Night Lights

This winter, the sea off of Helsinki never froze over completely. Yet spring feels as unreachable as ever; yesterday the rain turned into unpleasant wet snow. Regardless of the weather, the nights are dwindling. As much as I love light, I am feel the need to say good bye to the long winter nights, which are full of a particular magic of their own.

One particularly special night walk, at the beginning of February, was haunted by this beautiful full moon.
Full Moon Near Kaivopuisto

It was just as thrilling to see this rabbit, who was alternating between languid movements and utter, enviable, stillness.

There is also the joy of discovery in the city, when all of the warmth and creativity of urban life is juxtaposed with the dark, dull, winter. One of the most exciting and effecting things I have seen this winter was a show by Flis Holland at Sinne Galleria in Helsinki, which you can read about here.

2015 Flis Holland Sinne Before 2

Composed of tiny, impossibly lifelike models that are gazed at through jewlers lenses suspended on from the gallery ceiling, they are both charming, lovely and ultimately disturbing. One echoed the space of the gallery itself, creating a sort of delicious other-worldly confusion.

The other focused on a home, and unsettling questions arise as the viewer moves through the circle of three dimensional images. What has happened? It blends the adorable with discomfort. We revolved around the piece several times. Still it sticks with me, the mystery, the echo of it.

There was also the thrill of having to participate and actually interact with the pieces. To stand outside the rings was easy; to stand inside was a bit daring as the gallery became crowded. It felt like becoming part of the work.

I loved it.

There is also the strolling through dark streets— and here in the winter in Helsinki they are almost always dark— looking at things shining out of lit windows. Or encountering naughty door knobs…

This door know is a favorite, from the door to Helsinki Contemporary, a ripe fruit whose curves are almost too much for a single hand.

Concerts are also particularly wonderful in long dark nights. On Friday the 13th, in celebration of Valentine’s day, at the end of the Musica Nova festival, where Pedro Carneiro was performing “Shing Kham” (2011, 2013) By Peter Leiberson. I was really this close:

2015 Musiikkitalo Concert Percussion

Of course I was thrilled to be so near so many percussion instruments all at once. I also thoroughly enjoyed the piece by Reinbert de Leeuw, “Der nächtliche Wanderer” (2013), which included performers placed in different levels of the Musiikkitalo hall, and unless I am mistaken, a recording of a dog barking.

All of these things come alive at night, reasons to give thanks the overwhelming winter darkness as we shoot out of it into spring.

Love and Pain: Munch at the Didrichsen

At the very end, thanks to help from friends, I finally made it to the heavily advertised Edvard Much exhibit “Dance of Life” at the . The museum is on an island just off of a neighborhood called Munkkiniemi in the northwest corner of the city. The building comprises a striking mid-century residence with and expanded, purpose build wing for art. It isn’t big, but worth a visit even without a headline exhibit; the original house makes full use of the seaside setting. As it was, the Munch exhibit had lines waiting out the door even on a sleet-filled weekday evening. There wasn’t much time for contemplation as the lines passed quietly by each work.

2015 Munch Gaze

Not a fan of Munch’s oft reproduced Scream , I have never been particularly interested in his work. So, this gathering of pieces from a number of different collections not normally shown together presented a great opportunity to look at and learn a bit about this well-known artist’s oeuvre. I was predictably drawn to the woodcuts and lithographs in the basement.

His self-portrait, with the arm of skeleton, below, reminded me of a piece by a contemporary graphic, Sari Bremer. Some of her work, including “Woman and Skeleton”, above, can be found from the wonderful Helsinki Artotheque (a sort of artist run lending library of original art, that I love and have also written more about here). May this wonderful idea and implementation spread to other cities and lands! A timeless theme.

One of the most striking things in the exhibit was a portrait done in oils– I have been really into portraits and self-portraits during the last year! And in that painting, the most detailed feature was this marvelous shoe.

There was also a hilarious lithograph “Madonna” which reminded me of some sort of 1960s poster art, a woman, surrounded by sperm with a thrilled looking fetus in the bottom left corner. Still disturbing over 100 years later, I also note that it is no more disturbing, really, that the solemn and oddly formed medieval Madonnas I saw en masse in Italy last November.

Some critical thoughts: I could not help comparing Munch’s more colorful oils with those of Nils Dardel. His “Dance of Life” painting from 1921, for example seemed to draw from the same pallet but I didn’t find his combination of brightness with the macabre as interesting as Dardel’s. The two painters where close contemporaries in age at least, but the exhibition made no mention of any connection between them.

2015 Munch Love and Pain

I also want to rant a little about the painting that Munch titled “Love and Pain”, above, but which the Diedrichsen, and much of the internet, labeled as “The Vampire”. To me, it looks like a couple embracing in sorrow, or a woman comforting a man in pain. It was an art critic that gave it its more sensational name. In this era of pop-culture vampire ubiquity, the association feels both limiting and boring. I was dissapointed that the curators chose to use that acquired name, rather than Munch’s original. To me, it limits the work and risks diminishing the interest of the painting; it is just one of many interpretations of that melancholy and beautiful work.

That being said, I am eager to get back to the museum for another visit. The Didrichsen may be out of the way, but the setting by the water is striking and the grounds are full of sculptures worth discovering. I also found myself crushed by the crowds against a case containing this:

2015 Didrichsen Buddha

The museum has at least a little collection of Asian art as well. I am looking forward to going back again when the weather is better and the crowds have thinned. Meanwhile, everyone here is complaining constantly about the weather. Even so, there are moments of otherworldly beauty.

2015 Helsinki Harbour Wheel Silja Line

A little solstice story

The last two nights I have had nightmares, which I see as a good thing. When I was younger and seemingly healthy at least, I used to dream vividly most nights. Later, for many years, it seemed I did not dream at all.

What it looks like at 5PM.

What it looks like at 5PM.

Despite the long winter nights, I haven’t had much time for sleeping. However, despite (or perhaps because of?) those nightmares, I woke up in an unusually happy mood. Annoyingly happy, one might say. I went out to find the water by myself. Even the brown buildings were glittering this morning.
2014-12 Glittering Wall

Do they do this everyday, unnoticed? There is a hill that catches well the solstices and equinoxes; I headed for it.
2014-12 Solstice Hill Tree Noon Winter

The sun hit the top of the hill spilling over it. There is a hidden stone staircase here, but I only use it on special occasions. If you visit me, I will surely take you there, unless ice forbids it.
2014-12 Solstice Top of Hill

On the top of the hill, the sun at its winter solstice zenith, and from it a ship was emerging.
2014-12 Solstice Ship Sun 1

It is the one ship I can really identify, because it is our brother S’s ship, sailing towards Helsinki’s harbor, out of the blaze of our low hanging yellow star.
2014-12 Solstice Ship Sun 1

This made me even more joyful. The weather has been so warm, the grass is still spring green. Sun was on my face and at the same time a slight snow was blowing from the west and melting on my cheek.
2014-12 Solstice Shadow Tree

Finally, it was time to descend from my sweetly solitary hilltop. Bending down beside the glacier bared rocks I looked again, respected, the almost iridescent lichens growing there, reflecting on my recent sins, asked forgiveness of them.
2014-12 Solstice Lichens

I know all of my dear readers know the difference between a moss and a lichen...

Lichens are completely different, and far more interesting organisms than mosses, as all readers of this blog well know.

This birch tree demanded communion with its shining silver bark, this strange sunlight on its paper skin. I am starting to come around to birches.
2014-12 Solstice Birch Sky

How I ended up stealing a kiss from a red haired terrier is a bit stranger. It involved an escaped Swedish vallhund, whom I helped to stall. These are little viking dogs, who among other things, sailed with Norsemen into the British isles where their progeny are one of the Corgi breeds–the better one.

While frightening or at least surprising his person by attempting to chit chat in Finnish, the sweet little still-leashed terrier and I made friends. I learned that the name for a vallhund in Finnish is Länsigöötanmaanpystykorva , which is a bit more specific. Västergötland, to which the name refers of course, is the province of Göteborg, or Gothenburg in English, a familiar town.

And then, little viking dog captured, I continued on my way along the water, the solstice sun beside me until I finally had to turn again into the city (the sun doesn’t rise even above the lowest buildings) to hunt for some cream, potatoes and dill like a good Scandinavian. Don’t worry: three heads of beautiful Spanish garlic, and a little pot of fresh cilantro found its way into my basket as well…

The Kale in Kalevala

Almost every Wednesday I travel by tram to my organic food co-op, from which in the late summer into this darkening November I was able to get beautiful Finnish kale, both the typical bright green curly kind, but also silky dark green Lacinato kale. Almost every time, a Finnish person asked me “What do you do with that? How do you eat it?”. This happens to me at normal markets, too, about Lacinato kale especially. “What is that? How do you eat it?” And I answer passionately as best I can in my bad and broken Finnish.

Here is why this is so strange, once one starts digging deeper. Up until the middle ages, kale was likely the green that people ate most in Europe. While it is exactly the same species as our quotidian cabbage (as are broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts…), kale, and collard greens (and the delicious spring greens that can be found in Britain) are closer to the wild forms of that nourishing vegetable.

You may start to wonder, given that they are all cultivars of the same species, whether there is anything special about Kale. I’m not the first to be skeptical. However, it seems to actually hold up to scrutiny. A comparison using USDA data shows raw kale to have significantly more vitamins A and K than raw savoy cabbage. Perhaps this is because it is closer to the wild form, not bred to last long on the shelf.

In Finland, the lack of acquaintance with kale is all the more curious, given that it rests at the root of the Finnish term for all Brassica oleracea. Observe for example:

Finnish Literal Translation English
Kukkakaali Flower cabbage Cauliflower
Parsakaali Asparagus cabbage Broccoli
Ruusukaali Rose cabbage Brussels sprouts
Lehtikaali Leaf cabbage Kale
Mustakaali Black cabbage Lacinato (dino) Kale*
Kaali Cabbage
*Also known as Tuscan kale. Interestingly, I recently realized that it’s Italian name, Cavolo nero , is identical to the Finnish: black cabbage.

It is neat that in Finnish, these cultivars are named in a way that acknowledges their close relation to each other, something that is obscured in English. And it can be no coincidence that KAALI is so close to KALE . Perhaps it is a forgotten echo of when the the Brassicaceae found it most pots would be something quite different from the pale heads of stiff cabbage most common in stores today. Something foraged and wild. Something closer to kale.

Whatever the cultural, environmental or economic forces, kales were forgotten, although they grow well in this climate, and are even made tastier with a little bight of cold. Now their comeback is tinged with the annoyance of their trendiness. A signifier of a certain lifestyle. An annoying one.

Really, kale is old, old news–part of the unglamorous past of Northern European cuisine. In the south of Sweden, kale is part of a traditional Christmas dish, called långkål , a tradition that allegedly is particularly strong in the free Hanseatic state of Bremen, which resonates with me for familial reasons…

Anyway, långkål involves, kale, butter and cream and I will be inflicting it upon my family this yule. But before that, I wish all four of my readers, who are very dear to me, and from whom I will be separated this Thanksgiving, the best of all days on Thursday and feasts if you have them, filled with love.


Yes. I just wrote a long long post about KALE. I didn’t want to; it compelled me. It began when a friend noted that perhaps there was a hidden meaning in Kalevala. It started showing up in fine art:

2014.11 Kale Paulette Tavormina

This by Paulette Tavormina via Glutton for Life

It came in the post.

2014.11 Kale TJ

I began to see it everywhere.

I heard about a new form of kale, kalettes, that was created by a liason with my other favorite cabbage, brussels sprouts.


Kale, in the middle of woods near Munkkiniemi

Kale, in the middle of woods near Munkkiniemi

Maybe now it will now let me rest. This is dedicated to L who discovered the title of this post, and whose magic set this in motion and M & Y who were once brave enough to come to a kale party, and R for the kale chips, quickly devoured, and P for making and sharing the first, delicious and beautiful, raw kale salad I ever had.

2014.11 Kale Card

Fall Illumination at Hippolyte

Just as I was getting ill, I wrote a long, depressing and whiny post that– to everyone’s benefit– I did not share. Now that I am recovering and starting to feeling human again, I am suddenly noticing all that is enjoyable in life. Just yesterday I went for an evening walk along the water and as I turned back towards the city the beautiful lights and calm streets were a balm to my soul. The darkness creates a new cityscape, where windows and candles glow. After those long busy days, the empty streets and long sunsets seem like a fine treat, and dark nights invite restorative sleep and dreaming…

This is also the season when the artistic life of Helsinki takes off. People have mostly returned from the forest and concerts and exhibitions are back in full swing. This means that there are a lot of beautiful things tucked away inside. Before I completely succumbed to the virus that had recently run through Helsinki, I was lucky to have an evening with two extraordinarily lovely ladies out on the town. Among other places, we ended up at Kukka Paavilainen’s art opening at Gallery Hippolyte in a courtyard off of Yrjönkatu.

There are many wondrous things in courtyards off of Yrjönkatu, and this was yet another delight. The space was new to me, and I was completely enchanted. The gallery is in a former cinema, with the grandeur and ornate details of that era remaining. The ceilings were high and provided a perfect space for Kukka’s large canvases. The show was gorgeous, and so was artist. Definitely worth a visit and an incentive to explore the heart of Helsinki’s Gallery district. It is on until the 26th of October.

Also on only through the end of this week: the world premier of Frida y Diego an opera by Kalevi Aho with a libretto in Spanish by Maritza Núñez. It focuses on the life of the legendary artist Frida Kahlo and the production is being put on by the Sibelius Academy. The last performance will be on the 24th. This sounds so exciting. I just brought a visiting artist back to Valkokangas, Kukka Paavilainen‘s exhibit at Hippolyte and very much enjoyed my second visit. I just really enjoy being with her work in that space.

Hippolyta was also a brave woman, a queen of the Amazons who according to legend married and of course whose life ended in tragedy. She also appears in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that is what the name recalls most quickly to me. When I was 12 I played Hippolyta in a school production. I was thrilled to be chosen but then to self-conscious to play it well, thus missing my first big break in show business. That aside, there is a definite theme of talented women and art here that could lead to a spectacular evening this weekend…

The days are darker but they are full of treasures!

Mushroom Time

From this cooling, sweet mouldering earth, Finland is blessed with an abundance of edible mushrooms that give a good reason to welcome fall. The brightly colored chanterelle (kanterelli) is among the most well-known of wild mushrooms. Its bright orange and golden colors catch the eye, and it is not only good looking, but delicious. According to Wikipedia, chanterelles are also an excellent source of vitamin D, no laughing matter as we head into dark winter. It took me a while before I discovered that these golden trumpets, Cantharellus cibarius, are just one of several members of the Cantharellaceae family available in Finland.

I walked past Chanterelle’s more modest cousin, little suppilovahvero ( Craterellus tubaeformis ) many times before trying it. A more delicate mushroom, with an orange-yellow hollow stem and a brown-grey top, it isn’t as striking as it typical Chanterelle, but just as delicious. It is usually much less expensive, too, and so definitely worth a try. It is also possible to find it dried in Finland.

Craterellus tubaeformis: Suppilovahvero

Craterellus tubaeformis: Suppilovahvero

The first time I saw the intimidating ( Craterellus cornucopioides ) they were being sold in the old market square in Turku by two young Finnish people who looked like they had been living in a tree for at least the last summer. These grey and black mushrooms themselves looked like fallen, fermenting leaves. My Finnish was even worse then, but I got the idea that these black silky mushrooms were related to chanterelles, and that, unlike false morels, they don’t need special cooking in order to be edible.

Not only did I survive my first encounter, they were delicious. They are not always easy to find, however, but this year I have started to see them around again. I bought mine out of the back of a car in Hakkaniemi in Helsinki. How to use their beautiful color to the best advantage is still under experimentation. These were cooked into omelets after being sauteed in butter and also eaten in a simple pasta. (with Italian corn noodles and Buffalo mozzarela– the combination of fresh Buffalo mozzarel and wild mushrooms is something I learned from an outstanding dinner at Mami in Turku). The omelets in particular were sublime.

Maybe it is that I feel these other members of the family Craterellus are overlooked, but I find them, if anything, more tasty. Perhaps I just relate to them better than the golden, flamboyant and muscular Cantharellus cibarius.

Helsinkilainens are lucky this weekend; it is packed full of mushroom events that will include the opportunity to learn more from knolwedgeable people. The first, today, is a food-oriented Mushroom people’s day at Teurastamo . This is hosted by the Sieni Ihmiset (mushroom people) an organization that organizes events around the gathering and cooking of mushrooms. 20 September 2014 from 10am to 4pm. Tastings, wild mushrooms for sale, and a special pop-up restaurant at 7pm. Sunday and Monday there is a mushroom and lichen exhibit put on by the Finnish Mycological society. It is free, and you are welcome to bring your own mushrooms for identification. The event is listed here, but only in Finnish. It is at the Kasaniemi Botanical Gardens, in the botany room (kasvishuone), which they warn is on the second floor of that beautiful building, without stairs.

2014.09 Mushroom Calendar

Above is the September page of this amazing calendar from a dear friend gave to me, and that we have been treasuring all year:

luonnossa kypsyys
mehevälle tuoksuu maa
kuulas kuutamo

Not only is it a beautiful haiku, but it contains within in the name of September in Finnish: Syyskuu . I love it. It is from MuuMuru, and a delightful use of this ancient Japanese form– 5 7 5– of nature poetry. Here is my own bad translation:

In nature ripeness
fertile luscious fragrant earth
cooling clear moonlight

Please leave your better translations in the comments! Or a poem of your own for September… reading this I felt the translation missed the fun of the original so was compelled to write my own, inspired by the beautiful morning air and red berries filling the rowan trees in the park nearby. Although it falls short– or long rather– of being a haiku:

This cool morning
the sweet smell of fallen leaves
lingers along the park’s narrow transept
Rowan berries glow in trees
hot embers in the cooling air
catching the last light
of a distant slanting sun.

Hmmm… I guess I could force this into a haiku:

Along the park’s transept
Rowan berries glow in trees
Summer’s last embers.

The air is sweet now with this beautiful fall. All of nature composting, rose hips ripening and mushrooms blooming in these last few perfect sunny days.

Exquisite September, Beguiling Birgitta

If you are in Helsinki, you should be outside right now. The weather is painfully beautiful. The temperature perfect, the light mellow and golden. The days are at a humane length. It is a Goldilocks moment before the bears of winter return.

This month is also the last call for Cafe Birgitta, which will purportedly close for the winter at the end of September. The terrace looks out over one of my favorite swimming spots, but the inside is equally beautiful. Really, they could be serving anything, the setting is so perfect, and the fact they are actually offering interesting, well-presented food (towering burgers, chia seed parfaits, tempeh salads) explains the growing crowds that encompass everyone from what look to be exquisitely dressed business people to joggers in disreputable footwear who appear to have been seduced into taking a respite from their seaside rambles.

But it is the placement and construction of this summer cafe that is most wonderful; it creates a little sanctuary in a spot on the border of an old industrial area with one of the best and most open views of the water available in Helsinki. The building itself was constructed with oiled timber, reminiscent of old piers and lights inside are made from old fashioned glass buoys. A beach shack with a wood stove in modern Scandinavian design: just enough protection and warmth to shield from approaching autumn. The spot inspired this lament for the end of summer:

A low fire lips its iron cage
August hails the end of summer
Sun bounces back from shining waves
The Earth is flush from lengthened days
The city turns towards winter.

Rushing autumn now bundles limbs
once warmed by fleeting summer.
Shaking sand, bodies rise again
and fold themselves in shells
of wood and metal.

Footnote: Just noticed that in the picture above of pastries and korvapuusti (those delicious chewy not gooey cinnamon rolls spiked with cardamom) the words Honolulu and Valhalla are juxtaposed in a single frame. This seems a rare event… Yet, there is a strange consonant resonance between the two place names, pointing to something fantastical!

Nils Dardel at Moderna Museet

Head Hunters by Nils Dardel

This gallery contains 8 photos.

Another great thing about Helsinki is that it is possible to walk from here to Stockholm, by simply hopping on one of the ridiculous ferries that run daily between the two cities. I went to have a look at two exhibitions at Moderna Museet. The first that caught my eye… Click to continue reading

Double Rainbow Helsinki Style

On a ship in the Gulf of Finland, in the middle of a thunder and hale storm: welcome to the Finnish Summer!

2014.08 Sailboat Helsinki Double Rainbow from Cold Song on Vimeo.

The video doesn’t capture it; at first it looked as if the rainbow was flying into the ship. Rainbows might be overdone, but they can still be a source of wonder. Passengers were outside braving the storm to catch a glimpse of this. The experience recalls the amazing American artist Rachel Teannalach’s recent painting Rainbow from Railroad Ridge. We shouldn’t be afraid to enjoy what beauty this great world throws at us!

Uncovering local brews

At first, I didn’t realize there was any interesting beer in Helsinki. Then some appeared, expensively , when visiting Juuri or Valimo on Suomenlinna.

Pils (Souomenlinna Painimo), Mufloni Aamupala Stout (Beer Hunter's), Nokkospils (Ruokapuoti lumo)

Pils (Souomenlinna Painimo), Mufloni Aamupala Stout (Beer Hunter’s), Nokkospils (Ruokapuoti lumo)

Maybe it is just my obsession with nokka (nettles), but I thought that one was particularly wonderful. An interesting alternative to a green smoothie. These all came from the K-Market that is near the entrance to the underground in Kamppi, at reasonable prices.