Saturday, December 31, 2005

Somewhere in the far north of Sweden, between Kalix and Boden, lies a lake ringed with hills, an abandoned sanatorium on one side, train tracks on the other, in a deep forest of pine trees heavy with snow.

If you are going to ice fish here, you come down a long road and park next to the sanatorium, which supposedly was sold to some Norwegians for 200,000 kronor a couple of years ago for them to turn into a spa, although there is some debate as to whether this is true; regardless, it remains empty.

From there, you walk past the sanitorium and beside the huge yellow villa - all verandas and fretwork and bay windows - and on down to the frozen water, where someone has made a path on the ice.

After a good half a kilometer's walk, you end up at a little shelter with a roaring fire burning beside it, and three guys drilling holes out on the ice, waiting for you to come and fish.

They give you a fishing reel and a couple of nasty pink maggots for you to spear on a hook and then plunge into the hole they've drilled for you. And you stand and fish, and it's minus 20 degrees celsius, though it doesn't feel it, and one of them talks to you with the thickest northern accent you've ever encountered (the worst is that somehow L becomes an R, which no one seems to believe me when I tell them, it took me a good 15 minutes to convince A., the TV producer, that this might possibly be true).

Then, suddenly, the former football star pukes violently, and the husband is complaining that his feet have frozen dangerously, and half of the group leaves in a hurry.

But you remain on the ice, failing to catch a fish but watching the northern winter sky, a curious pale eggshell blue that is at that moment the most beautiful color you've ever seen, but delicate, and the train goes past in the distance, and the trees are black green under all that white, and you think that winter could hardly be more romantic and how much you like the cold and ice and snow.

On the way back, you stop in and have coffee and cake and cookies and cloudberries at the house of a friend of the family who set the whole fishing thing up, and someone calls and asks about the football player, and when you get back in the car to go to Kalix, A. tells you that all of Kalix and Boden and Töre will be talking for decades about the time when the football star and the Spaniard - the husband, that would be - and the rest of the Stockholmers went fishing on the lake.

The Swedish word for the day is årsskiftet. It means the turning of the year.

- by Francis S.