#6 The Prodigal Sun

What spring means in Sweden

The arrival of spring wreaks a strange change in this post-pagan land. One glimpse of sunshine wakes the icy giant, and the entire country comes out of hibernation.

Real giants are slow to wake. They snork and snuffle and rub their sleepy eyes before stirring their limbs. For Swedes the process is barely a process at all — rather, it is a rapid and electrifying event, as though a wild roommate has dipped the sleeper’s fingers in left-over schnapps and jammed them into the plug socket. Last week it snowed. But this week, spring has suddenly sprung!

It has been a long wait. There have been desperate sunbathers along the waterfront every sunny day for two months. The picture above was taken in early March — the water was still covered in ice, and most sunbathers were wearing winter coats.

But now the almighty sun streams down into the worshipping city. It is greeted by a Swedish hug lasting several months. A Swedish hug lasting more than a few seconds is a bone-crushing experience. No-one will go in until September. After locking themselves indoors through the winter, now they lock themselves out.

Pallid Vikings swarm the streets and riverside cafes. Young maidens and even aged hags begin to blossom. The local Boulebar reopens. The broad streets are narrowed by bustling tables — who cares if you still need a coat, at least your bum won’t be frozen to the seat.

Fast-forward a few months, and the world has turned again. Spring is gone, long live sweet summer! We arrived here in late August. Bronzed skin, blonde hair, long limbs and easy smiles were everywhere.

But something in this sun-kissed paradise was not quite right. In the background, very faintly… what was that? Can you hear it? Tick, tock, tick, tock… the seasons’ clock. The countdown to winter begins on the day the sun arrives.

So time is short. Already the prudent country-dwellers were gathering food and firewood for the hard winter ahead. But the city Swedes pump up the volume and drown out the clock.

When we first landed, in a blaze of sunshine and summery sweat, the only hint that we hadn’t redirected to Los Angeles was in the eyes. A very slight dilation of the pupils, or a stare that lasts just a little too long… there is a mania that grips the Swede when summer arrives. He knows this is his chance. He will retire to his summer palace in the archipelago and toast himself like a salamander on a rock.

Swedish residents are advised to take vitamin D throughout the year. The sun’s true goodness is squeezed into a short period, so when it does arrive it must be taken in highly-concentrated doses. Now the nights are shortening, the sky is bright, and water sparkles in the sunlight. The mania will soon descend.