Midsummer in the Åland Islands

 

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Midsummer is a magical time in the Nordic countries. Finns  head outdoors to revel in the water and forests and worship a sun that never seems to drop below the horizon. The Åland Islands are an autonomous territory of Finland located between Sweden and Finland. Slightly remote, accessible only by ferry, small boat, or airplane, and dotted with churches and castles dating back 700 years, this is indeed a magical place to celebrate Midsummer. I had spent four months living in Jyväskylä, Finland, as a recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching. Before returning to the United States, my must-do-in-my-lifetime list included Midsummer in the Åland Islands.

My great friend and fellow intrepid traveler, Becky Stranges, would join me in Helsinki on May 31.  A bittersweet day.  It was gloriously sunny on that morning as I  boarded a bus and left Jyväskylä, ending my Fulbright experience (at least for now).  I hid my tears by turning to the window as I struggled to say goodbye to a place that had become my “home.”   The bus rolled on toward Helsinki, past lakes and small villages, as I reeled in my emotions.  I would see Finland once again when I arrived in the Åland Islands.  On to the next adventure!

Becky and I spent three weeks traversing Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Germany.  Becky is personable, outgoing, a connoisseur of Venetian prosecco and does a mean imitation of Mario Andretti while driving in the Istrian hill towns of Croatia!  Our final destination was the Åland Islands in celebration of Midsummer and my birthday!

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We arrived in Mariehamn via Viking ferry from Stockholm on Midsummer Eve, June 19.  Mariehamn boasts the largest population in the Åland Islands (11,000) and is the capital. Midsummer Eve is one of the most celebrated holidays in this part of the world, and shops and public transportation shut down early to allow everyone to join in the revelry. I had reserved a cottage at Djurviks Gästgård in Gottby, http:// http://www.djurvik.ax/index.php/en/ and owner Harry Jansson kindly met us at the ferry and gave us a lift the 12 kilometers to Djurviks’.   En route, we stopped at the local K market to purchase provisions for the next several days. At the supermarket,  Harry and I compared notes on our favorite Finnish cheeses.

Thirty years have passed since my last camping trip in Europe.  Long gone are the days of my youth when a tent and sleeping bag sufficed for sleep and shelter.  At the gastgard, I was delighted to discover that  our cottage boasted two sets of bunk beds, electric heat, a small refrigerator, and a porch with a view of the sea. The main building contained a communal kitchen, bathrooms and showers, common areas, and a long porch for whiling away the summer afternoons.

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After settling in, Harry offered us a ride to Gottby proper where the raising of the Maypole would take place in late afternoon. His daughter rode along, her spirits dampened by the rain. The inclement weather had  quashed her participation in the ceremony.  A violinist, she had looked forward to performing traditional folk tunes to accompany the festivities.  I had traveled to the Åland Islands to participate in this ancient ritual, and I shared her disappointment.

Young and old gathered at the village crossroads to watch as the pole, decorated with green  birch leaves, garlands, wreaths and flowers, was lifted using only long sticks, ropes, manpower, and sisu!

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A light rain fell during the ceremony, but the small crowd of locals was not deterred. After all, this is Finland! Humbly,  I stood among the Ålanders.  I was deeply moved to be participating in  this ancient rite celebrating  fortune, happiness, love and marriage. Following the raising of the pole, and in typical Finnish fashion, coffee and cake were offered to all.

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The Åland islands are bicycle friendly, and all the inhabited islands are connected by the Ålandstafiken’s archipelago ferries. People ride for free, but tickets must be purchased for bikes or vehicles. Midsummer Day was a quiet time with everyone sleeping off the excesses of the previous evening. It was a perfect day for a bicycle ride through the countryside and an easy 12 kilometers from Djurviks Gästgård to Mariehamn. Harry and Birgitta supplied us with two Finnish bikes complete with fenders, basket, and three gears.  Bicycle and walking paths parallel the main roads and then stagger off into a countryside dotted with wind mills and placid horses grazing in lush meadows.

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Mariehamn is a charming harbor village with a number of boutiques, coffee shops, and museums, including the museum ship, Pommern. The staff at The Tourist Information Office is welcoming, and they will allow you to stow your luggage while you explore the town on foot or by bike.  We found an outdoor cafe where we could enjoy some toothsome Finnish sweets and terrible coffee. Why is the coffee in Finland often terrible?  A day removed from contact with the outside world,  we  were quick to fire up our phones and access the free wifi.  Later we discovered that wifi was available at Djurviks.  Costumed villagers may still practice ancient pagan rituals,  but 21st century technology has arrived in Gottby.

The following day, Becky and I  underlook a longer ride  and cycled from Gottby to Kastelholm in the municipality of Sund. Kastelholm is a well-preserved castle ruin dating back to the 1300’s. On the way, we stopped off for a look around the Church of St. Olaf located in Jomala (10.4 km from Kastelholm). The beautiful stone church was founded between 1260-1290 and is the oldest remaining church in Finland. Further on, we pedaled past Kvarnbo Gasthem in Saltvik. http://www.kvarnbogasthem.com. This is a lovely bed and breakfast, and Ella, the owner, is a gem.  A few challenging hills rise just before Kastelholm, but  for most of the ride we coasted easily through idyllic farmland and sleepy villages.  An Impressionist landscape of wild lupines in shades of blue, purple, pink and white unfolded before us.  Panoramic views of islands and water completed the picture.

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We cycled past another Maypole in a small village.

When our energy began to flag, it was easy to locate a small cafe for a coffee or ice cream. The Jan Karlsgårdens open air museum is also located at Kastelholm. Buildings from throughout the Åland Islands have been relocated to this site to form a typical Åland farm from the late 1800’s. Thousands of visitors participate in the Midsummer celebration here, but I preferred the small village celebration in Gottby.

After pedaling along for two hours, Becky and I wisely made the decision to  turn around and find our way back to our cottage.  Our bodies were beginning to grumble about the amount of  energy  needed to propel these sturdy Finnish bikes.  No lightweight titanium here!  These bikes were made for careening down snow-covered streets and bumping over dusty country roads.  Although most of the ride had been through flat countryside, we did have one long hill to summit before reaching our cottage.  Muscles screaming, we pushed through the last kilometer, and then collapsed on the porch of our cottage, fists pumping the air.  Tour de Åland complete.

Before heading off on our cycling adventure, we had wisely reserved an evening time for the sauna. The sauna was located in a small  wooden building on the grounds of the gästgåard and  in demand. Early sign-up guaranteed a chance to indulge in this finest of Finnish customs.  Such pleasure, sinking into the steam of the sauna, a  space in which to soothe punished muscles and permit the mind to wander.  Later in the evening, we shared the kitchen with our fellow campers, singles and families, and cobbled together a simple dinner. Lively conversation ensued with many questions for the two Americans.  Here in a communal kitchen, on an island six hours from Stockholm, Sweden, and another six hours from Turku, Finland, was a global classroom. Here was an opportunity to swap travel stories, dismantle stereotypes, share food and drink, and cross cultural boundaries.

Back on the porch of our cottage, we sipped a glass of wine (a duty-free purchase on the ferry), and watched the swans gliding on the calm sea.

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Small boats drifted by,  and the cool breeze carried strains of music from adjoining cottages. Midnight arrived and the sky remained filled with light. Midsummer magic in the Åland Islands

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Twenty Things I Miss About Finland

1. Smoked salmon and rainbow trout.

2. Saunas.

3. Afternoon breaks for pulla and coffee.

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4. Marimekko paper napkins.

5.  Kids in socks in their classrooms.

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6. Reindeer salami.

7.  Sunrise at 4 am.   A light-filled sky at 11 pm.

8.  Efficient and clean trains and buses that will take you anywhere and everywhere.

9.   187,888 lakes.

lakes in Kuopio

 

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aland lake

10.   Wooden floors, and ceilings, and walls, and fences, and docks.  Goodbye vinyl!

11.   Everyone politely waiting for the light to turn green before crossing the street.

12.  Fazer chocolate.

13.   Finns riding bicycles on snowy streets while holding umbrellas.

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14.  15 minutes of recess for students every hour of every school day.

15.   Teachers’  lounges furnished with colorful sofas and curtains where teachers gather during their 15 minutes of recess every hour.

16.   TRUST.

17.  Walking paths.

walking paths

 

walking path Jyvaskyla

 

18.  Respect for teachers.  Respect for teachers.  Did I mention respect for teachers?

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19.  Music for life.  Music for all.

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20.  Sisu.

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A Community of Musicians: Rantasalmi, Finland

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Janne Ikonen(left) with his son Mio (with French horn) and a trombonist with the Rantasalmi Wind Band

What do jelly fish, Native Americans, Marge Simpson, and miniature French horns have in common? The answer is Rantasalmi, a small town of 4,000 residents located in idyllic eastern Finland.  Savonlinna, Rantasalmi’s close neighbor, is home to the Savonlinna Opera Festival held every July on the grounds of Savonlinna castle.  But I recently visited Rantasalmi to attend their own “operetta,” a musical titled “Sleepless in Saimaa.” Janne and Marja Ikonen, the “Music Man” and “Music Woman” of Rantasalmi invited fellow Fulbright Teachers, Audrey Damon-Wynne and Jen Chavez-Miller, along with her daughter Sarah, to visit the local schools, attend the musical, partake of a typical May Day eve dinner, and enjoy the Vappu (May Day) concert on the following day. And boy, “We’ve got trouble right here in River City!” or should I say “Lake City!” Trouble, trouble, trouble…. And it rhymes with “B” for “Band!” Can you imagine a small town of 4,000 people in which 100 children and adults are playing in eight bands? A former factory turned concert hall/theatre that holds 200 people packed to the walls on a national holiday? Six bands, three of them including kids and adults, beginners and accomplished musicians, dressed in costumes and playing excerpts from Carmina Burana? What’s going on here??

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Marja Ikonen, conductor, disguised as a jellyfish.

 

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Music teacher, Miikka Laihonen, with “Soul System Junior” band.

 

April 30 dawned bright and snow-covered as we made the 2 1/2 hour drive from Jyväskylä to Rantasalmi.

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I should have known we were in for a madcap ride when audacious Audrey asked me to stop in the middle of the road so that she could take photos of the spectacular scenery.  Once again safely ensconced in the car, we drove on toward Rantasalmi.

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Janne met us inside the local gas station/restaurant.  We arrived first, but he easily found us. The cashier had no trouble pointing out the four Americans as we were the only people chatting in English in the cafe.  Our next stop was the local school campus that housed all the grade levels.  This is not unlike the tiny rural school districts dotting the rolling hills of the Finger Lakes region of New York, but we do not have spaces enlivened by Marimekko curtains!!

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Many of the students were missing from class that day, as they were down the road at the theatre space donning their costumes for the performance of the musical.  We drove to the the “Tornado” theatre which is owned by the Rantasalmi Wind Band Society http://www.tornis.net/orkesteri/13  while the remaining students walked to the performance.  After all, it is Finland!

The musical Sleepless in Lake Saimaa raises questions about the human place in this changing world.  Friendship, drama, love, hate, joy and fantasy dominate this musical filled with Finnish pop music hits and written by playwright and politician, Jari Pillars.  Marja Ikonen wrote the arrangements because as she said, “Where would you find arrangements for our instrumentation?” Here was another example of the Finnish determination to get the job done.  We were wowed by the performance and especially impressed that the students in the cast were on their own backstage.  No hovering adults pleading and cajoling, just an incredible group of young people taking responsibility for their own actions.  This sense of personal responsibility is a hallmark of Finnish education.

Following the performance, we checked into our rustic hotel.  Streamers and balloons adorned the restaurant area, and a local “pop” band was hauling in their equipment for an evening of rock n roll in celebration of May Day Eve.  Our evening took place in a more bucolic setting.  Janne and Marja invited us to their uniquely constructed home sited amidst a copse of trees and complete with a launching area for a rowboat and view of the lake.

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Over their traditional May Day Eve meal of hot dogs, salads, sima-Finnish fermented lemonade, and ice cream, we discussed the role of music in their community. Unlike the United States where students often study wind band instruments in school and participate in school bands, it is more common in Finland for this activity to take place outside of the school day.  There are schools in Finland that have wind band rehearsals during the school day, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.  In Rantasalmi, children and adults can learn to play instruments through the kansalaisopisto, which loosely translates as “Folk High School.”  Kansalaisopistos (now there is a word I had to practice pronouncing!) exist all over Finland and offer many “hobbies” including music, handicrafts, foreign languages. In addition, Rantasalmi has its Wind Band Society which was founded in 1979.

I came to Finland as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Teacher program in order to discover, “What US Schools Can Learn From Finland.”  What I have discovered is that Finnish music educators are more interested in the process than the product.  They firmly believe that everyone, no matter what age or ability level, should have the opportunity to participate in a performing ensemble whether it be singing with 300 senior citizens on a Friday afternoon, playing in a “pop” band, or performing in a concert band complete with plastic trombones and guitars. The inclusion of beginners and accomplished performers, little children and adults,  in the same ensemble is simply something that I have not witnessed in the United States. On Vappu, May 1, I experienced this first hand in Rantasalmi.

Rantasalmi Wind Band

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To say that I was moved by this experience would be an understatement. I have interviewed many adults in Finland about their interest in music and the role it plays in their lives. In schools, at rehearsals, in homes, restaurants, and pubs, I have heard repeatedly that music education is valued in Finland. During the recent parliamentary elections, the candidates may not have delivered stump speeches endorsing the financial support of cultural institutions,  but in their homes and communities, Finns are making music.  While conducting my research, I have discovered that there are many opportunities for non-professional musicians to continue to take music lessons, start a new instrument, or play together in small groups. It seems to be quite common among the Finns to gather at each others’ homes to play instruments and sing. The goal is not to perform in public (although some do) but to enjoy the social interaction and engage in musical activities that they can pursue throughout life.

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Image from the Rantasalmi Wind Band-Baila! official music video.

 

Does the way in which music education is delivered in Finland influence the continued enjoyment and performance of music by adults in Finland? In the United States, we provide opportunities for large ensemble participation in the schools whether it be in band, orchestra, or chorus. However, after graduation, there are often few opportunities to perform in large ensembles, and if they exist, it may be difficult for adults to schedule the rehearsals into their busy lives. Often, this brings an end to performing. In addition, adult musicians may be reluctant to form their own groups as they feel “unqualified” to make their own musical decisions after years of allowing the music teacher to make all the musical decisions in rehearsals. In my own school district, it appears that following years of lessons, rehearsals and  performances, the majority of the students do not continue to perform after graduation, and in turn, they are also not filling the concert halls as listeners.

The “band approach” to music education that I have observed in the Finnish classroom is, in it’s own way, a type of chamber music. The students learn the basics of playing guitar, drums, keyboard, bass. Most of the students seem to be quite comfortable singing. This type of experience is not available in all Finnish schools, but it does appear to be quite standard. The Finnish curriculum for music from 2014 includes the following under Final-Assessment Criteria for Grade 8.  Master, as individuals, the basic technique of some rhythm, melody, or harmony instruments so as to be able to play in an ensemble. Although I work tirelessly at school to develop excellent wind bands, perhaps I should be providing more chamber music opportunities for my students. At this time, I tend to organize the small ensembles based on available instrumentation and choose the most advanced students. If all of my students were offered the chance, and encouraged to participate in small group musical activities, would the students then begin to act on their own? Could these musical endeavors prove to be more meaningful for my students and lead them to pursue, as adults, more performance opportunities  through small ensembles?

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One of the Rantasalmi adult wind bands.

And imagine, just imagine, the changes that might occur if we had “community schools” where adults and kids, for a minimal fee, could learn to play instruments and perform together as beginners. These programs do exist in other countries and in some locations in the United States, but they are not commonplace.  I love the multi-generational approach of the Rantasalmi Wind Band Society.

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Just imagine……….

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 where this Fulbright journey may take me in my own community.

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Special thanks to fellow Fulbright teacher, Jennifer Chavez-Miller, for the photos.

Someone’s in the kitchen with Taina: Cooking with a Finnish Family.

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Making pulla

 

I miss my family, and I miss my dog.  Skype and FaceTime and email are all blessings of the 21st century, but sometimes you just want to hang out in the kitchen with the people you love.

My Finnish Fulbright friend, Taina, took me into her family in Turku, and started cooking!  I am a strong proponent of food and the manner in which it provides a sense of place, time, family and love.  Culture and the human condition can be reflected in the food that graces the table, and I finally had the opportunity to stay in the home of a Finnish family and EAT!

Taina Wewer is a dynamo!  We met last August in Washington D.C. at the Fulbright Distinguished Teacher orientation and formed a bond during those short, jam-packed days.  Sometimes you just know. Taina and Teppo were my house guests between Christmas and New Year’s before they headed off to the unknowable confusion of Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  After all, they are Finnish and have sisu!  In return, Taina extended an invitation to me to visit her school and stay in her home during my sojourn in Finland.

Taina, Teppo, and Erik live in Turku, a beautiful city on the southwest coast of Finland.

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Taina and Teppo in Turku

 

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The River Aura is the heart and soul of Turku.

 

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Turku Cathedral. This is the oldest church in mainland Finland.

I traveled to Turku from Jyväskylä by train, and Taina met me at the station.  We immediately headed to the K-Market for some food shopping.  Taina is a woman after my own heart as my first destination in any new country is the supermarket!  We picked up some provisions for dinner, and I had the chance to ask a Finn a thousand questions about Finnish food.  Taina was patient and cheerful as I learned that cream cheese is “fresh cheese” in Finland, the Finnish name for parsnip is palsternakka, herring in mustard sauce is a delight, and there really is a difference between all those variations on rye bread.

Laden with purchases, including a sunny bunch of yellow lilies, we arrived at Taina’s strikingly designed home in the late afternoon.  She immediately whipped up a lovely lunch of pasta with avocado. While chopping and whisking, Taina related that this recipe had been a huge hit in Finland and  was originally published in the”Safkaa” cookbook. It’s a vegetarian recipe (with some cheese though).  A toothsome delight!  Teppo returned home somewhat later, and we headed out to explore the city.  Like many Finns, he had enjoyed his main meal in the middle of the day, so dinner prep did not interfere with our exploration of Turku.

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The following day, I had the opportunity to attend several music classes at Taina’s school and then observe her in action in her own classroom.  She sheperds a group of kids from diverse international backgrounds, and it was immediately evident why she is one of only two teachers from Finland chosen to participate in the 2014-15 Fulbright Distinguished Teaching program.  She continued her teaching role with me.  The evening lesson included a visit to the Luostarinmäki section of Turku.  This splendid sea-side area of  old wooden houses is the only remaining 18th century neighborhood, and it is located in what was once the heart of the medieval city of Naantali.

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Before we ventured off to Luostarimaki, Taina performed her magic in the kitchen.  She had mixed the dough for a type of pulla that is similar to my Mom’s cinnamon buns.  Snuggled under a tea towel, the dough was left to raise in the kitchen.

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Undeterred by the winds whipping off the Baltic Sea, we enjoyed a blustery evening walk along the water and then returned to Taina’s welcoming kitchen.  As the pulla baked in the oven, the Karelian pies were also heated to be enjoyed with a topping of “egg butter.” http://www.food.com/recipe/karjalan-piirakka-karelian-pie-with-egg-butter-137150.  Accompanied by freshly brewed coffee, we enjoyed a 9 pm snack of warm pulla and Karelian pies.  My jeans were growing tighter!

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The “finnished” product.  I helped!

On the following day, Friday, I was able to observe an upper secondary music class taught by a gifted teacher.  Minja Koskela is an iconic Finn and terrific musician. She is also a doctoral candidate in music at the Sibelius Academy.IMG_1610

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Minja’s students were polite and attentive.  The entire class sang a moving rendition of the traditional Finnish folk song, “Herrojen kanssa pellon laidassa” as they strummed along on guitars.

The afternoon brought a frenzy of cooking in Taina’s kitchen as we prepared for a dinner party with fellow  American Fulbright teachers,  Cheryl Rush Dix and Melissa Lioz, and two Finnish teachers.  Bouquets of flowers, bottles of wine, and loaves of rye bread were presented to our hostess.  In Finland, it is de rigueur to bring small gifts, especially flowers, when invited to dinner. Over dinner, our little crew of expats engaged in a lively (heated?) exchange with Taina’s Finnish colleagues regarding the education of immigrants in the US and Finland.  Our hosts, Taina and Teppo, remained calm throughout the volley.

On Saturday, we visited the Turku Fish Market.  This traditional fish market is held every April on the waterfront in Turku.  It even has a Facebook page!  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Turun-Silakkamarkkinat-ja-Saaristolaismarkkinat/306885446028219.  Here is the place to sample herring in 100 forms.

 Next stop was Turku castle for a performance by members of the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra.  The Turku Philharmonic is the oldest orchestra in Finland and was founded in 1790.  The program was titled “Sibelius and Friends”, an omage to the 150th anniversary of the birth of Finland’s most famous composer, Jean Sibelius.  A chamber music concert in an ancient castle–my idea of a perfect Saturday afternoon!

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When I gather with my family in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, Saturday night is often pizza night. For 40 years, Pizza King, on Main Street, has been our favorite pizzeria.  If you have traveled to Finland,  you know that pizza and kebab joints populate the small towns and cities.  I was treated to homemade pizza, the Finnish way, by Taina on Saturday night.  She just couldn’t seem to stop cooking!

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Pizzeria Taina

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Taina’s charming teenage son, Erik, was a great help in the kitchen.  Initially, he wasn’t quite sure about this American invading his home territory, but by the end of my occupation, he was my friend and shared with me his love of AC/DC, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Kiss. I was also introduced to “The Dudesons.” Erik is a teenage boy who would be comfortable anywhere in the world.

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Over the past two months,  I have attended numerous concerts performed by classical, folk, and jazz musicians.  The ages of the performers have ranged from four to eighty four.  I have listened to cellos in concert halls and castles, kanteles in Folk houses, guitars in classrooms, and mandolins in public libraries. The music of Finland has changed me as have the students, the land, and the families.  Taina, Teppo and Erik introduced me to Apocalyptica. Only in Finland would you find a cello quartet covering Metallica.  Enjoy the music that accompanied this passage on my Fulbright journey.

Not All Reindeer Wear Sleigh Bells

 

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My reindeer buddy

If your Fulbright award places you in Finland, a visit to Lapland is pakollinen (obligatory). Participation in winter sports such as cross-country skiing (referred to by the Finns as “regular” skiing), driving a dogsled, aurora borealis spotting, reindeer safaris, and imbibing are all part of the fun.  My friend, Nancy, flew over from the US to partake of this adventure.

Nancy and Reindeer

We began with an overnight train ride to Rovaniemi, the official hometown of Santa Claus. http://www.visitrovaniemi.fi.  Conserving my euros for adventures in Lapland, I booked our overnight travels on a day car rather than a sleeping car.  It was first necessary to travel south by train to Tampere and then catch the car-carrier train heading north to Lapland.  At Tampere, we boarded a train that seemed to go on forever.  As we walked to our car, we could see, through lit windows, the double-decker sleeping cars with berths.  I felt like an extra in an old Bing Crosby/Bob Hope movie, but we were shuffling off to Lapland instead of Buffalo.

Our reserved seats in the Duetto Plus upper deck compartment put us knee-to-knee with some other long distance travelers.  My plan to reserve individual swivel seats for this 9 1/2 hour ride had failed, and it now appeared that I would be sharing my seat space with a young women sporting multiple piercings and noisily munching her way through a bag of sweets.  As midnight approached, I became hyperaware of all the empty seats in our car including a separate small compartment which contained but three people.  On previous train excursions, I had noticed the polite Finnish passengers clump together in their assigned seats even when empty rows invite one to stretch out in comfort.  After a quick scouting mission, I struck camp and moved us to the comfort of swivel chairs facing a pair of empty seats.  Spinning our chairs,  we enjoyed privacy and space for the remainder of the journey north.

Unlike buses or planes in Finland, interior lights are not dimmed at night on the trains.  You can enjoy your midnight snack under bright fluorescent lighting as the train stops at numerous deserted platforms, each one announced by a recorded voice, “Next stop, Oulu.”  The experienced nighttime travelers had packed their eye masks, ear plugs, and blankets and were blissfully sleeping while I groggily stared at my laptop screen.  Fortunately, there is excellent wi-fi on the vr trains.

As the night wore on, we left behind the Gulf of Bothnia and chugged north toward Lapland.  Above Tornio, Finland is completely surrounded by Sweden, Norway, and Russia.  I reflected on Finnish sisu and the incredible bravery demonstrated by the Finns in defending their borders throughout history. Our final destination was Luosto in the Phyä-Luosto National Park, a 90-minute ride via ski bus above the Arctic Circle.

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The train ride finally ended, and we hopped on the bus to Luosto.  The ride proved to be entertaining and thrilling as we flew along on narrow, snow-packed roads barely escaping certain death as huge trucks loaded with logs hurtled by.  I decided it was best to look out the side windows at the glorious scenery and avoid the view out the front window of the bus.  As if to reward my bravery for enduring the kamikaze bus ride, I spotted a herd of moose!  Not one moose, but a big-footed gathering of antlered giants enjoying a picnic lunch in the forest.  Very cool.

By late morning, we had checked into the Santa’s Aurora Hotel and were enjoying a light lunch of pasta with reindeer sauce. Next stop was Snow Games, our friendly outfitter conveniently located across the road from Santa’s, where we rented cross-country skis.  The sloppy snowfall that had greeted us in Rovaniemi had diminished as we traveled further north, and our first afternoon on the trails brought blue skies and sunshine.

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Our second day above the Arctic Circle dawned bright and clear, and we headed to the trails for a longer run.  The Phyä-Luosto National Park boasts 120 km of ski trails.  Feeling a bit more secure on our skis, we chose a trail that included a number of hills.  The fit Finns whipped by, trimly outfitted in brightly colored racing shells and black tights. Why do Finns always seem to be smiling as they fly down the inclines?  My mouth was frozen in a grimace as I struggled to avoid disaster at high speed.  Nancy and I survived a challenging run, and we celebrated with a break at a hut cafe.

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This pitstop on the trail also included a WC!

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Our afternoon destination was the Jaakkola Reindeer Farm where we had booked a “reindeer safari.”  After two of my fellow Fulbright teachers had endured hazardous driving conditions on separate husky dog safaris (including an emergency room visit in Rovaniemi), I had opted for the more safe and serene “reindeer safari.”  A vision of cute reindeer, adorned with jingling bells, calmly pulling my sledge through quiet forests was enough to make me put my credit card down.

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At the farm, we met out lovely herder and guide.  Usually when you meet someone new in Finland,  they share some of their background story that typically begins with, ” I am from a small village in the east near the Russian border,” or “I am from a small village in Lapland,” or “I am from a small village.”  Our reindeer guide was from the Helsinki area and had earned a university degree in tourism.  How she ended up in Lapland where the reindeer outnumber the people is a story for another time……

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Notice that she is wearing a very large knife (in the requisite antler holster) and a arctic fox hat(to die for!)  I thought the knife was just an attractive accessory until our personal reindeer chose to begin the “safari” by running into a tree and entangling one of his antlers in his harness.

Our guide brandished her knife and calmly cut the antler loose. We decided to call our reindeer Rudoph, as we were quite sure he would not do well at reindeer games.

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The remainder of our ride through open fields and forests was uneventful except for a few scrapes with small trees.  During the ride, by slightly turning my head, I could stare directly into the eyeball of the reindeer pulling the sledge behind ours.  With one swipe, he could have branded me with a permanent reindeer tattoo. I heeded our guide’s warning to keep my hands in the sledge, move slowly, and refrain from petting the reindeer.

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Day 3 of Yvonne’s and Nancy’s Excellent Lapland Adventure began with an early start on the trails.  The night before, our Aurora Borealis Watch phone had buzzed at 12:20 am.  We had donned warm clothing and climbed the downhill lift area in an attempt to experience this collision between electrically charged particles from the sun and oxygen and nitrogen gases.  After an hour of staring at the moon and stars playing peek-a-boo with the clouds, we admitted that the celestial light show would have to wait for another visit to Lapland.

Our third day of skiing took us right to the Lampivaara Amethyst Mine.  It is one of the only jewel mines in the world where visitors are permitted in the mine.  There is also a cafe, the Lampivaara Hut, conveniently located at the mine site, where we enjoyed a freshly made donut and signed the guest book. It appeared that we were the only Americans to have signed the guest book.

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Ski parking.

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Spring in a jar at the Lampivaara Hut

All good things must come to an end, and we celebrated our last evening in Lapland with a culinary adventure at the Restaurant Kerttuli.  The reindeer tongue mousse with lingonberry-red onion compote was especially tasty. Perhaps this is where misbehaving reindeer end their careers.

On Saturday morning, we boarded the ski bus at 6:40 am and caught the 9:28 train from Rovaniemi to Jyväskylä.  The long ride home in the daylight revealed all of the small Finnish towns that had slipped by in the dark on our travel north.  As the Spring day faded to twilight and blue shadows fell on the snowy landscape, I completed another leg of my Fulbright journey.

On the road to Rauma

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“The people on the bus go up and down, up and down, up and down”……….. 29 years have slipped away since I taught my last kindergarten music class.  Sticky fingers and warbling voices have faded from memory, but a cassette tape of this song is rewinding and replaying in my head as I barrel along on my first Onnibus journey.  Public transportation in Finland is convenient, efficient, CLEAN, friendly, on-time, used by all ages, and a great way to see the country.  By now, I am a veteran of the VR train, zipping back and forth between Jyväskylä, Tampere, and Helsinki.  Time to experience the long-distance bus!  The world has become a small place, and it fits into my pocket or purse with a smart phone.  I can book my travel, pay with a credit card, and carry the itinerary and ticket on a screen.  Google Translate has become my best friend, and a disembodied voice that directs me to turn right when exploring a new city has saved me from spinning in circles a number of times.

Buying an Onnibus ticket offers the vicarious thrill of playing the lottery.  On lucky days, you might snag the 1 euro ticket, while on others, the ride may set you back 10 euros.  The 20-somethings seem to have the rules of this game embedded in their DNA, but I have yet to learn how to successfully spin the ticket wheel.  Nonetheless,  the Onnibus is a cheap way to travel Finland, and this brings me to a bus ride commencing at 6:15 am.  The sun rises early these days as we have passed the Spring Solstice and are now celebrating over 12 hours of daylight.  I trundle my compact suitcase behind me to the train station where all the long distance buses scoop up their passengers.  A newbie at the bus game, I wander over to one of the sleek coaches that is waiting, engine humming and lights glowing, and ask the handsome driver if this is the bus to Tampere.  Nope. Logic should have dictated that if the 10-foot letters on the bus spell Express Bus rather than Omnibus, it is the wrong bus.  Another critical clue, all the middle-aged people are hotfooting it to the Express Bus.  The cool kids are boarding the Onnibus.

I am on the road to Rauma to hear a wind band rehearsal.  The Rauma Youth A Band is considered to be one of the best in the country, so I am willing to ride four different buses and spend 9 hours (yes, that’s right!) to reach Rauma.  Old Rauma is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most extensive wooden town area in the Nordic region.  Finns work, live, and shop in the over 600 buildings that comprise Old Rauma.  I will have a chance to combine some work and pleasure on this journey.

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As we head south and west from Jyväskylä to Rauma, located on the Gulf of Bothnia, platoons of slender white birch trees stand at attention and roll on for miles.  Closer to Rauma,  firs begin to encroach on the forests of birch.  The countryside reminds me of the Finger Lakes, sagging hoop houses and junkyard lawns filled with the heartbreak of rusted farm machines, round bales of hay and red barns.  Everywhere there are yellow houses with windows comprised of six large panes divided by a central mullion.  A deep quiet descends on the bus, and the solitude is reflected in the scenery that unfolds.  High plateaus descend to frozen lakes.  It is like the Finger Lakes without the vineyards.  Where the ice has finally begun to melt, Whooper Swans, (laulujoutsen-singing swan in Finnish) the national bird of Finland, gleam pure white against the brilliant blue of open water.

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As the trip continues, I must change buses in Tampere and Pori.  On the perimeter of these Finnish cities,  we circumvent truck stops adverting Koti Pizza!, big box stores, and the chain stores that I have come to recognize throughout Finland.  Prisma, a hypermarket equivalent to Walmart, usually anchors these plazas of commerce.  Arriving in Tampere, I mentally jot down a few notes about bus stations in Finland.  Be sure to have a supply of 1 euro coins for the WC, and be prepared to pay 4 euros if you wish to stash your luggage behind the counter while you enjoy a walkabout in a new city.

We motor on to Pori, and as the bus closes the distance between Jyväskylä and Rauma, the moose fencing appears. I sit up straighter in my seat and peer futilely out the bus window.  Although the moose signs are prominently planted alongside the roadway, I fail to spot a moose.  Instead, I gaze upon a landscape that is littered with giant lichen-covered grey boulders tossed there by the glaciers of the Ice Age.  In places, the stones are piled high and almost appear as burial mounds. I later learn that the Sammallahdenmäki Bronze Age Burial Site is located on the Gulf of Bothnia.  http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/579.

I arrive in Rauma in late afternoon and walk to a B&B, Haus Anna, my digs for the night. Anna provides me with directions to the Rauma Music Academy where I catch up with fellow Fulbrighter, Melanie Brooks, and Anne Lehtomäki.  Anne is the director of the Rauma youth bands and adult bands.  Tonight, I have the opportunity to sit in on a rehearsal by the “A” band.  The kids in the group range in age from 12-19, and four of them will be visiting the US in just two short weeks.  The rehearsal offers an opportunity for me to hear selections by a number of Finnish composers.  The style of compositions is quite different from what I am accustomed to programming for my own bands and provides a good introduction to Finnish concert band music.  The rehearsal flies by.  Afterwards,  we join Anne and her husband for Finnish libations, Lonkero-or long drink, a mixed drink of gin and grapefruit soda, and Strongbow beer.  After showing us their wooden house in the historic district, they deposit us at the door of Haus Anna where Melanie and I wearily head for bed.

The following day brings a blustery wind off the Gulf of Bothnia, and I am free to explore Old Rauma.  At breakfast, we meet the other B&B guests, Helena and Marjo.  They are both studying to become teachers and are changing careers.  Marjo is a physical therapist, and Helena was formerly an engineer with Nokia. They rush off to class while I head out to play!

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Marjo (left) and Helena

The beautifully preserved wooden structures of Rauma are painted in weathered pastels, and proud homeowners display lovely vignettes of collected objects in windows framed by lace curtains. The network of streets can be partially traced back to the Middle Ages.

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 Rauma is famous for its bobbin-lace, and production of this lace is mentioned as early as the 1740’s.

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Rauma Museum

I spend 4 euros to explore the tiny but charming Rauma Museum with its displays of bobbin lace, early textiles, and religious artifacts dating to the 1400’s.  Well worth the price of admission!  On the walls hang black and white photos of Rauma’s esteemed lace-makers.  Their faces convey a sense of haunting loneliness tempered by a fierce pride in their intricate artistry.

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Statue of a bobbin-lace maker in Old Rauma

The cold wind drives me indoors to a delightful coffee shop where I dither over the bounty of pulla and other Finnish sweets.  The shop, which still boasts a tall tiled stove, is just large enough to accommodate two small round tables and six chairs. I could easily spend the entire day here sipping coffee and watching the sun stream through the tall windows.

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The day, driven by the March winds, races by, and I reluctantly finish my tour of Old Rauma and head toward the bus station.

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Once safely ensconced in the quiet hum of the Onnibus, I resist dozing in the sun that brightens the late afternoon.  I am windburned, and my legs remind me that I have spent the day walking on cobblestones.  As the day turns to twilight, I contemplate the chiaroscuro of white birch against rocky outcroppings and dark green firs.  The road is without curves, as straight as the armies of trees that march by my darkening window. Night descends on the Onnibus as another chapter in my Fulbright journey comes to a close.

Saturdays, Saunas and Reindeer Salami

 

IMG_0979_2In the Fulbright handbook, there is a warning about the end of the “honeymoon period.”  When the excitement of the first five to six weeks “in country” wears away, and the sun hasn’t peeked out from behind the clouds for a month, you may feel a bit blue.

After living in Finland for six weeks,  I would be reluctant to tell this to a Finn.  I am sure they would tell me to rely on my sisu.  Sisu has been described by The New York Times as “the word that explains Finland”, and the Finns’ “favorite word”—”the most wonderful of all their words.” The Finns have this internal spirit they call Sisu. It is the ability to keep going when most people would give up.  It represents bravery and tenacity and the Finnish spirit.  I am not brave.  I must find a dentist in a country far from home, and I am feeling tenacious.

Recently, I awoke from a dream in which I was struggling to drive a car with my eyes closed.  Scary!  The bad news is that I have experienced this dream more than once over the past few months.  Luckily,  I do not need a Dr. Freud to interpret this dream.   I am on a journey, but I haven’t quite figured out where I am going.

Time for the cure for Fulbright anxiety and angst the Finnish way.  Go outside!!

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I decided to take control by riding the bus route I would use to visit a school the next day.  I arrived at the bus stop on time, slid my Makkorti pass across the reader, and set off on my 7 minute bus ride across the river.  One slight hitch, I had boarded the #18 bus going in the wrong direction!  I have learned to ask questions.  When 7 minutes had passed and the correct street name (usually consisting of 8 syllables in the Finnish language) had not popped up,  I simply asked the driver.  He assured me we would return to the city center and then head off in the right direction.  When we arrived at the Keskuta (city center), the bus changed drivers.  As he slid out the doors, my driver buddy informed the new guy about the hopeless “Englander” on the bus and asked him to deposit me at the correct stop.  This was all delivered in speedy Finnish, but I was able to glean enough to interpret, “The American can’t even read a bus schedule.  No wonder they are sending teachers here to study our education system.”

After hopping off the bus at the correct stop, I followed the trail of bread crumbs I had discreetly dropped from the bus window and began to walk home.  Unfriendly weather dripped from the skies and the temperature hovered just above 0ºc.  Undeterred, entire families of  Finns zipped and snapped into their wind pants and gortex jackets, buzzed by on bicycles, stepped jauntily along and behaved as if it were a Spring day in Malibu.  Have I mentioned there is an endless parade of black pants in Finland? Tights and jeggings and jeans and grandma polyester.  Wind pants, snow pants, uniform pants and expertly tailored European suit pants.

My walkabout led me back to the center of the city where crowds were out in force shopping and mingling along Jyväskylä’s walking street.  Coffee and beer drinking  are national sports in Finland, and a drizzly Saturday is a good occasion for both.  Cafes and bars charm with cozy interiors and ski jumping events on the wide-screen.  I descend on the escalator in the Sokos department store to my happy place-the supermarket!  Dinner choices are in abundance, but I have a hankering to try some reindeer.  I ask for help at the meat counter, and the gracious butcheress presents me with a stick of reindeer salami.  Rudolph in deli form.  Yum!  A bit of cheese, a baguette (only .69 euros), some grapes, a Fazer chocolate bar-this time with hazelnuts-and I am provisioned for an evening picnic.

Exiting the supermarket, my color-starved brain is stimulated by the candy colors of spring flowers.  A perfect antidote to all those black pants and grey skies is a smiling bunch of yellow tulips.  I present my selection to the cashier where it is carefully swathed in white floral paper, covered with a cone of heavier green paper and finished with a twist of raffia bow.  Suitably laden with packages, I walk toward home, my spirits now lifted by the fresh air, exercise and the reward of reindeer salami!

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On the small skating rink across from my apartment building, people are gathering to set up sound equipment and plug in the ever-present coffee urn.  With my Fulbright research in mind, I go to investigate.  An animated conversation ensues with a pony-tailed young man and a smartly dressed older couple.  The local community organization has organized a “bow-tie” ice skating event for the kids in this central section of Jyväskylä.  The idea is to provide the children with some fun during this dismal time of the year.  Hmmn, the Finns are hankering for sunshine too.  60’s pop music is pouring from the speakers, sausages are sizzling, a big bowl of Panda chocolate bars awaits, and smiling little Finns zip around on their skates.  The “bow-tie” refers to numbers that are given to the children.  Boys are given one set of numbers and the girls receive corresponding numbers.  The idea is to match up with the other person who has the same number.  The children look a bit young for the dating game, but this serves as an introduction to new friends.  The older gentleman queries “Surely you must have something similar in the United States?”  I just smile–I do that quite often here.

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New friends. They look quite Finnish.

 

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They do have skates! This was just the warm-up.

 

A long walk, a bunch of tulips, a random encounter with a kindly group of Finns, and my weekend is transformed.   It is Saturday night and time for the sauna!  My apartment has its own tiny, birch-lined sauna, and I have become addicted to the clean lines and melting heat. Dousing the stones with water, I sink into the steam and feel all my physical aches and emotional woes disappear. As I look back on my day, I conclude that the honeymoon may be over, but Finland has captured my heart.

St. Petersburg

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View of St. Petersburg from St. Isaac’s.

 

Perhaps it all began with the book about Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War that I read in elementary school.  Or maybe it was The Endless Steppe (1968),written by Esther Hautzig in which she described her family’s exile to Siberia during World War II, that I wept over in 6th grade. I loved playing Laura’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago in Jr. High Band.   The haunting melody created images of  alabaster Slavic faces framed with furs, gilded palaces, caviar and heartbreak.  Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in high school (better reread as an adult!) may have done it, and I can still see my friend Jeff carrying around War and Peace.  After all, he read Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago when we were in 9th grade!  Years later, I absorbed Robert Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra.  Not a pretty ending.  All I know is that I have longed to travel to Russia ever since the days I was just a kid ducking under my desk to practice air raid drills.

St. Petersburg.  The Hermitage and the Winter Palace, Nevsky prospect, the Neva, St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (that’s a mouthful.)

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View across the Neva.

 

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Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

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This pilgrimage demanded a ticket to Gounod’s Faust at the historic Mariinsky Theatre.

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Mariinsky Theatre

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There were many children in the audience including a little boy in my eight-seat box.  He was deposited behind me amid a flurry of Russian directives to behave.  His mother and grandmother then slipped through the little door at the back never to be seen again until the intermission that occurred 90 minutes later.  20-something women in little black dresses and young men with neatly trimmed beards were captivated by the drama unfolding on the stage.  It was Faust after all, with an old guy who wants to be young again, the devil, Méphistophélès, a beautiful young maiden, Marguerite, and a potion that will transform Faust into a handsome young man.  And that’s only the beginning of the opera.

St. Petersburg is a city of canals and bridges,

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palaces and churches,

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interior of St. Isaac’s Cathedral

 

 

 

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You will have to climb the 262 steps to the colonnade of St. Isaac’s for this view of St. Petersburg.

 

 

statues,

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and soldiers.

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My guide book cautioned against photographing military installations. I wasn’t sure if the warning also applied to young men in uniform, so I snapped this after they ambled past. It was Sunday morning, and I was on my way to the Menshikov Palace which was built in 1707 for Alexander Menshikov, a close friend (and alleged one-time lover) of Peter the Great.  To my great surprise, I encountered these young men again as they courteously moved through the intimate  but lavishly furnished rooms of this small palace.  This museum and branch of the Hermitage was also the bargain of the trip.  Admission 100 rubles=$1.66.

St. Petersburg is cigarette smoke and six lanes of traffic of traffic roaring across the Dvortsovy most (bridge) and racing down the Nevsky Prospekt.  It is the immense Dvortsovaya ploschard.  This square’s classical beauty is sullied by its violent history.  In 1905,  tsarist troops fired on peaceful protestors–a day that came to be known as Bloody Sunday and sparked a revolution.

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St. Petersburg is elderly men and stout women silently checking your coat in the cloakrooms, signs and menus in Cyrillic, and crazy cab drivers driving like, well, Russians!  Negotiate the fare before you zoom off.  St. Petersburg is also blini and smoked salmon at the Cafe Singer with a view of the Kazan Cathedral.

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Food defines a place, a time, a culture.  Borscht, duck, a charming maître d’, a rich Georgian dish of sautéed mushrooms and chicken, homemade vodka.  No, I did not consume all of this in one sitting! Different meals savored on different days during my 72 hours of visa-free travel to Russia.

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And to finish this part of my Fulbright journey, a bit of dessert.  Music from “my neighborhood” on Vasilyevsky Island.

MUSIIKKI!

 

Music is like coffee and pulla in Finland.  It is everywhere! I recently walked to the Jyväskylä City Library to obtain a library card. It was about 1 pm on a Friday afternoon.  While I was presenting all of my official documents, I heard the sounds of vocal warm-ups drifting upward from the first floor of this beautifully designed library.   I asked the librarian, who was assisting me, about this, and she replied that there are often performances at the library.  I assumed that a rehearsed ensemble had come to perform.  After obtaining my card, I went to investigate.

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I discovered  a room filled with people who had gathered together to sing in the middle of a weekday!  From the video you can see that the ages of the group varied.  I had to shoot the video through a  doorway as the room was packed, and people were seated in extra chairs directly in front of the door.   I was able to wedge myself  in the doorway, and I guesstimated that there were almost 300 people in the room.  It may have been a sea of gray hair, but there were also younger people, and many men were singing with both confidence and abandon.  What a delight to hear “I Could Have Danced All Night,” in Finnish.

While visiting the library, I happily wandered up to the third floor which houses a large selection of cds, albums, a listening area, and many music periodicals.  I discovered the Finnish Music Quarterly, an English-language publication.  This excerpt is from the Editorial by Anu Ahola, 3-4::2014 “………..Again and again we have returned to the basic questions: What does our music say about us as individuals and as a nation? Does music have a nationality? What is the music-maker’s role in society? Can music be measured in terms of money? What is music? The articles in the FMQ have sought to help define ‘Finnish music’ and its place in the world, while trying to express in words something fundamental about its essence and significations.”

The quest that brought me to Finland is reflected in these statements.  What is a music-maker’s role in society?  What does music say about us as individuals and a nation? In the three weeks that I have been here, I have witnessed first-hand the importance of music in the lives of the Finns.

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One morning found me visiting the English Playschool/Preschool at Kalevankatu 10 in Jyväskylä.  The following is taken directly from their curriculum.  “Music serves as one of the main teaching tools for language on a daily basis.  Children participate in a variety of musical experiences, such as listening to music, singing along with others, clapping and feeling the rhythm, call and response, responding to tempo and mood and playing musical instruments.”

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All of the public schools that I have visited have music classrooms that contain many “band instruments.” By definition, they certainly differ from American band instruments.  Acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass guitar, drum set, and keyboards are all part of the music classroom along with Orff instruments and lots of djembes and rhythm instruments.  So what is going on here?

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In this university classroom,  all of the students in the room are first-year teacher education majors.  And ALL of them are required to take two years of music pedagogy classes, piano class, and other music courses.  Some of them will choose to “specialize” in music while pursuing their education degree.  These teachers may then become the “music teachers” in the schools of Basic Education, grades K-9, while at the same time serving as general classroom teachers.  While researching my capstone project for the Fulbright application, I learned that “play” is very important in the school day of young children.  The idea of “play” continues in music class as students learn to play the “band” or classroom instruments.  I currently have my own reservations about the classroom teacher as music teacher, but perhaps because of this, more of the teachers value music?  Some of the teachers  that I interviewed where proud to state that they could “teach” music.

These students were presenting a lesson they had prepared for the third grade.  I am sure you will remember this song from your own childhood!

While on this journey, I cannot dedicate all my time to visiting university classes and public schools, writing, reading, studying.  Time to find some concerts!   So off I went on a Sunday evening to this lovely venue where I greatly enjoyed listening to a performance by Mandolin Mountain, a mandolin orchestra.

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Every seat was filled by community members of all ages.  You can read more about Mandolin Mountain by clicking on this link. http://www.jounikoskimaki.net/en/musiikki/bandit/bandi-2/. While rollicking blue grass music filled the room, I watched the Finnish version of grooving to the music.  Finger tapping.  The reserved Finns sat quietly, nary a head bobbing or foot tapping, just an index finger lightly tapping to the beat.

In just two weeks, I attended two performances by the Jyväskylä Sinfonia.  Jyväskylä is a city of approximately 137,000 people, and it has a FULL-TIME  symphony orchestra!  Travel 94 miles to Tampere and you will find another symphony orchestra.  191 miles takes you to Turku on the west coast of Finland which also has its own orchestra.  Then, of course, there is the Helsinki Philharmonic, the Helsinki Opera, the Finnish National Opera and other performing organizations in a country of 5 million people.  How is this possible?  It is possible because these performing organizations enjoy reliable public funding.  Total aid to orchestras from city and state may represent as much as 90% of all revenues.

The Finns have an elegant and civilized approach to intermissions at concerts.  More coffee and cake!

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Laskiaispulla-sweet buns for Shrove Tuesday

 

At the City Theatre, home to the Jyväskylä Sinfonia, you can order your coffee and desserts in advance, and the refreshments will be on your reserved table ready for you when the intermission begins.  Almost everyone leaves the auditorium and socializes in the reception area of this gorgeous building designed by Alvar Aalto.  Many champagne corks can also be heard popping!  Did I mention that there are cafes everywhere offering coffee, pastries, and meals?  You find them in the public library, the university music buildings, the university library.  I have no idea how these Finns stay so thin because they seem to be constantly eating!  It must be all the outdoor activities that they so love that keep them trim.

I recently learned of the Finnish Workers’ Music Association (STM).  This is a national amateur musical organization, and its goal is to support and develop music leisure activities among Finns.  According to their website, the STM organizes music education courses, publishes and sells choir and brass band sheet music, organizes music festivals, CREATES INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS and makes a variety of collaborations with other musical and cultural organizations.  The STM acts as a trustee for music lovers. The STM and the Association of Metalworkers organize a summer music camp at the Murikka Institute near Tampere.  Two days ago at a gathering of former and current “Fulbrighters” in Jyväskylä, I met a woman who has attended the music camp.  Marja  began to study saxophone and flute as an adult and certainly falls into the “amateur” category.  She spoke with such excitement about this “brass band camp” (concert band in the US) where young people and adults of differing ability spend a week playing in band, taking instrument lessons, and studying music theory.  Composing and arranging lessons are also available as well as instruction in conducting. What an incredible concept!  This is not Marlboro Music, the Aspen Music  Festival, Tanglewood or the Philadelphia Orchestra hanging out in Saratoga betting on the ponies. This is summer music camp for kids and adults who are divided into four different ensembles, one of which is comprised of beginners of all ages.  If this type of camp exists in the US, I would love to hear about it.

I have queried many adult Finns about their interest and involvement in music, and the majority answered  that as a nation, the Finns are very supportive of a music culture.   Music is everywhere in Finland! Continue on this Fulbright journey to learn more.  Kiitos!

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Walk, walk, walk……and leave your pride at home

IMG_0545The train from Helsinki arrived in Jyväskylä  at exactly 7:53 p.m.  Remember, Finland always runs on time.  It was dark and snowy as I left the train station to walk back to my apartment.  In the excitement of traveling to Helsinki on the previous Sunday morning, I had failed to observe that my walk to the train station was all down hill and rolling my suitcase had been an easy feat.  Now, I was trudging uphill and pulling my suitcase along unshoveled sidewalks.  In Finland, the roads and sidewalks are not treated.  The roadways remain snow-covered as do the sidewalks. Imagine that in the United States!

Safely home, I looked forward to the next day’s outing.  Exploring Jyäskylä on foot!  Walking is a way of life in Jyväskylä, unless you are riding your bike.  Yes!  Riding your bike on untreated sidewalks and roads, what are they thinking?

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This is Henna, and she is studying to become a teacher. I met her when I asked if I could take her photo. Please note that she is not wearing a bicycle helmet. The Finns have sisu!

I do wonder about the life expectancy of the average Finn. In Jyväskylä, everyone walks and walks and walks. Little kids with blond hair and red cheeks walk to and from school (and what is this idea of 15 minutes of recess for every 45 minutes of class time?) Beautiful young women with braided blond hair and red cheeks hurry to work in their high-heeled boots. Elderly women with nordic ski poles, black coats and white hair walk regally along the icy sidewalks. My own cheeks redden as I set a quick pace along the streets to the University, supermarket or City Theater.

In Finland, streets and sidewalks are never salted. I finally saw some employees of the University tossing out the tiny pieces of gravel that I walk on as I navigate the icy sidewalks in the morning.  It is easy to purchase slip-on rubber ice cleats that provide more stability while walking on ice.  I often see older Finns walking with ski poles.  Simple solutions the Finnish way!

The Finns are grounded people, and this trait is inherit in their ability to navigate slippery sidewalks or gracefully glide along the trails of the nordic ski areas. I decided to visit the Laajavuori Ski Resort
on a Sunday afternoon to enjoy a few hours of cross-country skiing. Everyone flew by me, many doing that incredible ski/skate version of cross-country skiing that I DO NOT practice at home on my unplowed seasonal access road.IMG_0569chariot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I left my pride behind when an elderly couple looked askance at my cross-country skiing style.  This slight humiliation was compounded when a Dad flew by pulling his child behind him.

I recently purchased some used ice skates and tried them out on the small skating rink across the street from my apartment.  Around 7:00 in the evening, I watched from my window until the rink was empty and then dashed across the street and laced up my skates.  Within minutes a young family arrived, and as I skated around, I observed the Mom putting skates on her toddler.  Soon Dad joined the action, and as the family watched and cheered, he guided this tiny being on skates around the rink. It is little wonder that the Finns are a grounded people. They are able to navigate snow and ice from an early age.  Somehow I cannot envision an entire American family walking along city streets in the dark and cold to an outdoor rink to teach a very young child the basics of ice skating.

I am learning that to enjoy living in the Finnish culture, I must swallow my pride and ask questions in both halting Finnish and English.  Extreme modesty is a characteristic that applies to almost all Finns, and they don’t boast about their own achievements.  Therefore, when I try out the tongue-twisting Finnish language, I always ask for help with my pronunciation.  Gently they prod me to correct my pronunciation, and we repeat and repeat and repeat.  I know it would be so much easier for the Finns if I would simply speak English(!), but they politely guide me through the unfamiliar sounds, demonstrate the strange shapes one must make with the lips (will I ever be able to say Yöpuu?) and smile with amusement when they can understand my mangled version of their language.

I love visiting other countries because they sound, look, smell and taste differently than home.  Follow along on this journey with me as I continue to explore everyday life and education in Finland.