Scandinavia; it’s a funny place

Back in Scandinavia and it’s the Vikings’ version of the silly season in Denmark and Sweden. Despite promising myself a few quiet days that included some gentle birding [migration is underway and the skies are filling], a few glasses of good red wine and a little garden tidying before embarking on a sojourn to Cannes I was dragged out of my repose by Greg [from Denmark via Berkshire] and Bill [from Vancouver] to waste another evening of my life trawling the bars and cafés of Copenhagen. It was Fashion Week so the city was heaving, packed to the brim with the fashionable, the wannabes, the glitterati, the hangers-on and that most exquisite of creatures – the Danish Girl on a Cycle. Now if you haven’t seen this phenomenon you have missed a treat that no man should miss. There is something unique and singularly Danish about flowing blond hair, a short dress hitched up to thigh level, long legs and high-heeled shoes cruising past on the way to an evening out. Now you need to understand that my appreciation is purely an intellectual concept; cultural and aesthetic, it’s not sexist at all. Here’s some further serious reading, for the enthusiast, with a few pictures thrown in.

We started in a busy and crowded Tivoli and ended, an Italian restaurant, two bars and an Eastern European street party later [which was supplying waitress-served free beer, by the by], at Café Victor. This place is a highlight of Copenhagen and a personal favourite. The evening was warm, despite some light summer rain and the atmosphere nothing less than splendid. Construction was underway for the longest catwalk in the world – a 1600m long carpet that 250 models would stride along the following evening. Copenhagen was in party mood, none more so than the Navy guys sitting near us who were plying a bevy of very pretty girls with pink champagne in exchange for some very model-like posturing in their dress uniform caps. The bars had spilled out to the streets; there was a lot of laughter and noise, an appropriate amount of throwing-up and, of course, those blond girls cycling back and forth. Only Ray Milland knows how I felt next day after I’d crashed at Tove’s apartment but I think it was worth it.

Compare that to Sweden, where an altogether steadier but nonetheless just as silly atmosphere prevails. The Swedes do like a party and, I understand, an occasional drink, but as summer wanes and the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness arrives their thoughts turn to berries. Well, mushrooms too, but mostly berries. They love berries and as the undergrowth of the northern forests grows heavy the eager consumers in the warmer southern bit grow restless for punnets resplendent in the blues, reds and yellows of autumn. Imagine, then, our horror to find that not only is the harvest being ‘outsourced’ to Vietnamese itinerants but that they are also being exploited by the wholesalers. Last week we heard that tragedy stalked the harvesters among the bushes as, like our summer, the autumn was late this year and the berry crop with it. Apparently, the 300 guest workers had to pay their own travel, lodging and food and were contractually obligated to pick 90 kilos of lingonberries, 50 kilos of blueberries or 20 kilos of cloudberries per day in order to be paid their wages. The late crop meant no berries and that meant no wages. No money meant no food so it all came to our attention and that of the police when hunger drove them to go foraging in the woods with – listen to this – catapults and bows and arrows to shoot birds and animals to eat. I haven’t quite understood if the Swedes are alarmed at the Vietnamese workers’ plight or the potential loss of wildlife but I am greatly concerned that the berry-pickers appear not to have been told that a catapult will not stop an elk or a brown bear even if you get close enough to hit it over the head.

A little further south, but still in the forest, three middle-aged German women went for a hike and got lost. So what? Well, like a lot of Germans and, in some respects like our Vietnamese visitors, these ladies had a strong connection with nature. Instead of picking berries they were tripping through shady dells and across sun-dappled clearings stark naked. Whether or not they didn’t know the area or hadn’t brought a map [no pockets, of course] they soon realised they were lost and struck out for any signs of civilisation. Nothing, not even a Vietnamese berry-picker hunting birds. The women were part of a naturist group vacationing in a woodland cottage and the remainder, alarmed that the three hadn’t returned, called the police. The report in The Local, my source of important news, didn’t state that they had to use a land-line but I have spent a moment or two wondering how or where you carry an iPhone 4 when you are stark naked. Anyway, after wandering around until 10.30pm below circling police helicopters and, most embarrassingly, approaching sniffer dogs the ladies chanced upon their rented cottage and were welcomed into the naked bosoms of their naturist companions.

This has all made me feel very uneasy. One of the things I’ve always liked about Swedish forests is the solitude and the dearth of people. Sitting on my deck with a glass of red wine this evening I was wondering just what lurks beyond the garden fence and it was safe to go down to the woods today.


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