Guest blog by Joshua Kent Bookman
In two weeks, I will be flying from Boston to Stockholm for my quickest trip yet – 24 hours. My impulse was to write – to my boss, to my friends, perhaps to acquaintances – but then I realised that would be unfair. Unfair, or insane.
What would give me a feeling of Scandinavia, if all I had was 24 hours?
I cannot expect to see everyone, nor can I expect to see everything. But what would give me a feeling of Scandinavia, if all I had was 24 hours? A part of me wants to experience everything at once. Lakes, restaurants, friends. Another part of me is grateful that it’s Scandinavia, in Spring time. My Scandinavian home has taught me about the seasonality of expectations. I’ve learned that not every season has the same sense of organisation. Spring, near us now, lets us celebrate a subtle form of planning.
There is a joke about the seasons of Sweden – winter, fool’s spring, second winter, spring of deception, third winter, mud season, actual spring. But let me describe three other ways to look at spring.
1. Spring, as the return of outdoor sports, and forest walks. Plus, borrowing someone’s tennis shoes. A bit of a confession – I have reached out to at least one friend. It’s tradition that we play tennis whenever I’m in Stockholm, and because of the speed of the trip, I can’t justify bringing my tennis sneakers. I just know, somehow, I will be lazy and the clay of the tennis courts will stain and sprinkle my clothing. The brick orange dust will get everywhere, including my suit I brought for a wedding. Spring is a fantastic time for outdoor sports – including tennis, and football. The crisp air is tolerable during vigorous exercise. The calories burned justifies a drink afterwards, at a cozy bar or beer hall. Spring is also a beautiful time for longer forest walks. The air is a mix of twinkled fog and longer light. The Skogskyrkogården cemetery, south of central Stockholm, is a great place to rediscover the wonder of Scandinavia’s forest air.
Oh, and part two of my confession – I believe my friend’s brother is the same shoe size of me, so I think I will just ask to borrow his sneakers. I will buy him lunch as a thank you for saving my clothes. Spring, as the opportunity to be a bit mischievous.
2. Spring, as the excuse to try new pastries It’s no longer winter’s hibernation. I’m exercising a bit more. I’ve burned off that beer or pasta dish. With the extra hours of daylight, there’s more sunlight to remind us – hey, it’s okay to indulge. In fact, spring is the perfect time to try new things. If we’ve hibernated for winter, I can guarantee that no one has seen me in a long time. I doubt they remember if I have a moustache or beard, or if I’m still learning Italian. Which gives us the opportunity to break some cold, sturdy habits. I find a place like Gunnarsons specialkonditori a wonderful place to delight my senses. Located right near a metro stop in Södermalm, it’s a convenient candy land for adults (kids too). Sweets, cakes, breads, Easter treats, pastries with vanilla cream, lemon curd, semlor, saffron twists, slices and chocolate bites… I have to stop, before I spoil the warmth of delight. Spring is about new energy, and what better than a pastry shop to remind us that we could buy a friend or neighbor a pastry. What a surprise for them, and joy for you, since you bought an extra for you to try later. It’s fine to choose a new shop, or support your local store – delight doesn’t have to be routine. The spring of deception is also the spring of tasty change.
3. Spring, the first dip Swimming is most often celebrated in the summer, when you can see many people lazing by rocks and cliffs with a beach towel, but there is also something essentially Nordic to a quick dip (“ett dopp”). Springtime is the perfect opportunity to shake the habit of fear. It may feel insane, but as evidenced by my impulse to enjoy a 24 hour trip, there’s just some things you have to enjoy without judgment. My Scandinavian home feels warmer when I take the jump into a lake. Yes, the water in Spring isn’t jacuzzi warm, but it’s warm enough to remind me that I am alive. It’s alluring to break the long horizonlessness of winter. Maybe my boss won’t have time to jump in the water with me, but I hope my friend is watching from her fifth-story apartment window. She has her fika, and is smiling between sips as I plunge into the sjö. The beauty is that there is someone with me. A stranger, who has derobed from a teal towel and stood beside me.
“If you jump, I’ll jump.” He’s said this and I am happy. I’d copy the smile of my friend from the apartment window, and with it I’d jump. They’d both watch, and then the stranger would follow. “That was worth it.” I can’t remember if it’s me or him who’s said it, but that’s the joy of spring’s new chances. My Scandinavian home is where those who take the courage beside me, even if a day later I’ll be elsewhere.
Joshua Kent Bookman was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and reformed by life and work in Sweden, France, and Italy. His novel, To: All The Friends I Killed, is out May 15th. www.joshbookman.com
Read our blog about enjoying Spring in your home here
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