Friday, April 30, 2010

Hauskaa Vappua!

Where to begin an explanation of Vappu? Compare the scene in Turku last evening to any other day in Turku and you might not believe you were in the same town. The streets were full of happy, tipsy, hat-wearing people. Did I mention happy? Will told me that people would start to smile once the trees were in bud, but Vappu has caused an early epidemic of smiling.

Vappu is the Finnish celebration of May Day. Vappu is a woman's name and the name day for Vappu is May 1.

Vappunaatto: the evening before Vappu
The celebration starts in the afternoon of April 30 with a ceremony organized by the student organizations of the universities. We went to the celebration organized by Turun Yliopiston Ylioppilaskunta (the Student Union of the Univ. of Turku). The celebration was entitled TYYlikäs vappu--more clever Finnish word fun. TYY are the initials of the student union and tyylikäs means elegant.

Holding white hats and bottles of bubbly 10,000 or more people gathered at the Art Museum and down the hill in the road. The student union representatives were the only people allowed to wear their hats before the official word was given. There was singing by a chorus and then a rousing speech that ended with the official command to don your white hats. Simultaneously the champagne corks popped and the crowd began moving slowly towards the river.

We were there with Niina and Antti. Niina had a bottle of her Sima with her. Sima is a special drink for Vappu celebrations. I will post a recipe in a separate post.

At the river is a statue of woman known as Lilja. It is common for Vappu festivities to include the hatting of a female statue. In Helsinki it is Havis Amanda who gets a hat. In Pori, the main statue is of a bear, but fortunately biologists have concluded that the bear statue is female. So she gets a hat on vappunaatto.

First the dentistry students were lifted to Lilja on a crane and they sung a song to Lilja while brushing her teeth, and other parts, with a giant toothbrush. Then two student union presidents were lifted in the crane. They addressed her in Finnish and English, in spoken word and song. One speaker explained that Vappu is originally a celebration of the workers, but with the economy doing so poorly there are fewer workers. They put a large ylioppilashattu on her head where it remained for a second before thrown into the crowd. Antti explained that this is very Finnish--the hat was taken off after a token second to prevent anyone climbing on the statue and damaging her in the quest for the hat.

We walked home through town marveling at the happy, bubbly crowd.

You can read more about Vappu in this Helsingin Sanomat article.

Pictures from the top:
Chris and Sophia in front of the taidemuseo
The student organization flags
The waiting crowd
A flock of history students in their black capes
The speaker
Hats off!
Hats on!
Brushing Lilja's teeth
Enjoying the evening
The banks of the Aura

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

more Finnish food

Chris ordered Baltic herring last night! Another dish of small, whole fish. You can emulate this meal by ordering the smelt basket at the Red Arrow diner in ManchVegas.

The boxes of Tippaleipä have appeared recently in the shops in time for Vappu, May Day. The Tippaleipä are akin to our fried dough, complete with powdered sugar. My friend, Mari, explained that "tippa" means drop and that the dough is dropped into hot oil. Mari also told me about the Finnish expression, "NAISILLA ON TIPPALEIPÄAIVOT" meaning that a woman's brain is very complicated.

TPS Turun Palloseura: Updated blog post!

TPS, the Turku ice hockey team, is in the Finnish professional ice hockey finals. The kauppatori was full of eager TPS fans heading to the game while wolfing down their Hessburgers. TPS lost, but the series is not over! I think it will be a first for Turku!

Turku won the Finnish ice hockey championship! This happened while we were in Copenhagen on Wednesday. Mari reported that people were riding around town with TPS flags smiling and shouting. Niina told me that the arena was full of people watching the game on the big screen since the team was playing away. After the victory more people went to the arena for the communal celebration.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Do Not Separate a Finn from his Sauna!

This is 91 year old Reino Elgland. Mr. Elgland fought city hall and won! He is receiving a $200,000 settlement from Concord, NH, for water damage that, according to the Concord Monitor article separated him from his sauna:

"By the time the flooding had finished, he was left with a large hole in his land, separating him from his woodpile and sauna."

The article explains that Mr. Elgland was born in the US, but his parents hailed from Finland. His parents bought the property in 1918. Now the property will be part of the trails network leading to Sewell Falls Park.

Mr. Elgland plans to relocate to an assisted living community in Penacook. Maybe I will take him some pulla when I am home and ask him about the Finnish community in Concord and what area was referred to as Finn Hill. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Flag Day! Veterans' Day

Today is Veterans' Day in Finland with the main observance being held in Tampere. Veterans Day was first observed in Finland on April 27, 1987 as a celebration of Finnish independence.

Finland has mandatory conscription for all male citizens, about 25,000 conscripts annually. The figures from 2008 give the number of reservists as 25,000 with a maximum wartime strength for the Finnish Defense Forces of 350,000. The age of conscription is 18, but conscription can be delayed until you are 28. You can opt for civilian service or unarmed military service as well. Women can choose to do military service.

The pamphlet, "Facts about National Defense" , states that the goal of Finland's security and defense policy is to "safeguard the country’s independence and society’s fundamental democratic values and to promote the security, welfare and livelihood of all citizens against the impact of security threats."

Finland is not currently part of NATO, but does participate in UN peacekeeping operations. There are currently about 100 Finnish troops in Afghanistan. Earlier this month parliament approved sending 50 more troops to Afghanistan.

Yet another reason to study Finnish-Vares

I haven't read any Vares books yet, but that doesn't mean I am not a big fan of Reijo Mäki and his hard boiled, hard drinking literary creation, Jussi Vares. It just means I need to redouble my efforts to learn Finnish.

Today Marilyn, Chris' mother, and I were doing some shopping. We were in the Akateeminen bookstore buying Tatu ja Patu for her Peruvian grandchildren when I saw the Vares magazine. As I was explaining to Marilyn why I wanted to buy this Finnish magazine (because the author lives in Turku), the sales clerk told me I was standing next to the author, Reijo Mäki.

I levitated 6 inches off the ground and asked Reijo Mäki to sign the magazine. He was so charming that I boldly asked him to appear in my blog and here he is with Marilyn and the helpful cashier.

I explained that I was a fan despite my lack of Finnish. He told me that his books can be read in Estonian, Swedish, Danish. Sadly, Americans don't have the requisite language skills. I did tell him that I had seen both Vares movies and Mäki informed me that 6 new Vares movies are being filmed this summer in Turku. I hate to leave before I can play an extra in a crowded bar scene.

I am going to try to buy the Vares movies to bring home. If you get a chance you should watch them. Lots of gratuitous Finnish blood is spilt. Lots of gratuitous Finnish oaths are uttered. I loved every minute. The films are Vares – yksityisetsivä from 2004 and V2 - jäätynyt enkeli from 2007.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Åland Islands ahoy!

Chris' parents are visiting us--they arrived after an ash-inspired odyssey that included time with family in London. We went to the Åland Islands for a night on the Viking Ferry, a very relaxing way to travel with the added benefit that there was plenty of time to teach Sophia how to play Hearts.

The Åland Islands are an "autonomous, demilitarized, monolingually Swedish-speaking region and historical province of Finland". I stole that definition from Wikipedia, but let me explain what it means.

Between Turku and Stockholm lie a multitude of beautiful islands--some with houses, some with giant windmills, some just damp rocks. The first set of islands through which the ferry weaves is the Turku Archipelago, the largest archipelago in Europe. Then, after a brief lull, the ferry enters the Åland Islands.

The Åland Islands are culturally Swedish. After Finland became independent from Russia in 1917 and during the strife of the Finnish Civil War, the Åland Islands sought their independence from Finland. This dispute was one the first issues decided by the newly formed League of Nations! Geography played a large role in the decision--the islands are connected to Finland by ice during the winter months. This makes me wonder what role global warming will have on geo-political boundaries in the future.

Åland's autonomy is governed by the Act of Autonomy. The current Act of Autonomy is the 3rd such act and dates from 1993. The Åland parliament has legislative authority over medical care, the environment, the promotion of industry, internal transportation, local government, police power and the post, radio and television.

Finland controls foreign affairs, most civil and criminal law, the court system and customs.

I plan to return to the islands one summer with a bike. There are several bike+ferry trips you can take and I am now armed with the map.

About the pictures - from the top:

A Map from Wikipedia

Sophia and Marilyn playing Hearts as a team

Marilyn watching the islands

Once you arrive in Mariehamn most people get off the ferry heading to Stockholm and shuffle on to the ferry heading to Turku thereby spending their day cruising in tax free comfort. You can see the 2 Viking ferries connected by the passenger walkway.

Mariehamn had lots of boats, boathouses, and boardwalks.

The Parliament (Lagtinget) building with the Åland flag flying+it was Åland's flag day.

The museum ship, Pommern

The Johnsons!

And while I am on the subject of matrimony...

Chris can thank his lucky stars that he didn't get married in Finland. The Finnish tradition is for the bride or groom to go out and be humiliated in costume by their closest friends. Here is the smiling groom and his buddies waiting to board the ferry to Stockholm. The groom told me that his wedding was in two weeks. For his bachelor's celebration he was wearing this prisoner costume for the entire weekend and doing whatever his rather naughty looking friends told him to do. I saw him on the ferry later carrying a ball and chain!
You can read about this tradition in Finnish here!

A loose translation of that article is that the tradition is known as Polttariperinteet. The tradition came to Finland from Germany through Sweden and St. Petersburg in the 19th century. Men would go to restaurants and cut the fool. Women implemented their own tradition of dressing like men in private houses and trading sadistic banter (note the many riding crops!).

From what I have seen here in Turku, polttariperinteet today involves taking the boozy ferry across the Gulf of Bothnia to Stockholm for the tomfoolery. Look again at the convict's innocent, smiling face. I told him that marriage wasn't that bad!

Another interesting thing about bachelors is that the Finnish word for bachelor is poikamies. For someone with only 3 months of Finnish under their belt the literal translation is boy (poika) mies (man). This explains the TV show I saw in the listings! The Bachelor! The Boy Man! Somehow I like the Boy Man title better!

One Dozen!

Chris has the same dazed, "how did I end up here" expression that he wore on April 25, 1998! Here we are sailing out of the Åland Islands with some champagne! 12 years ago Chris' sister, in a toast in my parents' backyard, poked gentle fun at his propensity to study the world's less common languages. She was mocking the Teach Yourself Irish and Welsh books that still line our living room. Could anyone have predicted that a) we would still be married and b) more comfortable in Finnish than Swedish. As I stood in Ålands Museum this morning I found myself wishing that they had the exhibit information written in Finnish. That is what 12 years of marriage will do to you!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Finished with Finnish class

Yesterday was my last Finnish class. Here are my two Finnish teachers: Marly, age 2, making a guest appearance, and Leena, our guide to all things Finnish. The class met twice a week and I wish it hadn't ended quite so soon.

I wrote about this class for my hometown newspaper and you can read that article here. Language is part of culture and you get closer to a culture by learning (or trying to learn) the language. Language gives you insight into how the mind works.

Our text book, Hyvin Menee, was great. Each lesson was a mini culture lesson: food, apartments, the health care system, leisure activities, Finnish weather. Chris has bought Book 2 of Hyvin Menee for our return to the states. I hope he will home school me in Finnish.

Our teacher Leena taught us not simply grammar. You can see in the top picture that she has brought in her YLIOPPILASHATTU to share with us. (More about this hat in my May 1st blog). In various classes we discussed such diverse topics as

1) Finnish palindromes; e.g. saippuakauppias soap salesman
2) The finnishization of English words; e.g. pitsaa (pizza), rokki (rock music), or jatsi musiki (jazz music).
3) Finnish education

Best of all the class gave me a desire to continue my study of Finnish. I don't know how realistic this is, but I do have Book 2 of Hyvin Menee to bring home.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Helpful Hints from Heloise

The ash cloud stubbornly hanging over Finland is causing havoc for visitors to Finland. I know nothing about aviation, but I want to put in my two cents to Finnair anyway. After all, I have something in common with Finnair: we both love Finland and want more people to come here on vacation.

1. Update your web site! On Wednesday, we found out by telephone about a flight to the States. That information didn't make it to the web site for another hour.

2. American tourists probably don't have usable cellphones with them in Finland. If you are going to rely on overbooked phone-lines as the sole method of communication, don't charge for those calls. This kind of message can be daunting:

Those returning passengers/homebound whose flight has earlier been cancelled to above destination, please call +358 10 808 045 (from Finnish landline 8,21 c/call + 5.9 c/min; all mobilephones 8.21 c/call + 16.9 c/min), open 24/7.

An American visitor might not be able to run to the R-kioski with 20 euroa every time they want to place a call. The call will not even connect unless the cell phone has at least 20 euroa on the card.

3. If you ask your passengers for a cell phone number for text messages, then text them. I used my cell phone number for my friend and I received the first text message yesterday afternoon. Luckily I was in my Finnish class and could ask my teacher to translate it. Most tourists don't speak Finnish. I think the texts should be in Finnish and English or I should have had the option of choosing English as the language for the text messages on your web site.

I am sure the people roaming around the Helsinki airport can add some more pointers to this list. Send them some salmiakki and a questionnaire so you have some direction for when the next volcano blows!

Post Script:

Just to add the note that Felice is home in the Granite State. She says that Finnair treated her very well once she was in the airport for her long wait. They provided her with a hotel and with food vouchers. She spoke with Europeans who had been stuck in the States and were not treated so well by American Airlines. Air passengers in Europe have greater rights than air passengers in the United States.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Those nutty engineers!

There is always something interesting in the kauppatori. Today, engineering students from Tampere were selling their "second aid kit" for May 1. As I explained to Felice, the jump suit is to protect the students' clothes from the adverse side-effects of excessive drinking. Our helpful mechanical engineer confirmed this. The kit contains a student comic book, a rubber glove, and a prophylactic!

The non-information age

The weather here is beautiful. Perfect for wiling away your time while waiting for news, any news, from your airline. Finnair's web site is being updated every full moon, or so it seems. Phone calls to Finnair are also fruitless. Felice has been able to talk to one helpful person, but she was the employee arranging the boat-bus trip to Berlin for EU Finnair passengers.

In the mean time we had a lovely farewell dinner (!) on the Aura and then, on the next day, a stroll through sleepy Naantali.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ashes Ashes....

Our friend Felice is visiting us in lovely Turku with a return flight tomorrow. Hah! Finnair had one flight to New York today. Reading about that flight on their web site this morning lulled us into last minute sightseeing and curio shopping.

We visited St. Henry's ecumenical art chapel on the 54 bus. According to some web sites, this is the second most visited tourist destination in Turku. It is certainly a beautiful building. The chapel changes as you move around it and view it from different angles. And then when you step inside you are embraced by light as you move towards the altar. The building was designed by a Finnish architecture firm and built in 2005.

Felice and I then hurried off to prepare for her trip home. She bought some items that you cannot find in NH-Turun Sinappia, cardamom in the long tube, bat reflectors.

When we checked Finnair again this afternoon we learned that another cloud of ash is headed our way and it is likely that her flight will be canceled. We do not see ash in the sky here and the dust flying around is left over from the winter gravel. It is daunting to think that a volcano in Iceland is grounding planes from London to Helsinki.

In the meantime, we can play marathon "10 Days in Europe" games. Of course Uno tournaments are never dull when money is at stake.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The King's Folly or the boat who wouldn't float

Before visiting Suomenlinna, I knew nothing about the military conquests of Sweden. The Swedes are so proud of their 200 years of peace (they can thank Finland for that) that you forget their history of expansion and conquest.

The ship Vasa is a monument to the greed and folly of a king, Gustavus Adolphus. He wanted the biggest and the best and he wanted it now! The building of the ship started in 1626 in Stockholm with German artisans supplying the decorative wood carvings inside and out. Gustavus Adolphus was in Poland, but his directions were clear...give me the fanciest, grandest vessel or face royal displeasure. In 1628 the ship took its maiden voyage and promptly sank. The ship was top heavy and had too little ballast. Some people in the lower regions of the ship died, but most survived as the ship sank into the Baltic mud of Stockholm's harbor.

And there Vasa sat. All but 3 of the bronze cannons were salvaged in the 17 th Century and then the ship was forgotten. The 17th century salvage is one amazing act. Then in 1961 the ship's hull was raised. The film of this feat is very interesting.

We visited the ship at the Vasa museet in Stockhom. The museum is on Djurgarden and well worth the visit.