My phone died out before the gasque even began, so pictures are not nearly as abundant as I wish them to be, nor in the quality I desire – but, I’ll try my best to paint with words for all of you the bevvy of sights and emotions from Saturday.
For a week or so leading up to last night, I didn’t even know if I could muster the courage to attend the gasque. As cited in my acne post, my face took a severe beating with a breakout more expansive than any I’ve had prior. It seeped beneath the skin, into my mind, warping my confidence – public appearances scared me, and despite having paid for this gasque a month or so ago, I almost bailed out. I almost resolved to bury myself beneath my bed with throbbing red cheeks, on a night which wound up summarized by a line from Fellowship of the Ring:
“GANDALF MY OLD FRIEND, THIS WILL BE A NIGHT TO REMEMBER.”
I’m not sure what happened in terms of my skin. I bought a few new treats on Thursday – Grease Lightning from LUSH, Pores Be Pure face mask from Formula 10.0.6, and 5000 iu capsules of vitamin A – and used them all that evening. On Friday I awoke and my skin looked loads calmer, which befuddled me. Today, Sunday, all of the prior spots are drying up (as is the rest of my face, but I digress.) It’s all quite strange.
Saturday morning, 2-21, I started the getting-ready process by straightening my hair and putting a bit of coconut oil on the strands to give them some shine and hydration. After breakfast, I swiped over my face with foundation and powder, flicked color and shape onto my eyebrows, messed up my cateye but managed to repair it, and garbed myself in a simple black cocktail gown, black leggings, and my snow boots. In all honesty, I felt horrid yesterday, what with a chest cold clawing out of my throat every five minutes in the form of a nasty dry hack. But, I pulled myself together, wrapped myself in the scarf and coat, and bussed over to Varmlands Nation.
This gasque – I should probably take a moment to explain what the essence of a “gasque” is. In short, it’s an old Scandinavian tradition, oldest in Uppsala, described by my pamphlet as a “formal academic dinner” with a multi-course meal, choir songs, speeches by important people, and lessons in proper table manners. The Nations of Uppsala University hold gasques every so often, usually around the time of notable events like Christmas, or spring- and autumn time. This gasque was a new student welcome, an introduction to the world of cocktail dresses and three-sip-snaps toasts. Except if you’re me, you only pretend to sip the snaps, as it tastes like pure isopropyl alcohol with a hint of honeydew.
About 140 of us attended the reccegask at Värmlands Nation. We gathered outside of the Nation house, and at 3:40 marched to the main University hall behind a flagbearer suited and sashed in gold and blue, proudly pointing the white banner with the blue eagle symbol of Värmlands towards the sky as if to sketch the name of Värmlands into the clouds. During this march was when my phone perished, and I was left to simply watch as armies of gasque-goers crowded before the steps of the building, behind their respective flagbearers and some trailed by drummers beating rhythms into the festive air, heads raised and proud in their suits or dresses, looking beautiful, looking alive.
We stood for awhile, getting cold, before we were allowed in the great hall one Nation at a time. We stepped into the main atrium, lit with massive chandeliers casting a golden glow all about, and stood respectfully as the room filled up. Then a conductor, suited in black, took the stage and directed the orchestra to play what I am guessing was a type of Uppsala University anthem – the first few notes sounded oddly like a song from the Star Wars film score (dun dun dun dun-dun-dun dun dun-dun). Once that was done, we sat, I gazing at the papered walls of the atrium, at the faces vibrant and varied, at the orchestra, at a bald man with a pretty intense beard as he took the stage and gave a speech in Swedish.
A few of these speeches happened in the course of the introduction ceremony, and sadly I was unable to understand any of them as they were conducted in Swedish. They were summed up to me later a bit, though, as essentially involving many words of welcome, a bit of background on Nations and gasques and other historical insights, some humorous jokes, encouragements, and yet more thanks for attending.
When the Norrlands choir took the stage after a couple speeches, I can say safely that my breathe escaped me. They sang a few scores in mixed Swedish and English, their sweet voices sweeping across the room like auditory nectar, capable of filling my heart with joy and carrying me into a dimension of gratefulness that I am here now, I am in Uppsala, and I am blessed. You know when your eyes suddenly brighten in the presence of something beautiful, visual or otherwise, and a surge of golden energy streams into your blood and pulses in your heart, and you go through a rebirth so rapid and fleeting that you can barely name it at the time? That happened to me. The flood of culture around me swelled in my veins and nearly burst out of me, in the form of maybe sobs or a grin large never large enough to truly express my sentiments.
More speeches, some more orchestral music, and an awards ceremony for the recentiors – I’m guessing the new-student coordinators – occurred before we were dismissed to our respective nations. We had to wait in the hallway for awhile before being permitted to enter the grand hall, the stora salen, for dinner, but we were treated with wine and conversation. Sadly, my throat was really unhappy with alcohol throughout the night and I think my tastes were warped as was, so alcohol did not go down well – a shame, since there was plenty of it.
Once the great wood doors slid open we streamed into a fragrant hall adorned with blue and set with nine tables, one reserved for the curators and important figureheads of Värmlands. Funny story: I think they got confused and gave me two seats, as I signed up with my given name but am on Facebook and otherwise with my nickname, Kellie. Regardless, I took the one next to my friend Cassandra, where we were not permitted to sit just yet but I took stock of the setup before me. On a small white plate, balanced upon a larger plate, was a prepped appetizer, some kind of vegetarian bruschetta for me and a salmon dish for the others. Two sets of forks and two sets of knives sat to the left and right respectively, the smaller ones on the outside and meant for use on the appetizer. Behind the plate was a wine glass, a beer glass, a cylindrical glass filled with water, and a smaller shot glass for snaps, with an unopened bottle of beer ready for our use later. Cassandra sat to my left, an empty seat to my right (the guy didn’t show; hope you’re ok, Johannes Krohn, who/wherever you are), a girl before me and two diagonal on either side across the table. We took our seats when the first curator herself sat.
A speech was given, followed by a song shared by those in the great dining hall, and then came the moment that I realized drinking straight habanero juice would have been easier than snaps. We were shown how to properly toast – in my case, hailing the person to my right, then my left, then in front of me – before taking a sip of snaps, which is supposed to be finished in three sips. When I downed a bit of it, I began to convulse and my throat yelled quite angrily at me. Oh goodness was it awful. I drank probably half of my water just after that, and the appetizer barely washed away the lingering particles of this bitterly awful drink.
At this point, the order of events is blurring somewhat. There was an abundance of songs, mostly in Swedish, and the choir came in and sang a pair of beautiful tunes followed by a catchy one set to the beat of Only Girl by Rihanna – in which I’m pretty sure they were putting the Nation on a pedestal, and gently insulting all of the others with good humor. To the last one I found my head bopping and my eyes moistening, for the members of the choir danced and sang their hearts out in still perfect harmony, and I was carried away in their raw happiness, and I could have joined them on the steps and been entirely at bliss with life.
We had dinner, which for most was lammytterfilé med potatisgratäng och rödvinssås, lamb with green beans and red sauce; for me was a portobello cap stuffed with cheese and spices with beans. Beforehand the staff brought a large platter of cheesy potato gratin and set it beside me, along with my vegetarian dish, but being unable to eat my meal until everyone at my table as served – for that is what tradition dictates – I was left slobbering over the fragrance even longer than the others. It probably took a good 20-30 minutes before the plates of lamb and beans were carried forth, and our table was the last to be served in entirety. The portion was quite small, which wasn’t unexpected for such a formal event.
Later came dessert, a triple layer mousse concoction with a thick chocolate root, a whipped cream middle with a hint of white chocolate, and smashed raspberries atop. The proper name was vit chokladmousse med mörk chokladtryffel och hallncoulis.
After-dinner coffee rounded out the fare, with three types of alcohol to choose from if you wanted to spike your drink: punch, Bailey’s (I chose that), and a third which I don’t remember. To be honest, the coffee was my favorite part.
I can’t say I had “fun” per se: it was not a “fun” event. However, the cultural immersion was an experience I will never forget. It’s extremely different to anything I’ve done in the States, and it left me with a radiating warmth to remind me of how much of a privilege it truly was to sit at the table, to hear those songs, to taste that vile concoction that is snaps, to stand on my chair during the final song of the evening as was directed and gaze around at the 139 some-odd people in the room with whom I shared this moment, and every moment for the six hours prior.
It was an irreplaceable experience, and I’m glad I had it.