Thursday, December 23, 2010

No longer a second class citizen

This essay was published in the recent New World Finn under the title No longer a second class citizen.

You can also read the article in pdf format by clicking here. (page 16)

Not too long ago the Finnish Immigration Service called my place of employment to check up on me. According to Matti, who answered the phone, all they were interested in was whether or not I was still employed at Vakiopaine. This bit of snooping by the government agency that can make or break any immigrant’s chance at a future in Finland was welcome on my part. It meant that they were finally handling my citizenship application which I had dropped off at the local police station about a year ago. When I turned in my paperwork, the bureaucrat behind the desk let me know that the process could take anywhere from one to three years once my application had been sent forward to wherever it may be that such decisions are made. The fact that my paperwork had made it to the top of the pile in such a short amount of time was more than likely a good indication of a positive outcome.

To make a long story short, I received notification in the mail at the end of October that my request for citizenship had been approved. I am now the holder of two passports, a citizen of two nations. The most obvious benefit for me is that I am no longer merely a second-class resident of the country where I have spent the last 5 years of my life. Although I had received a permanent residence permit a year ago and was guaranteed every right enjoyed by Finnish citizens, I was denied the most important right of all, the right to vote in national elections. Now that I have the right and responsibility to vote, I also have the right to complain, to expression my dissatisfaction with the status quo. For the time being, I’ll keep the negativity to myself. There are still some months to go before the next general election.

What would my great-grandparents think of all this? They made the decision to set off across the seas to an uncertain future, looking to find something different than what they were used to. They decided to gamble with their own lives in the hope that they would find a better place with more to offer than the Finland that they left behind. Speculation on what might have been is a fairly useless exercise in my opinion, but I feel that these ancestors of mine made the right decision. They managed to avoid the one of the bloodiest civil wars in European history (the Finnish Civil war of 1918). We American-Finns, at least those of us who are descendants of the great migration that occurred towards the end of the 1800’s don’t have to bear the psychological scars that accompanied the legacy of bitterness, fear, and hatred that followed that horrible conflict. These scars, to some extent, still affect Finnish society today. We were also spared the trauma of the Winter and Continuation Wars, which even now, over sixty-five years after the fact, affects the collective psyche of the Finnish people. Of course as Americans we have had our own wars and domestic struggles over the decades that have left their mark upon us. Korea, Viet Nam, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror. McCarthyism, corporate opposition to the Labor Movement, and more recently the Teabaggers trying to crush the pursuit of happiness for everyone but themselves. I guess we too have our own painful histories that have the potential to leave their marks across generations.

On December 6th I will be celebrating Finnish Independence for the first time as a Finnish citizen. I’ve never been one for in-your-face patriotism, but I will be the first to admit that there is something really fine about the independence of a sovereign nation, especially when the ideal of democracy is able to be fulfilled. I wonder how Kiimingin Kalle or Kyrönlahden Matti would react to the fact that their great-grandson is a citizen of a nation that didn’t yet exist when they struck out from their homes in pre-independence Finland towards the hopeful shores of the United States. Although I have moved on from the country in which they chose to make their own futures, that doesn’t mean I have turned my back on it, in fact it is highly likely that I will come back to America to live and work from time to time. We live in a big new world with greater possibility than ever before. With migration comes a new way of seeing the world and a greater chance for understanding our fellow humans. Immigrants should be regarded as a potential resource rather than a burden. We can improve upon our humanity, if only we don’t squander opportunity.

December is upon us, and so is the polar night. The skies are dark and the air is crisp and cold. I feel optimistic about the world we live in, despite the occasional setbacks that befall the human race. I for one am going to try to remember the responsibilities that accompany the rights that I am blessed with. With that in mind, I guess I should go to the kitchen and wash the dishes. Maybe after that I’ll take out the recyclables and enjoy a moment in the chilly darkness of this winter evening in the country that I have come to regard as my second home.

An interview with J. Karjalainen

This interview which I did a few months back with J. Karjalainen was recently published in the New World Finn. This fine quarterly is carrying on the long tradition of a Finnish-American free press and I highly recommend that you subscribe to their publication.

If you would like to read the interview in the New World Finn pdf version, please click here (page 7 of the pdf).

The 3rd record of J. Karjalainen’s Finnish-American Trilogy Polkabilly Rebels was released last spring. On a chilly evening at the end of October I got a chance to catch the last show of the Polkabilly Rebels tour at Tanssisali Lutakko in Jyväskylä. A few hours before the show I stopped by “Lutakko” to have a little chat with Mr. Karjalainen.

It’s been four years since the first album of this trilogy, Lännen-Jukka was released. You have stated previously that the Lännen-Jukka project is now coming to an end. Would you happen to know how Lännen-Jukka is going to spend his retirement?

A trilogy is always a good thing – a three record collection. Although the recording project ends here, it doesn’t mean that I won’t be playing these songs anymore. As far as performing the material goes, this project doesn’t really have an end. I’ll play this material at gigs if the opportunity arises, either solo, or with Veli-Matti (Veli- Matti Järvenpää -accordionist on the second record of the trilogy Paratiisin pojat as well as on Polkabilly Rebels), or even with the Polkabilly Rebels (Veli-Matti Järvenpää, accordion, Tommi Viksten, electric guitar, and Mitja Tuurala, bass). I figure Lännen-Jukka is going to spend his retirement like I hope to spend mine – playing music. And I have to say that it has meant a lot to me that Finnish-American folks and folks here in Finland have taken Lännen-Jukka as one of their own.

During the course of this project you had the opportunity to travel to the States and see some of the places settled by the Finnish emigrants, and perhaps more importantly you got a chance to meet some of their descendants. What sort of impressions did these American-Finns leave you with?

The American-Finns were absolutely fantastic, especially after all the difficulties we had getting in to the country. Once we got to meet the people we had an incredible experience. We were lucky enough to get to know musicians like the Haapalan pojat and Jingo Viitala. Everyone was so warm and friendly and we got along right away, real natural-like. I had been a little nervous beforehand about how people over there would react to Lännen-Jukka because the style is kind of rough and raw. I needn’t have worried. Everyone we talked to appreciated the music.

Over the past few years you have managed to discover some original Finnish-American material and record it yourself. Have you noticed any differences between Finnish-American and Finnish music of the period that these songs were originally recorded?

Something in the music over there in America was a little different. For example, in the music of Hiski Salomaa there is a completely different sort of mentality – livelier, more reckless. It was kind of strange when Jingo taught me Siantappolaulu, I was sure that it was a Finnish-American song but it’s actually a Finnish song from up in the north of Finland. When we started performing the song people would come up and say “that’s the song our grandpa used to sing!” Jim Leary from the University of Wisconsin in Madison introduced me to the recordings that were collected by Allan Lomax – that’s where we found Varoitus Duluthin Pojille. It was nice to have an opportunity to revive some old, mostly forgotten songs.

U.S. Immigration treated you rather harshly when you visited a few years back. Would you consider visiting the United States after that unpleasant experience?

I would return to the States, of course only if we can get all the visas in order. Actually – and here’s a scoop for you – it looks like we’ll be performing at Finnfest in San Diego next summer. We are going to make sure ahead of time that we have every possible visa and permission slip in taken care of before we even get on the plane. Our problem with the U.S. Immigration Services was really the result of misunderstanding. We weren’t sure what exactly what documents were needed in advance. I’m sure we won’t have any problems this time around. During the same trip I’d like to swing through the North Country and hook up with our friends there.

Immigration is a hot topic these days, both in the U.S. and in Finland. As someone who has spent a few years working with music that is pretty much the product of people who have migrated to a new homeland for one reason or another, do you have any personal insights or opinions concerning the movement of people from one land to another and politics of immigration?

I’ve approached these immigrant songs with consideration and compassion. I know what it feels like to be in a strange land and not really understand the language – you know - the feeling that others might think that you are some kind of idiot for not being able to speak the language properly, and feeling yourself that you are kind of stupid for not being able to express yourself properly. I realized how important ones own language is. Being with the Haapala boys in their own home up there in Upper Michigan and speaking Finnish – it felt like a bit of Finland was right there. Take the immigrants in Finland, from Somalia for example: How did they feel when they arrived? Lonely and lost, not having fluency in the Finnish language? But when they are at home, or with other immigrants from their own country, a part of their homeland is born again. I feel that first and foremost we need to think of immigrants as people. We need to try and understand how it feels to be in their shoes. Sometimes entire families end up moving from one place to another, for whatever reason – the future of an entire family may be at stake when the decision is made to leave their home country. Working on the Lännen-Jukka project, meeting Finnish emigrants and their descendants has helped me think about this whole immigration thing. We have all been immigrants at some point in history – half a million Finns made the decision to emigrate in not-so-distant history. Ultimately this project has helped me understand what it might be like to be a stranger in a strange land.

The Polkabilly Rebels performing Sun kloorin klooring halleluuja at Tanssisali Lutakko:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Piparit ja sinihomejuusto/Ginger snaps and blue cheese

I'm not exactly sure who came up with this combination but I ran across it here in Finland. Blue cheese and ginger snaps. Any blue cheese will do - Danish blue, Stilton, Roquefort,Gorgonzola, or if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Finland, a nice Finnish blue like Aura Gold.

Aura Gold by Valio and ginger snaps by Auran Pikkuleipä

Blue cheese and ginger snaps

Friday, December 17, 2010

Malli kuvitellusta rakenteesta/Model of an imaginary structure - by Jaakko Niemelä

Malli kuvitellusta rakenteesta / Model of an imaginary structure is a kinetic light/shadow installation by Jaakko Niemelä, located at the corner of Vapaudenkatu and Kilpisenkatu in downtown Jyväskylä.

Here is a video of the installation, followed by a couple of photographs.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Leipäjuusto is a traditional Finnish fresh cheese. Originally made at home from the milk of a cow which has recently birthed a calf, leipäjuusto is now produced comercially with normal milk. Some claim that the flavor of the modern product is not as rich as that of traditional stuff, but since I have never tasted the old-time version, I am unable to verify this.

Leipäjuusto by Mäkiahon Juustola Oy

Leipäjuusto has traditionally been served as is, or as an accompaniment to coffee. A more recent serving variation is to warm it up with either fresh cloudberries or cloudberry jam. It also works well in salads as an alternative to feta-type cheese.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lapin Liha kylmäsavu hevosenpaisti/ Lapin Liha cold-smoked horse roast

Lapin Liha makes a pretty tasty cold-smoked horse roast. My only complaint with their product is that they could be using domestic Finnish horse meat as opposed to meat imported from South America.

I bought this product from the meat counter at Mestarin Herkku in Jyväskylä, but I guess it is also available pre-packaged in the deli-meat coolers at most major Finnish supermarkets.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ice skating on Lake Jyväsjärvi

This post is from last year. I figured I'd post it again since the weather has been so cold this year that the Jyväsjärvi skating track is already open and waiting for you to get out and try out your skating skills. According to the Kotakahvila blog, the cafe won't be open until the 6th of January, although since I haven't been down there to check things out this year, I'm not sure if this information is correct or not.

After a long wait the ice skating track is open on Lake Jyväsjärvi. It is most conveniently accessed from the harbor area. I'm not exactly sure but I would guess that the track is at least a few kilometers long if you skate the full loop. There is also a cross country ski track that follows along next to the skating track.

The Kotakahvila offers hot beverages as well as kicksled rentals. According to the sign, the sleds rent for 5€/hour.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

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, November 30, 2010

Finnish Cultural Assimilation # 23.6 - Decoding Finnish Potato Bags

If you have recently moved to Finland you will have noticed that most Finnish supermarkets carry a wide variety of potatoes. They are either sold loose or prepackaged in color-coded plastic bags.

If you don't speak Finnish yet you may have a hard time cracking the code which determines which bag of potatoes is most suitable for your purposes. With a bit of work on your part, this lesson will assist you with all of your potato shopping needs.

There is a Finnish standard potato bag color code which is in use by Finnish grocery retailers. The colors used in this system are green, yellow, and red.

Chart describing (In Finnish and Swedish) the 3 basic Finnish potato categories

Potatoes found in a green bag are kiinteä, in other words, they are more firm. This basically means that they have less starch than the potatoes that are packaged in yellow or red bags. Potatoes classified as kiinteä are suitable for salads, boiling, for use in soups where you would like them to keep from breaking down, and also for pan frying. You can also use them in casseroles and they can be grated and fried if you want to make hash browns. Popular varieties of kiinteä potatoes in Finland are Siikli, Hankkijan Timo, and Nicola.

Potatoes found in the red bag are jauhoinen, which means that they are less firm than kiinteä potatoes when cooked. They have a higher starch content, which makes them desirable to use when preparing mashed potatoes,puréed soups, and baked potatoes. They also work well for baking recipes that require potatoes. Popular varieties of jauhoinen potatoes sold in Finland are Pito, Puikula, and Rosamunda.

Potatoes in the yellow bag are described in Finnish as Yleisperuna, meaning that they are a good potato for general use. They have a higher starch content than kiinteä, but not as high as jauhoinen potatoes have. They can be boiled, used in soups, casseroles, and baked as wedges. They can also be used for hashbrowns and baked potatoes. Common yleisperuna varieties in Finland are Van Gogh, Amazone, and Matilda.

Finnish Cultural Assimilation Lesson # 39

Yet another installment in my series of lessons for those who wish to be assimilated into Finnish culture, or merely wish to try and understand the modern Finnish soul.

Viidestoista yö (the 15th night)

Juice Leskinen, often described as the "Bob Dylan of Finland" was a prolific poet and songwriter. As the result of a poll in 2004 he was ranked 38th of the 100 Greatest Finns. Fifteenth Night is but one of his many great songs, apparently written after a 14 day drinking binge. Juice passed away in 2006.

My unpoetic translation of a bit of Viidestoista Yö:

1st verse
In my eyes, the look of a lost orphan-a child that's lost its way
The remnants of your love make my chest ache
The darkness hits me like a squadron of bombers
And I don't even ask at what price.

I watch the world with you
and I see the same dream
Like a madman I cry out after your love.
I curl up in your arms
and if you let me I'll spend the night
and when morning comes I won't know where I am.

Vanhojapoikia Viiksekkäitä (old bachelors with whiskers)
(don't let the unfortunate wardrobe choices made by the background singers affect your enjoyment of this song...)

Juha Vainio composed over 100 songs, as well as wrote and or translated lyrics for nearly 2000 more which have been recorded by various Finnish artists.
Old Bachelors with whiskers is one of his very own. It tells the story of Nestori Miikulainen, an old bachelor destined to live his life alone on a windblown island on Lake Saimaa. An old Saimaa seal sympathizes with Nestori, they are both a dying breed.

Again, an unpoetic translation on my part.

On an island on Lake Saimaa is a tenant farmer's plot
Nestori Miikulainen sits on the steps
playing a harmonica and a Saimaa seal
rises to the surface splashing
Below the waves it heads towards the musician
because the melody is really familiar.
The song tells of how it feels to be alone
and the seal understands that well.

Nestori never had a wedding
the world lured away his bride.
Old bachelors with whiskers
is what they both are.

Polkabilly Rebels - Sun kloorin kloorin halleluuja!

I caught the Polkabilly Rebels show at Lutakko at the end of October. This song was the final encore:

The song is originally an American-Finnish song which J. Karjalainen rescued from obscurity. It was among the tunes that Lomax collected that can be found in the Library of Congressf collections.

I managed to interview J. Karjalainen before the show. Once the interview is published in the New World Finn next month I will put it up here also.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kaamos/Arctic night

It's that time of year. If it isn't kind of dark outside, it's really dark. And the darkness will only be increasing over the next few weeks. One way to make it through this unfortunate reality of subarctic life is to stay active. Exercise really does help. Here is a post I did a few years back featuring an excellent place to get some physical activity in Jyväskylä:

When you find yourself at approximately 62°N in the middle of December, afternoons look like this:

University of Jyväskylä 16.December.2008. 3:15 pm

Thankfully, at least in Jyväskylä, we have this option:

AaltoAlvari, our local swimming hall. Swimming pools,wave pool,current pool,jacuzzi,ice pool,mens and womens saunas,gym. A little exercise goes a long way during kaamos.

AaltoAlvari is open from 6 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. from Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on weekends. Morning swim (Mon -Fri from 6a.m - 10 p.m.)admission is 5€ for adults, 3,50€ for students, senior citizens, and the unemployed, 3€ for children ages 4 - 16. Otherwise the prices are 7€ for adults, 5€ for students, seniors, and the unemployed.

The AaltoAlvari swimming hall is located here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tourulan kuvataiteilijoiden avoimet ovet / Artists of Tourula Open Studio Day

A reminder for those of you in the Jyväskylä area:

On Saturday November 13th, the visual artists of Tourula will be having an "open doors day". This is your chance to check out the studios and work of ten different artists, myself included.

The doors will be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Please stop by and check us out.

Our studios are located on the 2nd floor at Kivääritehtaankatu 8A.

Näytä suurempi kartta

Saturday, November 6, 2010

myskikurpitsa / butternut squash

I really like to eat squash in the fall and winter. I've had a hard time finding proper winter squash here in Jyväskylä over the past few years. I have found pumpkins of various varieties, but squash like acorn and butternut are what I have been craving. This year I grew my own acorn squash on my city allotment.

The other day I was walking by Katriinan Kauppa when I noticed these beautiful butternut squash in the window:

I walked right in and bought squash by the armload. Butternut squash can be prepared and enjoyed in a variety of ways. I prefer to bake my squash and serve with salt, pepper, butter, and brown sugar.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Lappitappi (Lapland peg) is a dry sausage made by Kylmänen. It is made from a blend of reindeer, red deer,horse meat, and pork. Nicely seasoned, not too terribly greasy.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tourulan kuvataiteilijoiden avoimet ovet - Visual artists of Tourula - Open Studios Day

On Saturday November 13th, the visual artists of Tourula will be having an "open doors day". This is your chance to check out the studios and work of ten different artists, myself included.

The doors will be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Please stop by and check us out.

Our studios are located on the 2nd floor at Kivääritehtaankatu 8A.

Näytä suurempi kartta

Friday, October 29, 2010

Työhuoneessa / At the studio

I realized that I haven't posted anything from the studio lately. That said, here are a few recent photos of the workspace that I share with Annina Sarja at the Kivääritehdas (rifle factory).

A couple of projects that I am working on:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ensilumenlatu - First cross-country ski trail of the season

The cross-country ski season in Jyväskylä is officially open. Made with snow from last winter that has been stored under a thick layer of sawdust, the trail will officially open on the 23rd of October.

The cross-country ski trail at Laajavuori by night.

"First snow trail - 1 day pass 8€ - Season pass 75€ - Children under 8 ski for free - Tickets available at Laajarin Kahvio (Laajarin cafe) - Only use the trail if you are wearing skis

Laajavuori's website

A photoseries from Keskisuomalainen showing the construction of this year's first cross-country ski trail.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Moss in the cracks, kirkkopuisto

I like to observe the world around me and find visual patterns. Sometimes my attention turns to the mundane. The most common patterns are perhaps the easiest to ignore.

The Church Park (kirkkopuisto)in downtown Jyväskylä is paved with a wide variety of bricks and stones. Most of the pavement has moss growing in the cracks.

I took these photos on a sunny day a few weeks back.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First snow since Spring

I guess winter won't be too far behind.

What we woke up to here in Jyväskylä this morning. The thermometer in the photo is giving the temperature in Celsius.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Lake Jyväsjärvi on an early October evening

My son and I went for a little walk the other night. Here are some of the things that we saw along the way: Click on photos to enlarge or to see their location on the map

Looking across the lake towards the Ylistönrinne area of the University of Jyväskylä campus. This part of campus houses the Chemistry and Physics departments and the Nanoscience Center.

The Lutakko neighborhood is on the left. To the right you can see the bridge to the Kuokkala area.

The buildings on the right side of the bridge are in the Ainolanranta neighborhood.

Some pretty cool old iron-hulled boats at the temporary moorings. The city has a major harbor renovation underway, it'll be interestingv to see what it all looks like once the project is completed.

Looking across the temporary harbor towards Technopolis Innova. And yes, the funny looking watercraft in the lower lefthand corner is a floating sauna complete with outboard motor.

The train yard as seen from the pedestrian/bicycle bridge that crosses the highway between Kilpisenkatu and the harbor.

Looking up Kilpisenkatu from the pedestrian/bicycle bridge.

Detail from the pedestrian/bicycle bridge.

The Jyväskylä Matkakeskus, which houses both the train and the long-distance bus stations.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kompassi/The Compass

The Compass (kompassi)marks the intersection of Kauppakatu and Asemakatu located in downtown Jyväskylä. Recently, the compass rose made of paving stone recieved a high-tech upgrade.

The Compass by day.

As part of the Jyväskylä, City of Light (Valon kaupunki.Jyväskylä) event,a new bit new outdoor lighting has begun to add a little extra illumination to the downtown pedestrian district.

The Compass as it now looks at night:

Apparently our fair city won first prize in the 2009 city.people.light awards. I find that the different light installations around town add a nice bit of color (and of course light) during the darkness which is our reality during the fall and early winter.

There are dozens of locations that have been illuminated in the downtown area. A map showing where to find these installations can be found here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Erected in the honor of the 50th anniversary of Finnish Independence. 6.12.1967"

Almost immediately upon my arrival to Jyväskylä a few years ago I got the impression that this little city could actually become my home. The process actually didn't take that long to complete. For quite some time now I have felt like this is where I want to live and occasionally I have been know to sing the praises of my city in the entries that I have made in this blog. As a resident of this jewel in the crown of Central Finland I also feel obligated to point out things that don't work so well, things that are in need of fixing.

Today is one of those days. Something in Jyväskylä needs to be fixed and I'm not talking about the city council and its decision-making process. Its a real, tangible item in despair. I'm talking about this monument which is located across from city hall. It is a flagpole with a black granite wall inscribed with the text "Erected in the honor of the 50th anniversary of Finnish Independence. 6.12.1967".

Already from a distance you will notice that something about this monument just isn't quite right. There is a gaping hole in the wall where a slab of black granite should be.

Upon closer inspection it could not possibly escape your attention that this monument is in need of a bit of maintenance or even a complete rebuild. The mortar is crumbling in the seams and as we noticed from afar, an entire slab of granite is missing.

I should mention that this monument is located across the street from city hall. It has been in this decrepit state for at least a couple of years now. I'm not sure about how other residents of our city feel, but frankly I find the condition that this monument is in to be monumentally embarrassing. I've translated the text on this monument for foreign friends on a few occasions and one, who shall remain unnamed, remarked - "That peace of crap is a monument to Finnish independence?"

Unfortunately the crappiness of this historical marker isn't restricted to its front side. The back of it is in an even more humiliating state of repair. The black granite is gone altogether and has been replaced with cracked and rotting plywood that has been painted black. This shantytown repair job has been in effect for as long as I can remember.

I wonder how long the city intends to neglect this monument? I think that if they took the time to put this memorial up, perhaps we could take the time to take care of it once and a while.

Jyväskylä is my city and I am rather proud of it. I sure wouldn't mind if our elected decision makers felt the same sense of pride and went on to show it by having this monument to the nations independence restored.

Maybe once the take care of this repair job the can get to work on the sauna that our city owns, down by the beach at the former campground at Tuomiojärvi.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Column in the New World Finn - Fall 2010

Here is a column that I wrote for the Fall 2010 issue of the New World Finn. It can be also found on page 16 of this PDF.

In case you didn't already know, the New World Finn is a Finnish-American quarterly published in the U.S. If you would like to subscribe to this great little paper, you can find information

Summer is pretty much over and fall is almost here. During our last visit to the cabin we spent the weekend in wool socks and sweaters, making sure to remember to add a piece of wood to the fireplace every now and then. Just a few weeks back we were enjoying morning coffee in the sun and the nights were so warm we slept with the windows open.

The approach of fall brings a sense of normalcy back to Jyväskylä. The students return and once again we get a real sense of how young this city is. There are 16,000 students at the University of Jyväskylä, 8000 study at JAMK (the University of Applied Sciences). The various trade schools in town take care of the education of additional 15,000 or so students.

Jyväskylä has been an educational center since Finland’s first Finnish-language teaching college was founded at the top of the hill back in 1863. The city itself was founded in 1837 by decree of Czar Nicholas I. The teaching college became the University of Jyväskylä in 1967. The university is just a small part of the Finnish educational system – an educational system that played a large role in the decision of a particular international weekly to proclaim Finland as being the best country on earth. Best country on earth is a mighty high title to live up to and it must be mentioned that some Finnish citizens may not quite agree with the panel that chose them to receive the honors this year.

I’m happy here. Finland is a great place to live. You do need to understand though, that it’s not all perfect. The unemployment rate for folks with university education is at an all-time high. School children across the country are studying in temporary modular classrooms while their schools are being renovated or rebuilt. Chronic mold infestations have made such steps necessary, both students and staff have suffered from mold-related health problems. Factories close down and jobs disappear. Construction sites teem with laborers being paid under the table. Populist politics have whipped up an anti-immigrant sentiment that at times is downright scary (if, like me, you happen to be an immigrant). All of the political parties are toeing the “I’m not a racist, but…” line. They want only “good” immigrants, immigrants who are here to work or learn. Almost as though they think that we have all come here with the intention of goofing off at the expense of our fellow taxpayers. Such sentiments are as ridiculous as the idea that we have come here to work for lower than honest wages, thereby stealing jobs from the locals.

My summer vacation is coming to an end. In two days I’ll be heading back to work - a Friday night shift. My classes at the university start next Tuesday. The laid back rhythm of summer is picking up and the march of fall with its “get things done before winter” tempo will soon be in full swing.

Carrots wait to be dug up. Acorn squash need to piled in the bike basket and pedaled back home. There are fish to be reeled in before the lakes freeze up. Winter coats to bring down from the attic and air out on the balcony. My graduate research project has been approved; part of it involves translating a novel by an author whose works have never been translated to English or any other language. This exercise should do wonders for my Finnish skills and hopefully will add a little something fresh to my English prose skills too.

Despite the lateness of the hour, the street below our window is full of life. It is Wednesday, known in these parts as pikkulauantai (little Saturday). Students make their way from the uptown pubs to the downtown clubs. For many, classes haven’t begun yet, so they have a few more nights to enjoy before have to start cracking the books for real.
The air is cool and the sky is dark, clear. The occasional car rolls along our street. The local weather page promises that my last day off will be a sunny one. Even if it rains I will make sure to enjoy it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Uno Cygnaeuksen patsas - Statue of Uno Cygnaeus

This statue can be found in a pretty little park in Jyväskylä which is aptly named Cygnaeuksen puisto (Cygnaeus Park).

Uno Cygnaeus (1810 - 1898) was a Lutheran minister, educator, and ultimately, the chief inspector of the Finnish school system (during the time when Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire).

Among other things, Cygnaeus helped wrest education of the people out of the hands of the church, and established a revised folk school program.

His greatest influence in Jyväskylä (and perhaps in all of Finland) was the establishment of the first Finnish-language teacher training college, which ultimately became the University of Jyväskylä. A well-rounded educational system in the language of the people helped Finland along its path to independence. There are two schools in Jyväskylä which are named after this visionary.

Where to find the statue of Uno Cygnaeus in Jyväskylä:

Näytä Cygnaeuksen puisto - Cygnaeus Park, Jyväskylä suuremmalla kartalla

Cultural Assimilation Lesson # 234.2 - If you don't already know Finnish, here is another great reason to learn

Surprising, a lot of English-speaking immigrants in Finland never bother to learn Finnish, yet are more than happy to complain about the lack of employment opportunities available to those who don't speak the language of the land.

Half a chance in the working world isn't the only reason that one should learn Finnish. Without proper Finnish skills you will never be able to truly enjoy Finnish-language music - you'll be missing out on the cultural nuances and references that make Finnish society what it is.

Finnish rapper Paleface has historically rapped in English but on his upcoming album Helsinki-Shangri-La (to be released on September 15th) he switches things up and raps in Finnish (a career move that I highly respect - all too often Finnish musicians perform in English with the hopes of becoming huge international stars, but ending up just sounding like dumbasses). This video that I am posting for you features the title track, Helsinki-Shangri-La.

You'll notice that the musical style isn't exactly hip-hop - its in a more traditional Finnish format - sort of a political rillumarei. The lyrics touch on everything that isn't perfect in the Best Country on Earth.

Guest labor, elimination of cultural funding, useless celebrities, Roma beggars, disposable lifestyle, homelessness, chemical dependency, overextended credit, immigration politics, school shootings...

If you are a bad immigrant who hasn't bothered to learn Finnish, have your spouse translate the lyrics for you and continue feeling sorry for yourself. If your language skills have progressed to the point that you understand enough of what Paleface is singing about to get a bit pissed off - congratulations! You have what it takes to be a productive resident of our adopted homeland.

Here are the lyrics in for Helsinki-Shangri-La in Finnish:

Kun hyvinvointivaltiota Helsingissä luodaan,
julkisivuduunarit ne Tallinnasta tuodaan.
Mistä halvimmalla saadaan,
sillä niin me tehdään Helsingistä Shangri-La.

Hävitetään Lepakot ja muutkin parasiitit,
Eduskuntatalon eessä roihuu makasiinit.
huutaa nollatoleranssi,
juhlii vartiontiliikkeet ynnä FPS.

Yhteiskunnan yllä liehuu taantumuksen viiri,
turvakameroilla luodaan pelon ilmapiiri.
Holhoava esivalta,
putkaan tarranliimaajat ja talonvaltaajat.

Miksi kaikki tuntee Johanna “Maatalous” Tukiaisen,
niinkun Kolmensepän kodittoman romanialaisen?
Turhuuksien roviolle se on Seiska-päivää, Idols ynnä MTV.

Pissiksillä luottokortit valtavasti lainaa,
unholaan on vaipunut jo Veikko Hursti vainaa,
Heitä pois ja osta uusi,
Visa, pikavippi, karhukirje, maksuhäiriö.

Ja keväisin ne kodittomat sulatellaan jäästä,
katkokävelylle, mutaa katkolle ei päästä.
Suomen päihdepolitiikka:
pamit, pervitiini, Subutex ja sunnuntai.

Kurtze ynnä Puonti sekä Pynnönen ja Piippo,
juolahtaakin mieleen Lahti, Hemohes ja hiihto.
Vinkkimiehen viskipullo se on valeosto, vasikka ja KRP.

Maamme maahanmuuttopolitiikka kusee omaan nilkkaan,
jos Timo Soinin traumat takaa äänestyksen vilkkaan.
Halme, Halla-Aho, Jörg Haider, Ku Klux Klan.

Sekos ADHD-instituutin aivosähköposti,
kun Pekka Erik Auvinen kakskakkosensa osti.
Holmlundi haulikoille,
lahtas Kauhajoen Matti toistakymmentä.

Kun hyvinvointivaltiota Helsingissä luodaan,
julkisivuduunarit ne Tallinnasta tuodaan.
Mistä halvimmalla saadaan,
sillä niin me tehdään Helsingistä Shangri-La.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ween Maan Wilja 2010

The Ween Maan Wilja festival is going to be held on the 18th and 19th of September. We attended last year. Festival food, things for sale (agricultural products, hand-crafted items, and of course the guy who travels around from market to market selling vacuum cleaner bags [? - really!], and crowds of people. You'll find the festival near Paviljonki (across the tracks from the train station.

Here is a post I did last year after attending the festival:

With its cutesy old-fashioned W's instead of the more modern V, Ween Maan Wilja (the harvest of water and land) is best described as a harvest-type fall festival that intends for you to buy things. Food, handicrafts, more food, and a minimum of crap vendors. Lots of canned meats, baked goods, marinated garlic cloves. It will still be going on Sunday the 20th of September. Ween Maan Wilja is located down by the Paviljonki convention center.

A few photos from the day:

Baskets, both wood and plastic

Muikku (vendace) frying. Its just not a festival without muikku.

Fried muikku with vegetables and fried potatoes.

Wool and felt clothing from the crazy grandma clothing booth.

The only words you will need to survive in Finland.

Loimulohta ja pannukahvia. Flame broiled salmon and camp coffee.

The metrilaku (licorice by the meter) is always so cheerful looking.

Ween Maan Wilja Festival
September 18th - 19th
Jyväskylän Paviljonki