Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tangomarkkinat 2009

Shortly before this year's Tangomarkkinat, an article appeared in the Bristol local paper. A large stone head had been found in a local warehouse. The owner of the warehouse thought it might be Stalin, but to me it looked more like Åke Blomqvist. I decided to take the paper with me to see Åke's reaction.

Åke Blomqvist and the giant stone head

Also Horisontti magazine had held an essay-writing competition for British students of Finnish, which I had won. My subject had been my experiences with Mira at the 2007 Tangomarkkinat. I armed myself with a copy of this as well. Kaija Lustila was competing at the Tangomarkkinat. This was her second attempt, her first being in 1987. I managed to get hold of a copy of her first CD from and took it along in the hope that she would autograph it.

Kaija Pohjola was not appearing in the Tangomarkkinat, but she was at the Helsinki Pavilion as she was last year. Furthermore there was a Kalevala exhibition at the Ateneum, Helsinki's art gallery. So I flew Air France from Bristol to Helsinki, changing at Paris CDG. This is a huge airport and I didn't have long to find the gate for Helsinki. I was afraid I would miss the flight: but in the end I got there and my luggage didn't. The nice lady at the customer service desk gave me a sponge bag containing toothpaste, comb, razor etc; as well as clean underwear. She asked what hotel I was staying at and said my luggage would be there by 10 that evening. I checked in to the Eurohostel, which has been refurbished. The washrooms are much improved from before.

Clad in my new underwear (same old suit and shirt) I went to the Vanhan Kellari. Eine-Liisa was there and she threw herself into my arms in her usual effusive manner. She asked how long I would be in Helsinki, and I said I was going to Seinäjoki the following day. She said Hilkka would be disappointed to have missed me. All this was extremely flattering. We danced together for the whole evening; then I escorted her to the railway station and we exchanged a fond kiss before I returned to the Eurohostel about 1. I asked if my luggage had turned up: they said it hadn’t, but they had had a call from the airport saying it was on its way.

I was woken about 5 in the morning by the TV switching itself on very loud for no apparent reason. As the sun was shining brightly, I decided to get up. My luggage had arrived by now. I checked out and enjoyed a coffee and pulla in the square watching the world go by. I got the usual 10 o’clock train to Seinäjoki and made my way to Seija’s house. As usual, her family was there preparatory to going to their summer cottage. They were amused by my Tangomarkkinat essay and immediately identified the stone head as Åke Blomqvist. I went into town and got my pass, which was still 95 euros but cost more than last year in sterling terms because of the exchange rate. While watching the Tango Parade I caught sight of Little Irja but lost her in the crowd. I was able to speak to Kaija Lustila and said I had come from England just to see her win the Tangomarkkinat. She gave me a signed photo and a bystander took a picture of us.

A new single was issued to commemorate the 25th Tangomarkkinat. It is called Onnemme kyyneleet (Tears of our joy). The singers aren’t given: presumably we are expected to identify them ourselves. I bought one for 5 euros. Dancing started in the Tango Street at 19:30. This year there was a covered pavilion in the side area, possibly because of the torrential rain last year. It was packed out as the tv programme Kesäillan valssi was being filmed. I caught up with Little Irja and we danced together for the rest of the evening. At 1:30 I escorted her to the place where she had left her bicycle. She said she hoped it wasn’t stolen. I said if it was, she would have to spend the night with me. But this is Finland - of course it wasn’t stolen. I watched her ride away (without lights) and returned to the house.

Next day (Thursday) I played Onnemme kyyneleet. Part of it is sung by a chorus, part by soloists. The first soloist is Arja Koriseva. The second is, I think, Risto Nevala. It would make sense to put him there, as he and Arja were Tango King and Queen the same year, 1989. Later, Eija Kantola is clearly identifiable. I’m not sure about the others. I can see Kaija Pohjola in the rather smudgy photo on the insert, but can’t hear her distinctive cigarette-tinged voice. The finalists were singing in the mall at 12:30. I was able to speak to Kaija Lustila again and she signed my CD insert (the one from her own record I mean, not Onnemme kyyneleet). According to the papers she is the people’s favourite. I went to the Tango Office and asked if there was a list of the singers on the new single. They could only say that it was “almost all” the Tango Royals, but couldn’t say in what order.

Afterwards I went to the pavilion in the Tango Street. It was now starting to rain quite heavily. The Wähänkosket Orchestra was playing. I met Tuula (not Pirkko's friend: a different Tuula): in contrast to Irja she likes the humppas and other energetic dances best. There were tango lessons from Tii Alasima and Kalle Jalava, which I attended with Tuula. The afternoon's dancing ended at 16;00 and I returned to the house for coffee and strawberries. The semifinals were due to be held that night - not Friday as a special anniversary concert was held then - so I set the tv to record it. Then I returned to the Tango Street, where there was an excellent lineup of stars: Marko Lämsä, Johanna Debreczeni, Jouni Keronen, Saija Tuupanen, Johanna Pakonen, and Henri Stenroth. I danced with Tuula again and met two Jaanas. At 22:00 veteran singer Katri-Helena was giving her Summer Diva show from the open-air stage. I found Little Irja in the audience. I found the show a little too jazzy with not enough tango content. Irja enjoyed it though and afterwards we returned to the pavilion. Big Irja was there. It was a coldish evening and she was wearing a lot more than usual. In fact Big Irja, rather than wearing clothes in the usual sense, generally decorates her body with small scraps of very expensive cloth. Little Irja dresses soberly, like a very small VAT inspector. I introduced the two Irjas to each other and they chatted animatedly for a few minutes - about what I don't know, as it was too fast for me to follow. Big Irja asked me to dance. When we returned, there was no sign of Little Irja. Had she gone off in a huff? But she had said herself that we could only be just good friends - why couldn't I have other friends as well? It was getting late, rain was threatening, and Big Irja was back on the parquet with another partner, so I decided to make my way back to the house. As I was walking towards the gate, I heard a shout behind me. Little Irja! We stayed to dance to Tommi Soidinmäki. Johanna Debreczeni was listening to him, pressed up against the crush barrier with his other fans. I love Finnish celebrities. AT 2:30 Irja said her husband was calling for her, so I escorted her to the gate. As I walked back to the house I wondered why Irja's husband didn't attend the dancing. If I was married to Irja I would want to spend every possible moment with her.

Next day Johanna Debreczeni and Jouni Keronen were in the mall. I was keen to video them so I got there half an hour early, but the place was already packed. Big Irja was there and invited me to sit with her. Jouni and Johanna's first song was the beautiful tango Erottamattomat, or Inseparable. Irja wanted to dance, so I couldn't video it; but after all we attend the Tangomarkkinat in order to dance. After their spot I spoke to Johanna and said Erottamattomat was my favourite tango. Irja took a photo of us together. I escorted Irja back to her hotel and we sat in the lobby for a while as Irja talked about her home town Hämeenlinna and said I should see it sometime if I am in that part of Finland. Eventually she said she had to retire to her room for a shower and change in preparation for the evening's dancing so we exchanged a chaste kiss and I went to the hall were the Blomqvists' dance class was held. I handed over the newspaper and Leena immediately recognised the stone head as Åke. Quite a lot seemed to be happening on Sunday so I texted Seija to ask if I could stay at the house a little longer. She said I could, so I cancelled my reservation at the Eurohostel.

That evening the finalists were performing in the Tango Street. No sign of the Irjas but I had very many nice partners: two from previous years who spotted me before I spotted them; Sinikka (my 7th Sinikka I think) - a beautiful sexy blonde about my age; Jaana from yesterday; and lots of others. Eija Kantola made an unscheduled appearance. Arja Koriseva should have been on at 23:30 but for some reason had swapped times with the Yö band, so I had to wait till 1:15. She was of course well worth waiting for. A brilliant performance which had me mesmerised from start to finish.

The following morning Jukka Hallikainen was in the mall. Big Irja was there and we danced the tangos. I was impressed to see Jukka taking time to dance with his fans; and that after his performance Kaija Lustila queued up with his other fans to get his autograph. Irja said she would be in the Areena that evening to watch the finals. I wasn't going, though as a member of the Tango Club I was able to watch the rehearsals (free!) in the afternoon.

In the early evening Jenna Bågeberg, Risto Nevala, and Marita Taavitsainen were performing in the Tango Street. My partners included Liisa from Turku - blonde, slim, very sexy, about 60, frenela at every step, she tickled my cheek with her eyelashes ... and then said her husband was there and she had to go back to him. Also Elsa - plumpish, blonde with black tips, lovely to dance with. Best of all, Little Irja. The results of the Tangomarkkinat were announced: Maestro Lundberg the winner, Kaija Lustila runner-up. It was a pity the rules had been changed: under the old rules she would have been Tango Queen. Still, Maestro was a worthy winner young, good-looking (a bit like Eurovision winner Alexander Rybak) and talented.

Irja announced that she had to go home early so I had to go alone to the Areena. On the way I met Kaija Lustila and commiserated with her, saying if there was any justice in the world she should have won. In the Areena Maestro himself was performing, along with Hanna Talikainen and others. I was delighted to see Kukka there. She is the red-haired beauty I met last year. We danced some truly excellent sambas, jives, and other energetic dances together. Also Kaija (plump blonde), Pirjo (slim, grey-haired) and Eija. Eija is Finnish, living in Sweden, and had never heard of the Tangomarkkinat. She was on the way to a folk festival and decided to stop for an evening's dancing. She said she did Finnish dancing in Gothenberg, in an Iranian restaurant. We stayed together till the end of the evening, and she asked for my email address. I eventually returned to the house at 2:30.

The dancing competition was held the Sunday, not Saturday as usual. As I was making my way there I ran into Kaija Lustila. She said she would be onstage in the Tango Street so naturally I went there. I enjoyed her performances very much - what a talented lady she is. You can see her on YouTube: Afterwards I continued to the Areena where the competition was in full swing. Kukka was there - watching, not competing. There was public dancing between the rounds of the competition and I danced a few times with her. I said we should try entering the competition next year. I danced with a few other ladies, including Kristiina (dark, plump), Mari (sparkly blonde) and Satu (tall, slim, elegant). I later discovered that all three were prizewinners in the competition. Really it was very good of them to dance with a stranger between rounds of the competition. I can't imagine it happening on Strictly Come Dancing.

After the competition I went out for a snack and returned at 17;00. On the way I ran into Liisa. I hoped she would be going to the Areena, but she said she was going out with her family and hoped we would meet again next year. The Areena was well attended but there was plenty of room to dance. There were a lot of good dancers about too ... it was just like the Sunday dances when I first started coming to the Tangomarkkinat, before they started downsizing. Partners:
Kukka: we dances several tangos, including Argentine tango to Por una cabeza.
Kati: probably former biker chick -she had leather low cut top, discreet tattoos, motorcycle charm on chain round neck.
Terttu: very sexy, very low top, held me very close, frenela at every step.
Reija: about 70, thin, long blonde pony tail, lovely sensuous dancer.
and many others. The event ended at 21:30 and I had danced nearly all the time. It was a really good day - even though I had missed Kaija Pohjola.

On the following day (Monday) I watched the Tangomarkkinat semifinals and finals with Seija and recorded them by pointing my video camera at the screen. This sounds very primitive, but works OK as long as you don't get any reflections on the screen. Next day I was up at 5:45 to get the early train to Helsinki. Seija was already up geting breakfast. She said that next year the Tangomarkkinat would be over two weeks, one week for Finnish tango and one for international. I am aware that Americans call ballroom tango "international", but I think Seija meant Argentine tango. I have seen nothing in the papers about this, so can't confirm it. I arrived in Helsinki at 9:30. I left my luggage at the station (it now costs 4 euros) and went to the Ateneum for the Kalevala exhibition. I thought the painting of Ilmatar by Eemy Mytti looked a lot like Little Irja. I had seen the art nouveau car advertisement before, but never realised that it depicted Lemminkäinen abducting Kyllikki.