Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Medieval Town Underground

My final post from Finland entails a little train trip my mom and I took on my last weekend there. Her best childhood friend lives in the historic city of Turku, where my cousin too has recently moved.
Fly the flag
It's always nice to visit here, not just because the city itself is a beautiful, old and accessible, but because my mom's friend Eira has a separate little apartment that we get to stay in. Being the consummate hostess and seamstress she always gifts my mom with a brand new hand-made wardrobe. Her creations are so amazing to see and I wish I had a picture of the fashion show those two put on this time.
Like Helsinki, Turku also has some amazing architecture, particularly old wooden and stone buildings. The city has a history longer than Helsinki's (at least as a city), records of it go all the way back to medieval times. It seems that each time they build something new, they discover something very old.
The house we stayed in is only last century, but rather stately in design. Both my mom and I adore the art deco period, which while flowery in many ways, was very elegant in buildings. In Finland it seems that a lot of the motifs from that era were inspired by our own folklore and early culture, which adds a lovely twist to the many architectural details.

And onether
There are charming details everywhere, and the city, which will be the European Cultural Capital nect year, has embraced its long history by bringing many pieces of it to our time. Witness the beautiful "graffiti" beneath.
en tat
Swish, swish you're dead
Take thee to the nunnery
The devil may care
I particularly like the appropriation of the electrical boxes, painting (or even stickering) on which has generally been heavily penalized, making many Finnish cities, including Helsinki, very hostile to street art.

Dancing bad
We experienced the medieval times for ourselves at the museum of modern art, in Rettingin Palatsi, the former abode of a wealthy nineteenth-century industrialist. When a foundation donated the beautiful riverside house to become a museum, the re-fitting process uncovered some medieval cellars beneath it, and the plans had to be revised in a rather ingenious manner. Today the museum has modern art exhibits on its two top levels, with pieces of the original Von Retting furniture and decor showing here and there in unexpected places, and a historical exhibit underground.
We took a tour of the medieval cellars, from which tens of thousands of pieces of medieval life continue to be found. Like these two dogs on the side of a main street of 1000-century Turku.
Dog eat dog world
You are here.
Wondering trough these thousand year-old abodes and alleyways was rather magical. One definitely became overcome by a feeling of absolute reality of life there, that history is not just one great battle after another, or the castle high court (Turku also has a lovely castle that I hope to take my stone mason husband to see some day.), but the everyday existence of people not very different from us who are here now. You could sense how people had lived and loved and died and bickered and lusted and danced and forgot there.
Among the items found in the cellars is an instrument that might just fulfill my musical yearnings. I reckon I'm gonna learn to play the pocket fiddle. It's adorable.
Pocket Fiddle
Next up was music indeed, but since some of you still come to this here log at least in part, because of my uncanny fashion sense (haha.) I though I would show you what I wore on my adventure to Turku, and pretty much every day since our visit to Valtteri fleamarket. I scored this sweet skirt for like two euros and wore it each day with a tee, my trusty cardi, some two euro winter shoes and my new feather hair clip from here. Here you're also treated to some views of my favorite library, in which I've spent countless hours reading, thinking, and idly gazing over the roofs of Helsinki.
Naked ladies
On Saturday night, mom and I headed, me in my flowery skirt and she in her new Eira-made wardrobe to Bar Kuka, to hear my talented and beautiful friend Kanerva play for the second time in a week. To my delighted surprised playing at the same venue was a band of dashing young men already recommended to me by Kristiina. The Antti Autio Trio are a band of boys who seem to be barely out of high school, but having graduated with finely honed musical skills and a wonderful lyrical sensibility. Finland is sure to hear more from these guys.

Boys in the band talk to girl in the band
My mom enjoyed both shows and stayed up late in a noisy bar full of young folks like a trooper. Growing up, she knew both Kanerva's mom and auntie from school, and was delighted that we two have become friends. Though she didn't grow up in my hometown, Kanerva's grandfather was something of a legend in its small circles; the handsome Danish gardener that my grandmother remembered from the days my grandpa ran a local meat-factory. Interestingly enough Kanerva has a very different view on my hometown than I did. She remembers it as a beautiful summer place where she used to go visit her grandma.

It was such a pleasure to hear Kanerva play again, albeit without her marvelous "Electric Boyband" (no really that's what they call themselves). I'm sure there's a couple of record company executives out there waiting with poised pens for her to come along and make them an awesome record and personally I'd rather that was sooner than later, because I'm sick of trying to listen to her on myspace with my terrible internets interrupting every couple of minutes.
Soita minulle
I wish I could have found you a video clip of her song "Kalalaulu" (The Fish Song), which is my favorite, but this one is just as good, so it will have to do.

I think if I was ever to live in Finland again, I would choose Turku, for its beautiful buildings, its laid-back atmosphere, the wise, old feel, and the river that cuts trough it and gives it a certain cosmopolitan character. Or at least I might like to live on one of islands of the surrounding archipelago. Perhaps it is the family history that draws me to it. My grandmother grew up there, spending her summers on those Islands. Go figure...
Ps. Don't you think that the title of this post would make an excellent Gogol Bordello song?


  1. great, more fuel to add to my Europe envy fire :) I am taking notes and one day when I get to visit Finland I will remember your recommendations for Turku. I love medieval architecture if not for how insignificant it makes you feel (in the good way) in the grand scope of history.

  2. Those photos of the city, both the sweeping view and the minutiae....I think if I were ever to live in Finland, it would be in Turku, too :)

    I had noticed your hair clip in a previous post, so now I am off to see where "there" is.

  3. Turku looks awesome. I need to travel somewhere, it's been way too long, and this post has only added to my wanderlust!

    p.s. I think you playing the pocket fiddle is just about the cutest musical scenario I can imagine.

  4. that underground world is so haunting with dog skeletons and ghosts in crumbling old rocks, wow. that place is chillingly beautiful, kind of like the ruins i visited of the ancient ones in their cliff dwellings. i love stopping to think how a day would unfold.

    and that street art, so glorious...the dancing couple with the devil is amazing!

    oh and i love kanerva's voice and style, how fun to party with your mama and rock out all night. what a trip. thank you for showing us so much magic.

  5. i've skipped around this post for a good half hour, sparking a curiosity in finland. for now i'll have to get my scandinavian fix at the swedish christmas fair...

  6. I love those murals and the library too, of course. Would both be great places to visit :) The scarf and feather clip are wonderful too. Have enjoyed this sequence of Finnish travel posts.

  7. Lovely photos! What a fun trip. I've never been to Europe. In fact the only places I've been outside of the US are Canada & Mexico. I'm such a cat. Would prefer to sleep in the same spot each day, I suppose. ;)