August 31, 2007


The other day on the bus, a group of schoolchildren were telling jokes to each other: "How do you make the brains of a blonde the size of a pea? By pumping them full of air!" and I suddenly found myself turning around to smile at them. I hadn't heard that one! And did you know the London Gay Men's Chorus has recorded a Christmas CD titled "Make the Yuletide Gay"? That made me laugh, too.

Now that my new home has been stripped naked, had its holes stuffed, been repainted and scrubbed clean, it is ready for J and me to move into. Starting Monday, I will be occupying a room in a small flat at the corner of two streets with a dubious reputation. However, I don't care about the slightly suspicious (and loud) neighbours nor the occasional nose-cringing whiff on my way to the metro ("What's that smell"...) - in two hours the contract will commence and the room will be mine, all 28 cubic metres of it, from the vast view to the broken blinds, from the doors which close with a click to the two power sockets which hopefully work.

I must say I'll be happy to not have to rummage dark, dangerous attics for my stuff anymore. Everything will be in one place where I can find it: my opera scores (collected since the early 90's), my books (although drastic cutbacks will have to be done in the fiction department), my movies (including the first season of Lost which was Found today), my photo albums... and much more. I know people who prefer a more ascetic lifestyle, constantly getting rid of their practically non-existent property, but what can I do. I love my stuff.

My life online has made a dramatic swerve to Facebook, something I'm getting seriously addicted to. Well, real life will kick into full gear next week. I mean, I really did want to have sufficient employment, but five choirs? I'll let you know when I start getting all mixed up with the repertoires (I see it already: "Bach motets?? But weren't we supposed to rehearse "I just called to say I love you?") or counting absent sopranos in my sleep. Yesterday, I visited our studies coordinator to plan next year's studies. To say all my explanations on what I did in Graz were confusing would be an overstatement, but okay, she just started the job. Good for her that I marched in with everything planned. Not so good for me that some of the courses I'm supposed to get done don't exist anymore. Apparently, it's because I started studying already in 2004 - now this really makes me feel old.

By the way, don't you just love the Finnish sky. There's really nothing like it.

August 22, 2007

Before & After

What is it exactly about sitting in an airplane which is about to take off that gives me a rush of adrenalin? It gives a little lurch and then starts pulling back from the gate, and suddenly we’re rushing past many other planes carrying so many other small people to anywhere on the globe. The next minute, the clouds are not above us but beneath us and everything looks different and we are moving faster than I can imagine. I glue my feet to the floor of the plane but this seems ridiculous since there is only air under me anyway. The grey rainy weather is replaced by the bluest sky with a floor of fluffy whiteness. I am nowhere and everywhere at once.

South African Airways flight SA235 to Johannesburg cues right behind us for takeoff.

As a perfect soundtrack to these thoughts of mine, the sopranos of the Rodolfus Choir are soaring high above the rest of the ensemble in a heavenly a cappella transcription of Wagner’s “Im Treibhaus”. I am the only one in the house who can hear them through these headphones. The week has already brought work with it, ranging from phone calls from over-enthusiastic doctors dreaming of a creative hobby: (“You know, nothing serious… just some fun with the colleagues… it doesn’t have to be every week… How many singers? Oh, the choir doesn’t exist yet!”) to jobs which sound slightly more realistic. I’ll have to keep a firm hold on my neck on the coming days so as not to be sucked into a vortex of lots of yeses, of courses and this sounds goods and finding myself with an impossibly packed schedule. Actually, strike that. I already have.

A postcard from Italy (the third this month) arrived the other day from Petra, and by pure coincidence, Thomas dropped me a line by email as well. Actually, it was pretty much more than a line – or what do you call a long sausage of 193 words with hardly any punctuation thrown in? They both seem to be doing fine.

This temporary residence at the family’s is coming to an end and I will be moving to my new home in Kallio (actually Harju, but these definitions tend to get quite vague in those parts of town) in just over a week. I'm really excited about living in a different region of Helsinki! The flat is completely fine, except for the walls, which will get a proper makeover from J, me, and our near-sighted, small-sized landlady next week. I will also definitely have to get a new lamp for my room (somehow a blazing red pattern of light and shadow on my walls doesn't quite suit me) and bookshelves. The nearest metro station is just two blocks away, and there are nice views onto Helsinginkatu. As we will be on the fifth floor, our neighbours (an extremely run-down bar and two seedy sex stores) probably won't bother us too much.

August 09, 2007


I wonder how many times exactly I have been here? Certainly at least three times a year since, probably, about 1997. Over the years, the landscape has changed a little (due to the cutting down of trees), the main building has been expanded, the oldest two buildings where I spent countless nights as a soprano have been shut down due to mould, and the reception staff has changed – but it’s still the Raseborg institute, where Cantores Minores comes twice a year for an intensive couple of days of rehearsals. We used to come her a lot with the choir of the German school, as well. By the way, the pressure in my room’s shower hose is so strong it could probably be used as a murder weapon.

Now that I start to think of it, some of my memories from this place reach back to days which now seem ridiculously distant yet still make me smile like the small boy I was then – rowing with Miska and Ville to the far end of the Kvarnträsket lake and getting stuck in the weeds, inventing countless ways of dodging the bedtime wardens and sneaking into other peoples’ rooms, definitely also some private teary moments because of something stupid a friend had told me, and – can it really be – one of the first times I ever conducted a group of singers. I remember rehearsing parts for all the greatest oratorios, from Bach to Brahms.

And now I myself am one of the teachers at the course, drilling sixteenth-note coloraturae (coloraturi?) into the heads of adolescents, telling the younger boys off for throwing garbage on the floor and discussing teenage mentality with people who used to be my teachers and now are my colleagues. It’s actually a pretty impressive feeling, but it also makes me feel a little old. Yesterday, I swam in the lake, which was wonderful. Today I spent the afternoon break sun-bathing on the grass, reading a good book, hearing and seeing airplanes making their approach to Helsinki’s airport.

Leaving J in charge of our apartment hunt and reluctantly separating myself from Prison Break’s 1st season DVD box, I took the train to Karjaa on Tuesday afternoon. Tomorrow I’ll have to be back in Helsinki to make it to Dominante’s rehearsal in Hämeenlinna – we’re off to London next week. I’m pretty excited about the trip. It will be great to perform in Albert Hall, and of course London is simply a city one has to visit regularly, if only for the Waterstones bookstore. My last visit was in 2005 and I’m looking forward to navigating the Tube again, having fast food at Camden Town, visiting some fantastic museum and just taking in the multicultural atmosphere.

Well over a month has passed since leaving Graz and, although adapting back home was easier than I expected, I am still missing it and probably, in some way, always will. Last night, I dreamed I was on my way there on the train, but somehow I never got there. I got stuck in Frohnleiten and suddenly going to Graz just wasn’t possible. A friend gave me an understanding smile. I wonder whether she would like to tell me something. It made me want to go there right away.

I can imagine our empty home, with the kitchen and bathroom walls gleaming with a fresh layer of paint. I wonder whether Petra gave my weights to anybody or whether they are still in my room. I wonder whether there is anything left there – if it were only a stray piece of garbage - to indicate that somebody has lived, laughed, sung, written, grown, eaten, read, cried, loved, talked and slept there for what seems like several years. The next person to move in to the flat and to take my room – will that person feel something special in the air when he opens the door, something almost magical? Did I feel anything the first day I entered that room? I seem to remember feeling something. But I’m just being melodramatic now, as always. Probably the only thing left in the room is that stupid yellow unexplained helmet stuck on a high shelf in my cupboard. But, yes... I’m pretty sure Petra left the weights.

August 02, 2007

Helsinki Hunting

The alarm clock rings shortly past 8 and I struggle to my feet after less than 6 hours' sleep - emails, Wikipedia, Prison Break and the newest Harry Potter have kept me awake until late. A kiwi, newspaper, and a shower. It's about 15 degrees outside and it looks like rain again. My eighth day of apartment-hunting in Helsinki has begun.

After having my eye-sight checked (which seems to have actually improved slightly - something I never knew could happen), I return home and make the usual search through new flats which have appeared on the online search service overnight. One of them catches my attention, I make a call and find out it is scheduled to be viewed in an hour. I call my future flatmate J and, tummies filled with a second breakfast and our travel cards freshly loaded, we are soon on our way.

Pajamäki seen from space.
12:00 Flat 1 - space: 51 sq m - rent: 580€/month

The bus trip to the small residential area of Pajamäki takes about half an hour, but the very cheap price is worth seeing the place. We are greeted by a blunt realtor who eyes us suspiciously when we tell him we're looking for a shared flat. There are about seven other people interested in the place but the realtor doesn't seem too keen on answering questions and so we all shuffle around the empty rooms in a sort of embarrassed silence. The outline of the apartment is just what we're looking for: two separate rooms, a big enough kitchen, and a recently remade bathroom.

The entrance is dark and ominous but the rooms have enough light and views to the positively wildlifelike surroundings. There is a lot of space in the way of cupboards and even a spacious storage room. The leaflet advertises fantastic services in the area - we see a small grocery, a pharmacy and a shabby pub. The realtor hands out applications and rudely tells someone on the phone that the apartment is not available anymore. Halfway into filling in her details, an obese woman looks like she's going to cry when she hears no pets whatsoever are allowed in the flat, but the realtor doesn't look very interested in hearing the biographies of her cats. We fill in our application. The bus back downtown makes so many abrupt curves and stops I almost start feeling nauseous.

We set up camp at mBar. While J hooks up his laptop, I get our orders. The bartender splatters herself with yoghurt while making a blueberry smoothie and curses: "I just bought this in Beverly Hills!" (I can't make out whether she means the actual Los Angeles district or some new boutique I haven't yet heard of). We check out apartments which look interesting and make some calls. More often than not, we are forced to leave messages on answering machines or, in one case, leave a request for a return call for the third time to the same person. Where are all these realtors who advertise their services all over the net? Some apartments look very interesting (a spacious flat in Hakaniemi, a ridiculously cheap place in Herttoniemi) and we decide to follow their trail. Some give us goosepumps (a furnished dump in Itäkeskus) and we move on. Today has not been a very successful day in terms of getting new dates for viewings, but we are confident - it's only the beginning of August, after all. We are not desperate yet.

16:30 Flat 2 - space: 39 sq m - rent: 695€/month

A late lunch with Dad in Kamppi, and I head towards Eerikinkatu to view our next target. We are a small group standing at the entrance, waiting. We are pleasant with each other, but let's not forget we are also rivals in an ever-heating race to find a place in one of the most expensive capital cities in Europe. The neighbourhood is a bit seedy but extremely central, and I could well imagine living this close to everything. After waiting for a while, I call J and ask him what's taking him so long and he tells me he's already inside the apartment. I realise our group is standing at the wrong building and we all scramble towards the right one, jay-walking on our way (there is a sense of urgency now - every man for himself!!).

It's like in all of these central apartments: between thirty and forty people queuing at the entrance to get a peek, the realtor unenthusiastically handing out leaflets (she knows the apartment will be taken anyway so why put any effort into it) and everyone ecstatically filling out applications for dear life. The flat is not in extremely good condition. It is small, but not as claustrophobia-inducing as we had feared. One of the rooms is smaller than the other one, but the kitchen is fine. There are no cupboards whatsoever but the bathroom seems comfortable. The realtor receives our application and tells us she'll talk with the owner by Monday. We don't have too high hopes, seeing the pile of filled-out applications in her hand. We don't stay for too long - the next flat is waiting.

18:00 Flat 3 - space: 64 sq m - rent: 730€/month
The third apartment is located in the suburb of Pukinmäki (roughly translates into Goat's Hill) and we take a commuter train from the central railway station. During the fifteen-minute trip, a local is giving her Spanish guests a detailed description of the places we are passing. Her Spanish is absolutely flawless and I almost let out a laugh when she refers to Kallio, the quirky and bohème neighbourhood we are passing, as Las Rocas. Pukinmäki is no paradise. The tunnel under the tracks brings up scary images of after-midnight muggings and there's a meeting of local drunks at the station bar. However, we are determined to see this place: after all, it's bigger than the rest, the price is reasonable, and there are three rooms.

A five-minute walk brings us to the building. I check out the nearest bus stop's timetables. There are two lines to the centre and also a nightbus. Soon, the handful of people waiting outside are let in and we climb the stairs to the last floor. The first signs are not good - we look into the first room on the right and almost let out a scream. The floors are gray, with black zigzag stripes running through them. Looking left, we check out suspicious patches which look like the previous tenant's vomit. The realtor on this one doesn't look very confident but we plunge on.

Compared to the two tiny bedrooms, the sitting room seems too big and out of proportion. The kitchen is fine, so is the bathroom, but we return to the bedrooms to make a final verdict. The cupboards look very old and seem more like storage spaces for prison inmates. One of the rooms is shaped like a grand piano, making any reasonable placing of furniture impossible. A lady taps on one of the walls and it sounds like it's going to crash down. Behind us, a couple looking like they just escaped from a mental institution shoots blank looks at the air. We are prepared to move to the suburbs, but still feel like we've seen enough here and leave without filling in an application.

It is with a sense of relief that we arrive back at the Central railway station. Prospects are fine. Up to date, we have filled in four applications and one of them might even have chances of going through. We have only seen eight flats until now, and there surely are many more out there! And, after all, until something comes up, we both have roofs over our heads.