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Swedish vacation

June 18, 2013

Dear Readers,

I hope you know I miss you as much as you miss me.

For the past few days I’ve been in sunny friendly Stockholm. In my defense, I’m suffering badly from jetlag. Since I left New York last Thursday I’ve had one good night’s sleep and about 3 naps. My youngest son has an ear infection which is making him miserable, and so I’m kind of stuck at home with the kids while Johan temporarily works at the nearby KTH math department.

But honestly, traveling, even with kids, and even with jetlag, is no excuse to take off so much time from blogging. I didn’t even announce beforehand I’d be going away because I’d planned to blog every day anyway.

Here’s my confession: the real reason I haven’t blogged is because I’ve fallen into a Northern European funk.

Let me explain. Being here in gorgeous sunny Stockholm is kind of like lying back in a cloud. It’s so soft, so bereft of the natural tension and energy of New York, that you just feel like knitting all day and drinking coffee. And then, when you can’t sleep and it’s still light out at midnight, you feel like knitting some more. I’m almost done with a sweater I didn’t even have the yarn for until Saturday.

Not that I’m complaining, exactly – the Swedish people I’ve met are incredibly nice. So nice in fact that it’s almost become a personal challenge I’ve given myself to see what makes them tick.

For example, they don’t seem to value their time like we do in New York. There are lines for everything here, and although I can appreciate an organized line myself now and again, this is a different matter – it’s kind of a national pasttime.

For example, to gain entrance to an amusement park yesterday, my sons and I stood in line for 30 minutes. Then we tried to get onto some rides, but it turns out you have to stand in a second, separate line inside the park for another 30 minutes to buy tickets for the rides. Woohoo! Another line! I seemed to be the only person in line who was crazed by the system.

When I finally got to the ticket window and confronted the ticket seller in my polite-but-impatient New York way, he explained that it was the same system that the park had opened with back in 1830 or something. Naturally I felt incredibly honored to be taking part in such a hallowed ritual, as I explained to him.

Let’s talk Star Trek comparisons for a moment. There’s a spectrum of represented civilizations, from oppressed penal colonies on the one hand, where everyone’s dirty and wearing rags, but even so there’s always a shockingly articulate and thoughtful representatives, to ideal utopias on the other, where everyone’s incredibly fit and beautiful, bounding about without a care in the world (although often also hiding a dark secret – perhaps they sap the life energy from a slave race hidden underground?).

I’d have to put Stockholm and its ridiculously gorgeous citizenry firmly on the utopia end of the Star Trek spectrum, with a few inconsistent details, namely that, unlike in Star Trek, they still exchange money (although not for their high quality medical care) and that, despite their utopian existence, they don’t seem to have the requisite dirty secret. Of course I say that while temporarily residing in the Upper West Side equivalent of Stockholm, and not as an unemployed immigrant youth in the suburbs.

In any case, I’m coming back in a few days, and I’m looking forward to the friction, the hot grimy subway cars, and of course the beloved controversy over citibikes. Aunt Pythia, who missed her column this past Saturday, is also chomping at the bit (with some help from guest advice columnist Cousin Lily!), so stay tuned for that too.



Categories: Uncategorized
  1. June 18, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Don’t miss Skansen park!


  2. Jason Starr
    June 18, 2013 at 6:31 am

    Regarding the “requisite dirty secret”, did you not hear about the recent riots? Also I recommend to visit the Vasa (but I am sure that everybody recommends that).


    • June 18, 2013 at 6:38 am

      Went to Vasa, it was cool. And yes, I linked to the riots.


      • Glen S. McGhee
        June 19, 2013 at 10:32 am

        Good question — and the link with (mathematical) emotional energy accumulation (think Tahrir Square Cairo, where a well orchestrated demonstration used decoys to divert police from the multiple smaller events, which then converged outside the control of the police at Tahrir Square, thus producing the elan that was so abrupt and intense that it lasted weeks, months, years. Very unusual in the morphology of these events, but you can see why — it never was allowed to happen before, and once the fire was lit, it burned ever so brightly) is important. See Randall Collins, Violence (2008) on riots. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tahrir_Square


  3. josephina@joey.com
    June 18, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Gorgeous… sunny… You wanna see the dark side of that placee? Schedule a visit during the winter.


    • June 18, 2013 at 7:25 am

      Seriously. I’d probably like it more but I’d kill myself within hours.


  4. mathematrucker
    June 18, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Anytime they resort to “this is how it’s always been done” you know you’ve won the argument. (I love those last words you got in when they did!)

    If you haven’t been to Norway, being that close, it’s worth the drive if you have the time. Assuming things haven’t changed in the last 20 years, the border crossing is about like going from NY to CT; all you see is a road sign (if even that).


  5. David18
    June 18, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Great writeup. 🙂

    There was a NYTimes piece on the Swedish Health system a couple of days ago.

    Interestingly, the author did not mention that Sweden (as well as other European countries) pay for their universal health care with high tobacco taxes (the “most popular product category” pack of cigarettes are about $9 per pack). The US Federal tax is $1.01 and some states have state taxes as low as about 50 cents. Higher tobacco taxes contribute more than half the total effect of helping people to quit tobacco.


  6. shah8
    June 19, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Dear Cathy, hopefully you haven’t seen this already and can use this to your advantage…



  7. Sally
    June 19, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Trevlig Midsommar ! I’m also married to a Swede. Last we were in Stockholm it rained the entire week. Still love Sweden though.


  8. nikos2evangelos
    June 22, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    “(If a school graduated a bunch of high academic achievers that couldn’t function in society, or all ended up in jail for insider trading, we probably wouldn’t call that school successful.)”

    Yeah but if they committed vast control frauds at the Wall Street banks while burning the world down, as they did in 2008, we’d let them keep their billions in swag, add billions in public subsidies, appoint them to the Treasury, call them geniuses, and watch them endow new wings for the school in question (Harvard? Yale?). Also, some of them would put billions of dollars into waging a campaign to destroy public education under the guise of reform and “civil rights” for children, and finance a Soviet-level propaganda documentary called “Waiting for Superman.” The bigger problem is that the society as a whole is corrupt and has an almost entirely psychopathic ruling elite, and the people are superfluous objects for manipulation. There is no misguided good intent behind “common core” or the rest of it, so your reasonable critique of it on its own terms is not enough. Beneath the rhetoric they’re no longer bothering with pretending the schools are anything other than warehouses — pre-prisons — for those who don’t matter except as possible profit points and problems to be managed. They cannot be reasoned with and we need a revolution, in this and in everything.


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