September in Sweden: Forest foods, politicians return, birds leave

The Year in Sweden - September: Journalist Kim Loughran sketches a month by month account of the country he has called home ever since his accidental migration in 1966.

September in Sweden: Forest foods, politicians return, birds leave

“Proud spring arises; the weak call it autumn.” Turn-of-the-20th-century poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt was oiling his hiking boots when he wrote that. Autumn is when the Swedish brain clicks into warpspeed: ideas are born, books are opened, DIY seriously considered, evening classes thirsting for discoveries launch. A brief mourning period for the brief summer ends abruptly.

The woods are full of blueberries/bilberries, cloudberries and the prince of them all, the lingonberry or cowberry. It is a little cousin of the cranberry family, used as a savoury preserve. Try it with pan-fried Baltic herring.

The benzoic acid in the berry is a natural preservative, and lingon is time-honoured as a summer berry easily kept for winter use. Widespread poverty prompted Swedish ingenuity to use pickling, drying, curing, smoking and fermenting to store food. A common modern trick is to marinate raw salmon, gravlax.

(Gravlax recipe. Buy a chunk of filet. Extract any bones with tweezers. Rub with equal units of sugar and salt and half a unit of chopped dill. Plastic-bag it in your fridge, turning occasionally, for 2-3 days. Scrape off marinade. Skin, cut into cutlets and garnish with fresh dill. Lemon boats alongside.)

Like their cranberry cousins, lingonberries are harvested in the forest with small rakes. Wily entrepreneurs fly in teams of pickers from as far off as Thailand and China.

September is wild mushroom season. Hunting and picking them is a national infatuation. The fungi have wondrous names: Parasol mushroom, Horn of Plenty, Shaggy ink cap, Saffron milk cap, Woolly milk cap. Dinner favourites are the Cep, the Morel and the Chanterelle. Watch out for the deadly Fly agaric and the instructively named Death cap.

Mushroomers say their hikes through dripping forests, mud underfoot, are escapades into nature. They come back beaming.

It’s the beginning of the apple and pear harvest. Swedes accept as gospel that Swedish apples are superior to those of any other geography. It’s a good argument, considering the delicate Transparant Blanche, the crisp Åkerö and the fragrant Aroma.

Every fourth year in September, voters can choose national candidates for the single-chamber Riksdag as well as regional and local government. Parties need 4 percent of the popular vote for Riksdag representation. Voting is proportional, so policy often takes precedence over individuals’ profiles. Election campaigns are brief. The most conspicuous sign is the (detachable) posters on city lampposts and handrails. On the day, about 70 percent of eligible voters stuff their three envelopes with the coloured lists available from officials or, as you approach the polling station, from volunteers or even political celebrities. Respect for politics and politicians shifts, but single-issue or malcontent parties have difficulty surviving. Just under half of all parliamentarians are women.

In the south, the deciduous trees are turning yellow and red. But 80 percent of Sweden’s trees are spruce (Picea) with needle-like evergreen foliage. Well over half the country is covered by forest. The tallest tree is the pine. Sweden’s greatest natural resource (alongside iron ore) came from Asia before the Ice Age. The great forestry barons, entering banquet halls on horseback, are no more, but paper is still a mainstay industry. Way back, woodcutters used to slash pines a year before felling. This induced the tree to produce extra resinous sap to heal the wound, giving durable timber.

September is a month of several seasons. Summer lingers on the plains and littorals of the southern provinces, but it’s autumn for most of the rest and already winter in the highlands of Lapland. Temperatures diverge by as much as 40 degrees Celsius. In Europe only Russia has such a latitude span. Birds are taking off literally and figuratively for the south. At least 90 percent leave, the arctic tern taking three months for its trip all the way to the Southern Ocean. It’ll be back.

The Year in Sweden by Kim Loughran is on sale now at the AdLibris online bookstore.

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How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans

After long months of lockdowns and curfews Europeans are looking forward to jetting off for a bit of sun and sand -- only to find that their long awaited holiday plans go awry due to a shortage of rental cars.

How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans
Tourists wait outside of rental car agencies in Corsica. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

In many areas popular with tourists cars are simply not available or subcompacts are going for a stiff €500 euros.

Car rental comparison websites show just how expensive renting a vehicle has become for tourists this summer.

According to Carigami, renting a car for a week this summer will set tourists back an average of 364 euros compared to 277 euros two years ago.

For Italy, the figure is 407 euros this summer compared to 250 euros in 2019. In Spain, the average cost has jumped to 263 euros from 185 euros.

According to another website, Liligo, daily rental costs have nearly doubled on the French island of Corsica. At the resort city of Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca, rental prices have nearly tripled.

Today’s problem is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with near absence of clients, selling off vehicles to raise cash made a lot of sense for car rental firms struggling to survive.

“Everyone drastically reduced their fleet,” said the head of Europcar, Caroline Parot.

Until the spring, most companies still had fleets roughly a third smaller than in 2019, she said.

Car rental firms are used to regularly selling their vehicles and replacing them, so rebuilding their inventory should not have been a problem.

Except the pandemic sent demand for consumer electronics surging, creating a shortage of semiconductors, or chips, that are used not only in computers but increasingly in cars.

“A key contributor to the challenge right now is the global chip shortage, which has impacted new vehicle availability across the industry at a time when demand is already high,” said a spokesman for Enterprise.

It said it was working to acquire new vehicles but that in the mean time it is shifting cars around in order to better meet demand.

No cars, try a van

“We’ve begun to warn people: if you want to come to Italy, which is finally reopening, plan and reserve ahead,” said the head of the association of Italian car rental firms, Massimiliano Archiapatti.

He said they were working hard to meet the surge in demand at vacation spots.

“But we’ve got two big islands that are major international tourism destinations,” he said, which makes it difficult to move cars around,
especially as the trip to Sardinia takes half a day.

“The ferries are already full with people bringing their cars,” he added.

“Given the law of supply and demand, there is a risk it will impact on prices,” Archiapatti said.

The increase in demand is also being seen for rentals between individuals.

GetAround, a web platform that organises such rentals, said it has seen “a sharp increases in searches and rentals” in European markets.

Since May more than 90 percent of cars available on the platform have been rented on weekends, and many have already been booked for much of the summer.

GetAround has used the surge in demand to expand the number of cities it serves.

For some, their arrival can’t come fast enough.

Bruno Riondet, a 51-year-old aeronautics technician, rents cars to attend matches of his favourite British football club, Brighton.

“Before, to rent a car I was paying between 25 and 30 euros per day. Today, it’s more than 90 euros, that’s three times more expensive,” he said.

In the United States, where prices shot higher during the spring, tourists visiting Hawaii turned to renting vans.

In France, there are still cars, according to Jean-Philippe Doyen, who handles shared mobility at the National Council of Automobile Professionals.

“Clients have a tendency to reserve at the last minute, even more so in the still somewhat uncertain situation,” he said.

They will often wait until just a few days before their trip, which means car rental firms don’t have a complete overview of upcoming demand, he added.

He said business is recovering but that revenue has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels as travel is not yet completely unfettered.

SEE ALSO: British drivers will no longer need an insurance ‘green card’ to visit Europe, EU rules