C3: normal/not normal (vanligt/ inte vanligt)

We're in a weird mix of normal and not normal, much like I'm sure many people are. I put the English first- I keep being surprised when I walk outside and the world is speaking Swedish. Nothing like existing in a virtual world. For those who may be new to this blog, our family is living in Sweden for the year- we arrived in Aug. 2019 and were planning to depart sometime in July 2020... but who knows when now. This blog starts with C3: standing for my 3rd post about the coronavirus. If you want to see the others, they are online at https://skoldpaddan.csfowler.com/.

Onto the blog:

The sun set yesterday after a gorgeous day in Stockholm... cold but clear and sunny. Amazing to wake up at 8:30 AM to buckets of sunshine outside (we've had a lot of gray). It's Sunday now and again fairly sunny- cold and windy. It's a good day to hang out, listen to music, read books, blog or whatever.

Friday the 13th was Chris' 45th birthday. We celebrated with a nice dinner (poached halibut with mango, avocado and cilantro; salad with green apple and fennel; toasted bread with pear, goat cheese, thyme and honey) and a lovely chocolate cake from Vette Katten, one of Stockholm's best bakeries. Fresh raspberries to top it off.


Preparing for this dinner was fun though epitomized the normal/not normal aspects of things. After starting to take a walk with Chris and him realizing that he couldn't go very far due to limited lung capacity (not normal), I biked downtown on Friday to pick up supplies, along with a couple of extra duffel bags from a sporting good store.  

Stadium, the sports store, had quite a few people. One lady in trying on downhill ski boots, others looking at the winter sales. I was trying to buy an extra long ski bag and duffel bags. Our current ski bag is looking a bit ratty and our acquisition of extra cross country skis means we needed more capacity to get home. No luck, but I did find two good size and inexpensive duffel bags.

Stockholm's shopping street, Drottninggatan (Queen Street), was fairly busy- coffee shops had plenty of people in them as I walked by. Normal. Ducked into an apotek (apothecary) to look for hand sanitizer. Packed. Section for fever medicines completely empty. Quickly ducked back out. No need to be in crowded places.

Vette Katten, a fantastic and very traditional Swedish bakery and cakery, is normally packed. The "take away" line was longish; the buy it and eat in line had no one in it. I've never seen so many tables open. Not normal.

I quickly ducked into the Hötorget saluhallen. Hötorget is pronounced her-tor-yet and is the site of Stockholm's original hay market. If you visit Stockholm, the saluhallens are worth finding; they are "taste halls", or a market where there are lots of small food shops, much like Faneuil Hall in Boston or the Chelsea Market in NYC. I had briefly been in this saluhallen a while ago and realized that if I wanted to get really good fish, this was the place to come. Halibut acquired from the very bored looking fishmonger, I found some good pears from the very bored looking green grocer. He said that no one had been coming that day-- business was slow. Not normal. The fish chowder cafe looked busy. Normal but a bit slow.

I bought a few Karelian pasties from the "made in Finland shop"-- these are rice pasties historically made in the Karelian region of Finland. I loved them when I lived in Finland (a long time ago- in 1991!). So fun to see them for sale here. The rest of my family is not so sure of my passion for them. I waited in line behind two elderly ladies, one coughing. I discreetly backed up.

The outside fruit & flower market at Hötorget was weirdly quiet... the vendors are normally a bit pushy but on Friday, were quite insistent on trying to get my attention. I didn't see anyone buying anything, or even stopping. What do you do with flats of fresh raspberries and no one purchasing? Not normal. Looked about like this random photo (not mine) of the market... no people.

Biked home, dropped off the first load of groceries. Washed my hands.

Went to the grocery store to get a few more supplies. We live about 100 meters from a grocery store (a chain called Hemköp, pronounced Hem-shop. Forget the "k" sound... it's an "sh" sound in Swedish. I digress into vulgarity for a second: köttbullar= meat balls, pronounced "shit-bullar". This pronunciation has resulted in much hilarity in our house).

Back to my story about the grocery store. Upon walking in, you enter the produce department. Fairly well stocked so far- I'm a bit surprised.

Looked left, just past the flower display. The normally overflowing racks of potatoes- completely empty. Potatoes?! I'm reminded that this was and is a very traditional food for Swedes, and a mainstay of their diet through the 1990s (potatoes, herring and not too much more). I didn't feel like pulling out my phone to take pictures so you'll just have to imagine.

My quick trip through the store for coffee, goat cheese, and more yogurt revealed a run on pasta, rice, beans, and of course toilet paper. I'd been wondering when the Swedes would start to notice what was happening elsewhere-- the signal had apparently finally gone out. At the checkout stand, every single person checking out had loads of food and toilet paper. It was 2 pm on Friday and our normally fairly quiet store had 5 check out agents working (we usually have 1, maybe 2 when it's busy). Not normal.

Came home, washed hands. Unloaded groceries. Washed hands. My hands are starting to rash out from being so dry. Bathed them in lotion.

On Friday in particular, it was helpful to go away from the news. I'd spent the later part of the week unwinding work-related plans: a trip to Denmark and Norway in late March/early April, a visit of a European colleague to Penn State during the same time period. We also conferred with our friends Jamie and Hans and pulled the plug on a trip to Italy and Greece this spring (even if one is on a sailboat, one has to get there). Kept reminding myself that it was okay not to be otherwise productive by diving into a research paper, and that my inability to stay focused was quite likely very normal.

The news around here is bleak and getting bleaker, but the countries are responding.

  • Norway has shut everything but the bare necessities down. 
  • Denmark closed its borders and is actively turning people away (Denmark's Ministry of Foreign Affairs changed its travel advisory so that the entire world is classed as 'orange'. This means it now recommends against unnecessary travel to any other country.) 
  • Russia closed its land borders with Norway.
Interesting to us is that Sweden has not done quite as much. While forbidding gatherings of 500 people or more, there has not been the wholesale shut down. There is a lot of commentary and wonder why not- for example, our kids are still scheduled to go to school tomorrow. On Friday, they went, but Elizabeth's class was combined with the other 4th grade class. Out of nearly 40 students normally enrolled, 7 were in attendance. 

Within the neighborhood group on facebook, there is quite a discussion about how to help each other. There is a new social media hashtag:  #DinGranneHär (#YourNeighbourHere). 

We're feeling our way day by day how to proceed, though keeping Chris inside. The cold is hard on his lungs; hot showers help. In normal circumstances, we'd be seeking more attention for him, but for right now, reading and quiet seem to work. He noted that this has not been the best birthday, but enjoyed the nice meal. 

I cleaned out the cupboards and drawers, taking stock of what we have, cleaning in case we have to leave suddenly, and taking my mind off the news. I usually reserve rearranging the plastic container drawer and silverware drawer for when I'm grading, but apparently a pandemic will also do the trick.


The kids are doing well- asking a few questions, reading the news. They've decided my habit of looking at the news and twitter was/is detrimental to my health- they've volunteered to provide the "It's Not All Bad" daily news update: a summary of the news by them so I don't have to look at it. Cute, and much appreciated (as was breakfast in bed this morning while I join the family in reading Horatio Hornblower- seems like a good time to start an 11 book series).

We've been spending a lot of time in local parks. A bite to eat high on the parkour course below (gloves on in public, off to eat).

The local city sportshall--  busy with handball players last week-- was shut down this week.

At this point, we have no inclination to try to get back to the U.S. sooner than we planned, but it also means we have no real idea of when we are coming back. The European Fulbright Commission issued a letter on Friday encouraging people to return to the U.S. as soon as possible, though the Swedish Fulbright Commission acknowledged that we may be better off in Sweden. 

Under current conditions, returning to the U.S. is a challenge: flights from Paris 3 days ago were going for $20k. Those arriving in Chicago yesterday had delays of 6+ hours for luggage and 2-4 hours of waiting for customs- all in crowded conditions. Upon returning, we'd have to quarantine for 14 days. Our house in State College is (at least for now) rented through June. Chris' cousin Bob, the saxophone player, cut the end of his European tour short, managed to get back to the U.S., and is now in quarantine in a hotel in LA. Staying with a family of 4 in a hotel for 14 days doesn't sound so good. We do have kind offers of help from friends and family if we needed a place to live.

On the academic side, many (most?) U.S. universities have shifted online and done so quickly. There are a lot of shared tips about "pandemic pedagogy"-- just how does one teach mediation online? The revolution in thinking is actually breathtaking to watch. Penn State classes start up tomorrow online and everyone seems to be working to shift as quickly as possible. If we can help by teaching remotely, let us know! We've made offers to a few colleagues, both within Penn State and beyond. Chris is actually bummed not to be teaching this semester's class of "Apocalyptic Geography" (the new class he actually helped design and taught last spring). If suddenly having all classes taught on zoom crashes the system, recommendations include holding class in online platforms of world of warcraft, second life, fortnite, or other online gaming platforms. 

At the same time, it's been heartening to see the offers of help, people setting up forms for asking for help or offering help. One of my favorite suggestions to come out of this mess is the opportunity for kids to do art projects and write letters, and the need for those in retirement or nursing homes to have human contact. There is incredible inspiration in the creativity and generosity coming from many directions. 

People have also gone out of their way to lend support. A colleague from Australia just sent an email to a list of female professors working on energy and climate the following note:

I imagine many of you around the world are, like me, facing quarantine, isolation or “social distancing” measures as a result of COVID-19. I wanted to take this opportunity to say I hope you will feel free to use this platform as a continuing way to connect at this time. As women and often primary carers for children and older family members I would think many of us are dealing with new challenges at this time, whether that is working from home, facing restrictions on travel, upskilling rapidly on online education or health risks to yourself or your loved ones. I hope all stay safe and well and I look forward to connecting with you in the future online or in person as surely this present crisis must pass with time. With warm wishes...

The speed and evolution of information sharing and creative ideas for implementing practices is heartening as well (and the subject of dismay at times, of course). My new hero is an epidemiologist from Seattle, Trevor Bedford (on twitter)He's been tweeting very real time results and modeling work looking at potential spread (in between helping get U. of Washington's testing ramped up as fast as possible). Another great statement and compilation of resources comes from the Seattle Chapter of 500 Women Scientists. I had to laugh at this article- a man figured out how to create social distance in public by walking around in a large cutout cardboard circle. 

For now and on our end, we're in a quiet apartment with easy access to food, a good internet connection, and the outdoors for wandering about in. We're working to arrange remote chess lessons from a friend's kids to ours. Good time to learn how to type, paint, or other skills that take time. Talking with family and friends via zoom or WhatsApp is what we've already been doing this year. The flowers are coming up outside and the crocus are in bloom. 

 Stephen's very common after dinner snack. Who is about to turn 13?!

Hang in there, stay healthy, and let us know if you want to chat!