October in Sweden: forest royalty, bandy, prizes from the Academy

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

October in Sweden: forest royalty, bandy, prizes from the Academy

Time to hide for the king of the forest, the moose (Alces alces). The moose hunt may technically have started on the first of September in the north, but October is when most of the rest of the country loads up. (The season is staggered to allow calves to grow.) Yellowing leaves still provide cover for the antlered majesty but he’ll need it every day — from an hour before sunrise until sundown — until the end of February. Hunters wear garish orange hatbands to alert other hunters and fool their colour-blind prey. A sprig of spruce in the hatband signals a bagged moose. Hunting season coincides with mating season. For an attractive scent, bulls kick up a pile of moss and twigs, urinate on it, then roll in it. What moose cow could resist?

When clear-cutting was the forestry industrial standard in the 1970s and ‘80s, weeds flourished in the open spaces: breakfast, lunch and dinner for a moose population that fattened and multiplied. Moose sightings were common. With clear-cutting now less common, the population has declined. About 100,000 moose bite the forest moss every year to wind up in savoury stews.

Eighteenth-century naturalist Carl Linnaeus invented the system of classifying plants and animals and named the moose (aka the elk). Alces alces. North America has four species and Asia two.

Schools break for a week at the end October to give children relaxation and, ideally, exercise. Only in the north will there be enough snow for snowball fights. But winter sports are starting up. The most traditional team sport is bandy, although it attracts barely a tenth of the crowds that see ice hockey. A Scottish game called shinny evolved into ice-hockey and bandy, which is played on ice with curved sticks and a small orange ball that TV doesn’t scan well. Pink and fluorescent balls have been trialled but there’s something sweet about the small orange. Newcomers to Sweden, standing outdoors in below-zero temperatures, get an acoustic surprise when a goal is scored: the smattering sound of gloved hands applauding.

Late October is when the Nobel Prizes are made public. The prize with greatest celebrity factor is the peace award. Because Sweden and Norway were in a union when Alfred Nobel wrote his will in 1895, he stipulated that the ‘brother nation’ have that honour. Sweden got all the others: Medicine, Physics, Chemistry and Literature, which attracts the most public speculation. As soon as the committee at the Swedish Academy decides whose canon best represents a compromise between modern excellence and what Alfred Nobel actually wanted — idealistic writing — a press conference is called. Then, at precisely one p.m., an ornate timepiece chimes the hour and the Academy’s permanent secretary emerges to announce the world’s most prestigious prize for writing. The Swedish Academy, its historic sapling planted by the culture-loving despot, Gustav III (1771-1792), is a factory of thought and dedication, appreciated as a world treasury of writing.

Where other countries excel in wrapped candy bars, Swedish convenience stores proffer rainbow rows of cheap candies. Swedes prefer their sugar in caramels and toffees, nougats, jellies, fondants, marshmallows, marzipans, truffles, cotton candies and licorices, chewing gums in shapes of stars, bears, discs, blobs and … thingies. Desserts are less fashionable than in other countries. But a cake in a café (konditori) is a treat few can resist. October 4 is Cinnamon Roll Day. Consumption of sugar has been constant or declining. Don’t forget though, brain cells depend on a supply of glucose from the blood.

October used to be the month for moving house. Until its abolition in 1945, a system of indentured rural labour maintained a lowest class in Sweden. Hired on annual contracts and paid primarily in kind, the workers were permitted to move only in October. And move they did, from unkind bosses to potentially kinder ones. Now, it’s mostly younger people who move about. After they’ve passed 30, most people move only within their town or region. A majority now lives in urban areas, and generally in apartments. Municipal non-profit housing has been shrinking — not in size of apartments, which are larger than in most European countries — but in number. Governments have preferred to get people off their support lists and into home ownership. Slums are non-existent although many areas are ethnically or economically unbalanced and some are drab. Influential local government bodies such as Stockholm’s ‘Beauty Council’ have kept cities largely homogeneous if not striking.

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