Sunday, May 30, 2010

For Expats in Turku-Wrap Up

Here are all my handy hints for living in Turku in one post. We will miss Turku. It is a wonderful place to live.

1. Get to know the library.
2. Do your laundry at Kerttu.
3. Meet the International Congregation.
4. Join the gym, Motivus.
5. Drink a lot of coffee.
6. You don't need a car.
7. Get a hair cut.
8. Study Finnish.
9. Send your children to school.
10. Go for a pub crawl.

Please let me know if you find this advice useful during your stay in Turku.

This blog will continue to focus on all things Finnish with a dash of New Hampshire thrown in for good measure.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Moon was Shining Sulkily...

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright --
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

from The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll

Hands down my silliest purchase in Turku was a candle for the porch. I thought that the days were growing warmer and it would be nice to sit on the porch in the evening by candle light. Well...more fool me...when it is warm enough to sit on the porch it is light enough to forget about candles.

Instead of sitting on the porch we have gotten in the habit of strolling along the river in the evening. These pictures were taken at 10 pm tonight. The Russian ship Shtandart is in town. It is a replica of a ship designed by Tsar Peter in 1703.

Above is a sculler out for a fearless row in the busy river! That will be me on the Merrimack soon. And at the top is yet another picture with the cathedral in the distance.

We will miss living in a town that embraces the river so wholeheartedly. Concord is separated from the Merrimack by the interstate and also by an industrial history that included tanneries. I hope that the future of Concord will include a more prominent role for the Merrimack in the life of the town. A river is a wonderful place to stroll.

For Expats in Turku part 10-Where to go for a night on the town

There are plenty of wonderful bars in Turku including the festive boats up and down both sides of the Aurajoki. Some students forgo the bars and just sit on the river bank with a daschund of beer-a long narrow cardboard case of their favorite Finnish brew.

I enjoyed the bars that take their name from a building's past use.

First up is the Apteeki , a former pharmacy. I have posted about Apteeki before and it is a must see.

I also like Koulu, a beautiful old school that now houses a brewery and a restaurant. The outside courtyard is charming and I sampled Mannerheim's favorite food, vorschmack, while I was there. Koulu also serves berry ciders brewed on the premises. I tried both lingonberry and blackcurrant cider at Koulu.

Next is the Old Bank complete with the safe in the basement. I will not forget the tar schnapps I had with my friends in the Old Bank. And the guidebooks highlight the Puutorin Vessa or bathroom bar.

Any serious pub crawl will surely end with a Hesburger in the kauppatori. Hesburger is Finland's artery hardening answer to McDonalds and the original Hesburger location is the one nearest to the Puutorin Vessa.


Friday, May 28, 2010

For Expats in Turku part 9-schools

I don't know much about the other schools in Turku, but we feel very fortunate that our 9 year old daughter attended Turku International School for our semester in Finland. The instruction was in English and she had a wonderful semester. The course work was challenging and her experience at TIS has been enriching. She has gained new confidence and is much more independent.

I have friends with children at the Finnish-American school and at the Wendy House. Both of these options are recommended for children younger than 7.

Our time in Finland has been rewarding for all of us, but especially for our daughter and our gratitude goes out to TIS.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Extreme Finnish Food--Delectable yet Deadly Mushrooms

Retiring to the woods is an important Finnish pastime. Even in Turku the woods are all around and you can hop on a bus to a hiking trail to reestablish contact with trees. ( I hope to post more about the importance of trees in Finnish culture, but you get a taste of it when you pop a tar pastille in your mouth.)

Part of the lure of the forests is the joy of finding food hiding in plain sight. There is an "Easter egg hunt" thrill to heading out with your basket for mushrooms or berries. The This is Finland web site gives these statistics:

Approximately 500 million kg of berries and a staggering two billion kilograms of mushrooms grow in Finland's forests every year and the tradition of picking wild berries and mushrooms is as popular as ever, despite urbanization. One study shows that 56 percent of Finns, irrespective of their socioeconomic status, go to pick forest berries at least seven times each summer. The most enthusiastic berry pickers are elderly women: 87 percent of them in the age group 60-74 pick wild berries.

The concept of Everyman's right means that there are no property boundaries as far as berries and mushrooms are concerned. The forest is your fridge!

Of course you have to know what you are doing when harvesting mushrooms. Children are taught to identify mushrooms in school and mushroom lore is handed down in families as part of the ritual of going to the woods together. There is even a mushroom hunting competition near Joensuu drawing contestants from Russia, Hungary and Italy.

Mari told me that it is now false morel season (Gyromitra esculenta). While the false morel is toxic and the sale of the false morel is prohibited in some countries, you can buy it in Finland. The Finnish Food Safety Authority, Evira, recommends that it only be sold by sales clerks, but I found it on my own in Stockmans. Check out the warning above.

So, who would be crazy enough to eat the toxic mushrooms 5 days before leaving Finland? Me! How could I pass up the opportunity to partake of another Finnish delicacy. Mari and I went to Smör for lunch where we had the false morels in a sauce over new potatoes and asparagus. The food was wonderful and I lived to blog about it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

For Expats in Turku part 8-where to study Finnish

I was fortunate to find a wonderful Finnish class at the Työväenopisto. The University of Turku does not allow non university people to take language courses unlike the university in Helsinki.
Since I was only in Turku for five months, this class was perfect. You can read more about my class in this blog post. Follow the link to my article about Finnish in the Concord Monitor.

The Kauppatori!

Anyone paying attention to this blog knows that we pass through the kauppatori several times a day. I have loved watching the seasons change in the kauppatori. The hardy potato sellers and fish sellers are still here, but the fruit and vegetable sellers are no longer huddled together for warmth. Now you can buy more than food in the kauppatori: old books and china, shoes, hats. I knew that spring was coming when 5 (yes 5) ice cream stands appeared in the kauppatori. I have 5 more days to observe the kauppatori. Who knows what will appear next!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reading Lolita in Turku or How to Stave off Dementia

While in Finland I have developed the habit of reading two books: one heavy tome at home and a slim book to carry. My recent combo was The Lacuna by Kingsolver and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Nabokov (a slim Penguin paperback).

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight was Nabokov's first book written in English. His best known work is, of course, Lolita:

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."

I read it and marvel. Could I write such prose in a foreign language? Never! Not even in my mother tongue. I am doing well when I order coffee in Finnish. But I don't know enough Finnish or French to play with a foreign language in the way that Nabokov plays with English.

Nabokov's mother tongue was Russian, but he learned English and French when he was young.

I think about Nabokov when I talk to people in Finland. Everyone speaks some English, certainly Swedish, and maybe other languages as well. The rest of the world marvels at the Finnish education system and hopes to emulate it. I wonder if one reason for the high test scores is the importance of foreign language in the curriculum.

The most amazing linguists are the children of my Anglophone friends. Speaking English with their mothers and Finnish or Swedish with their dads, these kids can dance back and forth between languages and they aren't in school yet. What a wonderful gift their parents have given them.

Research shows that people who can speak another language have enhanced creativity and "a more flexible mind".

The flexible mind is about extending the capacity to think. We can consider this in terms of the human body. A person who exercises and is physically fit is more able to adapt to different situations, like needing to swiftly walk up a steep hill. The ability to respond to different physical demands depends, partly, on physical flexibility. In a similar way, a flexible mind is an adaptable mind.

The quote is taken from the Study on Contribution of Multilingualism to Creativity commissioned by the European Commission and dated 16 July 2009.

Research also shows that learning another language can help stave off dementia.

What mother wouldn't want her child to be creative, flexible, and less likely to develop dementia? The same mother dutifully applying sunscreen should consider a foreign language for her child.

My daughter has had the opportunity to study three languages at her school in Turku; French, Finnish, and English. She wants to continue to study French and Finnish and I hope she can. I will have to pack the foreign language CDs with the sun block when we head to the pool.

Pity the poor people of Alabama where political candidates are vying to promote the most mono-lingual, mono-cultural society. What will be next for Alabama-a ban on sunscreen? Only time will tell.

Potato Elvis revealed!

I pay attention to anything Elvis. My friend Melinda is a true Elvis fan and her devotion to the King has rubbed off on me. I have posted about Elvis in Finland on this site before here and here.

When I found out the man I bought winter apples from was also known as Potato Elvis I went down to the kauppatori to embarrass myself. We had a halting conversation, but I gathered that he performs at birthday parties and other private celebrations.

Here is a web site about Turku's Elvis.

Monday, May 24, 2010

For Expats in Turku part 7-Where to get you hair cut (and colored)!

As someone who needs a color infusion every 30 days, I was lucky to meet Susanna at Jep Yep. Jep Yep is at Yliopistonkatu 10. Susanna is an excellent hairdresser and a generous person. She has a calm presence that will set you at ease. We all (including my husband) had our hair cut by Susanna while we lived in Turku.

You will notice that hair in Finland can be any color so now is the time to enjoy experimenting with something fun .

Above is a picture of Sophia, Susanna, and Susanna's horse, Haksu!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

There but for the grace of God....

Staring at each other from across the Gulf of Finland, Finland and Estonia can seem like distant cousins. They are linguistically and culturally related, but their recent history could not be more different.

Living next door to the neighborhood bully, as Finland did during the Cold War, meant maintaining cautiously friendly relations. You know the police can't protect you from harassment so you do your best to stay on cordial terms. As the cartoonist Kari Suomalainen put it, Finland perfected 'the art of bowing to the East so carefully that it could not be considered mooning the West'.

If you want to know what could have happened to Finland during WWII look at Estonia. Estonia is Finland's "through the Looking Glass", the great What If...

Prior to coming to Finland my knowledge of Estonia was limited to one day trip in 2008 and the documentary, The Singing Revolution.

In 2008 we took the ferry from sunny, bustling Helsinki and arrived on the concrete, glass strewn shores of Talinn. While we had wonderful visit in the medieval walled city, we did miss the cheerfulness of Finland. Emerging from Soviet control, Estonia seemed a little grim. The year before our visit, Estonia had been the victim of cyber warfare apparently in retaliation for the removal of a Soviet WWII memorial. World War II is not a distant memory in Estonia

I was fortunate to see The Singing Revolution before I came to Finland. This documentary explores the fall of the Soviet Union in Estonia and the reestablishment of democracy. It is a wonderful film.

It is with this background that I read Purge by the Finnish-Estonian author, Sofi Oksanen. My review of Purge is here on the Concord Monitor web site. The details about life in Estonia before the Soviet Union and during the occupation are instructive. One character receives a call from her daughter in Finland. The daughter phones to warn her mother about Chernobyl telling her to buy iodine. The disbelieving mother has heard nothing from the Soviet controlled media, but gamely goes to the drug store for iodine only to find that other people are buying it too.

As I say in the review I read this book twice. The book is rich in detail and I will read it again when I am home. The translation is beautifully done. You experience the inside of the Estonian kitchen and seek clues to the mysteries that are hidden there.

Meet me in New York next year. We can go to the off-Broadway production!

The picture of Oksanen is by Toni Härkönen.

Friday, May 21, 2010

For Expats in Turku part 6-Getting around by bus

We have been living in Turku without a car for 5 months and we appreciate the extensive bus system. The Turku map on the web site *has a feature that helps you figure out what bus to take or you can look at the map at the back of the timetable. The buses all end up in the kauppatori. That is convenient to remember when your panicky daughter phones you from the wrong bus.

Above is the Forum shopping center across from the kauppatori. The bus office is inside and you can purchase passes that last for a month or two months. The bus driver can load money on your card as well. It is 2.50 euroa for one ride, but during the summer that ticket is good for two hours.

We went skiing by bus, swimming by bus, to the islands by bus. Our daughter rode the bus to school every day. There are no school buses. Most children ride the buses to school and it can be jarring for Americans to see small children getting on and off buses on their own without a parent hovering near by.

To enhance the excellent local transportation there is also the train and the regional bus station that includes a bus directly to the Helsinki airport.

I must add to this post that strollers or baby buggies (and the person pushing) travel for FREE! The adult pushing the buggy enters the bus at the middle door and it is not convenient or safe to pay the bus driver. As long as your child is in a stroller you and your child do not pay for the ride.

*Change the language to English in the top right corner. Then click on the drop down menu "Guidemap" at the left and choose bus routes.

For Expats in Turku part 5-Where to go for coffee

This is Cafe Art on the Aurajoki between the library and Aurakatu. I am hurrying there as soon as I post these pictures. I don't think I really need to write anything. The pictures say it all.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

For Expats in Turku part 4-Where to work out

I am a nervous eater. The stress of preparing to leave home for 5 months was overwhelming and to shore up my last good nerve I engaged in some nervous eating. Consequently, I was in desperate need of a gym when we arrived in Turku after Christmas.

A friend told me about Motivus and I was very happy with that gym. There are 2 locations: Brahenkatu 12 and Kristiinankatu 8. I only used the Brahenkatu location and recommend it highly. It is women only (Kristiinankatu is coed). It has all the usual gear including a sauna! I made the most of the sauna since we did not have one at our apartment.

I will never forget the Finnish phrase: Kengät Pois (shoes off). I think I will make a sign for my home.

In the spring the weather is so lovely that you can get all the exercise you need walking or running or swimming.

The Turku web site has information about city weight rooms and swimming pools. In the winter there are ice rinks that rent skates and you can rent cross country skis at Impivaara on the weekends. There are a several indoor pools or you can try ice swimming.

Now that the weather is sunny with termperatures in the 20s and our new favorite spot is Samppalinna high above the town. Samppalinna is an Olympic sized pool with a 10 meter diving platform. There is a snack bar, a children's pool, grassy areas, sauna, a playground. It is the perfect place to spend an afternoon after school.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What in tarnation! A Tar Nation!

My post about tar ice cream has generated a lot of comments from Finland and the States. My friend Mari is helping me sort out the confusion that stems from using the word tar as a translation for the Finnish word "terva".

Tar in the United States refers primarily to the heavy oil or asphalt that seeps out of the ground in Los Angeles or more distressingly to the stuff that will be polluting the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean for years.

When we Americans think about tar we think about hitting the road or getting out of the brier patch.

So what do Finns think about when they think about tar? What makes the Finnish idea of tar suitable for a delicious dairy treat?

They think about the forest. Clean, green, life-giving forest!

The forest is very important in Finnish culture. You can about the importance of the forest in the book, Tree People by Ritva Kovainen and Sanni Seppo. The book looks beautiful and highlights the mystical importance of the forest for Finns.

The tar that is celebrated in ice cream and shampoo, candy and schnapps should more properly be called pine tar to distinguish it from the petroleum product.

Pine tar is made by burning pine in a special kiln. During the age of wooden boats, pine tar was extremely important. This article from the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association explains how pine tar is made. It reminds me of the charcoal burners that you read about in the Swallows and Amazons books.

The article explains that the British tried to encourage their colonies to produce pine tar when their access to Swedish pine tar was interrupted by Russia. The American Revolution again cut off supplies for Britain and they returned to buying Scandinavian pine tar through the Netherlands. Meanwhile pine tar was big business in the American South. Maybe the tar baby was pine tar after all.

Anyone with a passing interest in the American religious experience known as baseball will know something about the use of pine tar on baseball bats. The Pine Tar Incident of 1983 occurred when George Brett was batting for the KC Royals at Yankee Stadium. He was found to have exceeded the amount of pine tar allowed on a bat and his home run was nullified. This decision was later reversed by the commissioner.

AND SO if any American taste buds cringe when they think of tar ice cream they should remember that if there is any taste more American than apple pie it can only be pine tar.

For Expats in Turku part 3-Where to go to church

Not everyone chooses to go to church, but if you do I will tell you about the International Congregation at the cathedral.

We belong to an Episcopalian church in New Hampshire, but didn't seek out a church community here until friends from home asked us why we weren't going to church. We decided to go for Lent and after some searching on the internet found that there is an English speaking service at the cathedral at 4:00 pm every Sunday. We went to our first service and were happy to find that we already knew people in the congregation. (Turku can have a small town feel!)

The congregation is small and meets in a side chapel of the beautiful cathedral on 3 Sundays of every month. On the last Sunday of the month the congregation meets on in in Aurelia, Aurakatu 18, on the other side of the river for a children's service.

I must emphasize that children are part of every service and our daughter enjoyed the Godly Play Sunday school program at the cathedral. Three services each month, including the children's service, are led by Lutheran ministers. One Sunday a month is led by an Anglican priest from Helsinki. Here is the link for contact information about the pastors.

After the service there is coffee and tea in the cafe under the cathedral. Above you can see some happy children standing outside the cafe entrance.

Being part of this community made us feel truly at home in Turku.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

For Expats in Turku part 2-Where to do your laundry

Lady Bug, Lady Bug fly away home.
Your house is on fire, but your laundry is done!

One of the hardest things about living overseas can be doing your laundry. We missed our big American washer and drier almost as much as our dog and our friends.

The best laundry option for us was the friendly, comfortable restaurant Kerttu (Lady Bug) on Läntinen pitkäkatu near the railway station. They have 2 washers and driers that you can reserve in advance by telephone. It is 3.50 per washer and you pay the cashier.

Almost everyone there speaks English and the employees that don't are very forgiving of bad Finnish.

I once requested "kaksi pesuhuone, ja salaatti, ja keittiö" or 2 wash rooms, and salad and the kitchen. I often had the soup (keitto) and salad at Kerttu if I was washing during the day. For washing at night I found that a glass of wine during the wash and a second during the dry made the laundry tolerable.

It is a very friendly neighborhood pub with large tables and a cast of regulars. Some nights Kerttu would be full of fantasy gamers playing Carcassonne or Vampire. On other nights the large table would be crowded with knitters from the Åbo-Turku knitters group on Ravelry.

The laundry takes time, but with a good book and a glass of wine it is a restful chore.

P.S. Finnish for washing machine is pesukone (not pesuhuone).

Monday, May 17, 2010

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson

As part of their celebration of small press publishers the Spotlight Series blog invited people to review books published by the New York Review of Books. The NYRB is one of the best periodicals and we look forward to renewing our subscription when we return to New Hampshire.

In keeping with my Fenno-centric blog I chose to review The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson.

TheTrue Deceiver, sets the stage for a tale of deception, but who is the deceiver? Is it Katri Kling, the bitter loner who cares for no one but her brother Mats? Or is it Anna Aemelin, the elderly children's book illustrator living alone among her parents’ faded possessions?

Set in a snowy Swedish village the novel follows the psychological struggle between two lonely, alienated women. Initially it is Katri, seeking financial security, who reaches out to Anna, the potential pawn. Katri is respected in the village for her problem-solving skills, but is also feared and ostracized. The children call her witch and pelt snowballs at her window.

Anna, like Katri, is not part of village life. She lives alone in the faded grandeur of her parents’ summer house, an eternal child. Her painstaking illustrations of the mossy ground are populated with fanciful bunnies that provide a comfortable income. The house, known as the rabbit house, sits on a hill overlooking the village in solitary splendor.

The novel opens with Katri’s attempts to insinuate herself into Anna’s life. Katri fakes a burglary at Anna’s house to secure her position as indispensable protector. But Anna is not as defenseless as a woman who draws flowery bunnies would appear and Katri finds that she also can be a victim of deception.

Deception and self-deception are important themes in the novel. The adage “ignorance is bliss” comes to mind as the veils fall away from the eyes of both women and they are left to confront the truth about their lives.

I chose this book for review because I am living in Finland. Tove Jansson is one of the best known Finnish authors. Jansson is famous for her childrens’ books about Moomintroll and his family and friends. These beloved characters survive today on clothing and in amusement parks as well as in print. A new Moomin movie premiered at Cannes last week.

It is tempting to see Jansson in Anna. Jansson started writing adult fiction in her sixties. The intense popularity of the lovable Moomins eclipsed Jansson’s talent as an artist and this was frustrating for her. Like Anna, Jansson spent an enormous amount of time answering fan mail from young readers. Anna’s struggle with Katri over the unanswered fan letters is telling. It is both a gift and a threat to find someone capable of forging your signature or assuming your voice in order to complete tiresome chores like answering the mail or negotiating royalties.

I highly recommend this book. The reader gets to observe and enjoy the dance between Katri and Anna. The story of their relationship explores what it means to live in community and whether the solitary life is easier than interacting with your fellow humans.

If you want to read more about Tove Jansson I recommend this beautiful web site that will introduce you to her paintings as well as her books.

For Expats in Turku part 1-Where to hang out

We leave so soon! Our five months in Turku has been wonderful and I wanted to share some of the treasures that made our stay in Finland so enjoyable. I am going to post about places in Turku that made our stay so pleasant and then bring all these posts together at the end.

The first place I want to introduce is the Turku City Library. This library is so comfortable that you never feel like a stranger. I felt instantly at home in Turku. The library has computers for public use, Harry Potter, a huge music collection and movies. There are many books in English for all ages.

Some of the movies we checked out of the library include Ruokala Lokki, the Vares movies, Risto Räppääjä, and Näkymätön Elina. You can reserve books and movies on the library's web site and you will receive an email when the item is available. The cost for this service is 1 euro.

Your library card also serves as a culture card. You will receive emails about fun events happening in Turku.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Remembrance Day Kaatuneitten muistop

Yesterday was a flag day, Remembrance Day. As you can read in this article, Finland is still searching for soldiers that fell during WWII in the Karelia that was once part of Finland.

The article below is from the YLE web site:

Recovered Remains Buried on Memorial Day

published yesterday 05:22 PM, updated yesterday 07:15 PM
blue and white flowers on a soldier's grave

Image: Harri Vähäkangas / YLE

Finns observed Memorial Day on Sunday. Flags flew in memory of those killed during the nation's 1918 Civil War and its Second World War-era conflicts.

The latter include the Winter War of 1939-40, the Continuation War of 1941-44 and the Lapland War of 1944-45.

In Lappeenranta, near the Russian border, the remains of 37 soldiers recovered from the Karelian Isthmus and other areas of Karelia that are now part of the Russian Federation were buried on the grounds of Lappee Church.

Only one of them had been identified. Defence Minister Jyri Häkämies took part in the burials, which were preceded by a Lutheran service.

Since an agreement in 1992 between Finland and Russia, a state-supported Finnish association has been searching for remains of Finnish soldiers in Eastern Karelia, Russia, and bringing them back to Finland for burial.

So far the group has repatriated remains from 1,100 soldiers. About 300 of these have been identified.

An estimated 11,000-13,000 Finnish troops were either lost on the battlefields or reported missing during the wars fought between 1939 and 1945.

Memorial Day has been observed since 1940. Until 1995, flags were flown at half-staff on the third Sunday of May, but now are raised fully.

In Helsinki, President Tarja Halonen laid a wreath at the Heroes' Cross in Hietaniemi Cemetery, as did representatives of veterans' groups and others.


Girls love horses

Today Susanna invited us to visit her horse Haku. It was lovely to be in the country on such a fine spring day. Susanna rescued Haku from a neglectful owner. He is a former race horse with a placid disposition. All he really wants to do is follow Susanna around, but he patiently carried Sophia on a lovely walk through the country-side.

The manor house where Haku boards is on the site of the Battle of Lemo. The battle of Lemo, June 19-20, 1808, was an attempt by the Swedes to free Turku from the Russians. The statue above was erected by the sculptor Heidi Limnell in recognition of the fallen soldiers.

Sophia was a very happy girl astride that giant horse!

You can watch this 10 minute video of the Finn Horse: