Posts Tagged ‘Sweden’

Sweden Syndrome

June 1, 2007



stadthusen int4S

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

This is the interior of the famous 1923 city hall in Stockholm, Sweden, where they host the annual dinner awarding the Nobel prize in Economics. A lovely arts and crafts/National Romantic building, we toured it as part of the International Preservation Trades Network conference last Friday. This Friday (today) I am going to my 25th college reunion at the University of Chicago.

So here is the connection. Monday my sister Clare shows me a flyer her son Michael received from the University of Chicago. He is a well-adjusted kid but that didn’t stop U of C (über-geek central) from soliciting. The flyer was hilarious – the cover showed Nobel prize medals, an IKEA store, and the pop group ABBA. When you open the flyer, it reveals that these three things are all Swedish, which you should already have figured out if you are U of C-worthy. It even noted that one ABBA member was technically Norwegian, as all incoming U of C students know. The kicker was to show how many Nobel prizes U of C people had won. So geeky.

Having gone there a quarter century ago, let me take it one step further with my own display of geekitude, learned during my tour of the City Hall. It seems that Nobel left his chunk of dynamite dough to award five prizes, in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. He purposely left out mathematics, supposedly having been jilted by a lover for a mathematician (the true story is that there was already a big math prize.) He also directed that the Peace prize be awarded in Oslo, Norway, so only the other four are awarded in a December ceremony in the space pictured here.

Now, U of C claims a lot of Nobels – 3 in literature, 11 in medicine, 15 in chemistry, 27 in Physics. It also has 23 in Economics, which is a lot considering that it has only been awarded since 1969. And it isn’t a Nobel Prize. It was created by the Swedish bank some 65 years after the other ones “in memory of Alfred Nobel”. This is U of C’s sweet spot though – it has won one basically every other year since they started giving them out. U of C has no Peace prizes, which is appropriate given how many of its grads could teach “Foreign Policy Blunders 101” these days.

So I will dine with the President and be awed by more accomplished classmates tonight. Maybe I beat them to the Stockholm City Hall.

Falun Facts

May 29, 2007



falun mine4s

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

At the Falun World Heritage Site in Sweden you can see a stunning strip mine that was the world’s largest source of copper for most of the Industrial Revolution. I suppose a huge whole in the ground surrounded by piles of slag and refuse might strike some as a horrible thing, but it is really beautiful, colors glancing off each other through literal layers of history as your eye descends hundreds of feet down and hundreds more across.

They translated it as “open-course” mine but of course we call it “strip” mine because the word is harsher and more satisfactory for our environmental impulses, those impulses that make us compost and recycle and buy compact fluorescents. Of course there is always a problem with such purisms and asceticism, like the fact that until we buy a smaller house, all of our efforts do little beyond making us feel good.

In the 19th century at Falun, no one in town painted their houses Falu Red, the local paint color still used today, known to arrest decay, fight mold and last for 100 years or more. They didn’t paint their houses because they turned black so quickly from the mines and smelters and associated industries. But here is the interesting thing the guide told us: People – adults – in Falun lived longer in the 19th century because their environment was so polluted.

Not a typo. Understanding this seeming contradiction requires one to see the world as a collection of facts rather than a comforting ideology. You see, the ground water was so polluted in Falun from the mining and smelting that no germs and microbes and viruses could survive in it – people drank polluted water and thus avoided the big killer bugs of the 19th century – typhus and cholera, which ran rampant in places like Chicago. But what about metals and other toxins, you ask? Child mortality was not very good – but heck, nowhere in the world did children have a better than 50% chance of making age 5 until after 1910. But if you made it past childhood, Falun residents often hit 80 and 90.

hey are celebrating Carl Linneaus’s 300th this year (see the statue of him on the Midway in Chicago) and his wife was from Falun and lived into her 90s. We saw their wedding-house as well – a lovely little cottage with Barock details and furniture.

Coming next: The trades and the academics – a headless hand or a handless head?

Also: Sunday – 1 PM Rally at 850 Lake Shore Drive to save Chicago’s Lakeshore Athletic Club – a large, perfectly good building with lovely spaces, proposed for demolition thanks to bottom-feeder business logic.