What books did I bring with me you ask? Well, that’s a very good question. The non-Finnish related materials I have are:
Selections from Catullus, a little brown book of Latin poetry
The Little Prince, better than Machievelli’s
Eliot, my pocket edition of essays and poems by T.S. Eliot.
Catullus was a good choice. He is down to earth, humorous, and straightforward. I can always enjoy a Catullus poem. I would have brought Horace, who strikes with more beauty and subtlety, but my edition was too big. Besides, Catullus is a lot of fun.
The Little Prince is great. I have never read it before and now I am reading it very slowly and chewing on the words. My previous host Jennifer saw me reading in the morning and asked, “Is that The Prince?!” and smiled. Such an international hit can create familiarity between people who hardly know each other. Also, the incident with the fox is so wonderful. The prince learns how a relationship between oneself and another builds a connection that is beyond simple knowledge and material connection. Immaterial things, like the distant flower which he loves, keeps him going. Friendship with the fox makes the fox no longer a fox like a hundred other foxes. The same goes for cities. I want to have a relationship with a town or city before leaving it.
Eliot was perhaps not a good choice. I had brought him with me to Rome and the rest of Italy. But that was a different time. I was still in college then. Eliot writes with constant reference to the older English poets, Dante, the past, that is, the old culture in old Europe. Finnish is younger than English. English literary history as we know it today begins with Chaucer, 600 years ago. But Finnish literary history began only 200 years ago with Suomen kansan vanhat runot and the Kalevala. And it does so without the huge influx of Latin, Greek, French, and Saxon vocabulary. Had I to choose again, now seeing the lakes and pines and little isles, now having picked wild berries, and having been picked apart by mosquitoes, now meeting new people along the winding road to who-knows-where, I would have brought Evangeline over Eliot.