Tervetuloa! That’s a Finnish “welcome” to the second half of my list of 17 reasons why I love Finland! Part 1 covered reasons 1 to 9 – now, in this 100th anniversary year of Finnish Independence, here (in no special order as always) are the rest:
10. Seeing the Forest AND the Trees!As I mentioned last time, Finnish landscape is laced with lovely lakes – but it’s also framed by fantastic forests! On my two summertime trips around Finland (will get there in the winter one day!), the folks and I drove many a road that was lined with tall, trim trees – and sometimes for a lunch break, we’d simply pull over and picnic among them!
11. Musically Inclined
Finland has produced a real wealth of composers, conductors, musicians and singers! While there, I paid respects to one of my favorite composers, Jean Sibelius, by visiting his birthplace in Hämeenlinna, touring his home (“Ainola“) in picturesque Järvenpää, and finding his striking monument in Helsinki. (We missed the Sibelius Museum in Turku as it was closed to sleep off the Juhannus holidays celebrating Midsummer. Ah well – next time!)
As an Angeleno, I was fortunate to be able to appreciate Finnish musical artistry on a regular basis while Esa-Pekka Salonen was conductor of the LA Philharmonic. And it was a special treat in April to watch him interpret Sibelius once again as a guest conductor in the Walt Disney Concert Hall he helped to see built! 12. Is There Something in the Water? Or in the Ice?
(I know, I know – but I warned last time there’d be hockey!) It’s also been my domestic privilege to follow the flood of Finns who’ve come over to play hockey in the NHL! In last week’s NHL Draft alone, 6 of the first 30 players selected were from Finland!
Back in the 90’s, it was my deer-in-the-headlighted honor to meet my favorite player, Helsinki-born Jari Kurri, while he was an LA King:And Kurri’s fellow countryman Teemu Selänne will join him as a Hockey Hall of Famer in a ceremony this November (he’s already been there in pictures): Have to share that I took Mum out on her birthday for a wonderful fine dining experience at Selänne’s own restaurant in Laguna Beach – and the namesake himself was there! We were floored when he came over to wish Mum a Hyvää Syntymäpäivää AND talk puck with us for quite a while! As Mum spun tales from her nearly 80 years as a Chicago Blackhawk fan, this gracious hockey legend leaned down toward our little table, gripped either side of it, and listened as if she were the only person in the whole world, let alone in the room.
How pleasing it is to discover that a guy who’s so amazing on the ice is amazing off it too!13. More Flash-y and High-Flying Finns!
Finns have a word for a certain quality of character: sisu. Attempts I’ve read at an English translation include bravery, perseverance, grit, and stoic determination.
I love that in addition to hockey, Finns have had a major impact in lots of other sports – and I expect sisu was helpful for the likes of legendary multi-medal winning Olympic runner, Paavo Nurmi, and two-time Formula One racing champ, Mika Häkkinen!
The delightful (if fanciful) film Eddie the Eagle reminded me of another Finnish Olympian – ski jumper Matti Nykänen. There’s a fun scene in a ski jump elevator where Nykänen tells plucky Brit “Eddie” Edwards that the two are alike because they jump to free their souls. “For all time,” Nykänen nobly intones as he departs the elevator to enter Olympic history.While visiting Lahti, I took a similar lift up their ski jump (which was all serene and snowless in the summertime). Standing way at the top, I thought of the fortitude one would have to summon to attempt this sport! I imagined coarse winter winds stinging my face as I started down the icy track, skis chattering as I maintained a straight line and then surged off the end of the platform, soaring into the sky in defiant challenge of gravity and the elements – jumping to free my soul!
I peered over the edge and down the narrow ramp at a swimming pool near the base which, from my height, looked about the size of a postage stamp. That’s when I quickly backed up and sheepishly clutched at a nearby door frame with the certain knowledge that – for all time – at NO time would I ever attempt such a thing…
14. True Sisu
Yes, I may not be Olympic material, but I still adore the Olympics – and it must run in the family! Two of my Finnish great-grandparents were set to return to their homeland to visit family and attend the 1940 Olympics. But it was not to be. With World War II breaking out, the Games were canceled – and that Finnish quality of sisu was both tested and shown far beyond the sporting arena as the small country battled its massive neighbor Russia to preserve the independence it had not so long ago gained.
According to one source:
“Finland’s geographical location has subjected her to East-West clashes throughout her history. Protestantism and Greek Orthodoxy vied with one another as did conflicting social and political systems. In such a contending atmosphere the final acceptance of the Western tradition and rejection of the Eastern tradition made Finland’s realization as an independent state difficult. The long struggle to maintain her choice has no doubt strengthened her resistance to Eastern advances.
Finland is one of the world’s oldest democracies and…individual freedom and human rights were strongly stressed in the folk wisdom of ancient times reflected in ‘Kalevala’ – the Finnish national epic.”
It’s tough to put in a nutshell but, during the Winter War of 1939-40, and the Continuation War of 1941-44, Finland fought for its life at great cost and against great odds, finally losing territory to Russia, being obliged to drive out the German forces whose aid they’d accepted, and paying crippling reparations. But, through all of it, she preserved her independence.My dad had long admired Finland, ever since he saw newsreels in his youth of their paying off American loans when so many other countries did not (and have not, as I understand). So Dad already had some background when he met a fellow student at the University of Wisconsin (“a bright-eyed, animated, and completely captivating young lady”) whose ancestry was Finnish and who was writing her Master’s thesis on Finnish/Russian relations. That fellow student is dear Mum, of course – and she’s my “source” above as well!
15. Lending a Helping Käsi
I’ve gushed about the marvelous collection of giving souls I once met on Canada’s Cape Breton Island (The Nova Scotia Dreamin Bit ) – and Finland is that rare place (to me, anyway) where I encountered the same extraordinary generosity of spirit! Here’s just one example:
The folks and I had hit the town of Lohtaja to try – with nothing like a game plan – to do some genealogy research. As my journal recalls it: “Mum recruited a guy at the bank (who exchanged her money) to get us over to the church office and to wait a little to translate until the church office people recruited a woman who knew the files who brought her husband to translate but he couldn’t do enough so they called the banker back over.”
We ended up with a room full of Finns who, without hesitation, gave up their entire morning (the banker even gave up doing his proper job!) to help three clueless but grateful foreigners add some lovely new branches to their family tree!
We found that kind of selfless and boundless industry time and again throughout our travels in Finland. Perhaps like the seasons, once the ice is broken, it’s all about the warmth!16. And It Travels!
We’ve found that same spirit among some Americans with Finnish roots we’ve met here at home – like six years ago when Mum had to make a big adjustment moving from Oregon to the San Francisco Bay Area. For starters, it made her feel a tiny bit more settled knowing she could follow the nearby San Jose Sharks whose current goalie had helped her own Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010 – that was a Finn named Antti Niemi!
Then, while searching for a church to join, we came upon Hope Lutheran right there in her community – and when Mum discovered the pastor’s name was Jack Niemi, well, she just knew she was home!17. A Capital Idea!
Hard to wrap this up, but I’ll end where my trips to Finland began and ended. In Helsinki – a city I very much came to love!
During our Helsinki stays, the folks and I had (among many other things), enjoyed the Open-Air Museum at Seurasaari, wandered the battlements of the island fortress of Suomenlinna, and strolled the Olympic Stadium where the Finns finally did get to play host in 1952.
At the very end of one trip, we’d already checked into a hotel near the airport in Vantaa. But Dad and I couldn’t resist grabbing a bus back to Helsinki for one last jaunt on a sunny late-summer day – and what we managed to do in just one afternoon tied the perfect bow on the gift of our Finland experience!
We took one more look around stately Helsinki Cathedral, got a quick sampling of the treasures at the Ateneum Art Museum (part of the Finnish National Gallery), rested after a bout of obligatory shopping with a couple beers at an outdoor restaurant, and cruised the Market Square where we bought a basket of fresh strawberries and devoured them as we sat on a bench and absorbed the sun and atmosphere.
The berries – and the whole afternoon – couldn’t have been sweeter!So, for moments like those, and for the art, the nature, the kindnesses, the sisu, and so much more, I say from the heart to the land of half my roots: Kiitos, Suomi! (“Thank you, Finland!”)
Happy 100th anniversary – and many, many, many happy returns of the day!