Sunday, January 05, 2003

Christmas 2002

I checked in at Bristol Airport on 23rd December 2002. The clerk asked me if I had any guns, knives, explosives or Christmas crackers in my hand luggage. I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t. How many Christmas crackers do you need to make a bomb big enough to blow a hole in the side of an aircraft?
On Christmas Eve morning it was cold in Helsinki - 20 below. Snow was falling gently, as it did nearly all the time I was there. In the streets several harmonikka players braved the cold to entertain the public, playing Christmas carols and a few tangos. How they did it in that cold I can’t think, particularly as they weren’t wearing gloves. One was a woman, and a little girl of about 10 was dancing.
After Christmas dinner, which was traditional Finnish ham and salmon, I went for a walk by the beach. The sea was frozen, and a hole had been made in the ice for those brave enough to swim. There was a jetty with a heated mat, and a fence to stop skaters from falling into the hole. All sponsored by Nokia. Of course, none of it was vandalised or defaced with graffiti. I saw a woman go for a swim. She was only in for about 20 seconds, but it was 20 seconds more than I would have done.
On TV there was a Christmas service from Helsinki cathedral, the Pope delivering his greetings in every language - i waited impatiently for the Finnish and discovered his accent is even worse than mine - and a programme which seemed to consist of nothing but a man and a woman reading out viewers’ messages which were all of the nature of “Happy Christmas from Tuomas and Liisa to Uncle Pekka and Auntie Virkko in Lappeenranta”.
There is a good soap opera running at the moment. It is called Iskelmä prinssi and is set in the same sort of rustic 60’s dance hall as the film Onnen maa which I have mentioned before. It has the lot - unfeasibly beautiful actors of both sexes, old cars, nurses in old-fashioned uniforms, - and every week a different tango star makes a guest appearance. Kirsi Ranto and Eino Grön had already appeared, but that week it was none other than the ultra-wonderful Arja Koriseva. She was a delight in her summer frock and little white gloves as she sang a lovely version of Kellä kulta sillä onni, which we know better as Everybody loves a lover. Charming and sweetly innocent. Not a tango I know, but you can’t have everything.
There is also a commercial for Kevytlevi, a spread which is a mixture of butter and margarine. It is set in a dance hall and a tango is playing. A woman cannot make up her mind between two equally attractive toyboys, so she dances with both of them at once.
My Christmas present to myself was Arja Koriseva’s new CD Joulu joka päivä (AK-001). This means Christmas every day, but the title track isn’t the song we know by that name. No tangos on it, so really I shouldn’t be mentioning it, but there is a really wonderful unaccompanied version of Oi Beetlehem sä pienoinen (O little town of Bethlehem). Beautiful, haunting, like nothing else I have ever heard her do.
There was an article in the paper about Kaija Pohjola. The headline was “I sang, though my heart wept.” She had had a miserable year as her mother had died suddenly, and she herself had broken her leg badly. But she is happy now, as she has fulfilled a ten-year dream and moved from Kouvola to Tampere. Moving from one provincial Finnish town to another one 130 miles away seems a very modest ambition for so big a star. Why hadn’t she done it years ago if that is what she wanted? The article didn’t say. What is of more interest is that she intends to work another 5 or 6 years (she is now 51) and produce a new tango CD. I will look forward to that.
On the 30th December I made my way to the airport. There was time for a bit of last minute shopping first. I went to the Popangel second-hand record shop. A couple of Kaija Pohjola CDs, got them . . . quite a lot of Arja Koriseva, got them all . . . . three singles by Eija Koriseva . . . . Eija Koriseva? Who’s she then? I bought the singles at 5 euros the lot.
Back home a trawl of the Internet revealed that Arja Koriseva has a sister Eija. Eija Koriseva is professor of mathematics at Helsinki University. And there was the Eija Koriseva who had made those three records. Could they all be the same person? Further research revealed that Eija Koriseva the singer is indeed Arja’s sister, but she isn’t a professor of mathematics. She is a dressmaker and makes all Arja’s show dresses.
In Bristol the weather was warm and damp. But I knew I was really back in Merrie England when the airport bus arrived. It was filthy, and the driver watched me struggle up the steps with my heavy luggage. The driver of the Helsinki airport bus, a middle-aged woman, had jumped down into the snow to open up the luggage compartment.