Monday 11 July 2011

04 Finland on Vacation

Around Midsummer any Finn who can, leaves the cities, the suburbs and if out of the country comes back from wherever they are, to go native. We pack up and head to our mökkis –  houses, shacks, huts, any kind of dwelling as long as it´s by the sea, on a lake, on an island, or in the woods. If it´s isolated so much the better. No running water, electricity, indoor loos? Great. Roughing it is part of the fun. Boats are part of it too. And there´s plenty of time to play, party (or work outdoors) – it gets light around 3:00 am, dark at around 11:00 pm. Food isn´t a problem: you set out the nets and catch fish. Or throw a bunch of sausages on the grill. Pick blueberries, wild strawberries, nettles and dandelion. August is crayfish season. A bunch of people get together and scarf down a dozen or so with a vodka and beer chasers (if they´re daring) as many times as their stomach, or budget,  allows. All that fresh air, you sleep like a log.

Eki joins the exodus for a week or two. He goes to the Tvärminne zoological station in the Finnish archipelago, founded in 1902, to help with the studies his parents Olli and Liisa Halkka started 40 years ago. Both were geneticists in Helsinki University - and continued their work well into retirement age. In 2009, his last summer, Olli still joined the crew to lead the research while terminally ill. Since his death, Liisa has taken over. Their major focus is the population genetics of the meadow spittlebug (philaenus spumarius), the current work is largely about how the changing climate affects the populations.  Eki usually stays in a dorm with the biology students and teachers who come here in the summer to do research. I´ve never been there, but bet it´s not all work.  Eki probably takes his guitar and they stay up late like when we were on a shoot one summer on an island. The crew worked 12 hour days and partied till the small hours. It was hell to get Eki on his feet at 8:30 am.  That´s when he told me never, ever talk to him (unless the building was on fire) before 10:00.  The change will be good. Before the summer break he was working 18 hour days at his computer to complete all of his clients´projects. Although in August we still have to finish “marihuanaland”.

Not everyone is lucky enough to get away. A skeleton crew is left behind to keep things running and take care of the tourists. Every year this quirky country attracts more and more foreigners. Good publicity has helped. For example, Monocle magazine named Helsinki Number One Livable city in the world 2011, for its clean air, seaside location, fabulous design (Design capital in 2012), world-class architecture, one of the best bookstores in Europe (a must-see in an Alvar Aalto building), a growing food culture and to boot its safety and accessibility - almost everyone speaks English. Kippis!

Next week: 05 So You Wanna Make a Movie


  1. To correct your guess, the time on the station is really all about the work. No late night parties i'm afraid. If the weather is too bad for work on the islands, we may drive to Hanko for an ice cream, but that's about as raunchy as it gets ;-)

  2. Get Away... what a great idea.
    NYC is hot hot hot, but cool weather is on its way.

    Eagerly awaiting "marihunanland" and I would still love to see those meatballs.