Ingmar Bergman and "Wild Strawberries"

Ingmar Bergman passed away this morning, peacefully, in his house on Fårö. Swedish radio and TV, newspapers and online publications have gone into overdrive - nothing else noteworthy has happened this so-called summer, and reporting on the rain is getting really boring. They have jettisoned the stupid films they were planning on showing, the boring interviews they were going to broadcast and print. Unisono they are honoring Bergman, one of the cultural icons of modern day Sweden.

And me? Glued to the TV.

They are showing a wonderful documentary that Marie Nyreröds made of his life and cinematography a few years ago. They are furiously digging out his films, all of them. The news is interviewing filmmakers around the world. Unfortunately, they are broadcasting this on both TV stations at the same time, why can't they just have a dedicated Bergman channel?

The first film off the block is Smultronstället, Wild Strawberries. Professor Borg decides to take the car from Stockholm to Lund for his golden doctorate, and meets a lot of his past life on the way. I saw this film, made the year I was born, in English soon after I came to Germany. I don't remember if I had already visited Sweden when I first saw this film, but it was clear to me that I had to get to know more about this mysterious, wonderful country. I think it was Bibi Andersson, smoking a pipe just as natural as can be, that led me to get my first pipe. I had 2 or 3 "lady pipes", nice to hold, and loved to smoke whisky-flavored tobacco.

The twisted story, time folding back upon itself, myriad sub-plots and nightmares and pieces of everyday life - just fascinated me. I remember looking up wild strawberries in a book, drawing them, doing watercolors. I wonder where they are now? I didn't get to taste wild strawberries until many years later, visiting a friend Uppsala. She took me out berrying, picking blueberries by the ton. Then she found a few wild strawberries, and gave me one to taste - unbelievable that something so small can taste so good.

I have my own "wild" strawberries planted in the terrace garden now. I got four this year, each one better than the one before.

Watching the film again, in Swedish now, and having spent many, many years visiting and even living here, I see it through different eyes. I recognize the landscapes, the stories. I recognize so many names now when watching the credits. I know about the ceremony that Lund makes about its doctors. In a way, I wish we had something like that in Germany, perhaps not in tuxedos and in Latin, but some public ceremony marking the passage to Dr., not just a handshake all around, a hat from the colleagues, and a sip of champagne.

The film speaks a lot about relationships: parents to children, man to wife, young woman to suitors, professor to housekeeper, person to God. The surreal sequences - watches without hands, the oral exam, the Sarahs which keep popping up - interspersed with the harsh reality of an auto accident, rain, and Marianne's unvarnished truths, are just so well-done. Bergman was, indeed, a master filmmaker.

In the documentary he speaks about the one thing he misses most about filmmaking - working with Sven Nyquist, his cameraman for so many films.

I had the privilege of seeing one scene of "Fanny and Alexander" being made in Uppsala in the 80s. I knew nothing about filmmaking then, but was fascinated by the amount of effort put into this one scene, done over and over, with a horse and buggy careening down the cobblestone street. Bergman knew exactly what he wanted, and was not happy until it was just so.

Bergman inspired many filmmakers who carry on, shining light into every nook and cranny of our complicated relationships. I have so enjoyed seeing so many of his films.


The Telephone Queue

One modern form of Swedish torture is the telephone queue. You call up something called a "service number", usually because you have a problem. You are then taken through round after round of "Press 1 for x, press 2 for y". Since the bank had sent a notice that the direct debit for the telephone had been cancelled, I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

I called the bank first. Wow, in the first round there is an "If you want to speak to an English-speaking operator, press 5"! I mean, my Swedish is passable, but I seldom get to talk to a human being this fast. So I press 5 and a woman is on the line right away. Hmm, she already had someone today with the same problem, all she can see is that the telephone company terminated this, no idea why. I should call them. The number given on the termination is 00-00 00 00, not a very likely looking number. But on the last bill I find their service telephone.

The thing is now modern. It wants you to speak to it. It wants you to speak Swedish. Heaven forbid there should be foreigners wanting to do business with the phone company. My pronunciation is not the greatest, I had to march through a number of "I'm sorry, I didn't catch what you want"s until I finally was able to punch in my telephone number. Why can't the phone company read the number I am calling from? Then there were some more "press 1" menus, I guess they figured out I wasn't doing so hot on the voice-activated.

"Thank you! All our operators are busy right now. You have place 60 in the queue, this will take about 23 minutes." 23 minutes! What, do they only have one dwarf in Jökullstuna answering the phone? But since I have already invested so much effort to make my way through the menus, I put the phone on loud and decide to clean the windows. That's a nice job that can be interrupted any time. I get the windows in the living room done. I get the windows in the kitchen done. I get the windows in all the bedrooms done. I do the weird window on the front door. I even get some of the more ugly windows on the veranda done before the phone announces that I am in position 3 in the queue. Only took 20 minutes.....

The guy answering the phone had no idea what is up. He has to speak to his group leader and puts me on hold. Can't go back to cleaning the last few windows now, he might be back any minute. He isn't, of course. When he eventually comes back on, I have lost my pencil down the back of the sofa. Oh well, he can't help me anyway. According to their records, everything is just hunky-dory, they have a record of my direct debit, no problems here, must be a bank error.

So I go back to the bank. This time there is a queue for English, but it does not take all too long. This guy is very helpful, notes that there is indeed a direct debit record for the telephone company, discovers that it is for a different account. The telephone company has a new bank account, but doesn't know about it in their "service" lines. Sheesh!

The consumer's guide magazine for Sweden notes that this kind of "service" is becoming more and more prevalent. And 8 out of 16 IT companies asked how their service line is said that they have the "best in Sweden", including TeliaSonora. Maybe the word "service" doesn't mean what I think it does in Swedish.....


Kelstrup Strand

Haven't been to the south of Jütland for a while, I took the long way around on my way to Sweden and stopped off at friends who have a cottage at Kelstrup Strand, between Aabenraa and Haderslev. It was a gorgeous evening, this summer that means it was not raining out and the mosquitos were not out in full force.

I wanted to walk down to the beach, like I used to do many years ago when we borrowed this cabin for a vacation. My friend warned me - things have changed. And indeed they have. Some rich guy built a Russian-style monstrosity in between all of the little Danish cottages that have numerous buildings tacked on here, there and elsewhere. I don't think the Danes have actual building codes they have to follow, the result tends to be charming, but this Russian thing does look quite out of place.

She then said "Here's where they keep dumping dirt to try and save the coastline". There are 4 houses that used to have backyards which went down to the Baltic Sea. They now have small strips of dirt stamped around the houses, bits of steel and concrete set up in a desperate attempt to keep the houses from falling into the sea.

I remarked that the people who have owned these houses for ages must be so sad to see their houses disappear. "Oh no," she said, "they all sold out to Copenhagener who think they can fight the sea!" I just hope they are not in the houses when they fall down.

The wooden stairs down to the more secluded beach was swept away in the spring storms. They've put down a rope, but it is kind of dangerous, as there are lots of trees that are only half fallen down. Another good rain and they will hit the beach. Guys go down to fish (there is a fisherman standing in the water at the top of the picture, hard to make out in the small version), but you can't really enjoy a sunny day at the beach there any more. Oh well, no sunny days this summer anyway.

We then walked over and down to the camper's beach. This stairway is still there, although it is slippery as all get-out. One of the teenager boys lounging around waiting to make out with the teenage girl at the bottom of the stairs is complaining that he just slipped and hit his head. My friend translates and then asks me - in German - if the youth dress as outrageously in Berlin. Yes. Worse.

The camper's beach has gotten very small. There are lots of boats beached here, some of them are not going anywhere anytime soon. She said that people just junk their boats here and between the teenagers and the sea they pretty much decay. You can't walk very far along the beach, the little rivulet that used to run into the sea here has turned into a raging river. Her teenager dares balance across on a wooden beam that has been wedged in place, but I am a bit leery of slipping, so we turn back.

At least the view from her cabin is still gorgeous!


The Subway Reader

Monday morning on the subway: A 30-something man with a shaved head, army pants, sneakers, a jeans jacket rolled up at the sleeves to display ample tattoos on his arms enters the car. He has a book under his arm - a thick book. One glance and I see that this is the German boys classic "Der Schatz im Silbersee" (The Treasure of Silver Lake) by Karl May, a German author who wrote long novels about Indians and the American Wild West without ever having been to the States himself. All German men smile when they hear names such as "Old Surehand" or "Hadschi Halef Omar Ben Hadschi Abul Abbas Ibn Hadschi Dawuhd al Gossarah". The books are a sort of "Harry Potter" series throughout the decades since the first ones appeared in the 1890s.

Which was only proven by the guy getting on the train behind him - he followed the guy to his seat, said "Wow, that is the real old edition, isn't it?" 30-something just nodded. "Great book!" and smiles - but since 30-something is not looking inviting he goes to sit somewhere else ad 30-something returns to his book.


Shrek the Third

We wanted to take in Harry Potter at the local 3D movie theater (in order to enjoy the last few scenes to the fullest), but that was out of the question - sold out. And we didn't want to cram into any of the 1000 other theaters showing Harry Potter. So we decided to do Shrek the Third.

I went down to the theater 2 hours early to get tickets - could have saved that effort, there were only maybe 15 people watching it. The teenager came along so he could go mobile phone shopping (only the best will suit him, but that's another post).

It started off with some unusual advertising. Instead of the drastic if-you-copy-this-you-will-land-in-jail-for-years threats, there was the rat from Ratatouille giving advice that stolen copys are real boring, go for the real thing. It was actually mildly amusing. The trailer for the film itself was cute, too, so this one goes on the must-see list as well.

Shrek was, well, Shrek. Since I just learned how motion capture animation works (we have a set-up at school, one student did his thesis on using the system and I got to be second grader for it), it was interesting to see how nicely the figures moved. The donkey seems to be hardest to make move credibly.

At times I even felt that they had real people mixed in with the creatures, or real people who were "spruced up" a bit. Hard to tell anymore.

Lots of laughs, no real deep plot, just the thing for a Friday night after exams-exams-exams!


Shut up!

I was listening to an audio book on my iPod in the subway today when a friend joined me. She teaches the same courses as I do as an adjunct at our school, we have lunch together once a week if possible. I had just administered an exam via Moodle, she was giving the exam this morning, so we had lots to chat about.

After about two stations a rather unkempt, obese man reading the local yellow press daily sitting next to us orders us to keep it down, we're disturbing everyone. My first reaction is to make a nasty statement, but I'm supposed to be learning conflict management so I reflect for a second.

My friend replies, far too nicely, "Sure, no problem!".

This bugs me - I do not have the feeling that I shout, but I have been told on numerous occasions that I am too loud. My friend says that we are just suffering from lecture room voice - we constantly have to project our voices to reach the back of these large, echoy lecture halls, and we forget to turn the voices off after class.

Or is it that women are not supposed to be speaking loudly (and most certainly not on subjects other than clothes, makeup, and guys)? Okay, maybe I tend to see a gender problem everywhere. But we just had talks as part of a staff search, and my colleagues remarked on both women who applied that they had "difficult" voices.

Do we need to train our voices down to alto to succeed? Well, I'm already alto, and can sing tenor when my voice is going bad, which is far too often. I had wondered if I am going deaf, but I just had a hearing test and hear just fine. I don't feel myself speaking louder (and I had turned off the iPod, so I wasn't speaking over the audio).

Do women have problems of being taken seriously just because their voices are "wrong"? Google Scholar finds a book called "Gender Voices" that looks very interesting, I am afraid to admit. It is very expensive, but luckily, the local library has a copy. I must remember to get it.

In the meantime, I suppose I'll just have to tone my voice down or shut up. Okay, fat chance of that happening :)


One Bucket of Administration, coming up!

One explanation for not writing so much these past two weeks involves my election as vice-dean at my university. No, no, spare the congratulations. The election process was, um, strained. Although I had mentioned that I would not be adverse to the job, up until 5 minutes before the election meeting I assumed that another colleague would do the job.

There seemed to be a massive miscommunication. After an excruciatingly painful meeting, I ended up being handed a bouquet of flowers and shaking the vice president's hand, rather in shock.

What now? There don't seem to be user manuals for jobs like this.

Basically, the dean and vice-dean get blamed for everything that goes wrong. Their job is to organize the faculty (we currently have about 50 professors and over 2000 students at the faculty alone). However, they do get a say in what direction the university is headed. The question will be if anyone listens to what is said.

In a first meeting we were handed the list of matters pending. It is long, ugly, and incomplete. All the data seems to be in the heads of key people. WiseWoman's first job will be to get things on paper and organized, I suppose being a computer scientist will help.

The guy elected dean is extremely uncomfortable about my election. I don't know if it is because I have bad breath or because I bitch a lot openly and vocally about illogical things happening around school, or if it is just that pesky XX chromosome pair I wear. Time will tell. We haven't divided up the duties yet, the choices seem to be vertical (each has his/her own topics) or horizontal (I attends all functions and meetings he doesn't have time for or/doesn't want to attend). At least he CCs me on the emails currently flying around.

At the university summer festival I got some good advice from some past deans:

  • Learn to manage conflicts (I am signing up for a course!)
  • Remember to talk about "we" and "us" (as a faculty) and not "me"
  • Listen to what people are really saying
  • Keep your mouth shut at work - rant at home. I suppose this will mean no ranting on blogs, either, although I see that some modern deans actually communicate via blog - not a bad idea, actually, if one keeps it positive and doesn't lambast people
  • Learn the legal basis of the job cold
  • Be brave enough to protest when you see that your department is being short-changed.
I suppose that is good advice for anyone in management. It will be an interesting time, that's for sure!


Wash your hands!

There was a long line in the women's room in the cafeteria today (okay, every lunch time). Quite a number of women vacating a stall left the bathrooms without washing their hands. I was pretty grossed out, I mean they are using the doorknobs and keyboards in the labs and what not.

A bit of research turns up that the US Center for Disease Control assumes that one in three don't wash.

Everyone should wash their hands for 20 seconds (or about the length of a little tune) to remove germs. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs. Rinse well and dry your hands. It is estimated that one out of three people do not wash their hands after using the restroom. Wash your hands before, during, and after you prepare food; before you eat, and after you use the bathroom; after handling animals or animal waste; when your hands are dirty; and more frequently when someone in your home is sick. [1]
A different survey finds that "Ninety percent of the women observed washed their hands, compared to 75 percent of men". In all, 91% said that they washed their hands.

And some arguments against hand-washing: wasting water; only touched toilet paper, what's the big deal?; takes too much time; since so many are not washing, just consider everything dirty. A few remark that they only wash when someone is watching....

I feel like taking wet-wipes with me all over the place now...


The Love of a Priest

I'm terribly sick with a cold, so no movie this week, just a film on TV. First thing I happened on was "Die Liebe eines Priesters" (The Love of a Priest). Filmed in beautiful Prague on the Moldau it is a wonderful love story.

A robber has just robbed something with his gang when he sees a woman jump from a bridge into the river. He jumps after her, gets her out of the water and to a hospital, but leaves without giving his name. He goes to a fatherly priest friend, who encourages him to leave town and go to a cloister.

She, it turns out, is pregnant. Cut, 6 years later.

She is back in Prague with her daughter. He is back in Prague, for a last test before taking his vows as a priest. He recognizes her the moment they meet, but he doesn't tell her anything. He gives her English lessons, they fall in love.

Lots of problems and twists and turns until the happy end, after he decides not to take his vows and saves her life again. Kleenexes, please!

The actor, Erol Sander, (yes, that is a stage name, his agent thought that Urcun Salihoglu would not be an easy name to remember) was born in Turkey but grew up in Germany. MAN, is he handsome! Sort of a Cary Grant type, been in all sorts of TV films. I hope to see more of him! Lots of good pictures on his web site....