The warmth of the cold culture. Thoughs and sensations of a Spanish Immigrant.
I am in love with Scandinavian autumns. The colors of the forest, the late season hikes and barbecues, the paths covered in leaves and pine-cones, the café's aromas of carrot cake and pumpkin latte, the cozy "hygge" culture can be found all around from Denmark to Finland.
As a Mediterranean person, we carry warmth in us (for the good and for the bad) and generally, moving into the Nordic countries is a mixture of excitement and nostalgia for many of us Mediterraneans. Not only we have to adapt to the colder weather but to a whole environment that has been shaped around it. Something I have ended up considering the cold culture, a year round lifestyle of preparing to enter or exit the cold season.
In contrast of Spain, where most seasons' transitions are subtle in temperature or light and barely celebrated, Scandinavia's constant preparation for the extreme cold weather and the long dark season is greatly lived as a ritual. Every season has its festivity and the ancient tribal and pagan traditions of preaching nature's divinity remain present with the later christian influences. This way we observe the celebration of nature's particular seasonal state through the different festivities as the spring flowers in "Midsommarafton", and the celebration of long warmer summer days, or the candle lit autumn evenings before "Lucia" as we enter the darkness of winter season.
But before I get lost into the analysis and reflections of culture and religion, l will stick on sharing how a mediterranean girl experiences the contrast between Scandinavia and Spain after four years in Sweden
The area where I grew up in Spain, the mountains north of Madrid, La Pedriza, is mostly defined by granite rocks. And even though some trees find a way in between the alien like rocky mountain mostly just pine trees make their way through. Beautiful deciduous forests of birch and oak expand on the other side of the mountain, but for good or for bad, the area surrounding my childhood home is surrounded by perennial pine trees, grass prairies and rosemary and rock-rose bushes; which meant my seasons remained green almost all year round and I experienced less colorful trees around my house in the autumn.
Madrid is situated in a plateau in the center of Spain and it is known for its hot summers and cold winters, oscillating in the northern areas as my hometown in the mountain generally between the 40ºC in summer and -7ºC in winter. While October remains warm, stretching the summer days into the autumn with some grey and rainny days, November has always arrived to me out of a sudden with a cold dry wind. The few decidious trees of the area seem to boom this month in color and lose their leaves in a short period of time Leaving us barely with a couple weeks to enjoy the autumn feeling before we enter a winter season from December to February where the air stays dry and cold and the temperature moves stable in between +10ºC and -6ºC with some thick snow days if we are lucky. In all, Autumn and spring have always been a lightning season, a matter of weeks.
In contrast to my hometown, in Sweden the autumn arrives smoothly. Full of color and stretching up to 3 months, giving us all time to process the end of the summer days and prepare for the deep and long winter.
When you think on Scandinavia you probably think on those long winter days. On the snow over the red wooden houses, the darkness, the fijords and mountains. On the winter wonderland, the reindeer sledges and cozy candle lit evenings. However, since I live here in Sweden to me the seasons that fill my heart the most are spring and autumn. Maybe because as I said above, I barely have time to experience those in Madrid. Maybe because here I have more time to enjoy the excitement of the arrival of the long summer days and my birthday with it, or the arrival of Christmas holidays and all the preparation that comes with them. In any case, here the seasons are very defined through its changing nature.
All through the Swedish geography, pines and spruce dominate the landscape. Over half of the land of Sweden is covered by forest! And while most of it is perennial, broad-leaf trees share vast areas of the forest lands. Birch, oak, aspen, beech, etc.
These deciduous forest lit on warm colors at the beginning of the end of september and remain changing its coat all through until late November, allowing us all to experience an beautiful autumn season.
When I was younger and still when I go back to Spain in late autumn and early winter days, I've always liked to walk the path by the mountain next to our house and collect dry rock-rose to feed the fireplace, rosemary, thyme and wild lavender to dry and enjoy the distant warm winter sun on my skin. soon warm days would arrive and so this season would be a short pause on the journey. In Sweden Autumn is a ritual to me.
It starts sometime in late September. Barely a few weeks earlier, in August, Swedes say bye to the summer season as we all come back into the autumn semester. This is a key point for all of us, to assume that now we are entering the autumn semester means we accept summer and its warm full of light days are over. To avoid the winter depression autumn becomes a coziness ritual. Time to welcome the cold and the darkness with much kindness.
There are infinite wonderful ways to welcome the season. But to me, in Sweden and in one word: to be present. While the summer is lived to its endless possibilities, where the longed for dreams take form, the autumn is to be lived in the present moment, slow, without expectations, fully aware and appreciative of what is around us.
Swedens changing nature invites us to slow down, get cozy and transition with the inevitable transformation. As the leaves turn brown and leave the trees, the days slowly get darker.
In mid Sweden from September's 19:00 pm sunset, every day seems a few minutes shorter as we close November with the sun setting at around 16.00pm.
Here there is no dry coldness as Madrid's. No rosemary or rose-rock. Here the air is humid and the damp cold cuts through clothing to the bone. It is mushroom season and time to wake up early and suck the light as much as possible.
For my partner and I, in addition to the already changing nature of autumn adds the new transition of moving living space. After 4 years in Linköping, where we both started as international students, life has taking us towards the Swedish capital, Stockholm. Moving into an apartment close to the city center has, i am sure, many possibilities. However, after being in a small easy town like linköping in the countriside, we both are used to slow life and we had the long to be as close to nature as possible. Lucky us we found a cute little house for rent just before Robin started his new job in Stockholm.
Every morning this autumn Gilbi walks his wet little paws over our blanket to wake us up as he comes from his exploring night in the forest by the house. I stretch, put on my wool socks, boil the water and observe the steam on the window acorss the hall. Cold nights are here.
The early morning sun rays light up with warmth the living room and Harold shakes his wet fur as he enters the little cat door. The kettle whistles on the stove. I watch the trees lose their coats through the kitchen window as a hold the cup of coffee. Geese fly above the lake and "California dreaming" plays in my head.
It is a clear autumn morning on mid November.
If I was in Linköping I would pack some warm chocolate and snacks and get lost in Vidinsjö skogen, Ullstäma or Tinnerö and lit a fire by a lake. Maybe pack some cardamom buns from Ronaldos and warm a hot chocolate somewhere with a nice autumn forest views.
Or I would enjoy the cozy town. Probably fighting for a coffe in the busy Simon's rostery, , pick up a delicious vegan cake from Healthies or sit at the Tropikhuset in the city park, enjoying the indoor jungle while it rains outside.
We don't know Stockholm's south area yet enough. So we just walk and get lost.
Because if you don't know what are you looking for the best way to find it is to roam and let it find you.
In Agesta we are surrounded by nature, 10min from the urban area of Farsta and 20 from Huddinge. A nature reserve behind us, several re creative areas and 2 or three lakes around.
I don't know yet the cozy cafés, but anyway it is not something that I am crazy to do now as we live the craziness of covid. Sometimes, when I am walkng around exploring the little trails among the forests and paths by the lake I still want to pinch my self and make sure I am not dreaming. To live surrounded by nature and the outdoors rather than be in a crowded urban area. This year has certainly given us perspective and time to reflect on our living spaces. And even though our apartment and years in Linköping have been kind to us, I feel today so terribly lucky to live in this new space in this difficult times when half the world is locked down in their homes
I can take long walks by the lake, and collect mushrooms, pine cones or leaves. There are also several cozy areas to lit a fire and sit by the shore. I don't feel any rush, any stress, no space for it around this much beauty. Maybe a walk and a naked dip into the lake, some resting time in the public outdoor sauna. A warm soup and a book by the fire back home.
No rush, no stress. The long cozy autumn has spread its colors and sensations all through Scandinavia now. The best to do is to embrace it.
Soon it will be over for me. In less than a week we travel up north for the first time with 90degreesnorth to Kiruna to guide the international students into the magical Lapland.
I heard that the lakes started frozen few weeks ago, and the huskies are already howling and ready to run the sledges. I wonder if the autumn leaves are gone by now and the snow covers the ground. I wonder if I will enter the plane in Stockholm and as we fly above we will watch the autumn turn into winter in a matter of hours.
I have always been a wonderer and a wanderer, soon to be it in a winter wonderland.