December 23, 2007

A tale of two cities

Many people like to think of Christmas as an event full of unchanged traditions and rituals - a familiar celebration where everything is done like last Christmas. For me, every Christmas feels different from the last. The tree looks the same as last year and the candles are once again burning, but life changes quickly, and so does the context in which Christmas is celebrated.

Last week, the blanket of snow covering Graz created a peaceful setting for a short and memorable visit to a place I still called home less than half a year ago. Apart from the more obvious things (new faces instead of familiar ones, worsened service in Thomawirt), the city had a whole new feeling to it now that I have left it behind me - perhaps not for good, but at least for now. The smells, sounds and sights of Graz still remind me of my year there. The things that happened are written on the streets and I imagine that the people I miss are behind the same windows. The city seems the same as it was when I left it.

However, I am no longer there. When I walk along the wonderful streets of the old town, I am not rushing to a lesson but killing time before an meeting at the café. When I go to the rehearsals of familiar choirs, I don't know what to do with myself, because I have no task to accomplish there and suddenly I don't feel like small talk, why is everybody asking me whether it was easy to go back, what answer do they want to hear? I am using my Austrian number, but the phone calls I am getting are from Finland. I can listen to my favourite song, but it will never sound the same as that day when I walked down Morellenfeldgasse. The cooks at the Mensa are familiar but the clientele has changed. I climb the Schlossberg not for a Sunday walk, but to say goodbye.

I feel like rushing up the dark wooden stairs, opening the door to my home and running into the first room on the left, but it is now inhabited by Polish students who have labeled our mailbox with strange names. I walk around Hilmteich with a good friend but the fresh air doesn't feel the same as when I went there in January, listening to Tapiolan Kuoro on my iPod. I hug the people I know and feel so happy to see them, but something is missing, and look: there is that Latin boy who dated my Romanian flatmate and now waves at me like he sees me every day, and I can not live in two places at the same time, and "yes I'll come over for a weekend in the spring" and "yes of course I'll see you soon" but I don't know whether I will because I ran out of excuses to go back, now that I have brought all my last clothes home and seen the people I needed to see. And when I am on my way to the Hauptbahnhof, nobody is seeing me off, and the only person worried about me missing my train is a blind lady who listens to my speech and says one would never guess I am a foreigner, I sound like a native.

And maybe this was a bad idea anyway, maybe I am strange to have wanted to go back so soon, but I said I would and I did, and while I am lying in bed with a terrible cough, everywhere people are going about their everyday lives: "I need to make sure I get a class for practising tomorrow" or "I haven't stocked up for the weekend in Spar"; and this used to be my life, too, I used to do these things, and I can't believe the conducting lessons are still at exactly the same time and place, and I am sitting there feeling bad because I have not looked at the pieces, and I get a text message from Helsinki and remember where I am, and I reply at once because I am no longer a student here, nobody can tell me off for using my phone in the middle of a lesson, and I don't know whether this is funny or sad but there is a smile on my face so I suppose I am very happy. I am happy I am where I am now, a visitor at home, detached but not distant.

My life is back where it was before, it is here in the north where I go to Stockmann and Akateeminen for presents and it is a different language I use at work. I walk through wind and sleet in the late evening and feel the sea very nearby. I meet people I didn't know before but still seem to recognise them when I look at their picture which was taken ten years ago. I collect my thoughts on the tram between Kallio and Töölö and listen to music on the way, and I know that now comes the climax of the piece, the sopranos are going to soar high up and the rest of the singers will burst into a fantastic fortissimo chord, but I do not turn down the volume, I do not care, I want to feel the music bursting through my head, I want it to lift me off the ground and high up where I might be able to see all the way to Austria. I want this feeling to last just a while longer.

December 06, 2007


I have been reading past posts to get a feel of this blog again - it's not always easy to start posting after a long break. It is time to once again ask myself: what do I want readers to expect when they read this? A sweeping epic about a fleeting life, complete with dramatic elements? A comical take on life's quirkiest moments, including various sidekicks to complete the picture? A breathtaking insight into life in the Far North? What the heck. Thanks for reading, and welcome to the latest edition of Songs of a Wayfarer.

Finland turned 90 today, and the rainy morning found me dashing down Kustaankatu with my arms all over the place at 8:17. I was aiming for the 8:24 tram, which actually arrived at 8:22, its flashy green-yellowy presence a near-blinding vision in the darkness. At Meilahti church, the chamber choir Kaamos had its very first official performance, assisting at mass. Sadly, it seemed like the priest didn't quite register our presence and was about to plunge forward with the service just as we were about to start. Nothing that couldn't be fixed with determined bashes to the tuning fork, sharp intakes of breath and some very wild sign language.

Back at home, changing the sheets was just about all I could manage before collapsing on the bed, now much more inviting. Lunch was modest: noodles with a soft-boiled egg. At some point, I completed an online test by Helsingin Sanomat to see who really deserves the Finnish citizenship. I got 33% of the questions right and, apparently, should be exiled without further notice.

In the evening, we headed through the rain (did I mention it rained all day) to classy Ristorante Gastone for our double birthday family dinner. The food was excellent and filling (I can still feel the oily pasta rumbling in my tummy and a piece of mud cake stuck to my throat) and the digestive walk (through the rain) came in useful afterwards. Back at home, I realised I was still alone, so I tuned in to the third season of Lost, a recent present from Pauli and Iina, on J's television.

By the way, if you're on Facebook, now you can tune into Dani's happenings between pokes, friend requests and hurling sheep. This is because I finally figured out the complex system of importing blogs to my profile (I found the button "import external blog"). Apparently, even the pictures come up there, so, hurray. Another reason to waste all your life online. Good night my readers, old and new :)!

December 05, 2007

My November

The subtitle of this blog is "Meditations on the rich fabric of life", and the past weeks, with their heavy darkness, rainy days, solitary windows gleaming through the gloom and long nights spent turning under the covers for reasons which seem irritatingly out of mind's reach, certainly make up a very convenient season for as much meditating as you like.

However, this is not the first November in Finland, and it certainly will not be the last. No matter how unnatural it may seem, darkness and rain (and wind and cold) probably are not all that meaningless as we would like to think. As we struggle to keep up with our tasks, rush halfway across town cursing the public transport all the way, and plunge from deadline to concert to assignment to lessons to further deadlines, it is good to remember that this is meant to be a time for self-reflection. So it's dark outside and I don't feel like doing anything: then why do anything except take a moment, lie down and just let the thoughts come. After all, another year of hard work is coming to an end. Surely everyone can afford some moments of peace.

For me, 2007 seems like a year of many milestones. It's easy to say this after every year, but this time I really think there is no comparison to the past twelve months, during which I lived in two different cities, met a huge amount of people who became very important figures for me in very different ways, and confronted turns of events which affected our family.

Only since coming back to Finland in the summer, it feels like things have been picking up pace at a great speed. I moved in with a friend to a new part of town. I finally founded my own choir, and our first performance is in a month. I went to my cousin's wedding in Germany. I also attended my grandfather's memorial concert in Damascus, less than a month ago. I found that the oldest of friends can still feel like the newest of friends, and that there are few things more valuable than friendship. I also found out that you can call many places home. It can be the place you think about when you listen to "Unta da Lindn" with the lights turned off and tears in your eyes. But usually you know the real one when you touch down at the airport, with the midnight sun about to set, and underneath you: the glimmering Baltic Sea, the house you grew up in, and the people you played with when you were a child.

In this endless darkness, it is the small things which become flashes of light to make the day feel easier. Sometimes, the smallest of joys is enough to set in motion a train of thoughts which can make all the difference between a smiling face and an empty face. This is what I thought just a while ago when I was chatting with Petra online and she complained about her laptop which I remember using on her blue sofa at our home on Merangasse, where I will be in exactly a week. Or when I got an SMS from a friend who was on her way from Italy to Lithuania by bus, with six pieces of luggage, telling me how fantastic Schütz's music is. But actually, the joys are all not all that far. They are where you are: on the way home from the metro station, at the rehearsals, in your room and at the grocery store. It doesn't take that many people to make you happy. Sometimes it can be just you.

Soon the days will start getting longer again. As summer approaches, happy things, laughter, friends and family will start feeling like things to be taken for granted, things which are always there. There is no better time than this to appreciate this quite nice and agreeable life we are living.