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Monday, July 31, 2006

Just a little one

I can feel the masses at the library breathing down my neck so this will have to be quick. Nobody knows passive aggression better than the Finns, let me tell you.

Three a.m. and I'm fast asleep and into bed crawls Chris. Oh he's been writing away and loving it. The sound of the keyboard permeates the cottage. I can almost smell his excitement.

After many weeks of the nonstop family tour de force, we have returned to our forest haven. Hot saunas, cold lake, and the wind in the trees. Sometimes I don't bother with the radio or anything else, I just listen to the air, the fire in the stove heating the cottage, and, yes, Chris typing away.

I had my first radio interview this morning. They had sent me a general outline of what I would be asked. I spent time yesterday preparing my answers a bit. I didn't want to just be all over the map. Instead it was the interviewer who was all over the map and our discussion was, well, more or less idle chit chat. We'll see how the rest of the week turns out.

Two things that have interested me as of late: 1- what is the line between fairly warning someone or preparing them to think negatively? and 2- enjoying local news which includes new people in an area.

With respect to the former, I feel like well intentioned friends and relatives have meant to prepare me for some sort of negative experience by telling me about how terrible something will be. Like Russia being dangerous, the neighbour lady being a bit of a megalomaniac, like the art show being bad. I've been thinking about this because I wonder if in fact I would have found the neighbour lady so offensive or the art so bad if I hadn't been warned in advance. I would like to think that I will have a great time as we go into Russia.

And with respect to news, we've been following Finland's response to Israel attacking Lebanon and I feel frustrated and overwhelmed and totally unable to do much about it. But then the local radio, the same station that interviewed me, talks of the water levels being down in the area because of the very dry summer and how the local logging companies are having to rejig their loads as they float them down the lakes. For some reason I prefer the local news. I like to know that therre is a track meet or an arts festival or that the local airport has seen a 10% increase in business. Somehow this news seems more manageable and more, well, reachable. In the end, I can't do anything about the water levels either, but maybe if I really wanted, I could do something about the airplanes or support the art or whatever. Would I ever be the subject of national news? Hardly. But for the local radio, I'm subject enough to be interviewed for a week. I like this because I have no thoughts to being particularly important myself yet it's still fun to share ideas and stories and all the rest.

Hope everyone out there is well. I'm thinking of you all and excited whenever you post comments or email.

Much love, then. Miia

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Last Leg of a Pitka Matka

July 20, 2006

It looks like we didn’t get those grants to do the work in Ghana, which means we’ll have to find our own means to do so. The upside is that it gives us more freedom and flexibility in choosing this new direction. We have secured a place to live in Accra, the capital, which is very exciting. The place was recommended by Miia’s wonderful friend, David Firang, who is from Ghana and is completing his Ph.D. at University of Toronto. He has been a huge help in connecting us with local projects, people, organizations, and now, accommodations. The lack of funding also forces my mind to the future, to new work, and away from old work, which admittedly is an effort. The work I did was my baby; I was given little more than ideas and built a project from it that served hundreds of people with something valuable at no cost to them. Now it is taking off and there are four full-time staff where once there was just me. It’s going in new and amazing directions. It feels good to know that what I started will continue to flourish. Yet it is hard to be a sideline observer, especially when this particular sideline is so very far away. When we first left Toronto I didn’t think about it much, but now I do. Time to move on, time to think about what to do in Africa.

Fortunately Ben Peterson, ED of Journalists for Human Rights, expressed interest in helping me get connected to Ghanaian media and human rights networks dealing with immigration and emigration issues. I’m now reading a short book on international human migration that is bringing my brain back to these issues (maybe that’s why I’m thinking about the work I did in Toronto?). I have so many story ideas and I hope it’s mainly a matter of interviewing as many people as possible who have opinions and experience with these issues, framing the issues that interest me, writing the stories, and pitching them to Canadian and international media through my current and future contacts. Of course it’s never that simple, especially when working outside one’s home country, in an unfamiliar culture. It will take time and effort and a huge amount of patience, and as before my inspiration will be the many amazing newcomers I worked with in Canada.

July 25, 2006

The scenery is gorgeous from Marjaana’s apartment, which is a short bus ride into downtown Helsinki yet close enough to the cows to smell them. Marjaana has been so kind as to let us stay here, and to take very good care of us, until our Russian visas come in later this week. The goats are out back and Marjaana took us to feed them delicious dandelions while a horse whinnied harshly from the other direction. There is a small swimming pond spitting distance from the back deck. The fields are a day-glow neon green that almost burns the retina stepping off the cool of the silent bus. Our fellow passengers stare at them that dare speak such brazen English in public. I take so many pictures that patient Miia has to beg for the camera and I give her the hawk-eye while she uses it, waiting for my turn to come round again. Everything is so lush, exotic, new, and excites my eyes. Yet I find time to read more voraciously than usual, to write more often. “Funny this need you have to document everything,” Miia observes, coy in her astuteness. I don’t trust my memory, and I want mnemonic assistance, including the kind that reminds me that a tupakka day habit refers to the Finnish word for smoking. My vocab must be over a hundred words by now, not including the 300 English queues that help me remember.

July 26, 2006

Miia’s Finnish star keeps rising. She got a call the other day from a woman who said, “I saw your picture in the paper.”

“Beautiful, isn’t it!” Miia answered, totally unaware that she was talking to the morning show host of a national radio program. The host was charmed of course, and next Miia will be interviewed every morning at 7:30 am.

“Just don’t ever ask me what I’m doing,” Miia advised her. “The answer will always be the same: laying in bed.”

I’m hanging on for the ride, and will be one of the 5 topics of conversation, somewhere between Miia’s philosophy of life and her motivation for giving free English lessons in the little town of Kerimaki.
We had a great night with cousin Anniina and her boyfriend Mikko last night; they treated us to raclette, i.e. fried baked cheese with copious wine. They are a sweet couple, easygoing enough to lend us their hair clipper – just call me jarhead. They showed us pictures of their trips to the far north Norway tundra with its abundance of bird species and to Italy with its ancient wine villages, both phenomenal visual spectacles. We talked about the importance of family bonding post parental guidance, how the atmosphere changes when not oppressed by other enforcers of etiquette. Of course as adults our parents’ corrections stay with us, but some of us come out of our shells. This isn’t to blame the parents’ good intentions but their shadows don’t always allow the young ones to bloom.
“I’m proud to be a liberal…who sees things through. Yes, others call this sort of view ‘extreme liberal.’ Not just disliking being oppressed, but disliking oppressing. And, indeed, more than that: disliking oppression everywhere.” –Ter Haar in Pram Toer’s ‘Child of All Nations’

July 28, 2006 – Hirvenkoski (Moose Rapids) Cottage

Finally on our way back to the Kerimaki cottage, stopped about halfway up to see Miia’s other Paris au pair friend, Viivi, and her mother Eeva. Their summer cottage was built by Viivi’s uncle for his mother many years ago. It’s a whale of an old cottage with caverns of family treasure in its ribs. Even the sauna has room for 30. It needs work though and they are hoping to make that investment as soon as fiscally possible. There is a sprawling garden surrounding the building that provides most of our meals.

We visited Viivi’s father, and his father, and the rest at the graveyard. This is a fine Finnish tradition I was warned about and I really love. It keeps the family connected to their members who join the spirits in the sky, or wherever they may be hiding. Though someone may be dead this tradition keeps them alive and part of the family many years after they’ve gone. It’s not so much about mourning; it really is just a visit, and for the newcomer like me a chance to meet the rest of the family, the ones who no longer live at home. And that tradition, coupled with my mother-in-law's kind gifts of retro 80s basketball duds, is how I've come to know my brother-in-law without meeting him in the flesh.

Lake Reflected, View from the Outhouse, Painting the Porch, Rainstorm at the Cottage while Miia Sleeps

Kerimaki Cemetery - Old Relatives

Kerimaki Church, Reijo looking over Hameenlinna, the Gang (Mika, Sian, Miia, Chris, Liisa, Heli, Kaisa, Antti, Harri), Antti

Saturday, July 22, 2006

3 flowers, Eeva, Mika ya Sian, Heli ya Jaakko, Jaakko moviestar

It's looking good from here

From Helsinki (Miia's post)

Hmph it’s been a long time since I’ve last had a chance to write. Let’s see… where to begin even?

It’s been a month of non-stop non-stop. Never more than three nights in a row in the same bed. The same clothes day in, day out. Always a new kitchen, trying to figure out where things are. Chris and me taking turns reading the map and figuring out where we’re headed. A new set of family members to introduce Chris to, have him explain the premise of his novel, and me trying to explain why we’re even on this long journey and not at home making babies. It’s been powerful and fun and great but also exhausting and even at times hard. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, overstay our welcome, make myself a bother.

But there are highlights.

Learning to weave in Kerimaki and presenting my first gift to my uncle Reijo and his wife Liisa to express my sincere thanks for letting us stay in our cottage paradise. The weaving was somehow very powerful, connecting me with the memory of my grandmother. It also made me think of my mother and the many hours she has spent making rugs, weaving fabrics. Somehow we all appreciate traditional handicrafts in broad strokes, but few us understand the work involved and how, so often, it is women who, in the kitchen, at the loom, with the needle and thread, singing songs to their children or telling the old stories that keep what we call heritage alive.

A good visit with my father and seeing him very happy and very well. Sending text messages back and forth with him while we’re here in Finland… relishing in a very rare communications with my dad.

An overnight stay with my grandmother. Watching her tend the flowers on my grandfather’s grave. Somehow she can no longer brush the lint off his lapel or staighten his tie, but she can trim the grass with scissors, water the soil, and try to control the pests on the flowers. She was somehow so moved that we stayed the extra night, counting herself lucky to be able to sit and talk with Chris through my translation.

The modern art gallery in Helsinki has a beautiful piece with the video of 10 different Colombian peasants singing songs they’ve written themselves about the strife in their own home. It was so powerful listening to their own voices, their creativity, seeing their faces and being witness to their strength and endurance. It was deeply humbling and recentred me.

My aunt called this morning and asked that I write a piece in her book about dealing with grief about my own experiences with my brother’s illness. It was very humbling to be asked and I agreed. Then she said she’d like to sit down with me one day and tell me the family stories. More humility.

Finding my twin cousins Anniina and Marjaana, just 11 months older than me, still somehow kindred spirits in some way, though we haven’t seen each other in years and have grown much over time. I like it and I think they are strong, smart women.

I like how Mika, Sian, Chris and I get along. I’ve learned a lot about Sian, much more than if we just spent time together in Toronto every now and again. She too is amazingly smart, so grounded, and so easy to get along with. I said to her and Mika, and I’ll say it again, she’s the best thing that ever happened to him.

Connecting with my 11-yr old cousin’s daughter Heli. She’s awesome and so interested and interesting. She’s so full of terrific energy and I loved getting a chance to dig up the clay on the bottom of the lake and make sculptures with her.

Finland in the summer, the sunshine, long days, wildflowers, red and white wood buildings, small towns, clean lakes, saunas, hedgehogs… all of it has been so pleasant and so satisfying. Spending time with family, spending time with Chris, reading like crazy and writing letters… We’ve already been off work for two months and life never felt better. As I write this I breathe deeply and think, yes, we’re on our way. Our passports are at the Russian consulate presently, getting the visas for when we go to Russia in less than two months. This time has been incredible and I am thrilled that we are continuing to make our dream come true. Sometimes you lose sight of it because you’re trying to figure out where to get internet connections in cafes or find your way on the bus or where you can get this done or how you can reach friends… But it’s all humdrum and really we’re having the time of our lives. I love the long talks, the long walks, the long days, and the calm to just breathe and be and not hurry or worry.

There is, of course, much more. But here is the start ... or the continuation, I suppose.

More later. Miia

Eeva and Jaakko, Aada and Miia, Harri, Jesus, the Field, and bedtime stories with Aada and Jaakko

Savonlinna Castle, Liisa and Reijo, Lauri and Mirja and the boat, the cousins and gang on our first day in Finland

Old Memories.... Toronto May 27

View from Sauna

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Hi folks, writing from a Helsinki cafe today. We're visiting Miia's aunt Aliisa and it looks like our stay will be extended. We had expected to go to Lapland but our visa for Russa will take a week to process so we're staying put, taking care of visas etc. while here. Lapland will have to wait. Here are recent updates:

July 8, 2006, 12:58 pm, return of the roadkings

The other day at Eeva and Harri’s, while the kids ran amuck on sharp little stones, Eeva’s father whom none of us had known before told us Finnish war stories through Miia’s translation. All his uncles except one died fighting the Russian invasion. Miia explained that Finns still talk about the war; more than their Canadian counterparts of the same generation. Eeva’s father felt this was because the war here was at home, not in some far-off exotica, but right here on Finnish soil. And the per capita death toll rung much higher. “I [or my uncle, or my father] was the only surviving male in the family,” is a common theme to these stories.

The theme runs in Miia’s family too, on both sides. Her father’s father had a bum knee that left him home suffering his own great shame while all his brothers went off to die defending Finland. Her mother’s father was on the frontline until he became the last survivor of four brothers; then they made him a medic and he survived the whole colossal ordeal. He remains a bitter and cruel man in the memories of his children, of whom he was jealous during the war because that is all his wife’s letters spoke of.

These are the kinds of stories we shared in a gazebo go-around over Kosken Korva, true Finnish potato gut-rot that loosened our tongues and hearts and greased the springs of the closet door; out came the ghosts. We dissected the great tragedy of living in family, the deaths and the abuses, the hurtful words and the tensions that are kept inside. I choked up talking of the death of an uncle I never met because the story told by my parents affected me that strongly. Imagine then what it’s like for the Suokonautio clan, who lost their eldest child biggest brother when he was still a very young man. Miia and Mika disagree on the details but two things are clear: by the end he longed for death’s mercy, and he was angry and embittered by what cancer stole from him: his future, everything he ever could have been or done.

Resisting the temptation to dwell on the negative Reijo talked with fondness of Liisa’s family, how when his own father said “I have two kinds of children: good ones and Reijo,” Liisa’s father became his best friend, took him on 100 kilometre hiking trips where they shared a Finnish love of nature’s treasury. “Kylla, luonto on kaunis.”

“Liisa’s family made me human,” he marveled, the way his wife marvels at every individual thing in life with aggregate amazement, at how sometimes the cliché is true and love really can conquer bitterness and anger, if not all. Miia claims that my family has done similar work with her psyche, taken her in as one of her own and esteemed and honoured where others failed to take notice or criticized without reason. And here in Finland, her family has given me so much honour and continued Miia’s work of taking me higher. In our case I think we are not making each human but making each other better humans…human 2.0s.

The profundity ebbed and flowed as the sun too descended then rose and about two bottles in, at around 2 am, Reijo philosophized, “Moments like this aren’t made, they just come.”

Mika responded, “all these heartache stories are why you’ve got to enjoy every thing good in the world at every chance you get, while you still can.”

Miia agreed, but also, “all these heartache stories are why I do the work I do, to try to stop them from happening to other people.”

“Me too,” agreed Mika the schoolteacher, “Thirty kids a year.”
July 9, 2006, 1:23 pm, back in Kerimeki

Finally we’ve returned to our own little hovel, for a few hours anyway before the big opera at the world’s biggest wooden church in a couple hours. Tonight is the world cup final between Italia and Ranska…go France, I guess. All the underdogs have been over’d.

Miia and I wrote a poem in the car that rivals the best in Finnish pop music. Here it is without proper umlats:

Mina rakastan Miiaa
Han on niin kaunis
Hanella ja minulla on hauskaa

Chris on viisas mies
Rakastan hanta paljon
Me ollenme iloisia

Roughly translated, it means [warning, some readers may find this nauseating]:

I love Miia
She is so beautiful
She and I have fun

Chris is a smart man
We are happy

Now, something in English by me:

Suomi, by Risto Matka Suokojamin

Land of 400,000 lakes and as many rules
No need to excuse yourself when in the right
And others in your way are doing it wrong
Linguistic rogues making a go on their own
No need for colonies nor patience either
A refusal to be the colonized too
No outside controlling presence allowed
To take control of birch pine hills
Visitors welcome to the heated saunas
Available on all campsites and homes
Where you may also make camp for a night
As long as you don’t come too close
Or overstay your 1-night welcome
You can have all the sausage you want
Remember to replace what you break
Clean up after yourself so that
Everything is ready for the next guest
If we all respect these Finnish things
Then we can live in peace and harmony
Uninterrupted by the invaders of ages
Who can’t keep it together at home

Not exactly a masterpiece there, but sums up some of my observations on Finnish culture, values, and way of being.

July 14, 2006, 1:27 am

Miia and I agreed to split up our Mika and Sian sitting duties: yesterday I stayed home and wrote, cleaned, and stacked wood while Miia went to see the medieval castle in town with them. Today Miia biked to town and learned to weave, then came home and cleaned and piled wood, while I went to see the Retretin art gallery in the nearby town. Much of the art is installed in an underground series of caves. When we walked down the first sight you see is a slew of illuminated crystals hanging from the stalactites in the shape of a man. Nearby is a woman made of chicken-wire. Visually quite stunning. The primary display was above ground and featured works of the Frenchman Jean Dubuffet, the work of whom resembles my own artistic endeavors most closely. He was the master of using unusual materials to capture the spirit and imagination of the untrained child artist. Also on display were nature scenes by Finland’s own Hugo Simberg. His work reminded me a bit of Canada’s G7 artists. Next up was Finland’s most revered ceramic artist: Anu Pentik. I’m not generally a big ceramics guy but the colours were vibrant. Lastly were a series of prints by a bunch of famous Brits I never heard of. Some of it was good. Seven stages of art in all but the most gorgeous to me was the light displays in the caves, including a time-lapse photography series of a bowl of tomatoes decomposing, and a reverse film of a child’s hands pulling petals from a rose. Reversing the footage gave the appearance that she was in fact creating the rose. And the caves themselves were quite beautiful.

The book is coming along; in terms of quantity I’ve completed three chapters here in Finland, that’s 80 pages, or 24, 408 words. In total I’ve completed 11 chapters and started the 12th, or about 237 pages, 68,000 words. I have 16 chapters planned in total, so all that means I’m about 2/3 of the way toward a first draft. Those first 8 chapters I wrote in Canada took 3 years, much of it hacked out in notepads on the subway or bus. So, the progress here feels good. Quality is another story that others will have to judge. But I think it’s pretty good stuff.

As of tomorrow we’re off to the west side for a week, then down to Helsinki for a week, with Mika and Sian, to visit the dad-side of the family. These are my 2 BIG REASONS for being here: family and the book. It’s not an easy balancing act. The book is work to me and the more I get into it the more ideas I have, the more problems I see that need fixing with it – well it becomes quite the beast and it’s always on my mind. Meanwhile I’m trying to figure out this language thing, which by the way is not as hard as people say but is just very different from English so I’m starting from square zero. The fam, particularly Miia, all seem so impressed if I can string together a few words, really they’re just happy that I’m trying and all they want is to spend time with us, and get to know me. But I don’t feel they are getting the real me because I can’t express my thoughts properly – even through Miia’s translation is not quite right, is not quite natural. And because I need, or want, to work on the book every chance I get it makes it hard to work on Finnish every day. If I was planning on staying here much longer I’d enroll myself in full-time Finnish for Foreigners school. Being an illiterate mute is not fun, especially when it puts you in a position of complete dependency on your partner for the simplest things, like feeding my caffeine addiction. I’m just glad my foot is healing like an X-Man so I can at least do physical things for myself and contribute something in that way (like the afore-mentioned chopping and stacking wood).

All this is to say that I need to keep my patience with the book, and not rush it, be grateful for my progress and the chance to work on it here. However, sometimes I do feel the need to draw those boundaries and say ‘no, can’t come over to visit today, got to work.’ And I feel that I disappoint people that way. When I am away from writing, I need get over my frustration and enjoy Finland’s 24-hour summer and my remarkably hospitable in-laws..

July 17, 2006

This weekend my grandfather turned 90 years old. Every time we leave him after a visit we say “see you next time” and he says something like “you’re coming to see my tombstone are you?” We’re not great fans of this particular joke but you have to admit, making it to 90 is better than most people expect. We’re sad to have missed the barbeque in West Dublin Nova Scotia, but hopefully we’ll be at the next one, and the 95th, and the hundredth.

We missed the party because we were en route to Jyvaskyla (you-vah-school-ah), which is a few hundred kilometres north of Helsinki, to visit Miia’s dad and grandmother (who lives 90 minutes northwest of her son, in Lehtimaki which means Leafhill). The good reverend welcomed us and informed us that there were no rules as he gave us ingredients to make pizza, which we lived on for a couple of days. Each couple chose a cottage at the church camp and stacked the floor full of double-stacked mattresses – the most comfortable thing I’ve slept on in Europe.

We took a “shopping” tour of the town, which is about the size of Halifax, took in the view from one of Finland’s many watch-towers, looked over convergent lakes and a drool-inducing football field. Up in Lehtimaki was another look-out tower, which happened to stand on the old Suokonautio farm near the old homestead, now a museum and at the moment we visited doubling as an art gallery. Mr. Suokonautio took us up inside the roof of the barn which used to serve as his clubhouse, with the names of the boys he wouldn’t let in etched into the outside of the door. Butterflies danced with horseflies in the windows and cobwebs crept across last century’s alarm clock. In the main house there was a story for every room, the chores done there or functions it served. “My dad used to work all day in the fields, then change clothes and go into town at night for community meetings. It was then he had a twinkle in his eyes; it was then that he lived for. He was on every committee the town had; he was so community oriented.” Vainu Ilmari, after two characters from Finland’s national epic, whose grave we visited with his wife Aulikki, who waters it along with those of 13 other relatives, including the brother who created the name Suokon-autio, birchtree clearing. The names around Lehtimaki are all based on place, and the place of the Suokonautio clan (formerly Rantekangas) is on the farm with the watchtower in the birchtree clearing.

We followed the Finnish custom snapping photos of the family with their loved ones gone to the beyond, who are after all still loved, still part of the family and Aulikki also showed us around the church, also speaking fondly of Vainu, with whom she had many heated rows. Looking up at the church ceiling, the latest and prettiest in our church tour of Finland, at the softly painted farmers tilling field, she said, “That’s how I remember my husband.” Miia explained how he worked every day except Sunday, church day. Saturday night, as the song explained, was perhaps the most relaxed period of waiting and contentment, waiting for the Lord’s day. When the retired volunteer church tour-guides, who are new to these parts, recommended the watchtower Aulikki puffed up proud and said, “that is our watchtower.”

We talked with her for hours, pouring over her atlas showing all the places we’d been. We showed her the pictures we had just taken on the old laptop and she marveled, astounded, “who invented this?! It’s insanity. You just took these pictures.” She quite liked the one reflecting her image in the war memorial statue.

July 18, 2006 – Finnish Baseball

Warning: this will make no sense if you don’t understand baseball and very little sense if you do.

Some time ago a certain Finn found himself enraptured and frustrated with the game of baseball’s slow in-betweens and dominant power-game. His solution: a bizarre 8-inning mutation of the game with rules as complex as the language. So lemme explain:

Okay, 9 batters aside, simple enough start. Add in 3 ‘jokers’ per side, each wearing a checkered joker uniform, who can bat once per rotation but can be moved around the rotation rather than remaining in a set spot. They are usually either the best batters or the worst fielders. Not too much of an alteration. A half-inning ends with either 3 outs or when all 9 batters have batted without scoring a run. Unusual occurrence, you may think, and you’d be right except than in addition to outs are ‘wounds.’ You see, each batter gets three attempts to hit the ball. The pitcher stands facing the batter from the other side of the plate and lobs the ball in the air, complete with all the spins and trickery of a major league master. It is rare that a batter will miss the ball completely, but these deceptions stand between a good batter and total control. If a batter hits the ball too far or too far to the left or right, it is out of bounds (taking away the pure power game of a Mark McGuire), and doesn’t count. If the ball is hit inbounds during either of the first two pitches, the batter can decide whether to make a break for first base, which is to his left, or try again. If there are runners on first, second (to the right of the batter), or third (about 60 feet past first in the same direction), they have the same decision to make but their choice may be different than that of the batter. So, a batter will often bunt the ball to move a runner over on the first pitch and stay put himself, leaving him with two more chances to bat the runner home. (Strangely, teams will often purposely allow their opponents to load the bases in the belief that this will allow for more opportunities to create outs, especially if they can load the bases with slow runners.) Throwing a runner out at any base (the force out is always in play) is the only way to get an out. Fly balls are usually meaningless, except when it is the batter’s third attempt, in which case he must advance. If there is someone on first, he too must advance to make room for the batter. Anyone on second therefore must advance to make room for the man on first, and same for the man on third for the man on second; if however there is someone on third and not on second, he can stay put. And, everyone who does advance is wounded. It doesn’t count as an out, but they are done for the inning (unless there happens to be a score before 3 outs in which case they may get to bat again). That’s the flyball on the third try. The ground ball on the third try allows the defense the opportunity to make some actual outs.

The field itself is a large diamond and usually the best way to get on base is to whack the ball hard on the ground; it bounces well, or find a hole in the outfield, which is difficult because it is smaller than in American baseball (i.e. real baseball). Before pitches, the infielders will usually throw the ball around shouting out numbers, directions, colours, whatever, mainly to distract the runners and batter. Sometimes, like in real baseball, they manage to pick off a runner who is taking too big a lead or breaks for the next base at the wrong time. On the rare occasion that a batter gets to third on a hit, it counts as a run, and he stays on third and may get to score again. When this happens, loud polka music pounds through the speakers and the whole team piles on the batter in jubilant circus celebration.

The game is played in two halves of four innings each, but the scores from the two halves are compiled for the final score anyway. If there is a tie, an additional 4 innings are played. In the game we saw the home team won the first half 3-2 and the second half 17-0, for a final score of 20-2. Howzat?!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Branching Out

While Chris is working on his book on a daily basis, I wanted to sink my teeth into something other than sauna heating, meal preparation, and reading. Although all of these are fulfilling in their own way, I wanted to participate in the life of the local town and befriend Finns, not just rely on family connections. I figure there is something to be learned too in making friends and setting down even small and temporary roots.

So it is I decided to start branching out. At the handicraft store yesterday, I talked to the owner and woman who runs the shop. Starting Thursday, she has agreed to teach me how to weave. This is particularly exciting as I always enjoy learning traditional crafts. As I spend some time with her, I'll start probing whether she knows some good knitters and felters and maybe I can pick up some more skill there. I just learned to knit in December and although I've come a bit of a way so far, I'd really like to learn more.

Then I asked at the library if it would make any sense for me to offer a conversational English group. I had to come back this morning to talk with the library chief and he was delightful and we've booked 2 hrs per day from Aug 1-11. The room where the class will be is terrific and includes a small kitchen. I've already thought of some activity based classes, including world cooking, arts and crafts, and games. I'll make posters later this week and start putting them up Thursday and Friday.

While talking to the library chief, he suggested we contact the local paper and see if they wouldn't do a write-up. I talked with them this morning and at 1pm I met with a reporter who did a lengthy interview with me and took several photos. The article is supposed to appear in Thursday's paper. How funny, eh? The interviewer asked where I get the energy from, that most Finns wouldn't go to a new town and in a matter of weeks decide to start a new group. She said they'd probably just watch tv. I'm not sure what I think of the question. Do most Finns just watch tv? It doesn't seem like it. And where do I get that drive - I hardly noticed it was there even. Anyway, that's that. I'm looking forward to the English class and, more specifically, meeting some local folks. There is much to learn.

I also have some other options to 'get involved', including the local seniors home, the church youth group, a daycare, and we'll see what else turns up. There's a camp for 14-18 year olds in mid-August that I was thinking of volunteering at as well. That might be fun and depends on how I can manage both my English class and the camp.

This morning I painted the porch at the cottage. Tonight I'm hoping to do some fishing, heat the sauna, get some reading done. When my uncle, aunt and I went on a 4-day boat trip to visit some of their friends, I finished both of the books I had brought along so that I had to borrow one from their friends. They only really had Finnish books so I took one and finished it yesterday. It was surprisingly easy and I find it really gets my head around Finnish so that I even end up dreaming in Finnish. Plus there's the added value that it was a Finnish author and I get to read some local talent.

So that's it for now. Crazy adventures on this end. Chris called my interview a press conference. Made me laugh. He seems to be doing really well on the book too. I'm eager to read the last two chapters he's just finished. Tomorrow Mika, Sian and I meet up to visit the local castle and for an old school Finnish smoke sauna. It will be my third already this summer. What a luxury indeed.

In brief, life is very good.

Friday, July 07, 2006

View at Night from Cottage

Miia's Boat Trip

Scenes from a Floating Shopping Mall

Somewhere Near Helsinki

June 27, 1:02 am, land of the midnight sun

It’s hard to beat the feeling of going outside for a pee at 1 am and seeing clear across the 50 kilometre lake; it’s that clear and bright. I’ve yet to see real darkness here. Dusk sets in around midnight but it never seems to get really dark. By the time I wake up it’s blistering out, well, more than 20 degrees C anyway.

1:56 pm – global movement

Reading ‘Human Traffic: Sex, Slaves & Immigration’. Quite interesting, though badly written. But the concept is good, and it’s fascinating how he ties together the movement of people and things like drugs and guns. Reading about one Kurdish couple who fled Germany for Afghanistan, believe it or not, and they were afforded passage on a ship as long as they didn’t mind accompanying guns. For some reason this offended me more than the stories about human bodies becoming live cargo space for cross-border drugs. I guess I believe that guns do more damage than drugs. But then I think back to Copenhagen’s small redlight district, where I witnessed, for the first time, a man injecting himself with heroine. He was in broad daylight in the middle of the sidewalk and made no effort to hide it. If anything it made me realized how sheltered my life has been despite all my ‘big adventures.’ This book is teaching me the same thing in a more theoretical vein, pun intended.

2:31 pm – the humans are alright

I ended my rant on hierarchy by saying that my faith in humanity itself remains, but I didn’t say why. My faith in humanity remains because hierarchy itself is what corrupts us, hierarchy and other flawed systems we create. And then we get stuck on them, as if they are the only option because that’s how we have done it for so long now. So we get trapped in games of unfair competition by our own desire to be as good as we can. Ambition is not such a bad thing, but it’s misguided toward material success and maximizing status within the hierarchy. This kind of ambition depletes our resources and too great a rate to collectively sustain ourselves. Then we get to blaming others because no one wants to believe oneself responsible for evil or wrongdoing. But it is our culture of insane competition and status seeking that puts us in this mess, and pulls us away from our real values, the things that matter most to us, i.e. our family, our community, our fellow human. That’s my theory, what’s yours?

June 28, 1:34 am – it’s a beautiful day

This was the day I longed for in Toronto and never had. Activities included chopping wood, swimming, cooking, eating, reading, writing, watching football, sleeping.

2:23 am – not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Not exactly dark outside, but about as dark as it gets in summer I think. It’s spooky actually, just black trees over a grey sky. Hitchcockian.

July 2, 12:07 pm, Miia’s birthday

We watched sunrise the other night at around 2:30 am, a few minutes after sunset. Magical. “Over there at the horizon,” I told her, “is Dr. Suess land. Cotton candy skies and multi-coloured madness, critters eating fritters and 3-footed sneeds, and whatnot.” And in the foreground shadows under the sun, birch tree shaped shadows.

Now I’m reading ‘This Earth of Mankind’ by Pram Toer, part I of the Buru Quartet, written in Suharto’s Buru Island prison camp. And I’m thinking back to an argument with my friend Cribbsy, who has always given me the most interesting arguments, I’ve got to admit that. He argued that fiction may teach you good morals about living your life, but only non-fiction gives you true knowledge about the world, or something to that effect. And here I am reading this novel set in East Java in 1898 and I’m learning about historical Indonesia, Netherlands, Japan, China, the cultures and geography of these places and the culture of their people, and I’m realizing that fiction, when done well, in fact provides more truth that non-fiction because instead of giving you some scholar’s theories and explanations and selected information to prove his point, you get someone trying to tell a rich story and providing a solid context, so you get a broader perspective that way. That Cribbsy, one day he’ll win ;-)

July 7, 2006 – Bit of a Set-back

A few days ago we loaded up the Citroen and headed south to meet Miia’s brother Mika and his girlfriend Sian, who are here for 3 weeks of their teacher’s summer vacation. We visited with Uncle Reijo and Aunt Liisa for a night and played a long and tortuous, outright tylsa (boringass) game of Phase 10, old-school rules, which takes about 3 times as long as watching Germany fail to win the world cup on their home turf.

The next morning we visited Reijo & Liisa’s daughter Kaisa and her kids Antti and Heli. We took one look at the big lawn and started looking for balls to play with, and our eyes nearly popped on sight of the on-sight trampoline ay carumba! But first there were some issues to work out what with the thunderous multilingual cacophony from the backseat riders and a general sense of frustration at too much happening too fast in too many directions and most importantly in too many languages. I must admit I suffered a little bit of a breakdown, which was assuaged previous to my physical break, or sprain to be less whiny, and was the fault of a lack of reasonable-sized balls, that is to say all we found to play with was a giant beach-ball and a Frisbee, so we opted for the latter and on my first leaping catch I landed sideways and was further propelled by my jet fuel sandals, which are in fact designed to guarantee injury for any jackass fool-hearted enough to attempt any sort of athleticism while bound in their cross patterned leather. I’m not sure if the surrounding Finns, particularly the young ones, understood the stream of profanity I uttered but it was obvious that the game was over.

Today Miia’s other cousin Eeva, a nurse, took a look and told me it was not too bad and should heal in a few weeks time if I keep off it. This limits the wood-chopping madness that was serving as an excellent breather from the midnight writing. So it goes, it could be worse, and whatnot. I can walk on it, but slowly, and it hasn’t stopped me from sweating with these Finns nor swimming laps of the lake.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Family Portraits

From an email I sent to good friend Conor McCreery:

"Finland... yes... what to say. I actually think of you often because of our old Finnish pride rivalry thing that we like to ham up. I STILL think I'm totally justified because, I look up and around me, out the window and inside here too, I see nature, wood, family, more wood. I can smell the sauna at all times. I can hear the wind in the trees. And if I look carefully enough, I can even see the lake through the trees. I know this is in Canada too, but somehow I feel more connected to it here.

I keep coming back to searching for hints of who I am in my family. Their humour, their hard work, their general easy-goingness, relative non-materialism, their value of relationships and work and yet at the same time knowing and thinking about the world. I feel of this stock, if that makes any sense. I keep thinking, "Now, Chris understands me" because he sees where I'm from. Not just the geography but, more importantly, the people of my family. Maybe he has known me all along and I am just getting to know myself.

Yesterday Chris and I spent time with Mika and Sian (my bro and gfriend), Reijo, Liisa, Kaisa, Antti, Heli, Harri, Eeva, Aada, Eero, and Jaakko. That's 12 relatives plus the 2 of us. It's basic arithmetic and probably not all that exciting for the common observer, but NEVER are there that many of us gathered in Canada. Never. And here it's so easy. We just come together. That's it. I could almost weep for missing this in my life."

Yesterday's highlight: Late at night, we all gather aroud the computer and watch the photoshow of pictures come across the screen. Uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, second cousins, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters. All connected. We watch as one by one the images pass and we laugh at ourselves, we love each other, and we belong. This I will remember.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Grand Cottage and Other Such Sundries

Here I am at the library computer, come in from the wilds of the forest. Hardly. I'm just saying that to excuse myself for not brushing my hair this morning.

My newest resolution. Yesterday was my 29th birthday and I didn't hear much from friends. Usually that's OK and I am understanding that since I don't advertise my birthday, there is no way I should anticipate calls, letters, emails. But for some reason, this time, it upset me. I guess I am feeling a bit disconnected from my former life in Toronto and wanted more than usual to hear from folks. So I decided that I will make the more than average effort to stay in touch. Since it is important to me, it would be good to be able to feel that out for myself, make it happen on my own.

So here it is, the latest news.

The cottage we're staying in is gorgeous. It's not fancy or anything (there's no running water, for example), but I love it. Chris and I are starting to make ourselves feel at home, learning our way around. Chris' Finnish is coming along. We both struggle with feeling homesick from time to time but are supporting each other through it. I think the hardest part of coming in to a new place is when you don't know how things are or how to connect with other people. Where, for example, are the alternative media sources, the underground music scenes, the counter-culture resistance movements? You always have to look for them and hope you find them. And that's not easy when even the mundane requires some deciphering.

An example. My aunt told us that there was a laundromat in town. Chris and I piled our stuff in the hamper and drove to it. Oh no, it was a professional place that does linens and things. To do our laundry would take a week or so. About 2km from our cottage, they told us, was a self-serve laundromat. So I drove there, down a winding dirt road past scarecrows and fields. There I find a yellow wooden house with the sign that says laundromat. In the driveway stands an old man who informs me that the gentleman who runs the laundromat is out of town and we should return Monday. I go back this morning and there is the guy who runs the show. It's him who will need to wash our laundry. We can't do it ourselves. But he's not sure when he can get to is. Maybe by 4pm today. Or tomorrow morning. And he can't dry it either so we need to pick it up and bring it home and hang it up. All I want, I think, is clean underwear.

The same feeling of 'this is not home' goes through me whenever we go to a grocery store. Weird how connected we become to the food we eat and how it is somehow jarring when it's no longer available. Though the store is full of food, you need to reconceptualize how you cook and what you make and somehow, it feels, even what your life is like.

Leaving Toronto was hard because it was a kind of disconnection from what was familiar and important to me. Friends, work that I believed in, a home that, for better or worse, was a good place to live. Our bikes, our cats, our known lives. The connection, most especially, with people who are dear to us was so important. Uprooting ourselves is as difficult as uprooting sounds.

In Finland there is, on the other hand, the benefit of family. Last night we had a sauna, went swimming and ate dinner with my uncle and aunt, a cousin and his daughter, and three of my other cousin's kids who were spending the weekend with their grandparents. I don't usually have the benefit of an extended family of any sort and in Toronto we haven't yet had anyone from the next generation come along. So lying in bed and reading a story to Jaakko and Aada, with Chris at my side, was somehow poetic in the way only children and family can be. Those old songs of the home hearth come back to me as the storm rages in the woods outside and we are snuggled up in bed.

There are some of the stories from this end. There are more. But I'll leave it here for now. It is the wood and the sauna, the lake and the midnight sun that continue to captivate me. The rest, I am sure, will come in time.

Until next time, Miia