Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Row, row, row your boat!
Sometimes a journalist finds herself in the story. I know that the New Jersey Supreme Court does not consider mere bloggers to be journalists, but I hurried down to the Aura river yesterday planning to cover the church boat races for this blog. My friend Mari and her fellow teachers would be racing against other teams of teachers and students from the technical school network in Turku.
Mari sent me links explaining the significance of church boats in Finnish history. Finland is a country of lakes. After the reformation, the Church required that communities maintain boats for transportation to mass. The boats were owned and maintained collectively. The largest boats had 60 oars and could seat 8 people on each bench.
Church was a welcome relief from the day to day toil of agrarian life. The church boat voyage was a way to connect with neighbors. The rhythm of rowing must have suited the contemplative mood before church. But the mood after church was entirely different. The church boats would race home for the honor of being the fastest boat. Up to 40 people could be rowing at a time so you can imagine the wake the giant row boats generated on the calm inland waterways and some boats were even greased with butter.
Chris and I were eating ice cream (tar flavor for me, salmiakki for Chris) on the pedestrian bridge when Mari asked me if I would like to take an oar. Her team was short a rower. What an opportunity to take part in this Finnish tradition. I lost my objectivity immediately. I was no longer interested in the success of the nurses or the students, but was only behind my team of teachers and cooks.
We rowed three times and won all three of our races securing third place and our bronze medals. It was the first sunny day in Turku where I didn't need to wear a jacket and Chris is even a little sun burned.
You can watch some wonderful vintage film about the church boats here. The blog post on "the naughty bits" of the Finnish language continues after the video:
And now for the naughty bits...(don't read further if you don't want the naughty bits!)
One of the joys of learning a foreign language is becoming familiar with the naughty words. You may be able to read the Helsingin Sanomat, but until you can understand what the joyful hockey fans are yelling in the street you don't really know Finnish. Firoozeh Dumas wrote about her quest to understand "gritty French" in her review of the book Merde Encore. You can read her review here on the NPR web site.
Gritty words in a foreign language are freeing. I have no problem saying perkele because I am not a Finn. I don't even mind if Sophia says perkele. But sparks would fly if I heard her utter the "F bomb".
What does a post about church boats have to do with gritty Finnish? Only a Finn would know, so I will let you in on the secret. The word kirkkovene is expressed by a small drawing of a boat. That boat drawing is also the crude representation for the act encompassed by the f-bomb.(f.n. below). You can see the graphic here on this church youth group web site. Apparently some people were outraged when the youth group adopted this symbol. But what could encompass the spirit of a youth group better than a church boat? The dirty minded should read up on their Finnish history.
The nurses' rowing team all had the symbol on their shirts and the symbol is also used on products aimed at the feminist home decorator. In fact the symbol was everywhere yesterday joyfully representing the sacred and profane all in good humor and good fun.
f.n. Finnish does not have a profane semantic equivalent for the F word. However, they do have a word that can be used in the same way and that word is represented by the symbol for the kirkkovene.