ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the tag “Midsummer”

Saving summer in a bottle

midsommar 7409078390_6d0280973b_bToday, Sweden celebrates Midsummer’s Eve. (Being a pragmatic people, we decided quite some years ago to always celebrate Midsummer on a Friday, no matter when the solstice actually happens) All over Sweden, people will be gearing up for one of our favourite holidays, albeit that very often the hoped for sunny weather doesn’t make an appearance. After all, if you’re going to spend the whole day, the whole evening and the whole night (if you’re young, horny and lucky) outside, then it’s much better if it’s warm and dry rather than damp and cold. Fortunately, us Swedes are a hardy lot: we put on an extra layer and dance round the maypole no matter the weather.

Some years ago, it was colder on Midsummer’s Eve than it had been on New Year’s Eve. That was a bummer. As was the year when it snowed on Midsummer. Thing is, even if the sun is shining, many of the outside bits look better on photo and movies than they are in reality. Take that scene in from Here to Eternity where Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster frolic in the surf, well all I can say is Ha! You do that and you end up with sand everywhere. Everywhere.

However, to sit outside on this the year’s longest day is magical. Come evening, we’ll wrap ourselves in blankets – more for the mosquitoes than the cold – and settle down to watch as the day wanes. The sun touches the woods on the opposite shore well past nine, and around ten or so the pink of sunset begins to streak the sky. It never gets fully dark. Instead, the day sinks into a purple dusk, rests there for awhile before rising to the brilliance of a summer dawn.

20170623_094321Many years ago, when I graduated from Junior High, we sang a song called “If I could save time in a bottle”. In retrospect, the lyrics were wasted on a group of fourteen-year-olds, too young, too convinced of their own immortality to even consider saving time. Life was there for the taking, and we didn’t want to save time, we wanted time to hurry up and speed by so that we could become proper adults and get on with life. We’d not quite grasped that life is what happens right here, right now. Only this singular moment is a certainty – yesterday is no more, and tomorrow may never come. Although, for most of us, tomorrow will come, As will the next tomorrow and the next tomorrow, and the next, until one day…Well: you get the point, right?

As I sit on my porch with the glory of summer spread out before me, I do my very best to engrave the moment in my mind, save it as a memory which I can pull out at need on a freezing cold November day – or an equally cold February day – to reassure myself that after winter comes summer. After dark, comes light. After cold, comes warmth.

Resized_20170617_133041001Sometimes, more tangible mementos are required. Which is why in my family we take the making of elderflower cordial very, very seriously. Nothing evokes summer as much as a glass or two of this fragrant beverage. A pale gold, the finished product resembles bottled sunlight, the warmth of summer trapped in a bottle.

First, we have to find the perfect corymbs. Elders have a tendency to attract lice and we definitely don’t want black specks floating around in the cordial, ergo we must be selective – and pick them early. This time round, we picked 240 corymbs.

Resized_20170617_135929For every 80 corymbs, we need two lemons, sliced in two. Plus we need water and sugar. We boil the water, add the sugar and stir until it dissolves, and pour this over the corymbs. After that, we leave it to sit in the dark for several days, stirring every 48 hours.

Resized_20170617_142238We strain it, add a preservative and bottle it. And just like that we’ve captured a little piece of summer, something to tide us over during the months of darkness.

Today, however, winter is far, far off. Today, we’ll sit in the purple dusk and watch the swifts and swallows dart back and forth. From somewhere far away comes the sound of song, of people laughing as they dance around the maypole while singing about little frogs (What can I say? Us Swedes are a strange lot) On the table stands the customary bouquet of seven different flowers, flowers tradition tells us we should take to bed and tuck under our pillow so as to dream of the man in our life. I don’t need to dream. My man is sitting right beside me, his thigh pressed against mine, my hand enclosed in his. Not a bad way to spend Midsummer’s Eve, IMO. Not bad at all.

Dancing with Mr Right

Carl Larsson midsommarToday it’s Midsummer’s Eve. Well, if we’re going to be finicky about it, Midsummer’s Eve is on Monday, but due to practicalities and adaptation to the modern times we live in, the powers that be have decided Midsummer’s Eve always falls on a Friday – at least here in Sweden.

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Summer evening 22:45

Midsummer is a BIG thing here. Very, very big. The pagan in us rears its head and off we go to hop like frogs around the maypole (although we call it a midsummer pole), do intricate folk dances involving hand clapping and stomping, twirls and little bows. All very picturesque, harking back to the dimmer parts of our history, all the way to the tenth century and beyond when Christianity was an eccentric oddity reserved for the lily-livered amongst us and most men and women of vigour and courage still prayed to the old gods – gods that now and then required blood sacrifice.

Midsummer is a rather carnal affair, and until recently late March was the peak month for births – no hanky-panky without consequences, right? Of course, a Midsummer’s Eve in northern Europe is a very sensual thing. The light lies trapped along the horizon for most of the night, dipping the entire creation in delicious hues of purple. The grass is green, the air is suffused by the scent of honeysuckle and dog roses, of viburnum and chamomile. In the distance a fiddler is playing, not the energetic folk music that recently had your legs twitching, no this is a sadder melody reminding us that today the year turns and soon these magical nights will darken and expand, robbing us of long, long twilights and dewy dawns. So when an arm slips round your waist, a bearded cheek rubs against yours, it feels such a waste not to enjoy the moment – after all, winter is coming. Winter is coming… (And just so you know, us northerners have been saying that LONG before the people of Westeros, okay?)

folkdräktUnless you’re into dressing in folk dress (very fancy, very beautiful, dead expensive and impossible to find unless you’re into sewing and embroidering yourself) Midsummer’s Eve calls for light dresses – preferably white and with ruffles, bare shoulders (unless it’s too cold). Not the most practical of colours when you’re planning to smooch a man while rolling around in the grass, but there you are – some traditions must be upheld. If you’re over the “find a man/woman & smooch” phase – like if you’ve been married for a quarter of a century – then you can bloody wear what you like as this evening is not really for you anyway. Being of a practical bend, I like wearing stuff that doesn’t have me turning blue with cold, which on most Midsummer’s Eves translates into jeans and a hoodie or two.

Midsommardans_av_Anders_Zorn_1897All night the music drifts over the wooden, open air, dance floor. Couples waltz, they stand almost still, disappear for some time and return somewhat rumpled and grassy, and go back to dancing. The night transforms to early dawn around two thirty a.m. and now there’s really no point in going to bed, as it’s already daybreak and anyway that fiddler is doing his thing again, haunting music tugging at your heart, your limbs. A last waltz, a last glass of champagne as the sun breaks through the veils of morning mist and the fiddlers pack up their instrument as the birds begin their morning chorus. Hand in hand, a man and a woman walk through meadows that leave trails of dew on bare legs and skirts. Every now and then the woman stoops to pick a flower. He laughs, bends to help her in between caressing her hair, her shoulder. She bats of his hands; this is serious business, she has to collect seven (in some parts of Sweden nine) different flowers before the night is truly over.

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Seven flowers to tuck under your pillow & dream of Mr Right

With a bedraggled bouquet in her hand, the woman walks the last few metres to her door. He kisses her and dips his head to whisper “Sweet dreams” in her ear.
“Dream of me,” he adds as he walks away.
In response, she lifts the bouquet to her nose and inhales. “I’ll try,” she says. On bare feet she makes her way to the bedroom, places the flowers under her pillow and falls into the bed. She turns on her side and smiles, thinking this was quite the Midsummer’s Eve. She closes her eyes, her body grows heavy with sleep. The flowers under her pillow are supposed to make her dream of the man she’s destined for. And if she’s lucky, this night she’ll dream of him, the man she’s been dancing with all night long, the man with warm hands and a soft mouth, the man who kissed her so passionately less than an hour ago. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this young woman does, that in her dreams her evening beau is confirmed as Mr Right.

Of course, all of the above assumes it doesn’t rain on Midsummer – which it does quite frequently…

Winter is coming, winter is coming… But tonight I’ll sit in the balmy evening and eat herring and strawberries, I’ll laugh when my man invites me to dance and waltz slowly over the lawn with him. For some hours more, I’ll pretend we live in a bubble of trapped light, a bubble of warm summer nights, of midgets and flower scented breezes. Winter is coming. But tonight my bare soles are caressed by the soft sweet grass, my man is outlines against a purplish sky highlighted by orange streaks. Winter will come – but tonight it is summer and light, and when I strain my ears I hear the mournful sound of a loon, while from the opposite side of the lake comes the dragging sound of an accordion, playing a familiar summer waltz.

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