Thursday, 13 May 2021
Even if Sweden has been secularised since some twenty years back, Lutheranism, the former state religion, is still firmly entrenched in its culture. Every spring, when youngsters assemble to celebrate, one tune always reverberates through the air in jubilant buoyancy. Only a few of the jubilants are aware of singing a Lutheran choral, listed as number 199 in the Swedish Church Hymnal and sung in Church ever since 1695. I won’t let you be ignorant of the lyrics, at least the starter:
Den blomstertid nu kommer
med lust och fägring stor.
Nu nalkas ljuva sommar,
då gräs och gröda gror.
Blooming season now arrives
with sheer joy and beauty both.
Lovely Summer soon then follows,
lets the crops and forage thrive.
(Home cooked translation: Emil Ems)
This song resounds with particular timbre this year. Many of us now tend to interpret it figuratively. After a loong winter of troubles, with the plague forcing ever more caution and isolation upon us, suddenly, with the help of technical miracles, we are relieved of this terrible burden and can begin to hope for a more joyous future. Just yesterday, the news told us that one third of our population has already been inoculated at least once. Even if the rate of newly infected is still surprisingly high, the death toll is decreasing and intensive care units are getting a long awaited relief.
As if to underline this new beginning, we have enjoyed an especially bountiful cherry blossom season here in Stockholm this year. Cherry blossoms as far North as Stockholm? Yes, indeed! Although not the original Japanese delights, our cherry trees here are of an especially hardy strain, cultivated to endure Northern climates. But, looking at the flowers, you would not notice a difference to the Japanese originals.
In fact, the Japanese community in Stockholm is pilgrimaging to Hammarby Sjöstad (my part of town) in droves every spring to satisfy their cravings for picnicking under a pink flowery ceiling. We ordinary Stockholmers gladly join in, even if most of us are content with ambulating around the trees and taking pictures.
Photographer as I am, I have lived in Hammarby Sjöstad for twelve years now without ever documenting the pink abundance. But this season is different. A new beginning, so to speak, apt to be feted with plenty pictures. So, without further ado, here it is, a small video showing off my home district at its flowery best, accompanied by the venerable Lutheran choral.
Sunday, 4 April 2021
This winter has been a rather peculiar one. It got off to a good start. Most of January and half of February were being blessed with reasonably cool temperatures, hovering moderately below 0° C. With this, a nice cover of glittering snow mirrored a sun never failing to appear in the mornings. As made for nice walks in the proficient neighbourhoods of my home!
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse after that, and a loong period of drabness ensued. Day after day laboured on, with grey skies and temperatures varying just around the zero-mark. It was as if a grey blanket of morosity had decided it proper to cover Hammarby Sjöstad.
But why did I find this peculiar? Isn’t this the usual state of affairs in Stockholm, around February/March, before the sun is deciding to make a definite breakthrough to announce the advent of spring? It took me some time to find out why. Finally, I got it. The drabness I experienced was not that of the sky above us, rather usual this time of the year. No, it was the dread I felt within, in my mind as well as in my bones!
Back in January, life seemed to get honky dory again. Didn’t the authorities announce that vaccination of us old-timers was imminent? I already made plans for a quick trip to the Canary Islands in March, lapping sun on the marvellous beach of Playa del Inglés and ambling along, with my toes sunk in the sand. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Week by week, announcements came of the need to postpone the desired relief, and, in lock-step with the grey skies appearing regularly above my head, the mind started to dive into deeper and deeper folds of despair.
Finally, two weeks ago, the long awaited announcement came. Time to register for vaccination at long last! Three days ago, on Easter Monday, it was time for me to get relief. My first shot of the AstraZeneca miracle lotion! Still, nine more weeks to get the second shot. And first two weeks after that will I be fully protected (to 95%, that is) against the current strains of Corona. This brings us to mid June!
Still, who am I to complain. Hitherto it was unheard of that a vaccine could be developed and applied whilst a newly arriving pandemic was still in full swing. We should be amazed at the progress in science that made it possible! Harken, you people who can but complain over the tardiness of vaccination and blame both companies and authorities for undue delay. We got the shots at an unprecedented speed! Time to relax and be content!
Still, even if the period of dread is passed, I feel its after effects. It is as if I suddenly have aged 5 years in the short period of the plague. Isolation and hopelessness have a price. Hopefully, this decay can still be reversed, once I have my trip to the Canaries!
In the mean-time, why not have a go at a nice tune I recently discovered, which seems to mirror my sentiments exactly. But in a much more humorous fashion. Enjoy!
Sunday, 7 February 2021
This time of the year we sometimes are subject to a peculiar phenomenon occurring in the Northern regions. It is February and, whilst the morning sky is getting brighter, day by day, the air keeps getting colder and colder. The days are often sunny and dry, but very cold, with temperatures having difficulty to rise from nightly lows of around -15° C. All in all, these are conditions far preferable to the ordinary Stockholm winter, when temperature is alternating between +1° and -1°, with a lot of slush to wade through, and icy spots to break your bones on, whilst taking your daily walk.
The above experience appears to me an apt metaphor for the present Corona malaise. On the one hand, more and more people are getting vaccinated and saved from the Plague; on the other, a recent mutation of the virus, much more aggressive and deadly, is getting closer and closer, having engulfed all of Albion to the West already, washed up on the shores of Ultima Thule and led Svithiod (Sweden) to close its portals to the outside world; in vain, it turns out, since the fiend is harrowing us already from within.
|5 February at 8.25 am ...|
But back to reality: the other morning, I noticed a peculiar apparition from my breakfast table. On Hammarby Canal, towards its West, a huge ice floe had formed, finely powdered by light snowfall in the night before, and moving slowly but surely Eastward towards Hammarby Sound. The water in the Canal is essentially freshwater, since it is being replenished periodically from Lake Mälar, whenever the large lock between the two is being operated. Thus, it tends to freeze over sooner than in the Sound, which contains mostly brackish water from the Baltic.
|... at 8.50 am ...|
As I was geting on with breakfast, 25 minutes later, the wandering floe had already entered the Sound ...
|... and at 9.00 am|
... where, after another ten minutes, the ferry crossing over had to traverse it. With some crunching, the ship was cutting it in half. At the same time, it forced the floe along towards the opposite shore, where it joined the firm ice already hovering there due to freshwater being fed into it from the upper lakes on the plateau.
Only rarely can we witness a complete freeze over of Hammarby Canal; it occurs usually on a calm Sunday morning, when temperatures in the night before have hovered well below -15° and no vessel has yet trafficked the narrows. The picture below was taken five years ago and I was lucky to catch it with just one small boat cutting up the flat surface.
Looking at that picture now, it appears to me as another apt metafor for life in the times of the Plague. Each and one of us has to labour on, in self-isolation, looking forward to reaching the “open waters” of the company of others and social togetherness.
|An apt metafor for life in the times of the Plague|
Let me take the occasion to deal with yet another facet of living with the Plague as a solitaire. Even if aspiring to be a world citizen and being, admittedly, a Swedish national, I feel drawn back to my place of birth off and on. To me, self-isolation has no great disadvantages in daily life, since I am a loner by nature and live by myself anyhow, even in ordinary times. But, I would age prematurely and certainly have a shorter life span if I were permanently prevented from revisiting my place of origin at least once a year. Last year it proved impossible to go back there, and it may remain impossible this year as well.
So, as consolation, I listen from time to time to a tune that deals with the issue. I admit that many of You Readers will have difficulty understanding the impact of this song. But, rest assured, it means the world to a lot of the German speaking people in Europe (about a hundred million all in all), just as this song means the world to the Swedes. Its refrain goes like this:
I wüll wida ham.
I fül mi do so alan.
Brauch ka grosse Wölld.
I wüll ham noch Firscht'nfölld.
I want to go home again.
I am feeling so lonely here.
Don’t need the world at large.
Just want to go home, to Fürstenfeld.
For most of the about 100 million impacted by the song, the word “Fürstenfeld” just stands for “Heimat”. For me, it stands for exactly what it is. It so happens that the hamlet of Fürstenfeld lies just half an hour on bicycle away from my place of birth. So I trust you understand that this tune means the world to me as well. Enjoy!