Bravo. You reached the turning point, touched it and turned the nose of the van toward South.
You reach Rovaniemi after lunch: you woke up early and drive through the last miles in the Sweden territory. Passing the border, the landscape changes: now the austerity of the forests has some kind of naïve touch. Naïve, yes: on the side of the road suddenly appear flowers, the Finnish houses are different and vary in shapes and colors, even a little bit cheesy sometime.
Approaching the Polar Circle you begin to encounter the first cars with Italian plates: you did not meet any Italian since you left Germany. As you arrive to the exact point where the 66.33’39” parallel you undestand why.
It’s the Santa Claus Village, with crowd of tourists, Japanese and Italian leading. The most of them have just been dumped by some bus directly coming from the airport. You can’t avoid a visit with the kids, obviously, they’re excited by the place (horrible) but also because you reached your goal, even if just a symbolic one. Well, let’s drop the Iron Hand of your private censorship on that afternoon: as you finally succeed carrying away the kids it’s already time for dinner.
You get back to downtown Rovaniemi, that looks exactly as you expected it: a modern city with no particular style, with desert streets even if it’s Saturday evening 15th August (goodness knows what happens on January Mondays).
But anyway it has its own, secret appeal: the charme of a border town, with a few pubs and restaurants crowded by pale, long haired guys dressing plaid shirts and carrying longboard skates(Seattle in the 90’s!), couples with 1.000 kids, so blonde that they look almost albino. You have the Victory Hamburger in an alternative bar, managed by funny local hipsters. The waitress is a muscular girl with lots of piercing and half of the skull shaved, her steely-eyes glaring at each customer…
You all sleep in a parking area outside the city, and the day after with no hesitation cross the border and get back to Sweden. You have a break in Haparanda, the kids want to have lunch in the northernmost IKEA in the world: Maia insists on being left in the children area to play with Swedefinnish kids, communicating in the universal children language, while you wander around the store.
It’s now time to begin the travel back home, and you decide to do it passing through Swedish Lapland: as you reach Luleå’s surroundings you turn West, direction Harads, where the Treehotel is placed.
As an architect you can NOT avoid to pass here, and not even as a former-child-now-supposed-adult. All have seen pictures on every magazine/newspaper (it has been published almost everywhere): and here it is, in a place far from everything and everyone. This is already a good reason to book a room here: unfortunately, it is definitely NOT cheap. You content yourself wandering in the park that hosts the hotel rooms, drowned in the sea of the Lapland forests.
You just have to climb to any higher ground to become aware of that: an ocean of trees surrounds everything. It’s shocking: a Realm ruled by someone else, not by human beings.
You leave the Treehotel and enter this boundless forest, almost uninhabited. You travel for dozens and dozens of miles without meeting any car or human being: only trees, huge silent woods, interrupted by dark still ponds, and the infinite cloudless sky above you. Every now and then a track penetrate this forest that looks like an huge entity, a single living being as Solaris, with its mysterious way to communicate.
This is what you were looking for, don’t you? Now you feel so far, far from everything, in the middle of a nature that is even a little frightening.
Though, is some kind of a solace being aware that it exist, somewhere: a huge creature totally indifferent about passion, love, illusions, sorrows of men. It is no good nor evil: moral concepts do not apply to it. It will visit you again, you feel it, when you will be back home in Milan: she will come at night, eternal and silent, to remind you how much insignificant are the scratches on the car’s bodywork, the jealousy, the dishes to wash, the job’s delays, the school grades, the taxes, the ambitions, the parking fines, the signs of age on your face…
Abandon yourself to this moment of your own, while the kids sleep on the couch and the van slides gently in the light of this suspended sunset, that seems to be eternal. The shadows of the trees grow longer on the ground, and the van is filled by music. When one searches for something with such perseverance, usually he never finds it; and if he happens to find it, usually is something different from what he expected. But that time, unique, that it reveals as one imagined it, it’s an incredibly strong emotion, though it is so brief. This is what fools us (save us?) in life, what urges us to search, search, search that tiny instant. Maybe it’s true that a tree that falls in a forest when there’s nobody around makes no noise; but when you are the only one to hear it, the sound is a rumble that remains inside you forever.
At least you pass through some “populated” area: a bunch of house on the two sides of the street. They remind you the popular image of rural America, as suggested in old movies: two level homes at the side of the main road, the town drugstore managed by some kind of bearded redneck wearing a jeans overall, that supplies gas and fuel as well. You even see an original black Impala (did we talk about the Swedish people love for U.S. vintage cars?)!
When dusk falls the forest creatures come out of the woods. You were warned about, and here they are: big as horses, with huge antlers crowning their heads… reindeers with hair shiny as silver, crossing the road careless of the cars. Each time you meet one is a deep emotion for all of you: we are all used to domestic animals (doesn’t this sound as an oxymoron?) that when we meet a real animal in his natural environment, we are overwhelmed by an unknown feeling. You get to Arvidsjaur at night, where you camp in a parking area and meet the other Queens of Lapland: MOSQUITOES. At 10 o’clock in the evening it’s impossible to stay outdoor: they are billions. You take shelter in the van and go to sleep. A little entomology notation about Lapland mosquitoes behaviour: they are 1.0, which means they are the kind we used to have when we were children. They come out at dusk, move very slow, and the pricks are not that itchy. In other words, Milan mosquitoes are much worse; but, once again, here they are BILLIONS.
You leave early in the morning, and visit a Sami Farm where you meet a pack of reindeers: you all are fascinated by their gentleness and sweetness. Let’s pass over their taste: it’s a wild world, after all.
You now have to lead your pack back home: be a good reindeer-dad and drive, the road is long.