Fragments

Two drunks are sitting on the low wall next to Lidl. Skinny legs crossed, beer can in hand, puffy face turned to look at the store-goers and sneer at those better-offs getting our of high-end cars like BMWs and Mercs. People like us. When we come out, they have vanished.

Driving out of the parking lot and turning on to the main road, we see a fragment of a hat, a glimplse of a face, a ray of light reflecting from a beer can. The dudes have migrated to a nook in the little patch of forest on the other side of the road. “That’s one kind of a life, I guess,” I think to myself as I wonder if they have a family somewhere, wishing they were home instead.

A young woman sporting a backpack running down the street in jump shoes. Is she out for a workout or in a hurry to get somewhere? “Would be fun to try out jump shoes sometime,” I note, as another thought enters my mind: my family would not let me put them on, in fear that next they need to call an ambulance.

Middle-aged man in an electric wheelchair in the hardware store with his wife. Wife is browsing the shelves while the man sits helpless in the wheelchair, waiting. Wife finds whatever tool she was looking for and they go through the cash register. “How would that feel? To be bound to a wheelchair, not being able to contribute,” I wonder and recon that it would still be different for me and for my husband. I might take it as a relief from all this *doing*. He might go down in despair.

Three teens sitting in swings in the park, just loitering, being teens. For a fleeting moment I think: “Ah, that freedom of being young! With no care in this world!” Then I remember it’s just an illusion. Teen years are harsh and probably more difficult than anything that comes later. Unless you’re BPD and have a permanently underdeveloped frontal cortex.

The tram starts from the traffic light. It was all predictable, but I fall down on my ass all the same. My balance has failed me, again. It was less than a week since it did it in a bus. I find myself sprawled on the tram floor, in my clunky heels and in my dress. Less than gracefully I gather myself up as fast as I can. People look away demurely. Only two young ladies seem worried as they ask if I’m ok. I decide not to be embarrassed, smile at them and tell them I’m fine. With an aching ankle I step out as we have reached my stop, and hold my head up high as I walk towards my destination.

Stories. We all have our stories and when we see other people out and about, a small fragment of our story is revealed. Most of the time it is puzzling to anyone watching, because the short moment is out of context. Only when you get to know a person, talk to them for some time, do you get to know the outlines of their story. Only when you spend time with them for years on end, might you actually learn their story.

Take a random excerpt from a book. It may intrigue you, it may be meaningless, it may sound completely insane. Read the book flap and it may make sense. Maybe you want to read more and decide to get the book. Maybe it is disinteresting and you will never find out what lies beneath those covers. Obviously, you will never be able to read all books in this universe. Obviously it’s not necessary either.

In her book called “Outline” Rachel Cusk delves into people’s stories in a way that the main character remains practially unknown. All of the characters do, really. It’s all about fragments, pieces of life, that get told. Some stories you can relate to, some not so much. It is an interesting read, but so intense that it felt like overload. Like being trapped in a social situation, forced to listen to people cite their life to you. In the end, I wouldn’t have cared to learn more about any of them. I also decided that I didn’t care to read the rest of the trilogy.

This blog of mine, it too is just fragments. Little bits and pieces of my life, crumbs and morsels of my mind. We all choose what we share with the rest of the world, irl and online. We all construct an official story to show the world and conceal the real one lying beneath. Occasionally the curtain flutters, occasionally you might see through someone else’s curtain. You will still see only a little bit of what’s beyond.

So be kind, do not judge. For you don’t know the whole story. You don’t know what the smile covers up.

Life is a book club

“Reading isn’t the opposite of doing, it’s the opposite of dying.”

When you love reading and are surrounded by (or at least have one or two in your life) with others who love reading, your life becomes a book club quite naturally. You read, you talk about what you’re reading and what you’ve read, you share ideas, thoughts and books. Even if you don’t necessarily read the same book at the same time. Those traditional “everybody read this book and then we discuss it” book clubs have somehow always rubbed me the wrong way.

endofyourlife

Will Schwalbe and his mother had a book club somewhere between the idea of “our whole life has been a book club” and a traditional one. Just the two of them. A book club that had nothing and yet everything to do with Will’s mother’s, Mary Anne’s, pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed at a point where she was supposed to have maybe four to six months of time left. She however lived for two more years, going through chemo and other treatments. A whole lot of the book club actually happened in the outpatient center waiting for chemos and doctor’s appointments etc. In fact, that’s where it started.

From the very beginning this true story totally engulfed me. Not that it was a page turner, not really, but there were so many aspects to the book, that simply drew me in on a very deep level. For one, and the main reason I even got interested in the book, there were the books those two were reading. My list of books to read grew significantly while reading this one. And then there was the whole setting of terminal illness, treatments, the relationship between the mother and the son, all about the people and their realizations and Mary Anne’s wisdom. It all made be pause and reflect here and there and constantly, making reading the book quite slow.

I made as many as 35 (exactly, it seems!) bookmark notes in the book while reading it. Highly irregular for me, but this one I really wanted to be able to return to through some passages I found especially good or hitting home. My first note is marked on the very first sentence of the book: “We are nuts about the mocha in the waiting room at Memorial Sloan-Kettering’ outpatient care center.” Oh, I’m nuts about the cappucinos of Espresso House, but the mocha was not the reason for the note. It’s just that the book had me with its very opening line. The best ones do.

Actually, that thought is in the book too, at the very beginning of the second chapter, “Appointment in Samarra”. Each chapter title marks something Will and Mary Anne read – a book, a flyer, an article, a new version of an old story. Will and Mary Anne were suckers for opening lines, too. And books about books and reading. And Mary Anne shared my habit of checking out the ending first. This, by the way, is a learning point for me when reading in Kindle. Of course I can go the end of the book in Kindle too, but then it messes the furthest read point. So I don’t. So I endure the suspence on a much more intense level than with paper books where I can just flip throught the pages occasionally to ease my mind.

While books and reading were definitely the salt and sugar of the book, the setting of cancer and dying threw me right back to the time when my mother was diagnosed and treated and dying and died. It was a difficult time for me – us all, obviously, but I had my own issues with mom and they pretty much exploded at that time, making my relationship with mom cordial at best, at the time of her death. Mary Anne and my mom shared a bunch of qualities and then again were like night and day.

My relationship with my mom was much like Will’s with his, until the ugliness of things surfaced. While Will realized that part of the process of his mom was dying was mourning not just her death, but also the death of his dreams of things to come, I realized that I was mourning a mother I hadn’t had. Not to get me wrong – I was close with my mom. In fact, the whole problem lies exactly there: I was too close with my mom. It was a codependence that ripped me off my integrity as a person.

Funny how little things can make you feel like you totally can relate to someone else’s life and story. I was in the middle of a meeting when my mom called me to let me know about her cancer. Will was in the middle of a book fair, working. Will found himself crying for the first time for his mom on a flight – though his mom at that point still very much alive. When my mom died, I cried properly for the first time a couple weeks later, on board an airplane, headed to Las Palmas to bury my mother.

Also, Will’s mom was quite religious about thank you notes. My dad, too. Or at least thank you phone calls. Where Will spent Christmas Day writing notes, I called my grandparents and godparents to thank them for their Christmas gifts. I hated those calls. I felt awkward and apart from my grandma, the receivers of them seemed to feel a bit awkward (or maybe it was all just me). My grandma took the opportunity to go on and on about what she’d been thinking when buying the gift, how extraordinary she had found it and “isn’t it just the best thing since sliced bread?” And I’d feel even more awkward. My dad called to remind me about these calls still when I was over thirty, until I once totally snapped about it. Will found later on, that there’s a great joy in thanking. I still rather give than thank. I think I’m traumatized ;)

It also seemed to me, I was a pretty similar kid as Will. Preferring the indoors with books to the outdoors with sports. Rather reading and talking about books and music with his friends, huddled in his room, than outside doing sports. Not that those two necessarily rule each other out, just as a preference. I was a pretty lonely kid, with books as my best friends, but I do remember spending hours with my few friends just reading together. We’d swap books – which is how I found e.g. Nancy Drew and the Dana Girls series – and read some more. Then we’d go for a swim, play some badminton outside, go skiing, and play cards. Or go out to the lake in a row boat and read there!

The list of books mentioned and talked of in this book is so long that I won’t bother to even start. A few are worth mentioning, though, the first one being The Hobbit. Tolkien has never really been my thing, but I think I figured out why: Will read it while being delirious with fever. I think I might have enjoyed it like that too ;) Will did return to The Hobbit as an adult though, and noted that it still had the same power over him. I thought I might give Hobbit a chance, maybe, some day. Possibly. I never got past page 150 of the Lord of the Rings, and if a book takes that long (or longer, I suppose) to begin and draw me in, it’s not my kind of book.

One book that, due to its nature as a daily passage book, is mentioned and referred to throughout the book. “Daily Strength for Daily Needs” is the title of this book. Mary Anne gets an old used copy of it and somehow the worn book with markings and dog ears makes it a remarkable book in itself. It is quite religious in its passages, having some Christian thoughts and some non for each day. Mary Anne immediately falls in love with the book and carries it with her always. Sometimes she leaves it lying out in the open, opened at a certain page, for Will to find and read too. She doesn’t push, for Will is not religious, but she offers. And the book itself intrigues Will too.

Even though I read a lot in Kindle, I still love those actual paper books. I love having a library, I love seeing and touching and smelling books, and I very much love my old copies of books, many of which I haven’t even read. There’s something about the physicality of a book, especially one that has been owned before. Like the previous owner(s) have left something of their life and story behind in the book. Most of my old books belonged to my grandparents or great-grandparents. We’re a pretty booky family, just like Will’s too. He also shares my notion that eBooks are good for consuming certain types of books on the go, but there’s a lot that you simply need to have physically.

One of Mary Anne’s many projects was gathering funds to build a library in Afganistan. Mary Anne traveled the world taking part in all sorts of humanitarian aid projects and fought for women’s rights where there were none and towards the end of her life, when she could channel her strength to one thing anymore, she chose to make this library her first and foremost priority and was determined to see it through before she died. She more or less did too.

When asked, why this library was so important to her, she answered not that because she loves books and thinks their important but because “sometimes even before medicine and shelter-they want books for their children.” Because she had seen the power of books, not just in her own family’s priviledged life, but specifically for those less fortunate in this world. “When ever you read something wonderful, it cahnges your life, even if you aren’t aware of it,” Mary Anne noted a bit later in the book. Indeed! Even when you read something not so wonderful.

Another one of my favorite quotes about reading comes not from Mary Anne or Will, but is form the book The Uncommon Reader, quoted in this book. In the passage, the Queen of England says: “Books are not about passing time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass time, one could go to New Zeeland.”  Now ain’t that the truth!

Mary Anne lived her life going to places most people don’t dare go because of the war and the unrest. Places my husband wouldn’t let me go for fear of something happening to me. Still she never regarded herself a brave woman – though most other people did. Her notion of bravery goes in the lines of “bravery is not somehing you do because you do without fear; it’s something you do in spite of it”. One could then draw the conclusion that Mary Anne was not afraid of dying, not when she went to those places and not when she suffered her cancer, and she said so much herself too. She lived as much, too. My mom, too, said so, but in the end she feared death more than anything.

Dealing with death, you inevitably think about loneliness too. The loneliness that will result from the death of someone you love. Growing up, mom was my best friend (something she accomplished by guilt tripping and isolating me, the latter being maybe not so calculated, though). As I noted, I was a lonely kid. I had a few good friends, but one after the other they all moved away. I spent a lot of time alone with my books and little sister. Will touched the subject of loneliness while he and Mary Anne were reading the book Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki. There, a teacher says: “Loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern world, so full of freedom, independence and our own egoistical selves.” Will thought it true. Me, I’m not entirely sure.

One thing is for sure, though. If you have siblings, you are never entirely alone. Will has two siblings. I have a sister, who was a total nuisance to me when growing up (though of course I loved her even then!), and whom I almost lost from my life (mostly thanks to my mom) at the point when mom was dying, but who has always been there for me, like I’ve been there for her. At the era of personalized cell phone ring tones, my sister’s tone on my phone was the Friends theme song. As said, we had a bit of a fall out but managed to correct things later on and currently talk weekly over messenger (as she lives on the other side of the Atlantic with her family). She’s the one I have my “book club” with. We don’t always talk about books, but often we do.

We also talk a lot about our kids, oviously. Mine are already adults, or almost. Her’s are only starting their school career, one just finishing first grade, the other one still a preschooler. Naturally we talk a whole lot about raising kids – and about our parents and how we were raised. Will writes about this when reflecting on a book called “The Price of Salt”, that made him remember something from his childhood. “You piece together your parents’ child-raising theories by analyzing later why they did what they did. One of the many great things about having siblings is that you get to do this in a communal, Talmudic way.” True dat! My only regret is that with our age difference and very different lives, we have only got to this with my sister, when my kids are practically grown. Then again, its just as important to me as a person as it is for making decisions about your own ways of raising children. So better late than never, I suppose!

While being hugely different in so many ways, my sister and I are still rather similar in some ways. She is meticulous and religious about rules and wants to do the child-raising thing by the book (which book, though, is sometimes the question) wheras I paint with the big brush. “Lite ditåt”, my grandmother used to say. It means more or less on the spot, close enough. One thing we have in common is the need to devour stories, read books, to widen our horizons, to understand this world and people better. Here my husband is quite different: he reads to learn “stuff”, things. And a vast knowledge about all sorts of things he has too! One of the things I fell in love with. And this is something I realized while reading this book and how Will describes the differences between Stieg Larsson’s detective characters and their ways of acquiring information and understanding.

“While Lisbeth Salander finds what she needs on the computer, Bloomkvist looks to books and genealogies and photographs  […] for his discoveries. The two characters compliment each other, as do their approaches to knowledge.” I think this very much goes for me and my husband too.

At the end of the book Mary Anne dies, obviously. Surrounded by her family. In this book, you didn’t need to flip to the end to understand that. Will wrote his book, which he had started to plan already while his mom was still alive, Mary Anne even giving him some notes for it. She did love to be in the middle of things and influence pretty much everything. At some point while reading the book I simply had to google her too. She did seem to be quite a remarkable woman! Read and be inspired!

“We’re all in the en-of-our-life book club, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read may well be the last, each conversation the final one.”

The twelve months of 2018

Six days left of this year. I think it’s been a pretty good one, but let’s look back, month by month. The highlights, books and pictures. The usual stuffs. Oh and quotes!

January
Highlight of the month: Short weekend at the company villa with my teens. Some cards against humanity, some GTA, some reading, some hot tub and sauna. Prime quality time <3

Quote of the month: “The term atheist should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or non-alchemist.’ We do not have a word for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive, or for people who doubt that aliens traverse the galaxy only to molest cattle.” – Dan Brown (Origin)

Book of the month: Theodore Wheeler – Kings of Broken Things
Intriguing in a broken kind of a way. Reminded me of Jess Walter and the sort of ugly yet charming stories of life in all its sometimes not so glorious colors. There was a time and a place and a society and a life so very different from that of today. Yet so oddly familiar.

Pic of the month:

Tammela
Morning in Tammela, the company villa

February
Highlight of the month: Operation catch the mouse Meggie found lurking in my son’s room. In the end, son caught the mouse in a box and I took it to the nearby forest, uninjured.

Quote of the month: ”Honey, your hair is like the mane of a wild lion whether you brush it or not.” – my husband

Book of the month: Khaled Hosseini – A Thousand Splendid Suns
A truly touching story of a woman and another woman struggling under the oppression of men. Of war, and the decline of a society in Afganistan. A reminder to us western women of the unfortunate fact that there’s a lot of women out there who don’t have it as good as we have it here.

Pic of the month:

duck.jpg
Duck at Talinranta on a very sunny winter day

March
Highlight of the month: The X-Files season 11. Yup.

Quote of the month: “Really, a novel does not exist, does not happen, until readers pour their own lives into it.” – Emma Donoghue

Book of the month: Emma Donoghue – Room
The little boy who didn’t even know a world beyond their four walls existed until the day of the great escape. The boy and the mom, in a twisted symbiosis, due to the imprisonment they lived in. The reality of the world, that almost crushed them both.

Pic of the month:

ice
Across the ice from Hakaniemi to Kaisaniemi

April
Highlights of the month:
– My son got his transgender diagnosis, allowing him to finally proceed to hormonal treatment and name changing.
– Bicycling with husband and daughter.

Quote of the month: “I think truth in fiction comes from how the words make you feel, rather than a reference to the facts behind them.” – Layton Green

Book of the month: J. Randy Taraborrelli – Madonna
The interesting story of the interesting super star.

Pic of the month:

bicycling
Out bicycling

May
Highlights of the month:
– My son got his name changed.
– Long weekend in Lisbon with my daughter – sightseeing, dinner at Hard Rock Café, a lot of shopping. Just great old time with my kid <3
– Trip to Tallinn with some friends.
– Building our garden.

Quote of the month: “Sometimes I feel like on different days I connect to different FE servers of reality, and they’re out of sync like one’s already got a patch installed that another one doesn’t have yet.” – me

Book of the month: Lucy Dillon – One Small Act of Kindness
Light reading, a feel-good story, even with the slight twist of evil in the midst. But then again – you will never truly appreciate the good without a touch of bad.

Pic of the month:

book
Reading in our backyard

June
Highlights of the month:
– Movie night with my teens – Thor Ragnarok.
– The Scottish ancestor! my cousin found after digging a bit into our family history (on mom’s side): Guilhelmus ‘William’ Andresson Udnie of Tillery, whose son moved to Vyborg to become part of my ancestry. Still tickles something in me.
– Working on the garden remodeling.

Quote of the month: “Jokaisella meistä on oikeus olla omana itsenään. Ilman että kukaan syrjii tai kenenkään tarvitsee kokea pelkoa. Vielä niin ei ole.”
“We all have the right to be ourselves without judgement and fear and discrimination. This is not a reality yet.”
– Anne Kantola, about Helsinki Pride in Helsingin Sanomat

Book of the month: Nina George – The Little Paris Bookshop
A story about love and life and obsession. Slightly blah with the “it’s been 20 years but I still can’t let go” but then again, the growth when he does <3 Oh, and all them books in the book!

Pic of the month:

hakku.jpg
The lady and the pickaxe

July
Highlights of the month:
– My daughter’s “protu-juhla”, ie. the 15yo growing up party, the secular version of a bat mitzvah or “rippijuhla”.
– Summer vacation!
– New car <3
– Weekend in the Turku archipelago with husband, dogs, daughter and step-daughter <3
– Week in Lapland with husband, dogs and daughter <3 BB-gun shooting, archery with a horse bow, kayaking, road trips, hot sun, reindeer.

Quote of the month: “Mä haluan nähdä sellaisen maailman, missä voin kävellä kadulla ilman, että joku tulee sanomaan, että vitsi sä oot rohkee kun sä oot oma itsesi. Missä mulle ei tarvi tulla sanomaan, että sä oot rohkee kun sä uskallat olla erilainen. Mä haluan nähdä maailman, jossa mä en ole rohkea.”
“I want to see a world where I can walk down the street without people coming up to me saying wow you must have a lot of courage to be yourself. Where no one feels the need to tell me it requires courage to be different. I want to see a world where I am not courageous.”
– Vili, 19yo, in Satakunnan Kansa, about being transgender

Book of the month: T. H. White – The Once and Future King
Long read with a lot of mythology, a lot of wisdom, a lot of philosophy. Enjoyable! A book everyone should read! Long live King Arthur!

Pic of the month:

2018-07-25 17.20.09
Meggie getting ready to jump – fuck this boat shit!

August
Highlights of the month:
– Mamma Mia – Here We Go Again. Cried through the movie. Love it <3
– Sausage making for the first time

Quote of the month: “You know it’s hot when you prefer wet shorts over dry sweats” -me

Book of the month: S. S. Taula – Vilkas vuorokausi
Loosely translated: An Eventful 24 Hours. A funny Finnish comedy book, old as shit. Summer, love, crime, serendipity with a little nudge from a couple of mischievous guys. Love of this book and returning to it every once and again is something I share with my dad.

Pic of the month:

Timmy
Timmy chillin’ at our summer place

September
Highlights of the month:
– My son turned 18! I became the mother of an adult :o
– Dinner cruise with husband <3

Quote of the month: “Truly, as the ancients taught us, there is nothing under the moon, however fine, that is not subject to corruption.” – C. J. Sansom (Dark Fire)

Book of the month: Ernest Cline – Ready Player One
Intriguing. Virtual reality in the aftermath of a global catastrophe. Trailer stacks and piles of abandoned cars and virtual reality everything. And a quest.

Pic of the month:

september
Warm autumn with bright colors

October
Highlight of the month: Helsinki Book Fair – went alone and fully enjoyed the event <3

Quote of the month: “I don’t hate [people]…I just feel better when they’re not around.” – Charles Bukowsky (Barfly)

Book of the month: Lisa See – Shanghai Girls
An enchanting story of two sisters making a narrow escape from Shanghai as the Japanese proceed to invade China. Settling to California under false pretenses of false citizenship of their in-laws and husbands, they struggle to scrape up a life for their new family.

Pic of the month:

Patu
Tatu (a kids’ book hero) and me at Book Fair

November
Highlights of the month:
– Another weekend at the company villa, this time with all three teens. Pizza, hot tub, cards against humanity, GTA, the works. Great times <3
– Muse Simulation Theory released + I got myself a ticket for their next summer gig in Helsinki <3

Quote of the month: ”Out of their context, she had behaved out of character. It made one wonder at the independence of character from place and from there to the strange, malleable liquidity of character itself.” – David Duchovny (Miss Subways)

Book of the monthDavid Duchovny – Miss Subways
A bit of mythology, or a bit more. A brain twister in a true Gaimanly manner. Entertaining and surprising with a nice touch of philosophy and unexplainables.

Pic of the month:

Library
My very favorite place at home: my library and fatboy <3

December
Highlights of the month:
– My son got his driver’s license.
– Phantom of the Opera at the Finnish National Opera, with my husband <3
– Company trip to Amsterdam.
– Christmas break with all that Christmas baking and good food!

Quote of the month: “Home country is kinda like a sibling. You criticize and bitch about it but if a foreigner complains, you’re ready to punch them for saying a bad word about your beloved homeland.” – me

Book of the month: Kari Hotakainen – Tuntematon Kimi Räikkönen
I haven’t exactly finished the book yet as I got it for Christmas, but I’ve read enough to know it’s definitely worth the read. The story of Iceman, Kimi Räikkönen behind the scenes where the ice melts. Written in an entertaining way.

Pic of the month:

Christmas
Our little pre-Christmas with teens (not here for the actual holidays)

Stories from Lapland

On the road

It was four thirty in the morning and while the sun was already up, my eyes were barely open. We had packed the car already in the evening to avoid extra hassle in the morning, so it was pretty much a brush teeth, get dressed, walk dogs (to the end of the driveway and back), pack food in travel fridge and off we went. Me, husband, dogs and the youngest of our teens. Teen went to sleep in the back seat, I tried to get some shuteye too, while husband, who is quite often awake in the wee hours of dawn anyway, drove.

By the time we stopped for the first time, the backseat was on blankety tumble. Dogs and teen were jumbled together, curled up and sleeping like a proper pack. They stirred up enough to have a snack and the dogs even had a little walk around the small patch of greenery, like every time we stopped. Couple more hours and another stop. “How come you need to pee so often? You’re stopping, like, all the time!” complained the teen. Less than five hours and we were in Oulu. And yeah, already stopping for the second time!

Couple hours later we were in Rovaniemi. Usually we have done the biggest part of our shopping there in a Prisma, but this time husband decided to go in only for a tomahawk or two and maybe something else we couldn’t probably get from Sodankylä. He returned from the store in record time – the weather was bad, it was a Saturday and the place was packed. He did get those tomahawks (cowboy stakes), though, which we grilled during our stay in Vuotso.

On the road again and next stop Sodankylä. That was the big grocery shopping stop. I got out of the car with the dogs, and tried to get teen to join me for a walk. “Come on, we’ll walk to the ice cream stand by the other store and get some ice creams,” I tried. “Nah, I don’t need any,” she replied and put the ear plugs back in. Okay then. I walked there with the dogs, got ice creams for myself and them and walked back to the car when those were eaten. Husband was still in the store. No surprise there.

When all the Lidl and K-store business was finally done, it was an hour and a half to Vuotso. We were racing against a thunder storm – or so we thought – that was due in Vuotso at about seven or so. We made it to Vuotso by five thirty. Eleven hours with (minimal) stops. Back home we drove two hours longer. There was way more traffic then and we stopped for longer times since we weren’t in such a hurry.

Thunder! 

First day at the cabin husbandtook out the bigger one of out new inflatable kayaks and pumped it up. Teen was actually revived enough from the long day of sleeping in the car and eager enough to try out all that cool gear we had with us, that she came out to the canal to do a bit of testing of the kayak/canoe. It was in canoe configuration, since we hadn’t taken the kayak tops with us, having the idea that we could have the dogs with us in the boat. The sky was a bit ominous and the canal way shallow there where our cabin was, so we didn’t do much more than a couple test paddlings.

Later on, since there still was no rain despite the dark clouds roaming the skies, we did some target shooting with the bb-gun in the yard. Teen was dying to try the bow and arrow, but we didn’t have a target setup for that yet. So the next day we set out to figure out that target issue, just husband and me. Teen volunteered to stay behind with the dogs.

Probably it was best for everyone that way, for it would’ve been a rather boring day for them in the car while we scoured the stores of Ivalo, trying to come up with something. Besides, once we finally did, we couldn’t have transported the stuff, had the backseat of the car been taken, for we ended up buying three 10cm thick 100x120cm styrofoam insulation boards.

We were still fifty kilometers from the cabin, when due to some intuition I sent teen a wapp message asking if everything is ok at the cabin. She called me in a few minutes, telling me that she’d been out shooting some bb-gun when rain had started to drizzle down. She’d gone inside with the dogs and then it started raining sideways. She called me when thunder was right on top of them cracking and crashing and booming like she was in a warzone. All was well, though, she just wanted to know if she needed to do anything special because of the thunder, like unplug anything or so.

It really was one hell of a thunder front! It caught up with us on our way to the cabin – at the time of the phone call, I still had a sunny sky above my head! – and husband had to pull over to a P spot to let the rain pass before continuing. By the time we got back to the cabin, it was only drizzling there again. Looking at the lighting radar, the whole of eastern Lapland was like a red warzone.

When the rain stopped altogether, teen and husband taped them together into a proper target for some archery practise. We all got our chance that evening, taking turns at shooting arrows, until I went to prepare some dinner with a bruised arm – I had some learning curve there to not hit my upper arm with the bow… – and husband took over the sauna warming operation from teen and allowed her to shoot arrows as long as she wished. She’s a natural! She was thwacking away, all the while gossiping on the phone with her friend and hitting the target real good.

Nellim

Eleven in the morning is an inhuman time to get out of bed, let alone leave the cabin for a road trip. Parents who try to get their teens moving at that god-early hour might get reported to Amnesty for violation of teen rights (if the teen somehow musters the energy to google their contact info and actually make a report). So, after a bloody fight (read: yelling back and forth), the teen stayed in the cabin while I packed sandwiches and snacks and got into the car with husband and dogs, for a nice road trip of our favorite haunts in Lapland.

We started with Kakslauttanen, trying to drive down to see the igloo cabins, but realizing that they well are protected from nosy tourists like us by forbidding driving anywhere close to them (unless you have a pass, I’m sure). We continued to Saariselkä, in hopes of seeing at least one reindeer, for they had successfully eluded us during the trip so far, except a few that we passed on our way to Ivalo the previous day. No reindeer in Saariselkä, though. Only a dead crooked tree and a pop-up clothes booth and a new dress. The dead tree totally unrelated to the clothes booth and dress.

From Saariselkä we climbed up to Kaunispää – in the car naturally, since there’s a road going all the way to the top. Husband went to the souvenir shop to look for a magned for this magnet spot in the car (probably it had been a phone stand) and I walked with the dogs down to the place where people have built all these little towers from rocks, trying to avoid this akita that was visiting Kaunispää with it’s humans too.

After a lunch of a sandwich each we hopped back into our car and drove down towards the main road again. While we were roaming Kaunispää, a flock of reindeer ahd made its way to the hillside and was gradually crossing the road in twos and threes. We wanted to see some reindeer, we got it! I opened the window to get better photos, but soon enough the dogs curled up in the back seat got a whiff of reindeer and Meggie started letting out these high pitch hunting barks that nearly break one’s eardrums. Had to close the window and hold the dog down until we were safely past the reindeer.

Two years ago on our first trip to Lapland, I read an article about this remote village called Nellim, that has become a major tourist attraction for especially Chinese arctic lights tourists. “Tourist attraction” is generally a red light for me, but since the tourism mostly happens in winter time and the village was painted as a quaint oldfashioned place in itself, I wanted to visit it. So we drove all the way there to look around. There’s not much to look at – a church on a hilltop, a rather cute burial ground, bit of rapids and a remote bay of Lake Inari.

Somehow I just loved the place and so did husband. We even played around with the idea of moving up there, not to the village but somewhere between Nellim and Ivalo, when we retire or otherwise are able to live where ever. Last year we didn’t visit Nellim, but this summer we wanted to go back, so that we did.

We drove that 40km of poor road – some paved, most not, new road under construction and obscuring the old just a bit, also making it muddy and bad to drive – just to sit at the hotel terrace and have a drink in the Nellim sun. Two years ago it was the warmest day of the summer and Nellim the warmest place in Finland when we went there, with 28C in the shade. Now it was “only” 25C and already cooler than several days this summer.

They say Finns don’t talk to strangers. No, we don’t, not much, not often.  When teen and I encountered other Finns in Lisbon in May, we shut up or spoke English so they wouldn’t know that we’re Finns and start talking to us, because many Finns do like to talk to other Finns while being abroad. I don’t (but then again, I talk to strangers right here in Finland).

In a place like Nellim, the atmosphere of Nellim is just so relaxed, that people just chat. That first time there, on that same terrace, we chatted with another couple and I learned of Riitta Lehvonen and her books; this encounter lead me to buy those books and read amazing stories about Lappish people and Lapland. This time we chatted with this family – a granpa, dad, mom and daughter – who’d come there for and ice cream. They told us there had been a total (mobile) communication outage in Ivalo the previous day, due to that thunder.

We were back at the cabin at around seven in the evening and I found the teen in bed with her phone. There were telltale signs of some eating activities on the dining table – an empty plate and cocoa mug – but otherwise everything was exactly the same as when we left. “So, what did you do all day here?” I asked the teen. “Ate and watched Netflix,” was the flat answer. “You didn’t cook any food though?” “Didn’t feel like it. Just ate those carelian pies. Mom, could you make me some food, please.” Smells like teen spirit.

“You’ll have to wait for the cheese burgers were grilling soon.”

Airing out the teen spirit

Most of our week in Lapland was nice and warm, even hot. One day out of them all was cool, the temperature only rising to a high of 18C all day, while most days were partly or mostly sunny and 22-25C. Only one day was downright hot. That day we had planned (husband is a weather app addict ;) ) to go out kayaking all together, but when the day came, it was windy. Way too windy for any nice smooth kayaking for beginners (or longinners, i.e. last paddled a kayak 20 years ago).

After spending the first part of the day just slouching about, reading and whatnot we decided in the afternoon to at least go try it out a bit. We packed the kayaks in the car, got into our swimming wear and drove a few kilometers to this beach by the Vuotso bridge where the water was deeper. The wind still came and went in gusts so we only pumped up one of the kayaks, the single one only husband and I had tried so far. We took turns doing rounds there in the canal and were quite unanimous about not filling up the other one.

Our plan of taking dogs on kayak trips was put to the test too, and we came to the conclusion that our idea of kayaking with our dogs is an illusion: Timmy refused to come anywhere near the water and the wee carry-on Meggie scrambled out of the boat and swam to the shore as soon as she figured it was safe. Nope, no kayak-dogs those dogs of ours.

Teen took a turn paddling around the canal too, but somehow I got the idea that she wasn’t too impressed. She might be, once we take the kayaks for some real trips, down some lakes and rivers or even the sea here in Helsinki. When we have a plan and a destination to reach. That had been our goal in Lapland too, but the waters there are not exactly suitable for our purposes, plus as we noted, the dogs can’t be taken with.

We had a nice afternoon there with the kayak, though, the teen in a rather good mood too. She was looking after the dogs while we were setting up the kayak and paddling and participating in action. After her own turn she went for a swim and got bit by a fish. Husband and I went swimming, too, once we were done with the kayak too. Lovely warm water!

After all that activity, teen was ready to crash with some Netflix again, and I was unable to lure her out to shoot arrows with me that evening, as well as the day after or the day after. Nor did she touch the bb-gun anymore, but I did. I shot did a fai amount of target practise, hitting the bullseye enough to rip the target in the middle.

Reindeer

As mentioned, by the third or fourth day in Lapland, we had barely seen a few by the roadsides. That all changed on the really hot day. The Internet had a blast with a photo of reindeer swimming with people on a beach in Rovaniemi and YLE ran an article about a group of reindeer harrassing the Vuotso K-store (well, really just chilling there but obviously the poop and pee and stuff, you know…).

Photo credit: Pekka Niinivaara

We saw no reindeer swimming anywhere, but that day they did come out. No way could we keep the dogs untied in the yard anymore, for they came trotting down the road by the cabin, back and forth several times a day. At some point inside the cabin, huband pulled the curtains and put barricades in front of them, because the dogs were going crazy over the reindeer outside. First time in our three times there have they come down that road like that.

It just so happened that the reindeer group was chilling by the store on the day we went to get some milk and such, so got to say hi to those bucks there. Next day there was only one lonely reindeer left, and when we drove past the store on our way home early Saturday morning, the storefront was free of reindeer. We saluted Vuotso, “until next year!” like we told the owners of the rental cabin. They promised to store our archery target for us.

Home sweet home

It was a long drive home, but it’s kinda nice to make the trip in one day instead of spending a night somewhere. It’s a long day of travel, but at least it’s only one long day of travel instead of two, and free of the extra commotion caused by needing some separate overnight bags and carrying fridges and whatnot to the one-night accommodations. Especially when returning home. As we say in Finnish Swedish: borta bra men hemma bäst – away is good but home is best. Dogs were happy to be home too!

The weather here is a bit tropical right now, though, so when we first opened the car doors, a blast of tropical hot weather blew into our nicely AC:d car. Teen sighed: “Can we go back? The weather was nicer in Lapland.” Yes, it was. Still, it’s good to be home. Tomorrow I start work again and next week husband and the next week teen is back to school. Slowly but surely moving towards the regular routines of normal everyday life.

[Photos in Flickr]

The Philosophies of Merlin (according to T.H. White)

It is really no wonder that my idealistic pacifist mind so loves the legend of King Arthur and his Round Table. Of course, up until now, my take on the legend has been a very feeble one, based on children’s books and the movie “The First Knight”, which actually pictures especially Lancelot in a very different manner than T.H. White in his brick of a pentalogy “The Once and Future King”. Reading this lengthy narrative of silly little Wart becoming the confused Arthur becoming the kind yet troubled king becoming the defeated old King made me hope that these legends are indeed true and that King Arthur will indeed come again and set the world straight.

King Arthur was a king who loved jousting and warring while despising the cruelty of arbitrary Force. He was the king who sought to fight that Force with a righteous Force while building his democratic Round Table. The king who tried to slay the greed for power by equal distribution of power – how could anyone need more when they all had a just amount of power? The little bit too kind hearted king who was betrayed by everyone close to him: his wife, his best friend and first knight, and even his (illegitimate) son. The king who meant well, but was helpless against the brutal realities of humankind.

In the midst of an age, where disputes were solved by duels, King Arthur was a king who loved justice so much that he came up with a nonforcedriven justice system. He valued justice so much that when presented with the undeniable fact of Lancelot’s and Guinevere’s affair – which he was aware of for his whole life but decided to overlook for the love of them both – he saw no other choice but to act justly: he almost burned his wife alive, and was utterly relieved when his dear Lancelot did not fail him nor his Gwen but indeed came to the rescue and rode off with his wife.

Even then he was not done making decicions between love and justice for to make his life as miserable as possible, he still had to wage war on his best friend, the one huddled in a castle in France with his wife. Poor Arthur would have just left them there, for the sake of love and kindness, but Mordred had made sure that there was a feud that forced the King’s hand by way of justice for his own family. In the chaos of the Queen’s rescue, two un-helmeted nephews of the King were slayed. Lancelot swore he did not kill them, but if not he, then who? Cunning. evil Mordred, getting his revenge, setting his stage.

King Arthur was and illegitimate child himself, born of a relationship unjustly forced by the might of war. He was chosen by the magician Merlin to become the great King of England, one who would, with the help of wisdom from the animal world, end wars and human cruelty. It was a noble attempt and definitely something one would’ve hoped for him to achieve, but I guess nobody is surprised that in the end it all failed, even in a legend. Not even the sligthtly goofy Lancelot was able to help King Arthur in the end, for he had been banished for his traiterous sin of being the Queen’s lover.

Sir Lancelot, the Ill-Made Knight, was indeed ill made. Not even so much because of the apparently ugly face (which I had a very hard time picturing after seeing Richard Gere take the form of him in the aforementioned movie and thus in my mind more than two decades ago), but because of his rather feeble character. He was kind to a weakness, soft at heart to a fault, weak enough to absorb King Arthur’s ideas so throughly that he himself almost seized to exist. None of the arrogance of the movie character.

Lancelot was the boy whose only goal in life was to be the best knight in the world, serve King Arthur, and be blessed by being allowed to perform a miracle. Meek, yet strong. Childish, yet powerful. Feared, but not scary – unless you had to fight with him, and not only because he always won, but as much for his unrelentless mercy. Nothing more humiliating to a knight than to be spared by your opponent in addition to being held at his mercy by losing.

Sir Lancelot did indeed become the gratest knight in the wolrd and did perform his miracles, which in the end only served to make him ashamed for he understood that he was not worthy of them; no, for the betrayal of the King whom he loved before he loved the Queen, but did not love enough not to surrender to the love of the Queen, he knew his miracles were only due to the mercy of God and maybe King Arthur. For King Arthur had so much mercy and kindness in him that he let himself be influenced by Mordred and his whole thinking became muddled.

Queen Guinevere then? She was as fickle and fiery as Arthur was stable and solid. She was as feisty as Arthur was calm. She wanted to keep the cake and eat the cake. She did not much plod into her husband’s politics, as was the custom at the time – damsels were helpless and needed to be saved by the chivalrious knights from towers and boiling baths and other such atrocities – but she was active enough in her own court. She was particularily active in keeping the affair with Lancelot going. She would not let poor weak Lancelot go even when he pleaded for his freedom (to serve God).

King Arthur and the knights were at war a lot. There was the total war Britain and wars in France and wars to end all wars and in a way King Arthur was successful enough that he actually destroyed the feudal system and united the kings of Britain if only for his lifetime. When there was no war, there were the quests to fight Might with better Might and when that was done, there was the biggest quest of all: the quest for the Holy Grail. Finally there was the war started by the deceptive Mordred, heir to Arthur’s throne.

Mordred came up with the cunning idea that he’d speed up the succession by claiming that the King was dead, while he really was just on a wild goose chase in France. In the end, that war ended the regime of the Pendragons, as both Mordred and fater Arthur died in the chaos of a misunderstanding in the middle of the peace exchanges. If King Arthur had his pick, I believe he became one of those mentioned wild geese and had a good second life with the tender Lyó-Lyok, who had just accepted goose-Arthur’s proposal when Merlin plucked him back to humanhood.

The legend of King Arthur and his knights, the Orkeney clan (who were actually Arthur’s nephews), of Lancelot and Guinevere and of Merlin is an intriguing story but more than anything it is a story about war and a story about humanity. That White would make it such a (war)-philosophical work is no wonder, when you understand that White wrote the books in the aftermath of the First World War, then the threat of the next one, with Hitler rising already, and finally in the aftermath of the Second World War. To have Merlin live backwards – having lived his youth in the 20th century he was an old dude in Arthur’s time, sort of living in each time at the same time – was a rather clever way of inserting modern day knowledge into his teachings to Arthur.

Merlin was a pacifist from the very beginning of the story. He tried to teach the slightly dense Arthur to think outside of the time box he lived in, and in ways, he did. Merlin taught Arthur – actually Wart in his boyhood – lessons by turning him into different animals and letting the animals teach him. Merlin’s hope was that Arthur would learn how to end wars and maintain peace by experiencing the different lives and lifestyles of different animals. At the end of his life, Arthur finds himself depressed and guilt-ridden for having failed his mission, especially after a rather black-hearted rant by Merlin.

“The Book of Merlin” is the intended fifth book of “The Once and Future King” even though the publisher did not originally include it in the publication. Ironically, this fifth book got sort of lost in the chaos of war and the years of shortage that followed. The pentalogy was published in its intended form for the first time in 1958. “The Book of Merlin” is a sort of revisit to Arthur’s childhood years, to the atmosphere of the first book, where Merlin actively educates Wart with his fables and rants and the visits to the world of animals. In this last book the animals from the first book are all gathered with Merlin to finish Arthur’s education. The weary old King has almost given up, but finally rises up to one more lesson from his tutors.

Not that it matters much to Arthur who dies in the process of making a truce with his son – thought there is something to be said about leaving this world with a peace of mind, especially after being troubled and confused most of one’s life – but maybe we, the readers of the legend, can take something away from this final lesson while pondering Merlin’s ideas on nature and humanity.

When King Arthur was all broken and despaired in his tent on the last night of his life and war, he came up with the notion that the humans are not really homo sapiens, “wise human beings” but rather homo ferox, “ferocious human beings”. Merlin himself had pretty much come to that conclusion as well, with the humans being the only species to kill just for fun and wage war just for fun and sport. For, as Merlin noted, humans seem to have the tendency to get adrenaline depraved and need something utterly dangerous to satisfy their need for excitement and need for some sort of cruelty.

The badger of the story, the wise in its own way, yet totally aloof and absentminded communist of the story, had his own opinions about humans. His first notion was that they are actually homo stultus, stupid, but then thought a bit further and came up with a more intelligent word: homo impoliticus, the non-political human beings. Now, as much as we have politics, one could argue that this hardly is an intelligent option, but if you consider it from the animals’ point of view, ther may actually be a point to it.

People are fighting over this and that – power, territory, imaginary lines between areas, women, men, ideas, you name it – and unable to come up with a unified political order to end the need for war. Apart from ants, basically, people are the only species so wholly unorganised. This, according to Merlin, is highly due to the fact that people have been around for so much shorter time and have yet to establish their system. And this, then, was the main reason for Merlin to inject little Wart into different animal communities; to learn from them and help the world of humans get  organized in a just and reasonable manner.

Merlin and the badger had had Arthur’s life time to banter back and forth about communism and capitalism and all manners of ideologies, still not coming to a full conclusion until Arthur (re)visits his life as an ant and then as a goose. It is only after these experiences which Merlin and the animals carefully watched, that Merlin came to the conclusion that communism, the ultimate state of everyone being a non-individual part of the state machine, was not the way to prevent war; rather it is individualism. The more collective the mind, the stomach, the thinking, the more prone to war the species is, while the more individual the species, the more it is prone to pacifism, was Merlin’s conclusion.

Looking at ants and geese, it seems rather obvious. The ants build their colony, their industry and their fort, where every single ant has its place and duty. In White’s ant colony there are no names, there are numbers. There is no moral system, there is only Done and Not-Done. There are no words for anything other than what the ant colony, the ant state needs. An ant straying into foreign territory, another colony’s territory, is immediately considererd a threat: it has no place here, it does not belong, it will disrupt and take our food and more will come and our system will break!

Where there is no state system, there is nothing that will break. There is no need to be territorial or jealous of land, collective possessions, system, where there are none. The geese fly through the sky without knowing any borders. They fly in flocks, families, and congregate in peace with other flocks and families. They don’t get jealous over a field they happen upon, just because some other geese happen upon the same field. They make their nests and only if that is threatened – the private property of a home – do they feel the need to defend what is theirs.

Anarchy! You might exclaim. Yes, anarchy seems to be what Merlin is after. He even states: “I am an anarchist, like any sensible person.” Merlin’s anarchy is not a destructive one, though, but rather constructive. He tries to find what is good in the world, namely the natural world, learn and teach Arthur what he has learned, in order to bring forth the individual kind of anarchy that would finally end all wars.

However noble the goal, he even concludes himself that it is not exactly achievable. Not because of original sin or any profound evilness of the human mind, but because of the way we are wired. Merlin goes into the anatomy of the brain, explaining that ants only have a corpus striatum, that acts like a one way mirror, while the humans – and geese – also have the neopallium, which is like a two-way mirror. This means, that the ants do not have a sense of themselves, only of the colony, the state, whereas humans and geese gain understanding of their own character through the neopallium, by seeing themselves through the eyes of others.

It is, according to Merlin, the corpus striatum that leads to a proletariat state and humans will never have that because of the neopallium. This double-mirror of neopallium is the doom of any communistic societies in human populations. There is way too much individualism for it to ever succeed. This seems to cotradict the idea of the wars being waged due to collectivism, but now the thing is that the human brain also has the corpus striatum. Thus, the idea of complete individualism is doomed too. While in nature animalscan be completely either, the human beings never will.

Somehow unsurprisingly Merlin and the animals never did solve the issue of warfare, the issue of stopping warring altogether. No, they actually came up with a list of pros and cons of wars. The pros including them being a venting system for the human need for blood or pent up ferocity as Merlin puts it, of wars being a population control system (a poor one, but still), and some more or less overlapping notions ot psychological and physiological needs for fighting. The cons, well, the royal we declares they know them already, so we don’t get a list. I suppose it could all be summed up in one word: misery.

Misery was definitely the state King Arthur found himself in on the last evening of his fight and life. Utter misery of a lifetime of trying to do right, but only ending up failing, being betrayed by everyone he loved and seeing the world no closer to peace than when he started. His misery only deepened when Merlin went into his diatribe of the failings and misgivings of the human nature. When Merlin snatched him from the sweet moment with Lyó-Lyok back to humanity, he broke down into a heap of nothingness.

It is, however, also in the human nature to be able to rise above oneself even from the throws of the deepest despair when needed. It was the urchin, the little overlooked flea-ridden urchin, who took Arthur’s hand and guided him to the spot on the hill, where he sang to Arthur while Arthur once again became the King he was. And not only the King, but England itself. He inhaled the country and his heart swelled in love for his country and countrymen and he returned to Merlin and the animal committee to finish his education. In the end, the student surpassed his teacher.

“Very good. We understand the puzzle,” said King Arthur as he rose from his chair and bid farewell – or Orrevoyer as the urchin said – to Merlin and the animals. Finally, it was mercy that ended his life as well as his son-enemy’s. King Arthur offered half of his kingdom to the rebellious son and he accepted. It was only due to a miserable mistake caused by a snake that the whole peace fell into pieces and both Mordred and Arthur died. Maybe from each other’s swords, maybe of someone elses. Lancelot never made it from his exile to King Arthur’s side. He only made it to bury his King and friend.

White is a very contradicting writer, a hugely troubled mind. Especially this Book of Merlin is more of a dialect of two opposing minds – in the forms of Merlin and the badger – than any kind of straightforward philosophy of a mind made up. This duel of minds makes it even more interesting for it offers more questions than answers, more suggestions and proposals than facts. It leaves space for one’s own speculation. It is not a polished product; can be refined further and a keen mind no doubt will. Mine was definitely intrigued by it – by the notions of positive anarchism, pacifism and individualism.

They say curiosity killed the cat. Idealism killed King Arthur. Long live King Arthur!