Two weeks into our stay in the Swedish countryside, I am feeling more alive than I did when we’d just arrived here from London.
Ditching the big existential questions for the time being, I’m able to enjoy the little moments: going for a walk and stopping to look at the bright red poppies that line the gravel road; plunging into the cool sea water and swimming until my body goes numb; nursing a generous glass of deliciously cold Sancerre at dinner; and reading a book into the small hours because there’s no need to get up early the next morning.
Where I am right now, is the only place I’ve ever known where I’m able to breathe easily. Here, I’ve always felt free and unencumbered by the stress, busy-ness and expectations that otherwise blight my daily existence.
Here, amidst farms and fields, I don’t think twice about leaving the house dressed in dirty shorts and a worn-out t-shirt that gives off a distinct whiff of underarm sweat.
Here, I couldn’t care less about my appearance. Designer handbags, trendy shoes and perfectly manicured nails mean nothing to me here.
I love this carefree life; so much so that I toy with the idea of coming to stay here for longer periods once my children are old enough to look after themselves.
Two years ago, barely a month after I first began to write this blog, I posted a piece about my yearly summer visits here and everything I wrote then still applies. This is what I wrote:
I am a big city girl – always have been, always will be I’m afraid. I’m not a fan of camping holidays (it’s been twenty years since I last slept in a tent) and I don’t jump for joy at the chance of attending an outdoor picnic in the park. I’d rather just sit at a table when I eat.
But I can’t stand the thought of spending the hot, humid, sometimes rainy, summer in the city. So as soon as my children finish school for the year, we swap London for a rural, rather insular, part of Sweden where my parents have a holiday house. I’ve come here every summer since I was little and I call this home.
This place – a flat, baguette-shaped island off the Swedish east coast – is an acquired taste I realise, and I don’t kid myself that my British-Caribbean husband and London-born daughters love this part of Sweden nearly as much as I do. I am just grateful they agree to come here each summer, and with time I hope they might grow to appreciate it almost as much as I do.
For me, no summer is complete without a lengthy stay in this old-fashioned, beautiful if dusty, asthma-inducing, fly-infested house, accompanied by daily walks.
Near our house, in the outskirts of a farming village that has seen more prosperous days, stands a lonely tree in the middle of a cornfield. Although it is of a common Nordic variety, it resembles, I think, a sprawling African Acacia tree, albeit smaller.
Whenever I have a few moments alone, I steal away from the house and take a stroll down the country road, past the tall cornfields, past the grazing cows and the smell of fresh manure – and past that tree. Sometimes I stop to look at it, half-expecting to find a cheetah resting in its shadow.
The pale blue sky sits so low above the farmers’ land that it seems as if the clouds are within my reach. Alongside the road, poppies, irises and sorrel stand tall, in defiance of the strong winds that are a common feature here on the island.
Vibrant colours surround me, reminding me of a Van Gogh painting. “This is my Arles,” I muse as I stroll down the road.
Here, nobody cares what you look like.
Here, there is no need to be fancy, cool, successful, or anything other than oneself.
Here, is the only place I know where I can truly, and simply, be who I am.