Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A steamy documentary

Chris and I went to see Miesten Vuoro tonight. It is a documentary about..well...many things. Good documentaries help the audience see many sides of a topic and usher the audience into situations otherwise unattainable. In this case the audience is invited into the humid privacy of the men's sauna.

My Finnish language skills being what they are (slim to none), much of the dialogue was beyond me. However, I did learn more about Finland. The documentary takes you into various work places from a factory to a mine to the camp of some men panning for gold. In all these places there is the sauna. And in the sauna there is meaningful, poignant conversation about loss, family, children. You also realize that the sauna is part of life for everyone in Finland, including the homeless. The two homeless men might not know where they will sleep, but they have made the sauna part of their life.

This is the trailer with English subtitles!

STEAM OF LIFE TRAILER from OktoberFi on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Documentaries in Finland

This is an article from the Helsingin Sanomat about the movie Auf Wiedersehen Finnland. I hope I get the chance to see this documentary although I won't understand much of the dialogue. This article highlights Finland's balancing act during WWII existing between the Soviet Union and Germany.

The trip that could not be spoken of

The trip that could not be spoken of
The trip that could not be spoken of
The trip that could not be spoken of
print this
By Anna-Stina Nykänen

A woman back from Germany is being interrogated at the quarantine camp in Hanko in September 1946. Office worker Kaisu Lehtimäki is asked why she left Lapland with the Germans in the autumn of 1944. The interrogation protocol reveals that Lehtimäki had a romance with a German soldier. The person being interrogated was not even engaged to a German, but when her female friend ... had spoken about her intention to leave, then she ahd decided to go with her, as she was afraid of a future in Finland...
The extract is from an interrogation protocol of the State Police.
“There are plenty of lies there”, says Kaisu Lehtimäki, who is now 89 years old.

Lehtimäki did not go to follow a German man. She had been advised to lie in the interrogation because in the political climate at the time it was a lesser evil to be a silly romantic girl than to tell the truth.
“I was fleeing the Russians.”
When the German army withdrew from Finnish Lapland in the autumn of 1944, they were joined by about 1,000 Finnish women. Some stayed behind in Norway, but hundreds of women went to Germany. Four of them appear in Auf Wiedersehn Finnland, a new documentary by film director Virpi Suutari. One of them is Kaisu Lehtimäki. Suutari met a large number of women, but only a few of them would agree to speak publicly about their experiences, and it took a good deal of persuasion to get them to talk.

For many Finns, the strongest impression of the women who followed the Germans is connected with the film Pojat (“The Boys”), based on a novel of the same name by Paavo Rintala. In the unforgettable final scene, the boy Jake, played by a young Vesa-Matti loiri, runs after a train when his mother leaves him in order to go with a German soldier.
In fact, Suutari found out only about a few cases in which a woman would have left her family when she left. Usually those who left had nothing to lose. They were unfettered in one way or another, rootless, or psychologically orphaned, but there were also young women, and those with a desire for adventure, Suutari says. The group included untrained drifter women, but also independent nurses and interpreters, who had worked for the Germans at the time when the Finns and the Germans were comrades in arms. They were afraid of how they might have been treated once the Germans left. Other women were also enticed to come to Germany as labour.

Each woman has a story to tell. Of the four women in Suutari’s film, two went because of a romance, and one was escaping a cruel mother. And then there was Kaisu.
During the war, Kaisu was a linguistically gifted office worker in her twenties. She was the daughter of a teacher with a good job in Rovaniemi.
She never got to know a single German soldier herself, but everyone in Lapland ran into them. At one point the number of German soldiers in the north of Finland exceeded 200,000.
“If you greeted them on the street, they would start to follow you. They said “good evening” in accented Finnish. I felt that it was best not to answer”, Kaisu says.

Kaisu’s friend, who worked as an interpreter, dated a German, and urged Kaisu to go as well. Then there was a belief that Finland would lose Lapland, that the country would be cut in half, and the Soviet Union would take Lapland as its own. Even the provincial governor said in a radio speech, that people were being evacuated from Lapland, possibly for the last time.
When she went to her brother’s wedding in Helsinki, Kaisu had heard how the people in the city were complaining that evacuees from Lapland would soon be coming in and taking jobs away.
“That was enough for me. I decided that I’m not going to Southern Finland.”

She also did not want to go to Sweden, which she felt was a country of cowards.
When Kaisu was far in the north, in Kaamanen, she heard that the withdrawing Germans had burned her home in Rovaniemi. The Russians were rumoured to be in Ivalo already. She jumped on a lorry with the other women, travelled to Norway, and from there by ship and train to Germany.
When she left, she had plenty of conflicting feelings. She even contemplated suicide. While on the way she had second thoughts, but the Germans would not let her go back any more.
“When I crossed the Norwegian border I wasn’t afraid of anybody or anything.”

Naturally, the trip came as something of a shock to the naive, innocent young women. This can be heard in the letter that Kaisu sent her mother from her trip in Norway: It is just so sad that many of the Finnish girls who are here have travelled only to have a good time. I want to cry whenever I talk to someone like that. But I can’t be much of a stump speaker, because many of them are so down and out that it is no use.”
The wildest and most promiscuous of them would change partners, recall wonderful nights, and recommend Hans or Fritz to each other, depending on who was good in bed. During the trip, Kaisu wrote love letters to German soldiers on behalf of the girls, because they didn’t know German.
Kaisu says that she understands the women who fell in love with the Germans, who always knew how to say something nice. “They might praise your ear, or your beautiful voice, if the face was nothing to shout about.”

They were taken on a ship in the Arctic Ocean from Kvalsund to Central Norway, and from there by train to Oslo. There they waited for five weeks for orders from Hitler on what should be done with the girls. During that time they wandered around Oslo aimlessly. Kaisu even ate lobster at the Grand hotel. The Germans paid the Finnish women a per diem, because they were foreign labour.
“They had money, but no food”, Kaisu says.
There are still stories that the Germans would have thrown Finnish girls off the ship into the sea. Researchers have found on evidence of this, Suutari says. He sees the stories as postwar demonisation of the enemy.
Kaisu says that the Germans treated them well. She suffered a throat infection while on the ship, which was cared for properly. When there was aa bombardment, the girls were sent to an island for safety.

The orders from Hitler were that the Finnish girls were to be treated as comrades in arms, and were to be brought to Germany.
“Many girls were amazed at how bad things were in Germany”, Kaisu says. There were no houses intact, and there were shortages of everything - even toilet paper, she recalls.
That autumn was, indeed, a bad time to arrive in Germany. Defeat was imminent. The Red Army and the allied forces were getting closer, German cities and civilian targets were bombarded. Ordinary people were ordered to work.
In Hamburg the Finnish women would mend soldiers’ socks at the barracks, clean house, work in kitchens, serve as waitresses at the officers’ clubs, and work as nurses. There were also German women drafted into work, who would complain that the Finns sewed too fast and took the best men. To pass their time, they would turn the top of a suitcase into an Ouija board.

Kaisu did not trust the German air raid shelters. Instead, she went to the forest with the other Finnish girls. From there they would crouch under a tree and watch the formations of bombers fly overhead.
They knew nothing of the situation in Finland. They thought that Finland had been occupied.
At the barracks, the German women insisted that the Finns should also give the Heil Hitler salute. Kaisu said that she would not raise her hand. She went to speak with the highest political leader of the camp and asked him if the salute was mandatory.
The party boss said that even he does not say “Heil Hitler” to his wife every morning, but a salute would be a polite gesture.
“I said that I’m not that polite.”

The Finns also had to listen to speeches by Hitler on the radio. There were rumours that Hitler had lost his mind, and that he was chewing on the carpet of his office”, Kaisu says.
Director Virpi Suutari notes that the Germans did not spread the ideology of National Socialism in Finland. The girls have varied information about this. Many of the women whom Suutari met spoke of a woman by the name of Margit, who was also referred to as the “Führer”, who supervised the girls during their travel through Norway, and at the destination in Germany.
Margit was a divorced Helsinki woman, the favourite of a German colonel, who had completely assimilated the Nazi ideology.
When the war was over, Kaisu lived with a Nazi family for some time, but even they did not share their thoughts with the sharp-tongued girl who had a strong faith in God.

They were aware that Jews were being persecuted. The events of Kristallnacht, the confiscation of Jewish property, and the work camps were common knowledge. However, they had not heard about the gas chambers.
Kaisu recalls how once when they were going to the movies in the city, they saw a woman wearing a yellow star indicating that she was a Jew. The woman was frightened, and crouched against a wall because the girls had German coats on.

None of the girls returned home ignorant of the horrors of the war. When the war was over in May 1945, people in the American sector were forced into cinemas to watch films that had been shot at German concentration camps. Otherwise they would not be given a food ration card or food. At the doors, guards made sure that they did not leave in the middle or turn their heads. People were crying, Kaisu recalls.
Finnish nurses saw and told what horrors were found at the concentration camps.

During a year and a half Kaisu worked in Hamburg, and in Bremen and Bremerhaven, for the Germans, and later for the American occupiers.
She remembers the morning when the British arrived at the German barracks, where there were about 20 Finnish girls left, and three Germans. A gun was pointed at Kaisu.
She said that she had left Finland to get away from the Russians, but the British started to praise their allies. Kaisu was angry. She lashed out at the stupid British who prayed for the Russians in Westminster Abbey, even though the Russians didn’t even believe in God.

Then Kaisu felt a gun barrel against her chest. “Go ahead and shoot, I said.” But he didn’t.
Kaisu did office work for the Americans. She also wrote letters home for soldiers who could not even spell their own language without the help of a dictionary.

She took up smoking, which helped her cope with the food shortages.
Finally, in June 1946, the news came that the Red Cross would start to send the Finns home from the camp in Lubeck. Kaisu had wanted to go home all the time.

The experience of the Finnish girls in Germany depended on their home background, their language skills, their education, their religiosity, and their sense of independence. Kaisu coped well, because she had good self-esteem, Virpi Suutari says.
Most of the hundreds of women who went to Germany returned to Finland, Suutari says. Most romances came to an end. Sometimes a lover would die near the end of the war, or return to his wife, or find another woman. Some of the women “came to their senses”.
One of Kaisu’s friends was abandoned, became hysterical, and decided to get herself a German child no matter what - a souvenir, as one might say nowadays. That’s what young women were like.

Kaisu waited at the camp to get back to Finland the whole summer of 1946. The first to be sent back were the ones with children, or who were pregnant.
Finally the girls met some Finnish sailors in the harbour, who took the girls on board as stowaways. Kaisu also fled the camp under the fence.
The sailors warned the girls that it was not a good idea to talk about hating the Russians in Finland. Kaisu even threw her Lotta women’s auxiliary membership card in the into the sea.

In Turku, the police met the women and took them to Hanko to a quarantine camp.
“I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.”
Hautojärvi of the State Police tormented her with new interrogations.
The terrible interrogations haunt Kaisu to this day. Of all the things that she has experienced, it is the most horrifying memory of the whole journey to Germany. When Suutari’s documentary was filmed in the dilapidated barrack building of the Hanko camp, Kaisu ran out in a panic in the midst of shooting. She had seen Hautojärvi behind the window laughing at her.

Kaisu returned to Rovaniemi in 1946. Her family welcomed her back. Not everyone was so lucky.
Some of the women have had to stay quiet about the trip to Germany, often because of the shame that was felt by their relatives, Suutari says. The scorn and wrath of the environment often targeted the children of the Germans. They all seem to have had a person nearby, a teacher of a village school, or an uncle, who was cruel and beat the children, Suutari says.

Kaisu had thought about the shame brought on by her action already when she left. It could be seen in a letter sent to her mother. If someone were to condemn you as well because of those of us who went along, do not remember me in a bad way. I could do nothing else. Kaisu.
Kaisu has friends who have told her not to reveal that they met each other in Germany. As recently as a few years ago, a man passing by said to her “How’s the Germans’ mattress?”

Kaisu did not get married, nor did she have children. She has lived alone in Finnish Lapland her whole life. The families of her siblings are close to her, and so is the Nazi family whom she met in Germany. They later became Jehovah’s Witnesses!
Smoking, which she learned in Germany, has remained a habit with her. It helped her run an office. By pausing for the length of time it takes to smoke a cigarette, one would not be as brusque to the subordinates, Kaisu said.

Kaisu agreed to come to Helsinki in January to see Suutari’s film. In the hotel café she ordered “silver tea” - hot water and milk.
I had to ask if going to Germany had a permanent influence on Kaisu’s life.
The face of the old woman shakes as she says: “The only permanent thought has been that the worst fate of all for me would be for me to die in Southern Finland. If I die here in Helsinki, it would be God’s punishment”, she says. And then she laughs.

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 22.3.2010

**I have to add an extra comment because I have been thinking about this woman's story. She had to make a decision of whether to stay in Lapland when it looked like it would become part of Russia, or whether to go to Southern Finland, or whether to go to Nazi Germany. She decided to go to Germany. For her it held the best promise of a future.

Pick up sticks

Studying Finnish is a bit like playing pick up sticks. I am beginning to understand words in a sentence--individual sticks. Sometimes the pile of sticks is so tangled that I fail to distinguish the individual sticks and I just can't pick them up.

To supplement my Finnish class I bought the Berlitz audio cd Finnish in 60 Minutes. In my dreams, right? Yesterday I sat in Kerttu waiting for the laundry to become less wet, wearing my iPod and muttering, " Apua! Apua! Apua! Kutsukaa poliisi, kutsukaa poliisi, kutsukaa poliisi." No one paid any attention to my quiet cries for help. I did, however, order my glass of wine in Finnish! Nothing helps with laundry like a glass of house wine.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Virvon Varvon!

With a passing glance Finland can seem very similar to the United States--you can watch the Young and the Restless; everyone is wearing jeans (although of different styles); almost everyone can speak English.

But there are cultural differences. For instance no one can understand the opposition to public health care among a vocal minority in the US. And then there is Palm Sunday! Back home I know my St. Paul's family is processing with palms into the church. Here in Finland, children are carrying decorated twigs from house to house dressed like witches, conferring a blessing and giving a stick in exchange for candy! Keisha and her family invited Chris and me and our young witch to join in the fun.

Now, grab a twig and repeat after me:

Virvon Varvon
Tuoreeks Terveeks
Tulevaks Vuodeks

Spring is springing

Spring is coming to Finland just in time for Holy Week. Yesterday there were new merchants in the kauppatori selling Easter grass, pussy willow, and wreaths made of twigs. Sophia is growing her own Easter grass at school so we bought pussy willow and a gift for friends at Easter. We took a walk to find that there are new monuments appearing out from under the layer of snow including a monument to the first daguerreotype photograph taken in Turku. The promise of a beautiful spring is everywhere.

The Easter grass makes so much sense that I know I will have some growing next year in Concord. When nothing comes up in yard, grow a little patch of something beautiful in the house.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Sophia and I came home yesterday evening to find brown paper packages hanging on the apartment door! We were delighted! Kiitos paljon Moni, Diane, Karen and Mum and Dad! The flowers are beautiful.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Field Day in Finland

Sophia's school had their annual field day this week. They sledded and skied at Impivaara. I don't have any pictures of the skiing because I was busy helping children with their skis. Every event involving children includes sausages cooked on the fire and this was no exception. After a morning of sledding and skiing the students were given sausages (makara), doughnuts (munkki), rye bread and cheese, and oranges. Sophia's school recently sent home a paper advising parents that children need two hours of exercise a day. Climbing a hill with your sled meets that requirement.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tampere, civil wars and health care

I wanted to write a bit more about Tampere because the history is so interesting. I have a special fondness for mill towns because I was allowed to tag along on some field trips my father organized for his historical geography class at UGA.

This is what makes Tampere Tampere: the Tammerkoski rapids. Tampere is situated between 2 lakes and the water from one lake falls 18 meters into the other lake. The water power supplied by the rapids caused Tampere to be the center of the industrial revolution in Finland. In 1820 a Scot, James Finlayson, founded a cotton mill in Tampere and that was the beginning of the industrial boom. Finlayson fabrics are important today in Finland although the Finlayson factory is now an entertainment center with restaurants and exhibition space.

Tampere supplied jobs for workers leaving the farms and became a center for the workers movement in Finland. When Finland gained independence from Russia in 1918 there was a violent civil war with the battle at Tampere being the largest conflict of the civil war. The civil war in Finland was between the Reds and the Whites. The Whites, led by Mannerheim and aided by Germany, eventually defeated the Reds. Like the Civil War in the U.S., the true horror of the war is realized in the concentration camps maintained by the Whites after their victory. Georgia has the shame of Andersonville and Finland has the sad history of the detention camps kept by the Whites after the civil war.

I don't think that many Americans know that Finland had a civil war. In the South, the Civil War is still fresh. I have been saddened by the attacks on the Congressional Black Caucus by the oddly named tea party movement and amused by statements like this one from Congressman Paul Broun, dubbed the kookiest man in Congress,

While debating health care on March 19, 2010, Broun drew a comparison to the Civil War which he referred to as the "Great War of Yankee Aggression", a name often associated with a defense of states' rights against a tyrannical federal government and the cultural preservation of the South. "If ObamaCare passes, that free insurance card that’s in people’s pockets is gonna be as worthless as a Confederate dollar after the War Between The States — the Great War of Yankee Aggression.

Those Confederate dollars are pretty valuable these days. Rep. Broun probably doesn't recall South Carolina's bid to balance the budget by selling their stash of confederate currency.

Yesterday President Obama signed the health care bill and I hope the United States took another step away from its history of racism.

And can you believe he is a doctor and he represents my home town!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tampere and tourism

Chris had a Fulbright function in Tampere this weekend so Sophia and I decided to visit Tampere as tourists.

I have been contemplating tourism and the state of mind/act of being a tourist. My friend, Mari, teaches at a school where students study to enter the tourist industry and she asked me to speak to her class. While the students were wiping the tears of boredom from their faces, I was enjoying musing on tourism in Finland and the United States.

I am a "biggest ball of string" tourist. I think kitsch tourism is bigger in the US than Finland. In New Hampshire I have visited America's Stonehenge and the world's longest candy counter. In Georgia you can find a more recent Stonehenge and the double barreled cannon.

Finnish kitsch is elusive. Chris does own a Jussipaita, but we have not found an ad inviting us to visit the world's largest Jussipaita. While in Saariselkä we did sled on the world's longest sledding hill. Maybe the Finnish equivalent of kitsch tourism is the odd events that are popular in Finland. I have posted about wife carrying and air guitar. There is also the world championship cell phone throwing competition if you have to miss the other two festivals.

Mari's family had suggestions for our visit to Tampere and they fell into my other favorite catagories of tourism: food tourism and literary tourism.

For food tourism Sophia and I visited Pyynikin Näkötornin for the world famous cardamom munkki. For literary tourism we headed to Muumilaaksso to see the wonderful dioramas of scenes from the Moomin books.

Sophia loved the tower. We hiked around in the park and climbed up to see the view of the two lakes. I enjoyed Muumilaakso. We were there two years ago. It is quiet and dark and relaxing. The art work, both Jansson's drawings and the dioramas, are lovely.

Before catching the train home we went to Museum Centre Vapprikki. We went to the exhibitions on the city and the civil war and then to the special exhibition on the bear. This museum is wonderful and if you are anywhere near Tampere you should make an effort to go to the bear exhibit.

Where all the cool kids are!

My local newspaper, the Concord Monitor, ran this fascinating story from the Washington Post about the sauna at the Finnish embassy in DC.

The hottest spot in D.C.
The Finnish Embassy's sauna draws the capital's movers and shakers

March 19, 2010 - 12:00 am

On a recent Friday evening in the basement of the Finnish Embassy, a half-dozen men, all sweating profusely and wrapped in white towels, turned to resident sauna authority Kari Mokko to settle a dispute.

"Kari," Josh Block, a spokesman for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, said through the vapor, " 'schvitz' isn't a Finnish term, is it?"

"Shivit?" Mokko replied, bewildered. He stood up, sans towel, to ladle more water onto the sauna's rocks. "What?"

Despite his unfamiliarity with the Yiddish word for steam room, Mokko, the embassy's press secretary, is running a monthly Power Schvitz for the policy staffers behind Washington's power players.

The 150 members of the Diplomatic Finnish Sauna Society of D.C. are the operatives who make Washington spin: Capitol Hill staffers, officials, lobbyists, wonks - and reporters eager to pick up some off-message analysis.

"You don't wear your politics on your sleeve when you are not wearing sleeves," said Alex Conant, a former RNC spokesman now working for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. "Mostly you just talk about how damn hot it is."

Mokko, 43, with a trim goatee and chiseled cheekbones, is the society's founder and gatekeeper. On hiatus as the anchor of Silminnakija, a Finnish Broadcasting Co. current-affairs program, he is at home with reporters, delighting in the exchange of phone numbers, story leads and private information at the sauna. He believes networking in the nude to be an absolute moral good.

"It became a great 'I scratch your back, you scratch mine' sort of thing," he said, flatly.

The sessions began two years ago to compensate for Finland's "predictable" reputation and low international profile, said Mokko, a native of Tampere. "We don't cause problems," he explains. "We needed something to catch attention." (The Finnish ambassador lays low in his own sauna, in the official residence.)

The society's private Facebook page says the mission is to "exchange breaking D.C. news and hot scoops, create buzz and get refreshed in great company" and to "spread the word about the joys of Finnish sauna culture and other great achievements of Finns inside and outside the Capital Beltway."

Mokko says his great ambition is to host Vice President Biden, who lives directly across Massachusetts Avenue. Meanwhile he keeps the guest list small, diverse and bipartisan: "I try to be civil and benevolent." He regales guests with a barrage of Finnish sauna facts ("We have more saunas than cars," "When Finnish peacekeepers are sent to Africa, the first thing they do is build a 190-degree sauna") and argues tirelessly for the superiority of Finnish saunas over Swedish ones ("Theirs is a lot milder: 130 degrees. It's just like a hot room.").

Regulars include Christina Sevilla, deputy assistant U.S. trade representative and lead singer for the group Suspicious Package, which has played embassy events. Hearst Newspapers bureau chief Rick Dunham built a Finnish sauna in his basement last month. ("In the embassy, it's an endurance test of Americans to see how long they go before they wilt," he said. "Now I understand the science of it.")

At 6:30 last Friday evening, as the conflict between the United States and Israel over East Jerusalem housing plans came to a boil, a bartender arranged cranberry juice, water, and bottles of Dos Equis, pinot gris and cabernet sauvignon on a table.

Newsweek correspondent Eve Conant and government analyst Deborah Horan walked down a sweeping staircase.

"I'm here for the secret sauna club," Conant announced.

Surrounded by an art installation depicting the white-bearded hero Vainamoinen doing battle in the national Finnish epic The Kalevala, they clinked wine glasses with Mokko. Conant, who reported from Moscow for a decade, said she was familiar with Russian saunas, which use steam. Mokko protested, "That is a Finnish sauna, not a Russian sauna."

Others arrived: Melissa Merz, a principal at the public affairs firm Podesta Group, with her husband, Ret. Army Lt. Col. Robert Mackey, who now declassifies documents for the government. Lynne Weil, communications director for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with her husband, Nils Bruzelius, an executive editor at the Environmental Working Group. Christine Mangi, a spokeswoman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska.

"There's a client I'd love for you to meet," Merz pitched to a guest, as Weil credited the sauna with creating "harmony in Washington" and advised everyone to "watch your alcohol intake before going in."

New York Times diplomatic correspondent Mark Landler arrived with wife Angela Tung, a lawyer. Conversation subjects included mosquitoes in Alaska and the difference between East Coast and West Coast Navy SEALs. Mangi told a story about how, the day after a sauna visit, she met a man who commented that she looked a decade younger. "I said, 'God, that sauna does amazing things for the skin,' " she said.

"So where is this sauna? Does it really exist?" Horan interrupted.

"It's hotter than the Swedish one, right?" Merz said.

"Oh, yeah," Mokko said, "double."

At 7:30, Mokko led the group to a basement decorated with bright Marimekko pillows on wooden furniture and a projector beaming Wolf Blitzer's "The Situation Room" onto the wall, while Finlandia vodka awaited with a buffet of red gravlax and white trout, shrimp and Finnish meatballs.

The women disappeared down a hallway and into the sauna as the men filled their plates and waited their turn.

When all the women were out, the men rotated into a changing room. They disrobed, grabbed towels and pelfetti (sauna seat mats), and snatched beverages from an ice bucket brimming with beer cans and water.

At first blush, the sauna does not feel so blistering. ("It's got proper airflow so you don't feel like somebody is putting a blowtorch in your face," said Erik "Erkki" Lindstrom, who built the sauna in 1994.) Its walls are built from Virginia pine; its benches from African obechi wood. ("It's cool to sit on," Lindstrom explained.) An electric heater in the corner warms 200 pounds of igneous rocks and, according to a thermometer on the wall, raises the room's temperature to about 190 degrees.

Dousing the rocks with water or, as Mokko sometimes does, beer, causes an overwhelming wave of loyly ("the steam that comes off the stones," Mokko translated), but the temperature stays the same. ("It's like an August summer in D.C.," Lindstrom said. "When you have 100 percent humidity, it's going to get bad.")

The men picked out spots on the upper benches ("Whoa!" someone yelled. "Scorch them berries!"), and the sweating started instantly. Mokko added water, the stones shushed and the men groaned. The heat slowly slackened postures, and, after some serious-sounding talk about the current American-Israeli crisis, loosened tongues. Discussion turned to Donald Rumsfeld's socks, UFOs and things that cannot be printed in a family newspaper.

Wall Street Journal correspondent Jay Solomon was the last to leave, after about 25 minutes. He had the same peaceful look as his fellow sauna society members.

"I've never seen a person exit the sauna angry," Mokko said.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Minna Canth and Equality Day

I have written about the Flag Days that have occurred during our stay in Finland: Runeberg Day, Kalevala Day, End of the Winter War. Under Finnish law the flag must be flown on public buildings on the following days:

  • February 28, day of Kalevala; the occasion is also celebrated as the Day of Finnish culture
  • May 1, Vappu, the Day of Finnish Labour
  • Second Sunday in May, Mother's Day
  • June 4, birthday of Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Marshal of Finland; the occasion is also celebrated as the Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces
  • Saturday between June 20 and 26 June, Midsummer Day; the occasion is also celebrated as the Day of the Finnish Flag. The flag is hoisted already on Midsummer eve at 6 PM and flown all night.
  • December 6, Independence Day
  • Days when Finland holds parliamentary and local elections, elections to the European Parliament, or a referendum
  • The day the President of Finland is inaugurated.

Then there are optional flag days.

I noticed on our calendar that March 19 is also a flag day: in honor of Minna Canth.

According to my extensive Wikipedia research March 19 is also the day of equality. My friend Niina told me about Minna Canth and her place in the pantheon of Finnish literature.

Minna Canth was born Ulrika Wilhelmina Johnsson in Tampere in 1844 and went to study in Jyväskylä. Her education at the teacher's college ended when she married her teacher and had seven children. Her husband died before the birth of her 7th child and she moved to Kuopio to run a fabric shop. Not only did she run a successful business to support her 7 children as a single parent, but she also wrote both in Swedish and Finnish. Her plays and stories illustrate the hardships of the working class as well as discrimination against women.

I have read one story by her, "The Nursemaid" written at the end of the 1880s. The story illustrates one disastrous day in the overworked life of a young Finnish speaking girl in a Swedish speaking household. Emmi, the nursemaid, is so tired during the story that you will realize how her senses are dulled. She asks the other maid why "we're so wicked, we servant girls?' The maid responds, "I'll tell you, then: it's because we have to stay awake so much of the time. We have time to commit more sins, half as many again as other folk. Look, the gentry can sleep on in the morning, till nine or ten o'clock; there's not so much time left for them to do bad things." That is as good a reason as any to sleep in--less time to sin!

To celebrate Minna Canth Day I suggest you give your nursemaid the day off with pay and, if you don't have a nursemaid, sleep in and bake this Minna Canth cake:

By: stormylee
Mar 15, 2004 the link is here:

A lovely, soft spice cake with a surprise ingredient - whipped cream! Minna Canth (1844-1897) was a Finnish playwright, novelist and essayist as well as an energetic fighter for women's rights and social justice. This recipe comes from the Canth family recipe collection and was printed in the Perinnemakuja maakunnista cookbook. I've modified it slightly - the original recipe called for 1 tbls of ground bitter orange peel, which I don't like at all, so substituted cinnamon instead. You can of course experiment and find your favourite spice combination, too!



  1. 1
    Preheat oven to 175 C.
  2. 2
    Grease and flour a 2 litre cake pan (I use a Bundt pan).
  3. 3
    Whip eggs with sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. 4
    Add the whipped cream to the egg mixture, mix to combine.
  5. 5
    In a separate bowl, combine the flour with baking soda and the spices.
  6. 6
    Add dry ingredient mixture alternately with the molasses, mixing well after each addition.
  7. 7
    Finally, add the melted butter, mix to combine.
  8. 8
    Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 175 C for 30 minutes.
  9. 9
    After the first 30 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 150 C and bake for further 20-30 minutes, or until cake tests done.

And here is another recipe in Finnish!:

Recipes - Minna Canthin kakku (cake) by 9teen87's Postcards.
Minna Canthin kakku

2 dl siirappia
2 dl sokeria
2 munaa
4 dl hyvaa kermaa
6 dl vehnäjauhoja
1 rkl pomeranssikuorta
1 tl neilikkaa
1 tl inkivaaria
2 tl soodaa
4 rkl sulatettua voita

Vaahdota kerma.
Vatkaa kananmunat ja sokeri
Yhdista vaahdot.
Sekoita kuivat aineet ja siirappi
vuorotellen vaahtoon. Lisaa voi.
Kaada taikina voideltuun
Paista 1/2 tuntia 175 asteessa ja
n. 1/2 tuntia 150 asteessa.

kahvipoyta Minna Canthin huoneessa.
Kuopion Korttelimuseo, Kirkkokatu 22
(Valok. Mauno Hamalainen)

Minna Canth (1844-1897)
Kirjailija, kauppias, toimittaja ja mielpidevaikuttaja. Minna Canthille nimetty kakkuresepti on peraisin Canthin perheen reseptikansiosta. Minna Canthin koti-ja kaupatalo sijaitsee Kuopiossa Kuninkaankadun ja Minna Canthin kadun kulmassa. Kuopion korttelimuseoon siirretyn Minnan salongin poydassa on nautittu monet kahvikupposet, silla kirjaliia tunnettiin intohimoisena kahvin ystavana.

postmarked in 2008 with a Suomi Finland butterfly stamp

Posh and Becks have left the city...but Dr. Orava is still here!

I think this interview with Sakari Orava in the Helsingin Sanomat gives some examples of Finnishness.

Over the years the man's reputation as a miracle-worker on troublesome joints has spread far and wide, and he has had no need to look for patients.
The best athletes and top coaching staff have him on speed-dial when they need help.
If he declines the desperate request, it might well be that the voice at the other end of the line squeaks: "But...but... we'll pay whatever you ask!"
Why on earth is it that everyone wants to come to Turku and Orava?
"Search me. I wonder about it myself at times, how it has come to this", the doctor shakes his head.
(italics added).

and this:

Occasionally the local physicians are so overawed by stardom that they cannot be sufficiently honest with the patients. No sports star wants to hear that his or her career is over. Then they call in someone from outside - like Orava.
"It is easier for a country bumpkin like me to come in and say: "I'm sorry, but it's over."

and I really like his plan for retirement:

At 64, it will probably soon be over for Orava himself.
After 65 years of age, surgeons have to make a separate application for the right to operate on patients.
He has no qualms about letting go.
"Maybe someone will grant me an extension. Or then not. And I'll maybe then go off to Florence to study art history", says Sakari Orava, court surgeon to the world's sporting elite.

quotes from the HS are in bold.

There is a culture of modesty in Finland that some might say borders on an inferiority complex, but the flip side is an extreme sense of national pride. Can one say the Finns are modestly proud?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Still snowing!

March 17 was a big day when I lived in Savannah. The azaleas were blooming. The fountains were green. There was Baileys in the coffee.

I will try to pick some green article of clothing from my brown and black wardrobe and head out into the snowy streets of Turku. Yes, it snowed again last night. It was snowing hard when I walked home from my Finnish class.

Maybe I will bump into Posh and Becks.

An update on the Beckham in Turku story is that I made it into the Finnish tabloids! Chris bought some papers yesterday for my scrapbook and there I was! Like Where's Waldo or Lowly Worm, I am in a crowd shot of Beckham's car pulling into the parking garage.

Here is a fun web post about the snow in Helsinki from the We Love Helsinki blog.

Luntalunta blablabla

Talvi on jatkunut jo kauan ja sitä on taivasteltu kylliksi. Jos pulkkamäki ja sään päivittely kypsyttävät, poimi We Love Helsingin kokoamat näppärät vinkit kaupunkitalven viettoon.

  1. Syö lunta. Syö nyt vaan.

  2. Elä vaarallisesti ja kävele talonvieriä pitkin. Älä vain katso ylös, äläkä välitä tiellesi asetetuista suojapuomeista.

  3. Nuole tamppaustelinettä.

  4. Päivänvalo lisääntyy ikävästi kevättä kohden. Minimoi sen vaikutus ja nuku kuuteen asti illalla.

  5. Nauti ulkoilusta ja ota juna töihin.

  6. Tai säästä aikaa ja luistele töihin.

  7. Sivakoi. Sivakoi nyt vaan.

  8. Testaa, voiko vitutukseen kuolla ja kaiva väärä auto kinoksesta.

And here is a translation of the above from the Books from Finland web site:

Snowsnow blahblahblah

The winter’s been going on for too long and it’s been gawped at too much already. If you’ve had enough of the tobogganing slope and complaining about the weather, here are some handy hints that we at We Love Helsinki have put together for enjoying the urban winter.

1. Eat snow. Go on, e a t it.
2. Live dangerously and walk close to the walls of houses. Just don’t look up, and don’t take any notice of the protective barriers that have been put in your way.
3. Lick a rotary clothesline. [Or anything else made of metal: it's thrillingly dangerous, as your tongue will stick. Ouch! The Editors]
4. The hours of daylight show an unpleasant tendency to increase towards spring. Minimise the effect by sleeping until six in the evening.
5. Enjoy the outdoors: take the train to work. [The Finnish rail services have been painfully ineffective this winter. The Editors]
6. Or save time and skate to work.
7. Ski. Just ski.
8. See if you can die of irritation by digging the wrong car out of the snow.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The nimble fingers of Dr. Orava may have saved the day for English football hero, Beckham. But a quick note about the joys of the Finnish language: orava is Finnish for squirrel!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beckhamania update...dateline Turku!

As Sophia and I wended our way home from the kauppatori, I decided to drop by the Mehiläinen to see what was happening. The place was full of teenage boys with identical black skinny jeans and spiky hair. You might be surprised to learn that I was not the only Southerner in the crowd...LeighAnn, my friend from South Carolina, was there with her children Erin and Samuel so we waited together for...nothing. We missed him. He pulled into the underground parking lot and the only picture I have is of another quicker fan's cell phone. But, it was fun to be there with the cool kids!

Beck's Finnish doctor is saying he won't be playing in South Africa this summer. You can read his interview here. And here is a link to the Helsingin Sanomat showing Beck's landing in Turku with an odd head wrap. I am sure he is flying back to sunny Milan directly after receiving his excellent Finnish care.

Breaking News or Twist it like Beckham

Excitement is running high in my corner of Turku. My football loving husband informed me that the beloved Beckham, former captain for England and Becks of PoshandBecks, has injured his ankle and is heading to Finland for medical care. Then he rang with a news flash...where in the country of Finland will Beckham come for ankle care...that's right Turku! Now to stalk the streets armed with my camera.

Beckham will be having ankle surgery at the Mehiläinen sport medicine office in Turku. Mehiläinen is a private hospital company that has been in existence since 1909. It is named after the bee, Finnish for bee is mehiläinen, that brought Lemminkäinen back to life. I love how the Kalevala is everywhere! Here is the Kalevala quote from the Mehiläinen web site

The wise raven that flew onto the scene opined that Lemminkäinen could not be brought back to life, but the mother gathered up the pieces, gave blood transfusions, set the bones, stitched the wounds, performed organ transplantations, and managed to rebuild his frame, but could not make him talk or bring him back to life. But then Lemminkäinen's mother managed to persuade Mehiläinen (the Bee), the king of the forest flowers, to fetch nectar and mead from various herbs to serve as an ointment. This helped the son to recover, to battle the storms of life again.

If the bee can bring Lemminkäinen back to life, who knows what he will do for Beckham!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pocket-sized Pat's Peak

On Friday the PTO at Sophia's school arranged a skiing outing at Hirvensalo. I rode a city bus out to meet the students at the ski slope. The top picture is my view of the ski slope behind a grocery store. There were no chair lifts, just a J bar. The PTO cooked sausages for the kids. One friend pointed out that it is common for ski slopes to have a spot for an impromptu cookout. You just carry a package of sausages with you. Can you imagine if we pulled sausages out of our fanny packs at Pat's Peak! Sophia had a wonderful time and her friend Emilia skied for her first time.