Sunday, December 31, 2006

We, the Finns

Tarja & Lordi
Originally uploaded by antimega.
Last post of the year so time to go patriotic and nostalgic with a glimpse to the future.

Yesterday I was walking to a bar with a friend of mine when he asked:"So what are the good things in Finland compared to Holland? I mean what is special for you here?"

Good question. Yesterday afternoon built a case for a good answer. I went to the cinema with a friend of mine to see Volver. It became evident at the foyer of the cinema that we were not very original with our plan. The cinema (showing arty films) was packed with mostly middle-aged couples and groups of women. While standing in line to the ticket counter, I heard at least three times someone saying:"This was such a nice idea. I cannot remember the last time I was in the cinema."

There was a odd fuss in the line. People kept whispering to their company. The reason became clear when I glanced to the direction of the candy counter. President Tarja Halonen (picture, on the left) was at the cinema with her husband. She had also decided to see Volver. Was funny and superb seeing the president standing in line and munching liquorice. Like the rest of us.

I was highly critical towards Halonen during her campaign for the second term. I felt that she had abandoned her "primus inter pares" attitude and was going for a statesman strategy, i.e. de-politicising the election. I felt that her campaign team was trying to turn the elections into a measurement of her popularity rather than a selection of a political leader for Finland.

It has been a tremendous relief to see that she is back to her old strategy. She is one of the Finns. And that's where this story comes together. Finland is still tremendously flat. This is still strongly a country of sincere people. President goes to the same cinema with her electorate, she still has bad hair days, ministers do their Christmas shopping without security guards and the mayor of Helsinki does his groceries in the same supermarket as my parents.

And then the glance to the future. My New Year's resolution is to fight against cynicism, continue being a trooper for love and do things that matter. Abstract, a bit vague but very difficult. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Video, video, video!

Originally uploaded by lounassetti.
Brothers in the videobusiness:
1. Older brother
2. Younger brother (competition of the pizza chain Kotipizza)

Go and vote, my brother knows the moves!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Kiasma - Ars Fennica '07
Originally uploaded by scrabster.
The best thing in Christmas holidays is that you are allowed to break the normal rhythm. Yesterday I stayed up until 2.30 a.m. with no guilt. Today I just got back from my friend's club (2.30 a.m.) and do not feel like going to bed so I won't. This is one of the things that makes me consider full-time freelancing.

I went today with my parents to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma here in Helsinki. Their big exhibition on Landscapes was as boring as it's title (Landscape) but the smaller exhibition showing the four candidates for the Ars Fennica prize made me smile. Good things are happening at the moment in Finnish contemporary art. Two of those wonderful things are called Elina Brotherus and Anna Tuori.

Brotherus is an already rather well-known for her photography where she mostly works with herself as the model. This time in the exhibition she uses video and photography for tackling nudity. Especially the video work (some in pic) struck me. Somehow it reminds me of my discussions on Finnish nudity concept with my Macedonian flatmate who visited Finland this summer. Brotherus' art (most of it - some makes you feel awkward) addresses nudity as something normal, pure and innocent.

At Kiasma they had a voting for the People's Prize for Ars Fennica. In the end I ended up voting for the painter Anna Tuori. She - as Brotherus - addresses Finland and Finnishness but challenges it with brighter colours and by using heavy brushes of paint. She goes a pit on the footsteps of van Gogh leaving her paintings full of spots and brushstrokes. The result is pure beauty, both in landscapes and when painting people.

I knew Brotherus already but must confess that I had never hear of Tuori before. That is why she got my vote in the end. She managed to surprise me with her superbness.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Silent night

Originally uploaded by palluu.
It's Christmas Eve already. My brother just went to bed and I am about to hit the sack as well. It's peaceful and completely quiet. You never get this in an apartment building in Amsterdam. No clonks from the pipes and no one running up and down the stairs next door. Just silent.

Today we - my father, aunt and brother - did the traditional trip to the graveyard. We have been doing this for as long as I remember. We used to go to Karkkila on Christmas Eve but after my parents moved to Helsinki, we have started to make the visit on the day before.

I remember from my childhood that it was always very cold when we visited all the family graves, lit a candle and shared some memories on the people who have passed away. In the beginning it was mostly visiting graves of people who I have never had the chance to meet. These trips were done with my grandparents. Now we visit their graves which in a sad but beautiful ways reminds us that some things are evident. Just looking at the dates on the stone the memories come back very clearly.

As I have grown older, I have had the courage to ask my father who each person was and why some of them died so young. It makes the visit less ceremonial and much more personal. One of the siblings of my grandfather died just after her 1st birthday. As my aunt wisely said:"Times have changed in that way. In those times often a bad flue was too much for a child."

I have always valued this trip. It is a beautiful way of stopping all the fuss about presents, taking a silent moment and remembering the people who used to sit in the Christmas table. The right way to start a family celebration.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

One page YES, next page NO

Tony Blair
Originally uploaded by WalkingGeek.
"I love your blog when you go on and on about Blair. I think then you're at your best." A friend of mine told me this in a bar a while back so here goes again.

I love British newspapers nearly as much as Blair. And when these two come together, I feel like it is Christmas Eve already. Yesterday on my flight towards Helsinki I managed to take an hour for The Guardian. Won-der-ful. Although being openly liberal and left, the best thing in newspapers of this size and quality is that they allow a plurality of opinions. Two examples of yesterday's The Guardian proves this.

On page 23 historian Anthony Seldon (author of Blair's biography - which I own, have read and which friend of mine mentioned as the reason for me being single) wrote an article saying that history will judge Blair as a political colossus. Seldon does not deny that Blair has made mistakes but the most essential is in the following statements: "Mrs Thatcher, alone in the 20th century, achieved three successive election victories, but she did not remodel her party as excessively as Blair has done.(...) Northern Ireland remains his greatest single personal success. Look for a departure announcement soon after March 7 next year, when he hopes fresh elections to the Northern Irelans assembly could lead to a breakthrough in the province."

When one turns the page, criticism on Blair is far more direct. Staff writer Joseph Harker writes a piece called "The problem is that he just doesn't understand race." In a superb way he writes a fictional follow-up speech to Blair's recent speech on multiculturalism. Harker is wonderfully witty in his critique writing in Blair's persona:

"I'm virtually clueless about what it's like to come to a new country where you are a marginalised minority, resented by the local population, picked on because of your skin colour and denied opportunities.(...) When I claim to be supportive of you, for example, by saying most Muslims are thoroughly decent law-abiding citizens, I should ask myself how an average white person would feel to be patronised by such a statement.(...) There are hundreds of thousands of Brits abroad who, for all sorts of reasons, don't learn a new language. And school results show that many white Britons have problems speaking English. So maybe I should try to understand a little more why some people, many relatively poor, may find it difficult to rush into language lessons the minute they arrive here."

This is what I would want from my newspaper. A variety of voices, both to the point, from highly different perspectives and both represented equally. And I think both of them are correct.
1. Blair has made mistakes (show me a politician who hasn't) but he is one of the great politicians of our time.
2. Blair falls all too often into this "hard measures needed" language to please certain groups although I am quite sure that he knows more about the subtleties of this subject than other EU heads of states combined.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Going Christian

Christen Unie stand
Originally uploaded by Indindo1.
Well, it finally seems that this country is getting a cabinet. The media has been drumming yesterday and today of a cabinet consisting of CDA (Christian Democrats), PVdA (Social Democrats) and Christen Unie after it became clear that SP (Socialists, the big winner) and CDA do not fit to the same cabinet. PVdA was openly favouring a coalition with the Greens but the leader of the Greens has expressed that they do not wish to join the coalition. I must say that my respect of the leader of the Greens, Femke Halsema, rose when she pointed out that the coalition ought to be linked to the result of the elections. CDA, PVdA and the Greens all lost seats whereas the winners were SP, ChristenUnie and the right-wing Freedom Party.

It is difficult to say what this means for the future of the Netherlands. On the other hand CDA and Christen Unie come together on concern for the deterioration of spirituality, longing for traditional family values etc. Basically parties for decent and proper living. Then again PVdA come together on issues of social welfare, solidarity etc. I was slightly worried when I saw the first headlines but it is not maybe the worst possible combination. I would have been more worried about SP in the coalition both in the light of economic and foreign policy.

We shall see.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Never Gonna Give You Up

Rita Verdonk. Minister for Immigration and Integration of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. Managed to make one cabinet fall down by deciding that a Member of the Parliament is not and never has been Dutch. Now running a country near to a constitutional crisis by refusing to act on a Parliament decision to stop throwing out 26.000 asylum seekers. Lady with a mission, one could say. Stubborness of this fantastic song somehow reminds me of her "History Will Prove Me Right" attitude. Think of a minister singing to the parliament when watching the video.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pure, unpure, old, not so old

Originally uploaded by kirstiecat.
"Is this Simon&Garfunkel", my boss asked one day when I was playing music I got from my wonderful Turkish pop friends. They burned me a CD with music they thought I would like and they got it right. I found artists such as Sufjan Stevens whom I had never heard of before but whom both struck gold with me. My boss' remark get me pondering: am I stuck into music that should have been made before my time? If The Graduate would be made now, Sufjan Stevens could be the one commissioned by Mike Nichols. Stevens belongs to this group of unpure singer-songwriters who balance between witty and emotional. For me their testing and failing at times works much better than for instance Damien Rice.

I got further confirmation to the notion that old music is once again popular as I went to listen to a Swedish singer called Frida Hyvönen. Both my friend and I were quite exhausted when entering Paradiso but when Ms Hyvönen struck the first chords, we were sure that this evening would be just fabulous.

She was advertised as someone continuing on the foundations laid by Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Her solo performance and broken voice is very close to Mitchell. But when it comes to lyrics, I find her much less romanticising than my all-time favourite Carole King. Hyvönen sings of relationships and sexuality in a way that I think everyone can associate to. She does not paint illusionary fantasies but shows the beauty and absurdity of relationships and sexuality in clear and honest light. Somehow she reminds my angst-day companion A Girl Called Eddy but is more simple in her setup.

"You said you were a poet, man
your poetry wasn't obvious to me
when you said I had the Stuff that drove you Wild
but the feeling of power was intoxicating, magic
the feeling of power was intoxicating "

Something I need to point out even with a risk that it might sound shallow. The picture does not do her justice. Somehow in all the pictures on Flickr she manages to seem like a typical jolly outdoor-sports Swedish blond but I thought she was much cooler and much more distant. A simple black dress, blond messy hair and an extremely bright red lipstick on the stage of Paradiso made her look much sexier than in the picture, more like Debbie Harry than this Ralph Lauren ad chick.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Finnish rock has a female future

MG 2241
Originally uploaded by villoks.
I was in Finland last weekend. I have developed a habit of walking both to the literary and music department of the Stockmann department store and checking what Finland is reading and listening to.

The crown jewel of my purchases this time was the second CD of the rock band PMMP. During the last months they have developed into favourites of the Finnish press. It is difficult to find a music, lifestyle or women's magazine without an interview with the two women.

Why has this happened? The reason is for once actually one that calls for celebration: they have something to say. The band consists of two women with firm opinions and courage to express them. I have listening to the CD on repeat now for a week.

As someone who occasionally has a strong longing for Finnish language, PMMP is just the right medication. They play with words and handle real problems such as domestic violence. As they said in one of the dozen interviews, they have been amazed how few artists in Finland have tackled this issue which touches a great number of families and women in the country. Could not agree more.

Just a few examples of their tone (translated from Finnish):

Chorus of Some Limit:
"If you hit once more, I will kill you. And I will hit with something that you have used to beat me. I will step aside from the way to heaven to somewhere dark. I will be taken somewhere where one does not even need one's name."

Chorus of Personally:
"Personally, you are Christ to yourself. Others need to wait for your salvation. And personally you are the only dictator, in the leading role to lives of others."

Unfortunately, in the case of PMMP one still sees how music journalism works differently for women. They have been described as a girl band and been compared to all sorts of bimbo duos. It is true that they are two women, they have a feminist tone but then again, their music is very much rock.

It still seems that the media has difficulties handling new paradigms, i.e. women making their own lyrics and compositions and handling issues that really matter. One sees that a lot of journalists still wish to search for the (male) mastermind behind the pretty girls.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Boys don't cry ?
Originally uploaded by hazevi.
I said farewell to someone very close this weekend. This was only my fourth funeral.

Some things do not change. I am still scared of funerals and I turn over-emotional. The moment the music started in the chapel I searched for the front door and had to stand outside in the cold by myself for a bit. My eyes were filled with tears. And like every time before this, I found myself falling into a hysterical cry which sends shivers up and down my spine when it is time to walk up to the coffin.

But even with the angst I do find funerals to be a beautiful way to depart. It is a very concrete goodbye and makes us face the notion of mortality in all its essence. I will miss him but the memories are something that no one can take away from me.

There are two things that need public recognition. I have a great family – even with all its obscurities. And I am so privileged and proud of having friends who know just the right things to say – or when not to say a thing at all, just be there. Thanks. A lot.