A couple of weeks ago, I travelled to the far north of Sweden. The very far north of Sweden. In fact it was as far as you can travel without falling off the map, if of course your map only shows Sweden. Beyond the map's limits, you expect there to be nothing but a dark gaping abyss. Now, having travelled that far, right to the edge of the map, it turns out there is something far more frightening and hard to comprehend, than the mouth of Hell. What you find there is a place they call Finland.
Having used a combination of planes, trains, automobiles and even snow scooters to get there, it was a bit of an anti-climax to cross the border on foot. It was fun to skid back and forth across the international time zone on the ice. You can literally travel in time: Gaining an hour here, losing an hour there. Then jump back across. Gain an hour, lose an hour. I lost count of how many times I did this before I got bored, but if I have done the maths correctly, I think I aged by about three days.
Where Sweden meets Finland, they have put up a little heart with a little bench where you can sit and have your photograph taken with a buttock in each country, your cleft representing No Man’s Land. I am planning to use the picture above to get into the Guinness Book of Records as ‘Man with World’s Biggest Bum’ - so big it crosses two different time zones and taxation systems.
I was in the north with Al Pitcher to do a gig, and the border town in question was called Haparanda. I say ‘was called’ because after we left, (and I’m not exaggerating when I say we had a good gig), it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to rename the place HA-HA-HA-paranda.
We did the things that you do when you travel to the north of Sweden. You know, the normal stuff - Having a sauna, feeding reindeer, having another sauna, looking at the northern lights, then having another sauna.
The saunas are just the best way of warming up, as going outside was mostly a matter of survival. To us, it felt bloody cold but the locals were all complaining that it was too warm as it was ‘only’ minus six degrees. The local Mayor was quoted in the paper as saying this was the first winter in his memory where he hadn’t worn any longjohns. This was particularly controversial as when we met him, he wasn’t actually wearing any clothes at all. Needless to say, we were in a sauna, but I like my mayors to wear full ceremonial robes whenever possible, or at the very least, a tie.
We sat out in the hot tub with the Northern Lights overhead. I was told it was a phenomenal sight, but as I had taken my glasses off (and drunk a couple of strong Finnish beers) for the sauna/hot tub experience, all I could see was a blur. I really wanted to document the experience, so climbed out, found my glasses and camera. I’m not sure how many seconds shutter speed you need to capture the Northern Lights on film, but I just know it was longer than can be physically tolerated by a wet, naked, shivering man standing knee-deep in the snow, trying to hold a camera steady.
Naked and cold, I was doing all sorts of exposure, just not the correct kind of exposure needed for the photo.
Apparently, in China, conceiving a child under the Northern Lights is supposed to bring good fortune. Whether this is true or not, it has certainly brought good fortune to the Lapland hotel and tourism industry. Where we stayed, there were several romantic young Chinese couples with a constant eye on the sky, ready to jump into action if there was the smallest glimpse of celestial activity. It was less Aurora Borealis, and more PHWOARora Borealis! Amiright!?!
How I giggled at breakfast (following a cloudy night) after asking a young couple from Guangdong if they had seen the sky the previous night. Their faces becoming ashen with disappointment at the inevitability of unlucky children.
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