Sunday, July 01, 2007

Juhannus: Life is Good

Life is good. I'm happy. I feel great. I have lots of energy. Maybe I'll go for a run. It's four o'clock the morning. Maybe I should go to sleep. I can't decide: sleep or run? I'm hungry.

We just celebrated Midsummer (or Juhannus), which was convenient for us Seattleites because it closely aligns with the Summer Solstice celebrations down south. My biological clock told me that I was supposed to be celebrating. To me, Juhannus was a celebration of surviving the winter and welcoming the summer into my life. It also has religious significance. Most people vacate the cities and go out to their summer cottages in the countryside for Juhannus.

I did not do as the Finns do. I went to Helsinki for Juhannus, which is actually the biggest city in Finland. There aren’t many summer cottages in Helsinki proper. Everyone warned me "don't do it!" or "Helsinki is boring during Juhannus." I was planning to be in Helsinki anyway because my sister and I were meeting there before launching into the Arctic Circle, coincidentally the day after Juhannus.

Eric told me there was a bonfire celebration on Seurasaari, an island that you can drive to from Helsinki. Sounds exciting! Katherine, Rebecca, Eric and I hopped on the bus and off we were. We briefly had a conversation about eating kangaroo meat on the way there (not traditional Finnish cuisine, but a solid conversation topic, nonetheless). An Australian woman who seemed to be planted next to us (and our kangaroo conversation) revealed herself and confirmed Katherine’s prognosis: eating kangaroo meat is, in fact, not a good idea. So, on to the bonfires! We were excited because bonfires are always fun! There’s a primordial party instinct that comes out during bonfires… at least that’s what I thought.

It’s apparently an American party instinct. My favorite quote of the evening was from a five or six year old American (or maybe Canadian, but I think American) girl who looked around at the thousands of people blankly waiting for bonfire to start and then looked up at her dad and asked “Daddy, are these people excited for the bonfires?” I was wondering the same thing. We all show our excitement in different ways, I suppose.

Seurasaari has an open air museum of cottages from all over Finland that have been deconstructed, restored, transplanted, and reconstructed for our convenient viewing pleasure, right where Finland’s heart beats. They represent rural countryside life from the 18th to 20th century. There was a Finnish drama production about the Aland Islands, which was difficult to understand, with my limited Finnish. Since I had so much trouble with the dialogue, I was a little shocked when the lead grabbed the villain (maybe… it was hard to tell if he was good or bad) by his wrap-around trousers and untwirrled him down to his bare buns. Still no response from the crowd. However, it was an unexpected twist for me in what I thought was a production about Finnish history. But then it reminded me of the naked cyclist parade that was probably happening simultaneously in Seattle. Cool.

We spend at least 40 minutes watching a beautiful family of swans. I got some really good photos, but was perhaps too entertained by the swans when I was supposed to be partying it up at the bonfire. Anyway, I found Juhannus entertaining in a different way than I was expecting. It seems to happen a lot in the Finnish territory.

No semi-wild celebration is complete without a visit to the Alvar Aalto- designed Stockmann Bookstore. It sounds a little nerdy, but it's actually quite pleasant to hang out and people watch, plan your next trip, or find the best reindeer-blood recipe (if you're into that sort of thing). Aaaaaand If you're Rebecca's height, you have a perfect sized chin-rest to accommodate you during your people-watching endeavors.

1 comment:

Leasa Weimer said...

Damn, I'm sorry I missed out on the mid-summer excitement but most of all I'm bummed I missed the Finns public display of somnolence. Perhaps if you introduced them to American past times such as the utter joy of visiting Stockmanns, the discourse of eating kangaroo, and some good ol' people watching, they might be more inclined to kick up there heels in exhilaration. See you tomorrow in Portugal, Boa Tarde...! You will love it here, people actually show emotions!