Burt Reynolds on a Ship

I highly recommend the boat from Turku to Stockholm. It was only 18 euros. Blue waters and little isles pass by for hours and hours and hours. The food aboard ship is good, and the alcohol prices are competitive (but compared to mainland Finland, what isn’t?). I have spent the majority of my time writing in the smoking room. It looks out on the water nicely, and the coming and going of faces for the fix make it a kind of sanctuary, a vestige of proper ritual.

However when I assumed a position overlooking the water, I became more exposed. And sensing my anxiety, a Burt-Reynolds of a Finn sat down next to me and asked what I was writing. He was one of those good-natured guys who would never take a serious thing seriously. He refused to speak any English, and would only explain himself in more Finnish. I appreciated his humor. He bade me luck that the bulb go off in my mind, and he took for the buffet room.

Lunch was good; at first, I lamented the expense. Then seeing how there was an open tap of wine and beer, my spirit was relieved. I drank and toasted, and ate as much as possible, salmon and sauces, lox and mosses, salad, and cheese, and bread, and dessert. The conversational company could have been better. But such is drinking alone, you have to imagine your people around and have the recitation with yourself.

I saw the Burt-Reynolds Finn as he walked out. He stopped and asked skeptically if the food was any good. “It is good, good.” I was the last one in the dining room. They closed, but I still had more to eat and drink. This has been my lot since high school. To be the last one sitting at table, others cleaning up, I wonder, “Why has everyone left so soon? What’s all the rush? There is no where better to go! Yo-ho-ho-ho! Where is MY civilization? If I were king…”

I took the train from Rovaniemi last night. I have not taken an overnight train in many years. Now I remember what is so miserable about it. It is not the seats. The seats are bad; they are as bad as Amtrack (maybe worse). They leave a terrible crick in your back, and generally, unless you are totally beat already, sleep will be difficult. But the fundamental problem is that as soon as you fall asleep to the rhythmic rocking of the train, it stops. It sits motionless for 15 minutes, then moves 50 feet then sits again. It is like the terrible sensation of being at a traffic light which lasts too long. It is easy to sit for an hour doing nothing. It is hard to sit for 10 minutes waiting for the train to move so you can go back to sleep.

The train stopped at the dock station (30 minute time window) and I walked one block to the titanic Viking cruise ship. I didn’t realize I was taking a full blown cruise. I’ll take a hostel tonight (settled that ten minutes ago). My flight leaves early Wednesday morning. I’ll see how Stockholm is until then. If my return journey somehow included swimming, cycling, and canoeing it would be better. Turku by train, Stockholm by boat, Chicago through some bizarrely complicated flight pattern, and I have a return ticket to Stockholm for September 11th which I do not plan on using. The cheapest flight just happened to require I buy a return journey.

Between Your Aunts: A Suite

The house was built outside of Kajaani by Joona’s dad and grandpa in ’97. It was light blue, white trim, beautiful wooden interior. A type of duplex, the grandparents lived on one side and Joona’s family on the other. A corridor with a washing machine, main bathroom, and sauna separated the two sections. A traveler had arrived. Joona invited him to extend his stay in the Kainuu region. This was the first time Joona met someone who knew as much about American politics as him.

His grandfather was eager to meet this traveler as well. They greeted each other warmly. First they went back and forth with Basic English greetings, then Finnish. Aarne was surprised that the traveler got barely, but somewhat beyond basic greetings. Joona saw his grandfather continue conversation without pause, and jumped in to translate. And so they sat straight up in their chairs, interrogating calmly and with keen interest. Joona translated.

The traveler had met his grandson the night before over some drinks, and now would stay for a day or so. He had payed his own way to Finland, was not a student, had plans to study but they fell through, knew some languages, was somewhat educated. Aarne was relaxed and was bemused that the traveler had arrived by chance. Then he asked questions about the traveler’s home country. What were his thoughts of the president and other American policies? The grandfather had run a wood manufacturing business in Russia in the 90’s. Chechans and Russians were good workers, but fought when they got drunk. Still. Good workers.

Joona and the traveler sat on the couch and listened to music and read the news. People would arrive in the evening to play Texas Hold ‘Em. They played a brutal round of cards that ended with Joona dominating the group. Grandpa interrupted the game briefly to hash out plans for travelling to the summer cottage. The dealer had to go; Joona fell asleep while the other guests conversed at the table a bit longer. Joona would have to collect his winnings in the morning.

Joona’s parents returned from the summer home.And after coffee and munkki (which is a nice word for jelly doughnut) and rye bread with butter, they prepared to go. Grandpa came into that side of house, grinning, his blue equipment vest and hat on, excited for a day in the countryside. They drove out 40 minutes to the small town of Vuolijoki, population 3,000, Aarne’s hometown.

They passed the local church. They went to visit it. It is impressive how even tiny towns once constructed such beautiful structures. The church was thickly shaped by stones and wood and plasters. In back was a grave site to those who died in the Winter War. The three read quietly reflected, read the names, and ages at which young guys died. When they came to the Civil War memorial, Grandpa looked at the traveler and said, “We did the same once, the same that Ukraine is doing now. Man is a beast.”

They drove a few seconds more and came to the cemetery. Aarne showed them the spots of his parents and two siblings who died young. That section of the cemetery was not as well kept as the other sections. This was noted. The calm air rustled the trees and swept small white mountains around the face of the sun.

The group arrived at a location near the lake with oddly place houses and patios, and statues. The statues were made by Aarne’s friend who passed away. A giant brown statue of President Urho Kekkonen stood 20 feet tall. Mozart, Verdi, Sibelius, and the sculptor were depicted as beautiful white busts. Aarne was in the process of cleaning them up and preparing his departed friend’s work for exhibition.


After removing their shoes they entered cottage. It smelt of aged wood and relaxation, the type of symphonic odor that children find strange for its restfulness, but older people find comforting for its vivaciousness. Country side homes that have accommodated a generation or two all possess this homegrown smell. When they entered the kitchen, Aarne’s brother Hannu was stirring a stove pot filled with blueberries. He was making jam, and behind him was 10 or so mason jars that he had already completed. The scent was subtle, yet sweet.

While they sat and chatted, Kaarina came in. Her smile was broad as the brim of her hat. Her hands were uplifted and she shouted, “Hyvää Paivää, Tervetuloa, Welcome, A wonderful day! I was just picking more blueberries in the garden.” Her eyes were blue and warm. She shot the traveler a hand and sat down, ready to hear the news and happenings. She had lived in Sweden for 20 years doing banking of some sort, but now lived in Helsinki. And here she was now, enjoying the end days of her vacation. The traveler was heartened to see the glee of such a fine person, and though still in his youth, envied her energy. And he remembered George MacDonald, “Old age means strength and beauty and mirth and courage and clear eyes.”

Joona and the traveler left the others and went out to drive to some choice locations: a riverside where horses still drank and Joona used to fish. A country museum of old buildings from the region’s past. A dock where a boat was once stolen. A sharp bend in the road where a winter crash caused a terrible death. A regular grocery store, but the traveler had never stepped into this particular candy aisle before.


The most important of the stops was to Joona’s aunts’ house. Aunt Paula was staying her vacation from Helsinki with Aunt Sirpa. When Joona and the traveler pulled up the two of them were sitting on the porch rocking back and forth. At their feet were two five-gallon jugs of blueberries. “We picked those; you can eat some,” they said. Conversation coursed through current affairs in each person’s life. The aunts invited the boys inside. They asked the traveler to show them his home city on the map; they talked about his home politics and war. Then they talked more about Finnish. Easy parts of conversation switched languages back and forth depending on how much the traveler could grasp. Joona translated for the traveler and for Aunt Sirpa. Discussion turned to Aunt Paula’s many excellent travels past and future.

They retreated from the living room to the dining room for coffee, a slice of blueberry pie, and a little scoop of ice cream. The traveler sat between the aunts who started to imitate the Savo dialect of Finnish. They contorted their faces and sounded like yokels. As they laughed the traveler thought about how the aunts may have been in their youth, when they live and act as happy youth even now, now in their summer vacation.

The savory blueberry pie broke apart in the mouth, the berries danced on the taste buds, and the ice cream turned around and around with the coffee in a harmonious Yin and Yang.


The two young men returned to the cottage and threw an American football for a while. They ran routes, became tired, and the traveler kicked back in a hammock while Joona played basketball. Dinner time came. And a beautiful spread it was. Pea soup, salad, and ruisleipää. Desert would be pancake from the oven, topped with blueberry jam and mallow.

As the five of them ate desert, they watched the European summer sport championships. A Finnish girl, a favorite going in to the race, did not win a medal. She was very broken up. “Sorry Finland,” she said. But Finland came back with glory in the javelin throws. They dominated the competition, taking first, second, and fourth place. For a minute it looked like Finland would win all three medals, and so when they won just the two, disappointment lingered in the air momentarily. The first place winner sensed the situation and pumped his fists, reminding everyone that it was still a big and most excellent victory.

Aarne wanted to know if the traveler knew any good jokes. Unfortunately story jokes were not the traveler’s strength. He only came up with two jokes. However, grandpa brought out a few jokes he learned in Russia. The guys then prepared for sauna. They equipped their feet with crocks and walked toward the lakeside. They placed sausages in a pan over the hot sauna rocks and added a little more wood to the stove. They sat in the heat and grandpa then told more jokes. These ones were Finnish jokes about Russians. Funny, lewd, and short, they were hilarious.

They went out into the cool lake water. It was formerly the third largest lake in Finland, but it shrank. The sky was bursting with clouds of different sorts, struck by the lingering sun from a thousand different angles; light split into a thousand different shades. Knee deep in the cool water the traveler stood looking out. Then he turned, took the soap and shampoo from Hannu and cleaned himself. And thus he took the most peaceful bath in the world before returning to the sauna.

Neither Libraries, Nor Pictures

One day I’ll finish the post about Kuopio’s library, but not yet. One day I’ll post my favorite pictures of Kuopio. Today I am in Kajaani, a town 2.5 hrs north of Kuopio. It is smaller than any town yet. From the balcony of my new host, Samu, I can see an art deco clocktower on the other side of the river. It reminds me of the States. The architectural battles here are waged between traditional wooden structures whose beauty is unquestionable and the terrors of the 70’s and 80’s during which time they replaced the expressive architecture from the beginning of the century with functionalist messes. Contemporary constructions seems to have found an acceptable niche of good style within the modernist trend. But I do not know enough about architecture to speak more precisely about what this entails (besides wonderfully large windows!).

In any case, my days with Teemu were filled with Jazz, both of his compositions and excellent stuff he showed me. I took a bus to Kajaani yesterday; it is all part of my effort to trek north. I’ll be here one more day, then cross the country to Oulu.

Samu is a freelance photographer. Today he showed me bakery Pekka Heikkinen, the best in Finland. It has been owned and run by the family of the Heikkinen name for over 100 years. As we walked up to it, a baker was sitting outside. He popped up, asked if we wanted coffee and instead of asking generally if we wanted anything else, he said to me directly, “Do you want a fish sandwich too?” Salmon, cold smoked for five days with fresh sea salt, tomato, lettuce, and a little relish. The salmon was caught by a friend of his, the bread was made by him. Pictures of the family history lined the walls, and crisp sunlight poured on us as we sat in the summertime outdoor seating. Summer however is about over here. The air smells autumnal.

Candy and Cream

Teemu anchors me now. He is a young jazz musician and composer who just finished his studies at the Helsinki conservatory. He just started taxi driving this week to pay his bills. He suggested immediately that we drop my stuff off and go swimming. His apartment is situated near the harbor. Like most apartment complexes there are a few benches and a firepit outside. The apartment has a kitchen and bathroom that are shared between the two electronically locked bedrooms. One room is his roommate’s whom he has not seen in a month or so. The other is his. He warned me that if I leave the bedroom and shut the door behind me without the key, there will be no way to get back in. Everything required the swipe key. If I didn’t keep it with me at all times, I could lock myself into a bad situation. But the accommodation was great. I had a desk.

His girlfriend Valpuri picked us up and we went to a remote beach outside of town. On our way in the car, her dad chanced to pull up next to us at an intersection. He was on a motorcycle, sported a short grey beard, and exchanged some quick words and a snorted laugh before speeding off. “My dad is like the bohemian of the family; and my mom is the academic. I’m surprised they are together,” Valpuri said. I enjoyed the thought of her mom’s mind finding respite in a bit of an eccentric, who collects instruments without playing them and sets them around the living room like art pieces against his wife’s wishes. Teemu bewailed that her dad never let anyone else talk in conversation. But his barley beer gut and story-telling persona I later found to be good companions in the sauna.

We relived childhood pool games, holding our breaths and skipping stones and such. The water was warm when in it, but out of it there is only one choice: dry off quickly. We drove back to the city and went to Sampo Muikkuravintola for traditional Savo food. I ate muikkut, which are little white fishes from the nearby lakes, served with potatoes, cucumber, tomatoes, and catsup. We sat and talked. I gave an introduction to Plato’s Apology. Teemu told about his musical work. Valpuri presented some interesting facts about the region and the local dialect. For example, in this region people add syllables instead of taking them away. That type of development adds character, flavor, and sometimes even meaning. The slang and faster style of Helsinki she finds monumentally boring.

Later we entered the forest, found some blueberries. At first there was brush and trees of different types. The air was fair and open as the trees turned to tall spruces. Then our path ran into a deep line of heavy pine trees. The density of the pine forest and smell was Grimm, but we came out upon one of the thousand, thousand wind shelters that pepper the forests of the northland. They overlook good spots, have a firepit, and sometimes split wood left by the previous people out of courtesy. We sat quietly.

Everything becomes different

A day later when Teemu was out at work. Valpuri suggested that I become more sophisticated and learn about Finnish candy and chocolate. “You can tell a lot about a people by their candy.” I agreed on the condition that we give fun reviews to each piece. With candy and a coffee we sat out. I gave reviews, “This is one is like a young pony. Like licorice that wants to grow up to be caramel. This one was born an old lady – the Benjamin Button of candy. Here, a mint in metamorphosis.” The Karl Fazer Raspberry Yoghurt with Milk Chocolate reigned Lord of Tasty Town. Very rich, something to take one bite of every 15 minutes. I ate more candy, than I had in many years. I don’t know what I learned about Finland through candy. All my analogies involve age, so it follows that Finland is young and energetic, and has the fear of growing old, or becoming something hän (gender inclusive) is not, or not liking who hän is; namely, all the feelings of potential and anxiety that we feel when young, energetic, and slightly cynical are found in their candy. Or is it as simple as saying that licorice is popular?

The next day Teemu had to teach me about ice cream. He demanded, quite against my inclinations, that I try licorice ice cream. I expressed concern that no one on earth truly likes licorice. They like that it is a different flavor; they come to prefer it or crave it because of its uniqueness on the palette, but they deceive themselves to say they actually like it.

Aino Double Cream Licorice Ice Cream makes most other ice cream look like freezer burned sherbet. A type of soft licorice is blended into the thick fatty ice cream. It is really something else. It transcends all expectations and has altered my ice cream outlook permanently.