Saturday, 27 April 2013

Nordic Notes #3

It turns out that one month isn't long enough to even begin to get to know Stockholm, never mind Sweden, especially since I am now working 7 long days per week in an attempt to try and complete everything that I need to do before returning home on Tuesday. I am looking forward to home, and to setting myself back in motion in York with the new-found knowledge and confidence that I have gained here in Stockholm, but still I am amazed by the quantity of self that one can muster in only four weeks. I decided two weeks ago that it didn't matter what I didn't know, and rather than dwelling on the problems I have encountered I've pushed myself to keep my mind open to the new experiences and lessons that inevitably come with a new place and a new approach. This attitude has helped me to consider my work holistically for the most part (there have been some really difficult days, more of that to come another time, I'm sure), and as a consequence the whole experience has come as an entirety to me: everything has been a lesson in something.

Four days until I'm back on British soil: how does time pass so quickly? Everything I do now is carried out with my imminent departure in mind: a warm cinnamon bun on a Saturday morning, a strong coffee sweetened with honey rather than my usual latte, listening in to conversations that I can't understand in an attempt to decipher the whimsical prosodies of the Swedish language. I feel as if I'm getting to know Swedish life, and to know the attitudes and habits that come with it. My (painfully British) comments about the rain have been met on numerous occasions by optimism: rain is a sign that the spring has arrived, that the snow has stopped falling, that the summer festival is on its way. Rain is a sign of hope, rather than endless drudgery.

And the weather has changed the landscape over the past week; I have witnessed the great melting of the world around me from a position of wonderment. The first signs came on the frozen Baltic waters of Edsviken, as a great crack appeared through the centre of the ice, splitting the solid surface in half with a great fault line into the ocean. Then it rained and the world was grey for two days, and as the grey melted into blue on Wednesday the snow seemed to disappear in a moment, leaving piles of grit waiting uselessly by the roadside. Now only a few webs of snow cling on to the shadowed hollows around the water, while crocuses and butterflies veer my gaze from the bare trees.

Last Saturday I sat by the water and watched the ice as it melted. It's crust dropped off bit-by-bit into the gloomy water, and so the new crust was formed and began to crumble. Even at 5:30 in the afternoon the sun was pleasantly warm on my face, turning the surface of the sheet of ice into a glossy green pool on top of the water. Every day since the ice reduced and has now disappeared completely; when I think back to the runners and skiiers that I saw enjoying the frozen waters only 3 weeks ago it is a comfort to know how the world can change so much in such a short timescale.

Sweden has left me with a real respect for the humble joy of family life, a love for pine trees and evening birdsong, and an appreciation of endurance and longevity that can be tasted in the breads and pickles and sensed in the Swedish attitude. A huge pile of logs has gathered in the local park, ready for a bonfire on Tuesday to celebrate the start of summer. I'll miss the festivities (typically I am returning to the UK on the biggest celebration day of the Swedish calendar) but will be thinking of the celebrations as my plane lands in the UK: it seems appropriate to mark the end of winter in a festival held around a pyre of warmth and light, maybe something that we should adopt at home to brighten the [inevitable?] grey of our summertime. As I said, I am looking forward to arriving home - especially to a bubble bath and my own bed - but I will certainly miss the positive, bright nature of Sweden: a country with public dog poo bag-dispensers and roadside public bike pumps is one that we can certainly learn from. Brightness, light and warmth have been the resonant themes of this visit, mingled with the scents of coffee and ground cardamom.

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