Finland-Suomi ( Auto-biography).

In Finland

In Finland

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.

View from our apartment's rooftop in Sydney. 1966

View from our apartment’s rooftop in Sydney. 1966

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?

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36 Responses to “Finland-Suomi ( Auto-biography).”

  1. auntyuta Says:

    I bet the two of you made good use of the outside sauna! Did any of Helvi’s relatives speak English? Did you live at Helvi’s parents place before you were married?
    After we had migrated to Australia in 1959 our first time back to Germany for a visit was in 1977. We usually stayed with relatives in West-Berlin. Over the years we were there several times. Every time we were in West-Berlin we also ventured for a visit to East-Berlin to see some relatives. At the border between East- and West-Berlin there were the most strict Pass controls imaginable. We would always apply for a day-pass only. That meant we had to be back in West-Berlin by midnight. If we did not make it on time, they could lock us up!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    Helvi’s older brother spoke some English but also German which Helvi and I spoke together for the first year or so, even in Australia. We lived at Helvi’s parents large farm house. No problem at all. The Finns are anything but conventional. My parents would have been stuffy!
    We also stayed at another place near were Helvi was still teaching at a high school, as well as still having to do a few final University exams.
    A glorious time. Some of her sisters visited us a couple of times as well as Helvi and our young children visiting Finland later on.

    Liked by 3 people

    • berlioz1935 Says:

      When I was eight years old I read my first ever adult book. It was a detective story set in Helsinki, “The Caterpillars”. The title came from the habit of the perpetrator, I think a murderer, to leave an imitation caterpillar at the scene of the crime.

      I learned something from the book, namely that the old name of Turku was Abo. This fact is important when you want to do a crossword puzzle in German. Every second puzzle asks you,”What is the old name of a previous capital of Finland?”.

      Like

  3. Yvonne Says:

    It was so much easier, moving from one English speaking member of the British Commonwealth (Canada) to another (Australia). There was still a high degree of culture shock, but nothing compared to what people like your family, Gerard, (and the smiling Helvi), and you auntyuta, would have experienced.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      It was certainly a culture shock in reverse when going to Finland. Consider this; the Lutheran priest with his ‘niin and more niin’ contemplating marrying us, was a totally accepted and revered priest/ pastor in the farming community that Helvi’s family lived in. He was also gay and accepted and known to be so. We are speaking about the 1965 era.

      Now we move forward to 2015 and our primitive Prime Minister T. Abbott, much revered by conservative Liberals. He is against equal marriage if not gays as well, and now fighting wind farms. He thinks they are ‘ugly’. Apart from miles of telegraph poles and wiring, the millions of acres of ugly car yards, the suburban bane of advertising hoardings, he finds wind-farms ugly! Ugly…?

      Has he considered looking at his soul?

      Liked by 4 people

  4. elizabeth2560 Says:

    This is an amazing story.

    Like

  5. nonsmokingladybug Says:

    I was thinking about you last night and wondered if you speak or understand Dutch and how good your German is? We streamed a movie on netflix called “De Tweeling” (Twin Sisters). Great movie, one of the foreign films that got awards her in the US. So worth watching, but better if you don’t have to read all the time🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. rod Says:

    Too bad you can’t find the photograph and you and Helvi with Helvi in the dress. Who knows, it may turn up?

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I don’t think the wedding dress was ever worn or perhaps just once to show me. It was a simple short dress that could also be worn normally, especially if dyed a colour. I think that is what finally happened to it and given to her sister.

      Like

  7. Forestwoodfolkart Says:

    It is so interesting to read about Finland and Europe in the sixties. And quite amazing that you and Helvi have this really strong bond that has endured. Yet in the beginning, it seems like yours was a relationship built mostly on letters? Finns seem a little paradoxical in that they are not at all conventional, yet the priest was apprehensive about marrying a foreigner. As for Netflix mentioned above, you can subscribe to Netflix here now, Gerard, but my excitement about anticipating seeing all those foreign shows on Netflix that I like, was dashed, when I saw the paucity of choice, Apparently you are able to get a VPN and tap into America’s Netflix which has much more choice than that available in Australia…) Then you would never get time to sort the photos or write blog posts……

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I suppose he might have been a conventional priest in a rural area but Finland’s psyche is progressive and forward looking. We joined Telstra’s Xbox but it was pretty hopeless with mediocre choice of movies. It is now back in the garage in its own box.
      Perhaps Netflix is better but generally we do only watch news or related programs such as Q&A or Inspector Gently and of course those Danish crime shows. ‘Legacy’ was also much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Forestwoodfolkart Says:

        Legacy was excellent as was the Killing, Broen etc. Sbs on demand has better shows than most of the other options and it is free. Q and A is always entertaining no matter what Mr Abbot thinks!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Berlioz 1935 Says:

        We watch SBS on Demand on our TV via the iPad. This is really good since we are on NBN.

        Like

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        Yes, I have seen ads for the SBS streaming movies. We had Telstra TBox or Xbox but had to enter passwords etc and became ,as usual, beyond our technical expertise.
        Also the movies were very often sugary Darryl Lea coated romantic ones, with fluttering eyelashes or heaving breasts with men having proud chins that were jutting out at irritating angles..

        Liked by 1 person

      • berlioz1935 Says:

        Not all films are watchable, I grant you that. Still it is a good way to catch up if you have missed the one you wanted to watch. I have trouble recording SBS. Sometimes it stops the recording when there is an add coming up.

        Like

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        Oh what… recording Berlioz? I stand in awe. Again, I failed in that art or skill miserably. Never managed to record a single movie.
        Fancy it stopping when an add comes on. It should do the opposite and not record the add but record only the movie.
        Why is the technology not there to filter out all adds and continue the program undisturbed?

        Like

      • berlioz1935 Says:

        I heard there is such technology. but the TV channels did not like it.

        When I watch SBS on Demand on the computer it will show the ads and I can’t forward it. Watching it through the tablet it only stops and I only need to hit the play button.

        We recorded a lot of movies over the years and a lot are on tapes for the VCR which is still in working order. We bought the last one on the market.

        Like

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        Mediocre choice or a choice of mediocre…?

        Like

  8. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    So many languages, Gerald! What a lovely romance. I got padded down leaving Africa for England in 1972. I hope you know the Monty Python song Finland, Finland, Finland.

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      You seemed to also have led and still leading a rather full life, Hilary. I had a look at your sculptures via one of your blogs. Amazing!
      Thank you for your words, always so encouraging.

      Like

  9. bkpyett Says:

    Your memories are priceless and so touching. I love the way you describe your early memories of choosing your bride. Having just read ‘Sibelius, a personal portrait’, a translation 1972 copy, it transported me to Finland too. Must be a very special country.

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      It is a special country and Sibelius reflected that in music. Thank you for being so supportive. It makes me want to keep going with my words. As you know, i painted for many years on canvas but now do the same with words.

      Like

  10. Patti Kuche Says:

    Always enjoy the photos you do manage to find Gerard but your words more than fill in the missing pieces with a wonderful sense of time and place, the good times, bad times and everything in between.

    Like

  11. SnowSomewhere Says:

    Delightful writing🙂 I loved the part where she says “Yes, I know” to your compliment, heehee… There must be a part one somewhere on your blog to this, must find it (PS Your old Sydney rooftop view looks amazing)

    Liked by 1 person

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