Thursday, September 20, 2007

Arja returns

The most important event of 2007 - Arja Koriseva returns from maternity leave with a concert tour and a new record. Obviously I can't miss that. So I arrived in Tampere just before midnight, with time for a quick shower and change to catch the last hour at the Hämeensilta. Ulla-Jaana Riekkoniemi was singing, and she gave me her autograph.

Next morning I had a coffee and pulla in Stockmanns cafe and watched the world go by. I saw an attractive woman of about 30 going past, wearing a white miniskirt and killer heels. For a moment I wished I was 40 years younger; but I don't suppose I would have approached her even if I was; not in the street. I would have no hesitation in the Hämeensilta; but real life is drab and dull. Then I thought: it's on the parquet of the Hämeensilta or the Vanhan Kellari or Blackpool Tower Ballroom, or of course the asphalt of the Tangokatu, that one experiences real life - the rest of the time one is simply waiting for those places to open.

Enough morbidity. I went to Stockmanns record department and bought the Tangomarkkinat 20 CD, and the music from the Finnish version of Strictly Come Dancing. I asked the assistant if Arja's new record was out yet, or if Jenna Bågeberg had made a record: no and no. I also bought a book on Finnish names. Tiina and Tuomas look familiar: it is not so obvious that Pirkko is Brigit and Irja is Georgina. The name we are most interested in if of course Arja. This is a modern made-up Finnish name. It first appears in Eino Leino´s poem Arja and Selinä of 1916; but the Arja in the poem is a boy. The Finns soon decided that Arja was more suitable as a girl's name. The -a ending is of no significance: the Finnish language has no genders, not even for people. There is a Russian name, variously transliterated as Arija, Arja, and Ara, which is a variant of Ariadne. Arja was most popular as a girl's name between 1940 and 1965. Other famous Arjas from this period are Arja Saijonmaa (b 1944), Arja Havakka (b 1944), and Arja Sipola (b 1956, the first Tango Queen). If all this looks familiar, yes it was me who wrote the Wikipedia article on Arja Koriseva.

That evening Tiina Pitkänen was singing in the Hämeensilta. Attendance was sparse at first, with more men than women, but it soon filled up. I met two very glamorous ladies, Kati and Hilkka. Katii said she felt a bit unsteady on her feet as she had just come out of the sauna. The thought of Kati naked and thrashing herself with birch twigs made me feel a bit unsteady as well. There was a chap there selling Tiina Pitkänen's CD, so I bought one and got her to sign it. The place closed at 1. Kati, Hilkka, and a chap who had hooked up with Hilkka said they were going on to the Seurahuone, and would I like to come too? Of course I would. It was not far away, round the corner from the Omena Hotel. We stayed there till the place closed at 3. Five men danced jive together.

Next day I was off to Turku. I had arranged to meet Anja, who was at the 2006 Tangomarkkinat with her partner Richard. She spends half the year in Portland, Oregon, and was back in her native Turku for a few weeks. Richard was still in Portland, so Anja was able to accompany me to the Turku hotspots.

Anja met me at the station and we went straight to the Old Fire Station. This place is mentioned in Numminen's Tango is my Passion, and I had for a long time wanted to go there. It is only open for dancing on Thursday afternoons, so I missed it on my previous visit to Turku. It is an extremely grand place, with chandeliers and ornate stonework. Music by Sunset (Jarkko Salmi and Arja Pirttinen). Anja and I danced every dance, and the place closed at 15:30. Anja drove me to the Best Western Seaport Hotel near the docks, and suggested that we go to the Liittoinen dance pavilion in the evening. She then returned to her own apartment.

I was able to see a bit of tv before we went. Krisse Salminen had her own programme. She is, you will recall, the pink-clad beauty who was pulled from the audience during the Eurovision Song Contest and given the job of presenting it. She is of course not a hastily-selected member of the public, but an established Finnish comedienne. This was the first episode of the series, which was in the form of a European tour. She was in Belgium being blonde and annoying, and probably destroying Finland's credibility.

The Liittoinen is a wooden pavilion by a lake, rather similar to the Uittamo where I went on my previous visit to Turku. Very nice place, with the clientele rather younger than at the fire station. Anja said we should go to the T-talo next day. This was a place I had never heard of.
Next day I did the usual tourist stuff that isn't relevant to a tango blog: castle, art gallery etc. I also met Anja for lunch. The T-talo is a rather spartan place that looks as if it belongs to the local authority. The chairs are bolted to the walls, and there is no ornamentation. A big contrast to the fire station. Attendance was sparse: one man said that Jenna Bågeberg was at the Uittamo. Anja said she thought the Uittamo was shut for the winter. I was rather disappointed not to have seen Jenna. The moral is, always look at the announcements in the paper even if you do have a date. Actually the evening was very pleasant. I go to a similar place for ballroom on a regular basis here in Blighty.

So next day over breakfast I read the dance announcements in the Turun Sanomat. Heli Ruotsalainen was at the Galax and Varjokuva at the Huvilintu. I didn't know Heli Ruotsalainen, but I had seen that she had recently made a record. Perhaps I would buy it and get her to sign it. I rang Anja. She wanted to go to the Naantali Kypylä. So much for looking things up in the paper. She said the Huvilintu is a young persons' place, with the emphasis on rock and roll.
The Naantali Kypylä is a very grand spa hotel outside Turku. Admission to the ballroom is free. The band was Ruolari, and most of the announcements were in English, as were the lyrics of most of the songs. The music was nearly all of the bland international variety you hear on any cruise ship or in any upmarket hotel. The only Finnish tunes played were Kultainen nouruus, Satulinna, and Hard Rock Halleluja. I soon discovered the reason for this: Ruolari is a Bulgarian band. The only tango was Buona Sera, from Rossini's Barber of Seville. It was played in the usual continental manner, breaking into a jive towards the end. All in all it was an interesting experience, but, based purely on this one visit, I can't honestly recommend it. I expect the Finns themselves enjoy a change from tangos and humppas, but when I go to Finland I want Finnish culture. Perhaps on other nights that is provided.

Most of the people attending were in couples, though there was an Iranian lady there with her daughters, celebrating an exam pass. The mother said Anja and I looked "beautiful" together, and asked if we had been partners for a long time. We said only 3 days. Another couple said we looked "happy". If I ever meet Anja again I will have to bring my video camera and get someone to film us, so I can see what all the fuss is about.

Next day, Sunday, I caught the train to Seinäjoki. I stayed at Seija's as usual. She had collected a few magazines with articles about Arja for me. We went to the concert together. Arja’s performance at the Tangomarkkinat last year was insurpassable: Could she nevertheless surpass it? Of course she could. I have never heard anything so wonderful. There was a completely new version of her classic Enkelin silmin - quiet and contemplative rather than bold and brassy. Similarly Minun tieni, or My Way.
A girl in the audience had brought along a red rose and was disappointed that she didn’t get the opportunity to give it to Arja. Seija said that Arja would appear in the lobby after the show. While waiting I bought Arja’s new CD, which is only available at shows at the moment, though presumably it will go on general release later. When it does, note that the first track, Yksin, is not the same Yksin that is on Tango Illusion; in fact it isn’t a tango at all.

Arja signed my CD insert and a photograph. She said she knew who I was: that I was the one who came to see Sound of Music twice, and wrote about her in the Daily Mail. Does she know what all her fans are up to? Does she know that I went to see Kaija Pohjola in March, and if so does she regard that as infidelity?

A perfect end to the trip. I’m looking forward to Arja’s Christmas concert.