August 30, 2005

Now that the fever is gone and swallowing doesn't anymore feel like shoving a giant cactus down my throat, I feel it is time to ease the anxiety of my readers.
Here are some things I have done this week, while I have been ill at home with the rain pouring outside.

1. An Excel worksheet of all flights I have ever been on since 1996!! COOOL!!! Altogether 104 separate flights since 24.6.1996. The airports where I've flown the most to/from are Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt and Vienna. Flights between Helsinki and Berlin are the most frequent (eight flights), with flights between Helsinki and Vienna and Damascus grabbing the second prize (Seven flights to or from Damascus via Vienna) along with Helsinki-Amsterdam.
The furthest airport where I have flown to is GPS (Baltra on the Galapagos Islands) and the longest flight without stops was in 1996 between Frankfurt and Bogotà (and from there to Quito).

2. Mixing different drinks, like boiled water with lemon! Boiled water with orange! Boiled water with orange AND lemon! And my favourite: cold water with lemon!! (for take-away - see number 3)

3. I was at a concert in Vanha Kirkko with Jarno - Christian Tetzlaff played all of Bach's partitas and sonatas for solo violin. The concert lasted almost four hours, we were sitting where we could hardly see the player and I was feeling horrible, but it was one of the best concerts where I've ever been, without a boring moment. I think everyone in the audience could not believe that all those voices and emotions were coming from one single violin.

4. I spent a good part of the day trying to rid my apartment of shards of glass of all sizes after my ceiling lamp went suicidal and smashed itself on my floor. Is there a name for fobia of sharp things? If there isn't, maybe it should be named after me.

5. I made an arrangement for Full House of the Chicago hit tune "All I care about".

6. I met two members of my Japanese host family at whose place I stayed in November 1997! Eiko and Shiho were visiting Helsinki and they came to our place for tea.

7. I learned how to dance traditional dances from West Africa on Monday at school and was blown away by it (That evening, my temperature rose to 38,6). The idea that there are whole communities in West Africa where people dance like that every evening for recreation, sport and entertainment is nothing short of fascinating. The dances are extremely healthy and pretty tough if you're a couch potato (lots of jumping involved) and full of such exuberance and joy of living that they make the Finnish katrilli look like a visit to the zoo to see the snail house.

August 27, 2005

New entry coming soon

Be patient, avid readers. The wait is almost over.

August 18, 2005

Gems of Finland, Chapter 1

Crossing Senaatintori today in the evening, when the lighting was just perfect, I decided to write a series of entries about what I think is so cool about living in Finland. This is also to mark the 20th anniversary of my arriving to this country. On 17.8.1985 Carlos, Hamsa and I (just a 1-year old baby at the time) landed in Helsinki from Moscow. Was it fate or coincidence which led them to settle down here? What was it that made them go against the warnings of their families that Finland was a harsh and cold place to live, and why did they dismiss ideas of going to Germany, or perhaps as far as Japan? We will never know. But it is not for me to now write a family saga of the past 20 years and all the fascinating things which have happened (let's face it, it's almost all my lifetime ;) and so I will get to the point.

- Democracy and freedom of speech. In 1906, Finland was the third country in the world (after New Zealand and Australia, and keep in mind Finland was not yet independent) and first in Europe to grant women the right to vote. Also the fact that our president is a woman shows how far Finland has gone with equality issues, although there are probably still some farmers up in Pohjanmaa who can't believe the commander-in-chief of the Finnish army is a woman. Finland is also the least corrupt country in the world (Source: Transparency International, 2003).

-Education After Finland scored the highest marks at the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) study, for the second time in a row, teachers and education ministers flocked to seminars in Helsinki to find out why Finnish 15-year olds are the best in the world when it comes to mathematics, mother tongue, science and problem solving. The Finnish education has long been regarded among the top of the top in the world, perhaps not the least because it's all free. How proud we all were to see a normal high school in Helsinki being shown all over the BBC, with interviews with teachers and students. Tourists are often astounded at how fluently Finnish teenagers can speak English, often also Swedish, which, after all, is the second language here. Becoming a teacher is also the most popular wish for a profession among young Finnish people.
Many university students from abroad are also coming to study in Finland. Not only is all higher level education free (although you first have to pass a hellish entrance exam for which Finns usually study as much as during their whole time at university) , students also get enormous help from the government. Foreigners can't believe their ears when I tell them I get 406 euro delivered to my account every fourth day of the month - and if I wanted to, I could get at least 200 more every month with a student loan.

-Books and media. When it comes to the number of daily newspapers published per capita, Finland is among the top ten. The biggest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, based (surprise) in Helsinki, is read every day by a fifth of the whole population. The Finnish library system is the best in the world, with almost 500 public libraries in the whole country (don't forget the population is just over 5 million) and Finns read more books per capita than any other population in the world (this might sound far-fetched and, as a matter of fact, I can not fully confirm this because I can't remember by source :), and many people read as much in foreign languages as they do in Finnish.

To be continued!

August 16, 2005

It seems the "War against terrorism" now includes being careful of names you give to your children, as some unfortunate parents have found out - read this story at
Dominante's autumn kicked off yesterday at 18 in Otaniemi. We have a very busy autumn ahead, including everything from Mendelssohn's fantastic "Elias" to a special concert aimed especially at small children to the trip to Tunisia in a month. Our "gala concert" in November will be a very interesting mixture of modern Finnish choral music and classics such as the Mendelssohn's psalm "Richte mich, Gott".
Our rehearsal time has doubled and with all the extra rehearsals and concerts I have weeks in my calendar with no less than five evenings packed with activity with Dominante. Our 30th year will draw to a close on the 15th of December at the Christmas concert, but unfortunately I will not be able to attend as I will probably still be coping from a near-40-hour/4-flight-trip to Ecuador.
One could also say that school started again today, because I was in Ruoholahti, using the computers to sign up for some of the theory subjects. There were only a precious few having lunch there, probably a sign that everyone is trying to still cling on to the vacations.
From there I went to the German school, which has turned into something resembling a spaceship because of its huge flatscreen displays all over the place, indicating major changes in the timetables or information for students/teachers. From there, it was a short way to Sulasol, where I got myself some music (Jaakko Mäntyjärvi's "Four Shakespears Songs" which are also part of our programme).
Most of the afternoon and evening was spent with Sonja, first in Kiasma, where we only managed to have a coffee before the museum suddenly closed, then enjoying for a hundredth time the fantastic pictures of the earth from above infront of Lasipalatsi.

Book just finished:
Audrey Niffenegger's "The Time Traveler's Wife". Definitely the weirdest book I've read this year, this was at times extremely fascinating and clever, but at parts it did seem a little cheap. Currently at number 9 on Amazon's bestseller list, it's definitely something completely different from what I've ever read before.

Song now playing:
Blossom Dearie singing "It Amazes Me". The more I listen to jazz, the more I am convinced that it is a whole musical world of its own, and it grips me at every new song. This particular song has been playing almost all week for me. Its lyrics, delicious harmonies and the wonderfully quirky voice of singer-pianist-cabaret artist Blossom Dearie have the power of moving me as much as, say, a German Lied.

August 14, 2005

One second of fame

August 13, 2005

Well, I have finally taken a giant leap forward and learned how to post pictures on this blog. At least I hope this works. The pictures now here were all taken at my friend Heidi's wedding yesterday in Suomenlinna. Weather conditions in the past week were truly criminal and Heidi's comment during our emergency rehearsal the previous evening ("Summer wedding my ass!!!") was quickly forgotten yesterday when the sun finally appeared from behind the clouds and temperatures rose back to normal. No sooner did we arrive at the ferry than Heidi's mother loaded us all with endless bags of decorations, dresses and all the wedding paraphernalia imaginable for carrying. Excitement drove her to perform a sort of gig on the ferry, which left everyone speechless to say the least. Grandmothers and early eager visitors were rushed off to the cafeteria while the bridesmaids took the bride to the safety of the church crypt to make the grand preparations.
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The ceremony itself was memorable, from the seemingly endless time it took from the chiming of the bells to the appearance of Heidi with her father, to the wedding couple�s delicious gestures at the altar. Janne, Kaisa, Maiju (seen above) and I performed the beautiful Swedish folk song "Uti vår hage" after the blessing, which reportedly caused many spines to melt, especially at the culminating verse-
Uti vår hage finns blommor och bär, kom hjärtans fröjd,
Men ut av alla du kärast mig är.

In our meadow there are flowers and berries, come my heart's delight,
But more than all you are dearest to me.

Singing in such wonderful acoustics was not any less impressive to ourselves. Here we can see the happy couple being greeted after the ceremony. This is just seconds before Heidi's shoe came off, which caused a bunch of hysterical women to rush to her aid and slip it back on (it fit perfectly!!) .
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The reception was a stone's throw away and there Heidi joined us for a bunch of ballads and jazz tunes, one of them arranged by myself. I could not have wished for a nicer group to perform Gershwin's "The Man I Love" and was amazed at how every note was exactly like I had imagined it to be when I wrote it. Of course the guests were thrilled (More tears, especially from Filip's wife Emilia..) but by now everyone was starving and for the next two hours or so we enjoyed a spectacular eastern meal full of interesting dishes (a personal highlight was the noodle salad with duck and papaya). The wedding cake was also incredibly delicious.
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All the speeches to the wedding couple were very moving. Surely anyone with a taste for deliciously romantic weddings full of humour, laughing attacks as well as floods of tears from all the women (also men) would have been perfectly satisfied yesterday on Heidi's and Teemu's big day. We got to hear how Teemu once peed in his sister�s slipper while sleepwalking and about the time when the couple met (Tapiolan lukio around ten years ago..) Our table - called Kinguissie after the Scottish village they visited on their engagement trip - even won a prize in the competition (How well do you know the wedding couple?) largely because we simply were the loudest bunch (see below...)
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Finally it was time for the band to get everyone on their feet. Although initial reactions were skeptical - they were all dressed very modestly and several guests flinched during the first notes of Akselin ja Elinan häävalssi, the house was rocking in no time.  Posted by Picasa

And of course us from Dominante took care that the singing continued all the way back to the mainland, and several passengers in the same ferry got to enjoy an interesting recital combining Kesäpäivä Kangasala with Koskenkorva. A group of female passengers tried to compete, but their rendition of Nälkämaan Laulu didn't exactly leave us begging for more.
By now Heidi and Teemu are on their way to Thailand for their honeymoon. All in all yesterday was a truly memorable day.
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hhhhhh Posted by Picasa

Posting pictures is easy!

Or not. I was planning a fantastic and funny blog entry with pictures after finally downloading a software which helps you publish pictures on the internet. It's supposed to be very easy but either I'm just too slow today or then the program has faults, because for the past half an hour I have been desperately trying to post more than ONE picture on this blog and make a sort of fotostory, but the pictures keep mystically sending themselves off into cyberspace.
I am so exhausted now I have to stop trying, but maybe tomorrow will bring new answers and a refreshed mind.

August 07, 2005

Time out

Written during a break from reading the best book of the year until now, this will probably not be one of my most enjoyable blog entries. The book in question is "Middlesex", winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize (usually awarded to a book dealing preferably with American life and history, but this is so much more than that) and so much more entertaining than the newest Harry Potter. It has had me breathless, laughing out loud, amazed and, today, close to tears. But enough eulogy! Experience has taught me that praising books too highly only raises the hopes of future reades to frightening hights.
After days of not doing anything whatsoever, sleeping until lunchtime and yawning infront of the computer, the prospect of no less than TWO gigs tomorrow with CMS is enough to make my bloodpressure rise. As if that were not enough, as soon as the second performance is over I'll be off to the CM camp, bracing myself for the arrival of a hundred or so boys, ranging from teddybear-hugging infants (or so they seem to me) to people much older than that, next morning.

There we go again. Taking a short break to think about what to write next, I find myself suddenly automatically clicking away on the mouse at a game of Minesweeper. I've been addicted to this game since forever. It has taken me through various stages in life, from being tipsy for the first time (the mouse cursor just kept opening the squares covering the mines) to finally getting a desktop computer (no more navigating with the touchpad mouse). Get me worked up about something and I'll be boring a hole in the right button of my mouse. While impatiently waiting for the computer to download a file, open a website or whatever, the previously interrupted game is always waiting for me at the taskbar. I can even do it while carrying out a soulful conversation with someone on the phone.

To athletics now: watching the mens' 20km walk practically next door was more fun than I thought. All those competitors "walking" up and down Mannerheimintie were a comical sight, and the abundance of foreigners watching the race was quite thrilling! Cries of "That's right, Gary, you're doing fine, you're doing FINE now KEEP GOING!!" mixed with "VAYA COLOMBIA!!!!", and although the clouds seemed at bursting point, many people had come to sit on the rocks infront of Finlandia-talo or stand at the National Museum, probably also in hope of getting infront one of the many television cameras. One couldn't help but wonder where all those Suomi-shirts and Finnish flags came from, especially as nobody Finnish was competing in this particular race, but at least the clapping was always generous, especially when a lone walker struggled to keep up with the crowd. Next weekend should be even more interesting, with the marathons.
Probably the loudest fireworks I have ever experienced just started exploding all over the place. I went out to the balcony to see some of them but they were just so loud that I had to come back in.