Sweden. Day 28. Windy Björkö.

The storm “Malik” is crossing Sweden right now — it was a hurricane before, but it appears to have been downgraded — and it is still very windy up here, although nothing terrible has happened. Just a lot of wind, and a lot of snow.

It is possible to walk outside, it just doesn’t feel very comfortable, as there’s a thin powdery snow blowing in your face at 36 km/h, and while it’s just a few degrees below zero, it feels like -15. So I and the others at the house, and I’m guessing most people in Sweden, just stayed indoors most of the day.

We took a lot of precautions in case there was a power outage — charging flashlights, filling bottles of water (as the water pump stops working without electricity), etc — but so far, everything is fine. The house here is slightly protected by a hill and the forest, so the worst appears to be happening a bit further up north where it’s just an open plain. Still, it does not seem to be anything very much out of the ordinary. Every winter has its bad days.

Many people complain about winter — even Swedes. Some tend to become depressed during this period. As for me, I’ve never been much of a winter person, but I am slowly getting used to it. Except perhaps for today, it hasn’t been all that bad up here. I could walk outside for hours most days. It was less cold and less snowy here than in Canada, where I lived for seven years. That’s my consolation, really. No matter how bad it gets here, in Canada it will always be worse.

Besides, if we didn’t have winter, the joys of summer and spring would certainly be diminished. You need the opposites complementing each other. Yin and yang and all that.

“The double windows are off, the floor scoured, fresh curtains at the windows — yes, it is spring again! The ice has gone out of the river, and the willows are beginning to bud on the banks — yes, spring has come and I can put away my winter overcoat. You know, it’s so heavy — just as tho’ it had absorbed the weight of the whole winter’s worries. Yes, the sun has come again. It left us in November. How well I remember the day it disappeared behind the brewery across the street. Oh, this winter, this long winter!” — So exclaims the character Elis in Strindberg’s play “Easter”, which takes place, well, during Easter week, which is just about the same time that winter ends in Sweden and springs begins. It’s one of the few plays by Strindberg that ends on a happy note.

Depression can be common in Sweden in those cold, harsh months of January and February, but less than it used to be. Checking the statistics, I found out that the peak of suicides in Sweden happened in the 1980s, where it really was the Western country with highest number of suicides. But numbers have been mostly decreasing ever since. While the documentary “The Swedish Theory of Love”, which I watched the other day, paints a picture of a hyper-individualistic Sweden that lost its sense of collectivity and has many people living (and dying) alone, the fact is that it is not all that bad. Or, at least, not much worse than other places.

There was even a reduction in the suicide rate from 2019 to 2020, when in most of the world the opposite happened, thanks to the “lockdowns” and other “Covid” measures. Perhaps because in Sweden rules were much softer and they never really had a full lockdown. Even now, it’s much more relaxed than anywhere else in Europe. For the last two years, Sweden has had a lower suicide rate than the United States, and even than sunny New Zealand (until 2020; there is still no data from 2021).

But what do Swedish people do during winter? Simple. They bake. The local grocery store, 7 km away, doesn’t have much in terms of fresh vegetables, in fact, it doesn’t have much in terms of anything — except products for baking. A whole corridor is devoted to baking products, including seven or ten different types of flour and equivalent types of baking powder and all kinds of spices you can imagine.

So today I baked fresh bread, and the NY artist is baking a sweet potato pie. The other artist is not baking anything and the coordinator is now in Stockholm, but well, I guess it’s enough for the day. Tomorrow it will be much less windy, and on Tuesday, even the sun may appear.