I’ve been reading about ‘dopamine fasts’. They’re quite popular these days, apparently. A ‘dopamine fast’ is having a rest for a day or two from artificial and ultimately unrewarding stimulation.
It’s not a big need we have in Kiruna. The shorter hours of daylight in December are already a bit like having a black bag over the head, so we’re generally very calm at this time of year. But as Christmas approaches, and jingly tunes and tinsel appear in town, one can have the urge to be somewhere a bit emptier.
I felt I wanted space, snow surroundings, possible mountain views. Going for a walk or run in Kiruna you have a few choices but you want somewhere the snow is cleared, so you have to follow paths. You can’t just head out into the landscape – it’s a choice between town or just slightly less town.
Now that the new E10 road has carved up one of the best cross-country skiing areas north of town, the best direction to go for a feeling of open landscape is south, counter-intuitively towards the mine, and LKAB’s office. Although this used to be town it’s now an area which has, to use mining terminology, been ‘deconstructed’, ie, knocked down. This has created lots of open space and good views. It still has paths, that are cleared, and no traffic.
I began by running through the town’s old residential area, which is still with us – old wooden housing set out in open courtyards, in view of the distant mine. All this soon comes to an end where the ‘deconstruction’ has begun, and then I was on a path that made its way through a whole lot of nothing.
The memory of the blocks of flats that were here until a few months ago remains – it isn’t easy to forget them because there’s still a big pile of debris covered in snow where they used to be. Beyond the flats that aren’t there, there’s a long fence enclosing a large piece of land, and that piece of land is full of snow. This is where Lundbohm, the first director of the mine, lived – where local people once came to tea, and where the great and so-called good of the arts and business worlds came to visit in the early part of the 20th century. It’s where we came at Christmas for a coffee, to watch the children queue up to meet Santa, and it’s where some of Lundbohm’s art collection hung, and where museum attendants who looked after it were desperate to tell you all about ‘poor little Kiruna’ (the first baby born in the town – she had a very sad life, apparently).
Then I ran through an unrecognisable area with views out to the mountains. It became recognisable when I remembered that grand old building that was once there, the mining company’s hotel, where investors, and occasionally Swedish royalty, were entertained at large tables covered in white linen and silver cutlery, imported china tableware, and silver candelabra.
I plodded on alongside ‘the old E10’ (still in use for a few more months) and then under it to an even better view of the sky, the mine, and the mountains. And a fence – LKAB want to keep us away from the collapsing ground. The fence runs alongside the route of the old railway track. I was running along it, like the trains did, to where the station building used to be – an tall brick building that was more like a church. Now that building is gone the views here are wide, but the landscape feels characterless. This used to be a gateway, the first part of town that people saw, from as early as 1902. Crowds of people – women in long black skirts and men in trilby hats – gathered on the platforms before heading off for refreshments to the Railway Hotel next door – also now just another large area of empty snow.
Up the hill to my right I saw an empty petrol station. It’s all that remains of the town hall that was knocked down this summer. They preserved its entrance way which on its own looks like a garage forecourt. The town hall was known as Kiruna’s ‘living room’ – sad to think of it as an empty petrol station. To my left, across the collapsed ground between there and the mine office, there was once a tram that took men to work at the mine. I could still see that tram line snaking across the empty land, though the last time it ran was in 1958.
All that open space – it’s not as quiet and peaceful as you would imagine.
Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today:
Oh how I wish he’d go away.
– Hughes Mearns