Fox Fire – Kemi, Finland, Scandinavia, Europe
At minus thirty Celsius you can hear your breath freeze and the night sky scintillates with an organic effervesce. Tears rapidly form and freeze, coating your eyes in a polish of ice that gives the night a jerky, fragmented feeling like watching an old silent movie. You wrap up in layer upon layer – silk next to the skin, cotton on top of silk, a fleece on top of the cotton and then goose down on top of that and stand, teeth chattering watching the Aurora Borealis, or Fox Fires as it is known here, dance, seductively, exquisitely, tantalisingly along the horizon.
You shiver and burrow deeper in your layers. Warm boots and socks do not combat the cold which seems to be slowly creeping up your legs. It’s an organic, living cold that slowly overcomes you. It unfolds up your legs and takes possession of your finger tips until you have to stamp your feet, exhale clouds of sparkling ice and go in search of a steaming cup of coffee, or, perhaps, something stronger.
The bar you sit in is carved from ice. Reindeer skins cover the table but still drips of icy water, peeling off and pooling in your lap. An icy beer is in front of you and across the table sits a beautiful woman, she is your very own Smilla and "I" is becoming "us". You slide your hand across the icy table to take her hand in yours and are shocked to find none of its normal warmth present. So you gently rub it, tell stories of warm places, of Africa, of Asia and of tropical storms in South America whilst electric candles gutter in ice chandeliers, mist crawls along the floor and there is, without a doubt, nowhere in the world that you would rather be.
You know that there have been cocktails on sunny balconies, romantic dinners in exotic and intimate countries and champagne drunk as you slowly floated over Africa, but nothing can compare to the here and now. You mention this and the woman smiles, rubs the frozen tip of her nose and looks like she belongs in landscape. Of this, she tells you, you are surely mistaken, but the compliments do raise a smile and for a few seconds her eyes twinkle like the chandeliers.
You order dinner: arctic salmon, reindeer stew and it is delivered in steaming tureens. For once you do not worry about your beer getting warm. You fall upon the food as if it is your last meal. You are used to your taste buds playing tricks on you, jet lag, altitude, sleeping pills all play games with your palate but it is really the cold that sharpens the senses; the food seems to explode on your taste buds. Rich flavours of the tundra fill your mouth with erotic suggestions and when you speak, it is through clouds of steam. After desert, you lean back, rest on the icy wall of the bar, nonchalantly cold and drink in this moment. The lights, the ice, the warm food gently diffusing through your body and the tired, yet happy smile, of the woman opposite you are memories you want to treasure and you will travel with these for years to come. They will be a solace in difficult times, a great strength in the dark days to come.
Arm in arm you head to your room. It’s a simple cell hacked from ice and the walls glow a pale, glacial blue. The bed is laid with reindeer skins and two arctic sleeping bags have been thoughtfully laid out. There is a warmth about the room that comes not from the ice itself, but perhaps from the vision of the people who first decided to build, each year, an inn made of ice in this remote corner of the world. You take turns getting dressed for bed, silk and cotton seem the best options and you top this off with a home knitted hat and fingerless gloves. You have never laughed and giggled so much getting ready for bed; the ice seems to absorb sounds so that you soon believe you are alone in the world. Much later, when she is asleep, you will wake and hear only the sound of your heartbeat and it will both move you and disturb you in equal measure.
You snuggle as close as you can without actually letting any body part slip out of the sleeping bag. Within a few moments you begin to feel warm, a few moments later, when soft snoring is coming from the bag next to you, you feel an overwhelming happiness, an intangible serenity and such a sense of peace that your sleep, for once, is deep and untroubled. When you awake your pillow will be frozen to the wall, for now though, this seems a small price to pay for such profound happiness. Later, on a train heading south, you will write in your diary that you feel the same way about the serenity you found in the ice as some people must find in church and that shutting the door and pulling the drawstring of the sleeping bag around you, felt like a small act of mercy to yourself. This thought will make you secretly smile for weeks to come.
And the beautiful woman? She will smile wistfully and ask you to take her somewhere hot next time.