Summer is brief in Sweden, but three precious months, so it’s best to make the most of it by enjoying events offered in the city, or by going into the countryside to partake in outdoor activities in the flower-filled meadows and on the lakes.
July marks the middle of sommartid, some years cool and rainy, others quite hot and dry. The fields surrounding Jakobsberg are filled with ripening wheat, corn, barley and oats, each edged in swathes of flowers – poppies, sunflowers and cornflowers.
In hot weather Stockholmers make their way to the many beaches and bathing areas fringing the city’s islands located in Lake Mäleren – the third largest lake in Sweden.
We have begun to follow the migratory patterns of the birds; the försommar (early summer) was heralded by the cries of the Arctic terns, recently returned from the south, and wheeling outside the window in the early mornings. In nearby Järvefeltet bird sanctuary there are myriads of noisy honking barnacle and Canada geese, grazing and fattening in the green meadows in preparation for their long flight south when the temperatures drop again in Sweden.
They do not tarry here for long. In July the terns begin to fade away, and the geese become conspicuous in their absence in the wetlands, possilby aware of seasonal patterns invisible to us mortals.
One year the leaves begin to turn yellow, especially those of the tall oaks outside the kitchen window. The birds and trees seem to warn of the ebbing of these halcyon days in the not too distant future.
But summer is not yet on the wane, the leaves have turned yellow on account of the “drought” here in Stockholm. With all the surrounding greenery, this is no drought by African standards, but it is the hottest summer in years. The trees are merely sun-dried – a sign which does not augur well for a good mushroom season in the autumn. Then we discover that the flocks of plump geese have not yet left this mild land, but have relocated to Djurgården. Delighted toddlers stumble in their midst, and tourists eagerly photograph this extraordinary sight.
The summer of 2013 was marked by the marriage of Princess Madeleine to Mr. Christopher O’Neill. Unlike Crown Princess Victoria’s Husband, Prince Daniel, Duke of Västergötland, Mr. O’Neill declined a princely title, although he is officially considered part of the King’s kungafamiljen (extended royal family). Theirs was a delightful wedding ceremony, not, like her elder sister’s, held in the Stor Kyrkan – Stockholm’s Cathedral in Gamla Stan – but in the Royal Palace Chapel. This was followed by an elegant boat trip down Lake Mäleren to Drottningholm Palace for the reception – the residence of the royal family.
The service was conducted in both English and Swedish to accommodate Mr. O’Neill’s family and the many foreign guests. The pair of television commentators were suitably knowledgeable, managing to put names to each of the elegantly attired royal dignitaries and friends as they filed into the Chapel. Especially charming was the children’s choir which preceded the bridal retinue (a bridesmaid, three little flower girls and two page boys), who lined up along the aisle humming Swedish folk melodies.
Princess Madeleine’s wedding dress of pleated silk organza with appliquéd ivory Chantilly lace and ending in a four-metre-long train, was created by the Italian designer Valentino Garavani. Her veil was silk organza, edged with tulle and scattered with tiny Chantilly lace orange blossoms, and her tiara was decorated with sprigs of delicate orange blossom. She is a very pretty young woman, who, with her abundant light brown hair dressed in an elegant chignon, and her shining blue eyes, looked like a fairy-tale princess.
There were several readings, including, by Crown Princess Victoria, the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (in Swedish), and two hymns in both languages. The Bishop’s pertinent, homily-filled sermon counseled the young couple to remember the “little things” that make a marriage loving and tender. After the service the bride and groom processed from the Chapel into the square outside, to the accompaniment of female fiddlers dressed in Swedish national costume. There they were greeted by the enthusiastic cheers of the delighted crowds of onlookers who had been waiting patiently outside.
This summer we enjoyed watching another royal wedding live on television: the marriage of Prince Carl Philip, Duke of Värmland, (36) to former model Sophia Hellqvist (30).
It was one of the most glamorous weddings in Europe, and also took place in the Royal Palace Chapel in Stockholm, attended by royal personages from Scandinavia and further afield. This time Princess Madeleine was heavily pregnant with her second baby, and he very next day she gave birth to Prince Nicolas Paul Gustaf, named in part after her father, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden..
We were surprised by the upbeat hymns sung and music played during this memorable occasion, but then Sweden has often been the forerunner of things to come in modern society.
The Prince, who is the middle child in the Swedish Royal Family, is third in line to the throne, after his elder sister Crown Princess Victoria and her three-year-old daughter Estelle. As a member of the House of Bernadotte, he undertakes royal duties on behalf of the King or Crown Princess Victoria. He enjoys design and drawing, and outdoor sports, especially skiing and racing driving – a passion he inherited from his great-uncle, Prince Bertil (eventually husband of Princess Lilian.) He completed his military service in the Swedish Navy in 2000, and in 2014, achieved the rank of Major.
Sofia is of interest to South Africans for her involvement in Project Playground, a religious and political organisation that helps vulnerable children in the townships around Cape Town.
In our own humble church, the Engelska Kyrkan, (St. Peter’s and St. Siegfried’s, the “Anglican Episcopal Church in Stockholm”), we enjoy Nick’s colourful sermon at. It is the summer semester, “Godly Play” is suspended, and there are restless children in the congregation. But it is not only to them that Nick directs his sermon:
Supplicant: “Our Father who art in heaven…”
Supplicant: Oh! Who’s there?
God: It is I, your Father …You called me, and I am answering. Supplicant: Oh, did I?
God: Yes, you did. You said “Our Father who art in Heaven”, and I am listening. Supplicant: Well don’t interrupt me, I am trying to say my prayers!
As I was saying: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name… What does that actually mean? “Hallowed” be Thy name?
God: “Hallowed” means, well, “glorified”… But let’s rather say: “worshipped…. praised… honoured.”
Supplicant: Oh, I see. OK, “Honoured”, then. Well please let me get on with my prayer, I’ve got lots to do today! …
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”
After the service we strolled along the Drjurgårds Canal, following a tree-lined path flanked by green lawns on one side, and water on the other. There the people sunbathe, picnic, swim, fish and sail. Silver-gilt dragonflies dart, and swans glide soundlessly or dabble among the reeds, cygnets in tow.
We crossed over a picturesque old bridge onto Drujgården – once the hunting grounds of the Swedish kings – and walk up the hill to Rosendalsslott, one of the many small palaces in the city environs. (The word slott encompasses anything from a manor house to a chateau or castle.) Our destination was a nursery and outdoor café with flower-filled gardens, tables, chairs and umbrellas. We chose cheese-and-ham rolls and chilled carrot soup, and watched the people enjoying family time together.
One weekend our Hungarian friends invited us to join them and a group of friends for a birthday picnic in the country. Our destination, about an hour’s drive from Stockholm, was the Sala Silver Mine, which has long been popular with tourists. No-one knows the exact age of the mine, but there is evidence that it had been operating since the Middle Ages. Consistent mining began during the 16th century, and ended early in the 20th century.
Armed with thick jackets against the cold deep below the earth’s sunny surface, solid walking shoes and the obligatory hard-hats, we followed our guide down an extremely long mine-shaft to the most recent mining level, and along well-lit winding tunnels propped with stout oak beams. We saw large caverns, some with deep eerie lakes filled by the dripping water that accompanied our exploration.
We were told about the ancient method of “fire-setting”, a procedure in which wood was placed against the rock face and set alight. The object was to heat the rock until it cracked – a consequence of the difference in temperature – revealing the silvery seams hidden within its depths. The miners then used their simple tools to pick out the rocks, load them into wooden crates, and drag them to the surface. We were also told a ghostly tale about a “spectral being, the “Mine Lady”, who watched over the miners when they were deep underground, but only if they observed her rules: no whistling, no yelling and no swearing. The miners also had to knock three times on the wall during their descent into the mine, as a courtesy to let her know of their arrival, and of the “fire setting”.
Sala Silver Mine was for a long time Sweden’s richest source of silver, and sometimes the most important producer in Europe. Most of the silver was used to make coins, and also for beautiful ornaments, tableware and jewellry. The great King Gustav Vasa, who ruled Sweden at the beginning of the 16th century, called the mine the “State Treasury”. The silver production took place in a smelting house a few kilometers away, and at the end of the 19th century a new smelting house was built, adjacent to the mine. Today a few old mansions can still be seen in Sala, and the names of the streets, artificial lakes and canals there still bear ancient names, reminding visitors of the town’s once thriving mining history.
Within the mine complex are a cafeteria, a few tourist shops – selling anything from honey to antiques (including heaps of beautifully-embossed but tarnished silver cutlery) – and leafy glades with wooden tables and benches. This was where we settled to share Anikó and Gyula’s generous hospitality: salads, slices of rich meatloaf and cold cuts, sausages, breads, potatoes and peppery pickles. Gyula then produced with a flourish a large box tied with purple and yellow ribbon. Inside lay a magnificent cake, richly iced with marzipan and chocolate, and decorated with iced flowers – a sweet note on which to end a delightful day in the country.
Another pleasant summer event is the annual picnic at the home of my friend Brian and his Swedish wife “Big”. Their house-with-studio enjoys heritage status and is loaned only to Swedish artists – a privilege indeed. This old, ochre double- storey overlooks a long narrow garden which reaches towards the cliffs at the northern edge of Södermalm. It commands a magnificent view of the lake channel (Riddarfjärden) and Stockholm’s City Hall on Kungsholmen opposite. Big’s dusty sculpture studio is a marvelous space filled with good light and shelves laden with her pieces. The garden itself is a picturesque green oasis interspersed with roses, rockeries and flower-filled beds. At the end is a raised area with tables and benches where we enjoy our summer picnic and the spectacular view over the water. Everyone brings something to contribute to the picnic, and I bring another of my baking experiments (see below*).
The city is strangely bereft of Stockholmers in July; some businesses are closed for several weeks during the precious sommarsemester (summer holiday), or are ticking over half-heartedly. It is not a good time to try doing business with the Swedes. They have vanished to their summer houses in the country or in the archipelago. There they paint and potter, evidently enjoying the much-needed maintenance necessary after the long harsh winters. Swedes relish the great outdoors, and, with a naïve simplicity, hold dear their closeness to the soil; the agrarian roots of this culture lie in the not too distant past. They also seem genetically programmed to isolation and privacy. In days gone by farming communities in this sparsely-populated land were few and far between, and privacy, caution towards newcomers and reservedness have become national traits.
A favourite Swedish activity during the long sunny evenings is the outdoor singalongs. Crowds gather in the parks, and, armed with rugs and picnics, sing old Swedish folk songs led by a folk band.
The Stockholmers may have left, but the city is by no means empty. Tourists flock to this beautiful old city for cooler summer temperatures, especially those from scorching southern Europe. They take ferry trips through the magnificent archipelago,
throng down Drottninggatan to Gamla Stan (the Old Town), and discover the Nordic animals in the city’s theme park Skansen.
There are outdoor flea markets, exhibitions in the galleries and at the Kulturhus (House of Culture), free Swedish theatre in the parks, and guided tours in English of various galleries, churches, and the Operan. There are historical walks through the city, and “Ghost Walks” through Gamla Stan, promising stories of “legends, diseases, murders and ghosts.” There are dance evenings at Galejans, marathons and football matches, and the opening of the new ABBA Museum and the “ABBA Walk”.and gaze admiringly from atop the red double-decker Hop-on-Hop-off sight-seeing busses. Terrified screams float across Ladugårdsviken from Gröne Lunds Tivoli – the lakeside fun-park with its wave-swinger, roller-coaster and drop-chute.
The Royal Opera and Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra are officially in recess, but there is no shortage of musical offerings in the city. There are opera performances in the beautifully-preserved 18th century theatres at Drottningholm and Ulriksdal Palace (Confidencen) – the performers and orchestral players dressed in period costumes and powdered wigs, playing “period” instruments. I always delight in the softer timbre of the harpsichord, and the wooden flutes, clarinet and bassoon, and the capricious old valveless trumpets and horns.
Confidencen, a small theatrical jewel at Ulriksdalsslott just north of Stockholm city centre, has an interesting provenance. Like Drottningholms Slottsteater, it is decorated in the delightfully feminine French Rococo style. The name derives from the private dinners once enjoyed here by the Swedish Royal Family, in particular the great Baroque King, Gustav III. Originally built in 1670 as a riding school, it then became a tavern in which drinking songs replaced the neighing of horses. In 1753, at the instigation of Queen Lovisa Ulrika (Gustav III’s mother), the architect Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz was engaged to transform it into a theatre, accommodating nearly two hundred guests. An elegant suite of rooms included a dining room in which a table á confidence for the King and his private dinner guests could be lowered through the floor into the cellar beneath, and raised again when desired.
For the first forty years the theatre enjoyed the brilliant performances of singers, dancers and actors, to the music of composers from all over Europe. But after Gustav III’s assassination at a masked ball in 1792 (the subject of Verdi’s opera Un ballo in maschera), the theatre was closed and forgotten about for well over a century – until its rediscovery in 1921. In 1935 it was designated a building of “historic interest”, and in 1976 Kjerstin Dellert, a retired opera singer, began her tireless and commendable effort ensuring its resurrection and restoration. There we enjoyed a performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, and, at Drottningholms Slottsteater, enduring the butt-numbing benches our favourite, Mozart’s Così fan tutte.
Every summer there the Stockholm Early Music Festival takes place in Gamla Stan – concerts in the Finnish and German Churches of such events as a group of Belgian mandolin players, and soirées with Renaissance instruments.
This is also the height of the travel season in Europe. My ex-pat friends have either returned to their own homes to tend to their gardens and visit family, or to visit unexplored countries nearby. When not traveling myself, I enjoy our local flower-filled town square, where the fruit and veg market offers an abundance of fruits – berries, apples and pears from Sweden, and deciduous fruits from Spain, Israel, France, Brazil, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean. We gorge on the large black cherries from Turkey, taking advantage of the glut while it lasts.
Another favourite activity is when the Swedes take out their reconditioned “yank tanks”, and take to the roads, laden with friends and family, or participate in vintage car rallies.
One evening we join friends for a poetry reading, sharing our contributions for an improvised supper. Our host is nearly blind and slightly irritable, but a great lover of literature. The theme for the evening is “cynicism”. He recites Sassoon’s The General, and Paul reads T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. We enjoy his soft American lilt and rich cadences: “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.” Did Eliot think so little of the ladies’ capacity to love and understand great art?
Anther highlight of the summer season is the food festival in the city centre at Sergelstorg. Here stalls representing different countries display their delicious wares. We buy small cartons of Polish goulash, Spanish paella and delicious English fudge – one less meal to prepare on a summer’s evening in Stockholm!
UPSIDE-DOWN PLUM (AND CHERRY) TART *
* Butter a round flat metal baking pan and sprinkle generously with brown sugar
* Slice a number of overripe plums and lay them in a wheel-pattern over the sugared
surface of the pan.
* Mix in the blender: 100g flour, 100g castor sugar, 100 g softened butter, 2 eggs, 1 t baking powder, and ¼ t bicarbonate of soda. Later add 2 or 3 T of appropriate fruit juice to thin the mixture slightly.
* Bake at 180 degrees C for about 30-35 mins.
* Loosen around the edges while still hot with a large flat spatula
* When almost cool, turn out onto a large flat round plate
* Serve plain, hot or cool, with whipped cream for a dessert, and without for a tea cake.
NOTE: if too tart, poach the plums in sugar water first. Pineapples and glacé cherries, tinned or lightly-poached apricots, pears, in fact, any combination of fruits may be used. (Also dates and walnuts or pecans, with milk added instead of juice. Then bake for 5 mins less time, or it will be dry.)