I'm not doing brilliantly with the communication thing just now. Working on it though. I've had a couple of good phonecalls with people I care about, and written at least some of the emails I intended to write this week, though I still have a huge backlog looking at me accusingly. And I'm just now getting round to posting about what I've been doing and reading this past week. Luckily this time of year people are busy enough not to worry too much if I'm silent on LJ for a while.
Work-wise, things have been winding down a bit. Any excuse for a Christmas fika, which means a break from work to drink coffee, eat whatever food we can rustle together, and a good chat. And a general sense that there's no point starting a major project now just before things shut down for Christmas. One such fika excuse was that I provided doughnuts to celebrate chanukah and my Hebrew birthday.
Chanukah has been an experience this year. The 8th candle coincided with the solstice and fell just a couple of days before Christmas. So everywhere around people have been putting up more and more lights, against the darkness and to mark Advent (it seems like Advent is more of a big deal here than Christmas itself). Which gave the impression that the whole of Stockholm was a kind of giant chanukiah building up with more and more man-made light the less natural light was available.
Thursday my predecessor, the person who set up the project I am now working on, successfully defended her PhD. The system here is fantastic: you have to nail the thesis to the wall, just like Luther. You announce a date when you will defend it, and invite anyone who is interested to come and challenge you. In reality the academic committee at your institution appoint an expert in a relevant area as the principal Opponent, and random people don't in fact just wander in off the street and argue with your results. But even so, it takes the form of a public disputation rather than the viva voce exam we have in the UK. AA was incredibly nervous, but the very high standard of her work meant that neither the opponent nor her assessing committee could come up with any substantial criticisms, so she was fine.
We duly celebrated her with an afternoon of hijinx and champagne. I was appointed to write a filk for the occasion, though at the last minute, the song I'd chosen (Love is all around from Four Weddings and a Funeral) was judged to be too complicated so we rejigged it slightly and sang it to the tune of Jingle Bells. In the course of this I discovered that the verses make no sense, have no connection with Christmas at all and are even vaguely bawdy.
In the evening we went out to a Belgian restaurant called Duvel. Actually getting the entire group to the restaurant was hilariously hopeless, but we made it in the end. The restaurant was way out of my price range even for a special occasion like a PhD celebration; ended up spending very little under £50 per head. The food was not bad, but not that good either; veggie choices were limited, and the portion sizes were mean. The service was excellent and we had a really nice time, so that's something.
The beer came close to justifying the money. (And since any alcohol in Stockholm is ludicrously expensive, I resent much less paying £5 – 6 for a really nice Belgian beer, than £4 – 5 for some tasteless lager.) They have a huge long menu of beer, and two alternative recommended beer choices for each food dish on the menu. I asked for the wheat beer that was recommended with my meal (a platter of assorted fish, with some tomato sauce and aioli), but was told they had run out of that and offered something called Blanche de Bruxelles instead. Although it's packaged like low-grade overpriced stuff you sell to tourists (it has the mannekin pis on the label, I mean, really!), it tasted nice. Lighter than Hoegaarden, and almost floral, though not at all sweet. Even a girly drinker like me doesn't want beer to be sweet! Then I caught sight of my favourite Duchesse de Bourgogne on the menu and just had to order a bottle of that. And a really good framboise with my dessert, which tasted of raspberries but again, not sweet (annoyingly I've forgotten the name). Three 33cl bottles over a leisurely evening with a reasonable meal meant I could enjoy the beer without being overwhelmed by the alcohol.
Saturday I read Torah for the Progressive group, which is really becoming a force within the Stockholm community. They were really enthusiastic about my style of reading, which is to treat the Torah reading the way I would any book I was asked to read aloud to a public gathering, clearly and with very slightly exaggerated expression to make the meaning clear. They are used to the traditional chant, which can make it hard to understand the words unless the chanting is done by an expert and / or the congregation know Hebrew very well. They have asked me to read the section from Prophets next month, and to lead the whole service the month after that, and to stand as a candidate for the Progressive section of the synagogue board (!)
The people who are currently on the board asked me to join them for lunch after the service in the National Museum. It's a really lovely building, reminds me somewhat of the Fitzwilliam back in Cambridge. And the restaurant in particular is a gorgeous space, airy without being cavernous, and with a big glass dome to let in plenty of light. The food is over-priced as museum restaurants always are, but unlike a lot of them it was at least actually tasty, with a very credible salad buffet.
I assumed LJ was going to be quiet and boring today, but in fact there is plenty going on on my flist. Times are really changing, if people have internet access even when they are travelling or visiting elderly parents. So anyway, happy Christmas to those of you who are celebrating it.