This ‘n’ that
21 August 2014 | This 'n' that
Pop-up restaurants came into being in Helsinki in 2011: a few times every year any eager amateur cook is able to set up a ‘restaurant’ for one day on a street corner or in a park: citizens are welcome to take their pick, at a modest price.
In a northern city, not exactly suitable for street food trade all year round, in a country where rules of food hygiene are strict, the innovation of the Restaurant Day has been welcomed by the public. The latest event took place on 17 August.
The idea has now spread to at least 60 countries. Foodie culture thrives.
We find an article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik, No rules! Is Le Fooding, the French culinary movement, more than a feeling? interesting – according to comments quoted in it, ‘food must belong to its time’, and the traditional French cuisine ‘was caught in a museum culture: the dictatorship of a fossilized idea of gastronomy’.
In the 1960s, ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as opposed to cuisine classique, began to promote lighter, simpler, inventive, technically more advanced cooking. Well – some of us may remember that, at worst, this could also manifest itself in, say, three morsels of some edible substance placed decoratively on a plate topped with three chives: expensive, insubstantially elegant and pretty useless.
Today, Finland, the traditional stronghold of liver casserole, brown sauce and ham-mincemeat-pineapple pizzas (yes), seems to have moved onto a higher level of the culinary art – at least in selected restaurants. In a recent article, Helsinki’s food scene, coming on strong, published in The Washington Post, Tom Sietsema enjoys the pleasure of discovering things Finnish.
He is treated to parsnip leaves turned into ice cream imparting a coconut flavour, crackers made from leek ash and risotto in which ‘tiny green hops and their purple flowers interrupt the beige surface of the bowl, whose rim is dusted with golden chanterelle powder.’
The Executive Chef of Helsinki’s esteemed Savoy restaurant (est. 1937) cooks braised pig cheeks served with rhubarb and spring greens. A hunter-gatherer chef collects wild things: wood sorrel, spruce shoots and orpine and serves them in an omelette, with a drink made of chaga mushrooms (used for making tea; a sort of ‘sterile conk trunk rot of birch’, currently very much in vogue among the most eager of foodies for its medicinal [antioxidant, anti-inflammatory] properties).
It is true that Copenhagen and Stockholm have advanced further on their way to international fame of cuisine, but perhaps Helsinki will follow suit. And people who go out for a meal are no longer expected to settle for morsels with chives on top – food belongs to its time, and time changes food(ies).
A comment on Sietsema’s article claims though that his ‘verbiage’ has ‘nothing to do with what 99.999% of Finns eat! and what 99.99% of Finnish restaurants offer!’
But the truth (we know) is now closer to Sietsema than the commentator: ambitious restaurants may play with golden chanterelle powder, and even if it is not exactly what Finns often have for tea, we believe Finns today are losing interest in cheap chicken slivers in industrial marinade for dinner, and even beginning to accept that greens may not be only for bunnies.
Chanterelles have always been considered as a treat: fresh from the woods, quickly cooked in butter and cream, served with new potatoes and rye bread, or in an omelette: bon appetit (even without orpine)!
13 June 2014 | This 'n' that
The English author of bestselling children’s fantasy books Philip Pullman – of His Dark Materials fame – declares himself a devoted fan of Tove Jansson, the Finnish Moomin-creator and artist, whose stories and novels have been translated into 44 languages.
Pullman has been a fan since the age of eight – now, reassessing Jansson’s work, he notes ‘the perfection of the drawings’. Jansson illustrated her Moomin books, in black-and-white mostly.
Pullman reviews two books in Books for Keeps, the British online children’s book magazine: the newly translated biography of Tove Jansson (1914–2001) by the Swedish scholar Boel Westin (Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words, Sort of Books, 2014) and Tove Jansson’s memoir from her childhood, Sculptor’s Daughter. ‘Jansson responded to the world with a freshness and originality that have hardly ever been matched in the field of children’s books,’ he writes.
The artist, painter, writer Tove Jansson was born on 9 August – almost a hundred years ago. A major centenary exhibition of her work at the Finnish National Gallery Ateneum is open until 7 September.
Pullman concludes: ‘she could convey all the excitement of wonder as well as the reassurance of comfort and familial love – and [–] evoke a mood of apprehension, loss and mystery. She should have had the Nobel Prize.’
Three cheers – we at Books from Finland agree!
22 May 2014 | This 'n' that
Karttalehtinen, a company that specialises in making orienteering maps, has posted 133 photographs of Helsinki from 1907–1912, by Signe Brander, the pioneering city photographer, together with contemporary Google street shots, on this zoomable site.
Click ‘Google street view’ (Google Maps) down left, for a bigger view. (Kuvan tiedot gives details of Brander’s photo, in Finnish only.) The old photos are from the Helsinki City Museum archives.
Brander (1869–1942) was hired by Helsinki City Council’s Board of Antiquities to record the fast-growing city for almost seven years between 1907 and 1913.
The southernmost photo on the map shows the barren Ursin rocks on the seashore, with Hernesaari (‘Pea island’) in the background. Today, as the Google shot shows, there is a park and a monument for seafarers, particularly those who lost their lives at sea.
Helsinki life and buildings as they existed a hundred years ago are portrayed in these calm shots of a small town going about its business. Signe did a very good job in her capacity as official photographer.
22 May 2014 | This 'n' that
Jano (‘Thirst’) is the name for a new online magazine: according to the writers and poets Johanna Venho and Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, its editors, it is a ‘poetry journal for all’ – for poets, the general public, for anybody.
Two issues have been published since November 2013. The theme of the first one is Time, of the second, Place.There are interviews, autobiographical texts, texts by critics and poets. More…
29 March 2014 | This 'n' that
Snow is now, unusually for so early in the year, long gone from more than half of Finland. Bears are waking up and emerging from their winter lairs: spring is definitely in the air!
So are birds: the latest news from Cameroon is that on 26 March Ilmari caught his last African fishes and started winging his way to southern Finland.
Ilmari is an osprey: you may remember him – we reported his endeavour to cross continents on his way to Africa in 2012, asking you to watch this space. Well, the raptor is still doing fine, and his journey can be followed on the Finnish Museum of Natural History’s Luomus website. More than six thousand kilometres and a month later he will hopefully be spotted fishing on his home lakes in Hattula.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Ilmari. The fates of his compadres Pete, Eikka and Jukka are unfortunate: these great travellers perished on their particularly long and dangerous migration routes. Their stories are reported here.
29 March 2014 | This 'n' that
It is one of the enduring peculiarities of Finnish culture, along with the national enthusiasms for heavy metal music and the tango, that Tom of Finland, an erotic artist who specialised in stylised pencil images of muscular and well-endowed men wearing tight or little clothing, should be regarded as a national treasure.
Even more startling, according to our friends abroad, is the news that a collection of Tom’s images is to be issued as postage stamps in September this year, when an exhibition opens in the Postal Museum in Tampere. ‘Sealed with a Secret – Correspondence of Tom of Finland’ displays Laaksonen’s correspondence from the early 1940s to 1991.
As the Finnish post office, Itella Posti, remarks in its press release, Tom of Finland, or Touko Laaksonen (1920–1991), is one of the most well-known Finnish artists around the world. The images selected – which include a pair of buttocks with a moustached face peeking out from between the legs and a man in military uniform entwined with a naked one – stick to the tamer side of Tom’s work, but their stereotypical homoeroticism will nevertheless be, let’s say, striking additions to the envelopes on which they appear.
According to Timo Berry, the graphic artist who made the selection, the stamps portray ‘a sensual life force and being proud of oneself. There is never too much of that in this northern country.’
Opinions will differ as to the artistic merits of Tom of Finland’s work, but one thing is certain: it’s decidedly top-shelf material. The Finnish post office website features a discussion of whom one would send which stamps to: you wouldn’t, obviously, send Tom to your maiden aunt in the countryside, but the conversation doesn’t examine the fact that the images will not only be viewed by the addressee. How would you explain the pictures to your small children, for example?
Postage stamps are, traditionally, regarded as an expression of national identity – in that case it’s debatable what these are expressing, as Finland is not conspicuously friendly to the gay community. There is no gay marriage, and you can only legally change your gender after surgical sterilisation.
So why issue Tom of Finland as public art? We’re stumped. (On the other hand, we’re not convinced you need to regard stamps as an expression of national identity at all…)
Answers on a postcard, please. You choose the stamps. (Tom’s stamps are self-adhesive, by the way. You don’t have to, ahem, lick their backsides.)
29 March 2014 | This 'n' that
This year is the centenary of Tove Jansson (1914–2001), the painter, caricaturist, comic strip artist, illustrator and author of books for both children and adults, and, what made her name internationally, the creator of the Moomins. Today, her Moomin books are available in 40 languages.
One sunny April day, walking through the atmospheric old Hietaniemi cemetery by the sea in Helsinki, a charming little bronze statue on top of a narrow granite column caught my eye.
It was a small child balancing on a ball, waving its arms and legs joyously in the air. On a closer look, there was something white attached to the statue: it was a tiny white plastic Moomin.
On the Janssons’ family grave the first little blue flowers had just risen to the surface to bask in the early spring sun. Tove’s father was the sculptor Victor Jansson, her mother was the cartoonist and artist Signe Hammarsten Jansson.
Perhaps one of Tove’s fans had chosen this way of paying homage to the creator of the unique Moomin universe.
14 March 2014 | This 'n' that
The database Finnish Literature in Translation, which details more than 7,500 works, with references to information on Finnish, Swedish and Sámi fiction and non-fiction translation, has been redesigned. Different search types are applicable, and the search results can be downloaded in Excel form.
Maintained and updated by FILI, the database offers information on book-length works as well as translation anthologies. Currently the oldest translation is from 1839. The database is trilingual: Finnish, Swedish, English.
So – if you’d like to know whether Tove Jansson’s Moomin books are available in your mother tongue, just look it up! (Tove can currently be read in 44 languages, from Albanian to Welsh.)
6 March 2014 | This 'n' that
Photographer Signe Brander (1869–1942) was hired by the Helsinki City Council’s Board of Antiquities to record the fast-growing city for almost seven years between 1907 and 1913.
Signe was not keen on working indoors, so she must have been pleased to be able to get out into the streets. She chose to capture lively views of the town with people – passers-by, animals, children, flaneurs, people on errands (even though portraits were not her cup of tea either), in all seasons.
Brander’s thoroughly professional work can now be downloaded on the Internet: all of her 906 photos of Helsinki and its citizens a hundred years ago are available from Finna.
The National Digital Library – and its public interface Finna – project aims to ensure that electronic materials of Finnish culture and science are managed with a high standard, are easily accessed and securely preserved well into the future.
Unfortunately Signe Brander was not able to rest peacefully on her laurels. As her eyesight and health deteriorated, she was hospitalised in 1941. Then the war broke out, and when the patients were transferred to a mental hospital outside Helsinki, more than a hundred of them tragically died of hunger in 1942, Brander among them.
5 February 2014 | This 'n' that
Today, the fifth of February, marks the birthday of the poet J.L. Runeberg (1804–1877), writer, among other things, of the words of Finnish national anthem.
Runeberg’s birthday is celebrated among the literary community by the award of the Runeberg Prize for fiction; the winner is announced in Runeberg’s house, in the town of Borgå/Porvoo.
Mrs Runeberg, a mother of seven and also a writer, is said to have baked ‘Runeberg’s cakes’ for her husband, and these cakes are still sold on 5 February. Read more – and even find a recipe for them – by clicking our story Let us eat cake!
The Runeberg Prize 2014, worth €10,000, went to Hannu Raittila and his novel Terminaali (‘Terminal’, Siltala).
According to the members of the prize jury – the literary scholar Rita Paqvalen, the author Sari Peltoniemi and the critic and writer Merja Leppälahti – they were unanimous in their decision; however, the winner of the 2013 Finlandia Prize for Fiction, Jokapäiväinen elämämme (‘Our everyday lives’) by Riikka Pelo, was also seriously considered.
Read more about the 2014 Runeberg shortlist In the news.
9 January 2014 | This 'n' that
Eat your heart out, Angry Birds? Ever since the global success story of the Nokia phone company, Finns have been trying to rule the world with global electronic products. Among the latest achievements are analytical undies. The Finnish company Myontec has invented underwear embedded with electromyographic sensors, which measure the workings of your muscles and send the data to a computer.
Last year The New York Times gave the pants third place on their list of ‘32 Innovations that Will Change Your Tomorrow’.
What, you’re not athletic? You might stir from your sedentary slumber if your pants let you know how pathetically little you work out for your own good.
In late January Myontec’s smartshorts won the Sport & Fitness category at the Wearable Technology Innovations World Cup 2013/2014 in Munich. Who knows how far, globally, this will go? Smartpants, smartphones: perhaps your knickers will start talking one day – thus combining the advantages of two electronic appliances in which the Finns have expertise.
9 January 2014 | This 'n' that
When there’s no snow in January, as is the case this year, the darkness does make Helsinki appear somewhat joyless. This year Canada and parts of the United States got more than a taste of freezing Arctic temperatures – but at the time of writing winter is still postponed in the lower half of Finland.
A temporary relief was brought by Lux Helsinki – staged now for the sixth time – as light, colour and sound made the capital brighter and more beautiful between 4 and 8 January.
The core of the city, the Cathedral, was adorned by a large heart placed at the top of the steps, beating in colours to music.
Corazón, by the Madrid-born artist and fashion designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, in collaboration with the production and design company D-Facto, reflects her design themes of love and happiness.
One of the participants in Lux Helsinki was Unen ääret / Edges of Dreams: projected on to the façade of the Hakasalmi Villa (1843–46), between the Finlandia Hall and the Music House, it was inspired by the history of the building and its inhabitants. Now a museum, it became known as the home of a benefactor of the city, a rich and famous woman of her time, Aurora Karamzin from the 1860s to the 1890s.
The building was seen through dreamlike visions formed by painted films and shadow patterns by Mika Haaranen, a lighting and set designer and photographer. His works extend from the world of theatre and musicals to contemporary dance, concerts and film. The accompanying music was composed by Aake Otsala.
Helsinki trams have been transporting citizens from 1891. One of the trams was transformed into a moving light installation by the use of programmable LED floodlights. The work was designed and realised by the Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki lighting design students Riikka Karjalainen and Alexander Salvesen. A pity it was not possible to hop on…
28 November 2013 | This 'n' that
Beardom is a weird, fascinating universe. We admit we have a soft spot for this furry predator, living in Finnish forests, which hibernates during the coldest months and does not eat humans (if it can possibly avoid it).
Take a look at these cuties: the New York Daily News published bear photos by a Finnish photographer on 21 November. This smash hit in bear photography is the series in which Valtteri Mulkahainen, an amateur photographer and teacher living in Sotkamo, north-eastern Finland, managed to capture a bear family in Suomussalmi last summer. Adorable creatures!
These lively triplets seem to be playing a round game while their mummy keeps on eating nearby. We hope they will live happily ever after, and that they found a good home for their winter sleep.
The estimate of the number of brown bears in the country is around 1,300. One hundred and thirty two shooting licences were issued this year. Bears in winter hibernation are strictly protected from hunting.
28 November 2013 | This 'n' that
Low-rise wooden buildings in the late 19th-century small town of Helsinki began to disappear as they were beginning to be replaced by houses built of stone. Last century wars and economic interests further changed the façades of Helsinki.
The oldest buildings may contain several generations of constructions, clearly visible or more discreet. In the past houses have been treated in a way which is no longer acceptable.
They were altered in various ways – made taller, smaller or stripped of original ornaments, often after damage in various wars, when restoration would have proved too expensive. In the end, they have become mutts and mongrels of architecture.
Architect Juha Ilonen has wandered around Helsinki with his camera, capturing views that often take a Helsinki citizen by surprise.
In his new, capacious book Kolmas Helsinki – kerroksia arjen arkkitehtuurissa (‘The third Helsinki – layers in the architecture of the everyday’) Ilonen features ca. 300 buildings, from the mid-18th century to 2010. Most of them are apartment buildings situated in downtown Helsinki.
Why is it that I’ve never paid any attention to this or that extraordinary building, even though I hurry past it almost every day? Simply because I often don’t lift my gaze up from street level. The buildings speak volumes about history, aesthetics and demands of practicality.
But take a look at this house in Kruununhaka in the heart of the city – Books from Finland resided in the back yard building for years, and we had absolutely no idea that the façade had been thoroughly altered and stripped of its beautiful Jugend ornaments…
Ilonen’s book is a treasure trove for anybody interested in architecture, housing or city life – or photography: hundreds of black-and-white photographs feature delightful samples of the variety and quality of Helsinki architecture.