Those foreigners....

At the hairdresser's this afternoon the woman to the right of me started complaining that there just aren't any German restaurants in the area anymore. Thai, Greek, Italian, Turkish, Chinese -- all sorts of foreign stuff, but you can' even get a good Currywurst here. The woman doing my hair said that she had heard that the foreigners get a special deal on their taxes for the first year or so, so that's why so many open up and then close after a year, in order to get the special deal for every shop they open. The woman to the right muttered "those foreigners, they get all that special treatment."

I rather exploded (although I was in the process of getting perm liquid washed out of my hair) and pointed out that this is a very typical rumor that people pass around that supposedly supports the arguments of those who are against all these "foreigners" in Germany. I explained that every person who starts a business gets a special deal the first year to help them get their business going. And that those restaurants that go out of business mostly have trouble generating enough business to pay the sky-high rents.

Oh yes, the hairdresser had seen the sign down the street, a landlord wants 2100 € a month for a 70 square-meter store that's been empty for a few months. That's 300 € a month that has to be generated by every square meter, in addition to paying for the merchandise and for the store owner and sales tax and what have you. It's the greedy landlords, I noted, curious to see if they would pick up on this and continue bitching.

They didn't. Silence, as the water kept rushing through my hair. Then the elderly lady on the left changed the topic: when she was young, you used to get a schnapps with your perm instead of just a cup of coffee.

And then they both went back to their gossip magazines.

These are your average Germans, I'm afraid.


It's me now

While spending a few days with my son, his girlfriend and their daughter, some poetry assembled itself in my mind and needs to be written down.

It seems.

It seems that I am now the mother-in-law
Who cooks and cleans and smiles and doesn't say much.
My world and theirs of YouTube and What'sApp and TV just don't
   have much in common.
Their conversations about rappers and TV starlets don't interest me
So I speak with the grandchild.
No deep conversations, but I do get smiles and kisses out of it.

It seems that I am now the mother-in-law
Who is there to push the pram and buy ice cream and drive the car.
My views of the world are so antiquated and out of touch that they just don't
  fit well with their modern way of life.
So I mind my tongue
And spend my time thinking.

Thinking that maybe my mother-in-law was just the same.
She cooked and she cleaned and she smiled and didn't say much.
Her world and ours, a political world, and intellectual world just didn't
  have much in common.
Her interests seemed to lie with TV singers and stars in the magazines instead
So she spoke with her grandchild.
No deep conversations, but she did get smiles and kisses out of it.

I do wonder though.
Did she spend her time while silently smiling
Doing math problems or writing poetry in her head
As I have been doing these past few days?

Driving home

Driving home after a swim -
son, his girlfriend, granddaughter -
are all sound asleep.

Crazy Easter

Yes, I know. I'm crazy. I have 5 days over Easter, and am spending them in Sweden. That is a rather normal thing for me to do, as it is only a leisurely 8-10 hour drive each direction. But this year I have lots of company. To be precise: WiseKid, WiseKid's girlfriend, WiseGrandkid, and two dogs. WiseMan decided that he didn't want to ride with this circus, so he would stay home, start the taxes, and spend time at the spa. To each his own.

We got an early start, so that we would have something of the first day in the cabin. Amazingly, they all slept for most of the way. We have a two hour ferry ride in the middle, we had a nice place away from the crowds for WiseGrandkid and the dogs to bounce around. I pretended not to notice the poop they had to scoop away.

We unpacked, unloaded the dogs, and set off shopping. Oh my, they were loading the cart like as if we were staying for a week! All this cooooool Swedish stuff we just HAD to have.

They decided to have a family room in the guest house, as I flatly refused to have the dogs in the house. That was actually kind of nice, I had the house to myself evenings.

We went to the zoo the first day. It took ages to get the show on the road, getting everyone up and dressed and fed and lunches made. But the zoo in Höör was just so worth it! Not only did we get to feed the wild boars and pet a horse, we were able to both pet and feed a moose! That was really the attraction of the day, or as WiseGrandkid says: "Super!"

Petting a moose
Day two we had the usual problems getting going, then made our way to Aq-va-kul in Malmö for swimming. It was smaller than I had remembered it, and not all that exciting I thought, but it was just the right size for WiseGrandkid. We first sat on the edge of the wave bath and enjoyed the gentle waves. Then WiseKid loaded her on a floating raft and paddled her around. What glee! We sat in the "hot tubs" that were the same temperature, just bubbly, used the baby elephant slide about 1500 times, and WiseGrandkid went swimming with me. We enjoyed the "whitewater" chute many times.

Easter Sunday we kept the dogs locked in while we hid the eggs. WiseGrandkid didn't quite get what it was she was supposed to be doing, but eventually she figured it out. And she was enchanted with the plush hippopotamus that her parents had hid in the willow tree. We then just chilled, ate chocolate, and went shopping. Grandma went to church in the late afternoon, surprise, no one wanted to come along.

Tomorrow we head back home - wish me a sane and safe trip!


Murder on the Orient Express

Yes, I know. This is not a new film. "Murder on the Orient Express" was released in 1974, over 40 years ago. And they already had color movies way back then, imagine that! What a star-studded cast was assembled for the filming of an Agathe Christie novel! I had devoured all the Hercule Poirot books as a girl, but I don't remember ever having seen the movie. Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Hubbard, just perfect! Ingrid Bergman playing the mousey Greta to such perfection that she won an Oscar for it.

Even though about halfway through I remembered enough of the book to know "who done it", it was still suspense-packed until the end. That scene (lasting almost 28 minutes, IMDB tells us, and because of technical difficulties had to be shot numerous times) in which Poirot lays out two possible explanations for the death of Mr. Ratchett, is truly the best of the entire film.

So don't just see newer films - the old classics are really something to enjoy. 


The Imitation Game

The English film "The Imitation Game" about Alan Turing was released this week in Germany, so we picked up the film in English at Odeon with some mathematically inclined friends. The theater was well-filled, a good sign, as I like having a movie theater close by that shows English-language original films. And has SALTED buttered popcorn.

A review on the radio was positively gushing about the film, while the Wikipedia article in English has a long section about various controversies, the short German Wikipedia article is completely dominated by criticism. Turing is portrayed as a traitor for not exposing a spy! He never worked with the guy! He wasn't that close to June Clarke!  The maths are wrong! There's an error in the machine! He was arrested in 1952, not 1951! Etc. etc.

Just ignore all this. It's not supposed to be a documentary and they only have two hours to tell the story so that people can sort of begin to understand what drives some people to spend hours and hours pouring over mathematical formulas and computing machinery. And that some of these people have issues understanding social cues and relating to people. They're odd ones. Maybe he was an Aspie and maybe he wasn't, it is still a wonderful film.

The actor Benedict Cumberbatch gives quite some insight into what it might have been like to be Alan Turing, to have had this mad idea of building a machine to break codes, and to have had his contribution to ending the war kept secret. His homosexuality, gently woven throughout the film, which caused the country he saved to put him on trial and have him chemically castrated, is well-treated. It's not in-your-face and it's not something mentioned off-hand. It is part of him, full stop. And it is a disgrace to England that it took until 2013 for Queen Elizabeth to pardon him.

The last few minutes of the film flash cards noting how the story plays out. They call Turing's death a suicide, although there are any number of alternative ideas from inhaling fumes from his chemical experiments to GCHQ having their hand in it. From what we have heard from Edward Snowden the past year and a half, that is actually starting to make a lot of sense. Turing understood the art of cryptography and cryptanalysis, the GCHQ doesn't want a lot of that going around.

Anyway: a film that makes people think about how gays are treated, about how deadly secrets are kept in a war, and about math being important gets a thumbs up from me. I shall recommend it to my students. And I suggest reading Andrew Hodges' book "Alan Turing: The Enigma" as well as Turing's publications. Oh, and learn cryptography while you are at it.



Traditionally, we see a movie in Lund or Malmö or Ystad with a friend between Christmas and New Year's. We've seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy together, and the first two Hobbit films. So with the release of the last Hobbit film, we should have been seeing that. But the reviews were so clear that this was a CWOT (complete waste of time), that we chose a film based on when we could all be in Lund. The children's films, dubbed in Swedish, were out. The local independent theater, Kino, was showing the film PRIDE, so we went there. And I'm very glad we did.

It's 1984 and the coal miners are on strike in the UK. A group of lesbian and gay activists decide to support the coal miners against the common enemies of the thugs, the police and Maggy Thatcher. They choose a place in South Wales, Onllwyn, and start collecting money. There are many problems to be dealt with on both sides, but eventually because of some very resolute people, they become friends. I can't tell more, or I will spoil the story, but fascinatingly enough, this is based on a true story.

The story is about solidarity - one group helping another, and them returning the favor. It is movingly told, and as one reviewer has said, it is not just a good indie LGBT film: It is a good film full stop. I was moved to tears as the wife of a miner began singing "Bread and Roses" (one of my favorite union songs) and is soon joined not only by the rest of the women in the room, but also by some of the men. There are many small, intertwined stories told in the movie, and there are many moments when you just have to laugh. It is fascinating to see how characters such as Siân James develops, who in real life went on to be the member of Parliament for Swansea East.

Interestingly, the film is free for children from the age of 7 in Sweden, but is rated R (under 17 only accompanied by an adult) in the US. Are they afraid of the representation of homosexuals as normal people, or of the political activism? There are no sex scenes, just a dildo, a gay magazine, and some topless guys. And a cuss word or three, I suppose.

As we spoke about after the movie - the solidarity that was in the air from the late 60s to the early 80s has somehow disappeared. When we went to university, there were many activist groups and much solidarity between the various groups. Now, it's more or less the me-generation looking after its own best interests, and the right-wingers doing some rabble-rousing, violence, and arson. How can the solidarity be regained? We have no answers, but an imperative: Go see this film. It is worth it.


Det som ingen ved

Sick of the TV-tinsel-Christmas and with WiseKid and WiseGrandkid not coming until tomorrow, we opted for a film before the midnight service on Christmas Eve. We settled on the Danish filmmaker Det som ingen ved (German: Was niemand weiß, English: What no one knows). The subtitle is "Vem kan du egentligen lita på?" (Whom can you trust?) It doesn't appear to have been shown in the States, probably put on a blacklist by the NSA.

I remember seeing it about 5 years ago (make that 2008) at the Nordic Film Festival, but I didn't remember the plot. Scenes began reappearing in my mind, and I remember some of the things I thought while watching the movie. "There's no one watching all those surveillance videos, they are just there to scare off thieves." "There can't be such a secret organization that knows how to kill people and is willing and able to do so just to keep their group secret." "The Danish government would never work hand in hand with the CIA like that."

Post-Snowden: It's worse than this. This film is sugar-coated, rose-colored glasses, just hinting at what we now know to be true. Truly amazing that the Danish Department of Defense (Forsvarskommandoen) let them film on location.

Yes, there are loose ends here and there: Thomas keeps coming up with cars that shouldn't be there, maps to hidden cabins appear by magic, Stockholm is just a short drive from Malmö. But still, the film should be revived, if only to make you ask some questions: What are all these cameras for? Why are they watching us? What is it, that they don't want us to know?