New Year, and a time for thinking about the future, hopes and dreams. There was a lot of that going on outside the Ice Hotel this year.
Before midnight hotel residents are lured away from the ice bar by some form of entertainment which usually involves men in dinner jackets, reindeer antlers, a snow queen, and at least one tractor. There’s a lot of hammy acting, and dramatic action which represents the ousting of the year (represented by the snow queen) by the next year (another snow queen). The year 2013, in ice of course, is smashed, and a 2014 ice block appears. There are annual variations but it usually follows this pattern.
Standing on the river were an international mix of people of all ages, most of them trying to capture the moment with their i-phones. At a distance in the dark were a few breakaway groups, drunk more on the experience than the vodka (which at 130 SEK a shot was understandable).
I suppose we were gate crashers, but the Torne river is a public place so we felt we had the right to be there. The entertainment was pretty mad. A kind of Mr Bean meets Hans Christian Andersen, with a shot of Christmas pantomime (‘look behind you!’) and a sprinkling of Monty Python (a Swedish favourite). Half of it was spent watching a man in a dinner jacket trying to light a flame that kept going out. Still, we all watched, and a few of us cheered, perhaps feeling sorry for the performers. When it finished there was a brief explosion of fireworks, and then we were invited to send off a paper lantern with a wish.
A paper lantern rising into the sky is a pretty sight but we know it’s not very environmentally friendly (even if it’s ‘biodegradable’), and may even be a fire risk. I didn’t want to be a party pooper and so suppressed thoughts of the Ice Hotel’s claims (‘we care about how the environment is affected by Ice Hotel’) and concentrated instead on the uplifting sight of the orange lanterns floating over the ice into the darkness.
It was uplifting when they were (uplifting), but sadly only half the lanterns got off the ground. When they sank instead of rising, or crashed, burning holes in their shell and petering out, I felt for those people.
We watched one woman chase her lantern over the ice, failing to send it into the air. She abandoned it, turning her back on her wish. When she wasn’t looking, someone else took hold of the lantern, and released it. When her wish comes true she’ll never know she has someone else to thank for it.
We danced in the snow and remembered that the laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne. People were standing in groups outside, reluctant, perhaps, to face minus 5 in their hotel bedroom. Or perhaps I’m wrong and they couldn’t wait to hunker down on that damp reindeer skin for the night. In any case, we were glad to be able to drive back to a warm home.
When we got there it was past 1am. It had been fun, out there on the river, but somehow the excitement of the new year hadn’t yet reached me, and now there was only the prospect of a cup of tea and bed. Then I heard (yet another) loud bang. People had been letting off fireworks in Kiruna since early evening, but this was a bit late. I looked at the time – it was 1.23 precisely, so it was the mine’s nightly explosion. Sometimes it’s a muffled bang, barely noticeable, and other times the house shakes. This time it was very noticeable. At last, we’d been blasted into 2014.