Monday, January 11, 2010

Finnish TV

I have started subscribing to, a way of watching Finnish tv programmes on the internet. A week's trial costs 5 euros; and it is 20 for a month amd 98 for a year. You can pay by Paypal.

You can watch or download old programmes (not sure how far back: might be 3 weeks) and you can set them to record a day in advance. Not any longer though: if you want a programme further in the future than that, you have to be able to log on that day.

Recorded programmes presumably remain on your list until you end your subscription. I don't know if there's a limit to the number of programmes you can have on your list. You can download them in various formats: I have downloaded mine in 1mbps .flv format and 8mbps .ts format. These files are big: an hour long programme is 500 MB in .flv and 2.27 GB in .ts. You can watch either on VLC Media Player, which I downloaded for nothing. I found the .ts difficult to play at first, but things improved once I had defragmented my hard disk.

So far I have watched a short programme about Finnish expats in America, a Christmas karaoke programme featuring Tarja Lunnas, and Tanssi jos osaat, which means Dance if you can and I presumed was a version of So you think you can dance. And that's what it is: unfortunately an old American programme, not the home-grown Finnish version I was looking for.

The best programme though was the Tangomarkkinat 25th anniversary concert (really the 24th as I have said before). This was broadcast on Boxing Day. I hadn't seen it in Seinäjoki in July and this was a chance to catch up. It featured most of the Tango Kings and Queens since 1985. In one of the Finnish tabloids Kirsi Ranto was voted the most beautiful of all the Tango Queens. I voted for Mira Kunnasluoto, but I can think of two good reasons why Kirsi topped the poll.

She sang Black Cat Tango with Tiina Räsänen; a very nice straight version with none of the childish messing about you get too often with this song.

Jari Sillanpää sang his Eurovision entry Two to Tango in English. He also did his Olavi Virta -inspired version of Sinitaivas, this time with Arja Koriseva, Marita Taavitsainen, and Eija Kantola.

Marita Taavitsainen did a lovely gentle understated version of Sä oot mun tangoystäväin.

Finally it was spot-the-celebrity time when the entire cast sang Onnemme kyynneleet and La Cumparsita. Truly excellent show.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Thoughts on Elvis's 75th birthday

Today, 8th January 2010, Elvis Presley would have reached 75. Bristol's Argentine tango club was due to hold a milonga today. It would have been a good opportunity to showcase Elvis's only tango, Walls Have Ears. But it was cancelled due to the bad weather. It has snowed once in Bristol this year, three days ago. I remember when I was on my way to the Vanhan Kellari one winter. It was 4 in the afternoon, pitch black, and the snow was falling so heavily that if I had stretched my arm out I would not have been able to see my fingers. The tram tracks were completely invisible. The tram was due at 11 minutes past and sure enough, at exactly 16:11 to the second, the tram drew up, its built-in snow plough pushing the snow away. The Kellari was packed out.

Some updates since my last post: I bought an October 2008 edition of Hymy from In it was an article about Kaija Pohjola, saying how she was coping with the death of her husband a year earlier. I hadn't known about this. I wanted to write her a letter of sympathy, but was it too late? Would I be breaking the rules of Finnish etiquette by bringing the sad matter up after two years? I wrote to Marja Nyman, the author of Tango Royals, who is a Facebook friend, for advice. She said it was perfectly in order, so I wrote to Kaija.

I got an email from Aune Friedrich, who recognised me from seeing me at the Tangomarkkinat. She had made a film called Finnischer Tango - ein Tanz in Moll and sent me a copy. I am in it for a few seconds.

The Finnish language school held an Independence Day dance at the beginning of December. I was drafted in to give a couple of dance lessons after the language classes at the end of November. I started off by saying, in Finnish and English: "Many people ask what the meaning of life is. I know - it's tango." I then said: "You can already do this. You can step forwards, backwards, and sideways; and you can tell when somebody else is doing one of those things. More importantly, you can experience joy, passion, disappointment, misery, despair, and all the other feelings encapsulated in these little silver things" (holding up a CD). I then played Eila Pienimäki's Shattered Hopes ("I once believed in happiness, but the cold hand of Fate snatched away my most beautiful dreams and now I walk alone in utter misery") and got them to walk round the room hand in hand (if young lovers) or arm in arm (if old married couples), keeping in time with the music. I said they should join in the chorus, but none did. Then I said: "Well that's it. You've done it. All you need to do now is exactly the same thing but facing each other clasped in an intimate embrace." I then demonstrated the leading/following technique I learned from Christine Denniston, who taught me Argentine tango, and is described in her book "The Meaning of Tango." A few of my other comments:
- You haven't got Craig or Arlene looking at you. Dance only for yourself and your partner.
- Keep your legs together. Don't walk as if you were wearing nappies. Ideally you should brush your thighs, knees, and ankles together. Marina Palmer says this is like making love to yourself at every step. She recommends fishnet tights to enhance the experience.
- When this is going well, you cease to be two people and merge together into a new sort of creature with four legs and two hearts beating in perfect unison.
- Your entire attention must be on your partner. Don't look round the room to see if someone more attractive has walked in. Your partner is the most attractive and desirable human being in the entire universe. And if that isn't strictly speaking true - fake it! We all have.

The dance itself went very well. The band was Uusikuu (New Moon) from Oxford, and they had two actual Finnish members. I danced practically every dance and when I was walking back down Whiteladies Road I was joined by two young men who had attended the dance. "Every time we looked at you, you had a different woman in your arms" they remarked.

I had a Christmas card from Kati. “I expected you to come to Tampere to see Arja’s Christmas concert” she said. Perhaps odottaa is less abrupt than the English expect. In fact I would have loved to have gone, but the money just isn’t there now.

I got an excellent Christmas present from my brother: What I saw in Finland by Mrs Alec-Tweedie, published in 1918 for 1/6. This lady toured Finland with two unnamed female companions some years previously: the date unspecified but probably about 1900 as she mentioned her sons were aged 5 and 6 at the time and one had since been killed in Flanders and the other had just been posted to Afghanistan.

In some ways Finland was very different in those days. A peasant economy where most people had to get what living they could from a field and a cow; a horrendously dangerous industry involving the extraction of tar from tree-trunks. In others, not very different at all:

“Life to the Finns seems a serious matter which can be only undertaken after long thought and much deliberation. They lose much pleasure by their seriousness. They sing continually, but all their music is sad: they dance sometimes, but the native dances are seldom boiseterous as in other lands. They read much and think deeply, for both rich and poor are wonderfully well educated: but they smile seldom.”

“A friend escorted us to see the peasant ball in full swing. This kiosk was big enough for a couple of hundred folk to dance at a time. It has a roof supported by pillars, but there are no walls .... until midnight the couples twirled and whisked round and round the wooden floor. The great national dance of the country is called the jenka. It is more like a schottische than anything else; and it really was extraoridinary to see how well these peasants danced.”

“Every one eats strawberries. The peasants themselves half live on them.”

I also got a double CD of Peggy Lee’s greatest hits. It has a lovely version of Golden Earrings, well able to stand up to Arja Koriseva’s version. It was recorded in 1947, the year I was born. It also has The Old Master Painter with Mel Torme, which I completely misheard.