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A return to the real roots, at last, in Östergötland November 20, 2006

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In a way, this is the hardest (and certainly the longest) blog update I have attempted. Please bear with me. This is a story of a young man who has imagined and dreamt about the land from which his ansestors came from, and found it. In a far-away land, in the rural backcountry of Sweden, the roots were exposed. And why, after all, do people seek after the places their family came from, or the history surrounding their lives? Perhaps it is to stand in that very place and imagine a forefather plowing his field. Perhaps it is to walk the same trails they took as children to the lake for a swim in the summer. Or perhaps it is to sit in the same room as they, whose blood now courses through your veins, and enjoy the setting sun from the very same window they also did many centuries ago. For me it was many things. I was emotional, I was proud and for the first time in my life I felt something. Call it perspective if you want, a sense of belonging and identity all wrapped into one. Since I don’t know how old, I’ve been interested in my father’s roots in Sweden. I am the only son in my family, you see, to carry on the Larson name to the next generation. It is for many of these reasons that I chose to learn the Swedish language at university and a large reason I chose to come to Sweden for a year to study abroad. Now that you have some backround, I will give you some details of my trip. First however, the picture above is of Axel Otto Jonsson (man with the pipe), Edvard Dahlgren, and Arne Dahlgren (the child). Axel Otto was a brother to Anna Charlotta Jonsson, my great, great, great grandmother. It was Anna Charlotta who immigrated to Stanton, Iowa, USA in 1868. Arne was my tour guide at the Jonsbo farm, one of the places my family came from, and below is a picture of us standing in front of the same barn door as above, over 80 years later.

I left from Uppsala by train Saturday morning for Linköping, approximatly 3 hours southwest. Östergötland is the county where most of my relatives come from, and Linköping can be considered its capital, the fifth largest city in Sweden. Ingemar Jonsson, a decendent from Ture Jonsson (a different brother of Anna Charlotta) met me at the station and was my guide over the weekend. I want to thank him and his son Örjan very much for their time and generous hospitality. Örjan is an executive at IKEA and very close to Ingvar Kamprad, the owner and founder of IKEA and fourth richest man in the world. I had the privilege of staying the night with Örjan and his family and he cooked us a feast of various Swedish regional specialties (including herring of course!). Here is a picture of me and Ingemar going over some family tree diagrams and old pictures in his home. For some reason it looks like I’m squeezing his neck really hard, but comon, I wouldn’t do that! I’m a gentle Swede!

Together Ingemar, Ingemar’s daughter Gunilla, her daughter Elin and I explored the city of Linköping on Saturday. Here is a picture of them below, at Linköping cathedral, a very impressive structure to be sure.

On Sunday we started out early and picked up Arne Dahlgren and his wife Margit in Åtvidaberg, a very pleasent and beautiful small community with an abundence of opportunities to fish and hunt. Arne is an experienced outdoorsman and famous in Sweden for his breeding of dogs, particularly dachshunds. You should have seen his trophy collection! In any case, we four set off for Kisa, Jonsbo Farm, and Horn. In Kisa we stopped and visited a museum on the many who left Östergötland and immigrated to America. Then it was on to Jonsbo farm, the place where many of my relatives lived and died over the centuries.

Really a majestic setting, I could show you dozens of more pictures but my space is limited. The farm is still in the family, and here is a picture of us all together in the upper dining room of the main farm house.

We ate smörgås-torte together which was delicious. All of them except for Ingemar could NOT speak English. This really put my Swedish skills to the test, and although I could not understand every part of the conversation I think they were very impressed with my comprehension and speaking skills. Exploring around the farm was definatly the highlight of the trip, and something that will remain a treasured memory. From this point we went to Horn, our last stop on my trip. This is another important city in my families history, and many have lived in Horn which is very close to Jonsbo farm. At the church in Horn is buried Cajsa Lisa Persdotter and her husband Jonas Jonsson, the parents of Anna Charlotta. Here is the picture of me at their grave.


It was truely special to see that church where several of my family were baptised and buried. I want to again thank all of those who made this trip possible for me, you have made me one very happy Swede. To those back home, I can’t wait to show you all the rest of the pictures I took. To everyone else, thanks for reading, I appriciate your comments and emails.

Helsinki, Finland på fest-båt November 12, 2006

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And here lies part II of the large update. A couple weeks ago I was contacted by my friend Ryan (from Stockholm) saying that he had free tickets to Finland on a cruise ship. Of course I had to say yes! While the original tickets were for going to some little town I had never heard of, we decided to go to the capital, Helsinki instead and pitched in some money to make it happen. I’m sure glad we did. Helsinki is, architecturally amazing. I won’t go into the long and often not so pleasent history of Finland and Helsinki here, but essentially they have been bossed around by either Sweden or Russia throughout their entire history. Helsinki, or Helsingfors (in swedish) was founded by King Gustav I of Sweden as a strategic port city to curb the influence of the Hanseatic League’s city of Tallinn, which is now the capital of Estonia. During WWII, in 1944 alone over 16,000 Soviet bombs were dropped over Helsinki; its a miracle that so much survived.

The boat/ferry/cruise ship that we took over to Finland was great and I would recommend it in a heartbeat. But first you must understand that the primary attraction for most people on this ship (or “party boat” as the Swedes like to call it) is tax free alcohol. Unless you lived in Sweden, you wouldn’t neccessarily realize what an attraction this actually is for many, as taxes on any and all alcohol in Sweden are stiflingly high. I didn’t partake in too much myself, but it was interesting to see how many students my age behave when no longer under the gaze of Moder Svea. Our cabins were below the cardecks and very near to one of the ships side thrusters, so it was a bit noisy at times but we got by just fine. Once docked, we only had about 7 hours in the captial so we got right to work and visited the two cathedrals that dominate the skyline.

This above picture is of a Russian Orthodox cathedral, the first that I have ever been inside. The interior was fabulous. It was covered from floor to ceiling in gold and contained thousands of religious icons. Personally I’m a sucker for tasteful brick architecture and this building really stood out from everything else in the city, in a very good way.

This next cathedral was equally impressive and obviously completely different looking from the previous one. The massive columns and stone stairs leading up the church reminded me of something out of Greek or Roman times; certainly the architect drew some influence from these times. I could post dozens more pictures of churches and buildings in Helsinki but that would take up way too much space, so I hope at least your appitite has been wetted and you have some desire now to see this great capital. One thing I will note is that the city had an obvious lack of coffee shops. This is especially weird because Finland is the #1 coffee consuming nation (per capita) in the entire world! We did however find one place and I must say that I now understand why consumption is so high: just like in Sweden, the coffee tastes heavenly. Below is a picture of me and my friends riding turtles, as well as the sign on a humorous sounding restaurant that we did not eat at.


Thanks for all your prayers, letters, emails and phone calls. As said before, they mean the world to me.

Jag har vunnit!! Nobel Banquet November 12, 2006

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First, many apologies are in order for taking so long between updates. Lots has been going on. In fact so much has been going on that I decided to split what would be one giant update into two baby giant updates. Who hear hasn’t heard of Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prize or the fact that both are Swedish? If this is you raising their hand…i’m terribly sorry. I mean comon, its only the most important, highly reguarded and respected award in the entire world (with prize money to match!). The awards are given out early on the day of Dec. 10th but the real festivites begin, and end, with the Nobel banquet later in the evening. Only 1,300 people can be seated in the fabled Blue Hall of the stadhuset to dine with the winners and royalty alike. Every year a handfull of students, chosen from among all the universities in Sweden are given the opportunity to attend the banquet as well. As the title reads, I somehow through some cosmic grace got chosen to attend this year. I had a very very low % chance to win, and I’m still in shock. I could go into much more detail about what we have to wear and everything but if you are curious this link tells all, has photos and menus throughout the years of Nobel:

http://nobelprize.org/award_ceremonies/banquet/index.html

Here is a look into the future (Crown Princess Victoria to my right, Queen Silvia to my left) :

Requiem…for all the saints. November 4, 2006

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Hello. Have you ever heard W.A. Mozart’s Requiem? Odds are you have. Its one of the most widely known, performed and loved works of classical music in existence. Today I took to opportunity to hear this monumental work in Scandinavia’s largest cathedral, right in the heart of Uppsala. I dressed up in my black suit, slipped on my gloves and got there plenty early to assure a good seat. Its a good thing too, because the church was packed. The performance itself was earthshaking for me. Chills-down-the-spine, raise-the-hairs-on-your-neck type of amazing. While I know the parts of the Requiem quite well, everytime I hear it live it means something different for me. The group who performed this evening was amoung the best I’ve ever heard, live or in recording. And it goes without saying that the venue itself really set the tone. How I wish you could have all been there. This is what Websters has to say:

Req‧ui‧em

1. Roman Catholic Church.

a. Also called Requiem Mass. the Mass celebrated for the repose of the souls of the dead.
b. a celebration of this Mass.
c. a plainsong setting for this Mass.
2. any musical service, hymn, or dirge for the repose of the dead.

At its very core, a Requiem is for the dead. “Duh Mike!” you say… “whats your point?”; permit me to continue. It just so happens that today, on the first Saturday of November is when Sweden celebrates All Saints Day (Alla Helgons Dag). This is a day founded on the idea of remembering the dead, specifically those who put their faith in Christ Jesus before death – the saints. In America we only remember one day associated with All Saints Day, that is, the day before All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Eve or Halloween (“hallows” meaning “saints”). Halloween is another wonderful reminder of how effectively the good ‘ol USA masks (many) otherwise sacred and religiously meaningful days behind a facade of commercialism. But not quite so in Sweden. The tradition is that families go out together on the night of Alla Helgons Dag and visit the graves of their family members. Once there, they light candles and place them around the grave along with wreaths made of pine tree branches and cones. It just so happens that I live near one of the largest graveyards (kyrkogård) in Sweden. So naturally, as I’m walking home from the Reqiuem I take a night stroll through the yard which is dimly lit with the ghostly glow of a thousand candles.

I must say, it was quite moving to see the families moving throughout the graveyard tonight remembering the ones they love. Tonight I saw emotion in the faces of many Swedes who normally go about their day to day business nearly emotionless, cold and stoic. It was a good night to walk in the snow, by candle light, and contimplate.

Den första snön är här. November 2, 2006

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Happy belated Halloween everybody! Something strange has been going on lately: The days are getting shorter. Much shorter! It also strikes me as very odd that literally 2 weeks ago the weather was sunny and somewhat warm and in just 14 days it very quickly turned into winter – blizzard and all – without much warning. As you can see from the pictures the snow really came down. I asked a few swedes if it was normal to get this kind of snow so early in the season and the majority said this is quite unusual. Guess its time to buy some serious Scandinavian snow boots!

Life in and around Sweden has been busy and wonderful as of late. I took my very first Swedish tentamen (final exam) on friday and I’m pleased to report that it went well (I think) and I will know the results by this friday. The Swedish school system is set up such that if you fail a given exam you can wait for a period of time and take it again, in theory as many times as you need, until you pass it. This is very reassuring (…if only they had this at home!). Directly after the test I traveled to Stockholm and spent the weekend with Ryan as well as Amelia who is a friend from back at UW and who is studying this year in France. All three of us had a great time just walking around the city and I got to see many parts of the capital which I was previously unaware of. In one particular cafe (Choklad Fabriken) we had the pleasure of running into a bon-a-fide Swedish movie star!! Michael Nyqvist!!


This guy is insane. Not like he belongs in a crazy house…but just that he is an insanely good actor. Definatly my favorite Swedish actor of all time. He has been in dozens and dozens of Swedish and other foreign films in his long career including the Academy Award nominated “Så Som I Himmelen”. The rest of the trip was great and I took some fun pictures around the statehouse including the one you see below at sunset. There is something special and majestic about an autumnal sunset, don’t you think?

I have helped cook up a trip to Finland next week, the 7th to the 9th of Nov. and I’m very much looking foward to tooling around Helsinki. I (of course) will bring you all the coverage of that trip when I get back. I feel like I’m leaving something out of this update but I can’t remember what so I’ll just let it be for now. I’m missing every single one of you back home and absolutly love (and want to thank you for) all your updates, comments and emails. Lindsey, if you are reading this, congradulations on finishing your first play at the Boston Conservatory. Sorry I wasn’t there but I’m very proud of you. Until next time everyone, much love.