Tuesday, 31 July 2007

If you can stand the heat...

I write this from the wonderful and much-better-than-it-sounds Hotel Krapi

Sometimes people say to me, "what should one do when visiting Finland." I look at them with a a wise and knowing expression and I tell them that there are in fact precisely two things you should do when you are in Finland. Yesterday I did both of them.

The first and best thing that you should enjoy on any visit to this country, in fact the greatest contribution that the Finnish people have made to the world (and this includes Salmiaki) is of course Sauna. Now, I'm not talking about an electric sauna hear as mildly pleasant as it might be. It has to be heated by a wood-burning stove. And preferably within running naked distance from the sea or a lake. Smoke-saunas are in a league of their own but being British, anything that involves real flames does it for me.

Last night we went with Kaarina's cousin Petri to his minimöki on Lammassaari or "Sheep Island" which is strangely enough not an island and is right in the middle of Helsinki. You walk some distance accross what was once perhaps sea and is now a swamp (or suo) on a raised wooden path (I think we call these "duckboards" in English". Then you come to a charming community of tiny, but perfectly formed, red cottages. No running water, electricity and shared compost toilets.

And after our salmontrout barbeque, Petri and I, leaving Kaarina to read comics, walked through the rain to the communal sauna. Two gentleman, rather the worse for drink were just leaving and in fact left their saussages cooking on the stones. But we had a marvellous sauna...Petri does like it hot and poured ladle after ladle of water on the stones until I could take no more and ran through the falling rain into the murky sea.

Above the door was a sign which roughly translated, read...

When the organs* of the sauna play
One forgets all one´s worries and sorrows

And how very true this is. There is no anxiety, no nagging niggle that can´t be sweated out and washed away after an hour spent with good company in the sauna.

The second thing which I had done earlier is to experience the attentions of a Finnish massage therapists. Don´t expect a flakey aromatherpy dusting down, if you've got an aching muscle, prepared to have it punished a bit. But these people really know their stuff and you come out feeling like you´ve just slept for a week. In fact yesterday afternoon, I did actually sleep through most of it. A pity really because, to me, being kneaded by an expert is possibly the most relaxing and pleasurable thing I know.

(* As in church organs. Stop sniggering at the back.)

Monday, 30 July 2007

Richard Long, eat your heart out

I kind of like the fuzzy definition on this photo created by use of a cheap mobile phone camera -- I could almost have got away with telling you that this is a photo of an oil painting.

But it's not. It is a piece of land art created at the Island. The sticks of course represent the paradoxical juxtaposition of the Finnish love of nature with the upward and onward march of innovation and technology (think Benecol, Nokia). However what actually matters is not the solid surfaces but the voidity of the empty space, a pyramid or cone of nothingness, the heart of non-being. Later I placed a feather at the apex of the structure, which, encapsulating the transience of successive economic and political systems, blew away in the wind, the winds of change. Loose change.

Change that is as a good as a rest. And you'll be glad to hear that I'm going to give it one.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Island Life

Just slipped into Uusikaupunki library for a 15 minute slot. We're out on the island where Kaarina's family have their kesamöki (summer-cottage). Weather variable but it's so, so, so wonderful to be there. Just to sit on the seat outside the sauna, sipping Sandells beer after a cool dip to rinse away twelvemonths city grime sweated out by steaming my body 100 degree heat feels like all is well with the world. Like coming home.

Between saunas, have been eating, reading (Aristotle, Mika Walteri's The Egyptian Stenibeck's Tortilla Flat) and even sleeping. It never stops.

Brought a new jar of Marmite with me which as everybody knows creates (when eaten) a body odour which repels mosquitos. However, there´s little need as the cool, windy weather seems to have reduced their numbers. Still, can´t be too careful.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Responding to feedback

As we enter this new era of interactivity in a competitive customer focused environment, we are now missioning to ensure that our visitors enjoy an enhanced blog-reading experience.

For example,

* You said you wanted more pictures of trains...

* You said you wanted less PHILOSOPH

and so we've cut it by 10 per cent.

* You said you wanted 8 interesting tag facts about East of Dulwich -- hey, look we're working on it. Milton Keynes wasn't built in a day, you know. And we still have to carry out a thorough risk assessment, impact assessment, public consultation...

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Smells like teen spirit

It's good to be back in Helsinki. Today was a perfect day, azure sky with a little nip in the air to keep you from feeling too hot. Only problem is there is something else in the air which is not at all pleasant. While England is beset by flash-flooding, Helsinki is struck by a disaster of a different sort, a rather unpleasant smell. It seems to be mainly located on the main thoroughfare going by the name of Esplanadi but we also noticed it in the little park opposite the flat we're staying in. It's a kind of acrid smell like a mixture of drains and dirty socks left under a student's bed for three terms.

But, its source remains a mystery. Rumours abound. Some say it has something to do with all the major works that have lately taken place. Perhaps they have dug up some centuries old burial ground. Others claim that there is some form of freak insect manifestation in the trees, what a friend of Kaarina's charmingly termed "fleas".

But fleas aside, this is still a lovely city to pass a few days in July. Emptied out as its inhabitants head to the islands, lakes and forests to their "kesämökki" or summercottage, those that remain, to water the plants and feed the cats presumably have an air of cheerful relaxedness. And what could be better than enjoying a Finlandia Vodka and Cranberry Juice or a white wine spritzer at a bar by the water's edge?

Helsinki sunshine
khaki green water sprinkled
with flashes of light.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Welcome, Bienvenue, Tervetuloa!

If you've followed me here from the former bl@g site East of Dulwich, well I admire your tenacity. If you scroll back (or should that be down) you'll find that there's a whole load of stuff you've missed.

But here I am at waterlogged Heathrow Terminal 1 waiting for a delayed flight to the fair city of Helsinki. The picture shows the crates put out to catch the water dripping throught the ceiling.

For those who have followed me from the early days (Hello Mum!), this will be a kind of nostalgic return to the former glory of the blog I kept during my three month sojourn back in 2004...when most people thought that a blog was a form of footwear, or the Yorkshire pronunciation of "black".

If you’re heading to an airport this weekend, pack a thick book (although you can buy them there from a limited selection at W H Smith). You’ll be standing in queues and doing lots of waiting around, well even more than usual. Kaarina suggested on the way over that in the fast moving society that we’ve grown so used to, this kind of delay and inconvenience is really going to make Climate Change hurt the rich North as well as the poor South. But I think that the need to maintain economic confidence, not to mention the degree of optimism that marketing people have to foster in order to expand sales, will always ensure that the Planet’s better-offs will find a way to ignore reality.

If consumption is causing climate chaos, the only thing to do to numb the pain is…consume more!