Yesterday evening, on our evening stroll to Munkkiniemi, we witnessed a stunningly still and gorgeous moment.
Sometimes, you just need to stand and breathe and drink it all in.
Yesterday evening, on our evening stroll to Munkkiniemi, we witnessed a stunningly still and gorgeous moment.
Sometimes, you just need to stand and breathe and drink it all in.
It’s that time of year when we spend more time outdoors in the light than indoors hibernating. And, the world is coming alive.
Yesterday evening’s traverse through and along well-familiar paths in our old neighbourhood was lovely. We’ve walked (and run) those well-worn paths hundreds of time in all kinds of weather and at various times throughout the year. Yesterday, those paths offered multiple views with perhaps fresh eyes, resembling some sort of post-apocalyptic dystopian landscape against a dramatic, grey sky. It was somewhat surreal. Both old and new. Perhaps that was simply our perspective this particular spring.
The trees are just beginning to bud. The ferns and grasses and low-lying vegetation haven’t begun to spring and shoot up. And, few flowers have yet to break through the surface of the just-unfrozen topsoil. Water flows through various creeks once again, with signs that everything was covered in a thick layer of snow not that long ago a distant memory.
Spring is springing in southern Finland once again. Even if things look a little weathered and weary, the old world is looking a little fresher and new.
After our move last autumn, we haven’t really had the time or the energy to explore our new-to-us surroundings. Even though we are less than 1 km from our old ‘hood, it’s like we’ve moved to an entirely different city in some ways. And, one in which we feel oddly much more at home.
Our flat itself is indeed home now. It felt comfortable that first night we spent here, despite the chaos of boxes and mess. But, we nested quickly and effortlessly. Beyond our front door, we’re still exploring and understanding this seemingly different Helsinki. Our shopping habits have changed. And, we now rely on entirely different bus routes, which are surprisingly much more convenient and more plentiful.
Given the weather, as well as schedules and other nonsense related to simply living, we are only now finding our daily groove and rhythm, and resuming our evening strolls. Yesterday, we explored a new route I stumbled upon earlier this week when out on a run.
And, oh my. We are so, so happy. There will be many an image from future strolls and runs, I’m guessing. As much as we loved Munkkiniemi at sunset, this is something else entirely.
Now, we’re closer to an island called Seurasaari, an unpopulated and rather underdeveloped little gem here in Helsinki. Below, I’ve put together a selection from our evening stroll yesterday evening.
We knew this was going to be a fantastic outing relatively quickly. Just after we crossed over and approached the water’s edge, we heard a familiar sound: the tweets of a woodpecker. Much to our delight and awe, we witnessed a tiny little fledgling woodpecker in flight and then chipping away at a branch just over our heads. The pictures here suck. Apologies.
But, y’all, it’s moments like these that take our breath away and make us happy to be alive and here. In this place.
I’ve never been particularly good at living in the moment. My lack of patience for just about anything is legendary amongst those who know me best. Try as I might, I’d rather not wait for … anything. Ever.
During the past year, I’ve made attempts to be a bit more mindful and of, if not quite in, the moment. Some days it’s easier undoubtedly than others. But, I’m trying.
As The Cuban, Che Fufu and I navigate a particularly stressful period in our otherwise uneventful life, little reminders continue to pop up signifying how fortunate we are and how we must simply enjoy those moments of calm and simplistic natural beauty in seemingly unexpected places when we can. We’ve taken to voicing what inspires and makes us happy at the end of each day, beyond just being together—being together is a given, even when we aren’t at our best. And, lately, I’m anything but my best. But, moments of gratitude allow us to move beyond the stress and uncertainty. They allow us to just be aware and acknowledge that even if we face adversity, we also have much to be grateful for. Much, much more than that which weighs us down.
Yesterday, as we walked our beloved neighbourhood on our evening stroll, we chased not only a budding sunset and the last of the summer sun, but a full rainbow. Neither one of us could remember the last time we saw a full, unobstructed rainbow, so full that capturing it in one shot was impossible. That rainbow was magical and necessary and perfectly imperfect as it formed, brightened and faded with the slowly disappearing and last of the summer sun. My word it was breathtaking.
As we arrived along the water’s edge, for the setting sun to our right and that glorious rainbow to our left, we breathed. Simply and deeply we breathed. We paused and just took it in. All of it. And, it was magnificently magical and perfect. For those few moments, nothing else mattered. Not the stress we continue to endure. Not the uncertainty of what comes next for us. Not the knowledge that whatever we face may not be easy but we’ll get through it together. We were, quite simply, in that moment completely.
Here’s to finding a few more of those quiet, calm and perfectly imperfect moments. Whenever and wherever we can. And, to rainbows and sunsets wherever they appear.
My (misspent) youth featured who knows how many concerts, shows, festivals and gigs, ranging in size from the small local pub with sometimes fewer than 10 to 20 of us devotees to general admission behemoths featuring tent cities and reincarnated walls of sound with 200 000-plus music-loving freaks all sharing a moment. Almost exactly 20 years ago, I attended my last large-scale festival in the United States, the Lemonwheel in upstate Maine quite literally on the Canadian border (featuring actual mounted Mounties!) for the most epic of Phish shows during four days of camping and two days of shows.
Today, festivals at least in Helsinki, appear much more grown-up in many ways. Or, perhaps it’s the attendee. That was my impression of the Flow Festival. Situated near an electrical power plant and the heart of Helsinki’s rather more colourful districts, this festival blew me away. With around 28 000 attendees each day, and featuring acts I’d not expect in Helsinki, surprises lurked around every corner of the venue. Ten stages, loads of amazing (mostly vegan and sustainable) food on offer, and plenty of port-a-loos, some which even flushed, this was fantastically fun. (My last festival could boast no such luxuries, and the port-a-loos were an unbelievably unpleasant experience by the second day of that misadventure! Trust me.)
I confess: most of the acts at Flow aside from Patti Smith (who rocked the house contrary to the review the Helsinki Sanomat), Lauryn Hill (who slightly disappointed me only because she played short, the song was off and she did not reprise any classics from The Fugees) and Kendrick Lamar (who connected and amazed me, even if I did fear the bruising from the hyped up audience at moments) were utterly unknown to me before this weekend. Some I’d probably heard on one All Songs Considered or another. However, I’d never heard of most of them, particularly the Finnish acts. But, what a treat they all were.
Sunday began under dark, ominous clouds and threats of rain. But, as our crew entered the venue, the skies appeared a bit clearer and the air was filled with anticipation and excitement and joy. Overwhelming joy just being at Flow. This was a common theme across the three days. Everything up to that point had been oodles of fun. Why shouldn’t Sunday be any different?
Finding a man in a jacket with my husband’s name on it was one thing; my husband he most certainly was not. The first song I made it to by a Finnish band, Pyhimys, featured a kitty cat. Purrfect. Lyrically I understood nothing, but I liked this act. A lot. Not understanding the lyrics represented another common theme to my weekend. But, that mattered not. The vibe was funky and sweet. So sweet in fact, a little girl appeared on stage and sang along with the band and the crowd. More of that, please.
Next up was a lot of random-stage hopping and a bit of food. One take away from the previous two days was eat early if you plan to eat at all or don’t want to wait an incredibly long time for so-so food. The queues get long the later in the day you eat. Whilst the previous day featured Ethiopian food to die for, Sunday offered up another Helsinki favourite, Na’Am Kitchen. North African and Middle Eastern flavours combined creating some of the most tasty treats imaginable. Spicy red lentils and black-eyed peas never tasted so good. Unexpectedly, there was even salad — fresh, gloriously crunchy mixed greens! And, this was at a festival cooked out of a tent! If you happen to be in Helsinki, go to their brick and mortar location. You will not be disappointed.
Next top was Moodymann, a Detroit legend, provided some of the best dance music I heard all weekend. From New Order to more contemporary funk, he had us all grooving and feeling fine. I rather regretted dashing to get to the next stage. But, that is also the Flow experience. So much is happening simultaneously that you have to sacrifice the beginning or end of one show to catch the next. And, on it goes….
Enter Kendrick Lamar. Poet. Rapper. Historian. Urban fable-ist. Artist. Former thug-turned-performer. Pick your label and apply as you will. Kendrick was fun. I completely lost all of my peeps before he went on — the main stage area was jam packed like sardines by the time Kendrick’s performance began, which made it all the more interesting in many ways. I have no idea how long he performed — I don’t really care. It was fun, it was compelling and he had us all right there with him. The best bit of irony of the entire weekend also popped up at this point. Flow sent out messages to attendees via its mobile app and displayed huge screens asking the audience not to film or photograph Kendrick’s performance. (We appreciate your kind request and mostly rejected it.) Yet, somewhere in the middle of his set, the man himself asked us all to pull out our ‘lights’, which consisted of thousands of mobile-phone powered torches. Naturally, no one took a single photograph. Uh-huh. Well played, Kendrick. Well played.
The final act I caught was St. Vincent, and I honestly do not have the words to describe what I witnessed. Massive power guitar. Haunting lyrics and vocals. Surreal costumes and choreography. And, boundless beauty. Girlfriend is quite honestly gorgeous. I immensely enjoyed this act, but it was also time to go home.
Flow introduced me to an incredible amount of music, most of which I’m still listening to thanks to the Flow Playlist on Spotify. There’s so much I didn’t see. But, there’s more than enough for just about everyone.
So, when do we get to do it again? Here’s to Flow 2019. I don’t care who is playing; I’ll be back.
As the world springs back to visible life in Helsinki each year, tiny seemingly imperceptible changes create what one friend referred to as a ‘green haze’. It’s incredible. And, such a contrast from the sepia monotones of winter.
Each evening as we stroll through our neighbourhood for our daily peripatetic spousal bonding sessions, we can’t help but notice the tiny explosions of life that seem to change immensely from one day to the next rather than from week to week.
Yesterday, we ventured down (and up) a path we’ve never explored before. The views from the top were truly stunning, particularly given the calm water below and the blue, blue skies above. And, everywhere that green haze of new leaves and grass and even moss and lichen.
Closer to ground, the buds of new leaves and fleeting fresh flowers provide close-up signs of that change from one season to another.
Regardless of the particular lens — macro or wide and expansive — these signs move us forward from the slumber of winter to the rejuvenation and rebirth of spring.
A little over five years ago, my husband and I endured what seemed like an impossible task at the time. It felt never-ending. Because of a set of circumstances we could not predict, we found ourselves applying for permanent residence in Finland on grounds then called ‘humanitarian reasons‘.
What strikes me as odd now is how that one event—an event stretching out to nearly a full year—continues to haunt me today.
Humanitarian reasons, or protections, as the Migration service refers to them now, are no longer accepted as justification for residence applicants. Thankfully, that classification no longer applies to us since we now hold permanent residence. I cannot imagine if we had not had that as a valid reason for submitting applications at the time. As an American with that all-important blue passport, I still find it weird that I personally fell into that category at all. Still, then, our only reason for meeting the conditions related to our mutual passports and an odd convergence of circumstances which meant we fit no other viable category.
Today, we will make our way to a Finnish Migration Service (or Migri) service point in Helsinki to renew our permanent residence cards, cards which arrived and filled us with the most immense relief I’ve ever known or am likely to ever feel. Months of waiting in a near-panic state, months of uncertainty and tidal waves of what-ifs should either or both of us be denied residence, months of simply putting everything in our life on hold until we knew what was possible. When those cards dropped to the floor as we ripped the envelope open, we didn’t merely cry, we sobbed and choked and laughed and hugged and cried some more. A period marred more as a form of psychological torture came to an abrupt and welcome end. That torment still awakens me in a cold sweat five-plus years later.
Today’s trip is already so vastly different to that hellish submission process in 2012. Then, we were armed with a bundle of paperwork (which were supplemented by three more bundles in the months that followed). Today, we need only bring our passports, our residence permit cards, and new passport photos. Then we waited hours to be seen in a numbered queue system. Today, we have an appointment.
Yet, the anxiety and worry persists despite the vastly different circumstances. Last night, I awoke in a cold sweat after having a nightmare about my handbag being nicked. What was I most concerned with? My precious residence card being amongst the items stolen and our appointment at Migri. This is not the first anxiety dream; I expect it won’t be the last.
Despite the lingering memory of that time, I know how fortunate we are, particularly compared to others who have endured far worse journeys to Finland and infinitely more stressful circumstances surrounding their own applications and long waits. If this is how this process affects me—the privileged, middle-class, white girl from the suburbs of Middle America—how does it affect those fleeing real humanitarian crises? How long do their nightmares last? And, how deep is the despair for those denied a peaceful life in this at times overly quiet country after surviving the most hellish conditions?
You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is ‘illegal’. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal? — Elie Wiesel
November in southern Finland is not child’s play, particularly once we set the clocks back that one precious hour and live on ‘winter time’. The nights become unending and the sun — if it appears at all — shines less than brightly. Couple the darkness with a heavy dose of stress and finding any joy at all becomes excessively difficult if not impossible.
But joy can be found even in the darkest of places. At least, that’s the hope we hold on to even on those darkest of days. This week featured an array of stressors and frustrations. Don’t get me wrong: bright spots shone. Yet both of us acutely feel the effects of an entirely overly optimistic and far from restful year as we near our long-awaited and overdue holiday and annual escape to the sun.
Before our escape, we must take whatever opportunities arise to break free from the daily grind. It may be a fully working weekend for us both, but we work just as hard to find time to get out and break free for our peripatetic bonding session before night falls and the darker darkness of winter characteristic of these nights descends. We made our break sometime around 16.00. And, here’s what we found on this wintry Caturday afternoon/early evening:
Days like these, I’m happy to be alive.
As soon as I learned that snow was set to arrive in southern Finland this week, that little-kid excitement took over. Anticipation. Wonder. More anticipation. Awaiting snow’s arrival takes me back to those moments as a kid, waiting to see if we’d have snow, how much would eventually fall and if school would be cancelled. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to go to school; but, rather, I wanted to run around in the freshly fallen fluff until my outdoor gear was soaking wet and I was exhausted.
Today’s snow isn’t all that fluffy. It’s weighty and wet and quickly melting rather than piling high. School won’t be cancelled for me today (because I didn’t have any classes scheduled) nor is snow ever likely to cancel classes in Finland. But, I’m still excited.
Unlike most days when I’m not in class, I needed to be somewhere this morning. After bundling up and donning the boots which I’ll likely wear through April, I found myself bracing against the icy grains of snow and smiling. I really do love snow, particularly as it falls and particularly as it changes everything it piles upon into something other worldly. No two snowfalls are alike, just as no two snowflakes are identical.
Today, the sound that accompanies snowfall struck me once again. Everything is muffled, and somehow more gentle. More muted. More peaceful. A few birds tweeted either their delight or disdain, breaking my own snow-induced trance. Perhaps those tweets were more distinct because all other sounds were muffled by the snow.
As I walked to and fro, I continued smiling as I walked in the first snow.
This semester, this month, this week, stress abounds. (Largely, I’ve created this stress for and all by myself.)
As I hurried to deliver a seminar on a topic I felt less than prepared for, cursing the construction which put me a bit further behind schedule than I was comfortable with, I passed by one of the most iconic spots in Helsinki — Senate Square.
I pass this particular spot often when I teach / lecture at the main campus at the University of Helsinki. And, the view never fails to ground and reorient me beyond whatever nonsense surrounds me. This spot reminds me of how insanely fortunate I am to live this life. A life I never imagined possible and one for which I am extremely grateful.
And, just like that, nothing seemed quite so awful or stressful any longer.