Electrify me

Times Square LOC 1938 3b02164v

Times Square north at night, New York City, circa 16 January 1934. Digital ID: (digital file from b&w film copy neg.) cph 3b02164 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b02164. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-54205 (b&w film copy neg.); Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Last night, Matt looked up the rate of electrification in the US in 1916, a century ago. How many households had electricity?

Strangely enough, it’s possible to find such information – a little Wikipedia, a little bit of reading on various websites, and you can cobble together the picture that few people had electricity in their homes. Buffalo, for example, was an early adopter, but mostly for public spaces in the city. Not until the 1920s were cities in the US fully electrified, and rural areas followed more slowly (with help from the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, updated today to include things like broadband internet access).

[Digression: Check out this illustration of the electrified farm of the future, where everything is powered by electricity, from threshers to chainsaws to water pumps and chicken feed delivery. What happened to that future? Even in the 1920s, farmers used their own wind turbines to create electricity locally. We need that now! But as I said, I digress.]

All of this information, of course, is thanks to the Internet, the equivalent of electricity in this era. It’s so easy to look at your phone and call up the world, as easy as flipping a switch to create light.

Matt had turned to the Internet for the answers initially because we were talking about technology and societal rates of change. It seems like everything is changing so fast these days, faster than, say, when the steam engine was first introduced, or the cotton gin. Did people feel the same as we do now, that innovations in technology and the networked world are moving at light speed? What will people in the future think about our time – will it look slow to them?

Matt’s grandmother is going to turn 97 this year. A century ago, she lived in a world with iceboxes, outhouses and few cars; two world wars in her young lifetime; massive immigration; the introduction and normalization of air travel, and so much more, let alone computers. I bet she bathed only once a week, if that.

Today, we shower or bathe almost every day. With centralized water treatment and delivery systems, that’s no longer a luxury. It’s the norm. If you smell someone’s body odor on the street these days, you probably do a double take and walk away quickly. (I inhaled the funky scents of two men deep in conversation on the sidewalk as I pass on my bike yesterday on my way to work; I suspect they came from an African country, from their dress, hand gestures and skin color.)

The story that Matt looked up mentioned that women in the US only washed their hair once a month, using Borax or egg yolks. I woke up this morning wondering if I should do that –-  I only recently started washing my hair once a week. That’s not the usual, I suspect. The rows of shampooing products in any store underscore this. But wouldn’t washing less often be better for my hair, not to mention for the environment? Less soap and hot water to dry out my scalp, fewer chemicals to make and then wash down the drain. Hmm, sometimes it’s nice to have clean hair, I have to say, but it’s all a matter of what one becomes accustomed to doing.

How we eat, bathe, travel, communicate –- everything changes. The world was a very different place a century ago, and even five years ago, and it will be very different again a century from now, and even a few years from now. And I haven’t even mentioned climate change yet. Don’t worry, I’m getting to that.

So, how far back do we have to go to find a time when things didn’t seem to change much at all? Two millennia ago, new religions were cropping up, changing how people lived their daily lives (and probably why people fought some wars). Ten millennia ago, new ways of getting food anchored people to the land and their crops — and those practices may have changed the climate. Millions of years ago, someone picked up a stone and flaked it into a blade for the first time. Talk about a planet-changing innovation.

I am dangerously close to espousing post-environmentalism here. Embrace the change! But I have to say, I am a hypocrite. I only embrace the change because I want to keep living the way I do (lots of air travel, for example). And at the same time, I want to preserve the way I live, and the penguins that also live on the Antarctic ice shelf that is soon to disappear (read Jonathan Franzen’s latest essay in The New Yorker, “The End of the End of the World,” to observer one writer struggle with how to express it. It’s an ambiguous, fraught feeling.)

I want to have all the latest toys, travel where I want and when I want, and eat fruits, vegetables and other foods from farflung places. I want my local news and my New York Times.  I want it all and I want it now. Modern life. And soon, I might be a dinosaur, unable to engage with new technologies — mostly because I might be satisfied with the old and what they can give me. I can only live longer to find out what the future will bring.

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Remember that bike accident? It’s been a month now. I was depressed for a few weeks there and then this weekend, I finally felt happy. Really really happy — maybe my synapses snapped back into place? Or maybe what I think of as “my PTSD” (a small post-traumatic stress response) has lifted a little.

Physically, I’m feeling so much better: my hands and lower back hurt only occasionally, not constantly, and my bruises have faded. But I’m not entirely over the accident. While I’m riding my bike in the city, I shriek when a pedestrian walks out into the street, even if I know they see me already. A car that comes too close makes my heart beat faster, even though my accident had nothing to do with a vehicle and instead only involved me and a pedestrian, whom I never touched.

I find myself obeying stoplights that I might not have a month ago, pre-accident, and slowing to look carefully in all directions at intersections. Anything that might be moving my way — a person, car, dog, bus, bird, anything — makes me pause.

And I’ve been riding more slowly. I’m on my little blue Brompton, a fantastic piece of engineering that goes just fast enough but is hard to propel at high speeds — unlike the speedy Trek with disk brakes I was riding when I had the accident. That bike moves so quickly, it feels like having power. The Brompton, while powerful in its own way, seems to curb my wild riding habits.

For the past few weeks, whenever a slower rider is in front of me, I follow them for a little while, enjoying the laggardly pace, whereas before the accident, I probably would have dived into the car lane to pass them, as quickly as possible. Instead, I pace myself with them.

Speed is my enemy after that accident; I fairly flew down the hill on Odengatan and tumbled at the edge of the intersection with Sveavagen. I cracked my helmet because of the inertia I had from all that velocity. Speed hurts. It literally hurts on impact. And it takes away that window of response time; it makes responding to anything happening in front of you on the road, even a seemingly slow-moving pedestrian, difficult to do.

All of these things are true for a cyclist, of course. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I watch cars go by: what about for a car driver?

I’ve been mulling this over especially as I shrink from automobiles that are far away from me but moving fast. I watch drivers on their mobile phones and slow down so they pass by. I watch them as they skirt around me at high speeds, even as a car is oncoming in the opposite lane, accelerating towards us both.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that cars today make drivers feel invincible. They have anti-lock brakes, air bags, fast acceleration and more. But there’s also something about having a heavy metal carapace and heavy engine that bestows some kind of superpower on a driver, a sense of power. That weight and the fuel behind it contributes to being able to move at high velocities, on roads made for just for large vehicles.

And the kinds of cars that are here in Stockholm — Porsches of all kinds (small and sporty, huge SUVs), the resident Lamborghini in our neighborhood, the old heavy Volvos with excellent turning radiuses driven by old men — mean even more power on the road, somehow, more entitlement paired together with responsive high-end vehicles. But the large delivery trucks too, invariably driven by young men talking on their mobile phones, are also powerful in their own lumbering ways.

I’ve succumbed to that drug as well, driving too fast in sturdy vehicles on California highways, back in the days when I owned a car, in a place that’s the ultimate in car culture. Luckily, I’ve not had a serious accident in a car, where I’ve hurt myself or anyone else. But I’ve had that feeling of superiority — I can beat you! And “you” may be a driver, a cyclist, a pedestrian, a stoplight — that made me drive dangerously. I have just been lucky.

And now that my luck has been tested on my bike, I don’t trust other drivers’ luck anymore!

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Red hot, spring green


Check region 8, eastern shore…

Stockholm has been bathed in sunshine the past few days. Today was so warm that the morning paper showed the region in solid red. That’s hot. Hot hot hot.


But it’s not really that hot. It’s few degrees over 20°C, somewhere in the 70s Farenheit. That’s lovely, gorgeous beautiful spring weather, with vibrant green trees — that new leaf green that is so stunningly bright it almost pulsates — under blue skies. The lilacs (syren) are gorgeously smelled patches of purple and white. My allergies are raging.

And Stockholmers (Stockholmarer) are claiming it’s summer. Everyone pulled out their bright colors, shunning the usual costume of black from head to toe. It’s too hot in the sun to be wearing black, you would burn to a crisp.

Everyone is seemingly lying out half naked on any lawn in full sun. If they aren’t prone, they are walking around in shorts and thin t-shirts, or light cotton caftans, summer dresses and short skirts.

Doesn’t matter that the wind is blowing and it’s a little cool — these folks are dressed for the hottest days of mid-August in sweaty, sultry, humid New York City. Makes me wonder what they wear when they visit that fair city.

IMG_20160524_072400I also have to wonder: this year is the hottest so far when it comes to global average temperatures. The map of the world temperatures in Dagens Nyheter this morning  was all red. Hitting the mid-20s C is hot here, and while it looks like summer here in Stockholm, it’s not nearly as hot as, say, Delhi, a deep dark burnt red on this map. Even so, I predict another change of colors sometime soon: IMG_20160524_072407as climate changes, the color codes for highs and lows in Sweden might have to shift too.

However I might be speaking too soon. Tomorrow’s weather? Back to 13°C. And a chance of rain. Normal Stockholm spring weather, once more. Too bad.


A tower of passion flowers in a Stockholm garden over the weekend, with hints of the tulips in bloom at its base.

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Like Falling Off a Bicycle

I was bombing home on my bike last Tuesday evening, the first warm day of a very odd warm spell, thinking of supper and a nice evening at home, and riding obscenely fast down Odengatan. As I crossed Sveavagan with a green light, at probably one of the busiest intersections in town, a pedestrian decided to walk against the crosswalk light without looking up.

I shouted, I hit my brakes; I wobbled and felt that sickening inevitable feeling of being out of control. I went down. I felt the hard smack of the back of my head and helmet against the pavement.

Dazed, I looked up, surrounded by a crowd of people. A man and woman helped me up, as the pedestrian looked on to see if I was okay. I walked over to the sidewalk as another bystander picked up my bike. Someone handed me the pieces of my glasses, the left side whole and the right half with the lens popped out and arm broken off completely.

A young man, Daniel, insisted on calling an ambulance. A woman my age, Maia (Mai?), asked me to walk down the sidewalk, to see if I could walk, and she helped me sit down in a cafe chair and got me a cup of water from the sandwich shop behind me. (Oddly enough, she kept handing me a small, soft, gray, stuffed rabbit — she found it next to me on the street and assumed it was mine.)

The ambulance arrived, and Maia and Daniel left me in the care of another Daniel, an ambulanssjuksjoterskan (what an American would call an EMT, but is an “ambulance nurse” here), who happened to be a main subject in a story in Saturday’s DN. How odd to see him on the front page — he was so kind to me. His partner, whose name I saw on his badge and which I have now completely forgotten (sorry!), locked up my bike nearby, while Daniel got me settled in the back of the ambulance.

He pressed my vertebra to check for breaks or pain, took my pulse and temperature, checked my eyes, asked my pain on a scale of 1 to 10, and even offered me morphine (I asked for ice for my hip, which hurt so much, but no — I could have had morphine, but no ice packs).

I answered 8 for the pain, and then quickly scaled it back to 5 or 6. But wow, did I hurt. And then I started shaking uncontrollably after the adrenaline cleared from my system.

I called Matt on the way, and we soon arrived at St. Goran’s sjukhus, where the EMTs deposited me in the newly renovated emergency ward in the basement. I’d been there before, about two years ago, and somehow recognized it was totally different. Daniel, and then later the nurses and doctors on the floor, got lost, as I observed several times over the course of what would become a very long evening.

While I waited for Matt, a lovely young girl (yes, I am getting old, she was mid- to late 20s) took blood samples and my information, and again pressed on my bones to check for breaks. I lifted my legs for her as I had for Daniel, and she looked at my eyes again. So far, no evidence of concussion. That seemed so crazy, considering how hard I hit the back of my head.

Matt arrived, and I was so glad to see him. For a moment, I thought perhaps I would be able to go home almost immediately.


Oddly enough, the ER staff never removed my clothing: I wore my boots the entire time, and I could not bear to look at my hip the one time I went to the bathroom and gingerly peeled off my clothes. (That hurt SO MUCH.)

Instead, I would lay on a hospital gurney in the emergency ward for several hours, balancing my broken glasses on my face. A doctor came to look at me (Hans, also incredibly kind), and he repeated the tests: eyes for peripheral vision, legs and hands and arms for strength, and finally poking around for pain — I yelled when he touched the spot where I’d made impact on my lower left hip.

Hans told us that an unnamed factor in my blood tests indicated a possible concussion, but it may have just been from other internal damage — just in case, he would ask for X-rays and a CT scan. I would have to wait.

On a warm summer-like evening, the emergency ward filled up over the course of several hours. Two women came in separately with bloody heads. Two pregnant women, one with her partner, the other alone and with evident mental problems, wandered the corridor in front of the nurses’ station. Elderly men and women checked in, including an older, white-haired skeletal woman with dementia or some kind of disorientation and a bruised face, who kept getting out of her bed and wandering over to the nurses’ station or to knock on the fishbowl window where the ER doctors were reviewing brain scans and medical records on computer screens.

Finally, I sent Matt home at 11 pm. As he got ready to leave, a man came in strapped to a spineboard and accompanied by two police and some security guards.

I tried to doze under the bright fluorescent lights, listening to the suspect’s loud deep voice as he talked to the nurses about being arrested while climbing balconies. I tracked the shuffling steps of the disoriented old woman, who had been ensconced next to me by nurses who brusquely, gently, or firmly pleaded with her to stay put, giving her pillows, blankets, washcloths, and closing her up behind thin panels that she would push open with metallic scrapes. I wanted to tie her down to her bed so I could sleep.

Then, finally, a nurse released the brakes on my bed and whisked me away, through the labyrinthine halls to the corridor where I would have a CT scan (my first ever, and I was so disappointed that I was too tired to pay attention! But thankfully, I was so tired that I lay still enough that it was over and done fast). Then, multiple X-rays: hips, left elbow. I had to lie on my bruised left hip. I wanted to yell at the tech. Instead, I asked about my left hand, which had swelled and bruised a deep purple; the technician said no, no, there’s no time and the doctor didn’t ask for it, and she left me in the corridor to be picked up and wheeled back to the emergency ward — only to come back out and lead me back into the room on foot, after she realized that yes, the doctor had asked for my hand to be X-rayed.

By 2:30 am, I was back in my gurney, lying in the same corridor where Daniel the ambulance nurse had parked me — no room at the ER! By 3 am, Dr. Hans came to talk to me one last time: Nothing broken, no concussion. My left hand’s metatarsal 5 (the side of the hand below my pinky finger) may have been slightly fractured, but broken or not, there was nothing they would (or could) do about it.

I could go home!

Dr. Hans cautioned: no NSAIDs (like Advil or ibuprofen), only paracetemol (Tylenol or acetaminophen). No alcohol. Take it easy for a day or so. Typical advice for concussion (even though I didn’t have one).

A taxi came to get me at the hospital, called for by another kind nurse. I sat in the backseat, cushioned by leather seats and the car’s suspension, looking out at the city in the early morning light. We crossed the bridge from Kungsholmen to Vasastan as the sun started to rise at 3:30 and the birds began to sing their hearts out. The taxi hovered at stop lights, and flew down Odengatan, sailing through the intersection at Sveavagen. My bike’s front reflector winked at me as we passed it, parked facing the wrong direction on the sidewalk.

I opened the front door of our apartment just before 4 am, deposited my bike bag on the floor and burst into tears. The door to our bedroom had slammed shut as I opened the front door, and I could hear Matt’s footsteps from the bathroom as he padded out to check on me.

I took two paracetamol that the nurse gave me as I left the ER, and sucked down the first water I had had since sitting in front of the sandwich shop, what seemed like days ago. I had a bite of yogurt and cried in the kitchen.

Something about holding it all in while waiting to find out — sitting in a hospital gurney under bright white lights as the emergency room hummed along as if no time was passing — exhausted and saddened me. And I was so, so sad that I had been so careless, so dumb. I thought with chagrin about the way that I had looked drivers right in the eyes as I checked to see if they saw me, cutting past one as he blocked me, and another as he turned right and cut off the bike lane. So smug as I sailed by, so dumb — if they had seen my fall, they would have gloated: another cocky cyclist gets what she deserves.

And yet, I was so, so lucky. No concussion. A small patch of road rash on my left hip, small gashes that seemed to heal immediately on my left elbow and hand. The whole left side of my body banged up, but unbroken. Amazing, amazingly lucky.

Not to mention that the only cost for my ambulance ride and half a night at the ER was the taxi ride home, 200 SEK (about $30).

So, so lucky.

Not long ago, Dagens Nyheter published an “investigation” of bicycle-related accidents: the majority were reported as single-person accidents. If I recall correctly, something close to 60% involved only the cyclist themselves. I know now what that means: a cyclist reacted to something or someone else — an errant pedestrian, a car turning unexpectedly, a trigger of some kind — and had their “own” accident, where they were the only ones hurt. I thought about that as Daniel the ambulance nurse recorded my answers to his questions about what happened: did I hit anyone else? Was I hit?

As Matt’s dad says: Assume the other guy is going to do something dumb. Or I will myself. I can be really aggressive on a bike (and used to be so in a car).

So lucky. And so I’ve been dwelling on my first-world problems — good healthcare for which I pay taxes, a bike that feels great and makes me want to ride too fast, work that doesn’t require me to be present so I have time to heal. I have been feeling a bit lost and depressed after that brush with my mortality. Such a small event compared to what other people live with every day.

We’ll see if my fall becomes a watershed, or just another incident in everyday life. I felt a flash of fear, a bit of PTSD, simply walking home yesterday and crossing a crosswalk as cars pulled up to a stop. Would they actually stop? The world is an unpredictable place, and yet we cruise through it without thinking about all the things that could go wrong, things that are out of our control.

I nearly divorced Matt while we were taking a slow walk on Sunday afternoon, over a comment he made about how calm a cyclist was while navigating through a crowd of men cluelessly standing in the bike lane. “See how he doesn’t say anything? Just rings his bell, ding, ding, ding?” OOOOoooh, how I wanted to ring Matt’s bell! Of course I shouldn’t be so aggressive on my bike.

His comment made me also want to cry. That aggression stems in part from confidence and a sense of control. Of competence. At the moment, I am scared to be outside in traffic at the moment even as a pedestrian, scared to get on my bike — but I did on Saturday! The weather here has been obscenely, absurdly, abnormally gorgeous. I had to get on my bike and be outside. I have to get back on my bike.

So, this too shall pass. I am pretty sure that I will be resilient in the end. But that feeling of being completely steady might have to wait until my back stops hurting and my hand stops tingling and going numb and crackling with pain when I use a fork and knife just so.

I am such an idiot. Such a lucky, lucky idiot.

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Urban geology

As I was walking to work on Monday morning, I was (I confess) excited to see road construction work progressing.


Big digger! Want.

It’s spring, and that must mean construction season.

The construction itself is not what excites me, even though I do find big trucks more and more interesting, the older I get. (How come no one ever took me to look at big trucks when I was kid?? Oh yeah, I was a girl. Now I want to drive one!)

The exciting part is the rocks beneath. On my walk to work, I am passing over massive bedrock — the chilled magma from Earth’s interior that underlies the high points in Stockholm. I step over layers of glacial till, flood deposits from rivers and streams, human-made layers of cobblestones and asphalt, all disturbed by tree roots and pipes laid down by water and electricity and phone companies.

A nice slice through that by a digger, and voila! A little geological + human time, exposed in the middle of the road for me to stop and gawk at. Awesome.

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Shifting Fashions


Need a ship? Already water-stained!


A few days ago I headed over to the Myrorna (Salvation Army) at Ropsten — this is the giant one with three floors packed with furniture, housewares, books, pictures, shoes, sporting goods, clothes for men, women and children… you name it, they seem to have it (or at least, something related to it). On a previous visit, where we had dropped off bags of stuff and miraculously emerged with nothing purchased, Matt and I had ogled a water carbonation device, leaded glass candleholders from Orrefors, clothes we didn’t need and more.


It’s a triumph to get away from there without buying something. Usually we end up with clothes, and as I’ve written before, they have a brilliant campaign on about finding your own style. Gems are always hidden in the mix, but you have to have the patience to search. Half the stuff on the racks seems to have been there for years or at least, recently cast off by someone who bought it new, say, 30 years ago.

In fashion, old becomes new again. The next generation that didn’t have to wear bell-bottom jeans in the 1970s the first time, and the 1990s the second time, might be super keen to find a pair in good shape in the 2010s.

But they are most likely not as keen to find their grandmothers’ sheets.

I nearly bought a few of the heavy cotton cover sheets with lace tatting, of such fine quality to me today, but which were perhaps considered everyday cotton, purchased from a homegoods purveyor on Gamla Stan, sometime last century. That quality cotton is not cheap these days, but it’s also on the list of things that are no longer the norm. Cheap duvets from fast fashion are more likely to be in our closets.

I might long for thick cotton sheets, but I don’t want to wash and iron them. They are on the list of historical items gone by, habits set aside for cheaper-better-faster-plastic-electronic-whatnot. Also on that list, of course, are books and tea sets. And that’s what got me thinking about this more carefully, as I left Myrorna after this last visit: Both items filled their allotted spaces in the cavernous Myrorna shop.


Gravy boat from Karlskrona

To me, a room full of books is heavenly. I’d love to have a library room of my own. But this is antiquated technology — as passé as the gravy boat and gold-rimmed full-service fine china that also finds its way to Myrorna. EBooks are more the norm today as well.


Maybe these old habits — reading on paper, drinking tea from porcelain — will be resurrected as curiosities or by small fanatical devotees. But it’s not likely. This shop is also a museum. Myrorna is the bellwether of where our societies are heading, according to what they’ve left behind.

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A beautiful world

I cannot stop thinking about the explosions in Brussels this morning and the people killed. The hatred expressed there today led one of my colleagues to say that the world is no longer a beautiful place.

But it still is. It is still as messy and horrifying and awful as it has always been, and it will continue to be as beautiful.

I read a story this morning in Dagens Nyheter about how 1,000 local volunteers worked over 9,000 hours at a temporary housing for asylum seekers here in Sweden kept it open and functioning. (http://www.dn.se/sthlm/den-har-resan-har-forandrat-mitt-liv/)

I have to keep reminding myself of the good to counteract the bad.


Poppies on Gotland.

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