The six months or more that I lived in Finland could easily fill a book. I haven’t even reached the Kalevala. Finland’s national epic of which so much Finish culture, music and design is derived from. Let me make amends and give you at least the basics of what the Kalevala is about and I copy from Wiki;
” is a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology.It is regarded as the national epic of Karelia and Finland and is one of the most significant works of Finnish literature. The Kalevala played an instrumental role in the development of the Finnish national identity, the intensification of Finland’s language strife and the growing sense of nationality that ultimately led to Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917.[3“
And yet, despite all that beauty and creativity, Finland remains a country with a rather reticent self image. It doesn’t easily boast or do unnecessary head-stands or engage in world-stage pole vaulting. The Ankeriasjarvi hut with outside sauna and water-well with its lovely lake had to come to an end. Love alone might never end but finally also needs more than walking along water’s edge or hacking holes in ice in the hope of catching sad eyed and lonely fish. Has anyone ever experienced the delights of throwing water on boiling hot stones inside a wooden hut lined with fragrant pine?
We had bought some paints and I did do a few paintings while also waiting for news from the local Australian embassy to gain a residency permit for Helvi (my wife- vaimoni) to live in Australia. We were given an appointments for interview but when I showed the immigration man at the Embassy our buff coloured letter head with my parents address for ‘Head-Office’ within seconds assured us there was no problem. Australia was desperate for building and painting contractors. He almost gave me us free shovel and wheel- barrow.
We then booked a boat. It was again one of the Flotta Lauro boats, either the ‘Roma’ or its sister ship ‘Sydney’. The original idea was to live in Finland where I would paint pictures and Helvi teach. We had looked at a few timber houses in the country side but after a while decided to delay this plan, go to Australia for a few years instead, build up some capital. While first waiting for all paperwork to be finalised for a grand wedding and then just ditching it for a registry marriage, we now waited for all approvals for going to Australia. Helvi was never too fussed about conventions. I guess another reason we clicked together so well. Even so, the move to leave home and hearth was hard and very brave. She had already moved away from her family home for some years when she had to live close to her gymnasium and after to the university. She shared a house with her brother who was also studying. At week-ends she travelled home to the farm to be with her very large and extensive family.
The village she lived in was peopled mainly by her father’s brothers and other close relatives with the farm houses clustered cosily together and the farm land nestled around this village. Some crops were grown, some had milking cows and most also produced timber. I remember visiting her father’s sister just a short walk from the farm. She was married to a man who had lived for many years in Canada and spoke English with a strong Canadian accent. His name was Antti. He told me an interesting and amazing story of why he went to Canada in the first place. His wife was always a bit anxious when he spoke to me in English. Her name was aunty Maija.
The main event when visiting family and friends was to have coffee. Coffee drinking in Finland is a national past-time together with eating ‘pulla’, a kind of cardamon semi-sweet cake and is revered as the essence of much Finnish baking. If you are offered coffee and pulla you are in good hands. Sometimes cream is put on top and coffee is sugared with cubes of sugar. (Readers might remember many years later on the hot train between Moscow and St Petersburg a kind and buxom woman offered me those same cubes but dipped in Absinthe after she found out I painted pictures. The same woman also dabbed her generous bosom with Eau de Cologne with an embroidered hanky. Oh, how those memories linger! Was the number of that Cologne 711 or 911? It is so confusing now).
It was within a few weeks of our departure when a telegram came that told us a fire had broken out on our ship cancelling our trip. But, as compensation, were offered a first class voyage to Australia on their other Flotta Lauro ship a couple of weeks or so later. When the time came we said goodbye, walked out of Helvi’s farm. We, somewhat sadly, now carried suitcases to take ferries and train to Genoa to catch the boat to Sydney. Half of this boat held about 20-30 passengers in its first class, the rest of the boat hundreds of migrants, mainly Italian and later on Greek migrants. One of the many perceived advantages, apart from having so much space, was dining almost every night with the captain and his top crew. Lucky we had a nice crew and the captain was popular at both parts of the boat. We would at times go to the other half and have more fun with so many more people around.
We shared a small round dining table with a sophisticated elderly Italian couple on their way to visit their pianist son in Melbourne. We also drank a bottle of white Italian wine every night called ‘Suave’ with our dinner. One can still buy this wine today. The Italian couple were very nice. One high point, at least in the case of Helvi, was that the very charming, debonair and white uniformed captain asked Helvi for a dance. I could tell Helvi loved it. They were a nice couple and looked stunning. Helvi is a natural when it comes to swaying and dancing. While on the other hand I danced as if still following the painted Phyllis Bates Fox trot steps on the parquetry floor in Sydney. I danced with the generously endowed Italian wife of the husband that we shared the dining- table with.
It was a great sea voyage.