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July in Sweden: Clock off, tune in, chill out

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

July in Sweden: Clock off, tune in, chill out

Short sleeves, bare midriffs, ice cream, fishing in a country lake. To counterbalance a life of functioning infrastructure and technological modernity, people are nostalgic for the primitive, rural life. Five weeks’ vacation is the minimum. Every fourth employee works less than 40 hours a week, although there is a growing army of young ‘no-clock’ workers — mostly in IT — in an increasingly skills-based economy. Women’s wages are 86 percent of men’s in the private sector, 84 percent on the public side.

On a hot July Sunday afternoon, you can walk the streets and hear only the singing of birds. Manufacturing, enterprises and organisations take a break, earned or not.

Meanwhile, the countryside is humming with activity. Often literally — music festivals and performances waft tunes to the winds. The Hultsfred Festival, a rock n’ tent happening, draws big-name acts. The Lake Siljan folk music week is famous for innovative sounds and soft kisses in moonlit parks. Stockholm has its jazz and blues week on a harbour island. Choir week on harsh Fårö Island. Arvika for electronica week.

Every tenth Swede has played a musical instrument in the last seven days. Four percent have sung in choirs in the last month. People swoon at the sound of an accordion if there are waves and seagulls in the background. The accordion and much music came from the south through Germany. The neighbouring Norwegians, behind a mountain range sometimes called Kölen, the keel, interacted with the fiddles of the Scottish isles instead.

It’s a good month for bargains, with more than 2,000 flea markets in country seats and city suburbs.

Parliament is closed, but on the first week in July representatives of the major political parties can be heard speechifying in the same park. Almedalen Park is in Visby, the mediaeval capital of Gotland, Sweden’s island province. The island’s flat, open roads bring families while Visby’s lively bars draw party-makers. The speechifying started in the late 1960s when the Social Democrats brought in the charismatic (later mysteriously murdered) Olof Palme to add to the appeal of summer seminars. Now all parliamentary parties clamour for speaking slots. The casual setting of the park helps when clarifying ideologies.

In the far north, the midnight sun still shines. Kiruna, the main city of the northern wilderness, doesn’t see a sunset from May 30th to July 15th. On the flip side, the entire region above the 72nd parallel will suffer through four months of total darkness when winter comes.

Keen to get a head start on the rest of the year? The Year in Sweden by Kim Loughran is on sale now at the AdLibris online bookstore.

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IN IMAGES: Spain’s ‘scrap cathedral’ lives on after creator’s death

For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego almost single-handedly built a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid. Here is a picture-based ode to his remarkable labour of love.

IN IMAGES: Spain's 'scrap cathedral' lives on after creator's death
File photo taken on August 3, 1999 shows Justo Gallego Martinez, then 73, posing in front of his cathedral. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP

The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still does not have a cover.

He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.

A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.

“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.

Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid.
Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid. Photo: (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.

No blueprint

“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.

Religious murals on a walls of Justo's cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Religious murals on a walls of Justo’s cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint.

In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”.

Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The complex stands in a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral's completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral’s completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads Messengers of Peace, wants to turn Gallego’s building into an inclusive space for all faiths and one that is used to help the poor.

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, that sometimes lack people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social centre where people can come to pray or if they are facing difficulties,” he added.

A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant offering meals to the homeless and for running a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and the faithful can confess via iPad.

Inside the Cathedral of Justo, volunteers continued working on the structure while a steady stream of visitors walked around the grounds admiring the building in the nondescript suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially materials and money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the grounds with friends.

FIND OUT MORE: How to get to Justo’s Cathedral and more amazing images

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