We left very early in the morning for Leksand. We said goodbye to the little cottage and went up to the house at 6:00. Our train was leaving at 6:44 a.m. Anna got up briefly to say goodbye and then went back to bed. Mamma had already made cheese sandwiches for the trip, and Karin and Kaj had us in the car and ready to go by 6:10.
We arrived in Leksand at about 3:00 pm and took a taxi to Masesgården - we didn't feel up to the 6 km walk uphill with our packs. Maybe when we're in better shape. The woman who ushered us in didn't speak any English so my scant Swedish got a good workout. We had our own places set at a table in the dining room and the woman told us it was teatime. Our room was in the main house, a cute little room painted Karl Larsson blue, with the ubiquitous two single beds pushed together and a big brown Dalarna-painted table with two chairs. There was also a fridge, stove and sink behind cupboards, and two closets. It had little leaded glass windows in a shape we've now seen all over Leksand. The shutters on the outside had Dalarna painting on them as well. We shared our bathroom with a wizened old woman in the single room next door. She was darling, though she seemed not to be able to tell if the door was locked or not - maybe it was too hard for her to see (it seems that all houses in Sweden use locks on the bathroom like the ones used on airplanes and trains - when it is locked, a little red indicator turns into view on the outside). She scared me a couple of times while I was in the bathroom, rattling the door handle. It's so hard to know what you should say in such a situation in another language. I just meekly said "Vänta!" (wait) and hoped I'd really locked the door. Later I learned that the proper outcry is "Snart klart!" ("Soon ready!").
The atmosphere at Masesgården is incredibly relaxing. All the other people who were there had arrived Saturday, so we assumed they would be all chummy with each other and that no one would be interested in getting to know us. But even after a week together they were awfully stiff with each other, with a couple of exceptions. The older women were friendly with each other and a couple of other people got to know the others at their table, but that was about it. It felt like these were mostly people looking for something but they didn't know what - they might know that they want some kind of change, they might think that all they want is to rest or relax, but they weren't ready to have it yet. It was quite a bunch of characters. I was feeling like everything was hard when we arrived, especially after the woman who didn't speak English. I was afraid I wouldn't understand anything the whole time I was there. When we went in for dinner, someone had moved our place markers to the other side of the table against the wall. I assumed it was our two table-mates and was pissed off. Silly isn't it? I felt that it was a selfish, sneaky thing to do and they never even had the decency to say anything about it afterwards. I got over it though - it's pretty petty. But such was my state of mind when we first arrived. I wasn't feeling very at home in the world.
Dinner was all vegetarian, with vegan and fasting alternatives. Salads, soups, new potatoes, breads, cheeses, etc. Paul and I didn't do anything the first evening (well, Paul went for a swim before dinner while I napped - I had a huge caffeine withdrawal headache. I must remember not to drink as much coffee as the Swedes do!) We agreed not to feel compelled to "work" - Paul wouldn't touch the computer and I wouldn't feel like I had to catch up on the journal, which was running a week behind. We read in bed and ate chocolate and had a can of Pripps beer that we had smuggled in. We don't know what would have happened had this contraband been detected, but no doubt the penalties would have been severe ;-) I had the feeling that a lot of the people there were only able to go through the program if they felt they were bound by strict rules, even though they all seemed to be on vacation.
The next morning we got up at 7 with everyone else to have potatis vatten (potato water). Apparently it's good for you, but I don't know why. We sat outside in the first sunshine we'd had in days. It didn't last so I'm glad we enjoyed it while it was there. Swedes tend to spend every moment they can outside. They eat outside, or just sit out at night, which of course is a bright as day. In Leksand, it was still light at 11:30 at night. Amazing. (Technical note from Paul: Leksand is at 61 degrees north latitude, about the same as Anchorage, Alaska. While you do not technically experience the midnight sun there at midsummer, the glow in the sky long after sunset and long before sunrise means that it is truly dark for only about an hour at night). At 7:30 we went to Vitalität, which was basically yoga. We were a little late and I clumped across the floor in my sandales to get mats while everyone there was lying down and relaxing. I felt like Goofy, but what can you do? I found out later that you're not even supposed to walk with shoes on that floor - d'oh! We got the hang of things quickly. Jan Bohman the instructor was very good about throwing in some English just when I had no idea what was going on. We did the "Hälsning på solen" (salute to the sun) and I swear when we got to the part where you have your rearend up in the air Jan said in Swedish "greet the sun with your 'rumpen'". It was hysterical. We also did little boat and then rubbed our hands and I thought we were about to do palming but instead of cupping our eyes we massaged our ears. I don't know what that was all about. I felt like a Ferengi on Star Trek. All the while there was Native American flute music playing. Oh, and Jan also said "See if you can look back and see your back foot," when we were in a lunge, just like Kathy (my yoga instructor) does. He was like a Swedish, male Kathy, very tall and thin, and probably vegan. Good sense of humor and very encouraging. Afterward Jan said something to us and very quickly realized that we didn't speak Swedish. He asked where we were from, etc. Later at breakfast he made a point of coming over to see us to make sure we knew what activities were scheduled for that day. He was teaching "Trance Dance" later that morning, which seems to be some sort of relaxing free dance based on some sort of Native American tradition. He says its very big in the States. I was tempted and terrified to try it. In the end, we decided to go for a swim, then bike into Leksand. The pool is great, 80 degrees and not too full of chlorine. You can choose one of five CDs to listen to (we chose Dolphin Song) and at night they light candles. There's also some sort of foot therapy setup - two long shallow pools that you walk through, one warm at about 40 degrees C and one cold at about 11 degrees C. The warm pool has rounded stones on the bottom that massage your feet as you walk over them. There is also a bubble pool which we never got around to trying. We had other things to do...
The spa provides bicycles for their guests, so we picked up our bicycle locks from the receptionist (this one spoke English) and went out to select our bikes. I had made a poor choice - my bike was only one speed and had a soft rear tire so it didn't roll very well. Paul had a three speed that ran a bit better and we ended up switching off. It felt great to have accomplished it. On the way into Leksand we saw tons of people gathering birch branches and flowers for decorating since it was Midsommar Afton (Midsummer Eve). Everyone at least puts a few birch branches around the entrance to their house (Every birch tree we saw had had all its branches stripped below 10 ft). The Swedish colors get replaced with the Swedish flag and people make a Krans (wreath of flowers) to wear on their heads out of white, purple and yellow wild flowers. Once in town, we went in search of the tourist office to get some info. It turned out to be at the train station where we'd been the day before. They gave us a map, a schedule of events and a good place to go to see local handicrafts. We went to the place where the Midsommar Stång (the midsummer pole) would go up, the place where the barn dance would be held afterward (it's like a mini Kulturen), and Paul acquired a little Dalarna horse at Hemsljöden (a handcrafts shop). Apparently, these little wooden horses were first made in 1928. Nils and Jannes Olsson made them when they were 15 and 13 years old. They hung out in the family baking shed carving, and painting them and even made the paint brushes from squirrel hair themselves. They were from Nusnäs, near Leksand, where their family still makes them. They are now the symbol of Sweden, Mora and Dalarna, but I was surprised that they are such a recent addition. Leksand also has its own horse design, the horses have longer necks and are painted in blue, yellow and orange with black painted eyes, bridle, etc.
We made the ride back, 6 km almost all uphill, and then got into bed to read. I may have napped a little. Then we had tea and went for a magical walk in the forest behind Masesgården. There is thick carpet of moss and lichen over everything in this pine and white birch forest. Little streams weave their way under the moss and through the trees. After walking about 1 km, we came to a little bench by the path and sat and enjoyed the brief sunshine. Then we headed back for an early midsommar dinner. There was avocado with mushrooms and some kind of dressing, artichoke salad, new potatoes, tomatoes with olives, so much food that the bread had to go onto another table. I took way too much food and couldn't finish. Then we all got ready to go see the Midsommar festivities in Leksand. There wasn't enough room for me and Paul in the van so Bert, the driver, found us a ride in with a nice couple who had their own car there. They also had their friend Karin there (they were one of the few who got to know their table-mates), whom they relied upon when their English gave out on them. I've forgotten their names, but we discovered that they were from Malmö and were going to Göteborg on Sunday, the same as us. We had to park almost 1 km outside the town and walk in. Traffic of all varieties was quite heavy. We got a decent spot on the bridge over the river where we could watch the festival participants row in from the church.
They come from Leksands Kyrka on the shore of the Siljan and row down the river in narrow boats with long oars. They pause to raise their oars in a greeting to the gathered crowd before passing under the main bridge and pulling up to the dock. The rowers are all decked out in traditional costume and carry instruments for playing at the festival as well as birch-leaf wreaths and other decorations for the midsommar pole that will be raised. The men wear white shirts and pale yellow leather breeches (to the knee) with a kind of heart pattern embroidered into the fronts of the thighs. They wear thick off-white knee socks with little red pom-poms and sturdy black shoes. Their coats are blue wool and come down to the knee. The shoulders are embroidered in red and yellow (and maybe green) and they wear vests that match the pants. The vests have no buttons, only metal hooks (is this similar to the traditional Amish garb?). They also wear matching wool hats, round topped with short brims. The women wear skirts, usually black or blue. Their dress depends on the region more than the men's. They have a white blouse and a bodice of red held together with woven red and white or black and white "laces" and silver fasteners. The laces are done like a shoe. There is a kerchief tied around the shoulders and a red patterned apron and usually close-fitting bonnet. The little girls wore yellow dresses with red aprons.
They march from the dock through the heart of town to the "Kettle Hole" which is a wide, deep depression that forms a natural ampitheatre. The midsummer pole was waiting there at the bottom of the depression, ready to be decorated and raised. There were fiddlers and guitar players and the women and children carry birch and flower ornaments for the pole. While we watched the boats row in from the bridge over the river, we couldn't help noticing a group of guys partying on a dock below. They had decorated the dock with birches and were yelling to the people on the other side of the river "You on the other side, are you ready?". Then the people on the other side would yell back. It reminded me of Red Rover when Colleen and I were at the Drag Race in Dupont Circle that fateful Halloween. After the boats docked, we walked from the bridge to the "Kettle Hole" so we could watch the group march in to the pole. We got a good seat behind the stage that was set up in front of the pole, where we would have an excellent view of the pole raising. We were sitting right next to a woman in traditional dress and her black standard poodle which was as tall as she when both were sitting. He looked so regal and ridiculous at the same time. They had a welcome speech in 6 different languages - Swedish, English, German, French, Spanish, and Japanese - saying how happy they were to celebrate the longer days, how they welcomed all the foreign visitors, etc. Then the raising of the pole began.
The pole is about 30m tall (apparently this was to be the tallest midsummer pole ever raised). It had a golden rooster at the top and the pole itself is white with a thin blue stripe twisting around the entire length of the pole. The birch and flower wreaths are attached at various points up and down the pole and the whole thing fits into a granite stand. A group of people take wooden poles which are bound together in an "X" shape like a scissors and place them beneath the pole so that the pole rests at the intersection of the X. Then the announcer calls out "Å!" and the crowd responds "Hej!" and at the same time the pole raisers bring the bottom ends of the X poles forward and closer together and the pole raises a few feet. Then they reposition the supporting X poles one at a time. It takes quit a while. That's probably why they bring the fiddles and guitars - to keep the crowd occupied. I thought it would take 10 minutes or so, but about a half hour later the pole was still less than halfway up. The goal is to get the pole fitted into a granite stand specially made for it. It's about three feet high and one side has a half cylinder carved out, where the pole fits. Then the pole is secured with metal fasteners. While this was going on, the crowd, which measured in the thousands, was doing "The Wave". It went around about a dozen times before it faded out. There were no slackers; everyone participated. Then the announcer said, "Å!" and we answered "Hej!" and there was a loud "Crack!" and the pole snapped in half. There was a stunned silence. Then, as people realized that no one had been hurt (because the snapped half was being held up in the air by a garland of birch), there was laughter and everyone stood up to take pictures. No one could believe what had happened. Apparently, it's never happened at this particular site before. To everyone's credit, the music never once stopped, and they continued to raise the broken pole. There was a half hour break while they removed the top half of the pole, and then they raised the abbreviated pole and locked it into the granite base. It looked good, just a bit short and the birch wreath at the top was a bit askew. But it and the Swedes had triumphed over adversity and a good time was had by all. That's how all the good sagas end, don't they? We had to meet our ride back at the car by 9:00, so we headed out as soon as the raising was complete. We decided not to stay for the dancing, which was too bad because in the end, we probably would have had more fun if we had stayed for the barn dance and walked the 6 km back to Masesgården. But they were having a party back at the ranch and we decided to go.
The chef made an incredible red and black raspberry cake. There was also fruit and 2 kinds of fruit punch (non-alcoholic). It was wonderful, but everyone was so stiff and just sat in their assigned seats. No mingling for our crew. Bert, who is also the past lives guy, tried to talk people into singing, but no one would. Only the very fat man with the white hair would get up to play his harmonica (he was the one who kept talking to Paul and me even after we told him we couldn't understand a word he was saying.) He played all these silly songs and kind of wheezed while he played. I think everyone was king of embarrassed but to me it was just glorified people watching. After 3 songs, Bert came up and thanked harmonica man for playing. He kept calling him Herr Spelman (Mr. Music-player). Then Bert played the flute and a mousy girl got up and sang two songs. Song books were handed out and everyone dutifully sang, but it was so sedate. It was still light out at 11:30 but I'd had enough. Paul and I slipped out to drink our contraband beer in bed and read.
20 June 1998
We had breakfast and a swim and then packed up our gear. Our plan was to find out how much the bus cost and take it into town, but it turned out that it didn't run on Saturdays. But the person behind the counter (the chef?) told us that the van would be taking some other people to the train station at 12:30 and we could go with them. We just wanted to get a youth hostel room reserved at the tourist office, we weren't catching a train, so there was no rush. We left our gear by the coat racks and went back out to the magic forest. Paul took his recorder out to a huge boulder, where he sat and played. The sound of it echoing through the trees is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. I sat on a stump and got caught up on the journal. Later, we went back and got some tea and sat outside watching people leave. One of our table-mates received a eleven roses from her husband when he and her son came to pick her up. It was her eleventh wedding anniversary. I hadn't even considered that she might have a family. She seemed so independent and solitary. Maybe that's why! Then the van dropped us at the train station. The old woman who sat beside me couldn't even get in by herself. She kept saying, "I have no strength!" She had to be lifted in by the driver.
Once at the train station, Paul went to ask about a place to stay while I watched the gear. A cabin in the woods would have been 400 Skr and a room in a vandrarhem (Wanderer's Home) 280 Skr, so he chose the vandrarhem and then worried that he might have made the wrong choice. But I can heartily recommend the vandrarhem. We weren't allowed in until 5:00 when reception would open up, so we left our packs in the train station for 20 Skr ($3.00) and headed into town to wander around. We went to the church (Leksands Kyrka) from where they launch the midsommer boats and just walked around the town. I had a particularly horrible experience with a toalett (WC) near where they had the barn dance. The day before, it had seemed like a real find -- clean and free. (Most public restrooms cost anywhere from 1 Skr to 10 Skr!) But after the midsommer festivities, the place was trashed. There was broken glass all over the floor, and mud and some other not-to-be-deliberated-on substance as well. It was disgusting. Some of the toilets were plugged, and others had been vomited in. There was no paper. But I was desperate, what could I do? But anyway...
We picked up our gear at the station and started the 2 km walk out to the vandrarhem. We had no idea how long it would take us with the packs. We stopped a couple of times, but it still didn't take us very long. We got there about a half hour before the opening time. We were a little sweaty and tired when we arrived, but we survived. We sat in some wooden chairs in the garden to wait for reception to open. The vandrarhem is a series of little houses and a main house, all in Dalarna red with white trim. The grass lawn is beautiful and there are chairs and tables scattered around. The whole place is surrounded by the pine fence they have here. It's made of upright poles and these are fitted with pine branches woven in at about a 30 degree angle. Then the whole thing is tied with strips of pine that must have been moistened to make it flexible. It's great. We think that the tall poles are as tall as they are so that you can see where they are in the winter.
Another group was already gathered around another table and they unpacked a picnic. The father began to play songs on the accordion and did a little dance around one of the small houses evading a woman with him who was attempting to take his picture while he played. It was all very merry. Then the father talked the little girl who was with them into singing and playing the violin, which she did with her head lowered, and not very well yet, but she's young. Besides, that wasn't the point. Some girls from a cottage behind where we were sitting came and sat down to listen and four boys came back from wherever they had been, put up their lawn chairs and drank beer and read the paper. They pretended they didn't care what was going on, but I noticed that they lined up their chairs like they were part of the audience as well. It was wonderful.
At 5:00 the reception was opened and we got our room. The woman at reception walked us out to it with a very tiny baby in her arms. Our room was an extra "summer room" that was located in the house next door. It was really in an outbuilding of the house, kind of a shed, but it was quite adequate. It had a table and chairs, a couch that unfolded into a double bed and a set of bunk beds. There was an outhouse WC nearby, and a table and chairs outside as well, though I think it would have seemed strange to be sitting outside in someone else's back yard. We weren't staying long anyway, as our train was at 8:17 the next morning. I think Paul was sorry we weren't staying at the main house so we could meet people but it was my impression that everyone was sticking pretty much to their own group. We walked back to town after settling in, to find some nightlife. According to the schedule we'd been given at the tourist bureau, there were midsummer festivities both Friday and Saturday, so we figured people would be out celebrating. We sat in the square near the ICA (a grocery store) for a while and watched a very drunk guy chatting up some people. Then an old man, one of the drunk's drinking buddies apparently, talked with him for a while and then approached us. When he spoke to us we told him we didn't speak much Swedish, so he switched to English and said "Is this your wife?" "Yes." "Do you like Leksand?" "Yes." After that he basically repeated himself and then ended up with "I know I drink too much" before telling us he had to head out to his girlfriend's house. He didn't leave immediately though. He told us a few more times that he had to go, just to be sure we understood. Then he was gone. We went in search of some fries for dinner, which we found at a little kiosk (pronounced "shyosk") near the bridge. They even had a seasoning that was suspiciously similar to though not quite like (for how could it be?) Old Bay. After that, we went to what, as far as we could see, was the only bar in town. Outside, there was a big deck and on it were rough hewn Flintstone-esque wooden picnic tables constructed from enormous slabs of timber. There was also a table made from a huge stump or trunk of a tree with leather stool seats (like bicycle seats only rounder) attached with metal poles. It looked cool but weird, kind of like furniture that's art but turns out to be not as functional as you'd hoped. The place was practically empty. We had one beer and then walked home. When we got back, we had our showers so we wouldn't have to get up any earlier than was absolutely necessary the next morning, and then we sat on the lawn and read. It was so nice out, and so light, but eventually it got cold and buggy, so we went back to our room. I think Paul was hoping someone would invite us over to their group, but only the girls and the boys had mingled. Everyone else stayed insulated.
Next Stop: Göteborg.