Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Christmas 2004

I couldn't get a direct flight to Helsinki. I had to change at Copenhagen on the way there and Oslo on the way back. Denmark is not in the Eurozone and though you can spend euros in the airport shops and bars, you get your change in Danish crowns, which of course are no use anywhere else. I stocked up on Danish salmiakki. On one of the packets was the slogan "Välj Haribo för Gött!" Could this mean "Choose Haribo for God's sake"? A young woman approached me and asked what I was doing in Copenhagen. I said I was on my way to Helsinki, and she said she was conducting a balance of payments survey and asked if I had spent any money. I showed her my salmiakki purchases and said that salmiakki was unobtainable in England and these were brands I had not seen in Finland. She informed me the Danish for salmiakki is salmiak, and asked if I intended to spend any more money. I said I would try some Danish beer.

The bar sold a beer called Carl Jul. The barmaid told me that it was a special Christmas beer brewed by Carlsberg. She was a very attractive young woman, named Lilia, and I noticed that the more Carl Jul I drank the more attractive Lilia became. I asked how strong Carl Jul was, and she said 5.6% alcohol.

When I eventually arrived in Helsinki I booked into the Eurohostel, showered and changed and got to the Vanhan Kellari by 18:00. It had already been open two hours. Eine-Liisa was there as usual. She had two companions: one was the buxom lady who had crushed my right arm the previous May; the other I had danced with at the Kellari before but hasn't been mentioned in these ramblings. All were dressed in fetching red and black. They went off en masse in search of partners. Clearly they didn't find anyone of satisfactory standard because they were soon back; but Eine-Liisa asked me for a dance so presumably I was the best of a rather poor lot.

The singer that night was Susanna Gärdström, who had reached the finals at the Tangomarkkinat in July. She looked younger than she had then: in place of the old-fashioned ball gown, she was wearing a black trouser suit showing a nice bit of cleavage; and her hair was wild and loose, rather than tied back in a tight bun in the style sometimes referred to as a council-house facelift. I asked if she was going to try for the title again in 2005 and she said she hadn't made up her mind.

There is an internet terminal at the Eurohostel and when I got back there in the early hours I checked my email. There was a message from none other than Ailamari Vehviläinen: "Christmas greetings from the Playa del Inglesia in the Gran Canaries, where I am on holiday and also singing. See you at the Vanhan!" There aren't many pop stars who send individual greetings emails to their fans.

Next day I went to Stockmanns to see if there was anything new in the record department. There was: Anneli Saaristo, Saija Tuupanen, Johanna Pakonen and Anne Mattila had all released new solo albums. There was also an album of Christmas songs by Anne Mattila and her three sisters. I was reminded of the poem by Dr Seuss:

Did you ever hear
About Mrs McCave
Who had twenty-three sons
And she called them all Dave?
I knew about Anneli and Anitta Mattila, but here was another similarly-named sister: Anniina.
I bought all these records, and also some giant 70-cm sparklers. I wondered if I would be allowed to take these on the plane home but bought them anyway.

When I went to the men's room I thought at first I might have gone through the wrong door as an attractive young woman was in there. She was replenishing the roller towels. There isn't anything in the etiquette books about what to say in such a situation. I settled for "Hyvää joulua" (Merry Christmas) which seemed to be satisfactory.

Eine-Liisa wasn't at the Vanhan Kellari that night (22nd December), but I did get a few dances with Hilkka. I also danced with Sirpa, whom I had not seen before. We clasped one another close in an idyllic tango. Seated at the bar afterwards with my glass of Lapin Kulta and watching the dancers, I noticed that Sirpa kept her distance when dancing with other chaps.

Three Lapin Kultas later, I had worked it out. The dancers are instruments of the orchestra and the conductor plays on them in the same way as the other instruments. And if you are a Stradivarius, you will respond. You will fall in love with your partner and achieve a heavenly consummation. Afterwards you will return to your seat, weep over what might have been, and wait for the next tune so that you can return to the parquet and the same thing will happen again.

Bumtsibum is a music game show where the competitors (all well-known Finnish singers) identify popular songs from a few words extracted from the lyric: for example
Come * * listen * is from "Lullaby of Broadway". Most of the songs are Finnish, but there are a few English-language ones as well. In the Christmas edition all the songs were appropriate to the season. Arja is as good a comedienne as she is a singer. She struggled gallantly with "Mary's Boy Child", laughing at her mistakes, in spite of her fellow team members urging "sing it in Finnish".

I had discovered from the fansite that Arja Koriseva had played Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" at the Turku Civic Theatre opposite Ismo Kallio as Henry Higgins in 2000. I would have loved to have seen it. I wonder how they would have dealt with Eliza's cockney accent in Finnish? Arja will be playing Maria in "Sound of Music" in Seinäjoki in August this year. Pity it doesn't coincide with the Tangomarkkinat; but I might be able to make it all the same.

There were two cat stories in the newspapers. One concerned Mingo, a Maine Coon from Helsinki, who held the world record for whisker length: 17.4 centimetres. The other concerned a Seinäjoki couple who bought a cat. When they split up, the man retained visiting rights to the cat. The woman acquired a new boyfriend and suggested to her ex that he get his own cat. He refused, and continued to come to the woman’s house to visit the cat. Violence broke out between the two men and the case ended up in court.

As I feared, I was not allowed to take my sparklers onto the aircraft, even in the hold; so I had to abandon them. I suppose they thought I might invade the cockpit and say: “Fly me to Cuba or I’ll sparkle you”. I had to change at Oslo on the flight home. Security was very strict there. A disabled woman had to get out of her wheelchair and walk through the gate. They even took her walking stick away and put it through the the X-ray machine.


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