Thursday, May 28, 2009

Spring is gone

Last week a couple of my friends who live in a great old house in a nice little neighborhood here in Jyväskylä decided that spring might as well be over so they figured it was appropriate to host the first official celebration of summer for our circle of friends. Being the camera dork that I am, I managed to take a few photos.

Any well-planned summer get-together in Finland will have mölkky on the agenda. Mölkky is a game that is easy to play. Essentially you throw one chunk of wood at other chunks of wood and accumulate points. (Click here for mölkky rules)

Matti T. demonstrates his superior mölkky throwing style...

and the pins go flying...

A view of the playing field from a different angle. Please note the green leaves of summer.

Like any good Finnish host should, Antti proceeds to fry up some Finnish-style pancakes over the fire.

Its just not a party until someone breaks out the accordian. In this case, Pekka, who actually knows what he's doing.

For further nourishment, some tender little perch and Finnish bananas, grilled to perfection.

If you really want to injure your arm muscles, throwing severely underweight darts from five meters away will do the trick. In this photo Matti P. is engaged in the hopeless project of trying to accumulate enough points to defeat our friend Hokki. The dart players are in danger of being injured by wild throws from the mölkky crowd. Behind the house, the evening rays of the sun catch the facade of the Taulumäki church, designed by architect Elsi Borg. Construction was completed in 1929.

Monday, May 25, 2009

katiska/fish trap - rowing on Lake Tuomiojärvi

Jarkko has a nice old wooden rowboat and a lease on a few square meters of Lake Tuomiojärvi shoreline where he keeps it. He and Annina recently moved from Jyväskylä to Vaajakoski and realized they wouldn't be using the boat as often.

This was quite fortuitous for my friend Antti and I, because we had been talking about going in on just such a boat together. We pay the rent for the post on shore where the boat is locked, and in exchange we can use the boat when we need it.

Antti and his son Jimi were planning on checking their katiska (fish trap) so I joined them for a bit of afternoon sunshine and cool lake breezes. Tuomiojärvi is located within blocks of downtown Jyväskylä and is one of the things that makes this such a great little city to live in.

Antti puts a little muscle into the oars while Jimi and I enjoy the ride.

Looking over the bow towards the Laajavuori ski jump.

The katiska had quite a few perch in it, but they were way too small for our purposes.

Antti releases the tiny perch. In a year or two they'll just the right size for eating.

While moving the katiska to a more promising location we stopped on the tinest of islands.

This particular island is tiny. Some folks have boats that are bigger than this island. It has a tiny dock, a handfull of trees, and a fire ring. Bring your own firewood though, you won't find any dead branches here.

Antti installing a freshly whittled plug in the boat. The old one didn't fit so great and was letting water in.

The Jyväskylä congregation of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church owns and maintains Lehtisaari island.

Rowboat rides leave from the Viitaniemi dock to the island hourly in the summertime. Sauna and other activities available, also a small canteen selling coffee etc. No alcohol allowed.

It doesn't cost anything to visit the island or to use its facilities, although I've heard that on occasion visitors have been subjected to the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran hard sell. I've never actually visited the facilities myself, I guess after having lived here for years, I should get around to it one of these days.

Looking towards downtown.

In this photo, the Viitaniemi neighborhood is almost invisible, with the exception of Viitatorni, an apartment building designed by modernist architect and designer Alvar Aalto. The building is thirteen stories tall, Jyväskylä's second tallest building.

To the left is one of the municipal swimming beaches at Lake Tuomiojärvi. Note the sand. Quite often "beach" in Finland means the place by the lake where the grass is mowed short.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Taavettilan riihi - The Taavettilan drying barn

According to a recent article in the local newspaper Keskisuomalainen this building is no longer considered the oldest in Jyväskylä.

This is so close to where I live that I often forget that it even exists. The oldest building in Jyväskylä, this old riihi (drying barn) is located on the University of Jyväskylä campus.

In a previous post I wrote about riihiruisleipä, a rye bread made from grain that has been dried and smoked in a riihi, a practice that is nearly nonexistent in modern Finland. (Link to my blog post "Last of a Dying Bread".)

The Taavettilan drying barn has been around since the 1700's. Around the turn of the century (the last century that is, not this one) it was converted by the Jyväskylä Teacher's College (the predecessor to the university) into a space for the students to enjoy evening programs, which included storytelling, singing, and apparently even a Karelian rune singer every now and then.

Usually sitting empty and looking rather derelict, the building is still used on occasion as a venue for poetry and music performances.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Finnish Cultural Assimilation Lesson # 53 - Its Not All Pristine Forests and Sparkling Lakes

Another lesson in a series designed to help the immigrant to Finland assimilate into the host culture. Warning! The following cultural behavior should only be observed by new immigrants to Finland, not taken into practice! Although you may notice the host population engaging in these activities this does not make what they do socially acceptable! Remember, this will one day be the home of our children and they will definitely appreciate our efforts if we keep this beautiful country nice and tidy for them.

Occassionally I run into a cultural activity practiced by the host culture that I find hard to comprehend. A slap in the face to remind me that even idealistic little Finland has its not-so-hidden negatives.

The wayside rests along the highways here are generally quite minimalistic. They truly are meant to be just a place to pull over, stretch out your legs, breath some fresh air, so they have no facilities to speak of. If there is a trash receptacle and a picnic table you are at a first class Finnish wayside rest. This is not the problem that I am about to discuss.

Quite often there is no trash can available. This doesn't stop Finnish travelers from disposing of their garbage, however inappropriately, as the following photos illustrate.

Photos taken at a wayside rest located between Kyyjärvi and Alajärvi.

I guess that roadside litter is small beans compared to the dying Baltic Sea, but anyone who has ever stopped at a wayside rest in Finland will admit that the amount of trash left behind by motorists is disgusting and ruins many a scenic view.

The amount of windblown plastic and paper refuse reminds me of roadsides in India, or in the U.S. back in the 1970's before the Give a Hoot - Don't Pollute campaign really took effect.

This is an extreme example of a Finnish wayside rest trash pile. Usually the refuse is a bit more scattered. Here we see a mound of household garbage, empty oil containers, cardboard, etc.

I'm surprised there wasn't a used car battery abandoned here, they are a common sight at roadside parking areas. Quite often the bags of household garbage are left by the owners of summer cabins who can't be bothered to bring their weekend trash all way home. This doesn't explain the candy wrappers, potato chip bags, and fast-food packaging that normally festoon the wayside rest areas.

Perhaps the mentality behind this negative behavior is that we have so much nature available here just a little bit of litter won't make a difference.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Erittäin Hieno Suomalainen Shampoo

This fine Finnish product (Extremely Fine Finnish Shampoo) came on the market in 1974 - an affordable shampoo for all hair types. It is manufactured in Finland by Cederroth.

The original Erittäin Hieno Suomalainen Shampoo - Finland's best-selling shampoo according to ACNielsen ScanTrack.

The packaging was the brainchild of Finnish advertising trendsetter Kirsi Paakkanen, who would later become famous as the woman who saved design company Marimekko from bankruptcy and returned the firm to its former glory and then some.

The shape of the bottle was meant to bring the pharmacist's bottles of the period to mind. The pharmacy was regarded as the most trustworthy of shops. The blue represents the blue of the summer sky, the blue found in the Finnish flag, and the blue eyes of the majority of the Finnish people. The little red cabin on the shore of a lake is the Finnish ideal, what nearly everyone here dreams of - a quiet little place where they will be left undisturbed. The whooper swan is the national bird of Finland, notice they are in a tight little family group.

Some of the additions to the Erittäin Hieno product line that have emerged since the original blue bottle shampoo hit the market. From left to right: blueberry, pine tar, birch.

The blueberry is the newest and is meant for dry hair. The smell is a bit too fruity for my taste.

The pine tar shampoo smells like smoke saunas and wooden boats. It is said to help with problem dandruff.

The birch shampoo has a pleasant aroma and is more gentle than the traditional formula and birch is reputed to give added strength to fine hair.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Soda Pop and Summer Days

It is now summertime in Finland. This means that the sun will occasionally shine, and once in a while it will actually be rather warm outside. Today is just that kind of day.

A beautiful day in Jyväskylä

On days like today, nothing hits the spot like a cool, refreshing soft drink. If you are bored with the standard multinational brands and feel like supporting a Finnish company, I recommend the lovely beverages produced by Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas.

In addition to their quality line of beers and ciders, they produce some truly excellent soft drinks. Their sodas contain no preservatives, are sweetened with actual sugar, and are flavored with real fruit. The coloring of their products is achieved using old-timey methods. In their own words, when enjoying their beverages, "you need not be afraid of damaging your stomach or dyeing your guts with some suspicious chemicals".

Check out their entertaining website here which can be viewed in Finnish or English.

Addendum: I forgot to mention that all of the beverages are produced with energy generated by wind. Nice touch.

Here are just a few of their beverages, which I picked up at Ekolo, located in downtown Jyväskylä. Note that the bottles are glass rather than plastic, and the bottle caps are of the pull-off variety.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Finnish Cultural Assimilation Lesson # 98

Yet another lesson designed for immigrants in Finland who wish to better their chances for a prosperous future by assimilating into the host culture. These lessons are also handy for those who intend to relocate to Finland, legally (recommended) or otherwise.

Greetings fellow immigrant!

One of the first things you will likely notice about your new homeland is that there seem to be slot machines everywhere. They can be observed not only in casinos, but also in grocery stores, kiosks, restaurants, and bars.

The machines come in several types:

The basic mechanical hedelmäpeli (fruit game) into which you simply deposit money, push the buttons, and watch your money disappear.

The video poker machine, which tends to offer a variety of different poker styles. Again, operation is simple - kiss your coins goodbye, drop them in the slot, push the buttons of your choice, and walk away a few euros poorer.

The video multi-game machine, which is as it sounds, a machine which offers a variety of games, usually keno, poker, and your tradition slot machine-type game. You know the drill. Insert coins and never see them again.

Playing these machines is a mandatory part of being Finnish. If you truly wish to blend in, never go to the kioski for a pack of gum or a newspaper without at least playing a few rounds on one of these machines.

The money goes to RAY - the Raha-automaattiyhdistys (Finland's Slot Machine Association) which, through its marvelous gaming operations, supports Finnish health and welfare organizations.

Ray has a monopoly in Finland when it comes to slot machines, casinos, and table games (blackjack, craps, roulette - all of which you will find in your finer nightclubs). Due to this exclusive right, the amount of funding they generate for charity is quite impressive.

So blend in, new immigrant, blend in! Although these games essentially increase the amount of tax you pay, its worth it! Every coin you lose may help buy a blind child some glasses or allow a lazy native Finn to remain on unemployment for another few years.

The machines at my local kioski, part of my daily routine as a responsible New Finn.


The opinions expressed above may involve sarcasm. The reader is encouraged to think briefly before reacting angrily, especially if they have been consuming large amounts of Koskenkorva at their local True Finns meeting while verbally bashing immigrants and unrealistically dreaming of an immigrant-free Finland. This also applies if you are an immigrant who feels that all Finns are racists and that all of Finland is against you.

The author is a grateful, tax-paying legal immigrant resident of Finland who believes that all immigrants should assimilate into the host culture to the best of their ability. He has no desire to be stomped by the chronically unemployed, booze-soaked shocktroops of the True Finns or by the roving gangs of marauding immigrants that are apparently lurking around every corner waiting to rob and/or physically abuse us all while simultaneously building a mosque on top of every church.

sauna stamps

The former Finnish Posti, now Itella (stupid name, supposedly it sounds more "international") recently released its newest book of stamps. These stamps celebrate the sauna.

Allegedly a Finnish invention, the steam bath actually dates back to time immemorial. Perhaps the Finns were the first to reinvent the concept of the 3 room sauna (1 room for steam, 1 for washing, 1 for changing clothes), but in truth the Etruscans had that idea in use well before my Finnish ancestors even managed to move down to the ground from their homes in the treetops.

At any rate, sauna is an awesome and integral part of the Finnish culture.

The front cover of the newest book of Finnish stamps.

A scan of the newest Finnish postage stamps.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Finnish Cultural Assimilation Lesson # 33 - Rautalanka

Yet another installment in my series designed to assist the immigrant to Finland in their quest to assimilate themselves into the host culture.

Listen to the radio for an hour in Finland and you'll hear Rautalanka or music with its roots in Rautalanka at least a few times.

Rautalanka (iron wire) has its origins in the music of The Shadows from Britain and The Ventures from the U.S. Rautalanka is distinguishable by its clear melodies, upbeat tempo, and heavy use of tape echo effects with minimal overdrive and virtually no fuzz.

The melodies of rautalanka tend to be in minor keys and being based on Finnish and Slavic folk tunes, can be a bit heavy on the melancholy.

The golden age of Rautalanka in its purest form - two electric guitars, one electric bass, drums, no vocals - was from 1960 to 1963. Rautalanka forms the basis for much of popular music in Finland. Iskelmä (also know as schlager), a type of Finnish popular music often features Rautalanka guitar. The melodic Finnish heavy metal that the world has come to know has its roots in the rautalanka style.

Some Rautalanka videos for your enjoyment.

The Sounds - Emma

Emma as played by The Sounds was the first true Finnish Rautalanka hit.

The Strangers - Kolme Kitaraa (Three Guitars)

The Strangers were the first rautalanka group in Finland. This clip is from the clip from the 1963 film Launtai Leikit which was directed by Mauno Kurkvaara.

An example of Rautalanka guitar style in iskelmä-type popular music:

Topi Sorsakoski & Agents - Olet Rakkain (cover of And I Love her by Lennon/McCartney)

This song features the guitar of Esa Pulliainen, most likely Finland's greatest guitarist.

An example of Rautalanka metal:

Viikate - Leikatun Konjakin Salaisuus (The Secret of Cut Cognac) (cut cognac refers to Jaloviina, a much-consumed Finnish alcohol product)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Moomin stamps

The Finnish Postal Service now operating under the moronic moniker Itella, rather than Posti, as it was previously known (Itella apparently is more "international sounding"), has recently issued a new set of Moomin stamps.

The front of the stamp book, slightly enlarged.

The stamp book as seen from the inside.

The Moomins were created by Tove Jansson. Tove,who was from the Swedish-speaking minority population of Finland, was a painter, author, illustrator, and comic strip artist.

A Moomin video clip (in English)

This particular television version of the Moomins was a Polish-German collaboration (Opowiadania Muminków in Polish, in German,Die Mumins) produced between 1977 and 1982. It was broadcast in the U.K. from 1983 til 1986.


Summer means the time I spend in the studio painting is going to be minimal. My wife's family has a cabin a few hours from here. Its much more pleasant to be in the countryside than downtown so we spend our freetime by the lake.

My mother-in-law has graciously provided space for a vegetable garden, so my summer days don't have to be just reading and fishing - I can feel the soil just like the generations of dirt farmers that have contributed to my DNA once did.

Gardening is a great pasttime for anyone who likes to cook, and during this alleged financial crisis it can even help supplement your food budget. Even the Obama's are getting in the act with the first vegetable patch at the White House since Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt's Victory Garden.

I'm taking a risk by starting so early. Last year there was light snow and hard frost on the 22nd of May and I lost a few tomatoes. I'm gardening on such a small scale that the potential loss is minimal. The extra few weeks of growing season that are to be had make the risk worth taking.

First I turned the soil with my old friend, the shovel. I am far too familiar with the operation of this piece of equipment. Note the short handle.

I can't find a decent long-handled shovel anywhere in this country. If this was a job, I wouldn't go to work. Short-handled shovels don't even exist at the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

I managed to get the soil turned regardless of my shovel philosophy.

Using a hoe/3 tine cultivator combo and a rake I then broke up dirt clods and smoothed the rough areas.

No project is so important that you can't take the time to appreciate the things around you. In this case, birch leaves like mouse ears, a sure sign of approaching summer weather.

I started sweet corn and sunflowers in a sunny window at my studio.

Yours truly planting sweet corn seedlings. I am bound and determined to grow corn here.

The only corn on the cob available here is pre-cooked from Spain, which has no flavor whatsoever. Occasionally there is fresh flown in from Isreal, but according to my exacting standards "fresh" means you have the water boiling before you pick the corn and shuck it. The sugars of the corn start converting to starch (thus affecting the flavor) almost immediately after it is picked.

I've heard rumour that a few farmers produce and sell corn on the cob in Finland but I've never seen it. Weather conditions last summer foiled my attempt, but here I am, trying again.

After a few hours, everything is in place. Assorted seeds planted include various salad leaves, carrots, peas, and beets. The perennial herbs like chives and tarragon are making a comeback, there is space reserved for cilantro, basil, dill, etc. The corn is under a microfiber protective covering that I have decided to try this year. It allows moisture in, keeps warmth in, and protects the plants from frost. We'll see how it works. I'll keep you updated.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Finnish Maternity Package/Äitiyspakkaus

We received the official maternity package (äitiyspakkaus) today. KELA (The Social Insurance Institution of Finland) sends one of these to every expectant mother who is a resident of Finland, regardless of income. I guess the theory is that every baby should get the same quality of life as its peers when it comes into the world.

Certain deranged political forces in my homeland would consider this to be socialism of the worst kind. I have to admit that I don't mind babies getting clothes and blankets on the taxpayer's tab. I kind of like paying taxes when I know it goes to something like this.

Our baby should be popping out in the next few months, and we've got the basic supplies already. If we had been opposed to the free stuff we could have opted for cash instead, but if you do the math, the stuff is worth way more than the cash payment is. Kela buys in bulk, they don't pay retail.

The box we picked up at the Post Office.

The box that was inside the first box.

First peek.

Everything on the table.

Package contents list (in Finnish and English). Click on image to enlarge.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Karjalan Piirakka/Karelian Pie

A traditional Karelian food item, now enjoyed all over Finland. The crust is typically 50% rye flour. To be considered a Karelian Pie, the filling must be of short-grain rice, potatoe, or barley. There are similar pastries with less rye flour in the crust, and some with a carrot filling. The traditional condiment for Karelian Pies is munavoi, a mixture of hard-boiled eggs and butter.

Karjalan Piirakka recipe here.

Although occasionally the subject of crude humor due to its appearance, the Karjalan Piirakka is an excellent example of tasty, traditional Finnish cuisine.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Random Morocco photos

We were in Morocco a few years back. I was looking through the photos from that trip and found some images that I find visually interesting.

In a metal-workers alley. The Souk. Marrakech

Fishing fleet. Agadir

Harbor breakwater. Agadir

Harbor breakwater. Agadir

Fishing fleet. Agadir

Finnish Army, Nintendo Wii

I usually don't make posts regarding current events, but something on the Helsingin Sanomat webite caught my eye just a moment ago.

It turns out the the Finnish Army is to soon be receiving 300,000 € worth of Nintendo Wii with the intention of providing Finnish recruits with a free time activity that will help get them in shape. (original article here) Overweight recruits in poor physical condition have been an issue recently. No money will be allocated from the Defense budget. Funding for the acquisition is coming from the Maanpuolustuksen kannatussäätiö ( Foundation for the Support of the National Defense) at the request of Army Officials.

According to Minister of Defense Jyri Häkämies, who is also the chair of the Maanpuolustuksen kannatussäätiö - "I think this was a wise choice. I believe that we will continue to prioritize the acquisition of equipment that will aid in the improvement of the physical conditional of the conscripts. (Uskon, että jatkossakin me priorisoimme varusmiesten kunnon parantamiseen tähtääviä hankkeita.)

I don't play video games except for maybe occasionally the video poker machines that are found in grocery stores and kiosks here (I hear that they use the proceeds from the machines to buy glasses for blind children). I've never been in the army either. I find it amusing that they are going to be using videos games to help these young men who are probably in poor physical condition due to the fact that they have spent too much time playing video games.

I've never played with the Wii console but I think any video game that gets lardbutts and stickboys off the counch and encourages them to move more than their thumbs and eyeballs is brilliant.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Finlandia Beach Club

Time for a bit of Finnish Americana. The Finlanders were big on cooperation. Finlandia Beach is a remnant of the glory days when Finlander cooperative stores were a major player in retail business in the Old Northwest.

The Finn Co-ops are long gone, the victims of an improved highway system which facilitated easy travel to larger towns with larger stores. Although its founding Co-op folded years ago, the Finlandia Beach Club is still very much alive.

I'm not too sure on its actual history, its rules of operation or just how open its membership is, I just know its still there. My aunt has been a member for as long as I can remember. I'm guessing that in exchange for a nominal annual fee plus a bit of volunteer labor, the members receive the right to use the facilities.

It's nothing fancy. A few cabins, a main building, an excellent sauna, and access to the lake. The Finnish dream, fulfilled in the U.S.A, decades before the average Finnish worker even dreamed of a having cabin by a lake. The principal of cooperation at work.

A view of the main building, which houses a kitchen and dining hall.

Front door of the main building.

Another view of the main building, with the lake in the background.

The cabins.

The sauna building. Two separate saunas with 2 dressing rooms each to facilitate efficient use by four families at a time.

The stoves of the two saunas are fired from this room.

This photo needs no caption.

A mountain ash (pihlaja) in the yard. Traditionally, the pihlaja was planted in Finnish yards to bring good fortune. This tradition crossed the water and is noticeable yet today on old Finlander farmsteads in the U.S. and Canada.

Finlander pride surfaces in a variety of ways.