That’s right. I’m in THE FUTURE.

Obviousness aside, sometimes you find yourself in places/situations you never thought you’d be. In the steeple of a centuries old church when the bells start ringing. In an art museum’s basement bathroom when its security alarm goes off. In a hot air balloon that must be shaken from the tree where it is stuck. You get the point.

Then there was this one time I moved to Sweden and saw plans for Malmo’s ‘CityTunneln’ to open December 2010. Too bad my master’s would be done in June 2010 and I’d go home. So long Glass Hall addition to the old timey brick-and-mortar Central Station. You’ll certainly look pretty.

THEN THE FUTURE CAME.

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Of tempus and tenses

Let’s eat some dessert first and go from there. I apologize in advance for the Christmas song that’s about to be stuck in your head. At least it’s true! Cause, you know, I’ll be home for Christmas very much not in my dreams. The dates are essentially Dec. 18 – Jan. 5. We shall feast and be merry. Last Christmas I grew somewhat accustomed, numb even, to the distance. I like ethnographic attempts at absorbing the traditions of other peoples’ families. Ultimately, Santa and his celebrations belong to mom, dad, Megan and Margot. It’ll just be a solo trip as Karl’s saving up for March/summer/whenever.

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Moving on up/over/out

Before I knew better, whatever direction I faced was north. Wasn’t that the direction I was meant to be going or something? Despite this prior misunderstanding, I now possess a rather functioning sense of direction and knack for finding my way around. Even still, I’m bound to missteps or vague references in speech. I often drove “up to New Orleans” from Baton Rouge or just “over to Tampa” no matter the facts or details. So excuse my err in saying I’m moving up/over/out. I can’t seem to make up my mind though I know I’m at least going somewhere. Cause hitch up your wagons, kids, I’m moving to the great Southwest [of Sweden]! Let me exercise some precision. I’m moving from Lund to Malmö. At the end of the month, I’m hauling my shit (Somehow I’ve managed to amass quite a load, yet I don’t spend money. What is this madness?) to Karl’s apartment’s basement storage. Then we’ll hole up in his room for a month or so while sharing the apartment with his two human roommates and two feline roommates. After that, ho ho! We’re moving on up/over to our own place in Malmö with two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a balcony, a bathroom w/ bathtub and indoor cycle parking. How luxurious. We even managed to land a firsthand contract versus a sublet, which is a feat. Remember how I’ve mentioned that Swedes like to stand in lines and take numbers? Well, yeah. They do that for housing too. It’s not uncommon for people to sign their children up for housing queues when they’re born (especially in places like Stockholm) so their odds are better once they’re old enough to want/need their own apartment. But when you put two very determined people on a task, eventually things happen. We sent enough letters, made enough phone calls, walked around and sneaked out enough landlord information to land a contract. This was not fun.

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First thing’s first

Whups. I meant to post a bit earlier. Forgive me. But life as of late has been rammmmo, jam-packed, sardined with plenty of firsts in Marissa land. I’ll let you guess.

By the end of this entry, you’ll know! Har har. Patience is a virtue, folks.

First thing’s first, I went to Budapest as you remember. If you’re listening, hip kids, this is arguably the new Prague. For those of you not hip to geography, Budapest is in Hungary. I flew to Budapest with Karl and Martin for a short reward vacation post-thesis time. Budapest was hot, cheap and captivating. It’s got the Danube River slicing it in half, essentially dividing the city into Buda and Pest. Buda’s got the castle and whatnot. Pest has, errr, the other stuff. There are also vending machines throughout Budapest and well-stocked refrigerated sections in grocery stores filled with Turo Rudi. It’s basically sweet cottage cheese rolled in chocolate. What’s not to love? Perhaps what struck me most about Budapest were its insanely elaborate doorways–each one vying to trump the other with ornament. (This artist has a series of photos documenting various doorways around the city.) There were also plenty of kerts to go around–or courtyard/garden bars. Some of Karl’s Couchsurfing friends took us to one that’s part bar/art studios/cafe/everything, all under one used hot air balloon rooftop. Also high on Budapest’s claim to fame are the presence of baths, remnants of Turkish times that exist thanks to natural hot springs. We went to Gellert Baths, where we bought admission in the form of an activated Swatch watch of sorts that served as our key cards to the bathing areas we paid for. They have thermal hot baths and all that goodness, but nothing stood in the way of me and the outdoor pool! Hoohoo! I think it’s the first time I’ve been in a pool since 2008 sometime. And surprise, every hour or so it turned into a wave pool. A fish in water is a happy fish. We also visited Memento Park, or a sculpture park in BFE, home to “saved” statues from Hungary’s Communist times. It was a bit like going to a underfunded zoo that’s slightly depressing but educational. The nerd in me got to fly my freak flag in Budapest in two ways. I got to meet an old J-school professor, Perkins, for a beer or two. And earlier that day, I went to the library! Budapest’s Szabo Ervin Library is a public library that used to be an aristocrat’s palace. This library has chandeliers, winding wooden staircases and reading rooms that used to host diners and smokers. Visitors like us had to fill out a card to even go in. To take photos, I had to sign a waiver majig, which means no photos for you. So I direct you HERE, where they got permission to publish their photos. Not kidding. Look at that spectacular shit. That’s enough of Budapest I guess. There are photos of Budapest HERE.

Then there’s been Midsommar, which more or less marks the beginning of when Swedes stop working. Most offices and such close for July, hence why I don’t anticipate hearing any news on my sambo status for some time yet. Karl’s family goes to the summer house of his mormor (mom’s mom) to celebrate with aunts, uncles, cousins, cows, trees, etc.  His grandma was born in this wee house, which the family bought in 1905. So we’re talking old. We’re talking procuring water from a well, using an outhouse, sleeping in a barn sort of old. I found it all rather endearing for a weekend though I don’t think I’d survive for too much longer than that. Me likey hot water. Me likey Internet. Every attending family member is given a task from the daily schedule (breakfast, lunch, fika, games, etc.). Karl’s duty was to create the forest round/walk, where the family divides into teams and goes through a path in the forest, completing tasks along the way. So we made them compete with water balloons, identifying objects shoved in various foods, solve word puzzles, answer trivia questions, etc. Karl had much patience with me in trying to come up with competitions, as every Swedish kid has done a gabillion of these forest walk things and I had done zilch. But now I get it. We ate and ate. We played games. We chatted. And Saturday evening when I approached the barn to ready for bed, I saw a herd of cousins all standing outside. I thought they were all waiting on the outhouse. But no! They were all brushing their teeth, because that’s how it works when there’s no running water. Everyone stands around brushing their teeth simultaneously. I did use the outhouse, by the way, which included two “holes” for varying butt sizes and/or extremely cozy couples. And while we were away, a new edition to the family was born. Karl’s older sister gave birth to her second boy, who I met the following day. He’s the youngest child I’ve ever met/touched. I abstained from holding him because I’m still working up to that. Me and my butterfingers probably shouldn’t go near people that tiny just yet.

Since it’s summer, that means it’s reduced price travel time around Skane! Surely you remember all my adventures from last summer–vodka, shipping towns, etc. Well so far I’ve been to a giant pile of wood, Nimis. It’s more than that though. It kind of looks like a bonfire on the levee in Lutcher. It’s a micronation called Ladonia. It’s a sculpture made by Lars Vilks, i.e. the man with many enemies who made the Muhammad cartoon. This wooden wonder sits on the coast of Sweden, in part of a nature reserve called Kullaberg. This lovely nature reserve, however, does not like to acknowledge that Nimis exists. But in Kullaberg, I did see my first mole! He was so blind and so cute. So blind, in fact, that he was dead. But oh well. Cute regardless. Anyway, armed with James’ trusty GPS device, we walked around Kullaberg first and then barely managed to find Nimis! We had to stealthily make our way down a steep incline of rocks down to the wooden sculpture. How to describe Nimis? Well, if I were a squirrel, Nimis would be heaven on Earth. You walk along makeshift walkways that dangle ever so scarily above the slick boulders below. With each step, you’re rather certain it could be your last without crutches. But somehow, this insane dude has made a safe and remarkable oasis from the mundane. Not wanting to make the trek back up the “mountain,” us weary travelers decided to keep walking along the coast, hopping strategically from rock to rock. I preferred this, since mosquitoes were absent and I like to leap with abandon. But after an hour or so, we decided to try to find a way back up. When we found a man lounging in rocks instead, he could tell we were lost. This stranger, this Swedish gentleman, offered us a ride in his little boat to Arild, the neighboring village we were headed for. Hurrah! The kindness of strangers indeed. En route, he gave us all sorts of tid bits about the area, like how back in the day, the other town of Molle was scandalous for co-ed bathing, so people would send their mail to Arild instead. And how the exact place we found him was once a ‘straggler port’ or sorts. Because it was hidden from the view of Arild, boats could dock there and unload various contraband goods that people hauled up the side of the mountain. There’s even a tiny house in Arild that Arne Jacobsen designed.

For pictures of Midsommar, Nimis and other Swedish shenanigans, click HERE.

As for life in general, well, it goes. I have not “met” the Swedish police. (Did you guess correctly?)  I’m spending summer in slow motion, making lemonade, perfecting my own veggie burgers, swimming, sunning, reading and trying not to fear unknown roads ahead. The garden goes as well! Do you see the evidence below? Yep, that spinach is as BIG AS MY FACE! We even hauled in a bunch of (free) pavers this week, with help from Karl’s parents and his sister, Hanna. Soon we shall have walkways. Moving on up. Yes, I’m also applying for jobs–trying for “real” ones, before embarking on applications for dishwasher, toilet cleaner, etc. And I take my Swedish course placement test in a few weeks. Then after that I should be going, somewhere, somehow. There’s plenty to keep me entertained and busy during these sunny days, with a couple of free festivals coming up in Malmo. I’ll pop back in with news in a month or so.

Until then, Happy Fourth of July! Don’t hold the punk too close to your mouth. I burned myself once that way, thinking I could blow it out. Silly me. Plus, apparently there’s poo on punks (sometimes at least)!

Click me and my spinach photos of my latest Swedish happenings. If you want Budapest photos, click HERE.

Click me and super spinach for Swedish photos.

Click me and super spinach for Swedish photos.

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A master without a plan

I don’t have a paper to prove it yet, but I now encourage you to refer to me as master–preferably Marissa, master of visual culture. That’s right. The thesis has been written, published (online), defended and opposed successfully. If you have an hour or so to spare (It’s 50 pages and I can’t possibly know how fast you read) and are curious, feel free to download a pdf version HERE. If you think it might be heavy reading (It’s not really and aw jeez come on you can just read the intro and conclusion) but still want to know what the hell I’ve been doing for six months, feel free to download the Powerpoint summary HERE. You won’t have the full effect of sitting through one of my awesomely entertaining presentations, but perhaps you’ll still get the gist of it. Thanks to all of you for reading this blog throughout the thesis process. From time to time you gave me reason to escape mental overload. And special thanks to those of you who read the final document, caught my spelling errors and made helpful comments. Even editors need editors, especially when Microsoft Word insists on spell checking in Swedish. Grr. I lucked out with my grader (one of the founders of the visual culture program at Copenhagen Uni) who had many compliments for my “original” work. He was sarcastic, passionate and a bit of a jokester–just the way I like em. Luck No. 2 – He essentially believes visual culture academia needs to be re-rooted in the philosophies of Merleau-Ponty, who is the central theorist I used. Luck No. 3 – He is currently doing his own work regarding prosopagnosia, which is a face recognition disorder. So basically I dropped right into his orbit with a perfectly, inadvertently tailored thesis. WAHOOOOOOO.

That being said, now what? I’m a master without a master plan. This shouldn’t be a surprise to me really. It was the same after earning my bachelor’s, but now it feels slightly more ridiculous. Don’t underestimate me. I do have a vague plan: Learn more Swedish. Get thesis really published. Pitch stories. Write stories. Get a crappy job. Eventually get a real job once Swedish isn’t an issue. Return to the States at some point. But is that really a master plan? I guess not. I assumed from the beginning I’d leave after two years just like everybody else. Oops. Oh well.

But let’s set aside this confusion and get our hands dirty. Remember the land, glorious land from my last post? Well it’s been sown! We’ve been working on it for many weekends and soon we can sink our teeth into our labors. Radishes, red beets, carrots, parsnips, raspberries, peas, beans, potatoes, spinach, mangold, rhubarb, mmm delicious! Our land hadn’t been used in about three years or so, hence the initial weekends were quite a bitch. Karl even rented a tiller off a Craigslist-y type site, which we had to transport in a grocery cart. This is what you have to do when you are carless and have enough sense not to bring a tiller onto a public bus. Damn you, common sense. Our neighbors are kind and generous. They’ve shared some mint plants and donated plastic chairs. We also have many bunnies for neighbors, and no matter how much they still excite me, I know Peter Rabbit’s already been pooping on our land and snacking on our salad. Our next project is building a wind shelter on our plot (following lots of rules, of course). I’m currently sharing my tiny room with enough wood to burn a martyr, since Karl and I happened upon lots of wood being thrown away. The neighboring building is being converted into student corridors (bye bye pub), so he asked if we could take the wooden beams and fence posts they were throwing away. Score. Photographic evidence of green thumbedness will follow in the accompanying gallery.

And I’ve now experienced Lundakarnevalen or a grown-upish kid’s fair Lund students put on every four years. They fence off land on the main campus, charge people 6 bucks to get in and then charge you more money to visit small tents to play games, be “killed”, be entertained, buy drinks, etc. Every karnevalen has bigger performances like plays, cabarets, a circus, musical acts (from big names like Rufus Wainwright to smaller people like Michael Jackson imitators), etc. We paid to go to the circus since one of Karl’s friends/singing partners was in charge of it. They even shot a man out of a cannon and put his mannequin body parts back together. It was clever. The rest of Lundakarnevalen, if you’ll excuse the pessimism, was pretty crap. I kept comparing it to Mardi Gras, which I know isn’t fair. But when one wanted to consume a beer, one had to go to a beer tent, pay $4 for a can of special Lundakarnevalen beer and stay there. It felt like we were the monkeys on display. They even had a parade with marching bands and people on floats. The floats were pretty creative (one was Eyjafjallajokull volcano, where red-clad people would come running out from the top), but it was strange overall for people to be so, er, quiet and uninvolved. One marching band even played “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and it seemed nobody gave two shakes about being in that number. Sigh. Plus, you know, they didn’t throw anything. Granted plastic beads don’t have a point, but at least they give people purpose.

Oh and Karl and I took our relationship test thing for the immigration office (the same day as my thesis was due, no less). So I’m one step closer to getting my temporary residence permit. We sat in a room with other couples (Swedes on one side of the room, partners on the other) and answered a five-page test about our relationship. When did we meet and how? Have we traveled together? Do you eat breakfast together? What do you eat? List names, ages, residences of family members and if you’ve met them. What do you do in your spare time? What color is your shower curtain? Etc. See, in Sweden us foreigners can stay here without being married. If you have a sambo (live-in partner who is Swedish), you can apply for a temporary residence permit. You might be familiar with this situation if you’ve been keeping up with the insanity around Stieg Larsson’s estate. He’s the author of the Milennium series, which are making international waves. Apparently The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (in Swedish it was called Men Who Hate Women, just fyi) is fairing well in the States and Brad Pitt is on board for the Hollywood remake. He was sambo with his lady (also Swedish) for ages without being married. It’s causing drama. I just wanted to be sambo and master within a week’s time so I could laugh at how absolutely racist all these titles seem.

Well, I’d say that’s enough from me today. I’ve got celebrating to do (our graduation ceremony is Monday), sunshine to enjoy and goodbyes to choke out. Plus I’m rewarding myself with a brief trip with Karl and Martin to Budapest in June (special guest appearance from (ex) professor Jay Perkins!), so you’ll hear from me after that. Click me and my fake master’s hat for photos of all sorts. I don’t think we’ll get any special master hats, but here’s hoping. P.S. No, I’m not naked, you perverts.

Click me, the MASTER, for photos!

Click me, the MASTER, for photos!

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Oozing with potential

Anybody remember Stuyvesant? The carrot from my willy nilly garden who did a mean impression of a curtsying peg leg pirate? If not, see below. Anyway–here’s hoping he’ll have some friends sometime in the near future. Because…

BY GOD WE GOT OURSELVES SOME LAND!

During one of our walks last year, Karl and I rambled into an odlingslott (cultivation share) sort of near his place in the Rosengård area of Malmö. Translated it means, well, rose garden. In the eyes of some Swedes it translates to the thorny issue of immigrant land, i.e. the place where people burn cars, police launch racial slurs and many fear to tread. (Indeed, Wiki claims 86% of the district’s population is of foreign background–including Zlatan Ibrahimović.) Well, screw that. We came. We trod. We discovered Coke flavored slushies!!!! We wanted to plant shit. There are more than 1,700 cultivation lots in the Malmö area, ranging from 60 to 150 square feet each. These cultivation lots aren’t as cute as proper koloni lots, known for their teeny tiny houses. No teeny tiny houses are allowed on the cultivation lots, I assume to discourage overnight stays. Koloni lots are much harder to come by and correspondingly more expensive. But who cares if we got the cheap stuff. Last week Karl found out that after placing himself in the queue system last year, we could venture back out and rank our choices of the nine available lots to rent. WOOT. After discussing the pros and cons of each available site, we settled on Lucky No. 13. In viewing No. 13, we were accosted by two charming old men who informed us that particular lot was absolutely the best. We were instructed most happily by this hairless fellow that we shouldn’t think any more about it. It was the best. I hope he’s right (and that he’s a good neighbor). Soon enough, Karl, roommates Louise and AK and I will get our hands dirty. All for the low, low total price of $70 a year.

The prospects simply make me giddy. There’s a photograph of me somewhere (in a photo box in a packing box in a storage room in a business in Baton Rouge or perhaps in the depths of hard drive) in a horrible one piece flowery white shorts romper get-up, orange Scrunchie included, grinning like the Cheshire cat displaying my crop of peanuts. I loathe peanuts (jordnöt or earth/ground nut). I can taste them even when people swear they’re not in the ingredients. They make the hair on my arms stand up like alert, disgusted soldiers. Yet I was proud as a peach in that photo. I was a peanut goddess. Most fall seasons, part of our backyard turned into the Great Pumpkin Patch. Less mowing for us! We sometimes tried to mold the pumpkins to resemble Mickey Mouse. We failed at that, but my parents succeeded in ensnaring me in the trap of gardening.

When I left Baton Rouge for Sweden, I left behind an amazing back yard. It came with rose bushes, raised beds and a false sense of ownership. Here I have none of these things. But soon my toes can shove themselves freely into soil like scared ostriches in sand. I can sweat, toil and produce things that are mine. (Mine is an overstretch, really, but you get my point.) This is ownership withdrawal. I do not need to die with the most toys, but I yearn for a return to the small satisfactions of possession.

I could be yearnin’ because I’m a year older now–just four years away from 30! Yours truly had herself a birthday, a most marvelous one. It included a locked birthday pot from Karl (complete with enveloped hints to eventually receive the code), multiple cakes and a hat party! Evidence is in the photo album. And there were Easter festivities as well, wherein Karl and I went to his parents’ house to celebrate with his entire immediate family. That totals 12 folks, not counting one baby to be. Much like Christmas, we ate extensively. (Also much like Christmas, it snowed. What the hell is that, Sweden? Last year it was sunny.) Karl and I baked lemon bars, carrot cupcakes and chocolate chip meringues for the pleased crowd. For dinner we feasted on cheese, Swiss-style using raclette. It’s like fondue, sort of, but with cheese on a paddle instead of in a pot. You melt your own, shovel it off the paddle and spread it eagerly over potatoes, grilled veggies, meat, whatever. Needless to say, I’m an instant fan.

As I dig my head back into my thesis books (it’s going OK. let’s not talk about it, really), I leave you with a quote and a familiar feeling from A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz.

“When I arrived home, she was in the backyard. It had rained all afternoon, and I saw she had her shoes off and was digging her toes in the mud. She urged me to do the same because cold mud oozing through toes is a pleasure greater than anyone could imagine. She was not lying.”

Click the carrot for my birthday, Easter and lucky No. 13 with potential!

Click Stuyvesant for birthday, Easter and land photos!

Click Stuyvesant for birthday, Easter and land photos!

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On elephants large and small

I don’t know if you’ve heard the imaginary news, but there’s an elephant in this tiny blog room. He’s got allergies. When he sneezes, he breaks things. (But he’ll buy them.) Perhaps you’ve felt him a time or two bumbling around the background. Despite his size, he’s actually quite small in comparison to other elephants. So, let’s talk to him and get him out the way.

Me: Hey, little elephant. What are you doing here? Have you heard a who?

Ele: Who dat! Who dis! I’m here so you’ll acknowledge you’re going to stay in Sweden after you finish your thesis. (Apparently this elephant can rhyme.)

Me: Well, shit. Here we go. You’re right. Even though this place can be depressingly cold and dark, I’ve found many rays of sunshine here. I suppose you could say one in particular is blinding, soul soothingly bright. So I’m going to stay here a bit longer than anticipated. I’m applying for a temporary residence permit (more on that in future blogment), looking for immigrant suitable jobs and trying this place on for size. Will I be here forever? I don’t know. Can’t say I picture it. Can’t say I picture living in Louisiana either. So who knows. I know this chapter isn’t finished being written. I know it hurts to silence other chapters I could be writing with you. But I hope you’ll sit right here with me for the rest of this ride. You’ve helped carry me this far and it’d mean a lot if you stayed with me.

The elephant’s shrinking, but he’s by no means gone. I tried to convey most of this in person to everyone at home, but I’m not sure how successful I was. So if you’ve got questions, you know where to ask. There’s more to explain, of course, and I’ll get to it all in time. Most importantly, I’m happy, healthy and somehow in harmony. I hope you are too.

Now on with the circus! (Or a recap of my visit home.)

I was home when the Saints won the Super Bowl. I was home when my best friend got bludgeoned by a life-size Native American wooden statue. I was home to be my sister’s first proper houseguest. I was home for my mom’s birthday. I was home to hear my best friend sing live and not through a computer. I was home to eat my dad’s homemade (RV-made?) bread. I was home to have all my families in one place. I was home to help make fish bikes. I was home to celebrate your anniversaries. I was home to wrestle with my 13-year-old puppy. I was home to make a pink king cake. I was home to watch you dance to Lady Gaga. I was home to be familiarized with the phrase “I be back. I be back.” I was home to eat broccoli and cheese soup from a breadbowl with my favorite advisor. I was home to play board games. I was home to drink in old stomping grounds with old friends. I was home to meet your new friends, loves and little ones. I was home to be employed by familiar faces in a new fancy office. I was home to help with creative endeavors. I was home to hear your voices, see your faces, laugh with you and feel your boundless warmth. (And now, admittedly, I’m crying just thinking about it.) I was home to be home as much as possible. I was home to show Karl what–more importantly who–home means. I think I succeeded in some ways. I guess. Don’t worry too much. I’ll be back around. I hope he’ll be back too.

Until then, you’re more than welcome to come visit me here. I’ve had my official first non-parental-affiliated visitor! (Not that I got anything against the parental unit.) Brandi, my 225/Business Report cohort made the icy trek across the Atlantic skies for roughly a week’s visit. I tore the soles off her shoes, essentially, squeezing in megatours of Copenhagen, Berlin, Lund and Malmo. Perhaps most amusing was our sad and wonderful trip to the Berlin Zoo. We’ve long been fans of Knut, the uberphotogenic baby polar bear. So we went on our own mini mecca to see him. He didn’t disappoint and neither did his other zoo inmates, especially the primates. There’s photo gallery action HERE. Brandi can vouch that I’ve got good people here too, can cook and carry your suitcase when the wheels snap like ankles (among other remarkable things). She would, however, recommend you come when it’s not quite so cold. I kept pointing out spring’s new bulbs, but I don’t think she believed me that it would get warm eventually.

In other news, I’m weighed down in thesis world at the moment. Got 10-pages due in a week (hence why I’m blogging now!). But I’m advancing quite well. I may even have myself a title. It goes a little something like this — The toaster has eyes: Anthropomorphism’s relation to psychology, design theory and phenomenology in the user’s experience of everyday, inanimate design objects. Basically I’m looking at design objects like this and this to see how they allow the user to be a designer and give objects faces and such when they weren’t there originally. Blah blah blah there’s all sorts of theory and stuff that gets mixed in. And 40-50 pages later it’ll all make sense. I promise. Basically I think I’m trying to explain in master’s level terms why The Brave Little Toaster has always been one of my freakin favorite movies. Why shouldn’t your toaster love you with adventurous devotion? Guess I better get back to it.

I leave you with two lines of wisdom I learned during my trip home:

‘Toy Story 2 was okay.’ –from a bathroom stall

‘I was hiding under your porch because I love you!’ –from Up

And one from me last week:

‘Do I need more monkeys?’

Click me and my awesome grocery store monkey for photos from home.

Monkey see, monkey do. Monkey click!

Monkey see, monkey do. Monkey click!

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Plans in the sand

First and foremost: If you’re in the Baton Rouge/New Orleans area and you’d like to know what my plans are, grab your iPhone, pen and pencil, chisel and marble, etc. I’m keeping my plans rather drawn in the sand to facilitate flexibility and fun consumption. Nonetheless, my days will probably look a little something like this:

  • Jan. 25 – Arrive New Orleans very late
  • Jan. 26 – Arrive Baton Rouge area dinnertime
  • Feb. 2/3 – Return to New Orleans
  • Feb. 8/9 – Return to Baton Rouge
  • Feb. 11 – Kalle arrives very late
  • Feb. 13 – Spanish Town
  • Feb. 14 – Bacchus in New Orleans
  • Feb. 17/18 – Return to Baton Rouge
  • Feb. 20 – Depart New Orleans

To make plans with me, try Internet avenues first and foremost. I do intend to have a crappy Boost Mobile cell phone, but I don’t know if the number will be the same as last year or not. I’ll inform you Louisianians of the number once I know it. If you want me to have your number, please get it to me via e-mail/Facebook/whatever. Please no carrier pigeons and/or smoke signals. They just don’t work like they used to. My schedule in the handful of days post Mardi Gras is shaky at best, since I will be touristing the Swede. As always, I’ll do what I can to see you all. I’ll also be automobile less, so rides are appreciated. I might get brave and test out my bicycling calves a bit more, but we’ll see. So! See most of you very, very soon.

In other quick updates, I’m officially done with my courses. We’re heavy into thesis-writing mode, which is why I’m able to abscond(ish) for about a month to visit. May 18 is my deadline and quite frankly, that’s intimidating. But in my professional past I’ve eaten reasonably large elephants (Anybody remember that 268-page special issue of Business Report? I do!) so I have a fair amount of faith in myself and my abilities. But you don’t need my pep talk to myself. Let’s talk about Swedish Jul!

Swedes celebrate Christmas on Dec. 24, so that’s when Kalle and I arrived to his parents’ home to celebrate with his mom, dad and younger brother. Kalle has many siblings so their gatherings are usually on the larger side. This Jul would be cozier with just us five. And by cozy I mean cozy in the-old-house-on-the-edge-of-the-woods kind of cozy. See?

Yeah. Within 30 minutes of arriving in the morning, we were sitting around the table for coffee and baked goods. Fast forward another two hours. This is when the Jul bord or Christmas table took shape. Loads and loads of food. I contributed deviled eggs and sweet potatoes, which I suppose aren’t very traditional either. Swedish-wise more traditional dishes are sill (herring in some sort of sauce with peppercorns, which I assumed were eyeballs), ham, cooked red cabbage, meatballs, etc. Basically all day we sat around eating, talking and playing all sorts of board games. It’s quite common for Swedes to watch Donald Duck (Kalle Anka) on television, but there’s no such device in their house. Read more about that here. Yes, there was a tree. Yes, there was a dabble of churchgoing (wherein the congregation sits down for hymns contrary to improved acoustics) at this church. Yes, there were presents. We also ate rice porridge, which is one of my new favorite foods. It’s apparently kind of like rice pudding, but I’ve admittedly never eaten that. And yes, there are pictures of most of these things in the accompanying photo album.

And for New Year’s Eve, I celebrated with good food and good friends in Malmo. And by god do Scandinavians like fireworks. It felt like every fifth family had purchased at least $200 worth of shimmering explosives, which they set off pretty much in synch during those magical, celebratory minutes. We watched this unfold, mind you, on the “roof” of Kalle’s apartment. By “roof” I mean there’s space for about three wedged bodies to sit outside bedroom and bathroom windows. Move too much and your body is a firework exploded on the cement below. Here’s somebody else’s video since I didn’t dare to move or bring my camera outside. From what I can tell, whoever filmed this must live kind of toward the outskirts because we were in the middle of all that chaos. As an alternative, people also launched sky lanterns, which were quite hauntingly beautiful.

Photos can be found HERE.

And so nooooowwwwww I leave you to join you! I have about three hours until I catch a bus to Kastrup, the Copenhagen airport. Lots of uncomfortable sky miles later and TA-DAH!

P.S. Black and gold Superbowl, bitches! Yes, even I care about American football sometimes. And amusingly enough, don’t we play the Vikings? HAHAH.

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Inside the other

Once upon a time Kalle and I were buying falafel at his usual hot spot by the hospital in Malmo. It was a bleak Saturday afternoon in November and we were headed to the fancy schmancy medical library because we’re nerds and had work to do. (Medical students get 24/7 card-carrying library access. Art students, as you correctly guessed, do not.) As most people tend to do upon greeting Kalle, the falafel man smiled enthusiastically when he saw this regular’s rosy cheeks standing in the empty restaurant. The man’s lonely Saturday was seemingly redeemed. Kalle ordered his usual as I quickly fumbled myself into the terror of eating a falafel with chili sauce. After changing my mind and explaining my mistake, the man asked where I was from. “Louisiana in the States, in the South.” Then Kalle asked where he was from. “Vatten. Jag kommer fran vatten,” he kept repeating. He could tell Kalle didn’t understand or wasn’t hearing properly, so he turned to me. “Du forstar?” Yep, I understood. “You come from water. From air. From the ground. From everywhere and nowhere.” He smiled even more. I understood.

It’s rather common, you see, for immigrants and foreigners of all sorts—asylum seekers, refugees, master’s students—to end up in Sweden. According to Statistics Sweden, “A total of 102,000 persons are estimated to have immigrated to Sweden during 2009. The largest group of immigrants are returning Swedish citizens, followed by Iraqis and Somalians.” Given a total estimated population of 9,340,000, you can take that immigration number as you will. I’m not going to draw some overarching relation between myself and other immigrants. No two situations are the same, as are no two people. In most people’s eyes, I’m not even an immigrant. I’m a foreigner. Nonetheless, I sometimes feel lumped in with the others. Like the others I went running away from something, in need of something else and this is where I ended up. I just happen to look at bit more Swedish than some of the others. (That is, until I say my name. Marissa = not Swedish.)

Up here, now, more or less alone at Jul time, it’s even more other-y. Often the people left behind in Lund right now are the others, the ones who don’t celebrate Christmas, Jul, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, whatever. We can’t afford to go home. We don’t really know where home is. We may not make it back if we go home. Not all these are the case for me, but you get my point I think. Sure I celebrate the holidays, but it’s never been in an uber-traditional manner. Our family had our own traditions—bonfires on the levee, the three-daughters-in-one-bed photo-op, deviled eggs, the Christmas pickle, magic walnuts—that never made too much sense to anyone else.

So this year as I celebrate Jul with Kalle’s family outside a town named Hoor, I have no idea what to expect. (I also have no idea how to explain a magic walnut in Swedish, wherein “Santa” put a glittery walnut in everyone’s stocking. Upon cracking with whatever means, there was something inside dollhouse-sized, random and special.) This year’s Jul season has already been a big deal in Skane–with snow up to the tops of my cowboy boots, a rare white Christmas is expected.

Despite the otherness that lingers in my bones (it will never pass, no matter my location) and the distance in my tired, heavy, snow-covered steps, I feel incomparably connected. There it is, again. We’re surrounded in this water from whence we all came. Yes, it can freeze us and flood us. But it can connect us, too. Here’s to you, your holiday season and our water.

Click my water-drinking face below for photos of this aforementioned snow. And remember that Rektor Magnificus from last time? Well, click THIS LINK to be redirected to the department’s summary of the event, including a photo of yours truly looking a bit tubby. The presentation went well and received high compliments from faculty in my department.

OH AND MERRY FREAKING HOLIDAYS. I’m coming home Jan. 25 to Feb. 20. I haven’t figured out yet how I’m going to divide my time between BR and Nola, but that will be figured out. Updates and specifics will come shortly. OH AND MERRY FREAKING NEW YEAR. Kalle will fly in for part of the adventure, Feb. 11 to Feb. 20. Be nice. Break out your guns and put away your Sunday best. It’s his first visit to the States.

So holy cannolis and veggie bologneys (I guess there’s no good way to spell that), be seeing some of you soon.

Click me for water/snow photos!

Click me for water/snow photos!

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Cheese: what friends are made of

No matter the dedication and determination,  some things you just can’t articulate without sounding like a greeting card. As such, I apologize in advance for whatever quantity of cheese you digest from consuming this blog entry. Prepare yourself for an excerpt (of something you (and I) may never read in its entirety). And then I’ll explain.

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Climb the three stairs back up to the walkway. Take your seats, 36A and B. Forgive yourself for being selfish. You need to be horizontal. Wish you could sleep. That would be the easy way out. Tremble as your stomach performs feats of aerobics you never learned in gymnastics. Remove your water bottle from your bag. Estimate there are three ounces remaining. Giggle silently at the irony of being desperate for potable water in a developed country. No, you would not trade this for the world.

Recall one painting’s inscription about knowing pleasure through pain (or something like that). Grab your sweater, your iPod and your mobile. Fold yourself over like a book closing its cover, your nose aligned with your toes. Throw your sweater over yourself. Hope you are invisible. Know you are never invisible, but sometimes great self-deception is in order.

Put the song on repeat.

———-

The above was written based on the return journey of my whirlwind Berlin class trip. My body, my brain and all they encompass were exhausted beyond comprehension—every muscle plucked bare, every synapse bordering collapse. Despite thousands of miles’ distance, I extended my hand to a friend, pleading for help. Without knowing, she grabbed it and started singing. Saved from the rubble/the flood/the tornado, she comforted me as she has for nearly a decade—coaxing me away from the ledge, letting me come undone enough to put myself back together.

I have always been envious of creatives—the way they find each other like dowsing detects water—and the way they can beg and share so much inspiration. Moreover, I have always wondered if today’s world still had time for rare, influential friendships like that of  Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia. Two years ago as I stood in front of a telegram from Duchamp to Picabia (who was on his deathbed), I realized the flaw in my thoughts. The simple absurd reassurance of ‘A bientot, cher Francis – Marcel’ was everyone I already have. I am steeped in these friendships and have been for years and years. I have my Man Rays, my Picabias. Maybe it’s too much pressure on you people, but it’s true.

So as we say thanks for our sustenance, allow me this space to appreciate those friends who nourish my life from afar. I’ve said it before and I’ll never shut up about it. I couldn’t be this far away, if I didn’t feel such love, support, warmth and encouragement from all of you. Forgive me then, for not saying so much about my recent shenanigans and giving you guys the spotlight. But I have musicians, filmmakers, photographers, designers and good people so abundant they must be shouted from this Internet mountaintop. I can’t shout everyone by name (especially if you ain’t got a public-y Web site), but that doesn’t make you any less loved or important to me. You know who you are. Or at least I hope.

Thank you for singing me through.

Thank you for helping others.

Thank you for baby animals.

Thank you for snapping, snapping and filming.

Thank you for running down your dreams, wherever and whatever they are.

Thank you for teaching those who don’t want to learn, fighting for those others stop defending, telling stories, making families, mailing postcards, enduring thankless work, chatting on Gmail and Skype, sending e-mails, falling in love, creating memories and letting me in along the way. We may not save the world, but we surely save each other.

Okay. The cheese is over. You can stop retching now. haha. I haven’t been up to much lately, really. I write papers. I make good grades (Garnering feedback like this: With the exception of one or two expressions that might need slight rephrasing this can hardly be bettered. Very well done!). I procrastinate. I write more papers. I read loads. I worry. I hide inside from the darkness. I go for walks. I telecommute. I prepare a presentation for the university’s Rector Magnificus (i.e. vice chancellor, but more on this once it happens next week).  And I plan my Jan./Feb. visit home (details forthcoming).

If you’d like to see some of my walks (including some very tacky fences) and a bit of Halloween, click me and the guy with the simple life philosophy. Regardless, see you next time.

Inhale, exhale and click me for photos.

Inhale, exhale and click me for photos.

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