17 May 2008

Springtime in Skåne

LUND--I was standing on the back balcony, looking over the apartment's back yard, letting the sun bathe my face. A door opened from the basement door below and a woman walked out pulling a large cat on a leash. The feline didn't seem particularly upset, merely disinterested. It would walk up a couple steps, stop, lay down and lick its fur. The woman finally got it into the backyard where it promptly lay down again and stretched. I was watching this little drama with some amusement when the woman looked up and saw me. Then came the surprise. She smiled, waved, and said, "Hej!"

I had been told of this phenomenon. Now it is a given that people who live in cold climes tend to liven up when the sun and warmth return--it is certainly the case in Ohio--but the Swedes seem an extreme example. They spend all winter behaving as if nothing and no one else is sharing the gray universe. Say hello to a passing stranger and they look up, startled and slightly afraid as if you might be a troll about to drag them off into the mist. I have it on good authority that it is even worse up north where the night is even longer and the temperatures colder. There, I am told, the Swedes spend those dark months staring with Nordic moroseness into their beer and brannvin and occasionally uttering depressive grunts. I also had it on good authority that as soon as the sun returns the Swedes thaw out.

The fields of Skåne are in bloom. Flowers cover cherry trees and fall like soft, pinkish rain. The leaves have unfurled on the trees, cloaking with soft green what had been skeletal forms filled with the croaking balls of raven's nests. The Swedish flag is a gold cross on a blue field and the land here mirrors that symbol in a way that seems almost embarrassingly patriotic to the undemonstrative Swedes and their low-key nationalism. But the rolling rapeseed fields of Skåne blossom in vast swaths of bright yellow making gold lines against the clear blue skies.

The Swedes respond. Not only, at times, do they randomly say cheery hellos, they even smile and laugh while sober and in public. To my surprise, the mid-May days have been more than merely warm and sunny. Some have been downright close to hot. The squares and parks and benches are covered with people eating ice-cream, talking, drinking beer. Every bar, eatery and coffee-shop has put out tables. Practically overnight Sweden transforms itself from a lightless land full of silent and dour herring-eaters moving quickly through scabrous half-light to a café society of exuberant sun-worshipers. From everywhere comes the savory smoke trails of BBQ's. There are ducks out on adventures, waddling around the city squares begging for food. Life moves from inside to out and for me it is more than just the sun; it is an affirmation that this land is more than mist and night and no amount of second-hand reports can make up for seeing a new season in a new country.


Blogger Lena said...

I love the sky-rapeseed swedish flag.

5:49 AM  
Blogger afflaf said...

awesome post Andrew! It's so scary even for me who's been here for 14 years now to imagine the leaves falling off and preparing for the winter of 2009! we swede's (most of us) are not to fancy about cold weather.. we just happen to live here, like you said in an earlier post! I'm on my out soon to get my share of sunlight.

8:37 AM  

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