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Helsinki 2021: Part 3


Lexi’s here! No time for writing.



Morning again. Really wish my sleeping pattern would improve, by which I mean I wish I could sleep. So... oh my god, am I really writing about Sunday still? It’s Wednesday. Poor form, Alex.

On Sunday (12th September) it rained a lot. It rained hard and persistently all through the morning. Ilona and I had planned for this by choosing museums the night before, but even so, the rain was so bad we decide to wait inside. It let up at about midday, and so we grabbed the opportunity and scampered down to the Helsinki Museum. The exhibition rooms were closed, and in fact the only one open was on the second floor. Many more fun facts about Helsinki were revealed, like the effect of prohibition in the 1920s, crime in the city, skateboarding that’s more a thing than just that guy I saw the other day, and what a home in the 1950s looked like. I asked Ilona how it would feel to see a room from the 00s in a museum one day. She replied that they’d better show an accurate one, instead of a pretty one. I asked her what that meant. She didn’t want to go into details, presumable because everyone’s bedroom is a little embarrassing when they’re 5-15. Except mine; I’ve always been cool. I just hope they’d get the music right when they do make a display.

A lot of classic buildings have been torn down in Helsinki to make way for new developments, said one of the signs, which is a shame because the new developments aren’t all exactly lookers. Generally, though, it was a neat little museum that shed more light on the city itself. Before we left, there was a replica sauna we could have a look at, which must be the most touristy thing ever to a native Fin. They had three hand-knitted mannequins inside that took me by surprise, as they certainly didn’t shy away from their nakedness aspect. Knitted old lady vagina was not something I expected to see that day, for sure.

Back outside, and a light dusting of rain had reintroduced itself. We dithered on which place to go next, but it worked in our benefit in the end because it gave us an opportunity to smell incense of the ‘First Forest’ and the ‘Last Forest’. A lady stood on the pavement looking a bit damp under her umbrella and was eager to cling onto her coffee. She was handing out pamphlets about the installation (probably a bit generous to call it an installation; it was two sticks on incense in two different windows) and helped describe the smells we were meant to be smelling. It was about as nice as smelling incense could be, I suppose.

In reality, we were still far away from our next stop; the Museum of Finland. We hurried along down the posh shopping district, which Ilona mentioned had been designed as the premier shopping destination but was only really visited by tourists at this point. I was living proof of that, as I stopped to take pictures of small architectural features and the like. Ilona didn’t stop walking to wait, a habit that would continue for the rest of the day. A few times, she waited for me because I was so far away that I was at risk of disappearing from view. I hope I wasn’t actually annoying her. This is my underlying worry now.

Since I’d taken the tube to get to Ilona’s, I hadn’t seen the masks that the giant statues outside the central train station had been wearing. I thought it was a cute addition, a fun way of commenting on covid policies. Had to run to catch up again after that.

The music hall was big, the parliament building was cool, we didn’t really stop to look because we were getting rained on. The Museum of Finland looks like it was converted from a church, but Ilona assured me it was just designed that way. And to be fair, so many museums have a purpose-built clocktower. I can count at least one, after this. On the ceiling was painted scenes from the Finnish national epic, which I will include here once I find some Wi-Fi to look the name up again: (Kalevala!). Judging from the image presented to me, along with Ilona’s explanation of it, it’s for sure the sort of story I should have a look at seriously. Wizards and warriors, that sort of thing. The museum was filled with other awesome artifacts; it showed me the horrors of Finland in the early 20th century, but also their success in the 1952 Olympics and how that buoyed national pride.

There were whole sections dedicated to the Christianisation of Finland, and the myth that Lalli killed bishop Henry as their first contact with Christianity. The wooden carvings of different biblical characters were quite varied, and quite impressive. I wonder if wood carvings like that are still being made today, or if they’re not as stressed in modern worship. Speaking of which, one of the was a bit more Pagan-inspired; it had stone eyes and had been thrown into a lake by a priest who was fed up with not catching any fish. Then, the fish arrived, and he ended up having a great time, I guess because they were disturbed by the wooden stone-eyed god. It reminded me of the kind of religious syncretism that happened in Sweden with the Norse gods from way back at college, when I did that awful Extended Project on Frey and Dumuzi. Did you know my first pitch for that 5,000-word essay was to compare the Roman Empire with the Han Dynasty? The point is that the holy trinity was used to disguise worship of Odin, Thor, and Frey. Looks like a similar thing happened in Finland. Did you also know that there was no official Finnish translation of the Bible until 1642? How do you preach a religion when no one understands you? I liked that museum a lot. It was extremely informative, and I hope I can remember as much as I can. It may just end up being what’s written in here, which would be a shame.

Oh, and one last thing. One exhibit focused on Animism, and how the old Finnish religion and traditions gave inanimate objects souls of their own. Everything had a spirit. Ilona talked about how annoying it had been to see Twitter SJWs declare that it was problematic to use the term ‘spirit animal’, and that they should use the Finnish equivalent instead, even though the Finnish translation would be to ‘spirit animal’, and besides, spirit animals existed in Finnish traditions too. To illustrate this concept to visitors, the museum had planned a comically small toy of Lightning McQueen in a glass case, and Ilona and I hated it. Cars is in a national museum, and it’s entirely appropriate, and we hate it.

We headed home via the shops afterwards. I got a salad that I bulked up with chorizo back home. Whilst eating our lunch, Ilona and I began a conversation about good vs. Bad writing. She highly recommended She Who Became the Sun by Shelly Parker Chan. She said it was absolutely fantastic, and the main character was refreshingly ruthless. She contrasted it with a very different book – Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, and how terribly your character can fall apart when you write yourself into a corner. Also, she loathed the pretentiousness of some authors in how they write, or how they address the audience. Do I do that? Do I sound pretentious? I hope not, but I can’t really judge that by myself.

As we got ready for bed, we had a small heart-to-heart about life in general, and work specifically. Ilona’s pretty happy with the job she has. Fortunately for her, her boss sympathised with her struggles with the benefits office, and offered her an office job as long as it paid the bills. Which is fair enough, I suppose. I’m worried I’m running out of time to do anything else. What if nobody cares about this? Why should I expect people to care? Who am I, that they would care about my adventures? I explained this inner dialogue between the two parts of me – the writer for myself, and the writer for others.

‘Stop trying to convince yourself you’re a travel writer, no one's going to want to read this,” says one part of me.

“I don’t care if people don’t read it, it’ll be a fun record of my trip,” says the other.

“So, stop advertising it to people like it’s anything more than that!”

“But I want it to be more than that!”

“You’ll never have the patience to type this all up, you’re so slow to do anything.”

“I bet I can.”

“You won’t and then you’ll be out of time and never be an author because you’ll be looking at emails and spreadsheets for the rest of your life.”

“You don’t know that!”

“I DO!” And so on and so forth. Ilona tried to ease my anxieties, but they’re still there. Who knows which side will win out. That was the end of Sunday.

Monday, Ilona was at work, so I had time to catch up on writing at her flat before I went out exploring. Nothing too crazy, although I like how there are still rocks left untouched from before Helsinki was even here. Reminds you of how recently this city was invested in. Would’ve liked to see the area before all the buildings were built and it was still a wilder seaside town.

I ducked into a coffee shop to sneak some internet and plan where Ilona and I would meet before going to collect Lexi from the ferry. My timing was completely wrong, so before I’d even taken a moment to relax back at the flat, I had to get up and go out again, which I did with a hardly exaggerated groan. It was getting really quite windy at this point, and Ilona and I decided there was no shame in taking then tram.

The ferry terminal was down a way a hadn’t been before, down past the wharfs. A piece of wall art on the side of one was either a brilliant recreation of a child’s drawing, or just a really shit piece of wall art. Either way, it’s not my favourite piece I’ve seen on this trip. We tried to get out of the wind, but with no luck, and the ferry was late as well. I may have been a bit melodramatic while pacing up and down and groaning more at the cold. Ilona could do a pretty good impression of me if you ask her. But then, like an angel from the clouds, Lexi arrived. It was so good to see her again after so long. Just like that, you could assume we were all at university again. We had a ways to walk to dinner, so we had time for a preliminary catch up on the way. We went for Scandinavian food which, for me, translated to mashed potato, pickled beetroot, pickles, and meat stew; essentially, a well-presented cottage pie. Lexi and Ilona were excited about someone who had sat in our booth before, which now has a small plaque mentioning it. Presumably, this was very cool to experience, though I had no idea who it was.

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