Two words: Summer Market. Sweden has this tradition: street market! It happens all summer all over Sweden, but in our up-north neck of the woods, one weekend is Kiruna, the next Pajala, and the next Överkalix. Be there or be square.
By Thursday of market weekend, the town’s streets and sidewalks, cabins and campgrounds fill up. The beaches are splashing with children. Every driveway has a few extra cars or a motorhome parked in it. People build their stalls up and down the streets where electric extension cords suddenly wind along the curbs as tents and all-things-canopylike are being raised.
By 10 am Friday, the market is live. The town has become a whole different town with new storefronts (or tent-fronts). If you’re ever going to get lost in your own town, this is the time. Never mind the crowd jostling you, the shape of all the streets has changed. Every street and sidewalk is lined with booths, tents, and various food trailers. The town smells, varyingly, like smoked reindeer meat, cotton candy, Greek olives, salami and fresh-baked Finnish thin-bread. Balloons in the form of Scoobie Doo, Elsa the princess, and Pikachu wave down the streets above the heads of children.
As for what vendors are selling, you can find everything from hand-knitted, hand-dyed wool mittens to intricately carved knives with bone scrimshawed handles, to mass-marketed costume jewelry. There are booths for all things Nordic: leather, wool, sheepskin, bone and horn. The silversmith has been working all year to build the collection to bring his one-of-a-kind rings and custom earrings to market. There’s handmade jewelry and hand-made everything: authors signing books, artists signing art, artists painting the faces of children into butterflies. There’s a booth with specially-designed heart-shaped silicone toilet brushes (they do a great job under the rim, as the salesman will be glad to show you on the toilet he’s got on display), and there are pots and pans guaranteed to never stick. There’s the sort of teepees for sale for smoking fish, and the sort of fish for sale smoked in teepees. The biggest corner of an open lot is taken up with baskets of all shapes and sizes—baskets to store wood beside the fireplace, baskets for picking mushrooms, baskets to carry on your back.
There’s somebody selling a kind of brush that will get pet fur out of your carpet, another selling the kind of brush that gets the pet fur out of your pet, and another selling fur. Someone sells boomerangs, someone else native American pan-flutes (and he’s playing it, besides, gathering an awed audience). There are combined booths selling spices from around the world and, there in the corner, someone selling lottery tickets for a log cabin, with the log cabin itself right there on display, inspiring longing in every heart—or at least in mine. Every year I try to win that cabin. Every year a new cabin shows up and I try again.
At least every fifth or sixth stand is entirely devoted to candy: especially those long colorful ropes of wild apple and sour cherry, whole rainbows of flavors, including the variations of licorice that you can only find in Scandinavia—salt licorice, salmiakki, Turkish-pepper licorice, raspberry licorice, you-name-it-strange-flavor licorice.
Friday is look-around and take-it-all-in day—at least for the adults. Children aren’t expected to wait, as the immediate gratification keeps them going so the adults can keep going, too. On Friday, balloons and candy sell like hotcakes while the parents compare prices and handiwork in every booth on every street to decide who’s going to get their business, later. The vendors are trying their best to separate the market-goers from their money (as my grandpa so delicately used to put it), while the shoppers are making choices to keep the most in their wallet but still come home with supplies and surprises. If they time their resources carefully—both time and money—then Saturday is the efficient shopping day because they’ve already toured the market at least one time around and know which shops to go back to.
Sunday is the bargain day—or the big splurge day—for those who dared wait for the bargain (could be that the favorite scrimshawed knives are gone by then). By Sunday, salesmen are tired and shoppers have that now-or-never attitude. The children have eaten (or abandoned) the swirly lollypops as wide as their cheeks, Candy sales are down on Sunday, sales for the treasures, up.
Finally, Sunday afternoon, somebody shakes a dice and the streets get rolled back to their original lines; motorhomes and travel trailers trickle out of town, and the familiar landmarks appear to make the town our own again. That's it until winter, when in the deepest part of cold, dark February, Jokkmok repeats the process with the Jokkmokk winter market, complete with a reindeer parade. Be there or be square.