This ‘n’ that
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.
6 June 2013 | This 'n' that
Ilmari is back!
Last October we brought you the story of a winged traveller who left his home in southern Finland for Africa. Ilmari is a nine-year old osprey who spent his winter in Cameroon; as he and his family are fish-eaters, they have to foresake their frozen homeland for about five months of the year.
It’s a long way to Cameroon, around 6,500 kilometres, and the return trip is a dangerous one. But Ilmari made it: his satellite transmitter reported that he returned to his native landscape on 21 April, after flying 7,351 kilometres, which took him 23 days – an average of 320 kilometres per day. He took a couple of days off on Crete and in Serbia.
Now satellite transmitters and live cameras reveal all the intimate secrets of birds of prey (and bears, hibernating in their lairs). On this British site osprey Lizzie babysits as her chicks flap their tiny wings in early June.
Now it’s time for Ilmari to concentrate on fishing, hopefully in order to feed his offspring – until October, when he will take to the skies again.
16 May 2013 | This 'n' that
A culture freak (and you don’t have to be a vulture) will live longer than a couch potato.
This sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Watching TV is a passive pursuit, attending choir rehearsals or line dancing class isn’t – and human beings are designed to be active.
But it is also a scientific fact. Neurologist and writer MD Markku T. Hyyppä has been researching the effects of cultural pursuits on health for decades. In his new book Kulttuuri pidentää ikää (‘Culture prolongs your life’) he sets out to prove the power of culture using scientific evidence from many countries.
Cultural capital is a concept that defines the ‘usefulness of culture’. Hyyppä disagrees with the famous sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who defines cultural capital as a means for the upper classes to increase their personal status and power. According to Hyyppä, cultural capital is immaterial, originates from cultural pursuits and the consumption of culture, and brings benefits to all who take part.
Learning the basics of culture in one’s education is vital: Finland has done well in the international PISA exams, but it’s not just because the children are bright. Learning how to educate is important: unlike in many other countries, the arts play a significant role in teacher training in Finland. And arts subjects are important in education: art has a positive effect on emotions and cognition, on emotional life as well as reason. Study arts subjects, and it will be easier to learn maths!
It’s a fact is that those who are socially active in clubs, associations and cultural pursuits in general, live longer than those who are not. Economic status is not a decisive factor here. The efficacy of cultural pursuits and cultural capital on prolonging an individual’s life appears to be based on networking. i.e. social capital. Social capital increases the chances of staying alive – almost as much as non-smoking and much more than the estimated extra time of exercise or losing weight. An individual’s cultural pursuits allow him at least a couple of years more in old age.
Hyyppä also examines and comments on the cultural policies of Finnish political parties. After the Perussuomalaiset – True Finns – party presented its manifesto in 2011, stating that contemporary art should not receive any public funding, as only art that ‘strengthens the national identity’ should be funded, other political parties began hastily to revise and update their dusty arts programmes. As it has been proved in international and Finnish medical research that culture definitely has a positive impact on developing society as a whole, political parties cannot afford to ignore dealing with the subject.
In conclusion, Hyyppä states that Finland would certainly benefit from the cultural added value that manifests itself in well-being, health and a longer life spans. When people live longer healthy, the national economy gains massively.
It’s not just opera, ballet and favouring the paintings of the Düsseldorf school that bring you cultural capital and prolong your existence; rock concerts or pottery classes are fine, too. But, notes Hyyppä, being active in politics in your free time, going to church and participating in spectator sports don’t seem to have a similar positive effect, so might it be better not to concentrate on those alone?
Markku T. Hyyppä
Kulttuuri pidentää ikää
(‘Culture prolongs your life’)
Helsinki: Duodecim, 2013. 132 p.
26 April 2013 | This 'n' that
Hey, design hipsters, wherever you are – after the super-serious focus brought about by Helsinki’s year as World Design Capital 2012, here’s a way to blow off steam.
Written by the comic-strip artist, illustrator and designer Kasper Strömman (born 1974), The Kasper Stromman Illustrated Design Encyclopedia (HuudaHuuda, 2013) consists of a series of post-ironic sound-bites on Finnish material culture.
Strömman was voted Graphic Designer of 2013 in Finland by Grafia (Association of Visual Communication Designers), by a jury that considered him to be a ‘catalyst, challenger and the standup comedian of graphic design’.
His book really is encyclopaedic, with entries ranging from the usual suspects (Artek, Arabia, Iittala) through the iconoclastic (in purist design terms, anyway: Angry Birds, the heteka sofa bed, Nokia gumboots and mobile phones) and the everyday (hapankorppu crispbread, vihreä kuula sweets, the Anttila mail-order catalogue and store) to the just plain wacky (the Aqua Tube disposable toilet roll, the Konrad ReijoWaara bridge, the Superlon mattress).
There are also fun sections on how to make your own design classics – for example, a pair of original orange Fiskars scissors (just use some paint) or Harri Koskinen’s glass block lamp – and outings to less-than-fashionable destinations (in eastern Helsinki) such as the Puhos shopping centre or the Itä-Pasila housing estate.
And so on. You can get a taste of what to expect at Kasper Strömman’s design blog in English (sadly discontinued, although it remains online. He’s started a new blog, although only in Finnish, entitled Kasper Diem…).
So far, so good; we like the idea, and it’s hard to think of another source that succeeds so well in bringing together every material thing we think of as Finnish. The problem is that it’s all delivered in faintly annoying one-liners – Kalevala Koru makes ‘jewellery based on bronze age findings, usually bought for you by your parents’; the Jugend style of architecture ‘should not be confused with “Hitler Jugend”’; Lapponia, Lapland in Latin, ‘useful to know if you were planning a ski trip in the Middle Ages’ – quite funny at first, but in the end they begin to get on your nerves. It’s like a diet of street food that never quite adds up to a meal.
The book’s foreword claims it to be ‘unique in the sense that it was put together with a minimum amount of research’ – no designers’ names or information-based facts. There’s an advantage here – it means that Strömman has felt free to include, among his opinions, plenty of oral and hearsay information, essential in dealing with everyday objects and their meanings.
But it also means that, too often, the author has let himself off the hook with a gag or a quip when staying with the subject would have been really rewarding. It’s a bit too much like material culture with attention deficit disorder. (It’s also hard to see who the book is really directed at – many of the jokes are so ‘in’ that it’s only those who are already in the know who will appreciate them.)
So hey, guys (Strömman refers to himself in the plural, so we will too), how about a challenge? Why not take yourselves seriously, and write the full-out version?
12 April 2013 | This 'n' that
Nuntii Latini, conspectus rerum internationalium hebdomadalis, est programma Radiophoniae Finnicae Generalis in terrarum orbe unicum.
Nuntii Latini is a five-minute radio programme broadcast every Friday by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, YLE. It is the only regular news programme in Latin in the world, and has been on the air since 1989. (Not even Vatican Radio broadcasts news.)
Professor Tuomo Pekkanen from Jyväskylä University and Reijo Pitkäranta are the founding fathers of the programme, and they are helped by some other friends of Latin.
In a report on 8 April The New York Times wrote that even Elvis Presley has inspired the friends of the dead language: Jukka Ammondt, a Finnish university lecturer in English and German, began singing Elvis songs in Latin a couple of decades ago, and occasionally still does. Love Me Tender: Tenere Me Ama.
John Tagliabue describes in his article how Leah Whittington, an English professor at Harvard, ‘catches the news bulletins on her iPod while strolling to classes.’ Whittington says: ‘I’m often struck when I’m listening how well structured they are, how idiomatic, how precise the vocabulary is.’
The editors don’t invent new words, they look for new expressions using existing Latin vocabulary. A golf course, for example, is campus pilamallei.
11 April 2013 | This 'n' that
‘Just before the meeting Ludwig chickened out. In the ad he had bragged that he was a “sporty male with a sense of humour”. Would Patsy accept his illiteracy, brutal table manners and cruelty towards the peasants?’
One picture, few words: Mikko Metsähonkala’s artwork creates a moment in a universe – recognisable or completely strange – providing it with a laconic textual subtext. We feature some of his stories published in Toisaalta / (P)å andra sidan / In Other Wor(l)ds.
14 March 2013 | This 'n' that
Zacharias Topelius wrote every day for almost 70 years. His published works contain almost 16,000 pages.
As he was also the editor of the Swedish-language newspaper Helsingfors Tidningar which he published twice a week for 20 years, his output, counted in pages, is enormous.
Author, journalist, historian, critic and pedagogue Topelius (1818–1898) wrote poetry, hymns, travelogues, serials, articles, short stories, fairy tales, textbooks and plays.
As for Finnish translations, his historical serial Fältskärns berättelser (‘The barber-surgeon’s tales’, 1853–1867) and Läsning för barn (‘Reading for children’) are probably his most popular works.
In a bilingual (Swedish and Finnish), text-critical, annotated (and illustrated) project, entitled ‘Zacharias Topelius Skrifter’ (‘Z. T. writings’), Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland (the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland) will publish a large number of Topelius’s works in digital facsimile form. The selection grows continually.