03 march, 2003. umea, sweden.

i had suspicions about going to sweden. i had heard it was a bit sterile, distant, and cold.

tomorrow, on the 4th, i leave for sri lanka, and so i decided that while i was in sweden i would see The Cold. i did find cold. i found it naked on a frozen ocean and on the tracks at the snowmobile races. and i did find Distant (i was about 200km south of the arctic circle). but i didn't find sterile.

on the plane i could tell who was french and who was swedish. the swedes were round and pink. so i asked a few of them what they liked the best about their country. since we were all en route from paris their answers were nearly predictable: "I like the space." and "I like nature." and "I like the open air." none of which exist in paris since paris is really more of a citadel than a city. a good sign to sing: they were glad to be going home.

today (the day after being in sweden), i remember it as grey, and wide open, like a stormy wintertime sea. i remember it being innocent and very far away from the world. but this being so Far Away From The World (wherever The Hell The World is) is their motivation to come closer to it.

back in the day their mythology was more or less as you might expect: lots of gods and one of them (the sun, named Ty-deus[?]) playing king poobah. around the stone age most of their worship symbols were a wheel and an axe. good, practical people with good, practical, symbols. over the centuries rumor has it they spent a lot of time dancing at places called "älfkvarnar" which were these portals, these fairy metro-stations. it also makes sense. beggars hang out at transit points to beg from the rich, so why not worship there (assuming you can find one, i mean). thor, odin, and frey showed up in the ecclesiasty (this is where we get the word "Friday" - from Frey's Day) and things got increasingly weird.

odin, as i understand, ran the show. every ninth year a series of sacrifices were made to him and the swedes threw everything into it; berries, bread, meat, vegetables, dogs, horses, wolves, bears, slaves, and kings. sometimes you got picked, sometimes you knew it was time to go but either way you were food for papa odin.

and so the swedes hung their fellow villagers from the trees hoping odin might feel warm and fuzzy when seeing this bloody fruit. but this, too is practical; you dont want to upset a god that freezes the ground 30 feet deep and breathes arctic ice out of his ass when he's in a good mood. no burning bushes and locusts here. this is a land where neon green antifreeze is your best friend. this is a land where people still live in buildings made of ice.

and friends, like sun, can be hard to find there. when the christians were setting in around the 10th century, a chap named Botvid did some catholic missionary work as a contractor for the english. if that wasnt weird enough, he made so much money he bought a finnish slave who promptly killed him on the baltic sea in a little rowboat. his slave pocketed his cash then sailed down to help bring some 1800 cattle back as part of a crusade into Småland in 1125. and, as far as i can tell, he did it for the cash. the story is complicated, but the basic plot is simple: "You give me a little something to keep Odin at bay and I'll say whatever you want me to say."

the swedes used to be the meanest folks in europe. these days they're a right jolly crew with a well-earned reputation of hospitality and good drink. seems they sorted out their priorities somewhere along the line.

i, for one, was glad to find this beautiful spot of the world. if from the temperature alone, its clearly far away from hell.

that morning i went with my friend magnus to see a phenomena i haven't seen since i saw my last tractor-pull in colorado. the world snowmobile championships:

maria picked us up with a drunk in the back seat who had paid her 50 kroner (about $6, i think) to take him to the snowmobile races. that was nice of her, but she took magnus and i for free. the drunk, named christopher (his friends, he said, called him chris), informed us he had woken up that morning (drunk) by being kicked in the back by his (drunk) friend. he told me he had been wearing a bra. this seemed to me a good way to start the day, for both chris and myself. he had a small flask of crappy whiskey we quickly drained.

as soon as we got to the races chris went into a kind of hound-dog frenzy, looking for "The Wife of Tapio." Janne Tapio is a finnish snowmobile racer (being a finnish snowmobile-racer is like being a canadian hockey-player or an italian pasta-chef; it's a guaranteed success since most fins are born on the back of snowmobiles. i know. i've seen this.). Drunk Chris wanted to be Tapio, and i dont think it had a lot to do with a desire to be the reigning world champion of the vast empire of short-track snowmobile racing.

i spoke with Tapio for a while. he was a nice guy. he was calm and friendly and had that weird relaxed sort of "i've seen it all" manner that snoop dogg tries to pull off in his MTV videos. except that it was real and had a dangerous edge to it because Tapio's been run over by a 110-km-an-hour snowmobile and he's still willing to smile about it. snoop dog would do well to learn from this icy badass from the arctic hinterlands. anyway, so then, at chris's insistent urgings, i spoke with Tapio's wife. she seemed to me to be smarter than Tapio and i wondered about trophies and how display really works (because, let's face it, a gold digger can show off her pot of Free at the end of a rainbow, too). but the fact that she wore her hair forward, with a hat and sunglasses (all so carefully arranged) gave me fear. i decided Tapio and his wife were both weirdos and went to find a good place to watch the race.

after an hour or so, chris crawled off to drink, maria had gone to watch cross-country skiing, and magnus and i lumbered along to watch a couple of idiots drive their snowm'biles up a ramp and into the sky. glorious. made me remember being 12. this was different because it didn't end in broken bones.

there's a reason why speed metal was born in scandinavia.

the race raced around magnus and i while we ate a beautiful traditionally swedish lunch of some sour carmel-tasting butter we spread on a dense brown bread. i learned a good vodka + coffee recipe; the ratio, as it turns out, is to pour coffee into the glass, then the vodka afterwards. when there is enough vodka that you can see the bottom of the glass, you're set. this makes good, practical, swedish sense; if the coffee is dark, then there's more caffeine. if there's more caffeine in the drink you'll be needing more vodka. i'll remember this recipe until i die. mixing uppers and downers is a long-standing favorite of mine and i was warmed not only from the home-made mix we had with our coffee, but with a deep pride for a people that have a recipe like this circulating among the speaking population.

Tapio won the race. Magnus and i had put our press passes to use. we looked like the bobsy twins with our new hats that came with the vests. i was drunk. snowmobiles were destroying the fabric of existence and it was a beautiful, icy blue morning.

then, suddenly, it was 3pm.

my feet were, by that time, cold, since i wear leather boots and since i'm not one to spend much time in the snow anymore. it was okay, because soon the rest of my body was going to be frozen, too.

as i said, i leave tomorrow at 10:10 for sri lanka. as of this hour (its 8:10 here in paris) it is midnight in sri lanka and 80 degrees farenheit (something around 29 or 30 celsius). its hot as a fag on fire there, so i decided, while in sweden, that i should really get a good dose of this deadly cold before i started whining about a sweaty ass-crack and wet t-shirts in the asian tropics.

my friend patrik was willing to oblige my desire to freeze myself. he'd probably make a good BD master, as most swedes, given his calm demeanor and willingness to watch me make a complete jackass out of myself. he's smart and really really calm. we drove out to the town of holmsund, just east of umea, where the umealven river dumps into the baltic sea.

i felt like we were driving through a black and white photograph. it was still, monochrome, and disturbingly silent. the sound of snow screamed its strange syllables under our boots and i saw no animals, i heard no action and saw no signs of life other than one, of humans; a huge steel windmill that seemed like the world's own propeller.

we walked out to what seemed like a point (its hard to tell where the sea stops and the land begins here because even, really, the sea is submerged here).

on something that hung balanced evenly between a week-long-premeditation and an on-the-spot-impulse i got naked.

i doubt i would have done any of this if i hadnt already been a bit drunk from the races. its just too stupid.
maybe i was just excited after having seen so many snowmobiles.

other than the cold i dont remember much about this experience.

later on that night magnus and patrik and maria and i went dancing. we drank and joked a bit about the day until some girl with a mohawk started stuffing odd little satchels of chewing tobacco in my mouth. we went upstairs and shook our booties to MTV pop until i got hot and took my shirt off (i sweat like a pack of mules, so its better that i just fess up and dance naked and sweaty than try to look comfortable with a soaked collar choking me). the girl with the mohawk left (i don't blame her - i wouldnt dance with me either, sweating like i do) and after a while i found myself dancing (no, really, more hemmed in) by seven swedish pixie girls. i like to dance by myself usually, so i wasnt out looking for a harem, but there they were and i dont think i would have run if i'd had the option. i dont know who they were/are and i was a little too high from dancing and drink to really care, but there, in that strange comatose kind of howl that happens when you really dance hard i wondered if i had found one of the fabled älfkvarnar where fairies enter the world.

i walked home with my (drunk) camera, looking for odin. i leave the scientists to muddle with mathematics and matters of matter. for myself, alcohol is a great means of finding god.

i did finally find my hotel room, though i didnt find odin.

maybe alchohol is a reward for thousands of years of sacrifice
as if it were god's way of thanking us or wanting us to be content with things like ice and distance.
i dont know.

it just occured to me that night.

but apparently, the swedes understand some version of this maniacal somnambulistic truth, as well.

and they're clearly happier for it.