Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tangomarkkinat 2008

Great news for 2008! Not only were Arja Koriseva and Kaija Pohjola appearing in the Tangomarkkinat, but they were both appearing at the Helsinki Pavilion! Not as a duo (that really would be something to see), but one before and one after the event. So I decided to fly into Helsinki. I noticed that I had not been there since September 2005. How many of my partners at the Vanhan Kellari would remember me? I rang Eine-Liisa. I got an announcement in Finnish, Swedish, and even English that the number was unobtainable. I was certain the number was right - I had rung her before - so what had happened? Perhaps there was some sort of problem with ringing from England.

The Pavilion, or Pavi as it is called there, is in Vantaa, some distance out from Helsinki itself. I stayed at the Sokos Vantaa hotel, which is right opposite Tikkurila station. The Pavi isn't particularly near there either: the taxi cost 15 euros. The receptionist told me that the no 730AP bus goes from Helsinki main railway station directly to the Pavi; so it would have been better to stay at the Eurohostel as usual.

I arrived at the Pavi only 15 minutes after it opened but it was already packed. I was delighted to see champion dancer Irma, who I knew from the Tangomarkkinat. We danced several times but she said she wasn't going to Seinäjoki this year. Other partners included Tuula, Kaisa, and two Pirkkos. I now know 8 Pirkkos. Arja was absolutely wonderful as always. Included in her repertoire were the Merry Widow Waltz, Let's Twist Again, and an updated version of Sinun kansassi tähtisilmä, one of her earliest tangos. She remembered who I was and greeted me in a very friendly manner, giving me a hug and a postcard and signing a CD insert for me. The dance ended at half past midnight and I took a taxi back to the hotel.

Next day I went to Helsinki centre and checked into the much cheaper Eurohostel. I rang Big Irja - she was in Hameenlinna and said she would see me in Seinäjoki. I went to Hilve's shop but it had closed down. I had no home number for Hilve so it seems I won't be seeing her again. I tried ringing Eine-Liisa again but the number was still unobtainable. Had she moved? But why hadn't she told me? She hadn't said anything in her Christmas card. I began to fear she might be dead.

Everything is much more expensive in Finland. Prices have gone up in euro terms and the euro exchange rate has gone from 1.5 to 1.2. Strawberries up from 3.5 euros per litre to 5, or £2.30 to £4.20. Piimä up from 0.98 euros to 1.50. Nevertheless I bought some strawberries and piimä and watched the world go by. I saw a gorgeous woman coming out of Stockmanns: black low cut dress, black hair, killer heels. I felt much more cheerful. In the evening I went to the Vanhan Kellari. Hilkka was there and she greeted me very effusively. I danced with her and her friend Maija several times. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned round.

"Eine-Liisa!" I shouted joyfully. "I thought you'd . . . moved." Fortunately I had the presence of mind not to say "died". It appears she had had her landline taken out and now only used a mobile. I took a note of her mobile number. She insisted I spend the rest of the evening with her, although there were a number of other ladies I would have liked to dance with, particularly a very plump blonde with a deep cleavage. Nevertheless a young slim dark-haired lady asked me twice for a jive. At midnight I escorted Eine-Liisa to the station and returned to the hotel.
My Finnish girlfriend is celebrating her 100th birthday this year, so naturally I went to see her at the harbour in the place she usually hangs out; I also went to the exhibition "Havis Amanda mon amour 100 years" in the Jugendsali. The VPK restaurant was shut for the summer holidays. I went to the Popenkeli record shop and was able to get a record I had been looking for since Kati played it for me last year: Päivä jolloin rakastat, or El dia que me quieras. Described as “Greatest classics of Argentine tango” they are not all Argentine, including as they do La Cumparsita, Jealousy, I’m a Fool to Want You, and Desiré e. The words to El Choclo are not the same as most Finnish versions I have heard. I also bought Eija Kantola’s latest, Käärmetanssi. I used the internet terminal at the station. At 2 euros per hour it is much cheaper than the Eurohostel terminal, which is 2 euros for 15 minutes. I noticed that Merry Widow was on at the Opera House, starring Ritva-Liisa Korhonen. Why her and not Arja? To be fair, I can think of two good reasons.

In the evening I went to the Vanhan Kellari. I danced with Hilkka and Sinikka; soon Eine-Liisa came in, but at 22:00 she said she was tired and I escorted her to the station. She suggested we go to the park the following day. It was too early to go back to the hotel, so I returned to the Vanhan Kellari. I danced with Hilkka again; Terttu asked me for a humppa. She was a plump lady with a very low cut dress - her bust bounced very prettily. I met yet another Pirkko. Hilkka left and gave me a kiss goodnight; soon after I went back to the hotel.

In the sauna next morning I got talking with a Swedish student. He said his sister had written a dissertation on Finnish tango. I would have liked to read it, but it was written in Swedish. I met Eine-Liisa at 11:15. We bought some cider and meat pies and spent a few hours in the Kaivopuisto park. There is an old observatory there which looks derelict but is open to the public for both sun and star observations - but not in July, when it is closed for the summer holidays. After feeding the birds and doing the usual touristy things, we went our separate ways and agreed to meet in the Vanhan Kellari that evening, where a naistentanssit was held. I got a lot more invitations than I usually do, even though I was sitting with Eine-Liisa. Perhaps being the partner of the alpha female made me more attractive. I was invited by Satu (dark, young, expensively dressed, deep cleavage - danced jive so I had a good view), Maisa (older, blonde), Leena (tall, blonde, frenela at every step) and others. Leena seemed to like me and invited me several times. By the end of the evening she and Eine-Liisa were dancing with me in turns. At half past midnight it was time to escort Eine-Liisa to the station and return to the Eurohostel.

At last it was time to take the train to Seinäjoki. It was cold and threatening to rain. I stayed at Seija's as usual. Passes were 95 euros, or £80. When I first started coming to the Tangomarkkinat in 2001 they were 400 marks, or £40; and the festival was longer, with more events. There was dancing in the evening in the Tangokatu. This year the main stage was in the street itself, and the subsidiary stage off to the side, as it had been in 2001; except the stage was on the opposite side of the square and the dancing area wasn't level. Only this stage was in use. All the finallists were performing. One of them (sorry forget which one) sang Erottomattomat as a jive. Rain was threatening but I danced most dances. Tiina was tall and dark; Anita was blonde and danced a very intimate chacha; lots of others but the names have disappeared in a haze of tango music. By midnight it was starting to rain and I returned to the house.

Next morning I went to the town square for my usual coffee and strawberries. The girl in the coffee kiosk remembered me. Her name was Marjo ("almost like Super Mario" she said). No dancing in the Tangokatu in the afternoon, but Eino Grön was singing tangos in the tent: Erottomattomat, Guapita, Walls Have Ears, and many other good ones. Suddenly I saw a tiny perfect figure, waist length blonde hair - Little Irja! Her solemn little face lit up in a smile when she saw me. We watched Eino's performance, went to the karaoke tent, and had a drink in the Sokos bar. I looked at Irja as she solemnly sipped her salmiakkikossu and thought what a fortunate man her husband is. We watched Eino's second performance and then Irja went home.
Dancing started in earnest in the evening. Marko Lämsä gave an excellent performance, including his jive version of El Choclo, which seems to have become his trademark. Pity he hasn't recorded it. Kaija Pohjola recognised me and signed the insert of her Tangokuningatar DVD; Elina Vettenranta, who is one of my Facebook friends, gave me a signed postcard. I danced a number of times with Big Irja, who had dressed for the rain and cold. As it had now warmed up, I had to carry her two sweaters and umbrella. This was unfortunate, not because I minded carrying it, but because I wanted a picture taken of me with Elina and my camera was unfindable under all Irja's stuff. Later in the evening Topi Sorsakoski performed. Irja spotted one of her other admirers and dashed off to speak to him (yes, she did take her stuff). I saw Pirkko's friend Tuula in the crowd (recognising her by her bright blonde hair) but she disappeared again. I didn't spot Pirkko. Saija Varjus gave her usual heartfelt performance at 1:00, and then I returned to the house.

When enjoying my coffee and strawberries next morning, I spotted the headline in someone's paper: "Koriseva paralysed". What!!?? She seemed perfectly OK at the weekend: what had happened? I hastily bought my own copy. It appears that Arja's sister Piia, who is a TV announcer, had suffered a minor stroke (I think - Finnish medical terms are not my speciality) and was in hospital. Well, she's being looked after, I thought. I wondered if I should send her some flowers. But I didn't know what hospital she was in, and she would have no idea who I was; so I didn't. I wrote something on my Facebook page though later in the day when I was back at the house.

I saw Little Irja going into the mall and rushed to join her. We watched Kari Piironen sing to harmonikka, had a drink in the karaoke bar, danced a few times, and then she went home. It was raining by the time dancing started in the Tangokatu, but quite a few people were there. I had nice dances with Sinikka and Tuula (not Pirkko's friend, another one). The rain got worse, but a few keen couples were still dancing. Look at this:
Arja's spot was scheduled for 21:00. I wasn't sure if she would turn up but she did. What an amazing performance. Waltzes, twists, beautiful lively humppas ("All around the scent of roses, and a hundred tongues will sing") and of course tangos. All the old favourites: Kultaiset korvarenkaat, Vie meidät rakkauteen (Tango d'Amour, Vicky Leandros's old hit), Pieni sydän, and a new earthier version of her early hit Sinun kanssasi tähtisilmä. She forgot the words to Voitko sä vain unohtaa? (which means "Can you just forget?"). I have just used four punctuation marks in succession. Is that a record? The rain poured down during the performance but I was totally oblivious to it. (The stage itself was covered over, of course.) When it ended and I came down from my ecstatic high I realised I was soaked through. I have been to Finland over 30 times, sometimes in the depths of winter, and I have never been so cold. I returned to the house for a shower and change, hung my wet clothes up in the sauna, and ventured out again.
The Atriahalli was not in use this year: indoor dancing was in the Areena. Pirkko and Tuula were there, and so was Big Irja: I also danced with Sinikka, Pirjo, Outi, who was very young and kept her right leg firmly pressed against my left, Maija who I think was pregnant - and others I can't put names to. Later in the evening there was a monster queue outside the Ladies. A woman came into the Gents, curtseyed politely to the men, and went into a cubicle. She came out, curtseyed again, and left. Not a word was said. I eventually fell exhausted into bed at 2:30.
Next day, Saturday, I woke at 9. Too late to register for Åke Blomqvist's dance competition, and in any case I had not organised a partner. It was raining heavily. I went to the mall, where Tommi Soidinmäki was singing. I looked for Little Irja, but she wasn't there. Big Irja was. She was complaining about the weather, and asked me to walk her back to her hotel. This involved visiting every dress and shoe shop in Seinäjoki. I didn't realise there were so many in what is quite a small town. She found a dress she liked - very short and skimpy, virtually transparent. At one time I would have bought it for her on condition that I could see her wear it, but money was very tight this year. Suddenly she said I had a mark on my face. I wiped it with my handkerchief but she said that made it worse. A glance in a mirror showed a black smudge. I said I couldn't possibly be seen in public in such a state, and escaped back to the house. Lads, you might like to use this next time your are on an interminable shopping trip with your better half. Keep a tin of Cherry Blossom available and besmirch yourself as necessary.

Duly cleaned up, I returned to the Tangokatu. Little Irja was there, looking very pretty in black lace and a blue jacket. We danced a number of times, and then she went home. I went to the Areena. The Tangomarkkinat finals were held in one half, and public dancing in the other half. The good thing about this was you could dance to the finallists singing their tangos; but there was a lot of chit-chat between the songs when you couldn't dance at all. I danced mainly with Ritva, who was young, cuddly, an excellent and sensual dancer. After the finals had finished, Joanna Pakonen came on. The winners, by the way, were Jukka Hallikainen and Hanna Talikainen. Jukka Hallikainen is no relation to Joel Hallikainen who introduced the Jos sais kerran music game show with Arja Koriseva. I had a number of very nice partners that Saturday night, the last night of the Tangomarkkinat: Ritva, Irja (not wearing the dress unfortunately), Pirkko, Tuula, Birgitta (Swedish, could not speak Finnish or English), Anna (plump blonde, 60's, very nice), Mari (very young, blonde - asked her for a jive but she preferred to smooch), Kukka (very slim, waist length red hair: danced some very nice jives and cha-chas with her). I eventually went to bed at 3:30.

Next day it was back to Helsinki for Kaija Pohjola's performance at the Pavi. I checked into the Cumulus hotel, which is on the no 61 bus route from Tikkurila station. It also has its own free shuttle bus to the airport. I noticed in the Helsingin Sanomat that Arja Koriseva was in Kolmilammi that day. I asked the receptionist where this was, and she said 80 kilometres away, so I stuck to my original plan. I got to the Pavi at 16:30. It was due to open at 17:00 and there were already a lot of people waiting. I met a very nice lady, whose name was Pirkko (yes, yet another one). She was short, very slim, red-haired, a lovely sensuous dancer. I danced with her quite a lot. Kaija was wonderful. She greeted me effusively and gave me a signed postcard, kissing it to leave a lipstick mark. Some nice partners: Bertta had a very quiet voice, not sure of name, she kept both thighs in contact with mine; Satu was big and jolly, about 25, clumsy, had no sense of rhythm, but we had an excellent time nontheless and danced together a lot. Enthusiasm makes up for lack of technique. The dance ended at 21:30 and I returned to the hotel.