Stranded Under the Northern Lights: A Musician’s Surreal Coronavirus Quarantine
This is the eighth installment of Rolling Stone’s Music in Crisis series, which looks at how people all across the music industry are coping with the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 3rd, Victor Alarcon traveled to Rovaniemi, in the Finnish Lapland, a region so frigid and remote that it proclaims itself the home of Santa Claus. For the singer, a Peruvian-born musician based in Dusseldorf, Germany, it was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime: an expedition to film a music video under the Northern Lights. Alarcon, who records under the moniker Vic Ja4, first told Reuters in mid-March that his return flight to Germany had been canceled as nations sealed their borders to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
While Alarcon hoped to return to Dusseldorf in early April, he remained stranded in Rovaniemi for more than a month. From there, he spoke to Rolling Stone about his unique experience as a musician social-distancing near the top of the world.
Even though I’m a South American, anybody who knows me will tell you, “Victor is crazy because he likes cold weather,” but I do. I was born in a small city in southern Peru called Ilo; an interesting fact is that “ilo” in the Finnish language means “joy.”
In 2019, I finished recording my first acoustic album, and it was called Aurora Boreal. I knew my music video [for the title track] had to be under the Northern Lights. So I started saving money, making the contacts, wrote to some film commission here in Finland and asked them if they had any service to record videos. They put me in touch with this company in Lapland. They liked the music, and they agreed, “Let’s do this.” And that’s how I came here. I spent a lot of time recording my music video outdoors in minus-15 degrees Fahrenheit. And it was amazing.
I came here on March 3rd. I had planned to stay here until March 17th. When it was three days before my return date, I got an email from my flight company saying many flights have been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak, and that I should get in touch with them as soon as possible. I knew that my flight from Rovaniemi — where I am here — to Helsinki would take place, but I did not know if my flight from Helsinki will take me back to Dusseldorf.
After three or four days of calling the company, spending two hours on the waiting list for the phone, I finally got in touch with them and they confirmed that the flight from Helsinki to Dusseldorf was not taking place. So before getting stuck in Helsinki where I had no place to stay, didn’t know anyone, and probably the infected people there would be higher than here in the north, I decided the best way was to delay my flight.
So I postponed my flight for the first time until the April 1st, and unfortunately [the delay] happened [again]: The flight from Rovaniemi to Helsinki was feasible, but the flight to Helsinki to Dusseldorf was not there anymore.
Thankfully, people here [in Rovaniemi] are very nice. I know sometimes that, depending on the culture, some people might be more distant; right now, it’s good to be distant because of the pandemic. It’s very calm, like a small city, but you’re not isolated, it’s not like the Arctic. But, of course, it is colder. We had a white Easter. And I think it’s been a nice little break from all the stress of the big city.
I had the budget I planned for my [two-week] trip, but I got a nice discount [on lodging] because the owners didn’t have any other clients. I got a discount on food. I cannot say, “Oh, man, I want to get out of Rovaniemi right away,” because I don’t. It’s been a nice time; they have beautiful landscape [and] very good air. I think of all the places I could have a quarantine crisis, it’s probably one of the best places to be stranded.
Was it worth it? Every single second. I allowed myself to spend two weeks here, because I was told sometimes it could take weeks to see the Northern Lights; some nights there might be a cloudy sky and you won’t see them. When I first arrived here on the 3rd, the producer told me, “We have to go see them tonight, because the whole week is going to be bad weather.” I’m like, “Dammit, I didn’t come all the way here just to not be able to film under the Northern Lights.” So we went there, and we got some pretty good Northern Lights.
We decided to record another music video for another song off my album, “Llamada Perdida,” which means “Missed Call.” This is a fictional story based on the real story of the crisis: How I got stranded here, how I got isolated here, and my friends being in Dusseldorf.
The funny thing is, I was supposed to leave on March 17th. On the 18th, we got a weather forecast that the aurora boreal was going to “explode.” I went back up there and I even had the privilege to film under the “corona boreal,” what I call it, the Northern Lights but it had the shape like a circle, like a corona. So if I had left on the 17th — some things happen for a reason — I would have never got those.
Rolling Stone first spoke with Alarcon in mid-April; in May, we emailed him to see whether he made it back to Germany. Alarcon — back home and now under quarantine — wrote about his voyage from Rovaniemi to Dusseldorf in the face of travel restrictions.
Yes, I am back in Germany. I’ve never been in a plane so empty in my entire life. There were only like 10 passengers.
Once I arrived in Frankfurt, we were given a couple of info-sheets explaining that due to the COVID-19 crisis, every traveller coming back to Germany must go home directly from the airport, inform the Gesundheitsamt [health department] about the return, and stay 14 days in quarantine at home.
Nowadays, I spend my quarantine days taking part in the university “online classes,” training at home, doing a lot of readings, playing my guitars, etc. I am lucky enough to have friends who are willing to bring me the stuff I need from the grocery store.
Do I miss Rovaniemi? YES I DO! It is not possible to not miss such a nice, calmly place. I really hope that I can spend another winter in Rovaniemi in the near future again.
I learned a very interesting word during my time in Finland: “Sisu,” which is an unique Finnish concept, a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as “strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.”
To hear more of Alarcon’s music, visit www.vicja4.com