Friday, October 25, 2002

Some two and half hours north of Stockholm by train stands a manor house outside an ancient iron works. If you're lucky enough to be a guest of one of Sweden's large paper mills, you'll get to stay in the house, which is owned by the mill and has been restored to within an inch of its quaint 250-year-old life, all painted ceilings and reconstructed wallpaper and Gustavian chairs painted grey-green. But not so authentic that the bathroom floors aren't heated.

If you're even luckier, you'll be taken out into the woods some 70 kilometers north, where a guide who is Sweden's version of Crocodile Dundee - shall we call him Moose Svensson? - will usher you into a frigid nursery where hundreds of thousands of tiny fir trees sit under dim lights and dripping ceilings, and your guide Mr. Svensson can pour an entire forest's worth of seeds into your open palm.

Then, the charming Mr. Svensson can drive even further into the wilderness, past a line where everything goes from being silvery with frost to being covered under a foot of snow. Deep in the woods, Mr. Svensson will hit upon real old-fashioned lumberjacks. Except these lumberjacks drive monstrous machines that clutch and saw and strip a tree in seconds, so that you can't help but feel sorry for the tree while still remaining utterly fascinated by the diabolical cleverness of it.

Then your Mr. Svensson can haul out rolls with soft cheese and chrome thermoses full of hot soup with the gamey rich taste of moose meat. And he can build a fire in the snow and make coffee that tastes like mud over the fire, and there will be a hardy nordic mosquito or two that have, to everyone's horror, survived the snow.

Then, the girls who are with you can scream, not because they've seen a bear or a moose, but rather a mouse. And you can make a silly Swedish English joke about seeing a mus, which sounds pretty much like moose, and tell it to all the girls who laugh at you. And to Mr. Svensson of course, whose eyes twinkle in a most delightful way and laughs like the best of them, as he takes you back to the mill and the train that will bring you home to the city.

The Swedish word for the day is plantskola. It literally means plant school, which brings all sorts of funny pictures to mind of little trees learning how to become the proper shade of green and grow upwards instead of sideways. However, the proper translation of the word would be nursery.

- by Francis S.

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