Saturday, September 4, 2010

Washing down fudge with beer

DSC00049Living as an expatriate means adopting to local customs and manners, and after years abroad, those come to feel completely normal.  Thus, it’s an effort to adopt home practices again (I still say Dank u wel to clerks and marvel that all the conversations around me are so understandable).

But I’m finding that the best way to get back into the swing of it is to rapidly adopt practices that would be impolite or illegal in Europe, but rapidly make me feel at home in the US.

Herewith, my short list of this trip’s favorites:

  • Drinking beer while holding the neck of the bottle instead of the body (The bars didn’t even offer a glass.)
  • Ignoring the warning signs.  (Parents’ don’t just let children climb on the statues, they lift them up onto them.)DSC00064
  • Passing on the right.  (US drivers settle into a lane and stay there, letting traffic flow around them).
  • Walking on bike paths.  (It’s universal along the lakefront, despite the bells and cursing of the cyclists).DSC00076
  • Darting and lurching in parking lots.  (Everyone seems to have the right or way, cars, bikes, pedestrians.  So they all jump forward, then stop to see what everyone else does, then jump forward again, in a lurching dance that is impossible to navigate.)
  • Drinking big, cheap drinks.  (‘especially those that come in big-gulp Tiki cups)DSC00048
  • Eating big, fried meals.  (Two Lipitor will surely absolve the sins of eating a Patty Melt and an Italian Sub.  On the same day.)
  • Buying liquor in the food store.  (I don’t complain about trips to the grocery when they hand out whisky samples at the end of the aisles.)DSC00090
  • Playing cat-and-mouse with traffic police.  (There are traffic cameras at the intersections to catch people inching over lines, but there’s still nothing like driving 5-over and trying to spot the radar before they spot me.)

A fellow in line behind me at a festival beer tent suggested to his wife that she really could use a beer to wash down the fudge that she’d just eaten.  That, however, was a bit too far off the path, no matter how far I was ‘going native’ again.

I can already sense what repatriation will someday be like… slightly more painful than going cold turkey from drugs.  But, for now, back to Mother Europa in the morning.

…and putting all my bad behavior behind me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Blowing around the Windy City

DSC00067Work wrapped up with intensity approaching the three-day Labor Day weekend in Chicago.  It was a productive week but a busy one, unusual, too, for being in an office again.  I’ve been working from home and hotel rooms for a year, now, and having desks with colleagues nearby, all day, is a change.  I ended up plugging in the earbuds to keep the ambient noise down and to minimize interruptions for alternate hours.

On the other hand, it was nice to go out for the occasional lunch or chat on a break again.

There was also time to explore some of my old haunts  around the north side of the city.  I grew up in Deerfield, along the North Shore, and it’s unrecognizable after (ack!) 40 years away. I suppose there should be no surprise in that, but in my mind it all feels fresh.  That’s the place that I worked appliance repair for three summers (except it’s a carpet store now), that’s the restaurant I used to hang out in (torn down for an office building), that’s the blues bar (vacant), the liquor store (gone), the lakefront park (condos).  There’s always the feeling that an old friend might pop around a familiar corner, but it feels empty when I realize they’ve been gone decades.

There were two nice exceptions.

I drove by my graduate school apartment, and the first place I lived in when I got married.  Both were still there, well-kept, and looking like the day I left them.


And the working town of Highwood was unchanged: the bar that we used to go to was still there, same tables, same sign.  I went in and had a Pabst for old times sake.

DSC00058 DSC00057

A Cambridge friend who has started traveling extensively for business asked about the possible effects last week. Where do you still call home?  Where family is; where I was raised.  Those are the things that you never lose, no matter how far and how fast you go.

What I now see that I do lose, though, are the friends and my neighborhoods.

They disperse and change without my even realizing it.  They don’t have the tight connection and frequent returns that keep family fresh, and so it erodes, year by year.  Finally, even the buildings are gone, until only the street names and the memories remain.

And this, despite the seductive illusions of Facebook, promising to deliver up friends as though nothing ever changes.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday’s Links

P1030285Preface:  No pix for a few days, sorry.  While scrambling over the front of the boat while docked in Uto, the camera popped out of my pocket and into the Baltic.  We recovered it and the memory card and battery were okay, but the camera is lost.  At lease the salvage operation provided some diversion for the nearby boaters.

I’m back in the US this week, enjoying the late-summer warmth of Chicago and replenishing my stocks of reading glasses, snack crackers, and OTC meds.  It’s hard to believe it’s so warm (almost 90F) after the cool temperatures in London and Stockholm last week.

  • Midterm elections are filling the news here, and, even though the voting isn’t for months yet, it’s time to order your absentee ballot now.  Prior registration will not get you a ballot for this election, you must re-register each year.  Application forms and instructions are available for expats at Vote from Abroad.
  • Exposure to the full force of US culture reminds me of the challenges of repatriation.  A number of expat bloggers are preparing to go native in their homelands once again, and I especially enjoyed a recent essay by Turner Wright, Why I Love and Hate Being an American.  ‘Lots of good observations on the things we miss, and don’t, when we’re living overseas.
  • Vagabondish also weighed in on the tricky topic of train fares: when is it cheaper to buy rail passes vs. point-to-point tickets?  Along with LifeHacker, I often find useful tips and ideas in their essays and recommend adding both to your RSS feed.  (although use the shorter LifeHacker summary feed or the volume gets overwhelming).
  • And, finally, two travel-related links.  Billed as the “search engine behind travel search engines”, Matrix is woprth a look.  You can’t purchase flights through it, but you can findthe cheapest flights among the majors.  And for the cheap airlines, I still like SkyScanner, which lets you search the ever-shifting web of discount airlines for the best times and deals.  They have a “Monthly fare finder” whose graphs are a big help in picking the best days to fly.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ports of Call

Three nights; three islands.

P1030391 The first was Uto.  The yard assured us that it lie only six hours to the south, but sailing into a headwind left us with a large stretch of open water to cross as dusk fell.  The harbor was not well marked, but we managed to spot it along the north coast.



P1030394 13

14 We slipped in, smoothly grounding in a muddy shallow along the main channel.  A fine start.  The village was tiny and exotically Swedish, a couple of small stores and scattered homes. A Norwegian Cruise Lines captain was on vacation on the boat, offering good advice.  Sadly, we hooked his extended stern line on the way out of the harbor, pulling a row of boats sideways into one another.   We could do better.

P1030388At the furthest eastern extreme from Stockholm, Sandhamn could be a frontier outpost if not for the opulent yacht club dominating the docks.P1030396 P1030395





Mooring went nicely, we celebrated with steaks and showers. A seaplane landed, ferries arrived, the staff prepared for a weekend party.  Sadly, the jacketed commodore no longer fired the cannon at sunset.

P1030387 There’s a wonderful pond hidden behind the far northern community of Findhamn.  If you can find the island, then the entrance, finally the docks, and all in a drenching rain as we had, then you get one of the most peaceful settings I know.  And the most beautiful sunset.P1030397 P1030398

  There are trails through the old farms to the tiny village, moss and ferns covering the granite boulders, marshes and diving  rocks along the shores.  We played cards and drank whisky late into the night.



Maps from the definitive guide,

don’t leave port without it…

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Into the Archipelago


The ‘Archipelago’ is a wedge-shaped bay, filled with islands, lying between Stockholm (pink, at the left of the map) and the Baltic Sea on the east side of Sweden.  Consisting of over 20,000 islands and shielded from tides and waves, it’s home to a lot of vacation cottages, nature refuges, and some of the best sailing around.  It reminds me of the San Juan islands of Washington state, the lakes of northern Minnesota, or coastal areas off Maine: tall evergreens, rounded granite, winding waterways, and beautiful quiet sunsets.  The Swedish sailors leave the water around the middle of August, leaving weeks of good weather and empty moorages.

We chartered a 37 foot Bavaria cruiser, well-outfitted, good gadgets, and roomy.  It has some peculiarities (port windows that open the wrong way and let rain and spray in) and is a bit broad across the beam, but it’s responsive and stable.  The folks at Boat Charter Stockholm are wonderful, they have things ready, the orientation is quick, and they are generous about letting the boat out early and returning late.  Charter costs are about half the rate of Turkey or Greece, and we were able to get a good four days out on the water for 1000 euro, about the cost of budget hotels and meals over comparable period.

10 A sailing holiday is an active holiday: there’s always lots to do.  I enjoy navigating, handling lines and sails, and cooking. Our mooring skills got better each night; the Swedish park with the front tied and the rear anchored, so everyone has a role when we pull in and out.  Even so, we hooked someone’s stern line on our keel pulling into a crosswind – 24 no damage done, but embarrassing as our victim is a captain on Norwegian Cruise Lines.

At ground level, the Archipelago is a maze of islands, threaded with shallows in unlikely places.  All are well marked on maps and in the channels, but we’re always checking charts, finding poles, and watching the wind.  There’s a temptation to over-rely on the electronics, sort of a souped-up TomTom.  But, I still like a chart and compass and do the main coursework watching the land and the water.


Disclaimer: I paid my own way for this trip, and any remarks about the charter or the boat are my own opinions.