The Flogsta Scream
In Sweden, I used to live in a weird place. It is the part of Uppsala called Flogsta, just on the outskirts of the city, about 20 minutes by bike from the city center (if you bike slowly, like me). What is weird about it? Well, the weirdest thing is of course the (in)famous Flogsta scream, Flogstavrålet. At 10 p.m. every night, people (mostly students) open their windows or step out on their balconies, and scream. They might be happy, sad, frustrated, angry, drunk, or a little bit of everything – whichever it is, they scream it out. And so, while taking a quiet evening walk on the paths between the lawns, you might stop underneath a streetlamp to contemplate the full moon, and suddenly, you hear a roar coming from the apartment towers (höghusen) up the hill. It’s so weird they even made a movie about it recently.
I used to live below the hill, in the three-story buildings built out of red brick (låghusen). There are mostly students residing here too, but another kind, different from the screaming lunatics in the towers. The students here are generally older, tidier, and more quiet. The flats are big, so people share. I have lost track of how many people I know who live in shared flats in Flogsta Låghus. Whenever a choir rehearsal ends, a group of people bike together to Flogsta on the bike lane commonly known as ”Flogsta Highway” – everybody takes this path to reach Flogsta. And everybody bikes. It’s a Swedish thing, it’s an Uppsala thing – especially among students – and it certainly is a Flogsta thing. Of the people I know who live in Flogsta, there are perhaps two or three who don’t use a bike. The rest go everywhere by bike. They bike in the rain, when there is ice on the roads, when drunk, and even when dressed up in a ball gown. When I occasionally choose to take the bus home, people ask me why. Did my bike break or get stolen? (These are two common mishaps here.)
A shocking noise
Once, a couple of friends moved into a new apartment in the city center, and I went to visit. They opened their balcony door to let some air in, and there was this noise coming in from the street : the noise of cars driving by ! And they came not one at a time, but in a constant stream ! Really taken aback by this, at that moment it became obvious to me that I am not a city girl. Also, I realised that there are no cars in Flogsta Låghus. I knew this, of course – there are gates that are locked and that are only opened when people move in or out. But I had gotten so used to the absence of cars that I didn’t even realise how peaceful it is not to hear that noise every day.
Making things grow
Also, it took me about three years of living there to realise what an active community this is. There is a community building near my old house where activities take place every now and then. Once a month, a group of people buys fresh produce from local farmers and has it delivered to one of the basements, where people then come to pick up their orders. Every Monday, people come together to cook a vegetarian meal. And just beside our house, there is a community garden where anybody can grow and harvest vegetables. There are also little garden patches that the residents can rent for themselves to grow their own food. Last year, I did this for the first time. I really don’t know anything about gardening or growing food (except for what I learnt from Giuseppe at the farm in Italy, those moments when he didn’t sit at the top of his tractor from 1959, singing at the top of his voice). Most of my cultivation intents failed. But the ones that didn’t… What a joy! The different kinds of lettuce, the radishes, the zucchini – how marvellous it was to see that plant grow from just a little seed, and to finally harvest the first zucchini (even if I only harvested a couple, it was worth the waiting). The potatoes! That feeling when I plunged my hand into the soil and felt the little lumps against my fingers, the pride I felt when thrusting the bag of muddy potatoes into my flatmate’s face saying: ”Look what I grew!”. The taste of those potatoes with a little bit of butter.
I nearly gave up on my little garden patch before I even started, because I was working a lot and didn’t have much time to take care of it. But one afternoon I finally took a shovel and a bucket and went out there to get started. It only took a couple of hours to get rid of all the rocks and gravel and to spread a layer of fresh earth on top. I carried buckets of gravel and earth and I sat down on the ground in my shorts and my knees got all dirty and I worked the soil with my hands and I felt so happy. There is a satisfaction that comes from doing something with your own hands, growing your own food, working outside in the sun, that I have very rarely experienced. At the moment I am stuck in a city full of concrete and traffic. Even though I won’t be back in Sweden until July, and even though I plan to move to an apartment in the city center, I’m keeping my garden patch.
Things I will miss
Flogstavägen 59E was my address for four years. For maybe two of those years I wanted to move away, move closer to the city center. I still do, because it’s more convenient when it comes to being close to the workplace, to the bars, restaurant and stores, and to the train station. And I think of how nice it would be not ever having to take the bus, not even if there’s snow and ice – then I will just walk. But there is a part of me that will miss Flogsta. That silence, that sometimes annoyed or bored me ; I will surely miss it from time to time. I will miss constantly bumping into people I know on my way to the supermarket or to the laundry room. I will probably even miss that weird feeling of fellowship when you scream out of a window at the same time as a hundred other weirdos.
And, perhaps most importantly : I will miss living so close to nature. When I took a jog (not too often, I admit) I only ran for a few minutes before I found myself on a field. Sometimes there were even some sheep present. A few times I found raspberries. I ran through forest groves, and when I stopped to do sit-ups I layed down on the ground, on top of the leaves and the pine cones, and looked up at the treetops.
It took me some time to realise that while I was trying to find a way to move away, others were happy there and not at all wanting to leave. And now, having spent a few months in a city larger than Uppsala – larger, louder, and much less green – I have really come to understand why.