Ever since the house-swapping of rusticus mus and urbanus mus people have been living in the city and dreaming of a quiet life on the land. A couple of rolling acres for organic veggies, a chook or 5 and maybe a hive of bees to trade honey for freshly baked bread, when you cycle into town early in the morning. Probably down a lane with overgrown hedges and lowing cows. These images and ones like them linger in our imaginations, especially when the shoving shoulders, bright lights and acres of concrete start to bear down on us.
It was into this rustic peace that we found ourselves in last weekend, and not just any piece of country in Sweden. We were in Dalarna, called by Swedes (in particular those from Dalarna) the heart of Sweden. The name translates simply as The Valleys, or Dales, and also gives its name to the Dalahäst, the little painted wooden horse that is as synonymous with Sweden as IKEA. Locals will only consider someone as truly coming from Dalarna if they have at least 3 generations behind them who have lived there, in the same way that citizens of Rome look down on families who have been living in their city for only 100 years. And in the small towns that dot the valleys you can be sure that your genealogical qualifications, of lack thereof, will not be secret for long.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our journey to Dalarna began with the loading of luggage into a friend’s van, the usual pre-boarding faffle and then we were off. Two Australians and three Swedes, ready for whatever adventure the world might throw at us.
The first adventure thrown at us arrived with a bang on the highway, as the left rear wheel suspension snapped. After a period of masculine grunting and considering, our luggage was moved to the right side of the boot and we continued, with slightly less vim.
The drive took about 7 hours, including stops for coffee and dinner, and the continual chatter from the backseat. There is a lot to see on the drive from Gothenburg to Dalarna. Mostly it is trees, but there are a lot of them. And horses. As the night drew on even those sights were lost in the darkness, only broken by the lights of farm houses and towns in the distance.
The place that we would be staying at was a BnB/bakery owned by a friend of a friend, which we barely looked at as we stretched our legs, grabbed our luggage and tramped into our accommodation. After tea and picking beds we all fell asleep.
The reason for the trip, other than to visit Dalarna, was an annual party hosted by the friend of a friend who owns the BnB/bakery with her partner, bringing old and new friends from Dalarna together for food, company and music.
So it was that after we woke up at a respectiably weekend time, had a three hour brunch of freshly baked bread, cheese and eggs, played with the dog, went out for supplies, visited a bakery (more on that in the next post) and had gotten dressed up, the party preparations were well underway. Which is to say that somewhere there were people doing something, but the bustle mostly passed us by, as we greeted guests and poked around trying not to get under foot. Once the party began our jobs became very clear, and we happily joined in with eating the piles of locally sourced food and sipping the home brewed beer and cider that my partner had brought. He ended up doing something of a tasting, offering tastes to all those sitting around us, and answering questions as though his brews came from a brewery rather than our spare room.
There were people from all over the area and further afield at the party, connected by families and friends, some of whom lived a few valleys away and only saw each other once a year or who bought bread from each other weekly. We spent a while chatting to a psychologist couple from Stockholm, and another younger couple who turned out to be living on the land in an old farm house just down the road in the charmingly named Pingbo. All of whom were patient with our not quite yet fluent Swedish.
After helping ourselves to a mountainous fruit salad, we heard music starting on the floor below and went down the stairs to find the head baker ripping away on a violin while one of our roadtrip friends heaved away on his accordion. They brought people to their feet with a brisk waltz, then settled in for folk songs, improvising and skipping from song to song as we clapped our hands. Sometimes people sang along to songs from childhood or quickly found lyrics on phones, and calling out suggestions.
As our glasses emptied we began to yawn and so left the party swinging away until late into the night, or early in the morning, long after we’d crawled under the covers and fallen asleep.