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.

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…

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!

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!

Helsinki is beautiful

I can forgive
snow in June
blistering wind
day after day threatening rain
when it is intertwined
with a sky like this:


Helsinki bliss.

Vappu, the Finnish May Day

Two weeks ago we celbrated Vappu. It is the Finnish May Day, and Vappu Eve is the Finnish Walpurgis Night, something I remember reading about first in Goethe’s Faust. It still exists.

The official beginning of Spring, a sort of labour day and student day rolled into one, marking the half-way between the equinox and the summer solstice, it involves two days of crazyness, and wearing old hats that people get when they graduate from upper secondary school (high school).

A statue in the city centre gets a hat, too:

The crane is so they can put the hat on the statue!

The crane is so they can put the hat on the statue!

Yellowed hats are supposed to recall many years of successful Vappu celebrations. On Vappu Eve, there is a lot of drinking on the street, particularly sparkling wine and champagne. This is Vappu Eve perfection:

A Vappu master

A Vappu master!

The day after this revelry there is a picnic in Kaivopuisto, which was inundated with portable saunas. As per tradition, the weather was cold and rainy– but still beautiful.

Vappu sky over our picnic

Vappu sky over our picnic

After a couple of hours we retreated inside for 9 hours of relaxed revelry with friends. It was extremely fun. A tremendous amount of food was consumed.

The birds were still partying the next day:

After party for the crows

After party for the crows

When the storm cleared away, leaving this amazing sky:

Vappu storm clearing

Vappu storm clearing

Welcome Spring!

More magical mythical Finland

Another foray into magical and mythical Finland.

This one included pre-historic rock paintings:


This was in a stunning location; it certainly felt magical there.

And a visit to the Jugendstil villa of Eliel Saarinen:





Eliel Saarinen is well-known for the design of the central railway station in Helsinki. Although I am not a hug fan it is quite famous. Eliel Saarinen also designed plans for the extension of Helsinki towards Munkkiniemi, Munkkivuori and Haaga, but their realization proved to be too expensive.

A day with these sights is fairly amazing, I think. Finland, and Finnish mythology in particular, as an inspiration for J. R. R. Tolkein seems obvious in these magical places. I think any fan of Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit would appreciate the little wonders lying hidden in the Finnish forest.

A trip to the Gallen-Kallela museum

Finland had a strong Jugenstil movement at the beginning of the last century, resulting in many fairy-tale buildings throughout Southern Finland, like the Gallen-Kallela Museum.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela Museum

Jugend or Art Nouveau is characterized by organic forms that recall a semi-imaginary fairytale past in Finland. Much art from the era references the Kalevala– the national epic that was compiled by Elias Lönnrot in the 19th century. In places like this it is easy to imagine Finland and the Kalevala serving as inspiration for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

The museum was a home that Gallen-Kallela built with his wife after extensive traveling outside of Finland. While he was a fantastic painter, the museum does not have a large collection of his paintings, but it has amazing examples of other things he made.

Including furniture he carved by hand:

Gallen-Kallela carved furniture

He also designed the flag flying at the museum, with the intention that it would be Finland’s national flag. Apparently he was not enthused about the blue and white cross.

The walk out from , at the Munkkiniemi end of the N. 4 tram line was beautiful, even in stormy weather. It takes less than half an hour, and follows the water most of the way. You can reward yourself for the trek by visiting a sweet little cafe there, older that the Art Nouveau castle, and pictured above.

It was haunting; worth a visit and the walk is highly recommended!