time. Neither of us had a date set for our inaugural lectures. We were still learning the rules and the jargon.
It feels good not to be the only one.
Monday, 10 November 2008
Friday, 7 November 2008
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Everybody is talking to me about fireworks and bonfires. Local newspapers are full of information about fireworks and bonfires. (Among other things, there is information about protecting your pets). So we must go and see fireworks and bonfires. It is just a short walk along the river. Crowds of people. It reminds me of my childhood with mass celebrations on Red Square. But Red Square is a bit larger than Midsummer Common in Cambridge. It gets really scary when all these people, including bikers and prams, try to leave through a narrow gate. I get panic, and we sit down on a bench, waiting for the crowd to pass. There is a fun fair on the premises which takes away a bit of the magic of the fireworks. Now we have been part of the community once again. On the way home, we look into our favourite pub and state that we are not the only ones to have got this marvelous idea. Even Staffan admits that we'd better go home.