Mar 2 2010

In foreign lands

I’m sitting in a small one-bedroom guest apartment in Monroe Village, the independent living place that my mom moved to, two years ago. I’m here visiting her for 2 weeks with my husband and son.

Monroe Village is in the wilds of middle Jersey, a place where once all you saw were fields and fields of farmlands – corn fields, potato fields, vegetables and even dairy farms – a landscape that probably contributed to New Jersey being called the Garden State. Its February and still winter, one of the worst and snowiest in a very long time. Snow is still lying on the ground though the roads and walkways here are clear. We picked up our rental car upon landing at Newark airport. We knew we would need a car here in the land of turnpikes, highways and roads of all sorts. My husband drives, my son mans the Tom Tom and I sit in the back seat watching the landscape pass by my window.

Everywhere we drive, the farms are being replaced by brand new housing developments. They are incredible to look at. The houses are huge! And the styles – a weird mix of fake stone fronts with vinyl siding on the sides and backs. Large fake Greek columns on the front porches. Steeped roofs sometimes with dormer windows. And did I say HUGE!? Who lives in these horrible homes of bad taste – the everyman mansions of our times. Families don’t have 10 kids anymore. How much space do you need? I would love to visit a model home just to see what the insides of these monstrosities look like. But I don’t really.

Spaced between the housing tracts are small white houses from the late 1800s or early 1900s with white clapboard siding and the classic American front porches. These houses sit right next to the highways. They were there first. Some have been lovingly renovated and others look like they haven’t seen a coat of paint in 50 years. There are also strip malls scattered around, so named because they had to differentiate themselves from the large covered malls that also are around. Along the highways are small buildings of every sort, home to law firms, plumbing supplies stores, hairdressers, pizza parlors, ice cream shops, and all the other types of places necessary to give the locals the services they need to live here. This is my “home country” – not this neighborhood specifically but I grew up in NJ. But as we drive around, I feel like I am traveling through a completely alien country. As I walk around the local Stop and Shop supermarket I look at all the varieties of stuff to buy. What should I pick? What is good? What is the difference between brands? We have a lot of the same brands in Stockholm – Kellogs, Planters, General Mills, Liptons, Pepsi, on and on. But not the diversification. Does one need to have 40 different varieties of cold cuts? Not to mention the varieties of breakfast cereal. I feel like a Russian immigrant landing on the shores of American for the first time. And the TV! We don’t have advanced cable in our little guest apartment, just the regular stuff. But its like a solid wall of sound. I can’t filter it.

When I wrote on Facebook that I was heading to the States, I got a lot of “welcome home” messages, but I’m a stranger in a strange land. While I spend time with my mom, I’m waiting to return home, to Stockholm.

Jan 6 2010

Other Worlds

When I was 10 years old I was in love with Peter Pan. But, I don’t mean in the way that young girls have crushes on pop stars today. I was in love with the island of Neverland and Peter, and his adventures with all the creatures there.

Around that time period, Mary Martin’s performance as Peter Pan was shown on TV. While my memories of my childhood experiences are subjective and full of gaps, the Internet helps fill in the holes. According to IMDB, Peter Pan, with Mary Martin, was telecast the first time in 1955 and again in 1956. A videotaped version from 1960 was televised again in 1966 and even in 1973. I’m not certain if I saw the 1955 and 56 versions, I was only 4 and 5 years old at the time, but we had a TV so it was possible. I definitely saw it in 1960 and 1966. I probably also saw the earlier versions since by the time I was 9 in 1960, it seemed to be familiar already to me. I loved it.

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Dec 9 2009

Chanukah in Swedish

In just a few days, Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, will start. I wrote this piece sometime in 2004 but since its that time again I thought I would put it up now. A few things have changed since I wrote it. My son is no longer in 1st grade but in his last year of school before going on to college next fall. We eventually did do a presentation of Passover when he was in 4th or 5th grade, which was a big success. The Swedish Church has now been separated from the state and is trying to figure out how to survive in this very secular country. In the spring, Bevin will have a course called “Religion”. We’ll see just how multi-cultural the class will be. Maybe Bevin will have to give a talk about his religion once again.

Moving from the United States to a land like Sweden is often fraught with surprises. Of course one expects to find differences – the language for instance, or foods like Falukorv and Tunbrödsrullar, and Lutfisk. Clothing and shoe sizes are different and so are the measuring cups. Remember the metric system that the states spent 30 years trying to introduce and failed? Well it’s here, in use every day. And don’t forget the price of gasoline – 4 dollars a gallon! And how about liqueur stores open on Saturday night so you can buy a last minute bottle of wine for the dinner party you just got invited too? Well, forget it! But overall, there are a lot of similarities too. Cars drive on the right side of the road. Traffic lights are red, yellow, and green. The Big Macs taste the same. So do the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. TV shows from the States are all in English as long as they are for people over the age of 7 or 8. You can watch British Masterpiece Theater programs (often before they arrive in the States) though they are not called Masterpiece Theater here. The clothes people wear are often produced in the Far East and lots of the toys are made in China. Barbie is easily available and so are potato chips and microwave popcorn. Its when you find differences in areas you didn’t expect that you get surprised.

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Dec 5 2009

Wisdom of the ages

Age 3: Looks at herself and sees a Queen!
Age 8: Looks at herself and sees Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty.
Age 15: Looks at herself and sees herself as Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty/Cheerleader or if she is PMS’ing: sees Fat/Pimples/UGLY (“Mom I can’t go to school looking like this!”)
Age 20: Looks at herself and sees “too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly”- but decides she’s going anyway.
Age 30: Looks at herself and sees “too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly”- but decides she doesn’t have time to fix it, she’s going anyway.
Age 40: Looks at herself and sees “too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly”- but says, “At least, I’m clean” and goes anyway.
Age 50: Looks at herself and sees “I am” and goes wherever she wants to go.
Age 60: Looks at herself and reminds herself of all the people who can’t even see themselves in the mirror anymore. Goes out and conquers the world.
Age 70: Looks at herself & sees wisdom, laughter and ability, goes out and enjoys life.
Age 80: Doesn’t bother to look. Just puts on a purple hat and goes out to have fun with the world.

The above text was one of those “Words of Wisdom” kinds of things that were circulating around the internet a few years ago. Human beings are the ultimate pattern seeking creatures. We attempt to make sense of this time we spend on earth by looking for patterns. We seek the pattern and thus feel safer because the world becomes understandable. By dividing age up into decades and defining each decade we think we have defined a life.

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