Palo Alto

I saw the film “Palo Alto” last night. I must say that I rarely see films, so I am certainly not a film critic. I grew up in Palo Alto, and went to high school there. I figured I would see the film and see Hollywood’s interpretation of my hometown. What a disappointment. The film is basically about confused teenagers partying, drinking, smoking, and having sex. I have no idea why it was called Palo Alto, because there was absolutely no reference to the city. All I know is that James Franco grew up in Palo Alto. He wrote the book and is in the film. The scene when the boys cut down the tree is real though. I remember that some kids cut down a beautiful oak tree at Gunn High school while I was a student there.   This movie version of life in Palo Alto is far from reality. My perception is that the teenagers there are all under a lot of pressure to get into good colleges, and their parents are ambitious people who want the absolute best for their children. If you are from Palo Alto, there is no need to see this film.

Yesterday I visited Millesgården, one of my favorite spots in Stockholm. It is an outdoor museum and former home of Carl Milles. The sculptures have a sense of lightness to them, as if they are about to fly away. There was an opening of an exhibit by a contemporary artist, Cajsa von Zeipel, who draws inspiration from Carl Milles, but dresses her figures in high heels and gothic clothes.

Sometimes I wish that I would drink coffee. There are so many trendy cafes now in Stockholm. Some have art galleries. One is a café that is also a bike shop. In the city, the cafes are full of people, with good haircuts and nice clothes, enjoying the company of their friends. And this is still winter: when the spring comes, it will be what a Swede might call a cafehuggsexa, a café free-for-all.

Vegan in Stockholm?

No problem. It is easier than ever to be vegan in Stockholm. There are so many new restaurants, and shops catering to vegans. Wherever I travel, people ask me, isn’t it hard to be a vegan. I always find the same answer. No, it isn’t hard, it is actually fun and interesting to find the vegan restaurants and stores and talk to the local vegans. I have been traveling a lot through the world since adopting a vegan diet more than a decade ago. Now it seems that there are millions of people that have recognized that we don’t have to eat and use animal products.

Tuesday was Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday) here in Stockholm. That is the day when people eat semlor. It is a longstanding tradition, and one of the Swedish kings died from eating too many of them. A semla is a cardamom-flavored bun filled with marzipan and a lot of whipped cream. Luckily I found a place that makes vegan semlor. It is a new vegan café, Femtopia, across the street from the vegan foodstore, Goodstore on Hornsgatan on Södermalm. Here is a photo of the vegan semlor.

Fresh Vegan Semlor at Femtopia


Goodstore has all kinds of great vegan stuff. I like the oat milk by Oatly which is a swedish invention.

Vegan grocery store, with a homeless Romanian woman sitting in front.


I have been on a search for the best falafel in town. I have tried several places over the years, but I have decided that my favorite is Falafelbaren, near Mariatorget. They are more expensive than the rest, but the falafel are crunchier on the outside and soft inside. Also, it is a meat-free establishment. The quality seems better than the other places, although still not as good as what I have had in Paris (or Israel or Jordan of course).

My favorite falafel place in Stockholm.


I am still not super impressed with Chinese vegan food here. Lao Wai is an established vegan chinese restaurant on Luntmakargatan. It is fine, and the lunch special is affordable at 100 SEK, but really nothing compared to the vegan Chinese places in San Francisco or elsewhere. I would even prefer Loving Hut.  Martins Gröna is a nice vegetarian-vegan lunch spot on Regeringsgatan. I have also eaten at Hermitage in Gamla Stan several times. Both are perfectly good. Anyway, there are many options, and Happy Cow lists them all.

Lunch at Martins Gröna.


Here are some other photos of Stockholm. One is the lake Trekanten, where the snow has been cleared for people to go ice-skating. The weather has become warmer the days will soon be long.

Sweden isn’t perfect

There are a lot of wonderful things about life in Stockholm. Most amazing to me is the public transit. You can get almost anywhere in Sweden with public transportation. Buses, trains and boats are all efficient and somehow there is a lot of logic to the timing. It is also great to see the university every day, and know that it is free for the students. The library is world class and the students don’t end up having to pay back loans the rest of their lives. Now there is a lot of diversity, with people here from all over the world. The nature is beautiful, and well protected. I can go on and on about the advantages of not worrying about health care, or about having a place to live when you get old.  I love how parents get time for their children, and in the parks, there are sleds for the kids to use, for free.

Playground, where the kids get to use the bikes and sleds for free, honor system.

But there are some things that could be better. First, I am surprised how difficult it is to recycle here. In San Francisco, we just put all the glass, plastic, paper and other recyclables in the blue container, and it gets picked up, and sorted. Then I am pretty sure it goes to China. Here we have to take the recycling to the public depositories. They are often in parks or else dispersed in neighborhoods. But it is always a walk. That extra effort makes it harder to recycle. There is not compost either. If I were the mayor of Stockholm, I would introduce compost and recycling.

You have to walk with your newspapers, plastic cartons and glass jars to these recycling bins that are found throughout the city.

You can’t take bicycles on buses or subways here. This is really different than San Francisco, where bikes can easily go on buses and BART. Copenhagen has bikes on trains. I am sure that at some point, it will become more bike friendly here.

The school of Architecture is usually voted the ugliest building in Stockholm.
The sign says – parking bicycles on the sculpture is forbidden. Some Swedes are not following the rules.

Over the last few years, the homeless population has increased rapidly. There are people from Romania begging at every subway station. They aren’t only in Stockholm, but everywhere throughout the country. This is a new phenomenon and Swedes are discussing it a lot. They don’t know whether they should give money to the freezing Romanians. I heard that the Romanians come here on cheap buses, after hearing that they will get a lot of money from the generous Swedes, but now there are simply too many. They also heard that after three months, they get a free bus ride home.

One of the many many Romanian homeless women now in Sweden.


Be careful not to slip on the icy sidewalks.

Everyone knows that the weather is pretty bad here, but I heard that Boston is worse, especially this year. But it is slippery out on the sidewalks, and you often see women with broken arms. My mom slipped on the ice a couple years ago and broke her wrist.

Memorial to my hiking boots that have taken me on many adventures.

I retired my hiking boots. Somehow the cold here has made them crack, and the soles fell off. They have been with me since 1997, when I finished graduate school, and started on new adventures. They have been to 5 continents, from the jungles of Africa and Peru, to the highlands of Alaska, and the crowded cities of India. I bought some new ones, and expect they will have similar journeys.









B-flat major

I usually try to take a photo of the full moon every month, but yesterday it was too overcast to see it in Stockholm. No wonder they call it the “snow moon”. Maybe I will have better luck next month. Here is a photo of the statue of Carl von Linné. He is the Swede who implemented the binomial latin nomenclature system for species. We are Homo sapiens because of him.   I am including a few photos of Stockholm at night, where the full moon was supposed to be.

Carl von Linné statue in Humlegården. The full moon should be shining behind him.
Nybrokajen, Stockholm at night.
Kaknästornet, the television tower.



I think that a lot of musicians have gone through what I am experiencing now. I first learned the Schubert’s last piano sonata D. 960 when I was about 20 years old. At that time, I didn’t care for it much, and thought it was long and repetitive. Now, at this more advanced age, it makes so much more sense, and I find the depths and subtleties of the work very beautiful. Another reason I didn’t like the piece was because it is in B-flat major. When I was young, I didn’t like B-flat major. It was my least favorite key, which was a problem for me because so many bassoon pieces are in that key. Now I understand that as we age, something about the hairs in our ears changes, and our perception of keys changes. Basically our ears begin to run sharp. Here is a link to the absolute pitch study conducted at UCSF. So now, B-flat major sounds more like B major to me. I never had a problem with B major. I wonder if anyone else has experienced something like this. I am also enjoying playing Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien, another piece in B-flat major. I didn’t like this piece when I was young either. I fear that in this modern technological age, young people will be reluctant to learn to play piano and other instruments. There are so many distractions now, but learning music is like learning a second language, and I think it makes learning languages easier. I know that playing music in front of audiences made it much easier for me to be a public speaker because it is much much harder to perform a piece by memory on stage than to give a lecture.

I am impressed with the library system in Stockholm. I have been working, writing and reading, at the Stockholm University Frescati library among the very quiet and serious students. Outside the window I see the university fields covered with snow. The facilities are excellent, with free high-speed wireless, and good clean lighting. I am thinking to get some cross-country skis to add to my collection of things that I use for a little while and then forget about (like my roller blades and long distance ice skates).




It is still rather dark in Stockholm. The days are longer, but there is a constant cover of overcast. The Christmas lights are down, and now everyone is back to work.   The Swedes and Lithuanians tell me that they might as well work hard, since there is no reason to go outside.

DSCF4415 A typical grey Stockholm day.


I have been thinking about what life was like here in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There was not much electricity, and houses were heated by wood or coal. My parents’ place has large tile furnaces in each room. It must have been really cold. Our lives are so completely different now. We have electronic entertainment. They had books, but needed candles or oil lamps to read in the evenings. There were horses on the streets, and the smells would have been pretty strong. Now there are no smells. Whenever I travel to India or other warm crowded places, I am overwhelmed by the smells. Look at all the vegetables and foods that the Swedes have access to now, because of international trade.

DSCF4402 DSCF4403


The Nordic artists of the last century were rather dark and melancholy. Here is a photo of the painting “Despair” (Förtvivlan) by Edvard Munch that is at the Thielska Gallery here in Stockholm. It is very reminiscent of “The Scream”, from the same time period. Here are also some from the artist Ernst Josephson, who suffered from mental illness. This painting is of the Islamic prophet whose name starts with an M (who is not supposed to represented visually). There is also Jesus and the current King of Sweden painted in 1899, long before he was born.

“Despair” by Edvard Munch



The city is expanding by about 15,000 people a year, so new buildings are popping up. There are new train lines and always improvements to public transportation. The restaurant taxes have been lowered, so now there are more ethnic restaurants and people eating in them. It is expensive here, but with global climate change, Stockholm will be a very desirable place to live in the future.