In Sweden, my still newish half-home: The other night, I was driving my car – the only car on a long, winding road – high, jagged, ice-age rocks and dense clusters of towering pine trees behind me, Shostakovich playing a little too loud. As I looked out the windows, one side was dark – an indigo-black canvas of night, just as you would expect to see in London most evenings. But as I glanced out the other window to the west, I became overwhelmed. There was a muted, light, electric blue expanse of sky, with massive white, silver-lined clouds hanging suspended by invisible strings – as though they were watching omnisciently over everything below. Grasping the enormity and strangeness of the sky, against the smallness and ordinariness of me in my car, made my spine tingle. It seemed in that moment, wild, primitive, pagan happenings must certainly be afoot somewhere underneath such a sky, how could they not be?
The beautiful, eerie, twilight air was magic, and suddenly I understood and wanted to revel in all the legends of the land: the Norse gods raging as they bring about the storms, the giants and trolls frozen in the savage rocks, the dark, fairy tale forests with imposing pines standing in rank like army battalions readying to attack, or the Midsummer murders committed in towns that are awash with these fantastical moody blues and greys. I got it. How could such stories be set anywhere else?
It’s not always twilight in Sweden of course (though at this time of year, there is more often a dusky blue tint that hangs over life. This is not a metaphor. Anyone living here would agree). There are days when the golden sunsets and lavender sunrises dazzle with their majesty just as much as the moody blues. And the nature… Our little home is by a lake and there are many days where I catch my breath as I inadvertently glimpse it. I’ve never been particularly drawn to water. In fact large expanses of open water terrify me (especially black water at night, but that’s for another day). However, now I live by water, I understand it’s therapeutic power. Just looking at the calm of the lake helps to put the trivial melodramas of daily life into perspective. The awesomeness of nature, it’s still there. The world is still there. Indifferent and insouciant in its simple existence and splendour. Take stock. Everything is ok. It will always be ok.
It happens often, this being awestruck and humbled by the views in Sweden. The sunrises and the sunsets – I don’t remember them being so beautiful in London. Perhaps they were, but there were too many buildings in the way for me to appreciate them. Or life was so full-throttle that I missed them. Or maybe I just got too used to seeing them and they lost their charm. How sad if that is so.
I know my surroundings are constantly shaping my writing. Some recent stories have been set in dreamy, surreal places and when I’m trying to find the exact tones or atmosphere, I go outside and absorb everything around me. This is a very special place. It stands in stark contrast to how I felt living in Shanghai for a time. London was busy. Shanghai was incessant. Super high rises, neon everything, tangled spaghetti junctions, rooftop bars, five storey disco boats on the river, opera and acrobats for Sunday brunch, cars cars cars, constant beeping, geriatric bicycles, whole families on the back of a scooter, old men pushing wooden carts full of vegetables or pirate DVDs or mansize teddy bears, people at every elbow, things being sold on every corner, shouting for talking, music blasting, street food sizzling, so much NOISE, intense humidity, killer mosquitoes, grey smog so thick it dulled the senses, energy being zapped by either all the supercharged impressions or the toxins in even the bottled drinking water, carcinogenic pesticides mass-sprayed from giant trucks lurching down the streets at night – their target was the bugs in the trees, but heaven help you if you did not shield your eyes when the great machines rumbled by…
We lived on the 18th floor; things were more peaceful from that height and those sunsets bouncing off the skyscrapers were rather resplendent too. But observing the politics, the value for human life and saddening race for wealth in the face of abject poverty – those things can leave a funny taste in even the best lychee martini. At the time I remember feeling Shanghai did not inspire me to write – nothing that I deemed worthwhile anyhow. When I look back now, I see the stories I wrote during that time were of people being trapped, suffocated, withering away in boxes or cages. So it seems I did write, but maybe not the sort of things I wanted to. Inspiration is everywhere.
And so then, for magic and wildness that ignites the soul, nothing compares to the Scandi dreamscapes. I recommend them to all. This is a very good place to be.
What about you? Where are the places that have touched you in some way? I’d love to know. Let me know below or in a message! Happy reading.
Copyright 2018 Joon Haque. All rights reserved.