The Umeå Series: The Fire is out

There is a little town in the North of Sweden with the name Umea LogoUmeå. This inconspicious place happens to be the European Capital of Culture 2014. I spontaneoulsy plunged into that experience – and now I have got some stories to tell which will appear here during the weekend.

I enjoyed this Sunday morning as I usually enjoy Sunday mornings. The town was quiet. The train station empty. Fresh snow had been falling during the night. In the main street, few people were walking around, warming themselves on the fires that had been lit.

father an daughter at fire

After breakfast in a café, I set out to find the reindeers that I had seen yesterday, but they were not around. Instead I found the man in the ice: Lars Lundqvist spent the inauguration weekend trapped in a cube of ice and snow. The ice was so thick that visitors could hardly even see the fire burning inside. A boy asked through the cold wall: Is it nice in there? But the answer came too muffled for me to understand.

boy asking the ice man

This afternoon he was released. The fire inside had caused the ice to melt in a violent and beautiful pattern.

ice needles from inside the ice cube

Opposite the ice cube, at the church, huge photographs by Anders Ryman were exhibited. They showed initiation rituals from all over the world.

big photo in front of church

Down on the river at least, there was some movement. Snow vehicles, cranes and other heavy machinery were back on the ice to remove the left over structures from the opening ceremony. I guessed before that the whole thing might have been a little bit out of the town’s range and so far I heard a lot of disappointment about the opening ceremony. It was said to have been too long, too many speeches, and too high expectations.

view on frozen river from bildmuseet

I spent the rest of the day in two museums, because as the temperatures are slightly rising, the snowfall becomes more wet and uncomfortable.

skis exhibited in västerbotten museum

With the host and the volunteer I found shelter in a cozy book café.

book shelf

By now the fires are out. The ice sculptures are not lit anymore, neither are the Sami fireplaces. The slightly melted snow has frozen again and become a dangerous rink. I am taking the night train back to the South. The town will be back to normal soon. But not for long. In March, the next of the eight Sami seasons which inspired the structure of the cultural year, will be welcomed with yet another performance. Maybe by then the ice sculptures will have partly melted, but the excitement and dedication will live on.


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