It’s not easy to understand that there are times during the year when the sun never fully sets in Helsinki. You might imagine it as a day that’s just longer than normal, but you’d be wrong.

It’s a kind of continual dusk, as if a butler had lowered the lights to create a softer ambience. Or as if the sky were in a period of transition and had suddenly forgotten whether to move from day to night or night to day, and so just stayed that way for a few hours, undecided, trembling in that half light.

People arriving in Helsinki during those days of half light are disoriented.

Some of them are glued to their watches because if not, it’s hard to know what time of day it is. Others prefer to leave the watch at home and momentarily forget about the unstoppable march of time: they’re thankful for a sky that doesn’t give them a clue about what hour it is.

Nowhere is a ray of sunlight more appreciated than in Finland. As soon as it shines, some pedestrians will stop to buy some servings of salmon to take away, or will get on the boats that leave for Suomenlinna, or will lie down in a park to enjoy some live music.

They’ll leave the sauna for later, for when the air burns the skin and the temperature goes beyond that limit where it’s hard to distinguish whether it’s five degrees more or less. The cold and the melancholy, which are different here than anywhere else, are the price to be paid for the pleasure of walking atop the Baltic Sea or entering the Nuuksio National Park, guided only by the disquieting whistle of the wind in the trees.

So if you visit Helsinki, will it be with a watch or without one?