Travelling in the mid sixties did not yet involve threatening gun carrying Border Protection Guards nor queueing at all sorts of gates to get on board a boat, plane or train. I never had to take shoes or my belt off, hopping through metal detectors nor padded down for concealed weapons under my armpits or between my ankle-sock of a scrotum. Or, if they existed, I can’t remember. I suppose a passport was sometimes glanced at, perhaps even stamped, after which the train guard would dip his cap, say thank you and move on to the next carriage. Of course, we did lug suitcases for which those handy swivelling wheels and extended handles still had to be invented. The suitcases of that period had two chrome-plated snappy locks for which a key was used that was so universal it opened almost every suitcase. Even so, we felt safe travelling. Travellers smiled and were tolerant.
Finally arriving in Finland and getting off the large overnight ferry must have been smooth. Perhaps I did have to show my passport. All I had eyes for, somewhat nervously; was for the girl with the smile. The Mona Lisa who promised to me as I did her. She wore a lovely two piece sienna coloured outfit. I definitely did not wear my suit! It was mid-summer but not just the season. All of Finland seemed braced in cheerful golden hues. We embraced, took each other in, held hands as we walked slowly to the railway station. I must have walked lopsided holding her hand in one and a suitcase in the other. We stopped somewhere, had a coffee. A lot was going on. It had been a while since our first encounter skiing and a bloody nose resulting from the icy fall. That exchange; ‘you have beautiful eyes’ and her unnerving answer, ‘yes I know.’
We kept in contact by writing, frenetically so towards the end, before my departure from Australia to Finland for our marriage. Now at the arrival in Finland we had to deal with each other for real and possibly forever. Look at facial expressions, wonder (study shyly) nose, chin, hands… and as I did, especially her lovely smile. The way we walk and talk, inside our skins. It was beautifully serious and often fortunately hilarious as well, wholesome…, as a river flows quietly into the ocean. Still is.
My knowledge of Finland was scant. It was the forgotten corner of Europe and unlike Sweden and Norway wasn’t much on the world’s horizon. I knew by looking at the map trying to find the village where Helvi grew up that it was a huge country, sparsely populated. It had a land climate. Surprisingly warm dry summers and long cold winters. I knew that its architecture was modern and that it had a very strange language with long words that I could not link to anything.
The long words became comprehensible after some time when I found out that where we use many words to form a sentence, Finnish language link many words into one long word. Suffixes, adjectives, pro-nouns, you name it; they are all joined into the one word without using articles or prepositions. Perhaps this unique language developed out of the long winters. The need to be sparse and economical, no waste of energy, preserve the good. I would like to think that it is so. Academics claim differently. There is a link to Hungarian and Turkish languages. The mind boggles. It is surprising the language survived at all. Ownership of Finland wavered often between Sweden and Russia throughout its history.
It was soon discovered that my Dutch passport wasn’t enough identification for a marriage. Even though I was a resident of Australia, I needed much more paper work done. A date of the wedding had been set to coincide with all the Finnish family members which was extensive. Helvi came from a family of nine children of which she was one almost in the middle. My parents in Australia were hoping for a wedding in Sydney! The date was shifted several times. It become so hard that when all the paperwork was finally done, including a finger-print extract from Australian police that I was not a known (or unknown criminal), that we just decided to marry in a registry instead. The wedding dress was dyed in red and given to one of Helvi’s sisters! Afterwards we had a photo taken. I haven’t been able to find this photo. There are so many boxes of photos and so many albums to go through and so little time. Do people actually go over old photos? We did when we moved from the farm.
During the process to get married in full regalia including big party afterwards with guests and laden food tables, wild dancing including the tango or polka, I remember going to the local parish and asking the Lutheran priest to marry us. He was a good man but very careful, did not speak English. He kept rubbing his chin and saying, “niin, niin”, which meant translated, “well, well, or so, so”. “I have to think this over, come back in two weeks time, I’ll give it more thought”. After two weeks we returned back to this good man. But, again the priest rubbing his chin and again saying pensively ” niin niin”! This time he had a thick book in front of him. Perhaps he wanted to put more weight to his eventual answer in marrying us and was showing us he was seriously investigating the problem of marrying a foreigner. The Lutheran church in Finland is strong and a very important part of Finland and its culture. He meant well and did not want to make a mistake. Perhaps he was worried that he might marry a rogue of a non-believer, a scoundrel from Australia. He was not totally unjustified in thinking that. The third time back it was still, “niin, niin”, while rubbing his chin in between huge silences.
We got married, eventually, but at a registry! And by that time the summer had passed. It was now mid-winter and what a winter. During a few days the day-time temperature dropped to -34c. We rented a cottage on a frozen lake with outside sauna. It was in Ankeriasjarvi. You have seen some photos that I did manage to find.
Can you imagine?