Sunday, September 13, 2009

Malmö, Sweden. 21 - 27 August, 2009

I am writing one blog entry for my time spent in Malmö, Sweden, wherein I will combine a few things of note. There is little nonsense here, so if you are only here for the nonsense thrills, you might skip onward to Helsinki. Malmö had been my base of operations, of sorts, for around ten days. Björn was kind enough to set me up in the residence of the World Maritime University, an institution that, as you might imagine, trains people from around the world in maritime skills, from the business of international waters to the captaining of vessels. The students are all older, having worked in the maritime field in some capacity for quite a while. Governments from around the world send their most promising representatives, so the student body is by its nature entirely international and diverse. I chatted a bit with some of the boys on my hall, one from China and one from Bangladesh (whom I was able to greet in Bengali, to his amazement!), though I imagine our vastly different world made small talk a little strained.

During my time in Malmö, I was able to relax a little and become a resident, in a minimal way, having to shop and cook for myself, which, frankly was a relief after so much rich restaurant food. Of course, it just so happened that while I was there, the Malmö festival was happening, a huge street fair that went on night after night, and a place that I often went to sample some of the foods and bands. The food tended to be middling at best, but far better than the Swedish rap groups that populated one of the stages. Holy moly. I wish I had a film clip of some of those… I found the following food stall a cultural curiosity: it claimed to be a New Orleans-style foodery, and yet, as you can see from the extensive menu of burgerburgersteak&cheese, it was highly suspect.



Americans (non-natives, that is) may not have a culture that goes back thousands of years, but to shortchange one of our most culturally and culinarily interesting areas, New Orleans, makes me want to howl into my gumbo while gnashing my teeth against a shrimp po-boy, and wring my hands inside some crawfish etouffe.

Through the kindness of Carmen Browne, the friendly residence manager, I was able to borrow a bike and ride hitherwards and thitherdorf across the city and back. It was great to be back on a bike after so long, and even though my tires were mostly flat and I had those crazy backward-pedal brakes, I managed well enough. Here, I rode out to the most remote, rockiest, and skinniest strip of boulders I could find, on which there was a mini-lighthouse, a view of two nudities: the local nudist beach and the “Turning Torso,” a new architectural wonder in central Malmö.


In the water nearby, I found one of the most nonsensical of all flora, I mean fauna, I mean living goop, I mean seaslubberdegullion--the jellyfish. These had some exciting rings of colors...













I also found some interesting graffiti, and the culprits caught in the act:







One of the highlights of my time in Malmö was an excursion to Genarp, to visit Björn and his family. We had a lovely tea, and then Björn and I went for a walk through the Skäne countryside, looking for mushrooms along the way and, towards the end, taking a quick dip in a lake. Back at the house, I was treated to a rare and infamous tradition—that of eating surströmming, or sour herring. Surströmming is a kind of fermented herring that is so potently odiferous that it is rarely eaten indoors, and, so the urban legends go, has been the source of some stubborn Swedes being thrown out of their residences abroad. It is so powerful that the bacteria in the can are supposed to keep the “ripening” process going so that the can bulges with delectable rot (to my mother, who always warned me about bulging cans, you can think of this one as a kind of friendly Swedish botulism). Considering that it is so rank, its odor so persistently stealthy, and the bulging can's tendency to spurt when punctured like a spitting putrescent cobra, one should always open the can only when it is fully submerged in a bucket of water. Witness the film:

video

I can honestly say that it is the foulest-smelling food product I have ever whiffed (and yes, that includes Marmite), and yet (those who know me will not be surprised) I found it to have a certain charm. We ate it in a “wrap,” made of tunnbrod (a thin, quilted sort of bread), with onions, potatoes, and butter. We had to finish it all because the Sundmarks would not allow leftovers into their house. I gladly obliged and left Genarp resembling a can of surströmming: bulging, reeking, and happy. Thanks to the whole family for the day and the experience.