40 hours in sweden {still + life}

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1. busy Heathrow (see you soon!) | 2. the mothership (mothershop?) | 3. bikes everywhere | 4. view from the hotel window | 5. first dinner | 6. 10PM, still light | 7. - 9. Fyris River | 10. -11. More Fyris. | 12. tallest church spire in scandanavia | 13. swedish tiger | 14. good beagles | 15. Neel and Mehdi, feeling celebratory

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Iron Man Neel had a super-fast turnaround to Europe and back this past week for a super-fun reason. About a year ago he'd had a student in his lab who came from a veterinary school in Sweden. Mehdi studied with Neel for a year, and went back to Sweden to finish his PhD. After a year of writing, it was time to defend the thesis, and because Neel had mentored Mehdi for that year here in the US, he went to Sweden to be part of Mehdi's committee. We were hoping against hope that we could tag along, but Mehdi couldn't put off the defense long enough for Callum to get out of school for the summer (he'd have to wait another six months, if he waited for us), and Callum was in the middle of exam prep when it was time for Neel to go.

On Wednesday, I put my sick and slightly feverish husband on his flight here in Norfolk and headed back to work. Of course his flight was delayed and of course he missed pretty much the only direct connection to Stockholm there is from the east coast. Instead he was rerouted through London with a late day connection to Stockholm, so rather than of arriving at 7AM, he'd arrive at 2PM. Normally not much of a problem, but Neel was scheduled to give a seminar at the vet school a few hours after his arrival...

We honsetly thought he wouldn't make it. I wondered if they'd move the seminar back or even cancel it. Mehdi kindly messaged me to let us know that Neel had landed, and when I asked about the seminar, he responded cryptically, "He'll manage the seminar!"

What does that even mean?

When Neel finally got back to his hotel and was able to text me, he let on that it was really down to the wire. The cabbie got lost and went to the wrong building, and with (literally) minutes to spare, Neel arrived, handed over his USB and started his talk.

"You didn't have time to change clothes from your flight?" I texted.
"I didn't have time to brush my teeth."


The seminar went off without a hitch, Neel managed a little rest afterwards before meeting up with everyone for dinner. The restaurant was in a long, low building that was a converted train station in the middle of town. On Fridays, out front along a big round drive, the area becomes a farmer's market. The building was filled with fairy lights and a lot of old wood. Neel said he was reminded of a French bistro, minus the tile. Their party sat in a large booth off to the side of a huge bar, filled with bottles of wine. One thing that made travel here very easy is the preponderance of English. He was told by someone from the University that all students in Sweden start speaking English in 4th grade, and although he was greeted in Swedish, everyone immediately switched to English upon speaking further. The menu at the restaurant was in English and Swedish, which made for easy ordering. Neel went for a local beer and wanted a traditional Swedish meal, so he was steered toward fish, of course! His whitefish was rolled and topped with breadcrumbs and a light cream sauce (the best part). It sat on a sliced cucumber, and when you sliced into it, the big surpise was a fried egg. Asparagus, in season and a sign of spring, was everywhere.

The next day was Mehdi's defense. Things are handled differently for this process than in the US. In Sweden, you present your talk in a lecture hall in front of a audience. An opponent is flown in from another university, and after the talk the opponent goes through your thesis and asks questions. Grills you. In front of the audience. After the opponent is done, the audience is allowed to ask questions. 

Only then does the thesis committee (along with the opponent) meet behind closed doors to discuss the PhD candidate and his defense. Can you imagine that wait? Poor Mehdi. Neel said that the first thing one of the main members of the committee said, was "Let's make this quick, they're waiting on us."

Mehdi did great. Of course he passed.

Mehdi and other vet students were gathered in the cafeteria at a luncheon waiting. The room was lit with candles and the tables covered with tablecloths, all ready for a celebration. Glasses of champagne were passed around. Mehdi's advisor said (we're all paraphrasing here), "We have to do a toast. You passed. You did well on your defense. It was an impressive body of work and will contribute to our field." As they all held the champagne, one of the professors said something in Swedish, Neel's guessing something like "Let's all do a cheer for Medhi passing..." because the next thing he heard was a loud, "Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!"

Lunch was a traditional Swedish dish of fishcake. !!

After lunch, Mehdi drove Neel to one of the major lakes in the area (no photos, thanks for nothing, Neel) along a beautiful scenic drive. They stopped off to see the beagles at the vet school who climbed on to their roofs to say hello! After coming back into Uppsala, Mehdi parked near the hotel so he and Neel could walk around. They explored the shopping districts and the center of town. Bikes everywhere! Summer and winter, they seem to be the main mode of transport. And while the Fyris river was flowing freely this spring day, in the winter, when everything is frozen all the people gather on cross-country skis at the lake Mehdi took him to and ski to Stockholm.

That night, they went to a celebratory dinner at an Iranian restaurant (Mehdi's Iranian) in Uppsala. Another toast of champagne started the evening. Lots of flatbread and dips for mezzé, and Mehdi's family (his brother and wife) joined them. Dinner was kabobs, rice, chicken and beef and Persian desserts. Mehdi's advisor gave a toast, and Neel presented Mehdi with a Jefferson Cup. (Thomas Jefferson always wanted a medical school in Norfolk [because our city is so given to pestilence, I guess], and this is a traditional gift given on special occasions at the medical school where Neel works. Mehdi immediately put his champagne into it, which is as it should be!) At the end of the night, the Vice Chancellor of the vet school stood up to give a toast, and then he lead the group in a loud Swedish rendition of the vet school song. He later told Neel that the song was over 100 years old and that it translated to something along the lines of "We take care of the animals. We benefit from them and they benefit from us." It's never been written down, so lines change over the years.

After that, he came home! Neel said it was hard to leave; he'd had such a short time there, so clearly we need to go back. Yes? We're so proud of Mehdi too. He's worked so hard, and this couldn't happen to a nicer guy.