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!

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!