This winter, taking an outdoor ice bath has become very fashionable in Sweden. Disrobing and lowering yourself into frozen lakes at below zero temperatures is considered very healthy for the body and its ability to repair itself.
Spring has now arrived and the ice is melting but die hards are still squeezing the last out of the ice batheing season. Like this guy featured on TV, who regularly sits in the frozen lake – for 20 minutes at a time!
This may seem like a long time, but actually it is nothing compared to the world record. The world record for ice submersion is held by Austrian Josef Koerbel who, in 2020, held himself under ice for 2 hours and 30 minutes. In his case, it was in an ice box on a public square in the town of Melk.
So, what about you? Do you feel enticed by the concept of plunging into the chilly depths to take an ice bath? Or would you rather keep yourself wrapped up warm and toasty on the bank of the lake?
Swede Anita Ekberg, from Malmö in Skåne, played an iconic leading role in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1961). She is notably remembered for the scene where she bathed in la Fontana di Trevi. Born in 1931, she won the Miss Sweden title at the age of 20, and then went to USA to compete in Miss Universe. Although she didn’t win, she worked as a model and a hostess and got small film roles.
She was famously opinionated and refused to change her surname saying that if she became famous everybody would learn her name, and if she didn’t it wouldn’t matter.
Ekberg appeared in many films, but interestingly never a Swedish one. She retired from acting in 2002 and died in 2015 at age 83 in Rome.
I’ve been watching the interesting Martin Scorsese documentary series on Netflix called ‘Pretend it’s a City.’ The programme is based on a series of interviews with sardonic writer Fran Lebowitz. In one episode, she talks about MeToo, and how when a woman accuses a man of rape the focus has shifted from ‘prove to me that she’s telling the truth’ to ‘prove to me that she’s lying.’
This is merely a change of perspective in most places and not enshrined in law. Except in a few countries, including Sweden. In 2018, a new law was introduced in Sweden – called the samtyckeslag – the Law of Sexual Consent. The basic principle of the law is that sex should be voluntary and that sex without explicit consent is considered rape. This applies whatever the gender.
The Swedish verb for ‘to rape’ is ‘våldta’ which literally translates as ‘to take by violence’. This reflects the previous definition of rape which involved some form of violence, force or threat or that the victim had been in a vulnerable position. An important part of the previous legislation was that the victim decisively said ‘no’. Since 2018, this is not the case.
A crime called ‘negligent rape’ was introduced which is a sexual act that occurs when there has not been an explicit statement of consent, but in which the perpetrator had not intended to commit rape or assault. In other words, before sex there has to be a clear ‘yes’ or active demonstration of consent. If there isn’t, it is rape.
Today, if a woman accuses a man of rape, she does not have to provide evidence that he was violent or coercive, that she had to fight him off or prove that she said ‘no’. The victim does not have to prove she is telling the truth, the accused has to prove she is lying.
The new law has been significant in many convictions in recent years. In one case, the Supreme Court wrote: ‘A person who is subjected to sexual acts against their will does not have any responsibility to say no or express their reluctance in any other way.’
So a ‘yes’ is a ‘yes’. And a lack of a ‘yes’ is a ‘no’
A quick look at social media reveals the general Swedish attitude to 2020 – ‘a shit year’, ‘throw the year in the bin’, ‘go to hell 2020’.
Obviously, people are referring to the global pandemic that swept the world, limiting our freedoms, making us sick and killing 8727 people in Sweden. So far, about 10% of the Swedish population has had Covid 19, and as we enter 2021, that number is quickly rising.
However devastating the pandemic is, 2020 wasn’t all doom and gloom. There were some positive news stories in Sweden as well, even though media coverage was totally dominated by the virus. Let’s reflect over some of the rays of light:
– The Convention on the Rights of the Child became enshrined in Swedish law. This expands legal protection to children.
– The planet got a much-needed breathing space. Fewer planes in the sky and cars on the roads improved air quality and reduced pollution. Biggest impacts of this were seen in other places, such as New Delhi, where the sky turned blue again.
– Despite physical distance, people showed solidarity and care for each other. People shopped for each other, walked each other’s dogs, serenaded each other and checked in on each other. 2020 was a year of neighborliness.
– People gathered up and down the country to protest against oppression and racism as part of the global BLM movement. While gatherings might have been illegal, it showed a strong commitment to equality in Swedish society.
– The Golden bridge was inaugurated in Stockholm by the King. This feat of engineering, manufactured in and shipped from China, creates an important link at the hub between Södermalm and the Old Town.
– Pope Francis defended the right of same sex couples to enter into legal partnership. This political statement was welcomed by catholic LGBT people in Sweden and abroad.
– Swedish pole vaulter Armand Duplantis broke the world record – twice! And Swedish biathletes gave a sense of national pride as they repeatedly crushed their competition, especially the Norwegians.
– The Swedish economy recovered better than expected, with a growth in GDP. Good news for everybody given the global impact of the pandemic. And a glimmer of hope for 2021 and beyond.
According to meteorologists, Stockholm has had ZERO hours of sunlight in December. The rest of the country hasn’t been much better. Thankfully, tomorrow, 13 Dec, is Santa Lucia Day in Sweden. At this darkest time of the year, Santa Lucia (St Lucy) pays us a visit early in the morning. Lucia has candles in her hair and is surrounded by her handmaidens and boys, and shines much-needed light into the dark depths of our tired souls. And slowly, slowly, the day awakens.
Santa Lucia is believed to have been a Sicilian saint who suffered a martyr’s death in Syracuse, Sicily around AD 310. She was seeking help for her mother’s long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucia became a devout Christian and refused to compromise her virginity in marriage. Officials threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking. One of the soldiers stuck a spear through her throat to stop her, but to no effect. Soon afterwards, the Roman consulate in charge was hauled off to Rome on charges of theft from the state and beheaded. Lucia was able to die only when she was given the Christian sacrement.
The tradition of Santa Lucia is said to have been brought to Sweden via Italian merchants and the idea of lighting up the dark appealed so much that the tradition remained. The current custom of having a white-dressed woman with candles in her hair appearing on the morning of the Lucia day started in the area around Lake Vänern in the late 18th century and spread slowly to other parts of the country during the 19th century. The modern tradition of having public processions in the Swedish cities started in 1927 when a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucia for Stockholm that year. The initiative was then followed around the country through the local press.
Today schools select a Lucia among the students. This is usually a girl, but on occasion boys have been elected. This sidestep from tradition has caused conservatives to foam at the mouth.
The Lucias visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing and handing out gingerbread. This year, of course, things will be different. Concerts have been cancelled, or will be broadcast digitally, and any physical Lucia visits will be carried out with appropriate social distance, and probably outdoors.
So, it might be a dark time in human history, and it is certainly dingy outside, but remember – after darkness comes the light. And this year, we need it more than ever.
In ten posts, I am recommending good Swedish reads to enjoy during the dark days and pandemic lock down. This is the ninth one – ‘Easy Money’ – written in 2006 by Jens Lapidus.
This book takes us into the brutal, criminal underworld of Stockholm. A thriller, the story follows the destinies of a group of young men all trying to get filthy rich, but paying a heavy price along the way. Jens Lapidus has written several books on the same theme and several have been made into movies.
As the autumn darkness envelops us, what better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book? Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The third recommendation is ’City of my Dreams’, written in 1960 by Per Anders Fogelström.
City of My Dreams is a classic Swedish novel that follows a group of working-class people in Stockholm between 1860 and 1880. It is the first novel in a series of five and gives a unique insight into the tough lives faced by people living in that era. A magnificent, gripping saga.
Usually at this time of the year, a common sight on the streets of Sweden is students on trucks, as seen in these pictures. Dressed in traditional white caps, and bolstered with alcohol, the students jump up and down to the booming music from loud speakers concealed in the vehicle. They scream and shout and spray beer on each other and sometimes unsuspecting pedestrians.
They are celebrating the end of their school career. Most of them are 19 years old and have just graduated from Sixth Form College/High School. Every year the media reports accidents and injuries, which is not entirely unexpected. And trucks have been banned from certain roads and areas in the towns.
In Sweden, graduating or doing ‘studenten’, as it’s called in Swedish, is a major rite of passage into adult life. The youngsters finish their last day at school, come running out of the building to be greeted by waiting parents and families. They then climb aboard their trucks for their lap of honour. After that they go around to each other’s homes where each family usually arranges a reception to honour the newly-graduated student.
This year though is a bit different. Due to COVID 19, the trucks are banned. Parties are cancelled. Parents are not allowed to gather in large groups. It is a necessary action to try to stem a pandemic, but highly disappointing for the affected youths.
However, people are finding other solutions. Trucks may be banned but cars aren’t. The streets are full of young people screaming around in cars, flying their flags and cheering themselves on. Boats float around the city waterways with groups of less than 50 graduates, drinking sparkling wine and dancing to their booming music. The parks are full of picnicking revelers, huddled on shared blankets but socially distanced from other groups.
Proof that people will always find a way. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.