February 27, 2008

Hugging a tree

Rumbling on a full tram number 10 towards Meilahti, I witness a pleasant scene. A small boy, about eight years old (or maybe twelve, I'm never that good at estimating these things), complains to his mother about not being able to sit on the way home. A considerably older woman decides to start a chat with the child from her seat. How nice, I think. Social interaction between strangers using public transport. My favourite subject. The woman asks the boy where he lives, what he will have for dinner, the usual. The boy is distracted for a while, but soon once again complains about not being able to sit. I smile, wondering whether the lady will let the boy sit on her lap or something like that.

"You know", she starts, "When I was young, young people weren't allowed to sit in the tram. Not even children!!" I begin speculating on what decade we are talking about, but she raises an agitated finger into the air and drastically changes her tone of voice. "There were women; officers in the tram! And they screamed at every young person or child who was about to take a seat! Those were the days!!" My smile is gone as my mind is flooded by the freak image of some frighteningly huge woman brandishing her whip at cowering passengers. Gratefully, I scurry out of the tram at my stop.

A pigeon patiently waits for the train from Vienna at Budapest's Keleti railway station.

Rewind to just about ten hours earlier, and I am in a very horizontal position, holding my alarm clock above my sleepy eyes with both hands after silencing the device with a quick dash of my left hand (strange, now that I think of it. My right hand is usually much nearer to it). I want to check the time - which is also strange, as one would expect me to know what time it is since I set the alarm myself. The alarm clock decides to take matters into its own hands by dropping from my lazy hands straight onto my face.

I use my right hand to open the window blinds, and the room is flooded by light. It is 7:35. The sky is blue, the sun has just risen, and the air is tingling with the promise of spring. Rubbing my forehead, which is still sore from the alarm clock, I smile and get myself ready for another day of work. A week ago, I was strolling along one of Budapest's main avenues with my Hungarian muse, having another hot chocolate after another latte after another hot chocolate, browsing second-hand music stores and learning useful local phrases such as "Hello", "Thanks", "Let's go" and "Oh my God".

Petra on her birthday.

At the university, a social lunch break is interrupted by a wild impromptu performance of a contemporary piece for double bass and violin. All of us, who are either nibbling on some seriously scary fish dish, toying with their cauliflower gratine or sipping lukewarm coffee with disgusting lumps of sugar melting at the bottom of the cup, cannot avoid being reminded that it's time for "Aikamme Kamarimusiikkia", a festival arranged at our university every year to glorify and promote contemporary chamber music.

These surprise attacks in the middle of lunch are designed to entice potential audience members to attend a concert in the evening ("If you are hungry for more, tonight at seven! Concert hall! Bring your friends!"), but to me, they bring back flashbacks from three years earlier, when I made the "mistake" of being trapped into actively taking part in the festival and found myself desperately rearranging the pages of my music (and at the same time wondering whether it really made any difference), performing a piece for cello, celesta and violin, and banging away at a Bösendorfer I had first vandalised with a roll of scotch tape. (I wrote a detailed account on this blog on March 7th, 2005...). Oh well. Long live freedom of expression, and all that!

And, actually, I must say I would have missed out on some nice memories if I hadn't taken part in the festival - like the rehearsal camp in Koli national park, where I hugged a tree considerably smaller than the one above and dazzled the hotel receptionist with my karaoke interpretation of Finnish evergreen love songs (am I really boasting about this?). And I still play chamber music with one of my friends I got to know then, but thankfully, it's not all that contemporary - it's Brahms.

February 13, 2008

Snapshots of hair (or: a day in Hämeenlinna)

Ever since I came back from Austria and discovered the Salon Smart Look behind the Bristol movie theatre, getting a haircut has been something of a social event I find myself looking forward to. It's so sad to think that cashiers, bankers and accountants are going to be replaced by machines. Instead of communicating with technology, people should communicate with each other more actively. I really enjoy testing the way people react to unexpected human contact. In the metro today, I was having a terribly boring phone conversation, and started rolling my eyes and making "bla bla" -movements with my hand to random people sitting across me. They didn't show even a flicker of a smile, probably thinking I couldn't possibly be addressing them.

Anyway, back to the point! My favourite hair salon. It's so small it took me a while to get used to where it was because I kept walking past it. Usually, I get my hair cut by a woman from Northern Kazakhstan who insists on speaking to me in Russian ever since she found out I understand the language. Married to a Finn, all the rest of her family is still back at home, where she once had aspiring hopes to become a choral conductor but flunked the entrance exam to the conservatory.

This time, I am not greeted by my favourite Kazakhstani, but by the owner of the place, Husam from Palestine. He instantly remembers me and greets me in Arabic, which throws me off track since I have just been mentally rehearsing my Russian basics. In no time, I am swept into a chair by his half-Lebanese wife, who gets working on the mess on my head at once. Bit by bit, we get into the flow of conversation and I start asking her about the Lebanese community in Helsinki.

"I can't stand the owners of Farouge" (this is Helsinki's only Lebanese restaurant), she begins, while the hair starts showering around my shoulders. "They are so snobbish! One time, we took some friends there and spent 400 euros on dinner, and they didn't even give us coffee on the house". She speaks to me in Finnish, but she says the last three words in English. While I process the idea of spending so much money on a dinner, she tells her husband something about their three-year old son in Arabic and I suddenly feel like I'm at home, but not this home.

"Anyway, you know what I mean - just plain snobbish", she continues. I tell her my uncle and his wife live in a town in Lebanon, and she almost cuts half my ear off. "WHAT? No way! My aunt lives in Beit Mary, that's just next to your uncle then!" I start asking her about her childhood - was it spent in Lebanon? "Yes, but when I was about ten years old, I moved to Cyprus with my grandmother because of the civil war". I expect to hear stories of desolate refugee camps, starving families and harsh conditions in the Cypriotic countryside.

"It was the best time of my life!!!!" At a push of her leg, I am suddenly pumped higher up on the chair so she can reach my neck better. "There was nothing to worry about - the only thing that existed was the beach and I spent all of my days there after school. No use learning the language - who needs it anyway?" she tells me in fluent Finnish. I am captivated by her story. I want to know what happened next, but suddenly the talk turns to her brother.

"My brother is in Switzerland now, but he wants to come here to study." I ask what he's doing there. "Well, he's working as a bartender", she raises her voice over the buzz of the shaving machine. "And, he has a woman there!" A click, and the machine is off - she looks at my reflection and says "Well, of course there's a woman. Why else would anyone want to go to Switzerland?". I smile, first because of the way she stresses the word "woman", but mostly because I am thinking of clean cities and wonderful Alpine landscapes, and I wonder to myself, who would want to come HERE.

As always, I refuse to have anything liquid or semi-liquid put in my hair and get out of the chair. My new acquaintance is sweeping my hair away when I leave. Another customer tells her to "say hello to the Kazakhstani woman, tell her I am the one whose son has the same name as hers". I hear there is a new Iraqi girl working here. As I walk back into the grey streets of downtown Helsinki, I think to myself I might hear her story next time I need a haircut.

February 06, 2008

My Wednesday

Wednesday. The third day. Reassuringly similar week after week. We think to ourselves: if I can survive Wednesday, I'll be halfway to the weekend. Magnificent Monday, Terrific Tuesday, Wonderful Wednesday. Or, possibly, Miserable Monday, Terrible Tuesday, Woeful Wednesday. If Wednesday is a good day, consider the week a success. If not, please let me sleep until the vacations. Monday gets the week started, Tuesday makes it tick, but what about Wednesday? Every Wednesday, my alarm clock rings at 7:30 and I'm in the metro at around 8:45. Lunch at 12, lesson at 14:30. Quick trip home. Out to the pink main building of the Adult Education Centre at 16:30. Back home at 20:00, often via Alepa for dinner. Blogging at home.

Or is Wednesday always like last week? The routine is the same, but what happens between the lines of my calendar? Anything at all. I realise the walls on my metro station are a dirty yellow and wonder to myself how often they are cleaned. I am surprised by somebody on my way to fill up the water bottle before locking myself in the classroom and taking out my music. My friend persuades me to prolong my lunch break and have a cup of coffee with him. The sky is blue outside and I decide to see what movies are playing this week, although I know I won't go because the prices have gone up so much. I dash to Wayne's Coffee for some spontaneous gossiping and catching up on life. On my way back, my friend I've known for about 14 years waves at me vigorously - she is taking the escalator in the other direction and her wide open smile is contageous. At work, I have a chat with someone new and friendly while picking the seeds out of my mandarina.

It's very easy to think every day is just like the one before, but it's also wrong. Everyday routine is an important part of life, but so is our imagination. I might be standing in front of thirty people, telling them what I'd like to hear next, but actually I am somewhere else. I am exploring a memory my mind just crash-zoomed into for no apparent reason: I am 16, wearing a HomeBoy T-shirt and taking out my yellow Nokia phone from my new gray trousers, reading an SMS from the person I met on the escalators today. I am younger, telling my parents I never want to become a musician because musicians have to make movements which music and that looks idiotic, and now I am back in front of my choir and I laugh at what I have said as a child.

Wouldn't that be a nice idea, to meet yourself as a child and say look, this is what you're going to become. You're going to wear glasses and drink coffee every day. Your pet hamster will die in your hands next year, and at the same time you will fall in love, and when you're twenty your life will go through a significant change, and when you're a little older you'll suddenly find an ambition and determination in yourself that you don't quite yet have. You will meet someone on your way to a rehearsal and suddenly won't find the line between friendship and something more. Someone important will ring your doorbell and walk into your life just like that while you are cleaning your shower's drain, and then, later, in another country, you will do something very brave but the floor will fall from under your feet (but I can't prepare you for that). On a bright summer's day, you will say goodbye, get into a car and brace yourself for tears, but it will take some months before they come. Just before turning 24, you'll be reminded that plans are useless because your feelings can't be put on a map and this is a good thing.

Maybe one day, this will be possible, but I wouldn't know that yet. Next Wednesday will be just another Wednesday, but who knows what I will be able to tell myself then? Only one thing is certain: the alarm clock will ring at 7:30 and the sun will set a little later, which means I'll just catch the last rays of light on my way to work.

This post is for all my friends I never planned to meet and for everyone who thinks life is predictable :)