Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Arja's Christmas Concert 2011

I had not been in Finland during the Christmas period since 2007, when I went to Arja Koriseva's Christmas concert in Tampere. I had not been to Helsinki in December since 2004; so when I read of Arja's Christmas concert in Helsinki on 19th December 2011, I had to go. I phoned Eine-Liisa and she said she would be in the Vanhan Kellari as usual. I booked a direct flight from Heathrow for 15th December which would have got in at 13:25 - plenty of time to get to the hotel for a leisurely shower and change of clothes before getting to the Kellari when it opened at 16:00. The airline changed all this by cancelling the flight and compelling me to get a later one which meant a change at Copenhagen. The upside to this was I saw a bridge that seemed to go nowhere and was able to buy some Danish salmiakki.

I was hoping to see snow in Helsinki, but there wasn't any; only rain. In fact it rained all the time I was there. Eventually I got to the Kellari, finding it packed out as usual. Kari Vespä provided the music. I danced most of the time with Eine-Liisa, plus a couple of jenkkas with the same tall thin lady I had seen at Seinäjoki. Also present was an elderly man with a much younger partner who looked very much like silent movie star Louise Brooks. These two danced Argentine tango to everything, including the humppas. All in all an excellent evening, the only disappointment being that Hilkka wasn't there.

Next morning I went for a coffee in the harbour. The Hyöky lightship, now a museum, was there. Outside Stockmanns a Romanian quartet was playing Autumn Leaves as a tango. I bought some Christmas cards, Arja's new CD Rakkaudesta jouluun, and the DVD Rare Exports, which tells of the discovery of Father Christmas buried under a mountain. I had lunch in the Vanhan Kellari at a cost of 8.90 euros. Juha Metsäperä was providing the evening's entertainment in the Vanhan Kellari. Hilkka still wasn't there - Eine-Liisa said she had been in on Tuesday. After a solid 8 hours dancing, I escorted Eine-Liisa to the bus station. She said she would not be around at the weekend as she would be with her boyfriend.
"Here's a present for you" I said, and gave her a Christmas pudding. She looked a it doubtfully. Only then did I notice its resemblance to a bomb.
"It's an English Christmas dessert" I explained. "You eat it on Christmas Day."

Next day (Saturday) I went to Fennica Records in Albertinkatu, where I bought two Anneli Mattila records. Nearby is a secondhand bookshop. The proprietor is Father Christmas, or at least looks a lot like him. There were some interesting books there, including a 1790 Swedish-Latin dictionary, and a Kalevala in Savo dialect. I didn’t buy either, though I might have bought the dictionary if it had been Finnish-Latin as I had lost my Latin dictionary in the fire.

I went to the VPK restaurant for lunch, but there was a private party. The Vanhan Kellari is closed for lunch on Saturdays so I bought some rye bread and cheese from the supermarket. I went to the library, which is behind the railway station. According to the Helsingin Sanomat, a daytime dance was to be held in the Puistokulma in Vantaa on Sunday. You can use the library computers free even if you aren’t a resident. I had an email about Bernard Monshin: this was in response to a question about this famous tango bandleader that I had posted on a ballroom discussion group nearly two years before. I thanked Brian Reynolds, who had sent the message, and said I would reply properly when I got back to Blighty.

The Vanhan Kellari doesn’t open till 20:00 on Saturdays. La Strada provided the music. I danced most of the evening with Maija, whose round face and frizzy hair reminded me a bit of Viivi, though that would make me Wagner.

On Sunday morning I went to the Christmas bazaar opposite the cathedral. It would have been idyllic if there had been snow on the ground, but as it was the rain and wind made it fairly miserable. Even the glögi (mulled wine) didn’t help: it was weak, non-alcoholic, and not particularly hot.

In the afternoon I went to the Puistokulma. It is round the corner from Hiekkaharju station. You can use your tourist ticket on local trains. The singer was Kari Piironen, who was Tango King in 1988. “Louise Brooks” and her partner were there, attempting argentine tango to a polka. One lady in particular was extremely popular and I found it nearly impossible to get near her to ask her to dance. She had black and white hair like Cruella de Vil. Eventually I had an ecstatic tango with her - really worth the wait. I asked her name but she didn’t say, so she has to remain Cruella. Other nice partners included Liisa, who insisted on dancing jive in close hold, and Marjukka, who was very plump and danced an energetic humppa and even more energetic jive, bouncing around like a little ball. An excellent afternoon - I hardly sat down the whole time I was there.

Next day I went to the VPK restaurant for the Christmas buffet. At last in the evening was Arja's Rakkaudesta jouluun Christmas concert at the Savoy Theatre. It was, as you might expect, absolutely wonderful. There were some unfamiliar songs from her new record, and some well-known ones, such as First Noel and Walking in the Air in Finnish and Ave Maria in Latin. At one point she exited the stage while the band completed the number. They started the next one with the pianist (who had a real grand piano, not a digital one) singing. Then Arja joined in from the back of the balcony. There scarcely seemed enough time for her to get there from the stage - and she had a different dress on as well. Then she wandered through the audience, still singing, and returned to the stage. After the show she came to the lobby to hobnob with her fans and sign autographs. She thanked me for the Christmas card I had sent and signed the CD insert of the record I had bought. A new show, Delilah, is opening in February and I said I would be there. By the time I had left the theatre it was 22:00 and I could have gone to the Vanhan Kellari, but Arja's concert was the high point of the evening (indeed the trip) and anything else would have been an anticlimax, so I returned to the hotel.

Me with Arja Koriseva

On my way to the airport next day I put a Christmas card addressed to "Hilkka, Vanhan Kellari" through the Kellari's letter box. I said I was sorry to have missed her and hoped we would be able to dance together next time. I don't know if she will get it or not: there might be lots of regulars, or employees, called Hilkka. Change of planes at Stockholm - I noticed it had been snowing there.

When I got home I had a Christmas card from Big Irja. She said she had not been to Seinäjoki because she had been ill. I rang her on Christmas Day and said I hoped she was feeling better and would be there in 2012. I also rang Eine-Liisa. She hadn't eaten the Christmas pudding. Perhaps her boyfriend had detonated it.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Viivi and Esther

Beauty queen Viivi Pumpanen is the winner of this year's Tanssi tähtien kanssa. With her partner Matti Puro she got 36 for her samba, 40 for tango, and 39 for freestyle. The prize is not a glitterball (glitterballs may be unknown in Finland - I can't recall ever seeing one) but an old-fashioned sports cup, a bottle of champers, and a kiss from the head judge. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngDjy0lxmiM

I have had a letter from Esther Rantzen. She wrote an article about loneliness in old age in the Daily Mail. I replied as follows:

The ballroom has always been the place for us babyboomers to meet people, and, if we are lucky, our soulmates. But, I hear you say, that day is gone: places like the Southend Kursaal and Hammersmith Palais are closed, and the Blackpool Tower Ballroom is frequented only by couples. But there is a place where the couple-dance culture is alive and well: and that is Finland. I have been there nearly 40 times since my wife died. The biggest event is the Tangomarkkinat, attended by about 100,000 tango-crazed Finns and a few foreigners; lots of couples, but more singletons than even the most dedicated socialite can hope to meet in the 5 days the festival lasts. The next Tangomarkkinat is in July 2012, but every Finnish town has its dance halls and countryside pavilions, open most evenings and some afternoons with live music by high profile easy listening stars. Not everyone has the money or the mobility to make the journey, but for those of us who do, the effort is well worth it. The dances are always well attended with plenty of singletons. You yourself have an advantage because Anton du Beke has already taught you all you need to know. It is true that the Finnish waltz, foxtrot, and tango are somewhat different from ours, and that there is also the humppa and jenkka; but all this can be picked up easily. It is perfectly in order for women to invite men: in fact sometimes it is compulsory. At the events described as Naistentanssit (ladies’ dance) the men have to sit quietly and wait for the women to invite them. It is true the Finnish language is not easy, and that people our age rarely speak English; but you don’t need much and in any case it is well known that learning a foreign language stops the brain from deteriorating. And nothing can give the brain a better workout than Finnish. I intend to be in Helsinki in December and if I see you in the Vanhan Kellari I will take you for a twirl on the parquet.

And I got a reply! At the bottom of what is clearly a form letter is the handwritten addition:

What a wonderful thought! Though it might just Finnish me off! Very best wishes, Esther Rantzen