This is probably not one of my best shots, still it’s a very important one showing what life can be like in cities like Stockholm and many others if luck in life hasn’t been on your side. The poor homeless man is asleep outside the entrance to a department store and he probably gets some occasional warm air on him from the ventilation inside. Soon that extra heating won’t be enough to keep the winter temperature away.
Possibly an interesting caption if I’m lucky, I thought and snapped the trigger. One of the few sunny and warm days in June. A stone wall (new) and something creating a shadow in the afternoon sun made it possible. The possibilities are all around us, if we open our eyes and sort of live in the present. Here and now are your best friends.
When reading photobooks or looking at photos from abroad, it happens that I wish I could go there and get my share of all the fantastic possibilities and opportunities they seem to have. Then I realise that the things I can photograph here may cause the same reactions if a foreign photographer sees them. The Swedish expression “Dig where you stand” is probably underrated.
This sign stands near a field in Jämtland and says “King Chulalongkorn’s Road”, in other words a rather unexpected sight that makes no sense. What’s the story behind it? We have to travel back in time, to 1897 to get the full story. The king of Sweden (and Norway to be historically correct) Oscar II sent an invitation to king Chulalongkorn of Thailand to visit the Art och Industry Exhibition in Stockholm and the king of Thailand accepted the invitation.
King Oscar also wanted to show him other parts of Sweden and since king Chulalongkorn was interested in the Swedish sawmill industry, the royal choice was to travel parts of the north of Sweden. King Oscar had travelled there himself earlier and knew he would not only be able to show the Thai king things he had expressed a particular interest in, he would also get a chance to show Sweden at its very best with beautiful landscape views and long, bright summer nights. Besides, king Chulalongkorn had also expressed interest in studying modern means of transport and this trip would provide many opportunities to fulfil his wishes.
King Chulalongkorn of Thailand was not just any king in the succession line. He saw other countries in the Far East becoming colonies to European countries and did not want the same thing for Thailand and realized the only possibility to avoid foreigners taking over was to develop and modernise the country. He organised a functioning mail system, he had a phone network built and many other things that were necessary to give the country a modern structure, thereby managing to keep foreign powers out of the country. This brought him on many travels around the world and he was the first Thai king to learn English.
The royal party, about 30 persons, travelled by their own yacht to Härnösand where they had to change to local steamer to Sollefteå because the Swedish rivers were too shallow for the royal ship. They left Sollefteå by train to Bispgården the following day and after a luncheon there, they had to travel by horse and carriage on a dusty road to Utanede and the Edset’s steam boat bridge.
The entire road was decorated with the very best of what could be found in Ragunda and preserved notes from the king’s secretary tell that the royals felt genuinely touched and honoured by the efforts the cheering crowds had made. The trip continued by SS LIDEN to Sundsvall and the story could have ended as some sort of picturesque memory here.
About 50 years later, roadworks were carried out on the road the king of Thailand had travelled and his visit was still remembered by the local population, and they decided to name the road after him. The story could have ended at this point, but a group of Thai dancers visited Ragunda in 1992 and heard about the road named after their king.
They paid a visit to Utanede and what they saw made them enthusiastic. The society Chulalongkorn’s Memory was founded in 1993 and a committee including both Thai and Swedish representatives was founded the following year after an initiative by Ragunda kommun to emphasize the project’s official status.
The construction works began in 1997 and had involved architects from Sweden and Thailand. The spot selected for the pavillion was not the most suitable from a construction point of view because it was in the middle of a field hiding a 20 metres thick layer of clay. Material had been taken from that field in the 40’s for dam construction works at a nearby power station and the hole left afterwards was filled with water and created the pond needed for a true Thai temple. Monks from Thailand went to Utanede, blessed the place and after that nothing could be changed.
About 80 steel poles, the longest with a length of 30 metres, had to be piled down to provide a stabile foundation for the pavillion. Another construction problem to solve was the decorations. Concrete absorbs water and water expands when freezing and they could easily conclude that concrete decorations would not last long in the harsh climate and may also pose a possible danger for visitors. Teak would stand the climate and last long, but using teak would become way too expensive. The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm was involved and they found a kind of plastic that would stand the climate without cracking and the risk of water coming in was avoided. The current king of Thailand’s own craftsmen made the decorations and that is an indication of how important the erection of the pavillion was to them. On second thought, perhaps the word is insufficient here – it is probably a load of dignity involved here too.
The entire project has had a positive influence on the cultural bonds between Sweden and Thailand and Bangkok and Ragunda are, believe it or not, sister towns. An odd combination indeed and as different as chalk to cheese, but it works.
Another thing that clearly stresses the significance attached to this project is that no changes on the premises are made without Thai authorities’ approval. Their wish is that the premises should be kept in Thai-style and that wish is apparently respected which is a good thing.
I don’t remember much of what the press wrote when it opened to the public, but as far as I can remember, it was nothing more than press items showing the quite odd appearance of a Thai pavillion on the Swedish country side and a couple of lines about king Chulalongkorn’s visit which makes me believe that they did not bother to understand the deeper international relations aspect of it.
The intention is also to give visitors a chance to experience and get to know Thai culture and that cannot be wrong bearing in mind that many Swedes go to Thailand for holidays. Probably needless to say the differences are many, but there are also similarities. This is a house for the house spirits and they must be kept content by giving them food, flowers etc. If they are discontent, feel insulted or discontent, the people and the buildings they are supposed to protect cannot count on their help any longer and bad things may happen to them as long as the spirits’ discontent lasts. Swedish tradition is that a tree is specially cared for, it will protect the house. There were also gnomes and other supernatural beings that had to be kept happy to keep a farm and its cattle safe from all kinds of evil things like spells, witchcraft and what else people used to believe in long ago. It may be a bit like jumping to conclusions but I can see the similarities – do you also see them?
My first visit to the Dead Fall was in 1970 and I don’t remember much of it because I was a boy then who soon would turn ten. My second visit was last week. One thing I noticed, and it was a joy to see, was that they had made arrangements so the visitors could walk around the Dead Fall conveniently and they had also done their best for impaired visitors. The latter may not be able to access the entire fall, but at least they can get a good view of it and stay safe at the same time.
Despite the great scenes right before my eyes, I felt somewhat “split”. The reason for this was that the man who was responsible for the Dead Fall was Magnus Huss and is a very distant relative of mine. Through the times the Huss family has taken great pride in this. True is that the locals could and did benefit from this, but the flip side of the coin is that it was nothing less than a huge disaster when it happened. My standpoint is probably “pagan”, but I blame it all on the fact that I both look and am more like my mother’s family.
The history behind Sweden’s greatest cataclysm is called timber. The only way to transport timber long before railways and trucks had been invented was to let it float with the rivers to sawmills or places of collection from where it could be sold. The locals in Ragunda had the forests and could therefore provide loads of timber, but there was one obstruction – the Big Fall with a height of about 35 metres that mashed the logs to matches.
What they needed was some sort of by-pass and the idea was not new; many attempts had been made, but they had all ended up in nothing. There was an increasing demand for timber towards the end of the 18th century but the people in Ragunda could not be part of it and the wealth it would bring to them, so a businessman from Sundsvall, Magnus Huss, accepted the challenge to dig out some sort of canal for the logs to float through without total loss as consequence. He would be compensated with the sum of 100 riksdaler. Royal permission was granted and the work commenced.
The progress was slow, partly due to sabotage. The decision was not unanimous and a number of people opposed it for various reasons. As you know, nature’s graces are unpredictable and the water was low in lakes and rivers in 1795. This would have been an excellent opportunity to gradually open the new bypass, but the work had been delayed so this was just a dream about what it would be like in a perfect world.
The following year was the opposite. Very high levels in the spring and, well had the knowledge in geology been higher, it may not have happened, but the pressure from the unusually high water made it break through an esker mostly consisting of sand. The water did not bother about mankind’s efforts – it broke new ways through the landscape by its own force. A lake (Ragundasjön) was emptied completely in 4 hours and the furiously flushing water swept everything away that came in its way with a roar. Once source says about 300 millions cubic metres of water, another says 1000 millions and it is a miracle that nobody got killed. I don’t even dare to think of what it must have looked like the day after the disaster!
Mission completed, although not as intended. The fall was silenced and timber could be floated thanks to the new direction the water had taken. As time passed, the former bottom of Ragundasjön (Lake Ragunda) could be used by farmers and they could also get their share of the wealth in the forests, but the mass destruction the water had caused has set a record in legal processes – an epilogue some tend to forget.
It is easy to feel and understand the forces of nature when standing at the bottom of the Dead Fall and I have no problem with understanding their thoughts but the lack of knowledge in geology made them disastrous. In fact, it was not until after the huge railway accident in Getå in 1918 that the need for proper geological examinations became obvious.
My blogfriend and I were lucky – this is when the rain began, but we had finished our tour and had a cup of coffee together in the nearby restaurant. There is loads of information on this topic on the Internet and my decision was therefore to write this story from my personal perspective. If you want to read more about the history and the surroundings, please visit their website by clicking here. Then click on “Translate” in the right bottom corner and select the language of your choice.
I happened to find a suitable piece of music, at least in my taste, which describes what I often feel when I see surroundings I really like. The aria is from Händel’s opera Serse and has been recorded by many. One of the few who was capable of singing it in its original key was the English singer Kathleen Ferrier. Here it is sung by a Romanian-German counter tenor. It may not be to everybody’s liking, but I found the instrumentation beatiful here.