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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Human Sunflowers


The latitude of Stockholm is 59.3 degrees. In other words, way up there. That means that those of us who live here spend a great deal of the year in the dark. For much of the winter, we get up in the dark, we go to work in the dark. We walk our dog in the dark, we come home from work in the dark. I've had many an afternoon at work where I feel utterly shattered and think it must be midnight, definitely time to go home. I glance at my watch. 3.15 p.m. You've got to be kidding me. I'm pretty much thinking, go home, quick dinner, time for bed. By then it would be 4.30. It ain't easy, those dark months. But there is a bright side.
Another interesting fact of Swedish life is the no nonsense manner in which they describe their version of day light savings time. In the fall, we change our clocks to winter time. In the spring, we turn them summer time. One of the most significant metamorphosis of culture occurs on the day that Swedes lovingly turn their clocks to summer time. I'm surprised that Sweden has not declared a national holiday accompanied by a complex cultural ritual to usher in this most welcome rite of spring. When you live this far north, it is not an insignificant movement of time. It is the bright side previously noted. The switch to summer time means that we have once again cast off the saddle of darkness that has been weighing us down for the past several months and are now breaking forth into the season of light.
When we first moved here, I could not figure out why everyone talked about the weather so much. Now I talk about the weather, a lot. I also puzzled over the way in which Swedes turned their face to the sun, no matter where they stood, no matter what they were doing. Stand on any street corner in Stockholm on a sunny day and all you'll see are necks craning to push the faces attached to them towards the sun. It's kind of funny at first. Then it becomes part of your own life 9 summer times down the road. You really, really, really can't help it, any more than a sunflower could deny itself the bright light of the blazing sun. On a sunny day, a magnet in your brain forcefully pulls your face upwards towards the sun. Your eyes close, your neck snaps back as your face takes in the warm caress of the sun's rays for the first time in months. You can take a vitamin D supplement during the winter, but nothing beats the real deal washing over your skin and bringing you back to life.
The cruel twist of summer time is that there are no guarantees of warmth in this country. A really hot summer day would be 80 degrees F. There is usually one of those. Beautiful as the spring is, it is filled with a hovering anxiety about how the approaching summer will be. The paucity of warm, sunny days in this country does give birth however to another Swedish rite of spring and summer. When it's warm and sunny, you do not have to work all day. In fact, if the temperature actually rises over 75 degrees F, you don't have to work at all. Instead, it is practically required by law that you grab a picnic, head to patch of grass or a rock by the sea, put your face to the sun and bask in the fact, that for today anyway, summer time is living up to its name.
This week we've had 5 days in row of real deal summer time. The temperature hasn't broken 60 F yet so I still had to work, but at least for now, my neck is craned backwards, my face is reaching forward and my hopes for a warm summer have stilled my anxiety about living at 59.3 degrees north, at least for a few gloriously warm, sunny moments.