Sunday, June 06, 2010

Swedish ABC's

So this year the cleverly named ABCDE (Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics) was held in Stockholm. One of the papers I had co-written was slotted to be presented, and luckily for this junior co-author, the other two were otherwise occupied last weekend. So I got to go attend lectures, eat salmon, meet interesting people, and just enjoy the beautiful Stockholm summer. Unfortunately I did not have as much time as I would have liked to check out the city, but I did manage to seek out to stroll around a little.

And in honor of the Bank footing the bill for 4 days in Sweden so that I could deliver a 20 minute presentation and answer one question at a session that started at 7:45 am (seriously – Swedes are nuts – though fair play the sun rises at 3:45), I will do this blog entry in powerpoint slides.

Slide 1 – “Stockholm as a Beautiful City”

Stockholm is beautiful. Apologies to any loyal Norwegian readers, but it has got it all over Oslo. The city is built on a series of 14 islands, connected by bridges and surrounded by water clean enough to swim in. The old city (like many old cities admittedly) is a maze of narrow alleys, colorful buildings, and old churches. Everything is spotlessly clean and perfectly preserved.

Slide 2 – “Common Swedish Delicacies”

When people ask me questions about places that I have been, they inevitably want to know “what did you eat?” And, as I didn’t want to waste my precious lapses from vegetarianism on a common Swedish meatball I could get at IKEA, I sought out some alternatives. I ate lots of salmon – smoked, grilled, broiled. Lots of herring. Which to me was always this nasty creamy goop we had to eat on New Year’s Day for good luck, but the Swedes to some amazing things with it. The tangy mustard version was particularly good. (I should note that these are all breakfast foods. I was almost beside myself with joy when I went down the first morning. You should have seen the look I gave the waiter when he asked if I wanted *eggs*.) I also ordered the elk prosciutto at a restaurant. Eh. Elk should stick with whatever it is that elk generally do, they are a little lackluster as a designer meat product.

Slide 3 – “Royal Gossip”

I love monarchies. The whole idea in the information overload age is inherently dangerous. In America, the spotlight is on the president and his family for 8 years. And with enough spin control and armed minders, you can keep pretty much anyone in line for 8 years. After that, the fascination fades. (Would any of us care if Amy Carter were to be caught smoking crack with underage chimpanzee?) But royals have to stay in the spotlight their whole lives. Eventually something is going to be newsworthy. And in Sweden right now there is royal gossip fever! The crown princess is marrying a gym teacher. The nation is scandalized by her choice. Even worse, it was leaked to the press that her father was going to walk her down the aisle. The nation is aghast. How dare such a role model capitulate to outdated patriarchal traditions! Sometimes I think conservatives are really funny, sometimes I think liberals are even funnier.

Slide 4 – “Really Big Boat in a Box”

At these things, there is always a conference dinner. They are usually held at impressive venues and offer the unique opportunity to get drunk enough that you can’t show your face at *next* year’s festivities. Our dinner was in the Vasa Museum – which houses an intricately carved double decked gun ship that sailed for about 20 minutes in the 17th century. “Ballast” was apparently an idea still in the development stages back then, and one stiff breeze sent the whole kit-and-kaboodle down to the bottom of the bay for 400 years. Fortunately the freezing water makes it too cold the for the little microbe beasties that usually eat wooden ships – so the Vasa is amazingly preserved. And huge. Makes for an impressive backdrop for a fancy dinner.

Slide 5 – “Holy Shit, Did You Know Who Alfred Nobel Was?”

So something that they don’t much mention at the ceremonies, but Alfred Nobel, the man who endowed the famous Nobel Peace Prize, was a weapons manufacturer. No joke. The guy developed high explosives at the turn of the century – accidently killing his brother in a “lab incident.” The Nobel museum casts this somewhat inconvenient truth in the idea that everyone has the chance to redeem themselves. I guess, but man if Fox News got a hold of the idea that Obama accepted money from a socialist foreign arms dealer, Glen Beck would fantasize him into a muhejeen in the Afghan highlands in a matter of minutes.

Slide 6 – “Conclusion”

That pretty much sums it up. Following the conference I went to the airport to get my luggage out of hock (SAS lost my bags again – but as I learned from my trip last month to Norway, I should not expect SAS to deliver my baggage at the same time when it delivers me. Therefore this time I was smart enough to pack everything I needed for the conference in my carry-on), and headed down to East Africa. I am currently on a flight from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi, and I went to a really amusing foreign embassy party this weekend, but you will have to wait on that (I need to keep some things in my pocket for next week’s post.)

1 comment:

jen bienstock said...

A+, as always.