Swedish Summer Stories, part 1

I remembered that in the summer of 2009 I posted something on my blog every day, usually just a photo with a short explanation, but sometimes a little story went with it. I read through those again, and it was remarkable and comforting to see how there were quite a few moments described that really remind me of my life in Sweden too.  The story below, from July 30, 2009, describes almost exactly what I'll be doing tomorrow night in Stockholm:

"On Wednesday nights in July the Santa Barbara Zoo hosts a movie shown outside on a huge screen under the stars. If you get there early, you can just relax on a blanket while the sun sets, watch the boats go by, throw a frisbee around, see the animals, and get some hot dogs or bbq ribs, wine or beer, and of course popcorn. I've been wanting to do it for awhile, and when I saw that they were showing Endless Summer on the final night, which I've always been meaning to watch, I knew I'd have to be there.
It was fantastic. The movie, the night, the setting... Wow."

But what I've been meaning to write about for weeks is about moments in my summer that have felt so distinctly Swedish. Moments that do not ring with familiarity because I've necessarily experienced something like it in my previous life, but that show me something I have learned about Swedish culture or have come to love in the last two years. [Note: yes, two years now that I've lived in Sweden. I can hardly believe that.]

We sit by the shore at the seaside property belonging to the extended family of my friend. This place has been in his family for many decades. There are several little cottages that sit scattered around their land. These cottages are wooden, simple and rustic. The one that belongs to my friend's grandparents looks inside, from the books and furniture, like it hasn't changed in fifty years. In the most lovely way. He tells me about the bell that his grandma used to ring to call everyone to come gather for tea on summer afternoons. We relax and sip our beers and eat strawberries and listen to the water lap against the shore. After a few minutes some of his relatives appear a little ways away, on a tiny little dock, to go for a swim. 
"Oh look at that," he said. "They are wearing bathing suits. They're doing that for your sake, you know." 
"What do you mean?" I asked. 
"Well they know there is a visitor here. Otherwise, if it was just family, like cousins and uncles and such, they wouldn't wear anything. Swim nude. That's the best way to swim, of course," he said. 
Of course, I thought. 

It was 2 am or so, and I was jumping around and yelling with some people over on the lawn. Then I heard some shouts and splashes down by the water, and remembered that something was going on that I needed to join in on. Sauna time. I threw on my bathing suit and ran out to the dock and into the tiny red house. Half a dozen friends were in there, with beers, and telling stories and singing songs. Soon beads of sweat were rolling down my face, shoulders and chest. My head got so hot that my mind slowed down and only took in the moment. The metal of my necklace started burning me. Then we ran out, chasing each other over the wooden planks and out into the fresh summer air and then... boom! Into the cool water. I was completely submerged, and my body tingled from the shock after having been so hot. When I came up for air, and took another look at the sky that at midsummer, stays the color of dawn through the middle of the night, and saw my friends jumping off the dock as well, I laughed and yelled the only thought in my head:
"I've never felt more alive!!!" 
We repeated that whole routine 4 or 5 more times before retiring to our tents for our midsummer night's sleep. 

It's some time in the late morning when we wake up. You wander out into the kitchen. And a Swedish breakfast feast is being prepared, to be eaten out on the patio, by the parents of the Swedish friend I am staying with. We mingle together as we toast bread, slice cheese, cucumbers and bell peppers, and fruit, pile thin-sliced meats and salamis on a plate, and pour yogurt into bowls and cover it with muesli. Along with mugs full of coffee, we carry everything out to the yard and sit there, eating as much as we can, for a relaxed and completely unmeasured amount of blissful time. No rushing off to the next fun summer thing... Just calm, stomach-filling, lightly conversational bliss.
This scene, this humble classic Swedish summer story, is one of my favorites that I've had in each of the last 3 Swedish summers I've experienced, from Luleå to Lidingö, Ljungby to Göteborg. It's one of the places that I find myself in where I feel the happiest and the most peaceful. I think it's for several reasons... I love breakfast, it usually means that I'm on some sort of weekend excursion or vacation, and also... being with the parents of my friends that I care about is exceptionally comforting to me in living abroad and coping with the ache of missing my own parents. 


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