Friday, May 9, 2008

A Piece of the Sea





















Southern Sweden is lined with what some people refer to as the Swedish Riviera. White beaches for miles, shallow sea waters for wading, golf courses, a lighthouse, and plenty of swans to add to the romance. I’m not just writing about this, we live only a few minutes walk from such beaches and have been meandering them fairly regularly.

Already the narrow roads and two lane highways within the tiny peninsula we live near are filling up with cars from outside of Sweden. I passed an English car, the other day, the driver driving on the right side of the car—not delivering mail, either. After I dropped Hunter off at pre-school, yesterday, I was followed by a car big enough for Texas nearly scraping its mirrors on Falsterbovagen (Falsterbo street; the main street through town).

Regularly, I see people rolling luggage up tiny walkways to a previously quiet house. The parking lot we have parked in for strolls up and down our favorite beach (also to look for amber) now carries a fee for parking. We can stroll the beach, but we may want to take our loaner bikes. In the evening, the restaurant parking lots are full of cars compared to winter (their parking lots are small compared to restaurant parking in the U.S.).

The weather has been cooperating with the influx of summer dwellers, too. It is obvious that these people have discovered the most beautiful time to live in Southern Sweden and have made it their regular habit to take long vacations or to live here in late spring or summer. The weather report for this weekend (May 9-11, 2008) is that the temperatures will be like those in Spain. You can feel the frenzy of it! Strangely enough, I just read that a favorite ski slope in Idaho will have another ski weekend on the same days as above because there is still snow on the slopes.

Most homes built near the “Riviera” are a certain distance away from a large sandy beach berm. To have your own piece of the sea, one must have a badhytt (pronounced, “bode-heet”), or beach hut. In other words, there is no such thing as “closed beaches” or portions of beach owned solely by rich owners of multi-million kroner homes. I should take that back—the King can own a portion of sea for himself, but he regularly lets people roam around the gardens and beaches of his homes.

The size of a badhytt is approximately three meters square by two and a half meters high. In some places the color and shape of the roof and tiny porch is regulated. I’ve seen various colors of badhytts, but white, barn red and mustard yellow predominate, like they do among residences.

The regulations for owning one of these prime pieces of property and “housing” are strangely strict. Currently, there are supposed to be no more pieces of beach-land- on-or-behind-a-berm available for new badhytts. If there were, however, the land would cost from 10,000 to 40,000 kronor (divide by six to get an approximate value in dollars in 2008). To buy an already existing hut and land costs about the same. The median price is between 10,000 and 15,000 kroner. It is also possible to acquire a badhytt with the purchase of a home. Homes on and around this Swedish Riviera are considered the most expensive in all of Sweden, though I’m certain there are other ritzy places on other beaches near Gothenberg, Stockholm and other such places. (If I tell people who live elsewhere than this peninsula that I live in Hollviken, eyebrows raise—but I know people who got in when the prices were low and live fairly carefully without fitting in the rich person scheme.)

Once a family owns a badhytt, they must keep them a long time, because I’ve heard many people say, “My father has had this one for [25, 35, etc.] years.” But the badhytts are not handed down from generation to generation unless as inheritance.

What does one do with a badhytt? I’m told you store your beach chairs in them; use them as changing rooms (they are simply four walls, nothing fancy, no plumbing); use them to enjoy the sea and the sand, but to get out of the sun for awhile; use them as a party point where the food is kept while everyone plays in the sea; use them to lock up your things while you are jet-skiing, windsurfing, boating and the like. You are not at all to live in them. When a Swede uses the English word, “live,” it means anything from staying the night to permanence.

Certain nights of the year, your badhytt is in danger of vandalism. These nights are Valporg’s Night (April 30), Midsummer’s Eve (June 21st or soon thereafter), the Eve of and St. Lucia day (December 13th), New Year’s Eve and a few days following the end of the school year. Some years there are security guards roaming the beaches. This year there were none. A great percentage of the badhytts were hit.

What kind of vandalism can one expect? Porches and doors torn off, windows broken, graffiti and the like. Teenagers and college aged students tear off portions of these huts to prove their strength, as well as to fuel their beach fires as they party into the night. There are probably happenings in those huts that my informants are not telling me. Some of them were young once, too. Swedes do not visit their badhytts these nights. They don’t stand guard. They obey the law and don’t “live” in their huts. They simply go down the next day, assess the damage, then make the necessary repairs. My physical therapist said it is not common to have to make repairs every year, maybe once every five or ten years. Do the students keep track of which huts they took apart each year, I wonder?

It is difficult not to perceive the Swedes turning their backs and ignoring the destruction from local youths as a kind of purposeful covering of eyes and ears. Swedes don’t spank. Swedes don’t find their youth guilty of any crime on those special nights, only the irresistible crimes of passion, which are to be understood. It is difficult for a foreigner to understand. It is especially difficult to understand when Sweden is so regulatory. People are keenly aware of Sweden’s strict laws to the point of fearfully following them. But you rarely see anyone pulled over by the police (tickets are issued by mail as a result of an infraction being recorded by camera) or read of any arrests other than for murder. It’s all very fascinating and perplexing at once.

Nevertheless, the time has come for barbeques at the badhytts, for time spent at the sea in less than the usual wind-blocking garb. These little huts grace the curved edges of the sea. They leave room for us to find the washed-up treasures of the sea at all times of the day. It’s my only hope that I get an invite to a BBQ at one of the badhytts of my friends before we leave!

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