Archive for April, 2002

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April 30, 2002

Funny… I had this dream last night where a bunch of angry people came climbing in through our window demanding that I post to my blog. Today’s word, boys and girls, is megalomania.

Anyway. Apologies for not writing the promised last part of the Walpurgis description yesterday; I had to write this job application… We woke up at about 9:30 this morning, consequently we have neither champagne breakfasted nor watched the boats. But it is still Valborg!

When Orphei Drängar have finished singing, the day continues with aimless wanderings and mingling; bumping into friends you haven’t seen for years and not managing to find the people you have decided a rendez-vous with — in short, it is a time for care-free strolling. Or for hurried running through the rain to the nearest shelter, of course. Many people picnic or have barbecues, again depending on the weather of course; after all it is still April and some years it snows.

At 9pm, there is more singing; this time it takes place by the castle, under the Gunilla belltower. The student choir Allmänna sången comes out from their ball in the castle to perform, and the head of the student unions holds a speech about spring. Very rarely it is a worthwhile speech, once in a while it is downright embarrassing but usually it’s merely predictable, which is not such a terrible thing after all. Also in the evening, the bonfires are lit, and for those who don’t care so much about the traditions of academia, they are the main symbol of the magical evening of Valborg, Walpurgis, whose name comes from Saint Walburga.

But not everybody finds Valborg attractive. As I have hinted at several times already, it is a very alcohol-fuelled day, which of course means that too many people will be drinking too much. For a lot of teen-agers, Valborg is the first occasion they get really drunk, which I find sad indeed. And many students also have too, too much to drink, because it is tradition, and end up sleeping under a shrubbery at 11am, or throwing up and miserable while around them the joyful celebration goes on. The merry picnickers often just leave their litter behind; Castle Hill is a disgraceful sight at the end of the day.

Despite this, I still love this day. Even if I don’t do much of what you are ‘supposed’ to do (today I believe we’ll probably just go to the cap-waving and singing, and then stroll around for a bit — oh, and we’ll eat herring of course, but not in any organised form with schnapps ditties) the mere fact of its arriving despite the cold darkness of the preceding winter is enough.

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April 28, 2002

The lunch at Walpurgis is a celebration of the wonder that is pickled herring. Served with potaties, sour cream and chives, various kinds of pickled herring form the basis of a thousand luncheon parties in Uppsala on the last day of April. Children, brothers-in-law, foreigners and other sensitive people may be excused from the herring; it is a pity though, for it really is very nice fare. It is also traditional to drink schnapps, and this is where the singing comes in: for each toast, a ditty is sung; just about everybody knows the more common schnapps songs, and learning new ones is always a fun pastime if your tastes lean in that direction.

Now, the most important event of the day takes place below the university library at 3pm. Tens of thousands of people gather in the street and all the way down the hill, as well as on Castle hill and the street leading to the Cathedral. On the stroke of 3, the university chancellor, who is standing on the library balcony, waves his white student cap; his greeting is returned by the sea of people below waving their caps for a minute or two and then putting them on. All of a sudden the brown, blonde, black throng of heads turns into a mass of white; it is really quite extraordinary. For me, this moment is when spring arrives, regardless of how warm it has been in the preceding weeks or if it is snowing on the day…

You have donned your white cap; now where do you go? There are two alternatives: you can join the mass of students running down the library hill towards the centre of town (“running” may not be the best word for it — it is an inexorably moving mass of humanity, the pace is slow but they are not to be stopped; this is the ‘champagne race’ to the student pubs) or you can join the more sober crowd going to listen to the male choir Orphei Drängar greeting spring in the auditorium. You won’t get a seat inside, but there are huge loudspeakers outside the university building, and the court in front of it fills with cheerful people all intent on hearing the traditional, well-worn but well-loved songs for an hour or so.

Tomorrow: The evening’s festivities — and the reverse of the medal.

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April 27, 2002

Apparently not everybody is familiar with the concept of Walpurgisnacht; let me hasten to remedy this situation in three easy lessons.

Walpurgis (or Walburga, or Valborgsmäss as we say) is the day we celebrate spring. Living in a country with a long, dark and cold winter makes you rather partial to the time of year when the days get longer and warmer and the world starts living again. On Walpurgisnacht this is celebrated throughout Sweden by the lighting of bonfires in the evening; in Uppsala however the whole day is a feast-day, mostly for the students but the rest of us get to join in as well.

There are several traditional components in a Real Walpurgis Celebration. Many of them I haven’t done personally… you can pick the ones you fancy. The day starts with breakfast at early o’clock; this is supposed to contain porridge and champagne, and sometimes also herring. The porridge is there because it is an alcohol-fuelled day and you really need a good breakfast… At 10am, the silly boat parade down the river Fyris commences. Students have built boats, rafts and other floatation devices and go down the two waterfalls to the cheering of the masses — people line the river five or six deep on both sides and from every window hang bunches of onlookers. I used to watch this religiously every year but haven’t made much of an effort to do so these last few years despite the fact that we lived very close to the river; waiting for an hour in that sort of crowd is not all that fun after all, and when you’ve seen 30 boats capsize in the waterfall by the old mill, you’ve really seen them all.

Thus endeth the first lesson. Tomorrow: Singing for the herring, waving the cap and running down the hill. . .

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April 25, 2002

And tomorrow, Miranda is coming to stay overnight — my cup runneth over…

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April 25, 2002

Reasons to be cheerful today: Sunshine, Long-Winded guestbook entry, massage. . . ah, bliss! And my freckles are coming out. Apologies for going all Pollyanna, but this is a good day.

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April 24, 2002

And now a guest book! Am I going all trendy? I’ll try to make it look better, though.

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April 23, 2002

Happy World Book Day, then. Have you hugged a book-shelf today? Or read a book?

I’m reading Jurgen which is a very wonderful story; I can see why people of exaggerated morals might have disliked it 100 years ago. I don’t often read as slowly as possible to make a book last longer; now, however, I do… More later, when I’ve finished it.