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In the pitch dark in the middle of the night, I cannot calculate the time. I moved to Sweden for a PhD from Florence, Italy. I study neurology and I have moved to make new experiences in the neurological laboratories. While asleep, I can still recognize the place in Sweden from the whirlwind of hot air. From the windows side, the hot air is forced to the room. I can hear just a few sounds from the distant city. The room is so dry to the mouth and nose, but the lines of ice outside of the windows make you fill comfortable. The ice may block the door of the rich single room apartment building, on the direct exit to the street, particularly in the mornings after the long 20 hour long night cold. The first one on the way out of the apartment wing at 4 a.m. circa has to push hard or use another exit to go outside. It is my first time to an independent life. While sleeping, I can still feel the beginning of a different day. Usually I sleep so hard and fully during the Swedish winter. Here, the long dark night invites you to an early dream, but this day is different. I have an extra appointment. Getting up, I will have more time. The long trip to the hospital will be delayed. A full caffettiera (coffee pot) of Italian coffee will miraculously break my sleep again. Can I today rest in such way again?. I am happy about my Swedish stay, the student life is easier; I have found a good professor who take care of me. I finally feel full of time and opportunities and I have adapted to the Swedish early working hours. Here the workday may end while in the Mediterranean sea the night is a long time ahead.
My apartment is backed by a beautiful lake and park; people seem not to notice. The winter is exceptionally cold in these days. A distant thermometer signals -25 'C on the face of the last building of an avenue nearby. I have to move to a window in the doorsteps to see it during the day. On the table, some newspapers sent from Italy, some food taken from the central market, few photographs I shot of musicians, a small black and white second-hand TV. The TV programs are only for a few evening hours. My bathroom is larger than the apartment, and the hot air finds its mate only during the morning hot shower, as long as time allows. Birds come early to tick my window; they fill soon the hotter air area close to the apartments. I hope they will be able to survive the winter in the town. During my regular days, I have to move fast out of the house to the bus and train. Today I enjoy my hour extra of morning time at home. During the winter, the morning light comes so late; the sun does not rise before 10 a.m. I see the sunrise only from the distant research laboratory. While moving in the street in these hours, we are all hidden in the dark as androids; we get used to long dark nights and neon lights reflected in the snow as an artificial help. The sun comes shortly, and try to evade directed to the sky as in summer, but is chained to be so low on the horizon, and for such short time. At 2:00 p.m. is dark again. The night usually starts after lunch before you can leave work. I think of the Tuscan sun only for a while, the happy work is another sun for me. I was lucky to have the chance to move. The coffee pot is hot and whistles. The smell of the coffee starts its work even by inhalation. I have continuously to check the time; the dark outside does not signal the time to move. My life is happy, the evening before we went as group to follow some free music. There is no time to be tired here. I have time to sit a little in the robust armchair filling half of the small room, to look to the letter from the Institute and some papers.
My work permission is ending, and I have to apply again. The professor has written a nice letter with good personal comments, out of the routine writing. Even the stationary from the institute makes feel the richness and the importance. I had to take a form from the police detailing my request, and make a long journey to the Italian embassy for certifications. In the middle of my passport, the stamps from the Swedish embassy in Rome. It took a 2 days trip to be there on time to obtain my first 6 months work permission. I have now only a copy of that stamp; the original one was unmatched in the perfect reproduction of the 3 crowns of the kingdom of Sweden. In my home, a long time to get dressed and then I can calculate the exact time to the bus transit, something impossible to do in any occasion in Italy. So much dressed, I can feel the extreme heat in the house, I run to the doorstep, an hard push to the door and I am in the wind, at - 30 'C, running to the bus. For at least 3 minutes, you cannot feel the cold. I run so fast to the bus nearby, I cannot believe now how I could do it. The police station is in another area of the city, so green and close to the water during the summer. I have been strolling there before. Coming out of the subway, today I find a long queue. Emigrants are waiting for the confirmation of their Visas. They are freezing like me, especially when we have to line in the open air. Fortunately, often the line is broken there and repeats ahead in the organized Swedish way. Each one is preoccupied, and I see my face similar to the other in the line. At one point, I had the thought to be forced to a return home. My study, my scholarship, my future and my dream will be suddenly interrupted after such short first stay. I did not think of me as an emigrant before. Others are thinking of their families at home. I am one of few who should not spare the little scholarship money to transfer it home. I understand this should have been vital for many families abroad. A work permission is life and food for large families in this line. The thoughts here easily cross the ocean to other continents begging for help and pray. Mine pass the ice out of Baltic to the Mediterranean sea. The coldest part of the queue is finished, and I am inside the police building, very clean and functional. There, a few inspectors taking care of the procedures. Today is very cold, the entrance door blocks sometime.
The newspaper says that these are the coldest days of the century. I can see the water channel outside, a lot of birds are twittering there in wormer times. It is frozen. Still I can see the ducks at the border of the discharged town water, the only possibility for them to find heat. Hundreds of ducks are in a few square meters. They make a lot of noise, but you must be outside to hear it. I slowly approach my time to the inspector, and I am full of doubts and fear. I long to be again in the hospital laboratory with my friends. The radio says that there are blockings in the transportation system. I can now see the inspector, a typical Swedish thin man, gentle and serious like the movie actor Max von Sidow. He has small perfect moustaches. The radio reports the exceptional bad weather in the south of Europe. I have found the newest newspaper from Italy only 3 days ago. They are a week old. I know that the olive have started to freeze in the hills of Florence. It will take a century for them to grow again. To think of olives tree hurts more while seeing beautiful frozen lakes. It's like having two hearts, one dead and the other as an incompatible transplant. I enter the room, and I can immediately sit in a simple but comfortable chair. What a difference, with the public room of any office in my country. I would have to stand and stare for hours. The police man looks rapidly and professionally to my passport, a few seconds on the page of the Swedish stamps. I have in my hand the beautiful envelop and the folded letter from the Institute, the presentation from my professor. The eyes make horizontal scanning movements and shortly he says "Have a nice stay, doctor". He goes out of the room to adjourn the stamp in another department; I can see better the place, a few personal photos of the officer family and some taken while on vacation in a hot Mediterranean land. The end comes shortly. I obtain my stamped visa, and go out while seeing the others still waiting. No problem seems to appear for anybodies. I can return happily to the very cold air. I can feel the beauty of the town more than a Swedish does.
A low light illuminates the city, but this will be the only daylight in the city for me to see this winter. The hospital is more than an hour away. The streets are frozen and deserted, in a few hours the neon light will be bounced and reflected may times in the air and snow, and more people will try to walk them buy. At distance, the tower of the cathedral, in the middle of the open sunny sky in the summer, does not hide today. At the East of the city, the discharged town water still gives space to many birds and swans (look where they are in the cold!). Shops usually open late during the weekdays in the winter, the customers are all working. Close to the central market there is a little more of action. I buy a tin of Mediterranean olive oil. It will serve my cooking for months, each drop as a ray of Mediterranean sun. Though, I cannot buy Italian oil, it would be very expensive, and it will be even more difficult to find if it the trees are freezing. In the central area, I arrived late to collect the Italian newspaper. In our times, the latest news from Italy here are already 4 days old here. I telephone shortly home in Florence, but I have no time to ask for the weather, the telephone line is also very costly. I walk through the protected underground area of the city old town. A few students are there chatting inside the coffee shops. For the students, after the first cup, the coffee is free for 2 hours, as many as you can. Aren't they studying? They look so very happy just as they are now. The coffee would intoxicate me. I have decided to return, even if late, to the hospital to work. I will have nothing specific to do today, but I am afraid that Professor Link, the head who wrote the nice letter with good personal comments to support my stay in Sweden, will have forgotten about my appointment with the police, and looked for me for our latest research idea. I rapidly move to the central station train platform. Strangely, there are delays; the ice blocks some trains and subways. The thermometer outside of the station entrance signals -35Â°C degrees. To enter the train, the waiting is in cold air, luckily for short time. From inside the wagon, the city is whiter than snow in a low sunlight with start fading. Only a few trains are running south to the hospital at this hour. There is no empty seat. We pass the lake to the south of Stockholm and the water is completely frozen. The people are walking freely on ice. Someone make a hole in the ice to catch the salmons trying to be protected from the wind by small portable tends. They can stand the cold for so long. The sun starts setting, and we are heading south. Unexpectedly, the train brakes, the electricity and heating are missing. We are blocked, and waiting for help in a very low, highly reflected, sunset light. I have never seen light reflexes more beautiful on a lake. Student street musician are onboard, and they try to take advantage of the time for a longer concert. The singer is a beautiful Swedish girl with unusually long red straight hair. She sang "Ma-me-o-beach" by Joan Armatrading, accompanied by 2 guitars. Her voice is so full of the sun of the beach in the song. Other songs follow, and everyone is happier. The sun finally sets, and the dark covers our cold carrier. We are many inside, and even in the ice the temperature is not too cold. After 90 minutes, we are pushed further to the next station by the technical team train. The musician run to the next train returning home. I arrive to the hospital, just when the others are leaving.
The professor did indeed forget the reason of my absence, and was a little upset as expected. In my post box, some letters from Florence bring back the memories. Any piece of information is gold to the emigrant. I take the next train back, what else to do, with my colleagues. Everyone is asking about the VISA; they have to pass through the procedure.
Returning to the town of Stockholm, through fields of ice on ground and water during this cold winter, I like to see for the first time the lights of the island of Manhattan in New York; it warms you without any other matter or temperature. Lines of modern neon or antique lighting bring an artificial sun to Stockholm. The areas more protected from the cold, usually connections below the ground, invite to your favorite shops or coffee bars. Our group of students has nothing to buy, and no money for coffee; we go the same to see the long straw of people and goods shops, and look for a free event. The winter hours at our return are at the close of the day; we will return home as late as the cold will allow. Moving with the bus home, the heating is strong. In a few minutes, my hands and feet are warm again. I think suddenly in this hour if she will phone the next Christmas, but I know she will not. Any emigrant is forgotten, sooner or later. Out of the bus, I run out so fast that I will not feel the ice before opening my building door, is it will not be frozen again, I will have to run to the other entry.
At the light of my apartment, the ice covers nearly all of the windows, In the bottom, the hot air blowing have melted the ice, and some small birds have lingered during the day. I wonder where they are now. I open the TV, but I can understand so little. By a short wave radio I can listen to the BBC; my English must improve too. The only transmission in Italian is from the DDR, "Berlino, voce della speranza" ("Berlin, voice of hope"), a 24 hour transmission of communist propaganda. In some nights, you can hear "Vatican Radio". During the night of Christmas, every year the Swedish TV transmits a film by the Taviani Brothers, in Italian with subtitles. I will try to tape it. At the light over the table, I have on the left my new stamps on the passport and on the right a salad with olive oil. I am an invited researcher again. I annotate the news on my moleskin diary in the space for December 9, 1986.