Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Summer dreaming

The sun is starting to shine again in Finland.  As the barometer rises, the days are lasting longer and the smiles are returning to people's faces.  :)  Actually, it's no joke, now that the daylight is lasting past 9pm and the warmth is returning,  I am really noticing a change in my daily interactions with people.  We have lived in Finland now for 9 months and have only met a few of our neighbors.  Now, just in the last couple weeks a few families have stopped by to say  "hello".  Many Finns are an introverted  for let's say 8 months out of the year, but when the sun shines bright, they seem to awaken from their winter slumber and will surprise you with a smile or a "hi".  Nothing like the assistance of long, bright days to bring them out of their shells.

I am starting to get excited by the prospects of the Finnish summer.  I have been teased by a few weeks of Finnish summers while on vacation in the past, but never actually spent an entire summer residing here.  In addition to seeing smiling faces again, the summer terrace culture is kick starting soon.  People tend to avoid most indoor activities and soak in the sun rays at the city's many bar terraces and parks.  They truly relish the short summer season and supposedly frequent the terraces multiple times per week.  In other words, they truly take advantage of the small window of time that is the magic of the Finnish summer.  I for one, having been spoiled by Californian sunshine have taken advantage of every Spring day here where the clouds decide to go on strike and allow the sun to beam bright. It is already light till past 9pm and we are still in April.  Once late June rolls around we will have a few weeks of endless sunlight.  These endless nights are also known as the "White Nights" or "Midnight Sun".

After having completed my first winter in Finland and seeing the weather slowly evolve, I can now truly appreciate the sun I perhaps took for granted in California and now have some insights into the psyche of the Finnish persona and how they truly come back to life like a bear that just woke up from his long winter's nap.

Here's to summer 2012 in Finland and everywhere else in the world, may it be the longest, most magical, summer ever.

There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.  ~Celia Thaxter

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Finnish Easter Experience

Easter (Pääsiäinen) in Finland is a distinctly different experience than what is celebrated in the United States.  The Palm Sunday before Easter the kids dress up like witches and go door to door collecting sweets.   Reminiscent of the trick-or-treat tradition in the British Isles and North America, this practice is believed to be a mixture of Orthodox Easter blessing customs from Eastern Finland with pre-Christian rituals from Western Finland and Scandinavia.  The kids must recite a rhyme in Finnish and they exchange a decorated branch before receiving their treats.  The Finnish rhyme is: Virvon varvon, tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuueks, ison talon isännäks. Vitsa sulle, palkka mulle.

I really enjoy the long Holiday weekends in Finland and Easter is no exception.  Both Friday and Monday are official Holidays, making Easter a 4-day weekend in Finland.  In the United States some people get "Good Friday" off while others just have a normal 2-day weekend.   In Finland, most of the businesses shut down on the long weekend (with exception to Saturday) so many people leave town for vacation.  In Finland most people already get 5-6 weeks of vacation, so these long weekends are a nice addition to the already generous time off policies.  Many folks I had spoken to decided to go downhill skiing in Northern Finland and there is usually still plenty of snow up there at this time of year. 

In addition to eggs and chocolate sweets, traditional Finnish Easter dishes include Ham, Lamb and Mämmi.  Mämmi, a distinctively Finnish desert dish is made from water, rye flour, and powdered rye malt, seasoned with dark molasses, salt, and dried powdered Seville orange peel.  Some are afraid to eat Finnish Mämmi because of it's consistency and dark brown appearance.  It really isn't that scary and besides being kind of thick and filling, doesn't taste all that bad.  It is traditionally eaten with cream and sugar.  Give it a try if you are ever visiting Finland during Easter time.

It recently got a bit colder and snowed a little bit on Palm Sunday and remained cool (25-38 F) during the entire week leading up to Easter.  The Finns said that these brief returns to Winter during Spring are common, and they call them "Takaisin Talvi" or "Back Winter".  Old Man Winter may have reared his ugly head again and placed Spring on hold, but the days are longer, the sun is out and the snow has almost all melted.  You can definitely feel Spring in the air, and now I am just waiting for the warmer barometer to stay longer.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Parisian Interlude

Iconic bookstore

While I have enjoyed living abroad in Finland, sometimes one has a need to escape the country and go on a little adventure.  Luckily, living in Finland has the benefit of being a 1-4 hour plane ride from just about every country in Europe.  Direct flights and minimal time changes mean that you can be up and running in your destination city in a few hours.

Louvre Museum
We are lucky enough to have friends living in Paris for one year, so we were able to stay with them for a long weekend.   Their apartment was perfectly located in the left bank's 6th arrondissement.  You couldn't ask for a better location that is central to many of Paris's cultural highlights.  They live just a 5 minute walk to the Notre Dame cathedral and a 15 minute walk to either the Louvre or Orsay museums.   Ernest Hemingway once said (after living in Paris in his 20s) that Paris is a moveable feast and I couldn't agree more.  It doesn't really matter which direction you walk, you will find something interesting on every street corner.  Compared to compact Helsinki, Paris is quite an enormous city and consists of 20 arrondissements (sections).  The sections are by no means small, you can walk for 10 minutes and still be in the same arrondissement.  During our stay in Paris, we focused on the 6th and 7th arondissments.  On the first day we practically raced through the Louvre which features famous pieces such as the  "Mona Lisa" or the "Venus De Milo".  Later in the day we walked over to the Eiffel Tower and had a small picnic while gazing at this famous landmark.  On the way back from the Eiffel Tower we stopped by the Rodin museum, which features his famous "Thinker" sculpture.  The day was topped off with a perfect dinner with our friends in the Latin Quarter.  

Rodin's "The Thinker"
On the second day we continued our adventures by heading over to what is arguably Paris's second most famous museum, The Orsay.  Ironically, one of the featured exhibits in the Orsay was a Finnish artist named Akseli Gallen-Kallela who's work is considered very important to the Finnish identity.  So, we traveled from Finland to one of the most famous museums in Paris to see a Finnish artist.  :)  However, in my opinion the highlights of the Orsay were the French Impressionist painters, which include Monet and Manet, not to mention many works by Van Gogh.  Later in the day we meandered across the Seine to an almost equally famous museum called the Orangerie which features Monet's enormous Water lilies paintings.  By this time I think we were going through slight museum burnout as our brains could barely process all the pieces we saw in 2 days.

Unlike Finland, people in Paris are not so eager to speak to you in English, so knowledge of basic French is a big plus.  My French is really bad, but I still attempted a few conversational polite words.  In Finland, unless you speak perfect Finnish, you will most likely get English spoken back to you from the beginning.  This is likely not the case in France where they expect you to try to speak French, and if you do, they will be more willing to try speaking English back.

With it's great museums, amazing architecture, famous cathedrals and other distinct monuments, I cannot think of a better place to escape the reality of your every day life and and enjoy a feast for all the senses.  Paris is really an amazing city that has thrilled people for decades and will most likely keep it's stature as one of the greatest cities in the world for a long time to come.

P.S. - My top three movies featuring Paris as a backdrop are 1) Midnight in Paris (2011), 2) Before Sunset (2004) and 3) Paris, je t'aime (2006)