Wednesday, 25 August 2010


As usual, the sound of the first boat trafficking Hammarby Sound woke me up from an uneasy sleep at 5.45 this morning. No use prolonging my turning around in bed; instead, I saluted a rare sunrise morning after several days of rain and dusk. When treading out to the balcony, I turned away from the usual sight, photographed so many times already, to let my back benefit from the sun for a while. But how delighted i was at seeing the low sun bathing the Skanstull bridges and lock with its golden shine. Amazingly, the reflections of glass facades in the water shone much clearer than the facades themselves. An effect of the sun's angle on the horizon, no doubt. 

Above it all throned a full moon, the August moon so adored by the Swedes! It signals the start of the crayfish party season, with much drinking and frolicking, a remainder from heathen times and their ancient sacrifices to thank the goods for a good harvest and prolong the memories of a mellow summer. 

Since we are looking at Hammarby Sound from a new angle this time, let me finish by showing you another view. This picture was taken yesterday around 14.30, at a rare intermission in the steady raining of that day.


Anonymous said...

... these are beautiful photographs! I have also been following your travels in the USA. I am happy to see you back safely and enjoying Stockholm. Best regards!

Anonymous said...

Dear Emil, thanks for this update, I very much enjoyed the new view, it felt like I was sitting on the balcony too, with the sun in my back.
Great photos, so tranquil, as usual.


HC said...

Dear Emil,

I agree completely with previous commentators, but regardig your second para I think you got carried away by all Nordic mysticism you must have inhaled since you moved to Sweden with all its ancient mythology and imaginative fairy tales.

It would surpise me a lot though, if the origins of cray fish eating has any resemblance at all with what you so poetically described. At the risk of ruining a good story but for the benefit of your foreign (i.e. non-Swedish) readers I may say that crayfish was a rather modest dish on the poor man's table some hundred years ago.

There is a passage in one of Strindberg's many books depicting the not so well to do folks sitting on park benches in central Stockholm devouring these creatures without great enthusiasm and with profane thoughts only.

Without being an expert at all on the subject, I believe that the idea of having cray fish parties came about in the beginning of last century, when the more wealthy circles began to understand that cray fish correctly cooked was a delicacy. With growing consumption, cray fish got less and less and prices grew higher and higher - an observation that must interest any economist.

Eventually, the authorities were obliged to introduce some restriction on the fishing of cray fish so it was decided that nobody would be allowed to catch such animals before 7 August. Thus, during the night of the 7th all who had access to cray fish waters (creeks, rivers or lakes) through out their cages to catch all they could get. Naturally, the following evening was the day, when the first cray fish parties of the year took place.

It is true though that there is a link between cray fish eating nowadays and the moon (the fuller the better). The main reason though for this connection is not of a supranatural nature but due to the fact that the August moon spreads such a delightful and romantic light.

It is also true that cray fish eating has been associated with strong liquors, notably the famous Swedish schnaps. There is a wellknown advertisment from the 1920-ies depicting a popular author and member of the Swedish Academy, Albert Engström, eating cray fish, drinking schnaps, pointing with his index finger on the bottle and stating emphatically that "cray fish require these liquors".

This advertisment was part of a campaign against those who wanted to ban and outlaw alcoholic liquors in the whole country. It was posted in public places in conjunction with the referendum then held and which was won by those who wanted to allow the continued consumption of such beverages. This victory, which was much aided by Engström's advertisment, later led to the introduction of the typically Swedish regulation restricting the purchase of alcoholic drinks to 3 litres per man and month and 1 litre per woman.

Obviously, this led soon to a black market where people who did not use their rations traded these for money to more needy people.

Swedish habits and traditions may seem very odd and mysterious to many, although the reasons behind may be quite mondane. I stand, of course, to be corrected, but I believe that the Swedish cray fish tradition is no different.

Emil Ems said...

Dear Hans Christian,

It is a delight to have you as commentator, with your in-depth insights in Swedish habits. I gladly admit that my short explanation of the crayfish festivities, albeit romantic as you also concede, may be misleading. Dear readers, please take the time to savour Hans Christian's lecture!