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?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The White Swans, Crows And Architecture In Helsinki

Boy did we have some weather the past few days. Snow, gale-force winds, trees falling everywhere and our little boat tugging its ropes ready to flee. Of course our internets never work if there's any kind of weather, so I'm a little late on post mark two of Finland.

When I returned to Helsinki, Kristiina and I promptly embarked upon an epic weekend, trying to cram as many favorite things into as short a time as possible. This is another weird thing about being a tourist in your own town, the need to experience all your memories again, to make them anew, even though you remember each place perfectly.

On Friday we went with a bunch of friends to see my friend Kanerva play some music, then slept in on Saturday and went for a sunset (you know around 3.30 PM) walk to Seurasaari, an Island with a little foot bridge, that serves as a museum are with all kinds of different old-style Finnish buildings.
Things I love about Finland 1. The crows, which are bigger and grey and black, and which we call Varis. They are a clever, beautiful bird, just like their American kin that populate the forest we live in.

In the summer the island is alive with people dressed in national costumes, guides and craftsmen, but in the winter it looks quite eerie. Another thing to love about the old country, is just that, it's old, with so much history still alive in it. Of all the places I remembered perfectly, Seurasaari was definitely one to see again.
These are my two favorite houses in Seurasaari. They remind me of Babayaga's chickenlegged house. Russian fairytales were a big part of my childhood, and the ones featuring Babayaga and Vasilisa were my favorite. I even directed a play of that particular tale in 5th grade, my first production.
Wood houses from the trees
Tree life

Swan Handler
That night, after the walk we went and had thai-food (my favorite!), a giant banana split and a movie. Epic treats for an island girl. The film we saw was Mr. Nobody, of which I'm still of two minds; it was either brilliant, or complete and utter rubbish. This in itself is quite interesting, n'est pas?
On sunday we got up early to go shopping at my favorite flea market. There are two amazing flea market in Helsinki, Valtteri which is indoors and Hietaniemi, which is an outdoor summer market. I made tons of great finds I will be sharing with you guys, including yet another national costume (trying to catch up with Kristiina). I also stockpiled Marimekko, Russian scarves and other hard to find bits and bobs.
Next up was brunch, which proved to be very hard to find, but rewarding in the end. Helsinki is full of great bars and cafes. Unfortunately, it's also full hipsters who populate them.
Break fast
Is there anything nicer after a good meal, than taking a wood sauna and a swim in a 82-year old art deco swimming hall, where you hang out naked with other women and get your own little boudoir to lounge about in (they also have food and drinks)? I think not.
Pictures are scarce since its all nude, but let me tell you it's absolutely lovely.
I dare say it was the perfect weekend in Helsinki. Other high lights included spending time with friends and my god son, who's hilarious and adorable and visiting familiar places like Hakaniemi market hall where I've been shopping since I was a wee tyke.
My mom used to buy a lot of my new clothes from this upstairs Marimekko reject store. The prices on things I wanted were a mite too steep, though. I like to get my designer goods second hand, thanks. Still, it doesn't hurt to look.
MekkoCandy and fruit
Finland has the most amazing baked goods, in my humble opinion. I ate so much pulla on this trip I thought I was gonna balloon up like a whale (I didn't though, whaddya know.). My favorite kind has lingon berries and a kind of sour cream custard (fins also rock the whole milk product scene) (these are two categories of food definitely not good for people). There's also the cinnamon roll kind, the blueberry kind, the creamy kind, the kind you eat on National Sledding Day...ya know.
Kristiina and I even made our own.
Classic pulla and cinnamon rolls.

Here's a basic recipe, in case you got the urge to make some:

3 teaspoons of active yeast
2 1/2 cups of milk
2 tablespoons of cardamom (ground)
1 very soft stick of butter
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup sugar
7 1/2 cups of the whitest flour you can find (i.e wheat)
2 eggs (on for brushing the pulla)

bring the milk to a temperature where it steams
but you can still stick your finger in it comfortably

mix in the yeast

add the egg and stir well

mix the dry ingredients together then add
slowly to the wet (when working with yeast
always use a wooden utensil)
when it gets thick enough you need to start
kneading with your bare hands, knead until
dough comes off hand easily.
If you need more flour, by all means.

Add the butter

Leave in a warm place to rise under a clean cloth

make into little buns or cinnamon rolls
(you'll need to roll the dough out into a rectangle,
spread more butter on it, sprinkle cinnamon and sugar
on top and then roll it up from long end to the other
and cut little triangles out of the roll put extra sugar
on top and press down in the middle)
you can also make little pies out of the d
ough filled with berries or apples

let your creations rise under a cloth again

brush with egg

bake slowly (15-20 minutes) at about 350
if you have a gas oven,
or at 400 for 10 minutes if you have electric
basically until they're nice golden brown.

Eat with a nice cold glass of milks or a hot cup of coffee. Yum.