August 10, 2010


As often before, the urge to start blogging again came to my mind during a long train trip. I've just returned from visiting Iisalmi (pronounced: see the title of this post), Finland's 48th largest city. Tucked all the way in Northern Savonia, it's a six hour trip away. Situated between a cluster of lakes (duh), it's a small town centred around a marketplace. A couple of churches, the main headquarters of the Olvi beer brewery and a statue of the Finnish writer Juhani Aho (who was born nearby) might not sound too exciting, but there is a cultural centre with a great city library. There wasn't a lot going on when we decided to take the walk "down town" yesterday, but that's probably (hopefully) because a lot of families are still on holiday. However, I did manage to see one of the city's weirder sights: the restaurant Kuappi, which, with only 8 square metres, is the smallest restaurant in the world (look it up on the Guinness Book of Records if you don't believe me).

Anyway, it's not very convenient to blog during a train trip without your laptop - iPhone or no iPhone - and of course I had brought entertainment with me as always. But isn't it always the same story on long trips? First of all, I can never decide how many books would be too much for six hours. Two? More like one and 1/7, seeing as I was going on board with an almost-finished crime novel (Sara Paretsky: Hardball) as well as a candidate for this year's Booker Prize (Andrea Levy: The Long Song). It's always like this: I want to finish the first novel and start the other one, but then on the other hand I like having a little space between books for allowing my brain to reset. However, if I leave too much time in between, will it make sense starting the next book anymore if we'll be almost arriving? This in turn clashes with another reading principle of mine: allow yourself time to be able to properly read yourself into a new novel when starting it. But does that mean I'll have to rush the ending of the first novel, thereby reading too quickly to be able to actually follow up on what's happening and enjoy the ending? In the end (and you might have noticed I'm a bit freaky when it comes to reading habits) it's easiest to just put both books aside and pick up the crossword puzzle.

But then what? It's always fun to have company while travelling, but I seemed to have got a seat in the children's compartment (oh joy) and it was either chubby 10-year old boys playing with their tray tables or young mothers caught up with their babies. A couple of girls dressed in leggings and something looking like a canvas screen scurried through the carriage swearing at each other. One of the other persons travelling alone was a woman who glanced at me suspiciously whenever I tried to make out what she was reading. Another lady behind me was concentrating on her packed lunch until she complained to the conductor that she wanted a seat facing the way we were going.

It was then that a stroke of luck finally hit me: Mikko's father had given me a pair of earphones in Iisalmi to replace the (two) pairs I had managed to lose. They were old, he warned me, but they'd probably serve their purpose. Alas, as soon as I forced the uncomfortable things into my ears, I heard something like a constant whispery sound, which didn't sound very promising. Hitting "play" on a random choral piece from my music library, I was greeted by a haunting sound which sounded nothing like the Netherlands Radio Choir I was supposed to be listening, but rather like the Kouvola Ghost Choir bellowing from some place very underground. In frustration, I was tucking the useless earphones into the last place I'd look for them afterwards - one of the buttoned pockets of my shorts - and my hand came upon another pair of earphones, this time one of the iPhone earphones I had lost! Hardly believing it, I thrust my hand into the other buttoned pocket - and found the other pair. I had been looking for these Apple earphones at home for over a week, and now suddenly here they were, travelling with me all along!

The joy was short-lived. The trouble with all these iPods and digital music players is that there's just too much to choose from. I like to hit the shuffle button and let the device choose something from my music library for me, but more than often this means I get hit with a string of pieces which goes something like this: A Brahms chorus followed by the latest Five corners quintet jazz number, followed by a Mozart aria which precedes Ella Fitzgerald falling in love, probably injected with some random recitative from a Bach cantata ("Und Gott sprach: Let's do it, let's fall in love...!?"). This is too much for even the most open-minded of musicians, so it's often necessary to choose an album to listen to. Too much of an effort. Back to the crossword. It's too difficult. What is this picture supposed to resemble? For which grid is this clue, across or down? How am I supposed to know the first name of all these obscure celebrities? On to the sudoku then. It's too easy. 5,4,6,7,1,3,9,8. What's missing? 2. I paid a visit to the restaurant car, ordered dinner and came across the dreaded swearing leggings girls. By now, one of them was using such vile language and in such a loud voice I was tempted to start flinging my lukewarm meatballs at her. On the other side, two shabby-looking young men were probably on their 16th beers. Airport bars, restaurant cars - oh, the romance of travelling. Are we there yet?

In the end, I did decide to finish the Paretsky and move on to the Long Song, which made the last hour of the trip pass very quickly. The next long trip will be to the United States next week, but thankfully I won't have to stock up on that much entertainment because this time I will have company. Good night everyone, please keep reading and let's hope I'll be actually able to update this blog more regularly from now on!


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