Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tanssi tähtien kanssa

The Finnish Dancing with the Stars (Tanssii tähtien kanssa) has started - viewable on Sunday nights on tvkaista. As I recorded it and watched it later I don't know if you can vote from Blighty. I suspect not. First week they did waltz and cha-cha. Laura Voutilainen was top scorer and was also easily the readers' favourite on the Iltalehti newspaper's online poll (I voted for Satu Silvo). One of the judges, Jorma Uotinen, bears a startling resemblance to Dancing on Ice's Jason Gardiner and is similarly unafraid of handing out low scores. In fact all of the judges have a lack of compunction in this regard: the lowest scorer, Anna Perho, got 2 + 4 + 2 + 2; and Juha Veijonen got 3 + 5 + 2 + 2. Next week is jive and tango. Can't wait! Even though it will be ballroom, not Finnish, tango.
In fact tv dance competitons are a bit like buses: nothing all summer then three come along at once. As well as Tanssi tähtien kanssa on Sundays, we have Dancing with the Stars from the USA on the Watch channel on Thursdays, and our own Strictly Come Dancing starts on Friday: also with waltz and cha-cha. I don't know if the producers are getting instructions from Finland or not.

Jorma Uotinen

Jason Gardiner

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

With Arja and Mira in September

Two months after going to Finland for the Tangomarkkinat, I was back. Arja Koriseva was starring in "Ava and Frank", the story of the relationship between Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, at the Tampere Palace Music Theatre. I had tickets for the opening night. I had missed her last show, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" because of lack of funds, and I wasn't about to miss this one, even though I had no more money than before. Furthermore, Mira Kunnasluoto was appearing at a dance hall in Liperi. Where is that? I found it eventually on the map - right out in the sticks in the east of Finland. The nearest town is Joensuu, a five hour train journey from Tampere. I couldn't find a hotel in Liperi, but someone on Facebook suggested I try I found the Lohilaavu, which I think means Salmon Shack. They have no website or email address, just a phone number. I rang it, hyping myself up for a thick rustic accent and the Finnish equivalent of "Oo-arr, this be 'otel Mangel-Wurzel". There was no answer. I tried again later, also with no result. I decided to stay in Joensuu instead, and trust to luck I would get transport.

Ryanair have change the flight times into and out of Tampere: now they come in at 12:00 and leave 13:10. So I was able to spend the afternoon revelling in the sights of Tampere before going to the Seurahuone in the evening, where Janne Laine was playing.

Of course the important event was the first night of Ava and Frank. I had already invited Kati, who had come with me to Arja’s Christmas concert in 2007. She said that the Komeetta, which we had been to on our last night in 2007, was now disco only. The theatre had tables and you could have meals served during the performance. I had never seen this before. I would have thought eating would distract you from the performance; but we did indulge in a Lonkero (gin and grapefruit). Arja Koriseva was Ava Gardner of course, and Miro Honkanen was Frank Sinatra. They sang many old Sinatra hits, all in Finnish of course: My Way, Somethin’ Stupid, and many more. Arja’s version of I’m a Fool to Want You brought tears to the eyes. Absolutely brilliant.

The train to Joensuu left at midday. Kati warned me that I would see nothing but forest for five hours. And it was true: trees, trees and yet more trees. A change of train at Pieksämäki, where there was a preserved steam locomotive; but there wasn’t time to look at it. Then yet more trees until arriving at Joensuu at 16:53. The station before Joensuu is called Viinijärvi, which means Wine Lake. I have heard of the EU’s butter mountains and wine lakes but never knew they actually existed. Though come to think of it, there is a Munkkivuori, or Doughnut Mountain, in Helsinki. Perhaps Homer Simpson goes there for his holidays. The water tower in Viinijärvi station has been converted into a house.

I was booked into the Green Star hotel. That is its name, not a translation. It is supposed to be near the station, but as time was getting on and I still didn’t know how I was going to get to Liperi, I took a taxi. I asked at the hotel if there were buses to Liperi. They looked it up and said no, not on Saturdays. I would have to get a taxi, which would be 40 or 50 euros. Blimey I thought, this jaunt is getting expensive - 104 euros train fare, 8 taxi to hotel, 65 to hotel, 50 taxi to Liperi, 13 admission . . . any more of this and it might have been cheaper to stay at home and hire Mira for the Finnish language school annual dance.

So I went by taxi to the place, which is called Liperin Lava. It cost 45 euros. I arrived before the dance proper started, and a young couple were giving a dance lesson. It was on polka and mazurka. I don’t know why, as neither featured in the evening’s programme. At 20:00 the dance started. At first the Safir orchestra played alone. I saw a blonde lady on the other side of the hall and went over to ask her for a dance. Too late, I saw that she couldn’t have been over 14. It wouldn’t have mattered so much if it was a jive or salsa, but this was a tango. But I could hardly say “I don’t want to dance with you after all” and in the end the event passed with minimum embarrassment. Fortunately there were plenty of more suitable partners.

Mira was absolutely wonderful, with outstanding numbers such as Kielletyt leikit and As Time Goes By. Here she is: I stood at the edge of the stage and watched her for her first spot. She recognised me and said “thank you for coming such a long way”, which was very gratifying.

Me with Mira

I met a very nice lady whose name was Lea. She was short, blonde, very pretty, and reminded me a bit of my late wife, though of course I didn't say so. We danced two tangos, and although the usual etiquette dictated that I should escort her to her seat and find another partner, she said we should dance the following humppa set as well. Unfortunately she had to abandon it part way through. But about 20 minutes later, when another humppa was played, she came back and said I owed her this humppa; and we stayed together for the rest of the evening. We even danced through Mira's second set: Mira smiled at us as we went past. The dance ended at half past midnight. Lea asked where I was staying and I said at Joensuu. She said that she would drop me off as it was on her way.

When we left the Lava the sky was clear and bright. Lea pointed out Cassiopeia to me. She sang German songs on the way: Sag' mir wo die Blumen sind and Lilli Marlen. I said I had heard Ritva Oksanen sing them in Finnish. I noticed from a signpost we were passing that Ylämyyly, where Lea lives, is between Liperi and Joensuu, so she was going well out of her way. I didn't say anything about that, but I did mention Viinijärvi. Lea laughed and said Viini doesn't have to mean wine, it can also be "the box where a man who shoots with a bow keeps his arrows"; because the lake is shaped like a bow. Why Quiver Lake and not Bow Lake I wondered to myself; but I didn't ask as there had been enough Finnish circumlocution in the last sentence. By now we had reached Joensuu and Lea pointed out the various landmarks and attractions of the city, even though it was pitch black and nothing was visible. She dropped me off at the Green Star; we exchanged a chaste kiss and said we must meet again.

At breakfast next morning I was surprised how old the other guests were: I was easily the youngest. I walked to the station. There is a steam locomotive outside the station and inside there is an old self service ticket machine. It has a sign on it saying out of use, so presumably people have been putting half-mark coins into it trying to get tickets. The bus station is near the railway station and according to the timetable there are buses to Liperi on Saturdays, at 17:15 and 18:50. I will have to remember that if I ever come back this way. I then went to the market square, where traditional North Karelian food was sold. I had wild pig with wild garlic. One serving incorporated a handful of garlic cloves. It was absolutely delicious, but I was glad I wasn't meeting anyone for the rest of the day. Afterward I had a coffee and pulla. I left the pulla on the table while I went to get some sugar, and two sparrows started pecking at it. I hardly ever see sparrows in England now, only in Finland. Perhaps global warming is driving them north. The train left Joensuu at 12:18. This time there was nearly an hour in Pieksämäki so I was able to inspect the steam locomotive.

There is also a 1938 Bofors gun and various bits of railway paraphernalia. There is a museum, but it was shut. A sign said that there are steam railway excursions during the summer.

I arrived in Tampere at 17:53. I checked into the Omena Hotel. All the dance places are closed on Sundays, so I watched the Finnish version of So You Think You Can Dance on tv. This is simply called “Dance”, in English. There is a lot of English on Finnish television, but they don’t always get it right. There was an advert for Nestle Fitness Fruits, which the voiceover pronounced “Froyts”. Next day, back to England.