Rumproast Ahoy! What I Did On My Holidays (With Free Open Thread): Part I
I doubt my presence has been missed much over the past few weeks, as my co-bloggers have certainly kept you amused, informed, and wrily exasperated as usual. Ms. YAFB and I have been on not one, but two holidays this July, after a couple of years when we barely managed any—the first to the wedding of a family friend in wildest Sweden, and the second a week’s voyage on the T.S. Royalist, which some of you may recall from a post of mine from a couple of years ago. I won’t subject you to the full Vogon poetry session of endless holiday snaps, but I’ll share a few, and in return hope that you’ll help me get up to speed with what’s going on in the world—I’ve been without radio and TV for most of the month, let alone access to the blogosphere. You can assume I know about the Norwegian massacre, Amy Winehouse’s untimely death, and the still-grinding budget process, but as for the rest, I have a power of reading to catch up with—not least from this blog!
The Swedish wedding we attended took place in an idyllic, lush landscape of wood and lake a hundred miles or so from Gothenburg. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to cover the wedding itself, but we spent the week around the wedding day staying in a group of typically rural Swedish wood-built one-time summer lodges set near a lake, some dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. When I say “we,” I’m referring to the Scottish contingent, which numbered around 50. We basically set up a temporary anarchist commune with shared cooking (usually barbies) and efficient supply lines for beer and all the other of life’s essentials—think a festival without the assholes.
One peek of the wedding preparations I will give you is the obligatory photo-call line-up of kilt-clad Caledonians on the steps of one of the buildings, flanked by a brace of stray Bavarians.
You’ll note that—ever thoughtful—to preserve the identities of the innocent, I’ve blurred out not only their faces, but their knees.
The concensus (among the non-Bavarians, at least) was that the kilt makes for a much more salubrious wedding get-up than lederhosen (even the relatively fresh examples of lederhosen on display here—I spent some time in Austria many years ago, and believe me, I know from aged lederhosen, rendered brittle and inflexible by the years’ onslaught of youdon’twanttoknow), although the kilt does have certain shortcomings in areas beset with high winds and mosquitoes. We had none of the former, but more than was comfortable of the latter.
The old farm where we stayed had limited fresh water from a well, so a large multi-seat (sociable!) composting toilet edifice dominated the lakeward view, alongside a vast and fragrant garden compost heap. These, coupled with our location in densely farmed dairy cattle country, meant that any open window and any foodstuff or human being—indeed, any surface at all—was considered a landing pad, grooming perch, feeding station, and in some cases a honeymoon location for the common housefly. Each day we dispatched over 100 of the little feckers in the kitchen, the prey stuffed and mounted on the walls like a macabre Antony Gormley installation.
This prompted what could have been an awkward exchange during a rambling post-prandial jawing session when our host expressed some skepticism at the explicatory power of some finer details of the theory of evolution. I expressed vigorous agreement, opining that the justification for the existence of some lifeforms stretched credulity, as if they had been specifically designed to vex. In view of recent experiences, I chose the example of houseflies—“What are they FOR?!” My remark was met with a lot more astonishment and hostility than I might have anticipated or wished, the tension only dispersing when my apparently cloth-eared dinner companions revealed that they thought I’d said “Housewives—What are they FOR?!” (Still, it gave me a silly title for this section.)
And those prandials!—We were very lucky with the weather, arriving to a couple of blazing days, mere overcast with only a hint of drizzle for the bulk of the week, and culminating in a grand finale of sweltering Swedish summer weather yet again. This and the number of people who needed to be fed made barbecues the obvious choice for the evening meals, and led to our introduction to what is apparently a Swedish delicacy: barbecued pork loin (from pigs produced locally, not from Denmark, where our host insisted they’re truly horrid to their hogs).
Barbecued Pork Loin
The method is simplicity itself. Take an intimidatingly large hunk of pork loin, marinade it for a few hours if you wish, though this is optional, sear each side thoroughly over the coals, then cover the barbecue and cook for 20—30 minutes or so, turning occasionally. Then take off the lid and give the loin a thorough prodding with a fork, to see whether the juices run clear and to gauge its consistency. This is more art than science. If it looks and feel like it could do with longer, go for it—it’s apparently very difficult to produce a dried-out cinder using this method. The final test of readiness is to cut most of the way through the middle of the loin: if it’s just pink but not bloody in the center, then it’s done and can be rested for 15—20 minutes or so loosely wrapped in foil before being cut into rounds about three quarters of an inch thick. The Swedish preference seems to be for the center to be pink, which some of the British guests balked at. Apparently our longstanding fears of underdone pork are nowadays unfounded due to improved hygiene and husbandry standards. Those unconvinced by these arguments can finish off cooking their own rounds to their personal taste on the barbecue and treat them like pre-formed burgers.
In among all the barbecuing, drinking (yes, we proved one can get somewhat tipsy on the state-approved 3.5% beer and lager that you can buy anywhere—stronger tipple is only available from specially licensed shops—though it does mean getting up rather more often in the night than usual or convenient), partying, and nuptialing, we did manage some sightseeing excursions out into the wider local area. It’s very heavily forested, and on one expedition we encountered large stands of a very striking yellow and blue plant that none of us non-Swedes had ever seen before.
I couldn’t identify it in any of our field guides on returning home, but wouldn’t you know it?—Google identified it within seconds. It’s Melampyrum nemorosum, a parasite of some broadleaf trees, and in Sweden known, for fairly obvious reasons, as “Natt och Dag” (“Night and Day”), the British common name being Wood Cow-wheat. Stands as extensive as we saw are apparently unusual, but our host said there were a lot of plants that were uncommonly abundant this year, including wild strawberries, which we plundered like locusts as we walked.
Another day trip took us to a remarkable church called Bottnaryd Kyrka.
Like all traditional—and many modern—buildings in the area, this is constructed entirely of wood. The pylon-like wooden structure next to it is a belltower. The fairytale design and pristine condition of its exterior woodwork was the least of its surprises. It was erected—I had to pinch myself—in the same year as the Great Fire of London, where wooden buildings fared less well, and as a roadside plaque revealed, it really is a small world.
Look up Johan “Big Belly” Printz and you’ll find the story of a man with a checkered but not unsuccessful political career across two continents, though you may be familiar with his name already if you’ve ever spent any time in Delaware.
The bigger surprise awaited us inside. Out of respect, I didn’t take any photos of the interior, but just about every inch of wall and ceiling space was covered in astonishingly intricate and very lively murals of heaven, hell, and all points in between. You can find shots of these on the Web quite easily (Google “Bottnaryd Kyrka”), but here are a few examples.
Back at the temporary ranch, there were other surprises, like my unexpected encounter with a local character who lived under the tiny boathouse/fishing hut/sauna down by the lake.
As I know from my youth, adders aren’t aggressive, only dangerous when surprised, but she gave me quite a start (and I’m embarrassed to say, provoked an “Ohmygod”). We saw her regularly after this, sunning herself, then slithering quickly into hiding once she sensed our approach. We decided to call her Samantha, as that seemed a suitably sibilant soubriquet for such a superb serpent. As a bonus, if you couple her first name with any Swedish surname, she sounds like a porn star, but that’s by the by.
And this brings me to a regret from my first outing—that our remote location and the rigors of communal life meant I didn’t get a chance to send my co-bloggers—let alone you, our own virtual community—a postcard, so let me remedy that now. We all know how fond Betty is of amphibians, so here’s a whopper of a toad who never invaded our living space or plumbing system, but hung out quietly at the doorway, presumably having caught wind of the word “houseflies.”
I wasn’t at all prepared for another revelation from our host when on one outing he stopped in front of an old house and said that round the back was the sad remnant of one man’s unfulfilled dream. I imagined it might be a half-built extension or outhouse. Nope. When we ventured beyond, this is what we saw.
Bear in mind that though there were a number of sizeable lakes in the area, none could comfortably accommodate a 60-foot-plus steel—yes, steel!—yacht like this (even a completed one), and the sea was well over a hundred miles away. What could have prompted the guy to build a steel-hulled boat in the depths of a forest (there’s wood all round!) will remain a mystery—he died before he could finish building it. What Aguirre-like machinations might have ensued if he had managed to complete it and sought to get it in some water, we can only speculate.
Which leads me—and not in a contrived way at all, no sirree—to the soon-to-follow Part II of this post, where I’ll give you a brief rundown of our Royalist cruise along with a few more pics. Meanwhile, if you can help me get up to speed with the news and general tittle-tattle, I’ll be in a better position to gauge whether or not it’s good to be back ....
Categories: Critters • Food • Recipes • I Don't Know Much About Art, But I Know What I Like • Messylaneous •