Saturday, March 24, 2007

March 2007

Last December Ryanair were running a special offer £12.71 each way to any destination in Europe. So naturally I booked a trip to Finland. It was for early March. I didn't know what was on, but I was sure something would be, and indeed there was. Kaija Pohjola was in Keuruu on the Friday and Vantaa on the Sunday (she was also at the Vanhan Kellari on Tuesday, but my trip didn't extend that long). I had never been to Keuruu, so that would be a new experience.

All Ryanair flights leave from Stansted, on the opposite side of England. The last bus leaves Bristol at 20:00 and arrives in Stansted at midnight. Then there is a 4½ hour wait before you can check in. A little unmanned train takes you from the departure lounge to the gates.

As the plane approached Tampere, I could see there was still snow on the ground. I could see the swirly tracks left by skiers. We landed at Tampere at 10:35, so there was plenty of time to look round the town and check into the hotel before the evening's dancing. I went to Stockmanns and bought Anne Mattila's and Elina Vettenranta's latest CD's and a book on the Eurovision Song Contest, which I have described in a separate post.

I went to the Hämeensilta as usual. It had been extensively refurbished since my last visit. A Naistentanssit was held, so I had to wait patiently for the ladies to approach me. I got talking to a man at the next table, who said the place was under new ownership. He asked if I was Estonian.

I didn't get many invitations, but quality made up for quantity. Best of all was Terttu, a small slim lady, a lovely dancer. I left at midnight, and enjoyed a mustamakkara (blood sausage and jam) from a kiosk before returning to the hotel.

Next day I had a look round Tampere. I went to the lookout tower. It is an art deco building dating from 1929, with an old (possibly original) rattly lift with concertina doors. There was a party of schoolchildren there and I noticed that although they skied up the hill, they put their skis over their shoulders and walked down. I then went to a museum devoted to Emil Altonen, who was a shoemaker/industrialist/patron of the arts.

A truly excellent night at the Hämeensilta. I was at my table and two beautiful elegantly-dressed ladies came in. They stood there looking round and seemed to be looking for a table near the floor. I offered them mine, and was rewarded by many ecstatic dances. The brunette's name was Sinikka.

"Didn't Toivo Kärki write a tango about you?" I asked. I always use this line when I meet a Sinikka and it usually gets a satisfactory response (Tango Sinikalle, or Tango for Sinikka, was written by Toivo Kärki and recorded by Rainer Friman, Taisto Tammi, and others). Please feel free to copy it, lads. It isn't my own invention. I pinched it from Tango is my Passion.

The blonde was Eeva-Liisa. A really lovely lady. Please note she is not the same lady I sometimes meet at the Vanhan Kellari: that one is Eine-Liisa. Eeva-Liisa pressed her forehead and hips against mine in a most exciting manner as we danced. The trip was worth it just for this.

I danced many times with both these ladies. I mean one at a time, not both at once. I also danced with various other partners, including a salsa with a slim, blonde, much younger lady. Salsa is quite rare in Finland. When I left at 1 o'clock, snow was gently falling. A perfect ending to a perfect evening.

When I got up at 7.30 the snow was starting to melt. I had a coffee and pulla bun in Stockmanns while waiting for the 10 o'clock train to Keuruu. The coffee and pulla was quite expensive at 4 euros, but I could sit in the window and watch Tampere high society walking past.

The snow looked much better in the country. I had to change trains at Haapamäki, where there was a 40 minute wait. An old steam locomotive is preserved there. There are more old locomotives in the yard, but it is not possible to get in. The Keurusselka Hotel is 9 km from Keuruu itself and the taxi costs 16 euros. I discovered later that the hotel is 14 km from Haapamäki, so it might be worth getting a taxi from there if time is more important than money.

The hotel is spread out over a large area, and you can stay in the main building or in "holiday chalets" which are much grander than the name suggests. There are tracks through the woods where you can ski, or cycle in the summer. There are buses into town, but the bus stop is quite a long way from the main hotel.

There is a sauna and swimming pool. The pool has side chambers where you hold on to handles while powerful jets of water are directed at your chest and groin. Some people stayed in the chambers for half an hour or more. Perhaps they were seeking relief for rheumatism or other condition. There is also a computer room, which is the size of a telephone kiosk. I got an email from Seija of Lappeenranta, who has been reading these ramblings.

A naistentanssit was held in the evening. It seems to be quite common for a naistentanssit to be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I wonder if it's universal? Christa Huikko and Veska Eerikäinen provided the music. I had a number of nice partners, including Anni and Riitta. After a particularly sexy tango with Riitta at 23:00 I thought about leaving but I was glad I didn’t because Heli asked me for a samba. She was tall, slim, with a fancy hairstyle and an ornate transparent blouse. Calm down lads, she had something on underneath. Then Christa and Veska played two heartrending tangos: Erottomattomat and Valoa ikkunassa. A blonde lady asked me for these. Afterwards I spoke to Christa and said I loved their version of Erottomattomat. (Arja Koriseva and Risto Nevala had included it in a “Tangopotpuri” in the Enkelin silmin concert, but it was only a 56 second fragment.) I asked if they had made any records, and she said they hadn’t. I noticed Riitta dancing with someone else and she didn’t hold him as close as she did me. She later asked me for a smoochy Elvis number. The dance ended at 00:30 and I returned to my room.

I was up at 7:30 next day for a sauna and swim. I asked at reception if skiing lessons were provided, and they said no. Apparently all Finns learn to ski in infancy, when they are close enough to the ground not to hurt themselves when they fall over. I asked if I could reserve a taxi for the following day. I have a mental block about the words varata and varastaa. One of them means reserve and the other means steal, but I can never remember which is which. Judging by the odd look the receptionist gave me, I must have used the wrong one. I saw from the notice board that in the summer a railway museum is open and a paddle steamer plies the lake. At this time of year the lake is still frozen.

At the dance that evening, music was provided by Christa and Veska, and Kaija Pohjola. I went to the cafe before the dance started and saw Kaija there enjoying a coffee and cigarette. I plucked up the courage to approach her and say how much I was looking forward to her performance. She greeted me in a very friendly manner and asked if I had enjoyed the Tangomarkkinat. I felt very flattered that she remembered me. She really is an exceptional lady. I wondered if Madonna would spend time with a fan like this.

Another excellent night, with some wonderful partners. Merja was very tiny and looked miserable dancing with other men but didn’t act miserable with me. Elli was tall, young, and had a net-like shawl that kept getting tangled with my jacket buttons. As we were disengaging ourselves for the fifth time, her friend passed by and said we would have to get married. Best of all was Anneli: red-haired, cuddly, with very tiny delicate hands.

Kaija Pohjola’s performance was wonderful. She included, as she always does, her 2001 hit Tosimies (A Real Man). When she got to the line “he forgets to give me roses” an old chap jumped up onto the stage and presented her with a huge bunch of roses. I wish I’d thought of that. After her spot I spoke to her again and asked her to sign a CD insert. But a lady who I think was a bit the worse for drink kept tugging at my sleeve and asking if I was married.
“Just a moment please, I’m talking to Miss Pohjola” I said, but she wouldn’t take the hint. Eventually I felt obliged to ask her to dance. Christa and Veska were providing the music by this time. My partner’s name was Viivi. The only Viivi I had heard of was in the Viivi and Wagner cartoon strip. I wondered if I bore any resemblance to Wagner. After the dance I took her back to her table and at that moment Kaija came past and asked if I was all right. I took the opportunity of this interruption to escape, but immediately felt guilty. It seemed dishonourable and un-British to rush away from Viivi like that, so I came back into the room. I couldn’t find Viivi anywhere. In that short space of time she seemed to have completely disappeared. I couldn’t find Anneli either. I found another partner though. She had a heavy shoulder bag which seemed to contain bricks. It swung out with the centrifugal force, throwing us off balance and endangering everybody else. I asked her name. “Viivi” she said.

I asked Christa to play Erottomattomat, and she said she would after Kaija’s second spot. I danced with Elli again, and got tangled up with her again; and with Merja; but Anneli seemed to have left. I got my Erottomattomat, and the dance ended at 01:30. I spoke to Christa and said I hoped she and Veska would make a record, and that Erottomattomat would be on it. A third band was getting ready to play rock and roll in the pavilion, but I decided it was time to go to bed. I asked the doorman if I could have the poster of Kaija in the vestibule, but he said somebody else had already asked for it. At that point Kaija herself came into the vestibule, said goodnight to me, and gave me a hug.

My room was in one of the chalets. On the way to breakfast the next morning, I was delighted to see Anneli on the same errand. We exchanged life stories over breakfast. There was an announcement that my taxi had arrived, and Anneli and I walked hand in hand to the front door.
When the taxi arrived at Keuruu station and I got my money out, I saw that I still had the hotel key. The taxi driver said he would take it back to the hotel. I rang the hotel and said the key was coming. The receptionist said she wasn't particularly bothered about the key: she was more concerned that I hadn't paid my bill. Blast! I had been so wrapped up in Anneli that I had completely forgotten this important duty. Fortunately the receptionist took my credit card number and seemed OK about it; but I was annoyed with myself for the rest of the day. Actually it shows how useful modern conveniences are: in the days before mobile phones and credit cards, I would have had to get a taxi back to the hotel to settle the bill in cash, and then return to the station. Three taxi journeys instead of one, and I would have missed the train.

An interesting museum in Tuusula is the artist Pekka Halonen's house. It was built in 1900 entirely out of timber baulks, except for the fireplaces and chimneys of course. Photography isn't allowed inside so I can't give a picture of the huge tree trunks holding up the roof. One sometimes reads of "log cabins" built by early American settlers and gets the impression that they were mere crude shacks; this shows what they were probably like. A lot of American settlers came from Scandinavia of course. Sibelius's house is nearby, but it was closed.

Here is an important word of warning: if you look up your favourite star on or elsewhere and get the place and the date but not the time, ring up the day before and ask. Even though it is even more difficult to speak Finnish on the phone than face to face. Don't do what I did and ring up on the afternoon of the performance. The Vantaa Puistokulma told me that Kaija Pohjola was indeed singing that day; but it was a päivätanssit (tea dance) and was nearly over. Fortunately Tanssi tähtien kanssa, the Finnish version of Strictly Come Dancing, was on TV in the evening.

There was time to look round Helsinki before returning to Tampere for my flight home. I went to the Popangel secondhand record shop in Fredrikinkatu and bought Ewa Kaarela's Ewa Swings Toivo Kärki. This is a collection of Kärki numbers sung in English. As the title suggests, they are all big band type numbers: no tangos. Ewa Kaarela is Polish and lives in Finland. I had seen her before on Finnish TV, in a sort of senior Pop Idol competition. She sang Making Whoopee in Finnish. Another good collection of Finnish songs in English is Songs Finland Sings (various artists). It includes Jari Sillanpää's English version of the classic tango Satumaa. Also Finnish Lesson, giving you all the vocabulary you need in the restaurants and dance halls of Finland. It was originally written in Swedish by Georg Malmsten:
Darling yes I love you: sua rakastan.
Syyskuu is September; muistan - I remember.
Ole hyvää älä itke: please don't cry.
Kaihota is yearning, palata returning,
Kiitos: that is thank you.
Näkemiin! Goodbye!

As I was coming out of the shop I almost literally bumped into Leena Blomqvist. She recognised me at once and asked if I was going to the Tangomarkkinat again this year. I said I hoped to, but family commitments might make me miss it for the first time in six years. When I said I was returning home that day, she said I must call on her and Å ke when I am next in Helsinki. Perhaps she thinks I need more tango lessons.

I called in Hilve's shop, which is also in Fredrikinkatu. She showed me all her stock as usual. I bought some flavoured chocolate. I was very impressed by the salmiakki flavour. There was a nice oil painting in an art shop nearby. It was quite small and I thought it would look good in my living room. Then I saw it was by Akseli Gallen-Kallela and cost 38,000 euros. Actually it was probably still a bargain at that price; but I didn't buy it.

I read in the Helsingin Sanomat that at 14:00 that day a senioritanssit would be held in the Kampin Palvelukeskus. This means Kamppi Service Centre, but it is not part of the new Kamppi shopping mall/bus station. It is right at the other end of Salomankatu in a rather scruffy building. It is a sort of community centre. The dancing was upstairs and although I arrived only 10 minutes after it started, it was already packed out. At 60, I was easily the youngest there. No allowance was made for the age of the clientele: the numbers followed one another as rapidly as at much younger venues, and there were plenty of humppas and jenkkas. My favourite partners were small dark Ritva and red-haired Helinä. I got some dirty looks from a chap in his early 80's - I think he fancied Helinä as well.

The dance ended at 16:00, the time when the Vanhan Kellari opens. But I had to be on the train to Tampere and home.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Eurovision Song Contest

As we all know, this year Finland hosts the Eurovision Song Contest, finally winning after having competed unsuccessfully since 1961. To tell the honest truth, most of the efforts have not been particularly good. The only really good one was the very first, Valoa Ikkunassa sung by Laila Kinnunen. This excellent tango is still heard in Finland.

On my latest trip to Finland I bought a history of the Eurovsion Song Contest, entitled "Finland 12 points!". I am not actually recommending this book: for one thing it is expensive (nearly 40 euros), very heavy, and in spite of its weight I don't think it's very robust: it doesn't seem to shut properly and already one of the corners has been knocked off. Furthermore, in spite of its title, it is written entirely in Finnish. But one thing it gives, and other histories do not, is an indication of the songs that didn't make it. I know quite a lot of them; and they are mostly superior to the ones that were actually chosen. Have a look at the following list. Actual Eurovision entries are in black, the superior (in my opinion) also-rans are in red:

1962 Tipi-tii, Marion Rung: this song is about a bird twittering in a tree. Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson had dealt with the same subject in 1959; they didn't win either / Sateinen yö, Matti Heinivaho and Vieno Kekkonen a lovely tango, still heard in Finland.
1964 Laiskotellen, Lasse Mårtenson / Tango keittiössä, Vieno Kekkonen. another tango.
1966 Playboy, Ann-Christine /the haunting waltz Muistojen bulevardi, Laila Kinnunen
1982 Nuku pommiin, Kojo / Paista päivä, Tapani Kansa. I don't actually know this tune, but it was written by Toivo Kärki, and I refuse to believe anything of his would get nul points.
1984 Hengaillaan, Kirka: Even Kirka's most dedicated fans admit that this is a weak effort. / Sä liian paljon vaadit / Elän hetkessä, both byAnneli Saaristo
1991 Hullu yö, Kaija Kärkinen / Enkelin silmin, Arja Koriseva
1992 Yamma-yamma, Pave Maijanen / Huomiseen, Arja Koriseva
1993 Tule luo, Katri-Helena / Vain taivas yksin tietää, Arja Koriseva. How could Arja be rejected even once, let alone three times in succession?

I suppose for the same reason I get left alone at naistentanssit, and Ailamari Vehviläinen isn't Tango Queen: the Finns don't know a good thing when they see it.

More Eurovision trivia:

In 1976 Fredi and the Friends (the backing group had an English name) sang Pump pump and came 11th. The Friends dumped Fredi in a most unfriendly manner and recorded Brotherhood of Man's winner Save your kisses for me in Finnish.

Cyprus's 1982 entry Mono i agapi sounded to Finns like "mono ja kaappi" (ski-boot and cupboard).