Every newcomer to the city must make their peace with the darkness and cold of the winter months. YLC’s Rob Scott on the anonymity AND kinship of winter Stockholm.
Like every newcomer to this town I’ve spent a period of time ‘in the dark’. Adjusting to the quirks and kinks of the place. I think I’ll always be there to some extent, blundering my way around. And at this time of year a lot of the time is spent blundering around in the dark. Literally.
Every city has its own rhythm sometimes imperceptible to an outsider. The rhythm of a city, too, feeds different and sometimes imperceptible sensibilities, including those of its outsiders. Like ships in the night, Stockholm and me, we met by chance and have had sporadic yet enchanting contact ever since.
It is dark here. And part of the secret of living here is making your own accommodation with it. There is omnipotence to the darkness, whose thrall I have been in since my first midnight snack at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
A lot of things happen. Out of sight. Imperceptibly. People walk past but you don’t see them.
In winter, streets are filled with ghosts in boots, hoods and overcoats. You make your way around here like the sun pushes through clouds which hang like a thick, double-lined velvet drape over the city. Slowly, arduously. Imperceptibly.
Everything seems to vanish into pitch black pits of darkness. Trains into tunnels, boats out into the Baltic, even elevators seem to sink down and reappear from bottomless mine shafts. Lights hang in every window, signaling life. But there is rarely any life to be seen behind them. So they end up looking for all the world like tiny holes in the night sky, not houses at all, serving only to light up the darkness as if to remind you of its supremacy.
The cocooning silence that ensues leaves the impression of a world unseen, of a city having secret conversations. It’s easy to think the city doesn’t love you. That the perennial night manifests itself in masks worn by its inmates, keeping you ensconced in the dark and affirming the myth of the ‘quiet Swede’, and other strains of Swedishness. Dark thoughts can follow. Which is not altogether surprising when everything around us is dying. What didn’t die in autumn is killed off by the frost. Or the dark. Lately, though, I have felt a surge of reconciliation with the dark.
These same lights in the windows sometimes leave the feeling of being watched. Of checking on me. Seeing me. Oddly, it creates a closeness, even community, that defies logic. But it’s there.
And there are other glimpses of life. Of kinship. A look of recognition from real sets of eyes peering out from under dark thick robes of swishing fabric. A quick exchange of hellos, or a knowing grimace amidst a wintry gale, or a nod of simple connection. Life almost imperceptible. But visible. I know I’m here. The truth is that life is swirling all around us. And not like the rattle of dead leaves in a frosty gale. This city has all the life, madness and stories of any other. Like sudden bursts of light under a cloak of darkness. And, in a way, more life-giving.
And then, sometimes, the sun forces its way through the clouds.
Rob Scott is a writer, teacher and poet who can’t remember anything that happened in his life before the birth of his daughter seven years ago.