Thursday, October 19, 2006

Sound of Music finally ends

Sound of Music was due to end its run in November, but the final evening was brought forward because of Arja Koriseva's pregnancy. I couldn't get to the very last performance, but I was able to get tickets for the penultimate show, on 29th September. The flight to Finland didn't cost anything, as I used my SAS voucher. Flight was London City airport to Tampere, via Stockholm.
I had never been to the City airport before. It isn't easy to get to from the west part of the country: you have to change twice on the Underground to get from Victoria bus station to the airport. The airport itself is small and has a genteel atmosphere. All the passengers are besuited business types reading the Financial Times or tapping at their laptops. No spaced-out backpackers sprawled across the benches, and no screaming badly-behaved kids.

When I walked into baggage reclaim at Tampere my luggage was already on the carousel. I decided I like small airports. I stayed at the Omena Hotel as before. In the evening I went to the Hämeensilta. I wondered if I would run into Seija the marathon runner. She wasn't there but I did encounter a familiar figure I had seen before at the Tangomarkkinat. Her name was Raili, we had danced together a number of times at the Tangomarkkinat, and she remembered me. Her friend Milja was a delightful blonde. I danced with both of them a number of times (I mean separately, not at the same time) and they finally left about 1 a.m. I left soon after and enjoyed a blood sausage and jam from a kiosk on the way back to the hotel. An excellent start to the trip.
Next day was much colder. I noticed that there were a number of stalls selling apples. The varieties were all completely unknown to me. I bought two of each variety and found them all crisp and delicious - not pappy and tasteless like so many English apples. Omena means apple - is Tampere an apple town? I resolved to find out.

There are many museums in Tampere. It has the world's only remaining Lenin museum. All the Russian ones are now closed. Lenin visited Finland 26 times. If I come back 4 more times, I will have beaten him. When he was forced to flee Russia after the February Revolution, he took refuge in Helsinki with an engine-driver whose name was Blomqvist. Any relation to Å ke? I must remember to ask him next time I see him. Lenin returned to Russia in triumph, firing locomotive no 293, which is still preserved in St Petersburg.

The Emil Aaltonen museum has industrial art, but it only opened weekends when I was there, and today was Thursday. The old Finlayson factory is now an industrial museum. Finland's biggest steam engine is preserved there. It was made in Switzerland, and proves the Swiss can make bigger things than cuckoo clocks. The Vapriikki museum complex contains the Ice Hockey Hall of Fame and a shoe museum. During the war they made shoes out of birch bark. They would not look out of place in the Vanhan Kellari or the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. If the shoes don't get your juices flowing, there is old shoemaking machinery that will. Also in the Vapriikki is Tampere's first trolleybus (and before you get excited lads, the trolleybus system closed in 1976) and a personal air raid shelter. This is a sort of large iron bullet, just big enough for a man to stand inside. There are tiny slots so you can see out. The thought of using it is terrifying: suppose fallen rubble made it impossible to get the door open? Suppose fire broke out and the shelter became an oven? Tangos are played as background music in the museum. I recognised Olavi Virta and the Harmony Sisters.

After doing my bit as a culture vulture, I hit the shops. There is a branch of Stockmanns in Tampere, and I bought a DVD entitled "Minä soitan sinulle illalla" or I'll call you in the evening. Starring Olavi Virta, Finland's Carlos Gardel. I also bought a CD by Danny Malando, entitled Tango klassikot. You remember Malando: he was a Dutchman named Arie Maasland whose orchestra played Argentine style tango in the 1960's and 70's. He died about 20 years ago: Danny Malando is his grandson. The music sounds exactly the same.

I had for a long time wanted to be in Tampere on a Thursday, because the Tanssitalo holds an event called Tango Thursday. What a disappointment. The place was elegant enough, but there were only 10 people there. No live music, only records, no atmosphere. The proportion of tangos was higher than at most other places, but they didn't predominate. I don't see how the place makes any money, but they have got Anniina Mattila next week so presumably they do. According to the noticeboard Päivähauska, or Daytime Fun, is held on Thursday afternoons. I can't say anything about this, or how much fun it actually is, as I wasn't there. About 21:30 people seemed to be leaving, so I gave it up as a bad job and went to the Hämeensilta. It was packed. This is much better! I met a number of nice partners, the best of the bunch being Marja. She was rather younger than me, so I didn't impose myself on her too much. At half past midnight I had a truly ecstatic tango with her and decided that that was the high point of the evening. Nothing better could possibly happen, so I collected my coat and shoes to return to the hotel. As I was waiting for the lift I noticed Marja going into the cloakroom to collect her stuff. Did she regard a tango with me as the high point of the evening? Or had she decided that if I was the best she was going to get, she might as well go home and finish her Soduku?

Next day I made my way to the station. The papers had a story that Arja Saijonmaa was the victim of robbery. "All my most precious possessions were taken" she sobs. The haul: designer dresses, 20 pairs designer shoes, pearl necklace and other jewellery. I'm not being flippant about this: this stuff represents a lifetime of memories.

In Seinäjoki I stayed with Seija as usual. Not Seija the marathon runner - Seija the landlady. Please keep up. There isn’t much to do in Seinäjoki when the Tangomarkkinat isn’t on, so in the afternoon I watched the Olavi Virta DVD with Seija. It had some nice tangos in it, including the title song. There were no subtitles, not even Finnish for the hard of hearing, but I understood the story. At least I think I did.

So what difference did Arja Koriseva’s size make to the story of Maria? Not much really. She didn’t leap about as much as on the first night; and she didn’t climb the tree and jump down. The baggy nun’s habit concealed her bump quite well; we could almost forget about it. We could suspend our disbelief, as the saying goes. The bump was more obvious in Maria’s wedding gown. Now we know why von Trapp and Maria got married in such haste: it was nothing to do with the Anschluss after all. But the quality of the acting is what it’s all about. And it was, as you would expect with Arja, unsurpassable. I laughed and cried as much as I had on the first night.

Train to Pori next day. Article in paper about Finnish Air Force's new flag. There's a swastika on it. I knew they used a swastika before the war, but I had always thought they abandoned it after Hitler adopted it. I checked into the Cumulus Hotel. The corridors are painted brick and with the heavy doors are reminiscent of a prison. Mira Kunnasluoto was appearing at the Tähtikellari that night and I thought I would locate the place so I could go straight there without getting all hot and bothered. It's a good thing I did. The Tähtikellari is in Isolinnankatu, just round the corner from the hotel. I walked up one side of the street and down the other, but could I blasted find it? In the end I went back to the hotel and asked. The receptionist, a very pleasant and helpful lady called Sonja, seemed surprised that I was asking about the Tähtikellari, as very few foreigners went there. I said I was a big fan of Mira Kunnasluoto. She seemed surprised at this as well. She told me that the Tähtikellari was opposite the Anttila department store, so I went back to Isolinnankatu and looked again. I located Anttila's all right, but I still walked past the Tähtikellari twice before I spotted it. It is in a rather derelict-looking building with a sign saying "bingo". After that I went into Anttila's and discovered that Helmut Lotti had made a new CD, which I bought.

Location of the Tähtikellari. It is accessed under the red canopy at the right of the building.

So that evening I went to the Tähtikellari. You go down some rather dirty steps to a locked door. If the doorman likes the look of you, he lets you in. In contrast to the refined Tampere venues, it has a slightly sleazy atmosphere. My sort of place. There were lots of nice dancers, I wasn't refused once, and a number of women asked me to dance although it wasn't a Naistentanssit. Best partners were Rauma (slim gypsy type) and Helinä (dark, slightly plump, very tactile).

Mira Kunnasluoto was absolutely wonderful. She was beautifully dressed (better than at the Tangomarkkinat) and her singing was out of this world. I was able to speak to her and she signed a CD insert for me. She drew two hearts on it.

When I checked out of the Cumulus next day Sonja asked if I had had a good time. I said I had. The train back to Tampere broke down in a one-horse town called Harjavalta. This is the first time I have experienced any delay relating to public transport in all my 23 visits to Finland. I had visions of being stuck in the back of beyond for hours and missing my flight home, but the guard said a new locomotive was on its way, and sure enough it turned up within the hour. Britain could learn a lot from Finnish efficiency.

The new locomotive arrives