A New Family

My last hosts were Janne and his wife Jennifer. Janne is from Kuopio, and Jennifer is from the Phillipines. They met for the first time in Singapore and started a relationship in Dubai. She is an accountant; he is a physicist. They have their first baby on the way. Her bright-eyed and casual conversational style was familiar. Janne’s quietness was more traditionally “Finnish” and perhaps even especially so since he is from the Savo region, a region whose stereotype consists in non-committal answers, sneakiness, and non-confrontation. With them, I had more time to myself, and it allowed me to decompress.

They were such graceful hosts. When I found their apartment, they offered me to join them for salmon. And a great dinner it was. Janne is the cook of the home, and Jennifer is quite proud of his kitchen skills. In the evening, we quietly played a boardgame called Carcasonne. In that game Janne suggested I place a tile to get myself a few points, but he tricked me into getting him 18 points putting him in the lead. Of the few words said during the game, one of them was a devious plot! “Very Savonian,” I thought. The next day, I had time to read and write and travel around the city. I found a used bookstore, the library, a lot of coffee (since there is a pot of coffee ready in every shop, stand, and kiosk in Finland), but no post office.

That night Janne introduced me to Belgian beer. It was quite a nice respite from the Finnish beers, which are generally unexciting replicas of Miller and Miller Light. Karhu, Karjala, and Koff (Koff being nearly a Busch) are fine when cold. But they tend to be too warm, even out of the bar fridge. These two Trappist Belgian beers that Janne shared were smooth malt ales, dark and cool and ashy. We drank for the taste and sat outside on the porch watching the sun “set” behind the clouds. Jennifer has not liked the smell of beer since she became pregnant, and laughingly bemoaned Janne having a buddy to sip with.

Due to Finnish tax laws it is an increasingly common practice to order beer from Europe or take the ferry to and from Estonia with a cart full of beer. Already, I have met people who have brought beer from Estonia, ordered it from Germany or Belgium, or interrogated me about American drinking costs. Janne does not interrogate, he just appreciates good beer.

I couldn't tell if it was tension sometimes.

I want you to think they always wear pajama pants.

One of the things I find enjoyable in Finnish conversation is how every couple is planning their next trip.There is the biking tour around the Åland Islands (150-200 km), the driving tour to Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium (31hrs), the city-to-city bus and train routes around Budapest, Prague, and Vienna. Since people love to travel out of Finland, they are happy to host guests for a night or two in Finland. I think that is what makes the two-night hosting program work so well. It’s an economy of xenia.

Final note: Jennifer and Janne are smoothie and berry enthusiasts. Delicious fresh fruits.

Kuopio Heat

It is hot here in Kuopio. Lakes surround the entire city. If one feels real sultry, one can jump in a clear, refreshing lake. Unlike the sea, which has it’s own allure, the pure saltless blue of the lakes makes you feel purified. People here and there punctuate the pristine beauty of pine trees and blue waters. A few girls stroll along the lakeside path paying no attention to what else. A dad sits on steps with his two bright eyed toddlers who smear ice cream over each other’s faces. A group of guys stand at one spot talking for 30 minutes, then move to a new spot 50 meters away. Ladies on break strut quickly. The elderly inch their way. Bicycles whizz past. Drinkers sit around on the ground, derelict.

The problem with all this warm summer idleness is my packing arrangements. I have one rule in this matter: if there is more than I can carry on my own, it’s more than I need. It is time I send some gear back to the states.

The exciting thing about being rid of excess clothes is the newfound room for books. Today I found a used book store and purchased a very nice Suomi – Englanti dictionary and a Finnish Donald Duck (Aku Ankan) comic book. Colorful language, dialogue form, and short sentences, make this book a hit with me. Most of the stories include Scrooge, too! I drank coffee at a table in the shade and worked my way through the first 5 pages as the strollers, cyclists, loiterers went by.

At one point, two construction workers came over and almost made eye contact as they took chairs from my table so they could sit a bit aways and smoke. I made the “you’re good to take ’em” American hand-gesture with my pointer finger, but I doubt they saw it. They didn’t need permission anyway.

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Although, I moved the table once to escape the blazing sun, it caught me again. That was my signal to wander elsewhere.