(Revised) MEMORIES of CHILDHOOD in LAPLAND


'Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us.'
Oscar Wilde "The Importance of Being Earnest"

You might think that I come from the sticks or that I was born and grew up in the middle of nowhere but that is not the case at all, as there was quite an influx of travellers to Tornio Valley, Lapland, already in the 17th and 18th centuries of the Common Era. In 1736-1737, for example, came an expedition to Tornio Valley to determine the shape of the earth. The result of these measurements was that for the first time the maps of that time included the Arctic Circle! I have truly enjoyed being and interacting with persons of foreign extraction and generally with all things international all my life and no wonder as my family roots go to several nations as well. It came sort of naturally by the way the life was there in Tornio Valley being the border and frontier country. The Finnish television did not reach that far north that time, so all we could watch with clear reception was the Swedish television so that I am well used to watching television without the subtitles into Finnish and ‘hearing’ words in a language which has been an excellent aid in learning a whole lot of other foreign languages that I have done ever since.

Ylitornio, the place where I was born and where I grew up is also where The Arctic Circle goes right through the villages of Ylitornio, on the Finnish side of the Tornio River* and Övertorneå, on the Swedish side in Lapland. It is said to be the most peaceful border on the globe. This latitude also marks the southernmost parallel at which one can experience the Polar Day – when the sun does not set – another name for it is the Midnight Sun between the 15.6-7.7. In fact, the sun does not go-to-bed there for several weeks over the summer months. It is also hard for the humans to hit the sack, as it is simply too sunny right through the night to even feel tired. We had the perfect excuse for not having to go to bed early as we could say: ‘it is not dark yet!!’ The opposite time is The Polar Night that begins on September 23, at the autumnal equinox culminating on December 21, when the sun does not rise above the horizon for 24 hours – and it is dark all day. Talk about the TWILIGHT ZONE. During the Kaamos -the dark period- everything is in these fabulous shades of blues, pinks and lilacs. It is terribly picturesque altogether. I am quite certain, that you would have seen photographs of Lapland in these gorgeously soft pastel colours, even though it did not cross your mind at all, that they were taken during the Kaamos. It could be that the talent, for sleeping anywhere, anytime for me, comes from having lived in Lapland. Finland also is very bright all-over in the summer – not just Lapland. The only difference is that the sun does not set but stays above the horizon in Lapland and in Finland it eventually sets – maybe 2-3 am and then rises up nearly immediately back!!

Another astonishing thing were the Nordic Lights, the Aurora Borealis, which were very common and at their most stunning at this latitude; and, especially, when there were no street lighting to hinder the prime seat viewing of the same. These lights would be in massive thick sheets that covered the whole sky in all the rainbow colours and more or less 360 degrees – all around one. I think that is where my deep love for colours comes from, actually. Did you know that Aurora Borealis has a sound that is majestically loud and absolutely, thoroughly awesome, though not scaring? Is it not true that light is sound, and sound is light?!

In this border country where I grew up, as anywhere in a situation alike, a special, local culture, both Swedish and Finnish has emerged; yet it is somehow distinct from both. A majority of the residents speak Tornio Valley Finnish – Meänkieli – the native language and the bearer of the culture which is also my own first language. Culture, that is distinctive in religion, in the local cuisine with its eastern influences – spices used for example – even though it is on the western border to Sweden. The local population uses several languages, Swedish, Finnish, Saami and Meänkieli, ’Our Language’ – that is what the name means in English – is a language spoken in both Swedish and Finnish Tornio Valley. Living in the border region has given the people of the valley a characteristic mentality and a genuine pride – a deep awareness of who they are, rather than the ‘nose-up- in the air’ -variety. The local population is meant to be even more fanatical about hot-hot sauna baths than the rest of the Finns. Well, one must try, in any which way, to keep warm – somehow! The temperature difference between summer and winter is roughly 60ºC. Whopping or what?!!

The coldest temperature in Ylitornio that I have experienced in my entire life was all of -44ºC!! The first snow, in my childhood in Lapland, came in September and the snow was all gone by mid May! Each year there was a bet with great prizes for the person, who guessed the day and the hour when the ice would break in the Tornio River. I remember that the breaking ice made a terribly loud and powerful noise or sound that lasted for days and days until all the ice was driven by the strong currents to the sea. Just think about the length of the winter – my reaction to that was that it was insane and that I wanted to live in warmer climes. I was crying, because I was so frozen as I did not have any extra insulation on me, i.e. I did not have the layers of fat to pad me up. The siblings and those around me at the time thought, that it was rather invigorating with all that chill ‘n snow. Not me! To think of it, the snow was on the ground for best part of the year aka Sept/Oct – mid May!! INSANE.

I remember that the summers in Lapland were so cool that it did not get over 20 C degrees hardly ever at that time, yet we did so much swimming in there year after year and all other outdoor things. It must have been in order to keep from being chilly! We just kept moving and running like anything!! Then when finished with the playing, went indoors and we were drinking copious amounts of hot chocolate. Internal central-heating, eh? My childhood memories of the summers are full of fun, activities and playing games of all kinds.

There was a boy in my class, that I think am, almost 100 per cent sure was a Saami. He looked like one very clearly. Anyhow, he did mention me how many reindeer his family owned. (Years later somebody ‘offered’ a million camels for me; this Lapland chap did not name the number of reindeer he was ready to part for me hand!! I do kind of wonder that how many beasts he would have been ready to part with, actually. lol) That would be the same as saying publicly what one’s bank balance is. Later on in my life, as I pondered that boy and his tormenting of me with tacks and stuff on my seat and generally harassing me, was that he fancied me. It did not hit me at the time, for the eleven-year-old boy’s tokens for love are rather painful, so that one would not put them into the category of love in a hurry! Would you?! He would sit behind me every other month, a month, that is still in my memory as sore; that is, my behind was tender with those sharp objects he’d leave on my chair as I would plunk myself down without looking over and over again, and OUCH…!! Sore. He sure got me attention: I was ready to trounce ‘im every other month to pulp!!! Ladylike**, I know to say that. Heehe That must be where we get the saying ‘Love Hurts’. Sure! If you think that after all these years my first memory of him is still PAIN, SORE etc., – you can be sure that it was VERY PAINFUL. Why the lads just cannot say their affections to one with nice words instead of pulling one’s hair, causing pain with all sorts of imaginative ways and so on is beyond us girls? Any theories/explanations gratefully received.

When we moved down to the Southern Finland, our life in Lapland and in Tornio Valley came to a very sudden end: it is by far the most dramatic move of my life. It was HORRID to have to move away from there. Southern Finland at the time was very strange and more ‘closed’ as introverted than Lapland, where masses of tourist from all over the world came all the time, and also living by the border made people more interesting and whatnot. And I sure have moved a lot in my life; from country to country and from a place to another, at times, at break neck speed! This is the most dreadful change, the hardest breaking away and the most costly move in my entire life. No other move has come even close to what this one was.

What are Your Memories? Tis for now. Riihele xx.

* The Tornio River is 520 kilometres long – that is 324 miles – and in certain places 3 kilometres wide – that is 1.87 miles – one of the few rivers in Europe that is not harnessed for electricity.

**I looked like a small doll, but I hadn’t got the dolly way about me for I just loved climbing roofs/trees, playing football et cetera more than the girley stuff. I do have four siblings, so I wasn’t the only daughter. That photo is Ikkle Rii. Cute,eh?!!

Tourists always complain about the mosquitoes, but the thing with the mozzies is that they do not bother the locals as they will only tuck into the strangers. I never remember once being that much bothered by them in my childhood. They know the blood of a Finn in the south and the even more exotic blood of a foreigner is so much more juicy & tender than the Lapland people’s, I reckon…!!

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