Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tangomarkkinat 2010

As I now have tvkaista, I was able to watch the Raisio semifinals before going to the Tangomarkkinat. I was amused to note that one of the judges was Saija (that is, Sarah) Palin. One of the competitors was Tino Ahlgren, the son of 1993 Tango King Sebastien Ahlgren. He might have been the same Tino who sang rock and roll at the 2004 Tangomarkkinat, but I am not sure of this. My favourite was Sanna Arell, who sang a beautiful haunting version of Särkyneen toiveen katu, or Boulevard of Broken Dreams. I had bought the Tangomarkkinat 1 compilation record through huuto.net. The seller lived in Seinäjoki, and I had made arrangements to pick it up when I was there.

I arrived in Helsinki on the Monday afternoon before the Tangomarkkinat. The driver of the bus from the airport looked like, but presumably wasn't, Angela Merkel (though perhaps the German economy is in a worse state than anyone thinks). I checked in to the Eurohostel and hit the record shops. I bought Arja Koriseva's and Anneli Saaristo's latest, and my first litre of Finnish strawberries. A man was playing Petite Fleur as a tango on the harmonikka outside Stockmanns. The Vanhan Kellari opens at 19:00 in the summer. On Mondays there is no band, only records, and admission is free. It was a blisteringly hot day and attendance was sparse, but I did have a number of nice partners. Heidi was small and dark, held me very close; Tuula her blonde friend; Sirpa, solemn, had a smile that lit up the place; Euli tall, excellent dancer, practised the frenela at every step. Eventually after an excellent tango with Sirpa - it was Odotin pitkän illan, or I Waited a Long Evening - I decided I had waited a long evening for such a good tango and I should leave on a high point, particularly as I was getting tired, having been up since 2 that morning. I bought a sausage from the kiosk and returned to the Eurohostel.

In the sauna next morning I met an American man who had been touring the Baltic states. He asked me if I knew any good places in Helsinki and I said the Vanhan Kellari. Breakfast was piimä and a bun with my older girlfriend Havis Amanda. I rang Eine-Liisa and we arranged to meet at the Vanhan Kellari that evening. I bought a day ticket and rode round the town on the trams. There is a new section of gauntletted track near the station and a complex junction is being built further out in the suburbs; but this is a tango, not a tram, blog and I will resist the temptation to elaborate. I went to the Music Hunter record shop, which normally deals in hard rock; but I was able to buy records by Anne Mattila and Kuunkuiskaajat (the girl duo who represented Finland at the Eurovision Song Contest). A new salmiakki is out: Malaco Must Dark Shots. Ammonium chloride content is only 2.7%, but there is a liquorice powder centre. I had a cup of coffee that appeared to have been made according to Catherine the Great's recipe. Two things are generally known about Catherine: the story about the horse is false, but it is true she used a pound of coffee to make one pot, and anyone else who tried the resulting brew got palpitations.

On the no 6 route there was a flea market, where I bought two singles - Anneli Mattila and Marita Taavitsainen. It started to rain, so I went to the nearby antiques hall. There I could have bought a Swedish pencil sharpener (240 euros), a Flit gun (remember those?), a human skull, a Swedish mechanical calculator, or a life size nude bust; but I resisted the temptation. When I came out there was a strong smell of birch leaves after all the rain and sun.

I arrived at the Vanhan Kellari 5 minutes before it opened, but there was already a queue of people waiting to get in. One was Eine-Liisa, so I had to pay for her. She said I had put on weight. I resisted the temptation to say she was looked older (this would have been a lie anyway). She said she had a new boyfriend, who had a drink problem. I said I knew this, I had met him. She said no not him, this was a new guy, but with the same problem. I think Eine-Liisa deserves better than these losers, but I didn't say anything. We had some very nice intimate dances together. After a couple of hours, Hilkka came in, looking very pretty and retro in an op-art mini-skirt. I disentangled myself from Eine-Liisa and spoke to her. She asked me for a dance (she had to ask me, not I her, as it is always a naistentanssit on Tuesdays) which was the tango/jive arrangement of Buona Sera. She asked when I was next in Finland, and I said I was coming back in September to see Arja Koriseva in Ava and Frank. She said she had recently been to a dance where Arja as singing. We had four more dances over the course of the evening, but the rest of the time I danced with Eine-Liisa. At midnight her boyfriend rang to ask where she was, so I escorted her to the bus station. We lingered over our goodnight kiss and I promised to see her the following Monday when I returned from Seinäjoki.

Next morning at 7, I locked myself out of my room at the Eurohostel. Worse, I was wearing only my underpants. I had to go down to reception to get someone to let me back in. Nobody turned a hair. I got the usual 10:06 train to Seinäjoki, and stayed at Seija's as usual. I bought a pass, which is still 95 euros. There was an opening meeting which I could attend as I am a Tango Club member. All the finallists were there and I was able to speak to Sanna Arell: I said I had seen her on tv and that she was the best. See pic of me and the lovely Sanna. Kaija Lustila was there also and she remembered me. She wasn't just being polite as she remembered that I had approached her in the parade.

While waiting for the parade I caught sight of Little Irja with a female friend. I said hello but she ignored me. I have been trying to get a good video of the parade for 9 years now. The brass band plays La Cumparsita, and I imagine it sounds the way G.H. Matos Rodriguez composed it for the student marching band in Montevideo. I did manage to get about 20 seconds which were not bad, and posted the clip on Youtube. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSJ-o8eaPHk I got a picture of the crowd, including Kaija Lustila, reflected in the polished bell of the sousaphone.

Where's Kaija?

The Tango Street had the street stage, pavilion, and Tangostyle tent as last year. Only the pavilion was in use this first evening and the tv programme Kesäillan tango was filmed there. Little Irja greeted me in a very friendly manner. She hadn't wanted to acknowledge me in front of the other woman. The pavilion was very hot, crowded and sweaty and I clasped Irja close as we danced. At 21:30 she said she had to go home so I escorted her to the bike stand. I returned to the pavilion, where the filming had ceased and the place a little less crowded. The finallists all sang tangos, and I danced with a number of very nice partners. Other singers included Antti Raiski, Kaija Lustila, and Maestro Lundberg. I returned exhausted to the house at 1:30.

Next morning all the finallists sang tangos in the mall. Both Sanna Arell and Suvi Karjula sang Rannalla. I had heard this number a few times the previous day as well. I refreshed myself with some strawberries and walked to Reijo Möttönen's house - the man who was selling the Tangomarkkinat 1 record. This was an EP, not an LP as I expected. Still, I now have all the Tangomarkkinat compilations except numbers 5 and 7. No afternoon dancing. In the evening there was a tango singing competition for seniors. Two successive competitors sang Rannalla. I saw Kaija Pohjola in the street on the way to the stage. In fact she spotted me before I spotted her. She said thank you for the Christmas card. She did two spots in the pavilion and I watched both, even though Marita Taavitsainen was appearing on the street stage at the same time as one of them. I did manage to get the end of it though. She asked for tango requests and in the end sang Rannalla. What is it with Rannalla this year? Then back to the pavilion for Risto Nevala. He sang Por Una Capeza and I danced Argentine tango with a very frail lady of about 90. Leena and Åke Blomqvist were there and recognised me. Åke is himself looking a little frail. Then was the Könsikkäät male voice choir on the street stage. They sang several tangos: Jealousy, Hernando's Hideaway, and Sä kuullut päivän jolkaiseen. Then back to the pavilion for Kaija's second spot. Someone took a picture of us together. By now it was half past midnight. I thought of going to the Areena but I was getting tired and returned to the house.

Big disappointment! Sanna Arell didn't make it to the finals. A real shame, as in my view she was by far the most charismatic and talented. I saw on Facebook that Marja Nyman, the author of Tango Royals, was in Seinäjoki. I resolved to look out for her. At 10:00 rehearsals for the finals were held in the Areena. As a Tango Club member I could get in free. I noticed a camerawoman who had the cable hooked over her belt, looking as if she herself was part of the equipment. A boy paid out and hauled in the cable, seemingly having no other duties. Afterwards I went to the Areena cafe for lunch, and almost literally bumped into Arja Koriseva coming out. She greeted me in a very friendly and effusive manner amd I said I was very much looking forward to her performance that night. Dancing started at 15:30 in the Tango Street. Marko Lämsä did his trademark hotted-up version of El Choclo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDGpmjaZQD0 . Some nice partners: a Chinese lady, very smart and excellent dancer; Leena, dark, friendly, plumpish; and a very young blonde girl standing on the edge of the floor, nobody asking her to dance. I asked her, even though she was over 40 years my junior; we had two nice tangos and after that other men had the courage to dance with her. I went to the Tangostyle tent and saw M.A. Numminen rehearsing. I was able to speak to him and said Tango is my Passion was the best book since the Bible. He asked if I had read it in German, and I said no, Finnish. He said not many non-Finns had read it in that language. Later in the evening was Johanna Pakonen but the highlight was of course Arja Koriseva. She was absolutely magnificent as always, giving us songs from her new record, old favourites (including Rannalla), and songs I hadn't heard her do before. The Tangomarkkinat always features the world's biggest collection of talent; but Arja always manages to top them all.

Afterwards I walked to the Areena where I had many nice partners. Auli asked about dancing in England. I was pleased to spot Outi, but never got to dance with her as she stayed with the same man all the time. Eventually I noticed she was wearing a wedding band. Finally a very nice lady wrapped her leg round mine in the final chord of a tango and I thought that was a good end to the evening. It was quarter to two, and I returned to the house.

Next morning I watched Kesäillan tango, which had been broadcast the previous day. Irja and I appear after 6 minutes 50 seconds. I went to the square and saw Leena there. We had coffee and strawberries together. She told me she was a nurse, and had been divorced 26 years, or possibly after 26 years of marriage (the Finnish grammar was a bit difficult at this point). Actually neither seemed likely, as she didn't look as old as 26. She is moving to Wolverhampton next year, and asked if I knew of any good dance places. I had to admit I had never been to the town. I asked if she was going to the Tango Street that night, and she said no as it was too crowded and "Eino Grön doesn't make me sweat". I'm not quite sure what she meant by that last remark.

Kaija Lustila was performing in the mall. There was a piece of electrical equipment on the floor; a man lead his partner up to it, and she daintily stepped over it in the Argentine manner. I was able to speak to Kaija and she gave me a signed photograph. Someone took a picture of us. Then I went to the tango street where Arja Sipola, M.A. Numminen and others were scheduled; but all that was happening was interviews for the radio. No performances or dancing of any kind. I bought a tango quiz book from the souvenir shop and returned to the house to gorge on strawberries and salmiakki. I noticed in the paper that someone in Suomenlinna had flown the US flag upside down. There was a church concert, but although Kaija Lustila was in it, I thought 15 euros was a bit steep. I went to the pavilion in the evening, where the first number was Erottomattomat, one of my favourite tangos, by the lovely Johanna Debreczeny. I danced with Salmi, one of my long-standing partners, and Kateriina, a very friendly and sexy lady. We talked about previous visits to the Tangomarkkinat. She has been coming for some years, but it seems we have not run into one another before. We saw three women dancing humppa together, as well as two women (different ones) dancing tango in an intimate embrace. Both are unusual sights in Finland. Then to the street stage to listen to the non-sweat-inducing Eino Grön. I danced with a big blonde Swedish lady. She said her name was Arja, and asked if I had heard of the name before. I said I had. Another partner was Kaija, short and plump, who didn't seem to want to progress, so we twirled round and round on the spot. The winner was announced: Marko Maunuksela, with Suvi Karjula coming second. So for the second year running we have a male winner and a female runner-up.

Then to the Areena. Singers included Amadeus (who sang Bensaa Suonissa as a humppa), Hanna Talikainen, and of course Marko Maunuksela and Suvi Karjula. The evening passed in a haze of ecstatic dances with some wonderful partners: Maija-Helena was tall and slim, and I was very aware of her thighs as we danced; Anne was cuddly and blonde; Reeta kept both thighs pressed against me; Pirkko (my 11th Pirkko) was young with dark ringlets; and many others, including the biker chick from last year and a pregnant lady in a leather dress. At one point I went outside to cool off and there was tango karaoke on the verandah. Two raucous women were singing Kotkan ruusu while two young men danced tango. Eventually after three ecstatic tangos with Wonder Woman lookalike Sirkka, with frenela at every step, I decided the high point of the evening had been reached and I left at 2 and returned exhausted to the house.

Next morning, after coffee and strawberries in the square, I stocked up on rye bread, salmiakki, and salmiakki flakes. I wanted salmiakki sauce but they didn't have any. I rang Eine-Liisa and arranged to meet her when the train arrived in Helsinki. The tango dancing competition was held in the Areena. Outi was competing. I spoke to Leena and Åke Blomqvist, who were judging, and danced with their daughter Claire and a few others, including Maija-Helena between rounds. After the competition I returned to the square and was delighted to see Little Irja in the bar, listening to tango karaoke. We went to see Marko Maunuksela and Suvi Karjula in the mall and returned to the bar for a drink. The day was blisteringly hot and Irja's pretty face was glistening with sweat. A drop rolled down her cheek. “Don't cry, Irja” I said. She laughed. We were joined by an American man who asked if I knew of any good Finnish tango records. Naturally I did and was able to recommend a few, and some suitable websites including of course this very blog. But I felt inhibited talking to him in English in front of Irja and repeated what I said to the American in Finnish so she wouldn't feel too left out. He soon left and I was able to spend some happy moments with Irja until she said she had to go home.

There was dancing in the Areena in the early evening. Marko Maunuksela and Suvi Karjula were singing and I had a number of nice partners including Maija-Helena and Leena. A young woman addressed me by name, asked me to dance, and said she had heard about me from Kirsi of Hämeenlinna. I asked if she meant Irja, as Big Irja comes from there, but she said no. I still have no idea who Kirsi might be. Kaija Lustila had the last spot. I stood by the stage and watched her. At the end I said thank you and goodbye and hope to see you next year. I returned to the house at 20:15. Seija was there. We talked about the Tangomarkkinat, watched some of the video I had recorded, and tried out the tango quiz book. It ranges from the very easy (How many times do you have to knock to get into Hernando's Hideaway?) to the difficult (What Finnish opera diva recorded Tango of Lapland?) to the sort of thing even Virtanen would think too obscure (What sort of car did Olavi Virta drive?).

My last day in Finland was blisteringly hot again. I wore my linen suit as I thought it would be smarter than shorts for the journey to Helsinki; and besides I was meeting Eine-Liisa. I managed to get some salmiakki sauce on the way to the station. Eine-Liisa was waiting for me at Helsinki station, and we had lunch at the Omenapuu, or Apple Tree. After a relaxing afternoon wandering round the town, she went home and I got the bus to the airport. The flight left from Terminal 1, which has until now always been for domestic flights only, so I had a bit of a walk. I forgot I had the salmiakki sauce in my cabin bag, and it was impounded. I should have realised that ammonium chloride is a dangerous explosive when mixed with liquorice.

I have discovered a mistake in the tango quiz book: question 23/7 is: “The French tango Notre tango d'amour was translated into Finnish as Vie meidät rakkauteen. What dark-voiced female artist recorded it in 1977?” It isn't French. Tango d'amor (no notre, no U) was written by Leo Leandros, who is Greek. In spite of its name, it had German lyrics, and was a big hit for Vicky Leandros in Germany in 1976. But I still got the answer wrong. I thought the dark-voiced diva was Arja Saijonmaa: the answer was Lea Laven.