Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tangomarkkinat 2007

Why go to the Tangomarkkinat in 2007? Arja Koriseva is still on maternity leave. Mira Kunnasluoto isn't going: even Kaija Pohjola, who has been to every one since she became Tango Queen in 1991, isn't scheduled to appear. Ailamari Vehviläinen hasn't been heard of for months. So why go? Why not do something else this summer?

Because in spite of everything, nothing else is as good. I arrived in Tampere late on Monday 2nd July. Most Tampere dance places don't open on Monday, though the free paper did say that something was on at the Ikkalisten kylpylä. I didn't know where this was, and anyway it was now after midnight, so I went to bed.

Next day was blazing hot. I bought some strawberries for breakfast and ate them in the market square while the world went by and an old chap played El Choclo on the saxophone. A bookshop had a hardback edition of Tango is my Passion. As M A Numminen was scheduled to appear at the Tangomarkkinat, I bought a copy in the hope I could get him to sign it. I also bought a Finnish computer keyboard (one with dots over the A and O) and a CD of Eurovision winners translated into Finnish. I was excited to find something called piimasokolad and wondered if it might have piimä in it; but it is Estonian for milk chocolate. There was an article in the paper about Saija Varjus and her new chap. There was community singing in a tent in the market square (and yes, there were a few tangos), and a girl gave me a "Keep Tampere Tidy" badge. In the evening there was a naistentanssit at the Hämeensilta. A blonde lady of about 70 kept looking at me. Or she might have been looking at the lifts behind me. Was it a cabaceo? Or was she waiting for someone to come up in the lift? I have come across the cabaceo before in Finland, but surely it's incompatible with the naistentanssit? According to the rules, she should get off her pert little arse and come and ask me, shouldn't she? She was still looking at me (or possibly not). I decided to take no notice. Then I got a proper invitation. Her name was Helena, she was very lively and great fun to dance with, and we stayed together till the place closed at 2. We exchanged email addresses, phone numbers, and a few kisses, and she went off home with her friends and I went back to the Omena Hotel.

Next morning I checked out, sent a text to Helena to say thank you for the evening, and got the train to Seinäjoki. I stayed at Seija´s as usual. I bought a pass, which was a plastic bracelet. Better than last year's paper one, but not as good as the woven ribbons you used to get. The Vaakuna Hotel had advertised "Terrace tango" and tango records were indeed playing; but nobody was dancing and they all seemed to be couples. The official opening day was tomorrow, Thursday, but a dance was held in the Atria Hall, so naturally I went. Music provided by last year's winners, Elina Vettenranta and Marko Lämsä, and this year's finalists. I was able to speak to Elina and she gave me a signed postcard and signed my CD insert. Marko sang El Choclo as a jive. Although the attendance would have been regarded as good in Blackpool or other British venues, it was sparse by Tangomarkkinat standards. I feared it might be losing money and would not be held next year.

I noticed a very pretty young girl, aged about 20. She was blonde, with pink ribbons and flowers in her hair, a pink dress, and white ankle socks with low-heeled black lace up shoes. She sat right at the front, but nobody was asking her to dance. I didn't either, as I was three times her age. Then I thought, this is silly, she obviously wants to dance, or she wouldn't be here. She must have noticed that all the men here are old enough to be her father or grandfather, and if that doesn't bother her, why should it bother us? So I asked her to dance, and we had two wonderful tangos. After that, the other chaps had the courage to ask her to dance, and in the end the old pervs wouldn't leave her alone.

I also had a samba with a sexy blonde lady in her mid-70’s, a waltz with a very refined lady with a young face and grey hair, and a jive with a large lady with a very low neckline. I had to make sure I didn’t look down her front, and also look as if I was not looking. Another partner looked just like Amy Winehouse, except that she had no tattoos. Perhaps she covered them up with foundation. The event was supposed to go on till 3, but attendance had dropped quite a lot by 1, so I went back to town and went into a bar for a Lonkero. A drunk fellow was playing the piano. I couldn’t make out what the tune was. I had a sausage from the grill and walked back to the house, and was in bed by 2:30.

Next day I went to the market square for coffee, strawberries, and the papers. Is Spongebob Squarepants too violent? A long article about Harry Potter . . . Taina Kokkonen is getting married. I decided I would write to her - but to what address? Perhaps if I wrote care of the company that released her last record it might get to her, but she has been away from show business a long time. A brass band played tangos in the market square. The formal opening of the Tangomarkkinat was at 17:00. The brass band marched through the streets as usual, stopping at intervals for children to dance ballroom tango. The Tangokatu was rearranged again: now the two stages were at opposite ends of the street. Marko Lämsä opened the proceedings, and then we had veteran singer Katri-Helena. Born in 1945, she has had a string of hits from the 60's onwards. She also composed the well-known Finnish Christmas carol Joulumaa, or Christmasland. I had seen her before on Finnish TV, but never live. The presentation was very slick and efficient with no gaps between the numbers, and everybody seemed to know what they were doing. This is not always the case: some orchestras need a lot of discussion and passing back and forth of sheet music between numbers. There was a certain amount of banter between Katri-Helena and her female backing singers about their favourite American males. Apparently Rick Hard Gherreh is preferable to Tom Crew Issy; so we need not worry if we have any difficulty pronouncing Finnish names.

Katri-Helena's performance was scheduled to end at 20:00, when M.A. Numminen was to be in the Pop Village; but the performance overran by over half an hour and there was no sign of Numminen. I took the heavy book I had been carrying about with me back to the house and returned to the Tangokatu. There I ran into Anna, the young blonde from last night, and Pirkko, who goes to the Tangomarkkinat every year. She introduced me to her friend Tuula, who comes from Vantaa near Helsinki. I said that my friend Eine-Liisa, who is a permanent fixture in the Vanhan Kellari, also comes from Vantaa; Tuula said she knew her. By midnight Pirkko and Tuula said they were going home, so I escorted them to their car. I returned to the Tangokatu, because Johanna Pakonen was due to come on at 1. And there I met the most stunningly beautiful woman. Not Johanna Pakonen. Sorry Johanna. Your time will come.

Her name was Mira. She said she had come to the Tangokatu with her family, who had left her in front of the stage and unaccountably disappeared. I said we should have a dance while we waited for them to come back. She told me she had emigrated from Finland to the USA in 1965, and that she had two beautiful daughters of 38 and 40 who were still single. All this seemed highly unlikely, as she didn't look 38 herself. We danced to Rakkauden yö, which is probably the most sensuous of all tangos. Mira clung to me as we sang the words along with Johanna. She seemed surprised that I knew the Finnish words. I mean Mira did, not Johanna. Mira started fretting about her relatives, but I said they must know where she was and would come to fetch her. In truth I didn't want to lose such a gorgeous partner. We danced together for about half an hour, then:

Mira: I can't believe my family's abandoned me!
Me: They haven't abandoned you, they'll come back.
Mira: My husband's coming at three! I must meet him at the station! And my family's abandoned me!
Me: Let's look in the bar to see if they're there.
Mira: They're not! I've already looked! They've abandoned me! I'm all alone!
Me: Calm down, Mira. What hotel are you staying at?
Mira: The City Hotel.
Me: Right then. I'll walk you there and you can rest for a bit until it's time to meet your husband.

So we walked arm in arm to the exit. As we passed the bar, a man called to us. "My family!" shouted Mira and dragged me into the bar. A man thrust a glass into my hand. "We've been watching you dancing" he said. Mira introduced me to everybody, but I immediately forgot their names.

Mira: I wish my daughter could meet a nice man like you. She's 38, and never married.
Me: So you said before. I didn't believe you then either. You don't look 38 yourself.
Mira: I turned 60 this year.
Me: So did I. Well, your husband's a very lucky man. I hope he realises it.
Male relative: He does.
Mira: You need to meet a beautiful Finnish woman.
Me: I already have.

She kissed me on the lips. She tasted of salmiakkikossu. I took my leave, and walked back to the house. I went to bed at 2:30.

I woke up at 10:20. I think this is the latest ever. I set the video for the semifinals, which were to be broadcast that evening. I hurried to the mall. The finallists were due to perform there, but I was too late, so I ate some strawberries instead. It had started raining by the time dancing started in the Tangokatu. There was an improvement to the printed programme this year. Instead of simply listing the performers, it said at what time and on what stage they were due to appear. However, it soon went to pot and Kati Fors came on when Saksa Helmikallio was due to appear. There was no piimä bar this year and no dancing in the beer tent. I looked out for Hilve, Irma, and Irja, but didn’t see them. But I was able to dance with Ilona, Paivi, Salme, Pirkko, and Tuula. New partners included Yvonne. I commented this was not a Finnish name, and she said she was Swedish. Another was Sue from Minnesota. She was of Finnish descent, and this was her first trip to Finland.

It was still raining in the evening and I went to the Atriahalli. Tiina Räsänen was performing. She is a very attractive young woman, but she tends to adopt unflattering hairstyles. I blame her husband: I think he doesn’t want her to look prettier than him. She gave me a signed photograph, which showed her with her hair loose. She looks much better like this: she could easily be mistaken for Kate Middleton. Nice dances with Anna (very slow and sensuous version of Punatukkaiselle tyttölleni); Niina, whom I remembered from last year but didn't get her name then; a young Chinese girl (very energetic cha-cha ), and an older lady who squirmed all over me in a very sensuous rumba, then curtseyed briefly, said "thank you", and disappeared. I never got her name. Best of all was Pirkka. She was very tall and her long hair covered my face as she rested her cheek against my forehead. We danced several ecstatic dances together. The evening’s singers included Marita Taavitsainen and Antti Raiski. He had a long queue of female fans, who received a kiss and a signed photo. I said a photo would suffice. I stayed till the end, and fell into bed at 4.

I woke at 7:30 and felt like death warmed up. I could hardly walk. I wanted to go in the sauna but there was nobody else in the house and I feared I would pass out. I had three cups of strong coffee and by 9 I felt a bit better. It was too late to register for the dancing competition and anyway I had no partner. I went to the mall, where Marko Lämsä was singing. There was no cat show, so I made my way to the Tangokatu. Elina Vettenranta was performing. Irja was in the cafe. It was a cold day, and she was wearing a great deal more clothing than she usually does. As she was with a male companion, I couldn’t stop to chat. I met Sirpa, a lovely chatty dark-haired lady who held me very close. She sang along to Soi maininki hiljainen, and I joined in. She corrected my pronunciation.

In the evening it was raining quite hard, so I got a taxi to the Atriahalli. It cost 11.20 euros, which I thought quite expensive as it is not very far. Sue was there. She had watched the dancing competition but not taken part. I danced two tangos with a young partner, whose name was Maritta. When I asked "Like Marita Taavitsainen?" she was most emphatic that it was not. Her name had a double T. Completely different from Ms Taavitsainen's, absolutely nothing like it. Sirpa spotted me and asked me for a foxtrot. Other partners that evening included Pirkka, Anna, Pirkko and Tuula. The 2007 Tango King and Queen came on: they were Henri Stenroth and Jenna Bågeberg. New partners included Minna (small, dark, looks part oriental) and Outi (slim, skimpy red dress, very sensual). When a slow smoochy number (Love me Tender) started to play, I looked for a familiar partner, preferably Sirpa. Even though I've been dancing for the best part of half a century, I still prefer to dance the smoochy numbers with somebody I know. I couldn't see Sirpa, or anybody else I knew, and I could hardly walk down the rows of ladies as if they were goods on display at Stockmanns. So I approached the nearest one who looked as if she was something like my age. We had a really nice dance. My last dance at this year's Tangomarkkinat was with Outi. She asked me if I knew Argentine tango, and I said I did. The tune was Ecstasy, so I was dancing Argentine tango with a Finnish partner to a British ballroom tune. I thought that was a good high point to end the evening. I saw Pirkka on the way out, said "see you next year", and eventually retired to bed at 4.

When out buying the paper next morning I noticed there was a dance hall in Kauppakatu, open 21:00 Tuesday to Saturday. I don't know if it was open during the Tangomarkkinat, and I wouldn't have gone if it was; but it's useful to know it's there if I'm in Seinäjoki at other times of the year. According to the papers, four British journalists (from the Observer, Express, and Sun) had been covering the Tangomarkkinat. Plenty about the winners of course. Henri Stenroth's mother was Aura Stenroth, 1987's Tango Princess. Endless discussions on the line of "Is Jenna too young? Is she charismatic enough?" At 18 years 11 months she is not the youngest Tango Queen. Yes - I know who the youngest is: Kirsi Ranto. But no: according to the paper that honour goes to Tiina Räsänen. Now if I had been on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and the million pound question was "Who was the youngest Tango Queen?" I wouldn't have phoned a friend or asked the audience - I would have had no hesitation in saying Kirsi Ranto. Just goes to show. For the record: Tiina Räsänen 18 years 3 months, Jenna Bågeberg 18 years 11 months, Kirsi Ranto 19 years 10 months. Of course Mikko Kilkkinen was younger than any of them at 17 years 9 months.

I watched the finals which I had recorded. The format has been completely revised and vastly improved. Only four finallists were chosen, not six as previously. Each has to sing a classic and a modern tango, and the two men and two women sing duets. Anne Tanskanen and Jenna Bågeberg's duet was the most exciting thing I have seen on Finnish tv. They were snarling at one another and making disparaging gestures at the audience; though the papers assured us they were the best of friends really. Antti Ahopelto's modern solo was Two to Tango, which was originally written in English for the Eurovision Song Contest, and translated into Finnish for the Tangomarkkinat.

On my last evening before going home there was a swing dance in Tampere library gardens. When looking for the place in the afternoon, I found a building called the Kaupungin kirjasto lehtilukusali, or newspaper reading room. I had read about these in Tango is my Passion and assumed it was something like the newspaper areas in libraries here: a few several-day-old tatty papers (assuming nobody had nicked them); on the contrary there was today's issue of all the Finnish papers, several copies of the Helsingin sanomat and other important ones, and quite a lot of foreign papers as well. I saw that Eija Kantola is getting married again. The engagement was sealed at 07:07 hours on 07/07/07.

The dance itself was to records: unusual in Finland. Two instructors taught the Lindy Hop, but I have been doing ballroom jive for so long that I couldn't make the transition; but nobody seemed to mind. The clientele was younger than the Tangomarkkinat: they were mostly in their 20's. The jive is the least intimate of dances, so I don't mind dancing it with younger partners. On the rare occasions when I have seen two men dancing together, it has always been a jive. Having said that, it is possible to feel intimacy during a jive, and when I have, it has been with a younger partner.