We’d been away for a while and were returning to Kiruna from Stockholm. Stockholm’s imaginative Christmas decorations of giant moose and pine trees made out in thousands of sparkling lights, both impressed and depressed me. The decorations were sparkling, original, and beautiful, but as fake as the photographs of northern mountains selling northern-style bread in the nearby station concourse.
It was the sparkling joy of winter artificially preserved in a concrete environment, to entice the public to spend money in shops in the run-up to Christmas. An urban environment reassuringly provides us with experiences which are predictable and stable, though controlled by people and organisations with particular goals in mind. It is a kind of virtual reality.
So it was a relief to land in Kiruna airport and see the low setting sun send real shards of ice and sparkling light spinning across a real, white landscape.
There were a lot of tourist visitors on the flight, and most had their Nikon cameras round their necks before they got off the plane. On the runway they posed in front of the landscape, looking for different angles on the winter scene and snapping the temperature displayed on the wall of the airport building.
Their eagerness to record the unlikely environment of a runway made me think that perhaps they were afraid that all this would suddenly disappear. Those of us who live here can relax, knowing just how long the real winter lasts.
We’d ordered a taxi from the airport. We complimented the driver on his vehicle, and he admitted he’d bought it only a week ago. We waited for him to talk more about his purchase, expecting some brand new car enthusiasm, though we weren’t really interested. But he said no more and drove on in silence.
Wondering what we should say next, we commented on there being a ‘reasonable amount’ of snow in Kiruna – not too much, not too little, and conveniently crisp and dry compared with the slush we’d experienced in Stockholm. The driver agreed and told us that until a few days ago there hadn’t been much snow but it had been very cold so the ice on the lakes was perfectly smooth. ‘You could see what lay far beneath the lake surface – the ice was crystal clear – it was the best ice we’ve had in Kiruna for years,’ he enthused.
Kiruna, where the winter is real and even the taxi driver finds it exciting.