Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Elks, aquavit and an upside down house

In 1977 my Swedish friend Mats lived with his parents in Nacka, an eastern suburb of Stockholm. Arlanda, the Swedish airport, is located in the wooded region north of the Swedish capital. The distance between both is approximately 55 km. I know the drive took almost an hour, but I can’t remember what the area looked like. There is one thing however that I’ll never forget; it was this traffic sign… You’ll find it all over Sweden and Norway.

It’s an elk warning traffic sign.

According to this website, "the elk warning signs are very popular. Foreign tourists steal them (Mind you, I didn’t!) and local hunters (?) use them as shooting targets. You had better take these signs seriously, though. Up to 800 kilograms of long-legged animal through the windscreen is kind of overwhelming. Elks tend to use their established tracks, even long after the town has expanded beyond the tracks. Notice also that they usually (but not always!) flee from people, but they're not afraid of cars and may even attack the car. This is the Eurasian Elk – Alces alces (or machlis). It's often called moose because it looks like its American close relative – Alces americanus (or the Alaskan Alces gigas), and because in America elk is a large deer also called wapiti (Cervus canadiensis)."

Personally, I think that the elk in the sign looks as if it has had too much Aquavit. Aquavit or Akvavit (also akevitt in Norwegian) is a flavoured spirit that is produced in Scandinavia and typically contains 40% alcohol by volume. Its name comes from ‘aqua vitae’, the Latin for "water of life". (Source: Wikipedia). Like vodka it is distilled either from grain or potatoes. Unlike vodka, which is colourless, Aquavit has a pale yellow colour. The bottle is kept in the freezer and the aquavit is served in tiny one-shot glasses. It’s very strong stuff and I’m not a big fan of it.

The house in Nacka was a complete surprise to me, as it was so different from what we are used to in Belgium where we are known to ‘have a brick in our stomach’. This expression refers to the fact that the majority of the Belgians will do everything within their power to own a house (I’m probably an exception!). Moreover, houses in Belgium are traditionally made of bricks. The house of Mats’ parents was completely made of wood, though and … it was upside down …

To get to the frontdoor, you had to climb a flight of steps. The door led into a hallway on which several doors opened, which in turn led into the kitchen, the drawing room, the dining room and an office. At the end of the hallway was a staircase going … down. It led to the three bedrooms, a bathroom, a shower room and a den. The back wall of the den was a ceiling-to-floor sliding window offering a magnificent view of the garden and the woods.

I was warmly welcomed by Mats’ mother, who was a very beautiful woman, with blond hair and bright blue eyes. Later that evening I met Mats’ father, who had a terrific sense of humour, as I would learn later.

That evening, after dinner we all went down to the den. The room was pretty dark with only one small light burning. We were sitting there in the semi-darkness, chatting and sipping our drinks, when Mats’ father suddenly turned off the only light. “Sssht, don’t move and look outside.” he said. I didn’t know what to think or expect. Until my eyes got used to the darkness … and then I saw it. Outside, by the edge of the wood, two bright yellow eyes were staring back at us. It were those of a lynx! Slowly it crossed the garden, walking up to the house. It stopped at about one meter from the window. Never in my life have I been closer to a wild animal. Although we were all sitting there perfectly still, the feline must have felt our presence as all of a sudden it turned around and leaped back into the woods!

When Mats’ father turned on the light again, I realized that I had been holding my breath the whole time. “It looks to me like you need another drink …” he said teasingly, and poured everybody another small brandy.



The Beaver said...


You are so funny in your writing !!
BTW If you come to Canada you will see signs with a moose in lieu of an elk. I used to be very cautious when I was commuting between Montreal and other cities for work, especially at night or in the Fall. A colleague of mine destroyed his car after an encounter with a moose one night ( he was lucky )

chm said...

A friend of mine and Ken's had a house like that in Carmel, California. Stairs and morning fog were two of the reasons why she and her partner sold it a few years ago.

ladybird said...

The Beaver, Your colleague was very lucky indeed, because these animals are huge!

Chm, When Mats' father died in 1999, his mother sold the house and moved to a bungalow - no stairs there - where she lived until her death three years ago (I think). Stairs often are the reason for people to move when they get older. And I don't blame them!