Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Tangomarkkinat 2005

The bus from Bristol arrived at Heathrow at 3 in the morning. I didn't have to check in till 5:30 so I settled down in a chair and managed to doze off. When I woke up I discovered I was next to a very glamorous woman with immaculate makeup and very sexy shoes. She was the most elegant woman I have ever woken up next to at 5 in the morning.

When I arrived in Helsinki I checked into the Eurohostel, showered and changed, and went to the market square for a coffee and pulla bun. The weather was blisteringly hot. I rang the landlady in Seinäjoki from whom I was renting the room to confirm that I would be coming the following day. A man overheard me and said he had played in Seinäjoki. He was a guitarist and had once played in Eija Koriseva's orchestra. This lead to a debate on the Koriseva sisters. We concluded that Arja was the better singer, but Eija had a bigger bust. We had both heard of Piia, but neither of us had anything intelligent to say about her. We had been conversing in Finnish and until then I had believed that he was Finnish, and was flattered that he thought the same about me. In fact he was German. When I told him I came from Bristol, he asked about the proposed tramway system. I said it was still a pipe dream.

The Vanhan Kellari was closed. The floor was being renovated. I rang Eine-Liisa. She said that normally there was dancing at the Sokos Hotel, but today there wasn't. Furthermore she couldn't come out because her granddaughter was with her. She insisted I spoke in English with the granddaughter, which I did although we had nothing in common.

I stayed with the same landlady as last year. Her son Mikko was on leave from the Army. They still have National Service in Finland, as in all the Scandinavian countries.

I went to the Tangomarkkinat office to get my pass. In previous years it has been a discreet woven ribbon held on with a lead seal; but this year it was a rather nasty plastic band, which I thought was vulgar and uncomfortable.

The Tangomarkkinat opened with a parade, with a brass band, the mayor and other dignitaries, and the competitors. I caught sight of Ailamari and shouted "Hey, Ailamari!" hoping for a smile or a wave or something. She came over to the side of the road and greeted me effusively. The Tangomarkkinat had definitely got off to a good start.

The dancing started at 19:30. Pirkko, whom I had met last year, remembered me. The evening's singers were Saija Tuupanen and Johanna Debreczeny. The Finns have trouble with Johanna Debreczeny's name, and she has taken to calling herself "Däbä". The competitors also strutted their stuff. I was confirmed in my opinion that Ailamari was the best.

The next day was extremely hot. When I was buying my morning strawberries my sunglasses fell off and a lens came out. I found a optician's shop, where my glasses were repaired free of charge.

The dancing started at noon. I noticed a nice-looking blonde woman looking at me. She was standing near a big bloke of thug-like appearance. He was looking at the dancers. I glanced back at the woman. She was still staring at me. I wasn't sure how to interpret her stare. The cabaceo isn't common in Finland, but you do sometimes come across it. She could be saying: "why aren't you dancing with me, you gorgeous hunk of spunk?". On the other hand it might be: "if you don't go away, I'll tell my boyfriend here that you're annoying me". I decided it was the former. Fortunately I was right. She wasn't with the big chap. Her name was Anneli, she was Finnish but was now living in Sweden. She had come back specially for the Tangomarkkinat.

I also met a very lively and forceful lady who had a kiosk selling chocolates, herbal drinks, and assorted nick-nacks. She would leave an assistant in charge of the kiosk and come into the Tangokatu and dance round, sometimes with a partner, sometimes alone, and constantly twirling three or four half-litre bottles of herbal mixture. Her name was Hilve, and she told me she had a shop, called Slurps, in Fredrikinkatu in Helsinki. I said I knew it - it’s opposite the Popangel second-hand record shop where I go regularly in search of old tango records. Eija Kantola appeared in the evening, in place of Tarja Lunnas, who had been taken ill.

Next day I went into the square and bought a paper to read with my strawberries. On the front page were the previous day's tango happenings, the latest on the strawberry crop - and bombs on the London Underground. It was 8 in the morning; only 6 in England. I waited two hours, then rang home. My brother goes to London quite a lot, but yesterday he hadn't. My relations in Bristol very rarely venture as far afield as London and yesterday was no exception. So I was able to put the whole thing out of my mind and concentrate on the important things in life, i.e. tango.

I went to the office to find out who was performing when. Tiina Räsänen was in the Tangokatu at the same time as Kaija Pohjola was in the Atria Hall; but Kaija was in the Tangokatu at about 1 a.m. In all six top-class singers were appearing that evening. I wanted to get video footage of them all and was not confident that my two batteries would hold out, so I went to the photo shop and bought another at about twice the price I would have paid in England.

Also that evening were the semifinals, when the twelve hopefuls would be reduced to six. This was broadcast live on national TV, so I returned to the apartment to set the video recorder and get my new battery charged up. I then dashed back to the Tangokatu for the daytime dance, which started at 11. I met Pirjo, who was one of Hilve’s assistants. She was a very nice lady, a lovely dancer, and completely unencumbered by bottles. I also caught sight of a lady I recognised from the Vanhan Kellari. She was one of Hilkka's friends, and I always thought she looked a bit like Mira Kunnasluoto. But she had always refused to dance with me, so I didn't approach her on this occasion. At the end of the daytime dance I went to the square for lunch (which I decided would be strawberries). It seemed that Pirkko had the same idea, as I encountered her and her friend twice on the way.
"I'm not following you" I said. "I'm after strawberries."
"A likely story" she said.

The semifinals were held that evening. I would have liked to have gone, but there were so many of my idols appearing in the Tangokatu I decided to go there. The stage was at one end of the Tangokatu, rather than halfway down as in previous years. There were pots of flowers in front of the stage, with a very large one in the middle. Sometimes the soloist would disappear from view behind it.

Saija Varjus came on at 18:00. I had admired her very much the previous year, and this year she excelled herself. She is a talented and moving interpreter of tango.

Afterwards was Tiina Räsänen, who appeared with her husband Petri Hervanto. He is young, talented (he was Tango King in 1999), good-looking (and he knows it), and he has Tiina Räsänen as a wife. I found I couldn't take to him; but I am probably just jealous.

Next was Marita Taavitsainen. With her flowing blonde locks and floaty dresses, she is sometimes referred to as Finland's answer to Marilyn Monroe.

At about 22:00 the announcer came on to give the results of the semifinals. As far as I could gather, Ailamari Vehviläinen had been given a place in the finals, and it had been immediately withdrawn, her place being given to somebody else. Surely I had misunderstood this! Ailamari was the only one with true talent! The others were competent enough, but not in the same class. The announcer's words had seemed clear enough though. Suddenly all happiness drained away. Why had I come all this way anyway? Why didn't I give up tango and take up skydiving or something? I rested my forehead against the cool steel of the crush barrier and sank into self-pity.

I don't know how long I remained in this state. Eventually a voice penetrated my misery.
"So and so, so and so . . . . Arja Koriseva!" said the voice.

I opened my eyes and through my tears I saw a golden angel appearing before me. The impossibly beautiful figure had a shimmering golden gown, wild red-gold hair and of course golden earrings. Her voice raised me to heavenly ecstasy and I forgot everything else.

Jari Sillanpää, the bad boy of tango, followed. He lost patience with the big pot of flowers and dragged it to the back of the stage. He pulled flowers out of it and threw them to his screaming fans.

Then was Kaija Pohjola. She has attended every Tangomarkkinat since 1991. Her programme contained tangos and some of her old hits such as Tosimies (A Real Man).
"Sing us Tosimies!" shouted a man near the front. "We're all real men!"
"And you're a real woman!" I found the courage to shout.

Kaija's performance ended around 2 and I returned to the apartment to watch the semifinals, which I had taped. I hadn't got it wrong. From the twelve competitors, the judges chose three men and three women. The viewers rang in to elect their own favourites, who would be guaranteed a place in the final. Their male favourite was one of the judges' three, so it made no difference. But they chose a fourth woman, so one of the judges' three was dropped; and the unlucky one was Ailamari.

I was disgusted with the whole thing and Ailamari's treatment made me disaffected by the Tangomarkkinat. This is no way to treat people. The event had been spoilt for me and I resolved not to attend again. I went to bed in a foul mood at about 3.30.

I didn't wake up till 9. The weather was sunny and extremely hot but I still felt miserable. I went to the market square and breakfasted on two litres of strawberries, a packet of salmiakki and a litre of sour milk; after which I felt better.

I remembered that a tango dancing competition was being held in the Atria Hall that morning. Originally I had intended to go there and ask if anyone would like to partner me; but now it was far too late and besides I wasn't really in the mood. But I went to watch anyway.

Most of the ladies wore elegant gowns and "sensible" shoes of the type sold by Jari Norkola at Swingsters of Helsinki. One lady however had red and black killer heels. She was dancing with a powerful-looking man who had shoulder-length white hair: a bit like Samson. I engaged them in conversation and learned that Delilah had bought her shoes from Å ke Blomqvist. I spoke to the Blomqvists later and they said that I should have entered the competition. Leena Blomqvist said she remembered me, although it is a long time since I went to her for lessons. The winners of the competition were Frans Kärki and Johanna Lahtinen.

At 14:00 I returned to the mall where the annual cat show was held. I wasn't able to stay for the result, or even for Johanna Debreczeny's performance which followed, because there was a concert in the church where Arja Koriseva was appearing. Too much happens at once in Seinäjoki! She sang classical and religious songs - very different from her performance in the Tangokatu on the previous day.

After that I went to the Areena, where the finals were being held. I didn't really want to go, as Ailamari had been eliminated, but I already had a ticket and went anyway. Actually I was pleased I did, as while the judges were deliberating Jari Sillanpää sang the same vintage version of Sinitaivas that he did last year. His backing group was the "Retro Girls" comprising Johanna Pakonen, Johanna Debreczeni, Marita Taavitsainen, and Marita Tuhla. This last was described as a member of Jari Sillanpää's orchestra. I'm not sure why she was there as the others certainly didn't need voice augmentation. Perhaps it was thought that as there were two Johannas, there ought to be two Maritas. The original Metro Girls close harmony group of the 1950's had three members.

The winners of the Tangomarkkinat were Kati Fors and Saksa Helmikallio. I went to the Tangokatu, where the evening's performers included Mira Sunnari, Jari Sillanpää and Marita Taavitsainen. I left at 3, although the first ever Tango Queen, Arja Sipola, was about to start. I was just too tired to stay up any longer.

The following day, Sunday, was the last day of the Tangomarkkinat. It was extremely hot. There were some interesting dancers in the Tangokatu, including three people dancing the humppa together. They had a routine similar to the party dance known as the Teddy Bears' Picnic which was popular in Britain in the 1960's. There was also a quartet doing a very polished jenkka for 4. They had clearly been practising. I had some nice partners, including a really beautiful young blonde, whom I at first was afraid to approach, particularly when I saw her talking to a tall good-looking man and two beautiful blond children. The man and the children went away; she remained. I plucked up the courage to ask her to dance. She accepted, and I saw to my relief that she was older than I first thought. Not nearly as old as me though. She was very friendly and held me very close. She told me her name was Paula and neither the man nor the children were hers. After dancing two tangos and two humppas with her, I decided that nothing better could possibly happen that afternoon and returned to the apartment. On the way the thought occurred to me: why are we men afraid to approach the most beautiful and desirable women? Are we afraid of rejection? No, we fear something far worse: acceptance. If rejected, that is the end of the matter; but if accepted, we have to DO something; we have to think of something to talk about.

The last dance of the Tangomarkkinat was held in the Atria Hall. I arrived as soon as it opened at 19:00. During the course of the evening I wasn't rejected once. I felt a bit like the hero Lemminkäinen in the Kalevala:

Then the lively Lemminkäinen
Roamed about through every village,
For the island-maidens' pleasure:
To delight the braidless damsels.
And where'er his head was turning
There he found a mouth for kissing.
Wheresoe'er his hand was outstretched
There he found a hand to clasp it.

My partners included Hilve, Pirjo, Anneli, and best of all. Paula. I encountered a number of ladies I hadn't met before, including Niina, a respectable dignified lady from Tampere, aged I would say in her 70's. She looked a bit like a retired librarian. I have never been clasped so intimately in my life. She adopted the technique which in South America is called frenela: she brushed my thigh with hers at every step. When we turned, she gripped my leg between hers. We danced quite a few numbers together.

Johanna Debreczeny gave me a signed photograph and autographed a CD insert for me. After speaking to her I looked for Niina, who had left without saying goodbye. I was rather disappointed at this, considering we had been so intimate. I had intended asking her if she was coming next year; and if so could we enter the tango dance competition together. (I had by now forgotten that I had resolved not to go to the Tangomarkkinat again.) Never mind: there were plenty of other partners to console me until the dance closed at 2.