AROUND LA WITH AVA®: MAY-nia
What is so fair as a beautiful day in May??
Nothing –when some 150 fine Finns show up at your home with smiles on their faces, ylioppilaislakit [graduation caps] on their heads, and the promise of Summer in their souls. Add some homemade Finnish Sima, some Spanish Cava, some Danish Carlsberg on tap, some California Savingon Blanc, and a ‘groaning board’ buffet of homemade traditional Finnish foods. The scents of sausage, salmon, and herring are magnetic for Finns, of course. Now, you have the prospects of a flurry of fun reminiscent of the best of times in our homeland.
On 2 May, the sky was as blue as the Finnish flag flying high on the 30’ flag pole. The air was as fresh as at a Finnish lakeside cabin. The sun was pleasantly warm. The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce had invited all local Finns to celebrate VAPPU as their guests. And, people responded in such an enthusiastic way that reservation requests exceeded normal capacity in such numbers that a ‘waiting list’ was established before an imaginative Board member suggested ‘phasing’ arrival times so we could welcome all who wished to attend.
And, so, suddenly my festively decorated back yard was ‘Chock-Full-of-Finns’ having fun! To quote hardworking FACC Board member Eila Kopra, “…it was a blast!!”
The smile on my face stemmed from the vivid recollections of 30 years of the FACC facilitating the camaraderie and networking of Finns from all walks of life and the sharing of the Suomi traditions that bind us together as cultural kin. My muse, the late Greta Peck, taught me that people love a party. She knew that it is hard to fuss when you are having fun. And, the FACC was back to doing that most satisfying of FACC business! I am sure Greta was smiling too.
Spring On Steroids?
Does it seem to you like this May has been a “Spring on Steroids”? Somehow, since Easter, there has not been a moment to sit down or to catch a breath.
Sisu Is In the Heart, FACC’s Vappu, Mothers’ Day, Cinco de Mayo, the Scandinavian Festival at Cal Lutheran, Suomi Kirkko services/coffees, the Consulate General’s Friends of Finland planning meeting, Finnish elections, garden tours, mandated Fire Department brush clearance, venue openings, spring festivals of all kinds—all leading up to Memorial Day weekend which is celebrated early this year! It is like flowers bursting open and blooming all over the place.
And, it seems, half of the people on this planet have May birthdays!!
Annual Scandinavian Festival
Finland stood proud as Consul General JP Markkanen and the Katirilli Dancers enthusiastically represented Finland at the Annual Scandinavian Festival in Thousand Oaks.
FACC Board member Joann Scott had her traditional Travel By Scott booth to help us all plan our Summer trips.
Word went out about the FACC Vappu Mayday party and registrations began to pour in.
Friends of Finland Working Meeting
Consul General Markkanen hosted a productive working breakfast meeting at the Consular residence. A group of active Finns participated by sharing news of their programs for the remaining year, as well as, hearing preliminary plans for Finland’s 100 Year Celebration.
What does every Finn have on mind in late April? It is time to make Sima, of course!
For whatever reason, the lemon trees in our City of Angels have had a rough time. Well, at least mine did. This was the first year, ever, that it was necessary to buy lemons to supplement the meager crop on the normally trusty tree that sits outside the dining room window. [Perhaps it’s the drought –or, maybe, we are being too conscientious in listening to our Governor’s pleas to conserve water. At times it seems he wants the whole state to become his last name!]
This year I could have used our usual bumper lemon crop. With the FACC Vappu Party pending, much Sima was needed—if our calculations were correct, we would need up to 10 gallons [= 24 1.5 liter bottles] to serve the large crowd we hoped would attend. There was a lot of mathematics, metric conversions, and logistics to make the Sima production work. Considerable advance planning had to go into unconventional concerns such as coming up with a sufficient quantity of empty 1.5 liter wine bottles (and corks) in which to ferment and store the tasty lemon product, once produced. After all, someone had to make full bottles empty so they could be sterilized and re-filled—right? It is tough work, but someone had to do it in a timely manner. Oh, the sacrifices we make to serve Finland!!
My family Sima recipe has been presented in years past in Around LA with Ava®. You know the basic ingredients and the traditional process: lemons, brown sugar and white sugar, yeast, and cool clear water–peel, slice, boil, strain, cool, sterilize bottles and corks, pour, cool, cap, refrigerate—pray. Repeat as necessary to get to 10 gallons! Don’t forget the raisins—three per bottle to announce ‘done’ when the raisins rise to the top of the bottle to signal success in the fermentation process.
This year’s project involved most every large pot on the premises ‘cranking’ on a 6 burner stove. At times I felt like one mad Finnish scientist with pots bubbling on burners, sheets of calculations, piles of bottles and corks to be sterilized, and lots of late night steamy windows suggesting to neighbors and passers-by that something nefarious was happening in the kitchen!
On the Sunday preceding the FACC Vappu party, I had agreed to host a ‘Sisu Circle’ for the Sisu Is In the Heart project. This unique project is sponsored by the Consulate General of Finland and Finlandia Foundation National [and others]. It seeks to weave together expressions shared in discussions in ‘story circles’ built around Finns and Finnish-Americans in communities around the United States. The premise of sharing Sisu stories brings focus on the importance of communicating with younger generations about the concept and the experience of Sisu.
Park Cofield (Project Director) and Saara Wacklin* (Community Manager) orchestrated a wonderful program which included a presentation on the history of Finnish vaivaisukot [“pauper statues”]. Park brought the statue puppet of his own Grandfather he is working on as part of the project.
Once briefed on the Sisu project, progress, and plans, the large group broke up into three individual ‘story circles’ under project leaders. After lively, focused discussions took place, the ‘circles’ were combined into one ‘community circle’ at the end to share the day’s experience and revelations. Consul General Markkanen was present –as were many other thought and action leaders from the Finnish community.
*Saara was Producer of The Snow Leopard’s Den in Santa Monica last Fall.
Closing the Loop
The Sisu Circle came ‘full circle’ in the following weekend’s Vappu Event. All generations of living Finns were present from beautiful babies and lively children to seasoned citizens –all enjoying each other’s company, their good times rooted in their Finnish connection, and their good spirits lifted by the music of the Alek Hautanen Band. The Sima, champagne, and Carlsberg may have helped a bit!
Park and Saara were present as guests, along with Consul General JP Markkanen and his wife Tuula, both among many donning their ylioppilaislakit. One enterprising American graduate wore his ‘mortar board’ as a tribute to his Finnish kin’s tradition. Another Helsinki tradition is for a student to climb the Havis Amanda statue to put a ylioppilaslakki on her head—we did not attempt to recreate that feat even though we heard that this year the cap arrived by ‘helicoptering’ drone!
Taking a Pass
In the week between Sisu and Vappu, I had the opportunity to attend a dinner with The Right Honorable Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister. A few years back, a similar intimate gathering with Margaret Thatcher was so memorable I really wanted to say ‘yes’ to the invitation despite the awkward timing. This was an event of the revered Pacific Council on International Policy where discretion is the rule and decorum is the standard for events.
Our City of Angeles draws our national political figures [not just because we are the ATM of American politics] and world leaders of every ilk. LA provides the ultimate stage (literally and figuratively) to promote and publicize their message in what often feels like the center of the universe. The opportunities to experience, meet, and interact are endless here. As far as we are from the Continent, getting to hear and interact directly with world leaders without the blather and filter of media is always a refreshing experience.
The rumblings of escalating attendance numbers from Eila (registrar pro temp) after the Scandinavian Festival for the pending FACC Vappu event were so overwhelming that I said “no” to the lure of world political luminaries—there were gallons of Sima and a mountain of Finnish food to prepare!!
Other Pleasant Distractions
In addition to the big FACC Vappu production, the SCAN Foundation meeting in Palos Verdes was gearing up for important happenings leading up to their Summer activities, including their big Midsummer Party on June 27th. As Finland’s representative on the SCAN Board for the last several years, it was important for me to attend the scheduled planning meeting to give my “two cent’s worth”.
On arriving home after the SCAN meeting, I checked the 10 gallons of bottled Sima and found the raisins rising in the bottles temporarily ‘stored’ on the dining room table. To my chagrin, those many bottles had started to pop their corks and spilled Sima was leaking off of the table and on to the hardwood floor!
After reattaching the corks, washing off the many bottles, and cleaning up the table and floor mess, I decided that, if the dining room chandelier was not to be obliterated by popping corks, the 24 1.5 liter bottles needed to be moved to the unheated, fully tiled, handicapped bathroom with a floor drain just off of the dining room. The planned fermentation had moved to the point where it was OK to put the Sima under refrigeration—but not tonight!
The next day, the Alek Hautanen Band members came to discuss the FACC expectations for their pending Vappu engagement and to check out the premises for optimum performance. As we sat around the [neat and cleaned] dining room table with our coffee and cookies discussing Vappu music, strange disconcerting popping sounds came from the nearby bathroom. Of course, the ‘noise’ caught everyone’s attention. Even with what I knew, I could not keep from snickering!
Those sweet young men were amused—and helpful, as we scrambled to save the ‘exploding’ bottles and re-apply the corks. All were maniacally rescued and refrigerated.
That madcap episode was like an old “I Love Lucy” episode!
A Super Soldier Celebrates
It is one thing to discuss Sisu as a cultural trait in a sociological study of our forefathers [and mothers]; it is an altogether different matter to celebrate one of those who defined the trait by their actions and lives.
I was honored to be a guest as one of our two remaining local Finnish War Veterans, Mark Salo, celebrated his 90th birthday. [We have two Lottas, too.] Mark is not only a Finnish War Veteran, he is an American War Veteran too, having served in the Korean conflict. Talk about blooming where you are planted –some people just take care of business!
The invitation asked for no gifts, but a message for a remembrance book was welcomed. Of course, I could not resist honoring that request. [My message to Mark is in the Afterword.]
The event was hosted by Risto and Robert Salo and families at the iconic 1920’s Tam O’Shantor Restaurant in Los Feliz, just a few blocks from Mark and Eeva-Liisa’s home. The loving and proud Salo clan [including Mark’s brother Sulo and Sulo’s daughter Linda] arranged an homage to Mark that included presentation of a flag stantion by Pauli Majamaki of Suomi Kerho to Mark for his role as one of the original Finnish Club founding members. The birthday cake featured beautifully depicted Finnish and American flags, as well.
The legacy of awesomeness of the Salo family is what the Finnish community stands for –as is the way they raised their children, lived their lives, and honor their countries –a fine and proud legacy indeed. It was such an honor and joy to be included as a guest at this occasion.
Party On—If the Weather Holds
Stepping out of the dark, traditional, clubby Scottish Tam O’Shantor ambiance that was a cool respite from what had been our very dry, very hot LA normal, I suddenly faced a knock-out downpour of rain! This ‘hostess-to-be’ [tomorrow!] for the Sisu Is In The Heart event planned as a garden venue because of the large number of guests experienced a little ‘gear-switching mania’ running down the 101 Freeway to get back to work!
FACC Vappu Event
Looking back, it was amazing that just six days after the Sisu Is In The Heart program, the FACC hosted one of the most special and touching assemblies the Finnish community has experienced in many years. What a week!!! We got to study Sisu, to celebrate the longevity of a Sisu soldier, and to experience the need for Sisu as we geared up for the happy hoards who arrived to welcome Spring in a wondrous Finnish way. The Finnish blue skies and the generations of smiles enjoying their Finnish heritage at work made me smile!!
Sometimes it is fun to be a Finn.
Creative Solutions to Joyous Problems
The FACC Vappu party was so popular that a waiting list became necessary. As noted, that wonderful problem was solved by creating a ‘second shift’.
President of the FACC Michael Berlin welcomed the multi-generation crowd and introduced Consul General and Mrs. JP Markkanen. Dr. Berlin gave background about Vappu history and traditions. As hostess, I shared local history of past events and remembered our own “Havis Amanda”, the late Greta Peck, who is always in our hearts.
The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce and Vappu were linked for decades because of Greta. For so many years, Greta Peck was our gracious and lovely hostess who made sure Vappu was properly celebrated by welcoming us all to her home.
The revitalized FACC set out to rekindle a great tradition that was always an energizer for Finnish pride and participation. I tried to duplicate much of the menu we had at Greta’s home in years past, including my grandmother’s Pih-mummin Makkara and Finnish potatoes with dill which Greta used to ask me to make ‘back when’.
One of many memorable Vappu celebrations at Greta’s was one where a beloved and productive Consul General from the past, Maria Serenius, met the Finnish community for the first time during her tenure here. The new Consul General learned quickly that there were enthusiastic Finns around LA and that the FACC was a reliable ally for promoting Finland by both word and deed.
[Coincidentally, I received an e-mail from Ambassador Emeritus Serenius just after Vappu. While she is now officially retired after serving as Finland’s Ambassador to Turkey and Finland’s Ambassador to Latvia, she continues to serve Finland in an advisory role on Mideast affairs.]
Among the many distinguished Vappu guests were Mikko Setelä of Rovio and his wife, Marie. The Setelä’s kindly provided exciting Angry Birds raffle prizes. The Rovio created Angry Birds also had a busy month having participated at the 137th White House Easter Egg Roll in Washington, DC. Over 30,000 enjoyed those White House lawn festivities, especially posing with the Angry Birds characters.
The Angry Birds game [released in 2009] became an instant phenomenon and is now the most downloaded ‘app’ ever! In good Finnish tradition, Rovio is now focused significantly on educational issues while cooperating with NASA and the National Geographic Society in making learning fun and engaging for children.Finnish actress Nina Sallinen served as the FACC’s Vappu Raffle ‘Celebrity Prize # Drawer’ and ‘Presenter’ for the Raffle. Our Star added a Hollywood spark and a touch of class that put an even bigger smile on the winners’ happy faces!
Mothers’ Day at the Finnish Lutheran Church
A special Mothers’ Day themed service was held with the Reverend Jarmo Tarkki officiating at Suomikirkko in Santa Monica. This was a special occasion, indeed, as the Reverend Auvo Naukkarinen of the Temppeliaukkionkirkko (The Rock Church) in Helsinki delivered the sermon. Readers included Anita Finifrock in English and Pirkko Bastecki in Finnish.
Finnish Mothers are revered and respected. The Annual Scorecard Index by Save the Children ranked Finland as the 2nd best place in the world to be a mother (after Norway, this time). The study rates 179 countries based on 5 indicators related to maternal health, education, income levels, and status of women. The US ranked 33rd.
Vappu 2015 Menu
Keisarinsalaati Suomalaiseen Tapaan (Finnish Caesar Salad)
Makarooni Salaati (Macaroni Salad with Olives)
Kaalisalaatti (Green Cabbage Salad)
Musta Papupaprikasalaatti (Black Bean Salad with Red, Yellow, and Orange Peppers)
Sillisalaati Kurrikastikkeessa (Curried Herring with Green Grapes and Red Onions)
Ruisleipä Viipalietä (Buttered Rye Bread)
Keitetty Lohi Tilli Kastikkeen Kera (Poached Whole Salmon with Arugula Pesto Dill Sauce)
Savustettu Kinkku (Smoked Ham)
Pih-mummin Makkara Ja Sinappi (Tomato, Cheese, & Onion Stuffed Pork Smoked Sausage with Mustard)
Pih-mummin Makkara Ja Sinappi (Tomato, Cheese, & Onion Stuffed Beef Smoked Sausage with Mustard)
Suomalaiset Paistetut Perunat (Finnish Pan Fried Potatoes with Dill)
Pinaatti Piirakka (Spinach Pie)
Purjo Laattikko (“Leek Box” Casserole)
Porkkanat Kastikkeessa (Carrots in Brown Butter with Balsamic Sauce)
Juustotarjotin (Assorted Cheeses, Fruit, Crackers)
“Täytekakku Trifle” (May Day Spring Fruit and Cake Trifle)
Pulla Paistos (Bread Pudding with Vanilla Sauce)
Sima (Homemade Finnish Fermented Lemon Mead)
Carlsberg on Tap
Modavi Sauvignon Blanc
Cava de Espania
AVA ANTTILA’S ODE TO MARK SALO AT 90
Back in 1997, the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce took on a most rewarding project –one that continues in my life today. That year marked the 80th year of Finnish Independence. The FACC leadership and membership were dedicated to get to know the Finnish War Veterans and Lottas in our region. We enlisted and got the support of all local Finnish organizations. We diligently sought out all Veterans and Lottas to give them honor and personal recognition as our guests at a grand event.
We wanted to hear from each Veteran and, individually and collectively, to feature them as our Guests of Honor. A special Program was planned. Finns and friends of Finland turned out in record numbers and with great enthusiasm. The President of Finland sent his personal greeting and message of appreciation to our Honorees. Veterans and Lottas were invited to submit photos and brief biographies which were assembled into a special Memory Book. A Wall of Honor showed more history and memorabilia from the Winter War and the Continuation War. A full orchestra played a rousing march as the Veterans and Lottas entered the packed ballroom to a standing ovation—eyes front, backs straight, chests expanded and bedecked with medals hard earned. What a memorable assembly. Finnish Pride on parade!! There was not a dry eye in the house.
In doing the research for the Program, there was one name that stood out among the heroes and heroines we were going to honor. This individual had not only served Finland in war, he had also served in the American armed forces during the Korean War. This amazing dual patriot was Mark Salo.
It has been fun to get to know Mark and his wife Eeva-Liisa through the ensuing years. My mother and father (Ari and Raija Anttila) so enjoyed their interactions with Mark and Eeva-Liisa at the Finnish Church, the Veterans Support Group, and other gatherings of So Cal Finns. We continued to be impressed with Mark in his willingness to be supportive and helpful. He served the Church and the Veteraani Tuki in leadership positions.
Mark epitomizes the finest Finnish character trait of noble, quiet dignity. He does things competently with a generosity of spirit, not bringing any attention to himself. He is a true gentleman.
What a grand occasion to celebrate Mark on his 90th birthday. I will be looking for him at Finland’s and his 100th Birthday!
MARK, you make the Finnish community proud!
Best wishes for good luck, good health, and great happiness!!