Still alive 
Tuesday, 16 .May, 2006, 22:15 - English Entries, Literature

Not long after arriving in Antibes (Southern France), I got fever and stayed in the hotel bed for several days. I missed most of the work meeting and my mailbox was flooded afterwards. On Friday evening I flew to Munich and since then I am in my old home town with my family. It took me the weekend and yesterday to recover to a state in which I can look at the screen for a little bit longer again. Apologies to all those who wrote me mails during this time - it will take a while until I can answer them.

I just saw that Lewis has a similar feeling as I had about Johanna Sinisalos "Not before Sundown".

Currently I am reading Mikael Niemi's book "Popular Music", which I find up till now quite enjoyable - maybe this can be the next common review.

For the moment that's all. There are several other things I would like to write about, but that has time until I have returned to Helsinki. Enjoy the sun!
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Around Kehä I 
Sunday, 07 .May, 2006, 14:23 - English Entries, Cycling, Finland, Helsinki, Technology

Helsinki, Finland The last two weeks were so sunny and beautiful in Helsinki that it was not possible to spend more time than really needed in front of the computer. A month ago it was still all ice and grey here and now the sun is already hesitating till 22.00 until it vanishes for a few hours and the birch trees in the backyard are green.

Yesterday I took my bike and went just around Kehä I. There is a bike route along that ring road and I can only recommend you to try it out on your own. The signs on the way will not help you much and I got lost several times, but it is possible to find your way through. Anyhow, getting lost is a good way of training Finnish swear words – so it all has a deeper meaning.

I still do not manage to make direct links to Google Earth, so I only have the below bad picutre of the trip. The Google Earth kml file as well as the gpx data file unfortunately only open as XML in the browser and not directly in Google Earth (they do from other websites, but not for my own - hmmm). If any of the readers knows how to avoid that, I would be greateful for a hint.

kehae-i-trip

I will be away from Helsinki now for one and a half week. First for a meeting to Southern France and the with my children in Southern Germany. Hope those who stay here keep the sunny weather up and running.
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Johana Sinisalo - Not Before Sundown 
Wednesday, 03 .May, 2006, 07:10 - English Entries, Finland, Literature

Not Before Sundown Trolls are creatures of the Northern mythology and Scandinavian legends. They are walking upright and therefore look somehow like humans, but their fur-coat and claws remind us of their animal nature. Trolls are said to love the night, to be able to turn to stone and sometimes some of them were seen - if we believe what the murmured stories of older days tell us - as changelings, replacing human children in their cradles.

In her book "Not Before Sundown" Johanna Sinisalo translates the legends of the trolls into a modern novel. After a night of drinking and disappointment, Mikael saves a young Troll from the violence of a gang of youngsters. Mikael reacts without further thinking and takes the wounded troll into his home and life.

Sinisalos story needed the first hundred pages to get up to speed. In the beginning the troll is ill and Mikael, who is homosexual, has problems to hide his new subtenant from his boy friends. But when Pessi, the troll, finally gets well and starts causing further confusion, the book becomes funny and entertaining.

In-between the mostly short chapters Sinisalo informs about the role of the Troll in Finnish literature and history by putting abstracts from all kinds of sources - poems, extractions from novels, scientific and popular scientific articles - into the book. As an uneducated reader I was rather surprised of same of the "facts" that are elaborated in these insertions. The authors’ humor, in some cases, reaches over the borders of the novel and the reader should be careful in choosing what to believe and what not.

Towards the end we are facing more and more the wild and darker nature of the troll. Although the final chapters might seem tragic, the book never leaves is light and humorous style.

There is also the story of a desperate Philippine girl who was married by a Finnish thug out of a catolog. This character is simply not needed for the book and described in a completly cliche way. It seems that Sinisalo wanted to introduce a more serious side-story in the novel, but to my eyes failed completly with it.

In the end the book left me disappointed. The language is too clean (at least in the translation) and offers no inspiration, the characters are predictable and the intended criticism of society is not convincing.

But most of all the fantastic element - the troll - does not develop into a mystic creature and the few secrets around it taste rather constructed. By citing so many other sources Sinisalo makes clear where she got her inspiration from, but she is not able to reproduce them in a way that would deepen the understanding of the legends. She avoids carefully any chance to let the fear and fascination of the old tales shine through her story.

"Not Before Sundown" is an entertaining and humoristic novel which gives an introduction to some parts of Finnish mythology. It does not go further than that and for me did not hold as an example for contemporary Finnish literature.
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Ultra Bra 
Saturday, 29 .April, 2006, 10:54 - English Entries, Finland, Music
Wikipedia.en: Ultra Bra

Whoever lives in Finland in these days will stumble over Ultra Bra sooner or later. "Bra" means "good" in Swedish language, so Ultra Bra is something "really good", if you talk Swedish. If you talk English then this of course might have a different meaning. Anyways "Ultra Bra" is the name of a famous Finnish band, that unfortunately does not exist anymore.

I first read about them on Wikipedia, most likely whilst I was following some links from the Finish Green Party (Vihreä Liitto), of which Anni Sinnemäki was a member of the band and wrote some of the lyrics. Later on I got to listen to most of their songs from the CDs of my girl friend.

The band – who only sang in Finish language – consisted of over a dozen members and existed from 1994 to 2001. During that time it gained huge popularity not only amongst the younger generation of Finns. I'm quite sure that you can ask nearly any Finnish person today about Ultra Bra – he or she will smile and shortly after start humming one of their songs. If you put some drinks to the conversation you can even hear the person sing for the rest of the evening. They are still famous, but never became known outside of Finland.

Ultra Bras music is hard to classify. Some songs are rock, others jazz, some sound like made by a big band and then the next track reminds you of a children song (such as "Hei hoi hauki"). It's best to not think in categories here, but to let them just be Finnish. Although most of the songs are lively, there are some that express a beautiful melancholy, giving a clue of the autumn and winter side of Finnish mentality. The female and male voices go perfectly together and carry one with them.

Whilst looking for more material on Ultra Bra on the web, I found the website of the Finnish Nook where's a subsection dedicated to the band, which includes not only lots of information and pictures, but also all Ultra Bra lyrics in Finnish and even translated to English. A wonderful resource, from which one can get an impression of the big variety of issues the band sang about.

Besides love songs and unobtrusive hymns about life in Finland, they expressed very clear political views for example in their songs "Ken Sauru-Wiwa is dead" or "When I was eight years old". They drift into surreal picutres, describe a boring day or talk about the longing to journey the world. And when they sing for example "voi uhmata hurjaa heppaa" in their song "Heppa", the sound of Finish language becomes part of the artwork.

My favourite song of them is Minä suojelen sinua kaikelta ("I'll protect you from everything"). The song grows from soft and gentle towards a crescendo that sounds like a hymn, never losing it's simplicity on the way. It is just wonderful, like the first rays of the summer sun stretching over the horizon.

I also found a video of their song "Villiviini" (Wild Wine) at YouTube. This little movie shows so many typical and good things of Finland and the feeling of living here, it is just as amazing as the whole band.

Summary:
» English Ultra Bra Pages (with translated lyrics)
» The Finnish Nook
» Ultra Bra at English Wikipedia

»
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Let's Start the Summer Season with some Finnish Literature: Johanna Sinisalo - Not Before Sunset  
Tuesday, 25 .April, 2006, 22:18 - Deutsche Einträge, Finland, Literature

Johanna Sinisalo - Ennen päivänlaskua ei If you looked at the comments of yesterdays post you will find that Lewis and I started a little project for which we hope that many of you will join as well. We chose one of the books from the Guardian list of Finnish literature and said we will both read it and afterwards write down our thoughts about it. And each of you who is interested in it is welcome as well.

The book we decided to start with is from Johanna Sinisalo:

I bought the German edition today at Stockmanns Akateeminen Kirjakauppa and they have it in all three languages on stock. Actually I did not know up till now that they have a whole table with Finish literature translated into English, German, French, Spanish and other languages. It's worth going there and looking through the books.

Whoever wants to join reading just posts a comment under this or under Lewis' entry. Let's start the Summer season with some Finnish Literature!
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