30 Years of Heaven: Fishing in Utopia
During my recent trip to Malmo and Alnarp, Sweden, I picked up #189) Andrew Brown’s Fishing in Utopia: Sweden and the Future that Disappeared. I’ve been enjoying reading about the place I’m visiting, so I thought that this book would give me insights into Sweden.
One of the first things I noted in Malmo, which is the third largest Swedish city, not far from Copenhaven, Denmark – on the Southwestern Swedish coast, is bicycles, bicycles, bicycles (the Netherlands was the same). Even the mail is delivered on bike.
The other aspect that leaped out was the enormous presence of history. My hotel was in a 700 year old building. The buildings all around were gorgeous and hundreds of years old.
Fishing in Utopia
Andrew Brown began living in Sweden in the 1970s when he married a Swedish woman and had a son. In that time, Sweden was the dominant economic and cultural force in Scandinavia. Living in Norway in 1976-77, I learned to resent Swedes for their sense of superiority (keeping in mind my sense of Swedes was filtered through Norwegian culture – as a colony of Sweden and Denmark at different points, Norwegians have a sense of put-uponness). Norway in the 1970s was a second world pre-North Sea oil country. As Brown writes, Sweden in the 1970s was flying high, admitting dark skinned immigrants at a rapid rate, and building a reputation as a global force for good.
Brown is a passionate fly fisherman who spent a lot of his years in Sweden building up his fly fishing skills and flies and accruing a strong reputation as a freelance writer and journalist. While he spent some time in large Swedish cities, mostly he and his wife chose to live and vacation in very rural Sweden. Then they got divorced and he moved back to Britain. Eventually, he returned to Sweden on assignments and attempted to recover his sense of the country and to understand how it had changed. Sweden in the 2000s was somewhat diminished – no longer the economic powerhouse it had once been (a fair number of Swedes travel to Norway, Denmark, and England to work these days) and struggling with a large percentage of immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia who do not look or sound Swedish.
I loved his descriptions of the backwoods villages of the Swedish north. He frequently traveled far away from urban areas to find great fishing spots and meet rural Swedes. He worked for years in places like little sawmills. One of the aspects that he notes are the locally distinct dialects – some rural areas can have dialects that vary greatly over quite short distances to the point that Swedes sometimes have difficulty understand residents of the next village over. I often thought how wonderful it would be to have my dogs in some of these places where I could hike with them forever (wait, I already live in a place like that!).
I’m not 100% certain where Brown was going with the title “the Future that Disappeared” – Sweden’s future? His own as he goes through his divorce? I suspect he meant a little of both.
This book meanders a lot – it isn’t tightly written nor does it wrap up neatly. Brown admires poets and much of his language is quite evocative, for instance “Even the berries were fading then, as if the last scraps of colour were being scraped off the earth in its descent into winter. Only by the black and dark-green sea was there a sense of life.” (p. 83) He gives the reader a window into the world he lived through that is very different from that we would get from a more tourist-oriented book, taking us into the families, workplaces, and villages of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. I enjoyed the book for its “insider-outsider” view, it confirmed some things I suspected, and helped me learn more.
As Winter blusters by…
Here on the shore of Lake Superior, it is a cold and snowy end of February – big fat lake effect snowflakes continue to fall as incoming flights are cancelled and we head toward eight inches of new snow. So, in the interest of protecting our sanity, today’s flowers:
Happy reading, Ruby