This ‘n’ that
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.
Kolmas Helsinki – kerroksia arjen arkkitehtuurissa
The third Helsinki – layers in the architecture of the everyday]
Helsinki: AtlasArt, 2013. 304 pp., ill.
28 November 2013 | This 'n' that
The new PISA results were published in December: these tests, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), measure the level of education of 15-year-old schoolchildren every three years.
Finland has done pretty well in recent years, so there has been interest in other countries in finding out what it is that makes Finnish schools better places for learning.
In 2000 Finnish pupils had been best at reading, and second at maths in 2003 – although competition has grown due to a larger number of countries, particularly in Asia – taking part in the study: for example, only 32 in 2000, but 65 in 2009 and in 2012.
In 2009 Finnish kids were third best in reading and sixth in maths. Now PISA 2012 results place Finnish kids in 12th place in maths, which created a stir in various educational circles. The best five were all Asian countries.
On the index list measuring skills at maths, science and literacy together, Shanghai leads, then come Singapore and Hong Kong. Finland is the best European country, number 7; Estonia is 8, Germany 16, Great Britain 21, the US 29, Sweden 38.
Non scholae, sed vitae discimus. Competition permeates everything now more than ever, but we do not learn for school but for life – not for PISA either. Still, teaching methods and students’ motivation are clearly worth improving.
The chances of learning on this globe are greater and more accessible than ever, but learning still takes brains, motivation and time. Yikes!
18 October 2013 | This 'n' that
Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (Princess Margaret, 1930–2002), Joel, Master of Putkinotko (1881–1934), and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (born 1921) met in the same museum case in Florerence in October, when an exhibition of the work of the artist Pietro Annigoni (1910–1988) was opened.
The morganatic juxtaposition of the English royals and the Finnish writer is based on Annigoni’s reputation as one of the best-known portraitists of the 20th century, in whom the royal courts of England and Denmark, among others, placed their trust.
Joel Lehtonen, author of the novel Putkinotko (‘Hogweed Hollow’, the name also refers to a place) and classic of Finnish literature, is included on account of the fact that, in celebrating his fiftieth birthday in Florence in 1931, he partied throughout the night with students from the Accademia di Belle Arte ‘to the rhythm of an excellent Chianti’.
Also present was the young Piero Annigoni, who, in a cellar restaurant, took out his working tools. A red-chalk portrait of Lehtonen was the result, along with a series of dancing girls drawn in Indian ink. ‘It was five in the morning before I realised,’ Lehtonen wrote back to Finland.
Lehtonen had already spent a year in Italy in 1908 translating Boccaccio’s The Decameron, which, to his annoyance, was censored by the publisher. He published a volume of poetic prose based on his Italian experiences, Myrtti ja alppiruusu (‘The myrtle and the rhododendron’), of which one section is dedicated to Florence, that ‘glittering, passionate city of the spirit’.
Young Florentine artists were used to world-class artists. When the poet Dylan Thomas visited the city in the 1940s, the poet and author Luigi Berti – an acquaintance of Lehtonen’s – complained that ‘poets travelling in Italy no longer give themselves the airs of “milords” – behave like Lord Byron.’ Lehtonen, however, was able to party stylishly and thoroughly in a way that appears to have pleased the sons of Florence.
As he set off on the return journey to Finland, Lehtonen wrote to his wife: ‘An embarrassing day is over’, ‘I am in fine spirits! Heat the sauna.’ He brought with him Annigoni’s works, which are now in the archive of the Finnish Literature Society.
The curator of the Florence exhibition found more sketches of Lehtonen in the Museo Annigoni: in the current show, they are placed alongside sketches of Princess Margaret and Prince Philip.
The opening of the exhibition, in the premises of the Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, was attended by 300 of the city’s elite. It was as if the nobility of the portraits of the Uffizi art gallery had stepped out of their frames to honour Annigoni, whose paintings continued the traditions of the renaissance. The Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica gave prominent coverage to the event. The young politician and Florence mayor Matteo Renzi said in his speech that in northern Italy Annigoni’s significance to art is parallel to that of Olivetti to industry.
Annigoni’s early portraits of Lehtonen are shown in a section entitled Opere rare o inedited. The 240-page catalogue also includes brief description of Lehtonen as a writer and an account of that night in Florence in 1931.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins
17 October 2013 | This 'n' that
The Finnish book world is preparing for the big event of ‘F14’: Finland will appear as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October next year.
The slogan for this enterprise is Finnland. Cool.
The coordinating organ is FILI, the Finnish Literature Exchange, a part of the Finnish Literature Society. Co-operating with FILI are three ministries, literary organisations and publishers, the Finnish Embassy and Finnland-Institut in Berlin and the Goethe-Institut in Helsinki.
Last week a large proportion of the FILI staff – who now need to keep their cool for the next busy year – went to Frankfurt, and on 10 October (aptly, the memorial day of the national author Aleksis Kivi and also Finnish Literature Day) the press conference was opened by the Finnish Minister of Culture and Sport, Paavo Arhinmäki. On 13 October the 2013 Guest of Honour, Brazil, passed the baton to Finland. (More photographs here.)
The world’s largest book fair, Frankfurt, attracts some 300,000 visitors each year. Accessible to both professionals and the general public, the fair is also the biggest cultural event in Germany.
The Guest of Honour countries receive a vast amount of attention in the media, and the number of new translations from the respective languages into German, as well as other languages, will increase.
The total Finnish budget for the years 2010–2015 is approximately four million euros, half of it money from the government. And the mission? Here are some warm words from the cool FILI agenda:
‘Why are Finns reading so much? Why are Finns so good at reading? Because we love it. Because reading plays such an important role in everyday life.
‘And because it is so important in Finland that everybody has access to reading – regardless of whether you are male or female, where you live, where you work, what your education or talent is. Fun, everyday life and for everyone – these are the main themes of the satellite programme for the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014.’
15 October 2013 | This 'n' that
‘The fate of our societies lies in equity’, claims Martti Ahtisaari – winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 – in his foreword to a study entitled A recipe for a better life: Experiences from the Nordic countries (2013).
The study was compiled and written by Heikki Hiilamo and Olli Kangas with Johan Fritzell, Jon Kvist and Joakim Palme and published by Crisis Management Initiative (a Finnish, independent, non-profit organisation founded in 2000 by Ahtisaari, President of Finland from 1994 to 2000). It is available here.
‘The Nordic experience’ is presented in chapters dealing with the trustworthiness of the society, the role of the state, the amount of efficiency and inefficiency as well as the homogeneity of the Nordic societies and the social investments of these societies in their citizens.
(The Nordic countries consist of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as their associated territories – with different levels of autonomy – the Faroe Islands and Greenland [Denmark] and Åland [Finland].)
‘"The Nordic enigma" is a successful marriage between hard-core competitive capitalism and the pursuit of egalitarian policies’.
The study provides a concise summary of how these societies function with additional comments on the socio-historical development of independent Finland. It presents the reader with pros and cons, arguments and facts.
‘For some analysts the Nordic welfare state is a dystopia to be avoided at all costs.... It is simply argued that that the welfare state destroys the incentives to work.’
‘Despite their strong welfare states and heavy tax burdens – often said to be poison to competitiveness – the Nordic countries are doing well in economic terms.’
The reader is indeed challenged to ponder the best recipes for a better life. Last but not least: how will the ‘recipes’ need to be adapted in the future?
26 September 2013 | This 'n' that
Apart from writing poetry for forty years, Sirkka Turkka has worked as a stable master and as a librarian – and she is a wizard in creating portraits of dogs in her poems.
‘Something kept me awake late. Something woke me up early. It’s four o’clock and the dog is puzzled. He tries to continue his dream: he was just about to catch a squirrel he barked at all of yesterday. He leaves me quite alone in silence, in which not a single breeze stirs. What is in the past ceases to be, what is to come has no significance. There is only the sun, just about to come up. And the calm surface of the lake and the coffee cup, from which leisurely steam rises.’ (From Minä se olen [‘It’s me’], 1973)
Elk, horse, raven, reindeer, jackdaw, fox. Turkka’s universe is populated with creatures, often wiser than man: man may have lost his heart, or ‘he thinks it’s a distant land’, but ‘in dogs the heart is where it should be: just after the muzzle, boulder-like, baby-faced and willing.’ (From Yö aukeaa kuin vilja [‘The night opens like corn’], 1978).
Emily Jeremiah, scholar and translator (her work includes poems by Eeva-Liisa Manner, novels by Asko Sahlberg and Kristina Carlson), found Turkka’s creatures a while ago, and as a result a selection of Turkka’s poems, entitled A Sure Star in a Moonless Night, was published recently by Waterloo Press (UK).
Melancholy: it does go well with autumn, doesn’t it? ‘Once more the stars are like a tearful ballad, and always in the evenings / the dogs tune their cracked violins.’ (From Mies joka rakasti vaimoaan liikaa [‘The man who loved his wife too much’, 1979])
15 July 2013 | This 'n' that
While Finnish politicians, just back at Parliament after their summer break, twiddle their thumbs in frustration as the nation faces darkening prospects for economic growth, Finland is being admired across the pond.
The Atlantic magazine took a long look at ‘the secrets of Finland’s success with schools, moms, kids – and everything’ (July 2013).
Olga Khazan reports: Finns enjoy long vacations, better school scores, unemployment insurance, paid parental leaves, cheap child care, education and medical services, and low infant mortality rates.
‘All of this adds up to the stress equivalent of living in what is essentially a vast, reindeer-fur-lined yoga studio.’
Whoa! Are we that happy in Finland? More…
30 June 2013 | This 'n' that
Helsinki is relatively young city, Finnish literature even younger.
Flushed with a huge wave of migration at the beginning of the 20th century, the capital and its people went through the dramatic times of gaining independence and the Civil War (1917–18). The capital – since 1812 – and the life experiences of its inhabitants have been plentifully featured in Finnish fiction.
In his doctoral dissertation, Lieven Ameel has concentrated on a period of Finnish literary history. His Moved by the City: Experiences of Helsinki in Finnish Prose Fiction 1889–1941 (2013, Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, University of Helsinki) examines more than sixty novels, collections of short stories and individual short stories portraying the city: how do the characters experience this urban public space? (Popular – crime fiction, for example – and children’s literature are excluded.) More…
20 June 2013 | This 'n' that
The 26th Lahti International Writers’ Reunion took place at Messilä Manor (some 120 km from Helsinki, on Lake Vesijärvi) from 15 to 18 June.
Chaired by Virpi Hämeen-Anttila and Joni Pyysalo, writers from more than 20 countries held discussions in Finnish, English and French.
This summer the theme was ‘Breaking walls’. ‘Problems demand answers, answers demand questions. If attitudes harden, arms talk, and everyone erects a wall around himself, where is literature in the equation? Is the highest wall right there inside the writer? Or is literature itself a protecting wall? What happens when walls break down?’
The first Writers’ Reunion took place in Lahti – first at Mukkula Manor – fifty years ago; more than a thousand writers, translators, critics and other professionals both Finnish and foreign have come to Lahti to discuss writing. The Reunion has always been open to the public as well.
The biannual Reunion began life in 1963, during the Cold War. Writers from both sides of the Iron Curtain met under the oaks of Mukkula. In the Reunion’s blog some participants and organisers share their experiences of the past; here, the meeting’s one-time international secretary Marianne Bargum recalls the late 1970s and early 1980s:
‘…following in the footsteps of the legendary publisher Erkki Reenpää who knew everybody and all languages, I did my best to persuade big stars to come to Mukkula. Some writers had difficulties when they realised that they were not as well known in Finland as in their own countries. The French poet Michel Deguy left after one day, very offended when nobody knew how big a name he was. (I met him in Paris some years later and he apologised.)
A scandal with huge political consequences came close when the French philosopher Bernard-Henry Lévy said some derogatory things about the Soviet head of state Brezhnev. The Russian delegate, Michael Baryshev, threatened to leave the conference, and Valentina Morozova, interpreter and politruk, had to phone the Soviet Embassy in Helsinki and explain that this was not very serious. The famous British critic and writer Al Alvarez did his best to calm down the antagonists in a panel.’
My own first personal experiences of this international fête (which could mean either wading in the mud on the way to the huge tent sheltering the discussions or basking in hot sunshine followed by the most gentle nightless nights), from the sunny summer of 1983: interviewing Salman Rushdie and Jayne Anne Phillips, among others, for the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Another time the bag containing some hundred copies of the latest issue of Books from Finland, fresh from the printing press, sat on a bus heading for Lahti while I sat on the one behind – which then broke down in the middle of the road, and this was before mobile phones. The driver did have a radio phone though, and the participants got their copies in time.
Among the traditions is a midnight football match between Finns and foreigners: the summer night is light and long. This time the result of the Finland against the rest of the world was convincing 6-3 to Finland.