There was an eagle up in the air when I was swimming. The last day of August. The best time of the year. In the melancholy warmth of late summer the swimmer seemed more out of place than the eagle circling around the treetops. Then the eagle shrieked and his voice stayed in the air almost as long as the echo of my movement in the water. So still, the lake was holding its breath, waiting for the cold of winter and the ruthlessness of the autumn winds. So clear and so cool the lake glimmered in the evening light, completely unaware of the places spoiled and polluted, deceivingly confident on its might. Far and removed it has remained so. A bright jewel. A precious treasure. An unexpected treat. The sand under my feet was cold when I walked away. I looked back on my way and saw green and yellow mosaic in the trees. And the glimmering water.
We are headed towards the busy season. There is nothing I would change about this summer. But then again it has been my carefully chosen policy not to work my way through a list of tasks while on vacation. For me that is a life-saving skill not to be taken for granted.
I have successfully managed to forget what it is like to wake up after a night’s sleep several hours shorter than needed. I have recharged my sleep-deprived batteries. Enjoyed resting when I’m tired, staying up when I’m not. And so I have also superbly mastered the skill of forgetting what it was that needed to be done today. Lost our current spot in the calendar. Misplaced all the clocks in the house. Forgotten the bus schedule. And most importantly, taught myself not to worry about it.
In a zen-like hum I have managed to swipe the stress slate clean. Hoping it will be stronger for the challenges to come. Hoping to have prepared out-weeded soil for the new term. Gone through stress detox. Spent some time in work rehab. And while being committed, having allowed myself shamelessly enjoy every minute of it.
Seas of the world are to me about the same as honey is to Winnie the Pooh. I seem to go to ridiculous extremes in order to reach them. So was also my pilgrimage to the westernmost corner of continental Europe. Planes, trains and automobiles took us there, and spellbound by the beauty of the ocean and the warm spirit of the people I swore I’d revisit.
Before my trip to Lisbon my friend Annie told me about a great article written by Anja Mutic. Later I discovered that Anja is one of the authors of the Lonely Planet guidebook for Portugal, which I also purchased to find the best places to visit. Moreover, I want to have a phrasebook on hand in order to communicate in the local language whenever I possibly can, and LP guidebooks are the best help in my effort to pose as a local. In her article Anja writes about the different areas of Lisbon and their special features. She also unravels Saudade, the longing spirit of the Portuguese, manifested in fado music. For travel tips I warmly recommend both the article and the book.
My best experiences in Lisbon include a Portuguese dance night at a park quiosque serving some fantastic blackcurrant Sangria, breaking the ruthless Atlantic waves at a surfer beach in Guincho – just a daytrip away from Lisbon, getting lost in the narrow and winding alleys of the vibrant Alfama at moonlight, and dining in a lost side street somewhere south of Rato in a tiny, newly opened restaurant called Couto. Now that I Google it I see that it has got fantastic reviews and you can find it on Rua do Monte Olivete. Lisbon is known for its seafood and this is definitely the place to get your traditional cod or sea bass prepared with a modern twist, keeping it simple but ever so tasty. I must also send my regards to Catarina, who made us feel like we were guests in her home in that little restaurant.
In Lisbon I felt like I was surrounded by art. I couldn’t stop admiring the fantastic tile art that you can see covering both the outer and the inner walls of houses and streets, but also the graffiti art painted everywhere. I met a Portuguese tile artist called Álvaro Almeida who works to preserve the cultural heritage of the traditional tile art, considered as one of the most original productions of the Portuguese culture. Despite all the drawbacks that Colonialism and brought with it, I must say that it is pretty fantastic to think that I have seen this traditional Portuguese tiling all the way in India.
Anja writes about listening to local music in order to get into the culture, I do that too, and I also try to find something local to read. This time it was definitely Pessoa. I must say I enjoy immensely his style and his stories. He was quite a peculiar man, writing under various writer identities, who used to launch into debates with each other. But he somehow opens the window into the open-mindedness of the Portuguese. When you sit at a quiosque at dusk it seems that most people know each other and accept each others’ oddities. Teenagers, seniors, business men and women as well as little kids, all interacting and feeling comfortable in their sweet Saudade.
Watching the infinite sea, it is so easy understand the need to explore it, feeling the curiosity grow inside, wondering what there is, beyond the horizon, just out of sight. And all those brave men and women who were lost looking for it, or the ones who survived but were left longing for home. Wait! Is that a lighthouse? That weak beam of light, coming and going. No, it must be just the glimmering sea. But that, I am sure, that is an island, a big one! No, it can’t be. It must be just some ocean mist rising. I wonder where that sailboat is going… And if I sent something in the water, where would it land… Caressed by the sea, salt, sand and the sun, minds filled with adventures on the seas, promises are made to come back one day.
It seems that I am the only person wearing sandals on the Rovaniemi train today. I guess there were just too many things on my mind when I left. Oh well, it is impossible to dress for the weather in this country anyway.
My grandfather passed away recently and I’m headed north to spend some time with my grandmother. I will get off a few hundred kilometers before Rovaniemi, but still I will spend most of the day in this tiny compartment with my traveling companion, a stranger who I met when I entered our shared two square meters. A stranger who is no longer a stranger.
Finland passes by in all its green shades as the carriages rush through the forests and meadows. Again life seems to take me to unexpected places. Steadily. Reassuringly. Unavoidably.
“A little tap on the window pane, as though something had struck it, followed by a plentiful light falling sound, as of grains of sand being sprinkled from a window overhead, gradually spreading, intensifying, acquiring a regular rhythm, becoming fluid, sonorous, musical, immeasurable, universal: it was the rain.”
There is a saying here in Finland that the Finnish summer is short and with only little snow. Today it seems definitely so. A glimpse to the weather forecast says that it will remain so for some time. A glimpse outside the window totals to a white ground, windswept garden furniture and at least one fallen tree. Temperatures not rising above +10C, with the quiet whisper of ‘feels like +2′. Perfect day for writing.
Yesterday I was reading through the names of the Twitter lists I’ve been added to during these years I’ve been tweeting and I must say that I will most definitely go back when I’m having one of those days when nothing seems to work. For a self-taught photographer and a non-native English-speaker being included in ‘Visionary Visual Artists’ and ‘Superb Writers’ is the best encouragement I could wish for. I have been so busy for a couple of years with teaching and developing elearning that I haven’t had time to catch up on art. I feel that I have been deprived of something very important to me. This summer I seem to have extra time and I’ve enjoyed enormously the void left for creative thought. I’m most grateful for everyone who have supported me all these years.
I started my vacation with a visit to Ateneum, the mecca of Finnish Art. I have been looking forward to seeing their Tove Jansson exhibition and it really was worth the wait. She was such an amazing artist with immense talent, humor and eccentricity. The exhibition included drawings, sketches, photographs, paintings from many decades and even her father’s scuptures. I wrote about her local summer place in my post The Birds Were Here First. Since then I have learned more about her, for example that whenever there was a strong wind and they couldn’t land on her island, she didn’t hesitate to jump off the boat and swim the rest of the way. Tove’s art is versatile and full of humor. You should see the political cartoons she drew when she around the time of the war, with Hitler in diapers. There was no fear in her drawings, instead they were full of spite and ridicule towards the war-minded, and they were so captivatingly executed in style. One day Tove didn’t return to her beloved island anymore, and she has said it was because she had become afraid of the sea. The sea which she had always loved more than anything. I can’t help wondering whether that is the moment when we start dying when our loves turn into fears, which ever being the cause to the other. Tove had cancer and must have been already weak at the time they left Klovharu.
Another great culture event last week for me was a concert I decided to attend. A friend of mine plays the violin for Trio La Rue and she invited me. They played French classics like Debussy and Saint-Saëns (listen on Spotify) and and read excerpts from works of Marcel Proust in an event that was named after the novel In Search of the Lost Time. The concert was just one event in the Aino Ackté festival that is organized in Helsinki every year. Aino Ackté was a world famous soprano, one of the founders of Finnish Opera and the founder of the very popular Savonlinna Opera Festival. The music was divine, and the story perfectly completed by the thoughts of Proust. Ever since I have been immersed into his allegories about painting, writing and music. I have also been painting, not out of ambition, but merely out of curiosity, and I also find the creative processes very similar in these art forms, and also with fine art photography. First there is the need to create. Curiosity to dare to throw yourself into something that you can’t completely control or predict. Empty canvas, empty paper, no sound, no image, no story.
“What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.”
You pick a color or words or tunes or something to photograph and you just have to believe in what you are doing even though the color reminded you of an ultra-worn undershirt or the words random and meaningless, or the surroundings uninspiring at first glance. At some point there comes the moment when you have to do or decide something you know you can’t change afterwards, the final accent line on an otherwise finished image, the title for your piece of writing, the climax for your story, or the image your trying to capture, and with the steady hand you just have to pull it through. For a while you struggle with collecting all the lose ends, blurring the sharp edges, organizing the lost parts, trying to make everyone see what you created as a whole instead of individual details. In the end you are amazed and amused by all the roads you had to take to come where you are. The process is almost like a story in itself. Or at least one could make it to a story. Like a lifeline in a micro-scale.
“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
The best part of my life are these timeless summers. Snow or sunshine, as long as there is time for creative thought. I hope you will have a chance to do that also. I want to remind you all of the list of creatives I know and recommend. You can find the links to their pages in the margin. Happy creating!
Quotes by Marcel Proust.
My grandparents taught me to appreciate nature. I’m sure it wasn’t preplanned, instead I learned just by spending a lot of time with them. Their favorite passtime used to be wandering in the nature, picking berries and mushrooms or just enjoying the experience.
At this time of the year my grandmother used to have a fresh bouquet of wildflowers in a vase every day. My grandfather was a school teacher so he knew all the names of the plants. Even those that people don’t normally know. It got to a point sometimes that I tried to find all the most exotic and rare flowers just to test his vocabulary. But mostly I just enjoyed the tour. Sticky Catchfly, Lady’s Bedstraw and Labrador Tea were fascinating names for a seven-year-old whose world wasn’t located any higher than the tallest wildflowers.
The meadows are full of wildflowers now, and soon they will be gone. The Nordic Associations for Nature Conservation organize an annual Wildflower Day on the Sunday week before Midsummer, which is today. There are Wildflower Walks with nature experts sharing information on various species. And for Midsummer there is a popular legend of wildflowers. They say that if you collect seven of them, all different kind, and put them under your pillow you will dream about your future spouse.
A week has passed since the school closed for summer. For a week I have slept. I have slept in every morning. I have napped in the afternoons. And I have turned in early. For a week I have minded whatever has crossed my mind. In my own pace. For my own pleasure. Without restraint.
There is something utmost meditative in the sounds and sights of June. The humming of the odd bee. The arch of the flying butterfly. The never-ending song of the spring birds. And the hands and feet that attend to errands, leaving the mind free to find its own path.
It is funny how everything comes to place in the effortless space of non-scheduling. Without planning. Out of time. It is almost like looking at a negative turning into a photograph.
Maybe it is just the summer magic. Maybe the bees and the butterflies keep it all together for us in the summer, and when they die in the autumn everything falls out of place again, leaving it up to us to take control.
Meanwhile, I am left drifting off to my sweet meditation. When it is June.