Sweden. Day 18. Älmsta. Books and fika.

“Dangerous winds”, said the weather report. The trees outside were swinging as if they were drunk and dancing to ABBA songs. There were news of power shortages in the neighbourhood. “Don’t go out”, said everyone. But I feel as if my days here are slowly ending, and of course I had to go out, wind or no wind. This time, I took the bus to Älmsta, about 30 km away up north.

There’s not a lot in Älmsta, but there is a larger supermarket, a drugstore, a few shops, even a pet salon, a Thai restaurant, a cafe, and… a public library. So obviously I had to go there and add one more library card to my collection. It was free, and in two minutes I could already borrow books.

Unfortunately they didn’t have many books in English, or any other language that was not Swedish. You could probably count them with the fingers of your hands and feet: it was just one shelf, with no more than 20 books. I borrowed a collection of short stories by Dylan Thomas. The other option was Harry Potter, but I’ve already seen the film.

The lady at the desk was extremely helpful and showed me how everything there worked, from the copy machine to the fire extinguishers. She said that, besides the regular hours, which are limited (it opens only on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday) I could get inside the library to read even when the library is closed and there is no staff. I just need to use my library card and PIN to open the door, and I’m in. Sweden really is a high-trust country.

And, so far, people are incredibly nice and polite here, more than in any other place that I remember recently, certainly more than wherever I was before. As I left, even the two teenage girls reading books near the exit smiled and said “Bye bye”. Is this a fairy tale country or what?

Outside it was still very windy, so much so that even the birds appeared to have trouble flying. I was glad there was a nice little cafe open. I stopped to have a fika, or coffee break. I was the only customer.

By the way, the word fika is an inverted form of “kaffi,” the 19th-century Swedish word for “coffee.” This shuffling of the syllables is not exactly the “vesre” slang from Buenos Aires that you hear in tangos. Apparently, it was a way to disguise the practice, since the importation and consumption of coffee was banned five times between 1756 and 1817 — some say that, at the time, it was considered a threat to Swedish culture, deeming it a “foreign custom” that was corrupting Swedish people.

I left the cafe, but there were not many other places to go, so I went to the drugstore and to the supermarket. Supposedly there is also an antiquary shop, but I couldn’t find it. Another nice thing here is that no one asked for masks, “vaccine passes” or tests anywhere. Sweden really feels like a fairy tale country these days. By 2:20 in the afternoon, I took the bus back.

All in all, it was a wonderful day, but now I feel a little… I don’t know… Perhaps a bit restless… I have no problem with solitude, and I had a great time so far in the isolation of Björkö. I felt fine not seeing anyone except the people here at the house. But, paradoxically, now that I got to see a tiny little more of social activity, even in the limited confines of Älmsta, I start to feel that I need to go out more…

So I will be going to Stockhölm and Uppsala in the next few days, and I will probably be coming back to Älmsta and to its library more often too. Perhaps I’ll even try to learn a bit of Swedish, so that I can be able to read at least a few sentences of the easiest books for children they have…