Friday, June 15, 2007

nuits blanches

For those of you for whom the French language is not an integral part of your being, the term nuit blanche literally means white night, but figuratively the expression refers to a night without sleep, usually because you were out on the town partaking in debaucherous activity (a.k.a. bamboula), coming home in the wee hours of the morning when the sun is already rising. In Stockholm, the term took on new meaning.

By the time I arrived in Stockholm, it was about 10:30 pm and the sun was only just starting to settle into the horizon. My pal Laura met me at Stockholm Central, where I got off the Arlanda Express, an express train advertised as the fastest and most environmentally friendly way (leave it to the Swedes) to get to and from the Stockholm airport. The hour was already late for Laura since she hasn't been getting much sleep lately, the brand new mother that she is. Nils is her cherubic blonde 2 month old boy, who, like most newborns, wakes up hungry every couple hours. So when she and her boyfriend Gustav hit the sack, I took advantage of their wifi connection to catch up on e-mails and updates, and when I finally turned out the lights at around 1 am, the sky was a pale blue, just like at twilight, definitely not what we inhabitants of the 37th parallel are used to at that hour. The days I spent in Sweden, it never ceased to amaze me that the sun never really sets during the summer months, especially so close to midsummer. Nightfall is merely a suggestion. So I placed a pair of blinders over my eyes in order to avoid the sunrise, which arrived with a persistent vengeance at 3 am.

The next day, Laura, Nils and I set off on an adventure to the archipelago. Stretching 80 kilometers east of Stockholm, the archipelago is made up of 24,000 islands. Some islands are merely rocks, but big enough to fit a cabin, so many Stockholm residents head out there on weekends to enjoy the long days of summer (and warm weather). As we strolled Nils along towards the docks, I noticed that there appears to be an epidemic rampant in Stockholm called pregnancy. It felt like one in every 5 women were either pregnant or pushing strollers. There were even cafés in which every table was occupied with a woman with stroller. I imagine that because the conditions for parenthood are so favorable in Sweden, there's no reason not to have a baby. Laura and Gustav get a combined 15 months of maternity/paternity leave. And then of course, there's socialized health care and education, and Stockholm is a very safe and clean city, with lots of parks and bike lanes and places to stroll or picnic. It makes sense, but I was hesitant to drink the water!

We hopped on a ferry boat destined for an island called Moja and settled in for a three hour boat ride. It felt as if we were on a journey to the ends of the earth, where the land breaks apart into water, and civilization is scarce. It seemed like the bits of rock and land would eventually dissolve into the sea and that we would soon arrive at the very edge. When we finally docked, the song Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads came to mind: "You may find yourself in another part of the world... And you may ask yourself, how did I get here?" You have a feeling of going back into a very idyllic time and place, where blonde children frolic freely among wildflowers and trees, where birds chirp and farmers plow the land. All around us were little houses painted red with white trim weathered by the strong winds of the North Sea. I imagined that at any moment a gnome would stroll down the path and show us to our room. It was off season, so there were hardly any people on the island, with the exception (surprise surprise) of a couple mothers with their babies who were staying at our inn, which was above the bakery. Therefore we were treated to some delicious freshly baked pastries and hot cross buns.

There were no curtains on the windows in our room, so when we went to sleep that night (if you can call it night), I kept waking up to photograph the light in the sky at different intervals. It seemed surreal to me that at 3 am the sunshine streamed through the windows as if we were merely taking an afternoon siesta.

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