This 'n' that

Coming up…

Coming up…

Light speaking: photographs by Marja Pirilä

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Pig cheeks and chanterelle dust

Pig cheeks and chanterelle dust

Food for foodies? The times they are a-changing

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Archives open!

Archives open!

From page to space: Books from Finland (1976–2008) digitised

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In all honesty

18 September 2014 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

 To puke or not to puke? Despite appearances, Jyrki Lehtola thinks there is too little truth on show on social media

I recall two brilliant articles that appeared years ago in Finland’s biggest gossip magazine.

In one of them, a vaguely famous radio host talked about his divorce and how badly he was doing since splitting from his wife. There’s nothing interesting or pioneering about this level of openness per se, but fortunately the magazine saw fit to depict the radio personality’s plight in a series of photos.

They published a photo story consisting of nine images showing him walking down the streets of Helsinki, until he suddenly recalls his divorce. More…

Life: facts and fiction

10 September 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

arch In his latest book, the architect and author Arne Nevanlinna (born 1925) recalls, among other things, his Helsinki childhood and family, the wartime period, his fellow architect Alvar Aalto, various aspects of the spirit of the times, his own work and writings. His first novel Marie was published in 2008. Extracts from Arne. Oman elämän kintereillä (‘Arne. On the trail of one’s life’, Siltala, 2014)

My attitude to my own identity has developed from the unconsciousness of childhood, the uncertainty of early adulthood, the artificial arrogance of middle age and the self-analysis of approaching retirement, to my present situation.

Despite the fact that my first book had some degree of success, it took many books before I felt I was a real writer. The process continued for well over ten years, by which time I was already over eighty. Before that, I thought of writing as a way to pass the time and combat loneliness. I imagined that I was writing for a living, and that I lived in order to write. I was in the fortunate position of not to think about my income.

Even then, I knew that this was just a catchphrase for the event that it occurred to someone in the audience to ask me why I wrote. That never actually happened. No wonder, as both question and answer would have been unnecessary, to put it mildly, and stupid, to put it harshly. More…

Rooms with views

21 August 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Most of us live in box-shaped houses; the long-prevailing laws of modernist architecture relate to cubes, geometry and masses. Together with an architect, artist Jan-Erik Andersson designed a leaf-shaped house for himself. Could it be both art and architecture? In his new book he takes a look at non-cubical buildings in Finland and beyond, attempting to define what makes ‘wow factor architecture’: good architecture requires freedom from strict aesthetic rules.
Extracts from the chapter entitled ‘Det inre rummet’ (‘The inner room’) in Wow. Åsikter om finländsk arkitektur (‘Wow. Thoughts on Finnish architecture’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2014)

I remember from my childhood in the 1960s how my brother and I each lay in our beds in a little room late in the evening and stared up at the ceiling, onto which the lights from cars outside cast patterns. The patterns were constantly changing, they were like the doors of imagination onto eternity. Along with the hum of the engines they lulled me into a kind of half-stupor.

During the days the floor of the room grew to a town as we threw ourselves into a world of adventures and sped around with Formula 1 cars. Or the waste-paper bin was squeezed into a corner between the bookshelf and the wall, and the room took on the dimensions of a basketball court.

When defining a room it is difficult to distinguish between the outer, physical room, and the inner room formed by your consciousness. More…

The many arms of Krishna

14 August 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

A feast by the Ganges: from  Atman by Pirjo Honkasalo

A feast by the Ganges. Photo from Pirjo Honkasalo’s film Atman

Cinematographer, camerawoman and director Pirjo Honkasalo has travelled and filmed widely – Japan, Estonia, India, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Russia – and her documentary films in particular have gained fame. American film critic John Anderson interviews Honkasalo; they talk about her documentary film Atman (1996) about a pilgrimage in India.

Edited extracts from Armoton kauneus. Pirjo Honkasalon elokuvataide (‘Merciless beauty. The film art of Pirjo Honkasalo’, Siltala, 2014; translated from English into Finnish by Leena Tamminen)

You can almost catch a whiff of the Ganges watching Atman [Hindu term, ‘self’], a documentary film in which religious pilgrimage, devotion, exhilaration and hysteria compete with tormented bodies, physical mortification, corpses, pollution and the acrid smoke of ritual cremation for domination of the viewer’s senses. The fact that it won the top prize at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in 1996 proves there is, if not justice, then good taste in the world. With all due respect to her previous work, Atman signified the full manifestation of Honkasalo’s genius.

What is it about? Eternity. Also, Jamana Lal: a member of the low-caste of Baila, a wifeless, crippled devotee of Lord Shiva whose mother has died, and who must – according to Hindu tradition – take her ashes from the ostensible mouth of the Ganges to the foothills of the Himalayas. More…

Love is the only song

7 August 2014 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Helise, taivas! Valitut runot (‘Ring out, sky! Selected poems’, Siltala, 2014). Introduction by Marja-Leena Mikkola

Who will tell me?

Who will tell me why white butterflies
strew the velvet skin of the night?
Who will tell me?
While people walk, mute and strange
and they have snowy, armoured faces,
such snowy faces!
and the eyes of a stuffed bird.

Who will tell me why in the morning, on the grass,
the thrushes begin their secret game?
Who will tell me?
While black soldiers stand at the gate
in their hands withered roses
such withered roses!
and broken tiger lilies.

Who will tell me, quietly in the sun’s shadow
how to bare my heart?
Who will tell me?
Come to me over the fields
Come close and softly
so softly!
Open the clothes of my heart. More…

Light songs and dark

4 August 2014 | Authors, Reviews

Aulikki Oksanen. Photo: Laura Malmivaara

Aulikki Oksanen. Photo: Laura Malmivaara

On my wall at home are paintings given to me by the artist and poet Aulikki Oksanen. A watercolour from 1966 is a stylised depiction, a little in the manner of Modigliani, of a room with a girl by the window. In the background are a harbour and ships.

The work reminds me of the time when I got to know Aulilkki when we both moved in University Theatre circles and I visited her in the room shown in the painting. The flat was later the scene for Lapualaismorsian (‘Lapua bride’), a film which Aulikki (born 1944) took part in.

To me, with her blond, straight hair, she was like a beautiful, slender young filly, so I was not in the least surprised when her debut work included some enchanting horse symbolism. Her first book, an original, fresh collection of poems entitled Hevosen kuolema (‘Death of a horse’, 1966) gained immediate attention. More…

Two men in a boat

25 June 2014 | Fiction, Prose

The meaning of life, Bob Dylan, the broken thermostat of the Earth, the authors Ambrose Bierce and Aleksis Kivi…. Two severely culturally-inclined men set out to row a boat some 700 kilometres along the Finnish coastline, and there is no shortage of things to discuss. Extracts from the novel Nyljetyt ajatukset (‘Fleeced thoughts’, Teos, 2014)

The red sphere of the sun plopped into the sea.

At 23.09 official summertime Köpi announced the reading from his wind-up pocket-watch.

‘There she goes,’ commented Aimo, gazing at the sunken red of the horizon, ‘but don’t you think it’ll pop back up again in another quarter of an hour, unless something absolutely amazing and new happens in the universe and the solar system tonight!’

Aimo pulled long, accelerating sweeps with his oars, slurped the phlegm in his throat, spat a gob overboard, smacked his lips and adjusted his tongue on its marks behind his teeth. There’s a respectable amount of talk about to come out of there, thought Köpi about his old friend’s gestures, and he was right.

‘Sure thing,’ was Aimo’s opening move, ‘darkness. Darkness, that’s the thing. I want to talk about it and on its behalf just now, now in particular, while we’re rowing on the shimmering sea at the lightest point of the summer. More…

The private I? Me and my home

17 June 2014 | Reviews

Photo: Avaimia ajattomiin suomalaisiin sisustuksiin / Jaanis Kerkis

Art Nouveau with a modern twist. Photo: Avaimia ajattomiin suomalaisiin sisustuksiin / Jaanis Kerkis

Avaimia ajattomiin suomalaisiin sisustuksiin
[Keys to timeless Finnish interiors]
Design: Hanni Koroma, text: Sami Sykkö, photographs: Jaanis Kerkis
Helsinki: Gummerus, 2014. 123 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-20-9507-0
€32.90, hardback
Katja Lindroos
MOMO. Koti elementissään
[MOMO. The home in its element]
Photography: Riikka Kantinkoski, Niclas Warius
Helsinki: Siltala, 2013. 154 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-234-164-8
€32.90, hardback
www.momokoti.fi (in Finnish only)

‘Interior decoration’ has become an extremely popular pastime in Finland – as elsewhere where the standard of living allows it.

Innumerable magazines and blogs keep churning out photos of rooms with large white, cushioned sofas, glossy white kitchen cabinets and white floors on which furniture seems to float forlornly. Walls are decorated with wooden or metallic letters forming words: love; home, sweet home. In the kitchen the bread bin bears the word BREAD. (Bookcases, with actual books, are rare.)

Why is it that in our age which worships ‘individuality’, trends rule? More…

Animal magic

3 June 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Roe deer, Sweden. Photo: Mats Andersson

Roe deer, Sweden. Photo: Mats Andersson

A day in the life of an elk, of a lynx? Nature photographers venture into the depths of forests, in pursuit of the inhabitants – predator and prey, mythical and real. Photographs from Kohtaamisia (‘Encounters’), by Mats Andersson and Heikki Willamo, text by Willamo (Maahenki & Musta Taide [Black Art], 2014)

The feelings in our dreams. They well from depths – from those layers of awareness that the mind does not shackle. In sleep we handle and organise the events of our lives in a way which is impossible when awake, when we are conscious of ourselves and our limitations. That is why animals can come into my dreams as friends, equal partners, like me, and therefore I so often dream of having their abilities and skills.

When awake we think all the time. We think about past events and worry about the future or dream of something better. Very seldom do we live in the moment.  Photographs are passing moments, often only a thousandth of a second long, but sometimes lasting minutes or even hours. In finished photographs the beholder can see much more – he adds his memories or dreams of the future. The picture-taking moment vanishes, something else comes in its stead. More…

Debt to life

28 May 2014 | Authors, Non-fiction

Kaarlo Sarkia (1902–1945). Photo: Ivar Helander (The Literary Archives/Finnish Literature Society)

Kaarlo Sarkia (1902–1945). Photo: Ivar Helander (The Literary Archives/Finnish Literature Society)

Joie de vivre, dream, death, love: Kaarlo Sarkia’s rhymed poetry made him one of the Finnish classics, even if he only had time to publish four collections. Like several unfortunate poets of the first half of the 20th century – among them Edith Södergran, Saima Harmaja, Katri Vala, Uuno Kailas – he died of tuberculosis. Poems from Unen kaivo (‘The well of dreams’, WSOY, 1936)

From the point of view of both form and content, Kaarlo Sarkia’s poem ‘Älä elämää pelkää’ (‘Don’t be afraid of life’, 1936) is among the best examples of Finnish poetry. It crystallises several typical themes and features of his work: a declamatory absoluteness and existential courage, a faith in beauty, and the presence of death.

Don’t be afraid of life,
don’t shut out its beauty.
Invite it to sit by your fire,
or should your hearth expire,
to meet it outside is your duty.
– – –
More…

Another morning, another day

28 May 2014 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Unen kaivo (‘The well of dreams’, WSOY, 1936). Introduction by Satu Grünthal

IN THE MIRROR

Strange and truly wondrous
in the mirror you look at me.
All I really know is
that you I cannot be.

With my eyes you survey me,
with my lips you smile, too,
what I see in the mirror
is not me, but you, just you.

Whoever you are – astral morning,
eternal night – in the frame
like a wraith, a ghostly phantom,
invisible I remain. More…

Journalist 3.0

22 May 2014 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

As the world becomes more and more difficult to understand, the media, strapped for cash and forced for reduce expenses, sack their expert writers. Jyrki Lehtola assesses the new breed of cut-price journalists

Some time in the distant past it was possible for a reader to reflect that here was an educated journalist writing pithily. It would be nice to know more of his or her thoughts.

There used to be talk of such concepts as the ‘objective truth’, and editors shunned talking about themselves, or even speaking or writing in the first person. There was just the world, which the journalist, the conduit of truth, conveyed to the public.

Now, although most of us would prefer to know nothing about journalists and their private lives, journalists have brought their lives strongly into the public arena. Objectivity is dead; there are merely millions of subjects who perhaps share the same experiences, perhaps not, and, misled by some idealised concept of community, we are the beneficiaries of journalists writing about what it’s like to be a mum, how challenging life as a mother and journalist can be. More…

Updated, alive

8 May 2014 | Non-fiction, Reviews

fjoashgo hs b

Minna at 50. The Finnish flag is flown on her birthday: 19 March has been named the Day of Equality. Canth also flies on the tail of one of the aircrafts of the Nordic airline Norwegian: the fleet carries portraits of ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’ of four Nordic countries (the other Finn is the 19th-century poet J.L. Runeberg). Original photo: Viktor Barsokevich / Kuopio Museum of Cultural History

Herkkä, hellä, hehkuvainen – Minna Canth
[Sensitive, gentle, radiant – Minna Canth]
Helsinki: Otava, 2014. 429 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-23656-6
€40.20, hardback

There are two sure methods of preserving the freshness of the works of a classical author in a reading culture that is increasingly losing its vigour.

The first is to give a high profile to new interpretations of them, either in the form of scholarly lectures or of artistic re-workings, such as dramatisations, librettos or film scripts. Another unbeatable way to keep them alive as a subject of discussion is an updated biography, through which the author is seen with new eyes.

Minna Canth (1844–1897) is now celebrating her 170th anniversary, and she is fortunate in both respects. Having begun her literary career in the late nineteenth century, she still continues to be Finland’s most significant female writer.

Her influence on the role of women in society and, in particular, her promotion of girls’ education, is the cornerstone of Finland’s social equality. In the twenty-first century Canth’s plays are still receiving new interpretations, and they have also been made into operas and musicals. (Read her short story, ‘The nursemaid’, here.) More…

The nursemaid

8 May 2014 | Fiction, Prose

Lapsenpiika (‘The nursemaid’), a short story, first published in the newspaper Keski-Suomi in December, 1887. Minna Canth and a new biography introduced by Mervi Kantokorpi

‘Emmi, hey, get up, don’t you hear the bell, the lady wants you! Emmi! Bless the girl, will nothing wake her? Emmi, Emmi!’

At last, Silja got her to show some signs of life. Emmi sat up, mumbled something, and rubbed her eyes. She still felt dreadfully sleepy.

‘What time is it?’

‘Getting on for five.’

Five? She had had three hours in bed. It had been half-past one before she finished the washing-up: there had been visitors that evening, as usual, and for two nights before that she had had to stay up because of the child; the lady had gone off to a wedding, and baby Lilli had refused to content herself with her sugar-dummy. Was it any wonder that Emmi wanted to sleep? More…

Rock or baroque?

30 April 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

sinfonisin_kansi_3.inddWhat if your old favourites lose their flavour? Could there be a way of broadening one’s views? Scholar Olli Löytty began thinking that there might be more to music than 1980s rock, so he turned to the music writer Minna Lindgren who was delighted by the chance of introducing him the enormous garden of classical music. In their correspondence they discussed – and argued about – the creativity of orchestra musicians, the significance of rhythm and whether the emotional approach to music might not be the only one. Their letters, from 2009 to 2013, an entertaining musical conversation, became a book. Extracts from Sinfoniaanisin terveisin. Kirjekurssi klassisen musiikin maailmaan (‘With symphonical greetings. A correspondence course in classical music’)

Olli, 19 March, 2009

Dear expert,

I never imagined that the day would come when I would say that rock had begun to sound rather boring. There are seldom, any more, the moments when some piece sweeps you away and makes you want to listen to more of the same. I derive my greatest enjoyment from the favourites of my youth, and that is, I think, rather alarming, as I consider people to be naturally curious beings whom new experiences, extending their range of experiences and sensations, brings nothing but good.

Singing along, with practised wistfulness, to Eppu Normaali’s ‘Murheellisten laulujen maa’ (‘The land of sad songs’) alone in the car doesn’t provide much in the way of inspiration. It really is time to find something new to listen to! My situation is already so desperate that I am prepared to seek musical stimulation from as distant a world as classical music. I know more about the African roots of rock than about the birth of western music, the music that is known as classical. But it looks and sounds like such an unapproachable culture that I badly need help on my voyage of exploration. Where should I start, when I don’t really know anything? More…