AROUND LA WITH AVA®: MANY HAPPY RETURNS

 

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Many Happy Returns??  Americans have never quite bought into Boxing Day when the rest of the world blatantly returns gifts that “… do not fit” without guilt.  And, to be perfectly honest, I am not anxious for some marketing guru to find the “hook” to get us back into the stores.  I know, the drones are coming –but I really can wait!

The happiest returns of the holiday season—or of any season, always seem to involve a renewed acquaintance, the return of a favor long forgotten, the return to a location with fond memories, or just a chance recollection of times gone by through a serendipity of circumstances for an unknown purpose.  The momentary smile on my face may be the only physical manifestation of a profound experience.  I like that.  It feels good.  Yes, I am Finnish.

As another frantic year draws to a close, our souls recall the beautiful Peace of Finnish Christmas.

024  But

As the distal boom of the old year melds into the crescendo of the year ahead on the ever spinning, ever so busy cycle of life here, recent events have been so fun to look back on with fondness.

A Personal Favorite: Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen’s return to Los Angeles for a major speaking engagement at the World Affairs Council luncheon at Spago was the culmination of this Finn’s ‘season’.  I had been present at her first World Affairs Council speech as Foreign Minister and, now again, as a former Finnish President at the pinnacle of her status as an influential world leader sharing her perspective of times past and present.  I was fortunate to be able to raise a question referencing her answer to one issue raised on her last visit regarding defense of Finland’s border with Russia.  It was fun to recollect on years past from old and new perspectives.

Kristiina Hiukka, Tarja Halonen and Bob Wartinger at Spago Beverly Hills. (photo Kristiina Hiukka's album)

Kristiina Hiukka, Tarja Halonen and Bob Wartinger at Spago Beverly Hills. (photo Kristiina Hiukka’s album)

LA’s Downtown has taken on a remarkable transformation.  I have to be careful here because many of us think of Los Angeles as the only major US city without a ‘Downtown’.  More recent ‘arrivers’ think of Downtown as a ‘happening place’.  When Famous Finn Greta Peck and friends arrived to create ‘Hollywood’ and the movie industry, there was a business and commerce center where all of those skyscrapers are today.  The ‘movers and shakers’ built mansions in Hancock Park, just west of Downtown, before moving their polo ponies to Beverly Hills and, later, on to Pacific Palisades and Malibu.  Even I am not old enough to have been there then, but I sure do relish the tales Greta shared with us!

Broadway in Downtown LA (photo Tomi Hinkkanen)

Broadway in Downtown LA (photo Tomi Hinkkanen)

If you are going West toward the Pacific Ocean or the Westside from Downtown, it is sometimes worth not getting on the Freeways just to sit in traffic.  Be adventurous.  Discover what is new on the streets of LA. [Be cautious; have a plan; know your alternatives—and, of course, lock you doors!]

One night after an evening legal seminar downtown, it was a gridlock situation heading to the West so I skipped the I 10.  I trekked through ‘Koreatown’ heading toward the Farmer’s Market on 3rd Street.  Taking a left on Fairfax became necessary due to a traffic jam.  And, there it was, an old favorite: the Peterson Automotive Museum in its shocking new incarnation.  [I remember the days when that building housed Orbach’s Department Store that seemed to specialize in “recreating Oscar gowns” and other fashion replications.   Returning to old favorite places can have a whole new complex of feelings and thoughts when the building now houses old cars instead of old clothes.]

Photo by David Zaitz.

The new facade of the Petersen Automotive Museum – Photo by David Zaitz.

Speaking of cars and fashion, this is where it all comes together.  In the City of Angels we love fashion.  We love beautiful cars.  They belong together.  No matter how many factions lobby to kill the car culture, that is “…not gonna happen!”  It is part of our history and our lifestyle.  Can you imagine the Golden Globes or the Oscars opening with the stars arriving at their Red Carpet interviews on foot or by bicycle?!?

Finnish Golden Globe contenders Kai Nordberg, Märt Avandi Klaus Härö and Kaarle Aho took a limo to the awards gala. Their film the Fender was competing for bets foreign picture but lost to Hungary's Son of Saul.

Finnish Golden Globe contenders Kai Nordberg, Märt Avandi Klaus Härö and Kaarle Aho took a limo to the awards gala. Their movie the Fencer was competing for best foreign film but lost to Hungary’s Son of Saul.

Even the Annual LA Auto Show had an “On the Red Carpet” feature as beautiful celebrities arrived in their coutured magnificence to view the new wheeled beauties in their sculpted magnificence.   “Just like Bogie and Bacall!!”

The new Petersen Museum is a real ‘brake slammer’.  The outside was such a shock: Hot Rod Red with Gracefully Twisted Aluminum.  I will have much more to say in a future column after I have been inside.  I am quite optimistic since I have known one of the Peterson’s principal exhibitors for decades.

Clifton's Cafeteria reopened in downtown after years of renovation.

Clifton’s Cafeteria reopened in downtown after years of renovation.

Clifton’s Cafeteria in Downtown has made a “re-turn”.  The new owners want to return to the glory days of yore that no one living Downtown today remembers.  Horn & Hardart’s in Philadelphia and New York set the tone that lasted for decades.  I hope Clifton’s makes it until I can get there for a unique dining experience under the redwood tree and the taxidermed animals where some of the great writers (Kerouac, Bukowski, Bradbury) of historical LA dined!  It is so special when LA decides to reinvent, recondition, and restore instead of tearing down.

Scandia Restaurant opened back in 1947 and shuttered in 1989.

Scandia Restaurant opened back in 1947 and shuttered in 1989.

Do you remember Scandia, that pillar of Scandinavian cuisine that was everyone’s (especially celebrities) special occasion restaurant?  Like Clifton’s, it has been closed for decades though the building stands forever.  Each drive on the Sunset Strip brings back memories and the hope that, one day, that magic place will return again!  There was so much to love about it: memories of happy times and the splendor of our Nordic homelands—the great Hamlet’s Dagger (lobster tails on a skewer with caviar sauce), gravlax, meatballs … everything done to perfection and with style.  One of the favorite Scandia desserts was just like our family’s cake with apples.  Both were made with leftover ingredients like crumbled cookies and stewed apples or spare applesauce.

pappilanhätävara

pappilanhätävara

We called our family dessert “pappilanhätävara” .  A Finnish family staple, pappilanhätävara translated loosely means “parsonageemergencyfare”.  In other words, if visitors came to the parsonage unannounced, for example, this treat could be thrown together with what was “on hand”, e.g., leftover fruit, jam, and cookies.  I make this dish for American Thanksgiving, for Christmas holiday buffets, and even for free-flowing Oscar parties because it serves more than a regular “apple pie”.  It is a magical ‘thing’ to make—it looks good, and tastes even better!  How can this be a cake when you don’t add eggs, flour, or leavening? But, I digress.

Would I violate Canon Law by serving pappilanhätävara with a Bishop present??  I hoped not, but I was not bold enough to take the chance.

Perhaps it was my late Dad’s subtle Finnish sense of humor shining through when I considered putting pappilanhätävara on the menu as a perfect  dessert when entertaining Ilkka Mäkelä, Bishop of the Finnish Lutheran Church who was visiting Los Angeles and several important local Finnish Congregants including the Vuorenmaas, the Salos, and the Majamäkis.

From the left: bishop Guy Erwin, pastor Jarmo Tarkki, Ilkka Mäkelä and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen at Veli-Matti's ordination and installation on All Saints Sunday, November 1st, 2015 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California.

From the left: bishop Guy Erwin, pastor Jarmo Tarkki, Ilkka Mäkelä and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen at Veli-Matti’s ordination and installation on All Saints Sunday, November 1st, 2015 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California.

Bishop Mäkelä was here for the Ordination Ceremony of Veli Matti  Kärkkänen.  There was a sanctuary full of celebrants from our Finnish community and from the Fuller Theological Seminary where Dr. Kärkkänen has been a professor.  My contribution for the refreshment table at the Ordination was to be a cake.  I settled on a voileipäkakku (sandwich cake).  [I will share that recipe/process later.  It has a ‘wow factor’ for any celebration, tea, bridal shower, graduation … .]

The Ordination was a full regalia celebration enjoyed by all.

 

Star Wars Return

The biggest box office event ever (grossing 1.767 billion USD to date) was the return of the Star Wars series movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is on its way of becoming the second all-time top grossing film after Titanic.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is on its way of becoming the second all-time top grossing film after Titanic.

To me, it seems pretty crazy.  The film is being shown around the clock on over ¼ of all movie screens in the US and Canada.  All those people lining up for hours and days to be the first to get in to experience a cultural phenomenon. Then again, I did not understand Black Friday this year when people camped out in weather just to get a $40 Darth Vader toaster.

Darth Vader toaster is available for $49.95 on online stores.

Darth Vader toaster is available for $49.95 on online stores.

Having just written that last paragraph, I laughed out loud.  I had one of those déjà-vu moments from our past that makes us happy and brings a reflection on the meaning of our lives.  Even small details of experiences and feelings become real again in vivid detail!

In 1977 [it was not the first night craziness, but] I did take my newborn in an infant carrier to the first Star Wars movie.  I was hoping for a ‘no-cry zone’ in the balcony of a small theater in a small town in Oregon. That same awesome newborn (now 38) was on line opening night this go-round, Internet tickets in hand!  A happy return indeed.

A Well Received Premier:

I was in a big hurry to get to the Aero Theater in Santa Monica where I was to attend the Premier of old friend Klaus Hӓrö’s film The Fencer.  A Finn is always embarrassed to be late, no matter how good the excuse.  I was late.

Director Klaus and Kai Nordberg, the film’s Producer, were standing outside the theater on Montana as I arrived, breathlessly, just as the film was to start.  Ever gallant, Klaus gave me a big hug [graciously remembering our shared Thanksgiving Feast of days past] and escorted me into the auditorium.

The Fencer director Klaus Härö (left) and producer Kai Nordberg at the Golden Globes. The Fencer was up for best foreign movie but lost to Hungary's Son of Saul.

The Fencer director Klaus Härö (left) and producer Kai Nordberg at the Golden Globes. The Fencer was up for best foreign movie but lost to Hungary’s Son of Saul (photo Tomi Hinkkanen).

The Fencer is set in Estonia during the Stalinist era of the USSR.  The film draws on the story of a real life fencer and coach (Endel Nelis) who was forced to flee Leningrad in 1952 to avoid investigation by the Secret Police.  He founded a sports club for students in Estonia, teaching them about his great passion, fencing.  The children (many of whom were orphans as a result of the Russian occupation) are his students whom he serves as teacher and father figure.  The poignant and heart-warming film is a beautiful story of a teacher’s devotion to his students, as well as, an exquisitely nuanced love story set in a time of political oppression.

The Fencer stars Estonian Märt Avandi and Liisa Koppel.

The Fencer stars Estonian Märt Avandi and Liisa Koppel.

At the Q&A after the film showing, Klaus shared some ‘behind the scenes’ information and insights.  This story is so personal to Estonia, having only recently become independent from Russia.  [For many Finns with almost 100 years of independence, the oppression is more theoretical.]

The Fencer team. From the left: producer Kai Nordberg, director Klaus Härö and actor Märt Avandi (photo Tuula Markkanen).

The Fencer team. From the left: producer Kai Nordberg, director Klaus Härö and actor Märt Avandi (photo Tuula Markkanen).

Klaus told of a moment during the filming where (contrary to tradition and protocol) everyone on set was on their cell phones.  Klaus did not understand this interruption or the emotion of the scene unfolding until he realized that this was the moment when Russia invaded the Ukraine!

Golden Globe nominated international directors participated a Q&A at a symposium organized by HFPA and American Cinematheque.

Golden Globe nominated international directors participated a Q&A at a symposium organized by HFPA and American Cinematheque. Klaus Härö is on the far right (photo Tomi Hinkkanen).

Klaus’ return to Los Angeles is a gift to us all who can claim ‘heritage’ share in his great accomplishment with his wonderful film, The Fencer.

The Fencer  was also Finland’s foreign language entry for the 2016 Academy Awards.  It got on the long list but did not make the cut to the final five nominated foreign films. Klaus and the film were all the talk of Hollywood.  The International Film Festival in Palm Springs opened with The Fencer.  On Opening Night, Klaus with his Finnish humor and self-deprecating charm wowed the audience. Bravo Klaus!!  Two thumbs up!!!

Märt Avandi and Klaus Härö being interviewed on the red carpet at the Golden Globes (photo Tomi Hinkkanen).

Märt Avandi and Klaus Härö being interviewed on the red carpet at the Golden Globes (photo Tomi Hinkkanen).

Elsewhere in the World of Film, Fun, and Finland

It is always wonderful to touch bases with dear, talented people you have not seen in awhile.  Bo Svenson (venerable actor, producer, writer) had exciting news to share.  Bo’s long term project based on the Winter War is now in publication as a novel and he is working on making the film for a special Centennial opening.

We were delighted to have Bo attend the December 4 Finnish Christmas party entitled Celebrate Finland as a VIP guest.  The Celebrate Finland event was a brainchild event that took hold at an earlier Friends of Finland meeting.  The independent event was put together by a magnificent committee under the leadership of Leena Tukiainen, supported by Nape Singh, Autumn Jackson, and Ava Anttila.  Though no Independence Day party was arranged by the Consulate this year, Consul General Juha Markkanen kindly allowed the Christmas party to be held at the Consul Residence.  Old and new friends were in abundance including Mr. and Mrs. Teemu Selanne and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.

Teemu Selänne and Hollywood costume designer Susanna Puisto at a Consulate General Christmas Party, Dec. 4th, 2015 (photo Susanna Puisto's album).

Teemu Selänne and Hollywood costume designer Susanna Puisto at a Consulate General’s Christmas Party, Dec. 4th, 2015 (photo Susanna Puisto’s album).

Actress Nina Sallinen made a surprise appearance and performed some material from her one-person play Poor Poor Lear.   Sketch Williams, breakout artist for Sisu Entertainment performed for the sold out audience.  A fun raffle, karaoke, and a sumptuous buffet by Scandinavian Kitchen in LA got everyone off to a great holiday season start.  Grand Finnish spirit was stoked with great excitement and vision for the time leading up the Finland’s great Centennial celebrations.

Ava and Jack Anttila hosted a party for Finlandia University president Philip Johnson. From the left: Ava and Jack Anttila, Michael Berlin and Philip Johnson.

A party for Finlandia University president Philip Johnson.

Philip Johnson President of Finlandia University made a re-turn visit to Los Angeles.  Over a dozen Finnish community leaders enjoyed hearing his vision in education and about what is going on at the Finlandia campus.  My home was filled with friends, food, and Finnish good will.  We had fun—and we learned more about how to help create a better future for our Finnish friends.

Finnish Independence Day December 6th  

Independence Day 2015 happened to fall on a Sunday.  The Finnish community had a special celebration at the Finnish Lutheran Church service in Santa Monica.  It just so happened that the December Most Beautiful Christmas Carols service (a perennial favorite) happened on the same day.

The most beautiful Christmas carols at St. Paul's Lutheran Church.

The most beautiful Christmas carols at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

There were some poignant and special surprises.  The Suomi Koulu children performed several Finnish songs under the leadership of Mira Scott.  Finnish Deputy Consul Selin brought greetings from the government of Finland in her words to the Congregation.  Deputy Consul Selin’s son Lauri brought down the house with his vocal performance. He is quite gifted.  At the coffee hour, Lauri showed off the special tie he was wearing that contained the music to Finlandia.

Lauri's special tie.

Lauri’s special tie.

Now that is ‘flying the flag’!

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From the left: Ava Anttila, Jim Aldridge and wife, Elma Maisack and

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Elma Maisack returned to Church with Sirkka and Jim Aldridge.  Elma and Sirkka Toth are Finnish treasures as the remaining living Lottas.  Elma has the unique distinction of having an Independence Day birthday so everyone was able to serenade her with Happy Birthday in both English and Finnish.

Elma Maisack (center) working as a Lotta during WW2 (photo Elma Maisack's album).

Elma Maisack (center) working as a Lotta during WW2 (photo Elma Maisack’s album).

It is such a joy and pleasure to know and spend time with these magnificent women who did so much for Finland. Irene Yaro (who is now caregiver of Sirkka) brought me the most touching gift: Sirkka’s National Costume.  I can visualize Sirkka from all her performances throughout the years, speaking in her strong, beautiful Finnish voice while reciting tales and poems (all from memory!) wearing that dress.

When I personally visited with Sirkka to thank her for her magnificent gift, she recited a poem with certainty and with clarity.  I know this, if the Russians invade Finland again, I want her on our side!

Other Returns

Guns N’ Roses will return and will be featured at the next Coachella Music Festival.

Guns N' Roses

Guns N’ Roses

Return visits bring such joy!!  I just learned of dear friends jetting their way to LA.  They are near and dear to many of us who have been enlightened, enriched, and educated during their tenure in LA.  That will be a really Happy Return to see them.

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EMERGENCY APPLE “CAKE”

Pappilanhätävara

Apples:

Bag of apples (about 12-14): peeled, cored, and sliced—Granny Smith for non-emergencies

Sugar to taste

Splash of water with ‘spritz’ of lemon juice

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Cook apples, sugar, and lemon water together until apples are tender.  Cool in a strainer to extract liquid.  Of course, you know to save the liquid with Finnish sensibility for other uses.

The sliced apple mixture will keep [covered] in your refrigerator for a week or two.

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“Cake”:

1½ cups leftover cake (or pulla) crumbs, toasted

½ cup jelly (strawberry or current, if available)

½ cup nuts, ground

1 dozen coconut macaroons

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Topping:

1½ cups whipping cream

½ cup sliced almonds, toasted, with a sprinkling of sugar

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Assembly:

Melt enough butter to cover the bottom of a 10” pan [350º F oven]

Sprinkle one third of the crumb mixture as a first layer in the pan over the melted butter. Add one half of the apples.

The jelly is the next layer; followed by the nuts and another one third of the crumbs.  Now, place the macaroons; followed by the rest of the apples and the last third of the crumbs.

Bake the ‘Assembly’ at 425º F for ½ hour.  [Let cool gradually.  Then, refrigerate until chilled.]

Meanwhile, toast the sliced almonds for about 15 minutes at 350ºF, stirring once or twice –until golden. Whip the cream and frost the ‘cake’; sprinkle the top with the toasted almonds.

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appole

AFTERWORD

As I write this, the dreaded El Nino officially arrived, announcing its return with a vengeance.  My little blue canvas party tent (The Kahvitupa) got smacked by the first hit of ‘inch-an-hour’ rain.

El Nino:  —As they say at Universal Studios: “Hold on everybody, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!!”

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Cookies for Fun—and Eating

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Cookies for Fun—and Eating

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Dear Reader:

Are you worn out from  shopping?

Do you need to keep houseguests busy?

Do you need to keep children occupied?

Do you wish you were a kid again?

Do you miss playing with Play-Dough?

Do you feel you have to bake something Finnish to make your end-of the-year complete?

All of the above?

Here is an answer for all your problems. It is so easy –and such fun!

This basic Finnish butter cookie dough can become your artistic medium for many fun versions and diversions. The beauty is in its simplicity!! Once you have mixed the dough, you can make a lovely platter of cookies for a gift or you can just throw a ‘blob’ on the kitchen counter and challenge the creativity of your children, friends, and or family.

It’s OK, I’ll give you’re a little trick that should win the first challenge round without fancy kitchen equipment, cookie cutters, rolling pins, or messy frosting. It is a quick “triple-play” delight (dough goes into thirds).

Here is what I do:

Ingredients:

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1 pound of butter [room temperature]

1 cup of white sugar

2 egg yolks [save the whites]

1 tsp vanilla sugar or 1 tsp liquid vanilla

4 ½ cups flour

For decorations, I suggest using whatever you have on hand—especially your imagination. I usually work with pearl sugar, sliced almonds, mini chocolate chips, and chopped cranberries, but the variations are endless. Try sprinkles, chopped chocolate, cocoa powder, coconut…

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Process:

After creaming butter and sugar, add egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.

IMG3916(1) IMG3917(1) IMG3919(1)

Cut dough into 3 equal parts.

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Portion # 1:

Blend in ½ c finely chopped cranberries.

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Roll dough into a 3-4 inch diameter log; wrap in plastic wrap; chill.

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Slice into ½” cookies.

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Portion # 2:

Roll chilled dough into ½” skinny logs or snakes. Cut into 1½ inch pieces. Brush with egg whites. Decorate with pearl sugar.

Portion # 3:

Make Mice—The Contest Winner!!

IMG3939 IMG3941

Roll dough into 1 to 1½ inch balls. Next, roll each ball to make a point at one end as if to make a nose. Add mini chocolate chips for eyes and sliced almonds for ears. Add an almond sliver or licorice tail if you like.

Bake off #1, #2, #3, or all of the above in a 350º F for about 10-15 minutes.

Voila, you are a Finnish baking genius!!

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: A Talk at the Tupa

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AROUND LA WITH AVA®: A Talk at the Tupa

Following is the text of a presentation made by Ava Anttila to the Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation at the Pasadena [CA] Museum of History on October 18, 2015.

It is so wonderful to be here today!! The Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation has a special place in my heart. Thank you for inviting me.

As a Finnish born/American educated immigrant, I have consistently sought the company of ‘Friends of Finland’ in my new home. I began my search early [age 7—-seems like yesterday!!].

I have been fortunate to have been consistently successful in finding others who cherish their Finnish heritage, ancestry, culture, and language. Actually, as a little girl, my primary challenge was to learn the new language everyone around me spoke—except for my Parents!

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Typically ‘Finnish shy’, I learned SISU before I knew how to spell the word—in either Finnish or English. Gone were the days of blond-haired, blue-eyed friends at the French School my Uncle ran in Helsinki!! I was a stranger in a strange land—my immersion French did me no good.   Now, I stand here before you giving a speech in English with three degrees from good American schools behind my name.

In other words, I am just like you and your kin who made the long trip, found a new home, and learned new ways. I was fortunate in other aspects, as well.   My Parents continued to use Finnish as the household language while they learned the words and ways of the worlds in which they now worked. Also, I soon learned that my American friends did not care that Santa was Finnish and came to our home on Christmas Eve—as long as he made it to their house before dawn!

Life happened.

I got to go to Finland to see family and friends many Summers. Finnish visitors came to our home when traveling. I learned to down-hill ski—I had learned not to kiss brass moose statues in Winter in the park before moving to the USA!

…Those and some other important things.

I have learned so much about being a Finn and about being an American by participating in the fun functions of groups who celebrate their history.

Preparing for this presentation reminded me of the passage of time and the joy I have found in living fully in two cultures from my childhood on. I have learned so much about being a Finn and about being an American by participating in the fun functions of groups who celebrate their history. While many Finns feel a need to ‘choose sides’, I have preferred to join and support any worthwhile Finnish group, organization, or program. I look at our family of Finnish organizations as complimentary, not competitive!

It has been fun. I have learned a lot. And, I have gotten to know some fascinating people.

The work, the dedication, the spirit of Finnish American volunteerism is alive and well. LAFF’s pedigree and performance have been standard setters and an inspiration.

Since we all view the world through our own eyes, I hope you will forgive me the indulgence of sharing some of my ‘views’.

The last LAFF meeting I attended was the June Scholarship Picnic. Having allowed for more traffic than I experienced, I arrived ‘on site’ early.   This rarity gave me an opportunity to do something I had wanted to do for a long time: snap a few photos of the Tupa.

Finnish Folk Art Museum (shown) housed in the sauna tupa

Finnish Folk Art Museum (shown) housed in the sauna tupa

Wandering through the LAFF treasure felt like “home”. I was transported to places I had seen as a child with my Grandparents. I could ‘see’ –and feel the Finnish way of life, of making things needed for living, of surviving, of making the best of things in harsh circumstances. LAFF’s dedication to the keeping of that heritage really touched me in that moment.   Because the Tupa stands as a museum of a reality that I experienced, I can bring my Grandchildren to see the way things were when the world was ‘different’. And, because I have my Grandmother’s antique ‘spinning wheel’ from which she actually made yarn for fabric from the flax she grew in the meadow outside what is now the Summer cottage in Finland, I can share that history. The ‘touches to reality’ are important, I believe.

And, because I have my Grandmother’s antique ‘spinning wheel’ from which she actually made yarn for fabric from the flax she grew in the meadow outside what is now the Summer cottage in Finland, I can share that history.

And, because I have my Grandmother’s antique ‘spinning wheel’ from which she actually made yarn for fabric from the flax she grew in the meadow outside what is now the Summer cottage in Finland, I can share that history.

That June Sunday I returned to California reality quickly upon looking up after exiting the Tupa. I was standing under a humongous redwood tree—not a white birch!

The momentary melancholy brought on by memories that were mine alone and which could be shared with others only in part was erased by a sudden flashback to the Finnish Lutheran Church Christmas Service this year. I remembered congratulating myself on arriving early—the place was packed, but I had been able to find a pew near the rear where I usually sit.

[“Yes, even Finnish lawyers are creatures of habit!”]

My petty proclivities aside, the real lesson occurred in the ‘quiet time’ before the formal Service when we were supposed to be enjoying the glorious music of the Season. I found myself listening to the chatter of the probably 5 to 7 year olds sitting a pew back who had brought friends to the Service.   The conversation was respectfully muted, but non-stop! The Finnish related children were excitedly telling their non-Finnish friends how things REALLY work at Christmas! Each proclamation began “In Finland, at Christmas…!!!”

I smiled, breathed a sigh of relief, and felt the comfort and hope of the Season. With a little help from their parents, our Grandchildren will find their own way to the Tupa—and will bring their friends to share in their proud heritage!   Thank you LAFF for assuring there is a Tupa for them to show to their friends and to boast about being Finnish!

What is the common thread in all of our stories, individually and as organizations, that celebrate our ‘Finnishness’ from slightly different ‘angles’? Where did we get our adaptability; our Finnish heritage of strength (Sisu); our ability to recognize and celebrate the wonders of life; the creativity and independent spirit of artists, musicians, entrepreneurs—and how do we help the next generations perpetuate and hone those great qualities in a new land?

Look at the world leaders who have been at our doorstep, look at Finland on the world stage, and look at the beauty of the nature that has inspired and that continues to inspire us all. We have much to celebrate and much to be proud of—how we do that may change, however.

Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen will be in Los Angeles soon to give a speech to the renowned Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen will be in Los Angeles soon to give a speech to the renowned Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

For example, former Finnish President Tarja Halonen will be in Los Angeles soon to give a speech to the renowned Los Angeles World Affairs Council. I was invited to attend President Halonen’s presentation by a WAC executive who is the daughter of a longtime friend and who knows of my Finnish roots and activism. To my knowledge, the last address to this prestigious group by Ms. Halonen occurred when she was Finland’s Foreign Minister and the EU was in its infancy.   The FACC was actively involved in the promotion of that event. As President of the FACC, I joined several of our Board Members for an early morning, private breakfast with the Minister at a downtown hotel. The Foreign Minister got to try out several of her ‘risky’ speech points on us and we got some valuable ‘face time’ with a future President of Finland. Her speech to a packed house worked exceptionally well—especially the ‘trial points’ we had screened.

That was then. This is now. It is up to US to determine how things happen in the future.
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As members of LAFF and the FACC, we were truly on parallel paths –much like a brother and a sister living in the same family during the same exciting times as our organizations got their start locally in Southern California. It has been fascinating to learn about the early years of Finns here in Los Angeles via the presentations and information provided by the Halme family members as part of LAFF programs.

For LAFF, the days of Väinö Hoover, Yrjö Paloheimo, and others provided insight and information about the mutual support for Finnish families and the social, religious, and business community system that evolved. The Finnish organizations we have today seem to have blossomed during a time of awakening for the Finnish American community and a new generation of immigrants in the decades that followed WWII. Those were exciting times of friendship and mutual support!

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Before we go too far down our mutual memory lane, I would like to tell you about the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce. Here on the Pacific Coast, in 1963 The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce was established and began operation with the election of the first Board of Directors in January of 1964. This empanelling was celebrated with a reception in February of 1964 by none other than Finnish Consul Yrjö Paloheimo at his home at this very place in Pasadena attended by 300 guests. At that event, the new FACC President, Tauno Santalahti, received a Chairman’s Gavel from Consul Paloheimo. That Gavel was a special gift from Finland’s President Urho Kekkonen. At the same time, various other cities throughout the US were creating similar programs to support Finnish businesses’ needs.

The FACC Pacific Coast got off to a good start with luncheon meetings, dinners, and special events featuring business, political, and cultural speakers and traditional Finnish celebrations.   Programs evolved through the years.   Events were open to all, but FACC members got special benefits such as one relatively recent event where attendees had the opportunity to have breakfast with 25 Finnish company CEOs at golf’s legendary Riviera Country Club. There, one-on-ones with our Homeland ‘movers and shakers’ were ‘par-for-the-course’. The guests had fun, the venue was unique, the food was good—and everyone was at work by 9:00!

One event that continued through decades was a Luncheon Meeting at the San Diego Yacht Club hosted by then Finnish Honorary Consul Bert Salonen. [Bert was an early FACC leader who served as a Chamber President in the early 1970’s.] Visiting dignitaries (particularly Finnish Ambassadors) loved being invited to the San Diego March luncheon held at the San Diego Yacht Club famous as host of the Americas Cup races.

Legendary Greta Peck was a loyal member of the FACC who was always up for the meetings in San Diego. In her later years, she was a delightful passenger telling wonderful stories of her life with her once husband, actor Gregory Peck. Greta was a living anthology on life in Hollywood in the early 1950’s.

The Pecks

Legendary Greta Peck was a loyal member of the FACC who was always up for the meetings in San Diego. In her later years, she was a delightful passenger telling wonderful stories of her life with her once husband, actor Gregory Peck. Greta was a living anthology on life in Hollywood in the early 1950’s.

One year Greta brought along her friend –an actress who had played Jane in the Tarzan movies! I SO wanted to introduce Greta’s compatriot to my dear friend and neighbor who used to date Johnny Weissmuller—the original Tarzan!    

I passed on the introduction in deference to my neighbor’s husband!      

Greta Peck often hosted FACC meetings at her home. One particular Vappu event featured someone I think you all know, Diane Järvi. Diane went on to become Finlandia Foundation’s Performer of the Year!

Greta Peck often hosted FACC meetings at her home.

I could go on about Greta’s great philanthropic works and her love of Finland that began at her birth in the iconic Helsinki Rail Station but, suffice it to say, the FACC named its grand Service Award in her honor.

The Greta Peck Award is uniquely given to someone who possesses the American Spirit of Community Service and the Finnish Spirit of Promoting the Homeland, Finnish Enterprise, and Finnish Values. The tradition continues. The most recent recipient of the Greta Peck Award is Pirko Satola Weeres.

And, the beat goes on even when things change.

My history with the FACC is long.   After many member, committee, and Board years, I served 3 years as Vice President. I was elected President and served for three terms. I was only the second woman to be elected President of the FACC—my immediate predecessor was the first, but she was a newly arrived Finnish woman entrepreneur who did not know—or care, about the ‘unwritten rules’.

The Presidency of the Council of European Chambers of Commerce was next for me. CEAC was the umbrella organization for all the European Chambers. It was an exciting and active group formed in support of everything going on with European unification and the creation of the European Union, the Euro, and such fun things. We found that successful Chambers shared similar characteristics—active, committed members who worked together well in support of a proud heritage.

LAFF, the FACC, and Suomi Kerho have seen our mutual organizational families support one another through the decades while each pursued its founding purposes. We have been like brothers and sisters [–at least ‘kissing cousins’!] living parallel lives while occasionally caring and sharing many of the things we have in common such as our collective Finnish family. Other groups like Katirilli find their audiences across the Finnish and Scandinavian spectrum.

We have come together and worked together for our collective good on so many occasions. In preparing for today, I looked back on the materials from one of our joint Independence Day Celebrations at Loyola Marymount University.

 Loyola Marymount University

Loyola Marymount University

First, a Catholic University is an unusual place (at best) for a Lutheran Nation to celebrate a major milestone. As a quality academic institution, it is reasonable for Loyola to offer foreign languages for study—to have the Chairman of the History Department, Brother Griever, promoting facilities and faculty waivers for the teacher of Finnish classes is remarkable. At our Independence Convocation in the Loyola Chapel, after the President of Loyola welcomed the Finnish Community, Elissa della Rocca read the lesson in English and I gave the reading in Finnish [no Latin here!].  Suomi Kerho supported the program and the children of Suomi Koulu sang at the festive luncheon that followed. That was a new world for many.

In those days, that was what we did.   Our enthusiasm for Finland and for what we were doing was contagious. Others, like Loyola, went out of their way to be helpful.   Good events happened. Many of you were there.

Wasn’t it fun?!!

Let’s take this story home!

Finland’s trade and offerings to the world have taken turns throughout the years. Finland’s adaptability and capacity to focus on its strengths has been remarkable. The transitions from agriculture to paper and timber to ice breakers and cruise ships and on to high tech have all permitted Finland to successfully reinvent itself and offer the world the best of what is needed.   (Nokia went from making the best rubber boots and tires to making the best cell phones—no problem!)

Beginning in the early ‘90s, cellular, facsimile, and notebook technologies brought industries closer when introduced to market. That led to the daily, instant use of the internet, virtual reality, and information technology at our fingertips, on our windshields, and even on our ‘Dick Tracy’ wrists. The Information Society that has been created utilizes all means of communication together at unheard of speeds.

What does this mean for business and our personal lives? For openers, there is increased and ‘borderless’ competition for business and for talent!

There are important applications in education, e-commerce, health care, finance, and the like. The EU has continuously supported the future vision of Finland and has supported the implementation of the technologies that have made Finland a world class example the EU can hail.

Finns lead in the use of computers, cell phones, and the internet in daily lives and enterprise. The effective integration of technology into daily life, including corporate management and education has placed Finland on the forefront of our new tech world.

I had to do major upgrades to my conventional technologies—credit cards, cell phone, and laptop computer, just to be able to buy rye bread and get messages in Finland this year!

“Los Angeles now leads the US with clean tech, gaming, and the creative industries.”

If that last sentence makes no sense to you—we are in trouble. By “we”, I mean LAFF, the FACC, Suomi Kerho, and any of the traditional Finnish American organizations that have served our community so well for so long.

Let me put it this way, even though it is embarrassing. My Grandchildren are 4-5-6-7. They each have electronic tablets that are in constant use. I own a tablet, but I do not know where it is or how to use it. They have fierce Angry Birds II competitions and know all of the characters by name and other ‘stuff’—I simply know that several billion downloads of the latest version of the famous Finnish game occurred almost immediately upon its release. That is BIG!

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When our Finnish organization ‘family’ rallied to create a wondrous 80th Anniversary of Independence celebration around our local War Veterans and Lottas, we brought the entire Finnish American community to attention in salute of the very real people who fought two wars to preserve that Finnish Independence. That was as fine an event as I have ever helped produce or attended. With a Veteran Father and a Lotta Mother, it was a labor of love and gratitude.

I am a proud member of Veteraani Tuki. Suomi Kerho still hosts meetings—same time/same place every other month.   The sad fact is we have only a few remaining local Veterans or Lottas to attend those meetings.

Time happens.

Currently, I am working on a committee planning the build up to the 100th beginning with CELEBRATING FINLAND 2015 on December 4, 2015 at the Finnish Consular Residence.

Currently, I am working on a committee planning the build up to the 100th beginning with CELEBRATING FINLAND 2015 on December 4, 2015 at the Finnish Consular Residence.

Currently, I am working on a committee planning the build up to the 100th beginning with CELEBRATING FINLAND 2015 on December 4, 2015 at the Finnish Consular Residence.

It will be different. It will be fun. On invitation, respond promptly to reserve your place.   Space will be limited. [The Finnish Consulate will not hold an Independence Day event this year.]

Of all of the local traditional Finnish American organizations, LAFF may have done the best job of recruiting the next generation of leaders to take over.

I am impressed with the growth, congregation composition, and reception of the Finnish Lutheran Church in Santa Monica.   That is a healthy addition to our ‘family’ that is attracting a younger group of Finns, including families.

Another positive program for future generations is the apparent health of Suomi Koulu. Our ‘senior’ organizations should probably find ways to support and encourage the teachers of our youth. I would love to hear the youngsters “…in the pew behind” explain Finnish Christmas to their friends in Finnish!

The FACC has been battling with a re-generation to the activist organization it once was –and aspires to be again. We are working on our WHO WE ARE/WHAT WE DO with both plans and programs. We know that when we do interesting things, people show up. Our Vappu party this year was so successful we had to close reservations and we staggered arrival times to accommodate demand. We are hard at work and are learning about the new world in which we live.

I hope that you will regularly visit the FACC website and Facebook page for news and upcoming events. You are always welcome to join us!

THE TRUTH IS:

We have a new generation of creative young people who have gravitated to Southern California. I have met many and I have worked with some. They are different. I am impressed.

“Los Angeles now leads with clean tech, gaming, and the creative industries.” With the music industry, films, entertainment, and other more exotic creative industries, Finnish talent is making great marks.

Finnish technology continues to be world class and cutting edge.

Finnish technology continues to be world class and cutting edge.

Finnish technology continues to be world class and cutting edge. Finnish education is ranked as world best. It is a safe bet that new and wondrous ‘things’ will continue to happen in Finland and that some measure of Finnish talent will find its way to our grand markets. As in days past, the Finnish American organizations that were created decades ago to help the ‘newcomers’ find their way and to find a measure of comfort in this strange land need to dust off their ‘playbooks’ and welcome the new generations of Finns to our midst.

That is the current thrust of the FACC—our world has changed, so must we.

We all have had a part in the weaving of the fabric of what Finland has become in the last 100 years—here and worldwide. As the excitement builds over the next two years for ‘the big one’, let’s seize every opportunity to find our common Finnish threads as we have done before.   We will share the challenges and the work together in building the joyous celebrations.

I have had fun today. I hope you have too!

We all have much to be thankful for individually and collectively as a community as this joyful Holiday Season begins.

 

AS YOU GATHER WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS

ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR BLESSINGS

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL

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AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Looking Forward With Finland

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Looking Forward With Finland

Yes,It Is A Small World After All’

Finland is a fun place to be in Summer!

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Finland is a fun place to be in Summer!

My Finland trip this year was not for fun.   It was specifically planned to take care of business. There were issues to deal with, problems to solve, people to see to get/give information, decisions to be made, and important family matters, as well.   With so many things in motion at the same time, it seemed that my biggest decisions were when to leave Los Angeles and how long I could be abroad before California called me back.

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I know, those are nice ‘issues’ to wrestle with even on a business trip. I don’t pity me either!

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The return was easy for me when the September dates were settled for an important event that I really wanted to attend near Berkeley, CA. Go Bears!! OK, now if I can just leave before I have to be back in Berkeley! That, too, was settled by two invitations to two fascinating events in Helsinki which I could attend back-to-back in venues within walking distance of each other. The first day was a real ‘bear’ with 12 hours of meetings in two locations.   With all of the whirlwind, I almost forgot to pack—not that you can afford to take luggage with you with the airline fees what they are today.

Helsinki Home Base: Grand Hotel Scandic

Grand Hotel Scandic

Grand Hotel Scandic

The morning of my long day began early with the typical ‘free’ Finnish breakfast feast available to all hotel guests.   As with dinner the night before, it was fascinating to watch the enthusiasm with which the tourists attacked the smorgasbord that came with their pre-paid package. Even before they found an empty table, they hit the line with plate in hand so as to be one meat ball ahead—I guess!

The morning of my long day began early with the typical ‘free’ Finnish breakfast feast available to all hotel guests.

The morning of my long day began early with the typical ‘free’ Finnish breakfast feast available to all hotel guests.

There is something wonderful about starting the morning with an open-faced Finnish sandwich with cold cuts, cheese, and a fresh slice of cucumber on newly baked, Finnish buttered, rye bread. Fresh orange juice followed by great, strong Finnish coffee and a sweet cinnamon roll put a smile on your face as you move into your day!

Any apprehension I may have had about what was to transpire in the 12 hour/2 different meeting day evaporated as I left the hotel lobby to cross the street to the Conference Center where the day was scheduled to commence.

Any apprehension I may have had about what was to transpire in the 12 hour/2 different meeting day evaporated as I left the hotel lobby to cross the street to the Conference Center where the day was scheduled to commence.

Any apprehension I may have had about what was to transpire in the 12 hour/2 different meeting day evaporated as I left the hotel lobby to cross the street to the Conference Center where the day was scheduled to commence. Simultaneously reaching for the center-of-the-cobblestone-steps hand rail to safely navigate a descent was old friend Anne Huhtamӓki, former Deputy Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles.   Warm hugs and hellos between 20 year friends led to a joint entrance into the Hall for the annual Finnish Ambassadors Meeting held each August at an ‘undisclosed location’ prior the global disbursement for the Senior Finnish Diplomats’ work year assignments.   [My invitation to the meeting did not identify the assembly to be the Ambassadors Meeting, it simply said “Team Finland—By Invitation Only—Meetings Will Be In Finnish”.]

Serendipity Strikes Again

Walking down those steps toward the Marina Congress Center –virtually my first outside steps in Helsinki on this trip, had brought me into the hug of a dear friend from LA. As in years past, I experienced the wonderful serendipity of running into an old friend in an unexpected place in Finland or other elsewhere. This has been a weird, wonderful experience so oft’ repeated that it is one I have come to ‘hope for’—too soon to ‘expect’, but getting close. In one string of several years, the coincidental sightings involved Mirja and Ernie Covarrubias [from Los Angeles] in various airports where none of us would normally expect to find the other—or anyone else we knew. I even asked my travel agent [Joann Scott of Travel By Scott] if she booked their travel too, looking for a connection/explanation.

Mirja and Ernie Covarrubias

Mirja and Ernie Covarrubias

Madame Ambassador

My delight in seeing Anne again was overwhelmed by her exciting news: she has been appointed Finland’s Ambassador to the Balkans. Yes, our Anne Huhtamӓki—who arrived in Los Angeles under Consul General Jȍrn Donner and whom many of us got to know, like, and admire when she was first learning her trade has now received this important posting. Her prior postings and her support roles for Finland’s European Union team in Belgium and her recent work for Finland with the United Nations Affiliated Relief Agencies helped prepare her for this important job.

Ambassador Anne Huhtamӓki

Ambassador Anne Huhtamӓki

What a fun way to learn that it was Ambassadors Week in Helsinki—and Team Finland Day on their agenda!

Ambassadors Week = Old Home Week!

Walking into the Team Finland Day meeting was like ‘old home week’ seeing so many old friends—such as Consuls General from days past in Los Angeles who have gone on to Ambassadorships for Finland elsewhere: Manu Virtamo is based in Tokyo as Ambassador to Japan and Kirsti Westphalen whose last prior post was as Consul General in Los Angeles is Ambassador to Thailand.

Ava with Ambassador Kirsti Westphalen

Ava with Ambassador Kirsti Westphalen

I met many new friends just making it across the room under the good guidance of Finland’s new Ambassador to the Balkans!   Finland’s newly appointed Ambassador to the United States Kirsti Kauppi (who takes over the post in a matter of weeks from Ambassador Koukku-Ronde in Washington, DC) was among the first.   In addition to many other diplomats who are leaders for Finland all over the world, Anne introduced me to several Ministers of the Finnish government.

Ava with Finland’s newly appointed Ambassador to the United States Kirsi Kauppi (left).

Ava with Finland’s newly appointed Ambassador to the United States Kirsti Kauppi (right).

It was a very gratifying experience to be ‘at home’ in such an august assembly. I thought of how proud my recently departed Veteran and Lotta parents would be with the ‘company I was keeping’.

Team Finland

The Team Finland meeting was the major event in Finland’s Ambassadors Week 2015. Over 400 people were brought to fine order with welcoming words from Finland’s Prime Minister, Juha Sipilӓ.

juhauu

A fascinating and informative series of presentations were made by representative diplomats and their Finnish corporate constituents who face special challenges that need Finland’s assistance around the globe. Finland sets her own pace, so we were taken ‘Around the World in 8 Hours’!

Finland’s current Consul General based in Los Angeles is Juha “J.P.” Markkanen. Consul General Markkanen brought home the point of the importance of California and its relationship to Finland in his well-received presentation. His point was emphasized by noting that California is economically larger than either Russia or Canada.

Consul General Markkanen brought home the point of the importance of California and its relationship to Finland in his well-received presentation.

Consul General Markkanen brought home the point of the importance of California and its relationship to Finland in his well-received presentation.

Things are happening on the US West Coast, especially in Los Angeles with the creative industries, clean tech, and the burgeoning Silicon Beach. Consul General Markkanen told that Venture Capital available in San Diego is larger than in London—and the economy is growing strongly now. The Consul General’s enthusiasm and hard work has paid off significantly for Finland in our region.

Consul General Markkanen told that Venture Capital available in San Diego is larger than in London—and the economy is growing strongly now.

Consul General Markkanen told that Venture Capital available in San Diego is larger than in London—and the economy is growing strongly now.

JP Markkanen ‘walks the walk’ with his positive, ‘get things done’ attitude, and enthusiasm. His advice to the assembled diplomats, business people, and Finnish government leaders was simple: “The US wants to be friends; why not do more business there?” He did caution that the tuppisuu (–the obtunded, ‘bump-on-a-log’, ‘wait and see’) culture does not work in the United States. His ‘breath-of-fresh-air’, ‘go-for-it’ approach that reflects the American style is infectious as evidenced by the group’s very positive reaction to his speech.

Duty Calls

Anne had to leave the Ambassadors Meeting a bit early because she was scheduled to spend the afternoon with former Finland President Matti Ahtisaari who had been instrumental in bringing the temporary peace to the Kosovo region that it will be Anne’s challenge to help sustain.

former Finland President Matti Ahtisaari

former Finland President Matti Ahtisaari

In turn, I went off to my afternoon FinnCham meetings where I touched bases with ‘players’ from days past and met many of the new global Chamber of Commerce leaders—including the head of the Afgan Finnish Chamber. [The latter was a check-off on my ‘bucket list’ that I would never ever have thought to list!]

Finland’s former Ambassador to the United States Jaakko Laajava.

Finland’s former Ambassador to the United States Jaakko Laajava.

Honored guest and featured FinnCham participant was Finland’s former Ambassador to the United States Jaakko Laajava. I had first met the Ambassador when he invited me to participate in the very first (and imminently successful) Finnish American Business Forum held at the grand Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC in 1999. Later, we invited Ambassador Laajava to address the Annual San Diego Meeting of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce when I was FACC President and Bert Salonen was Honorary Consul General of Finland who hosted a major FACC event each year in San Diego. I simply smiled when Ambassador Laajava’s major applause line in this meeting was to urge Finns to MARKET their talents, capabilities, and products to the rest of the world—the very same prescription he presented almost 20 years ago in San Diego! Same sermon, same solution, same audience—just different players. He was right then—he is right now.

Someday some Finn will sing like an Angry Bird and the world will listen!!   Do a billion downloads of the newly released Angry Birds II count?

FinnTimes Rocks!

One satisfying discovery on this trip was that a pleasantly surprising number of people encountered at these meetings were familiar with and readers of FinnTimes and Around LA With Ava®

One satisfying discovery on this trip was that a pleasantly surprising number of people encountered at these meetings were familiar with and readers of FinnTimes and Around LA With Ava®

One satisfying discovery on this trip was that a pleasantly surprising number of people encountered at these meetings were familiar with and readers of FinnTimes and Around LA With Ava®. It was rather fun to run into Markku Vartiainen who published Headlines magazine [formerly the global publication out of Helsinki for the Finnish American Chambers of Commerce] ‘back in the day’ when the FACC Pacific submitted so many articles and so many pictures of so many exciting events that Mr. Vartiainen told me then that he was concerned that the other FACC chapters around the US and the world would get discouraged. Time has passed; others are now running exciting events; and the FACC Pacific is gearing back into ‘catch up’ mode. I think the Ambassador called it “Marketing”!

Before leaving for her meeting with former President Ahtisaari, Ambassador Huhtamäki suggested we get together in the evening.

With a full day successfully behind me, I had ‘flopped’ onto the bed and flicked on the TV for a world news update. I had barely time to utter a satisfied sigh of relief before I noticed the hour on the TV—19:50. Unless I had missed a message at the hotel front desk or on my cell phone, there were just 10 minutes to freshen up before meeting Anne and Veli-Matti in the lobby for drinks! [Consider this: Veli-Matti Mattila is CEO and President of Elisa, the Finnish telecom equivalent of ATT or Verizon, and one of the brightest, young, talented, accomplished stars rising in the Finnish and global business worlds. Anne is a career Diplomat recently named Ambassador who spent the afternoon being briefed by a former President. This is Ambassador’s Week in Helsinki. Surely each had at least several dozen more urgent matters to attend to tonight! Still, the telephone remained silent.]

Veli-Matti Mattila and Anne Huhtamäki

Veli-Matti Mattila and Anne Huhtamäki

With Finns’ penchant for promptness, we exited the elevator into the lobby at precisely 19:59. We found a table for four next to the window that gave us a view of all arrivals, fully expecting to have the cell phone ring with last minute regrets. Instead, we saw a driver helping a blond lady with semi-short hair exit the rear of a discrete vehicle and join her husband to enter the hotel. Warm greetings later, old friends were sipping celebratory champagne, recalling fond moments past, and exploring current activities—including those of our children, now adults. A quick drink turned into dinner—you know how those things go.

It is nice when good things happen to nice people. It is especially fun when you knew them at the start when they were just beginning to create their futures. Now they are the stars and their children are in launch mode—Olli as a degreed management consultant about to marry another degreed management consultant [different companies] and Eeva a year away from finishing medical school!

And yes, we did close the restaurant.   The staff was still smiling when we left so I guess we did not overstay our welcome or have too much fun.

It was fun, indeed!

Friday brought the Helsinki 2015 adventure to a close. Off to the lake house in the woods.

What a two days!!

Insect Aside

The Helsinki Festival (Helsingin Juhlaviikot) is an annual ‘Around Helsinki’ event in late August. This year Helsingin Juhlaviikot featured China in cooperation with Teurastamo, the Centre of International Cultural Exchange, and the Chinese Ministry of Culture. Street Food is almost as big in Helsinki as in LA. While Tacos and Tex/Mex are catching hold*, nakki [little sausages] and muikku [little fried fishes] still prevail in the vendor ‘wars’. But Finns are adventurous—and brave.

This year Helsingin Juhlaviikot featured China in cooperation with Teurastamo, the Centre of International Cultural Exchange

*I ‘imported’ freshly made corn tortillas from LA for my countryside’ parties for years. Now those fun delicacies can be bought in the TexMex aisle of most Finnish food markets!

The Night Market at Helsingin Juhlaviikot 2015 offered ten stalls featuring Insect Food Cooks [Chefs??] from Shanghai who presented various bug delicacies for consumption by those Finns who sought a long awaited chance to get back at the insect world! Fortunately, I missed the Festival. I was happy to be heading back to the Finnish Lake District where the insects eat the people the way nature intended—not the other way around! Here the mosquitos [aka the ‘Finnish Air Force’] enjoy the Summer as much as anyone. And, this year, the hirvi karpaset (moose flies) were particularly nasty. Hirvi karpaset leave a painful (rather than itchy) mark as much as several inches in diameter. Those bites take a bit of the edge off of the joy of blueberry picking or mushroom foraging! Some Sisu required.

This year, insect food cooks from Shanghai conjure up snacks from all kinds of insects

This year, insect food cooks from Shanghai conjure up snacks from all kinds of insects

Mandatory Pauses In ‘Around Finland With Ava’

The trip out of Helsinki was quick after a few ‘retail therapy’ stops along the Esplanade. The Academic Bookstore, Artek, Marimekko, Iittala, … ‘called my name’! Kappeli Restaurant was abuzz –and live music was coming from the Band Shell. There were smiling people all around, not just on the faces of the favored vendors who saw me coming!

A sign on the rail of the Kappeli Terrace said it all: “Jean was here!”

A sign on the rail of the Kappeli Terrace said it all: “Jean was here!”

A sign on the rail of the Kappeli Terrace said it all: “Jean was here!”

Of course he was “here”, there, and everywhere this year. All of Finland –and the world, is celebrating Sibelius 150.

Sibelius 150

Sibelius Week was starting in Lahti at the Sibelius Concert Hall the very next day. About an hour and a half north of Helsinki, this beautiful, scenic city on Lake Vesijärvi where genius Finnish composer Jean Sibelius had a summer home, is the location of a magnificent wooden concert hall right on the shore of Vesijärvi.

Inside Sibelius Hall

Inside Sibelius Hall

The Lahti Symphony Sibelius Festival schedule this celebratory year includes the BBC Orchestra, the Helsinki City Orchestra, and others under the batons of such notables as Okko Kaum, Osmo Vänskä, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Sakri Oramo, and Leif Segerström. The glass encased wooden architectural wonder that is Lahti’s Sibelius Concert Hall was built in 2000.

Sibelius Week was starting in Lahti at the Sibelius Concert Hall the very next day. About an hour and a half north of Helsinki, this beautiful, scenic city on Lake Vesijärvi where genius Finnish composer Jean Sibelius had a summer home, is the location of a magnificent wooden concert hall right on the shore of Vesijärvi.

Sibelius Week was starting in Lahti at the Sibelius Concert Hall the very next day. About an hour and a half north of Helsinki, this beautiful, scenic city on Lake Vesijärvi where genius Finnish composer Jean Sibelius had a summer home, is the location of a magnificent wooden concert hall right on the shore of Vesijärvi.

The sesquicentennial excitement was palpable even wandering about on the morning of the Festival opening [including walking up and down corridors and taking some elevators we probably should not have taken] stepping over the wires TV prep crews had taped to the floors for the YLE Live Opening Concert Simulcast that was to happen later in the day.

The magnificence of Lahti’s Sibelius Concert Hall is a truly inspiring model of Finnish architecture, use of native materials, and a perfect nature setting placement.

As midday arrived, the Concert Hall was ‘a buzz’ with preparations. Everyone was calmly busy with their assignments. Judging from the ‘special setting’ of linen-clothed tables strategically placed in front of huge lake view windows and the dress of the guests, there was a special ‘donors’ luncheon happening in a discretely separated section of the Hall’s public spaces. In the Hall’s Ravintola, the orchestra members [they had ‘that look’—no other signs] went efficiently through their lunch at the lovely restaurant featuring special menus for the occasion. When they left almost simultaneously without even the wave of a baton, it seemed certain that they were heading for a final rehearsal and mark-up. [If these ‘observations’ are simply figments of my journalistic imagination, they are at least as real as the fellow who looked remarkably like the evening’s Conductor Osmo Vӓnskӓ wearing a ‘cap and top coat’ disguise taking pictures of the outside of the building only a pending major event performer –or a student architect, would take! The photographer looked more like the Conductor than an architect to me.]

 Lake view windows inside Sibelius Hall.

Lake view windows inside Sibelius Hall.

The magnificence of Lahti’s Sibelius Concert Hall is a truly inspiring model of Finnish architecture, use of native materials, and a perfect nature setting placement.

The economics of music have not been ignored in Lahti. The Concert Hall gift shop was ‘marketing’ special Sibelius coffee, chocolates, and tea along with the requisite T shirts and a 21st Century chance to take a ‘selfie’ in front of a mural of Jean Sibelius.   [Speaking of selfies, I heard on the Finnish radio news that there is an outbreak of head lice on Finnish children because of the prevalence of kids touching heads as they are taking selfies. Sibelius and I did not have that problem –he was bald.]

Speaking of selfies...

Speaking of selfies…

Music Brings The World Together

A most charming scene was taking place at the box office: A man from Japan (a total Sibelius groupie if there ever was one) was just overwhelmed to have made the pilgrimage to this Lahti place and he could not wait to tell everyone within earshot of his trip, his accommodations, the performances he was going to attend, and the activities surrounding the Sibelius anniversary year in his native Japan.

All of this enthusiastic rhetoric was taking place in perfect American English in the marble faced lobby in front of the sole ‘Will Call’ window manned by a Finnish speaking clerk whose Protocol Manual likely prescribes “…Smile and nod affirmatively until the customer calms down”. After about 10 minutes, the Finn’s prescribed silence was being tested, the patron was joyously extolling his own good fortune—and a line of 5+ increasingly impatient Will Call customers on lunch break had formed.

The affection the Japanese have for things Finnish (including feedback from/for this column) is just adorable. There is clearly an aesthetic and spirit we share. I am still awaiting—and hoping for, similar feedback from our Afghanistani fan base.

Meanwhile, Back In LA

Just before leaving for Finland, a Sibelius 150 event took place at the Finnish Consul General’s residence—a fundraiser featuring a ballet performance with Valse Triste beautifully produced and performed by Jenni Kiilholma. The Sibelius 150 Dance Event fundraiser at the Consular residence previewed the September 18th and 19th evenings of dance, music, and poetry with the South Coast Dance Arts Alliance at Cal-State University Long Beach.

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The first weekend in September is dedicated to Sibelius In Southern California, with events featuring Jean Sibelius’ great granddaughter Ruusumari Seppo in Los Angeles arranged by the Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation and in San Diego by the Santa Monica and San Diego Parishes of the Finnish Lutheran Church with a jointly sponsored Concert in Poway, CA.

Helsinki ReDux

As much as I enjoy Helsinki and visiting with my wonderful friends there, this was a ‘business trip’. I had tried to politely decline all invitations until my Aunt, my Father’s only sister and next sibling in age, called to say “Please come to lunch”. When one of your dearest relatives, the family matriarch, makes such a request, it is time to change plans. At age 89, my Aunt Heljӓ had just made the 2 hour trip from Helsinki for my Father’s Interment Ceremony on a rainy Saturday. That family ceremony had been beautiful, brief, touching, and a reminder of life’s priorities.

Arriving later than conventional Finnish lunch time because of a previously scheduled meeting in Lahti and difficulty finding parking near my Aunt and Uncle’s home (which is literally across the street from the world famous Temppeliaukkionkirkko [Rock Church]) was taken in stride by my senior relatives.   My Aunt had prepared a fabulously delicious salmon soup presented in full Finnish fashion with all accoutrement. What a memorable treat.

An Eva Anttila tapestry

An Eva Anttila tapestry

Our conversation focused on family history and some of the many artifacts decorating their top floor flat with the grandest view of Helsinki I have seen. I was not aware that Aunt Heljӓ had worked under famous Finnish tapestry artist Eva Anttila [a cousin and my ‘namesake’] as an apprentice before she went on to nursing school and a medical career where she met her husband, the future Surgeon General of Finland.   In turn, Aunt Heljӓ was not aware that some years ago a University of Helsinki graduate student working on her PhD thesis on the artist Eva Anttila had come to the United States to view, photograph, and interview the US owners of Eva Anttila’s works. Los Angeles was an important stop on her research road since there were at least four tapestries there: I had two, my parents had one, and my former in-laws had one they had specially commissioned by the artist. That treasure trove of research had been assembled and photographed on walls outside my then Manhattan Beach, CA home by the researcher whose successful dissertation had been published later. My Aunt was unaware of the book which was in limited circulation. I wonder if the researcher was aware that Eva Anttila was a painter before she was a tapestrist? Aunt Heljӓ has one of Eva’s early paintings, as well as, one of her beautiful tapestries.

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I wonder if the researcher was aware that Eva Anttila was a painter before she was a tapestrist? Aunt Heljӓ has one of Eva’s early paintings, as well as, one of her beautiful tapestries.

History happens even if we are not aware of it!!

On The Way Out of Town

While my second day in Helsinki was dwindling to a satisfying close, I had something I wanted to drop off for friend Bitte Westerlund, wife of former LA Consul General Jȍrn Donner. I called. She welcomed my visit–which I promised would be brief.

Bitte Westerlund with her sons

Bitte Westerlund with her sons

Upon arrival—and only one circle of the block to return to the first parking place I had missed, I had a warm greeting from Bitte who had spotted my car and ‘knew’ I would be back for that prime parking spot just below her balcony! Once inside, I had the added pleasure of being greeted by the Donner boys (young men) Rudolf and Daniel. What fine fellows! Jȍrn continues his busy pace with book writing and film making. While he was due to be elsewhere shortly and had to head out, we did have a pleasant visit. He already knew that I had caught up with his protégé, now Ambassador Huhtamӓki.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela's portrait Jorn Donner's father Kai Donner.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s portrait Jorn Donner’s father Kai Donner.

As I was leaving, Bitte loaned me the book that she had just finished reading. She thought I might find it interesting. [I had not told her of my Team Finland/FinnCham meetings.] The book was written by Ambassador Laajava and discussed, among other things, President Ahtisaari’s role in the Kosovo peace settlements. [Did I mention that the last time Anne and I had dinner together was several years ago.   Veli-Matti was disappointed not to have us seated at one special table he had requested. It was already reserved he was told. Some 20 minutes later we discovered that table was being held for sitting President Ahtisaari who had just been given a major global award for his peace keeping work! Serendipity all over again!!   Compounded!!!]

History happens even when you are there.

Back To Real Life

More meetings are arranged and attended, but they are with clients, plumbers, appliance dealers, bankers, association managers, and taxi services. Berkeley beckons!

Finally, A Finish With A Finnish Feast

The season’s final magnificent Finnish blueberries and strawberries are at market and the Summer produce is at its finest in final harvest. The lingonberry harvest has begun with the local farmers homes suddenly having posted Puolukkaa signs on their property.

The season’s final magnificent Finnish blueberries and strawberries are at market and the Summer produce is at its finest in final harvest

The season’s final magnificent Finnish blueberries and strawberries are at market and the Summer produce is at its finest in final harvest

To me, three of the best things in Finland are: duck (ankka), Juniper berries (katajan marjat), and blueberries (mustikat). All three are in this month’s recipe.   ENJOY!!

Duck With Juniper and Blueberry Sauce

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  • large, boneless duck breast (Bristol Farms, Surfas, or LA Farmer’s Market)
  • tablespoon dried Juniper berries
  • ½ pint container of fresh blueberries
  • shallot
  • ¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Score fat on duck breast in a diamond pattern, being careful not to cut into the meat.

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Salt and pepper both sides.

In a cold skillet, put duck breast fat side down and bring pan to heat enough to render most of the fat.

Carefully remove duck, pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat (poured off fat should be saved for future use—do not discard).

IMG2980Put duck back into pan and sauté until brown and almost crisp (about 4 to 5 minutes).

When done, turn duck over and cook another 4 to 5 minutes until breast is medium rare.

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Place duck breast on a covered plate and keep warm.

Chop shallot, put into pan with remainder duck fat, and sauté until softened; add Juniper berries and blueberries; add Balsamic vinegar; cook until all softened. Add collected juices from plate to sauce.

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Cut duck breast into slices and pour sauce over; garnish.

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Perfect wine pairing: Stag’s Leap Petite Syrah

AFTERWORD

As this Column is being written in Finland, the children have been back to school for over a month! None-the-less, we are experiencing the best weather of the Summer season.

The countryside is quiet. Gone are the roars and squeals of motor boats, jet skis, water skiers, and children playing on the sandy shores. We are left with the stillness of nature welcoming this long distance traveler to her Homeland.

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The first sunrise (even seen through bleary eyes at first light from my bathroom window) seemed like a welcoming greeting to a jetlagged home comer. Hyvää huomenta and tervetuloa kotiin Suomen luontoon! Ihana hetki (a supreme moment).

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Home at last at my private little* ‘Lake Woebegone’!

*Actually, Lake Pӓijӓnne is over 60 miles [100 kilometers] long.

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The sunrises, the sunsets, the sounds, the silence, the trees illuminated with ‘magic’ lighting—I kept reaching for a camera to be able to share my rapture. How you ‘capture’ silence in a digital format, I do not know.   I do know that you have left Los Angeles far behind when you experience perfect silence!

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I hope you enjoy this years’ “Postcards: Around The Lake With Ava”. The sunny days of late Summer are here with me to enjoy the awesome beauty. The only real day of rain was part of a Saturday. That period of rain yielded the delightful surprise of a handful of chanterelles from my yard for tonight’s dinner.

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Life is good in the Finnish forest. It does require an alertness beyond avoiding the 405 at rush hour, however.

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The mirror-like lake glistens and ripples in any light. Seven swans swim quietly by to their nest on the nearby island. Their fellow species (the ducks) are now on the ‘most wanted’ list with a target on their backs and have hightailed it ‘out of Dodge’. The geese have also migrated away. Rabbit and bear hunting seasons are on too. About 12 bear got their due in eastern Finland on the first day of their season.

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I got excited too when Finnish Radio News excitedly announced that the rare event of a clear nighttime sky—no clouds, the night before I was scheduled to leave this lakeside cabin. The cloudless sky prediction suggested that the aurora borealis could be viewed in Southern Finland. That was a natural phenomenon I had seen only once—from an airplane on a night flight. It was awesome.

As anyone who has been in Finland during the Summer knows, nightfall can take forever to arrive. The pitch-black of a moonless night takes even longer!

While pushing forward with my packing and cleaning chores, I would periodically check to catch the colorful horizon eruptions that I had seen from my plane’s eye view some years earlier. My nightly recording of spectacular sunsets from the lakeside deck had given me hope that the aurora borealis could be similarly captured. The 100’+ birch and pine trees protected the distant horizon too well, however.

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My final check took me to the meadow side deck where the trees are set back sufficiently south to provide a large frame for the normally black night sky. Tonight was different! With a perfectly cloudless night some 25 kilometers from the nearest village [not even a stoplight there, to say nothing of streetlights or neon signs], the moonless night revealed more stars than anyone could dream existed in our universe—or beyond. The beauty of the unfiltered view was beyond my comprehension.

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My glimpse of Heaven assured me my two recent trips to bring the ashes of my dear deceased Parents home to Finland were good and proper decisions. I breathed a final sigh of relief. A peace came over me.

And then, the forest erupted in ‘applause’ like I have never heard before. From mice to moose, the forest animals burst out in a cacophony of chatter.   Each creature big and small had to be heard—all talking at once. It was beyond a Disney movie. The toad was talking to the timber wolf and the owl passed the message forward.   The ducks came out of hiding and joined the chorus.

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I wish I had timed [and/or recorded] the unique experience. It was long and it was loud—and, then, it was silent again!

Here at this magical place the silence is deafening.

The silence is magnificent.

May you feel the peace of silence in your world.

AFTERWORD2

I know that Serendipity is hard to rationalize for pragmatic Finns. So, here is a challenge for those who calculate probability for most anything.

Parameters: Contemplate the likely number of taxi cabs that go to LAX each day to drop off or pick up passengers. Now, multiply by 3 since cabs run 24/7 which means 3 shifts/day. Next, multiply by 30—the approximate number of days of my trip. Then, multiply that by the number of airlines flying into/out of LAX [Guess—I only know there are 9 (8 domestic and 1 international) terminals.] In the alternative, you could simply multiply by the number of daily LAX in/out flights.

Projection Problem: Calculate the odds for the same taxi driver who picked me up at my house after a random call to a phone book ad very early on Day 1 of a 30 day trip being ‘next-in-line’ at the United Airlines cab queue at 6:30 PM on Day 30.

Serendipity Probability: = 1 in some number with lots and lots of “0”s!!!

Reality: It happened on this trip! Our random cabbie not only remembered picking us up, he knew the directions to my house without prompting or GPS.

As they say: “Go Figure!”

or

“It IS a small world after all!!”

AROUND LA WITH AVA: Is It What It Is ?

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

As the Summer season unfolds around us and we head to the beach, to the mountains, to the back yard, or–if we are really fortunate, to Finland, we get a chance to take a step back to look at the fast-paced world around us.   Here in our City of Angels, every now and again, it is beneficial to put our feet up, to take a deep breath, and to step off of the rocket ship that hurdles us ahead at breakneck speed.

Los Angeles at sunrise

Los Angeles at sunrise

A favored local adage [almost as ubiquitous as the Kardashians] has been “It is what it is”.  You see it on t-shirts, hear it around the water cooler, and have it served up with your martini during happy hour.  Unfortunately, for the last several years it has been part of the lexicon of the many health care workers making pronouncements as my loving family members were treated.  It is not a solution and it does not offer solace; it is a sad, un-Sisu like surrender.

Have Fun

For those of us raised with multiple language backgrounds/heritage, the development and assimilation of words, their meanings, and the concepts conveyed can be kind of fun.

A picturesque spot near Kouvola

A picturesque spot near Kouvola

As I was venting on the annoying “it is what it is” nonsense, it suddenly occurred to me that as a little tyke [age 2 or 3] hanging out with my precious Maternal Grandparents outside of Kouvola, life on the farm was blessed and fun, indeed.  I especially remember the times during the Summer when I was being carried on my Grandfather’s shoulders and we paused to take bites of sun warmed tomatoes as we checked the other garden crops.  My Mother had traveled to the US to visit my Father while he was here on his Fulbright Scholarship.

Children who feel loved are easy to please.

My Grandfather continued to send me 'update' photos of my dear apple tree as the seasons and the years past.  I guess the name was a good one.  I often wonder if my tree still exists.  My answer to Onko? is always On!. (Picture: An apple tree in bloom in Kouvola)

My Grandfather continued to send me ‘update’ photos of my dear apple tree as the seasons and the years past. I guess the name was a good one. I often wonder if my tree still exists. My answer to Onko? is always On!. (Picture: An apple tree in bloom in Kouvola)

A thrill that continued for many years was the apple tree I got to Christen myself:  I called it “Onko On”.  Now, in Finnish, you know that means “Is it?…It is!”.  [How irritating is it when something you have just ranted about comes back to bite you?!]  My Grandfather continued to send me ‘update’ photos of my dear apple tree as the seasons and the years past.  I guess the name was a good one.  I often wonder if my tree still exists.  My answer to Onko? is always On!.

Time for a Break

Far be it from this humble wordsmith to parse like a former POTUS [or affiliated Intern] on the meaning of “is”!

Acronyms and Branding

Does ‘branding’ change the reality of something’s existence?  Or does branding just paint our perception if we ‘buy’ the label?

In an attempt to make something old seem new again, the trend has been to rename parts of our City of Angels–so far, we have NoHo and WeHo.  [Has anyone really listened to those names said out loud?]

Ribbon-cutting of new North Manhattan Beach sign. Photo by Chris Miller.

Ribbon-cutting of new North Manhattan Beach sign. Photo by Chris Miller.

Recently re-branded “North Manhattan Beach” used to be called El Porto until real estate values went through the roof. As a former El Porto-rican, I object.

There have been several efforts to re-brand “Watts” [famous for poverty and riots] to “South Central” and, now,  “South LA”.  Changing the label has not changed the lives or lessened the burdens of the inhabitants of those impoverished neighborhoods.  Trying to be trendy (I suppose), “SOLA” was tried until the Latino population suggested that might have a negative connotation about a female in the Spanish language.  Go figure!

 Now that Los Angeles has an actual Downtown, some branders want to call it "DTLA".  What the heck is that other than a mouthful of consonants and a vowel??  How is that pronounced?  Visitors to our city are intimidated by the Freeways, we do not need to confuse them further.

Now that Los Angeles has an actual Downtown, some branders want to call it “DTLA”. What the heck is that other than a mouthful of consonants and a vowel?? How is that pronounced? Visitors to our city are intimidated by the Freeways, we do not need to confuse them further.

For, maybe, 80 years Los Angeles was the only major or minor city in the United States that did not have a Downtown where people went to transact business or be entertained.  Now that Los Angeles has an actual Downtown, some branders want to call it “DTLA”.  What the heck is that other than a mouthful of consonants and a vowel??  How is that pronounced?  Visitors to our city are intimidated by the Freeways, we do not need to confuse them further.

[Yes, I know every Finn is used to being asked about the pronunciation of his or her last name ” DTLA: DEE TEE Elle Ei? or DItLA or Diitla or D-TlLA?”.]  Enough already with this alphabet soup babble.  It is Downtown–and it is ours!  Let’s keep it that way.

Words Should Be Fun

The cultural differences in languages are fun to observe and to contemplate.  If you like to have fun with your Finnish, check out the 9 meanings for Kuusi Palaa on the Internet  This was the basis of a fun dinner table conversation with my cousin Aarne and his wife Tuula who were visiting Los Angeles (for the first time) from Finland this month.

One of my Finnish fun favorites is No Niin.  My Mother said it virtually everytime she sat down.  [No, I do not know why!]  I always had a heck of a time ‘translating’ that for my curious English speaking friends.

The Finnish language is precious and beautiful and should be honored.

The Finnish language is precious and beautiful and should be honored.

While we Finns may take umbrage at a non-Finn poking fun at our language and its quirks, it is OK for us to do so–I think.

The Finnish language is precious and beautiful and should be honored.

There is a book written about the iconic and historical place where my Father grew up called Sanojen Talossa (At The House of Words).  It is the Home of the Finnish Literary Society where my Grandfather was “Secretary” and in residence many years ago.  The building is in the Senate Square area at Hallituskatu 1.  My parents lived there for a while as newlyweds […and there is where I “got my start”, as they say].   I am looking forward to reading the third book in a trilogy that has just come out about that facility titled Pieni Kansa, Pitkä Muisti (Small Nation, Long Memory).

There is a book written about the iconic and historical place where my Father grew up called Sanojen Talossa (At The House of Words).

There is a book written about the iconic and historical place where my Father grew up called Sanojen Talossa (At The House of Words).

Finnish Children Grow Up With A Great Advantage

Finnish children grow up learning Finnish, Swedish, and English–before they get serious about their study of words!  Knowledge of and comfort with more than one language is such an advantage!

Finnish children grow up learning Finnish, Swedish, and English--before they get serious about their study of words!

Finnish children grow up learning Finnish, Swedish, and English–before they get serious about their study of words!

Now that we are not taking Final Exams, we can be fascinated with word structure and usage.  For example, here in LA a strange billboard just went up on the trendy, new Ace Hotel in Downtown.  [Don’t look for it in DTLA–it is not there!]  The sign does not advertise anything.  There is not a new, sizzling burger joint or a Super Chef Emporium.  It is just a piece of white art on a red background (a sign) that says “Never Odd or Even”.  I am sure I am not the only person whose first thoughts were “What is this?”; “What is the message?”.

I am sure I am not the only person whose first thoughts were "What is this?"; "What is the message?".

I am sure I am not the only person whose first thoughts were “What is this?”; “What is the message?”.

The fun answer: it is a palindrome!  It reads the same forwards and backwards!

My personal Finnish favorite palindrome is Saippuakauppias which means “soap seller”.

Pondering And Perusing

As we contemplate what is, what isn’t , what it used to be, what it may become, what it is called, what never was even though we thought it was, and other existential truths, let’s go around LA to see what was going on with the Finnish community –and elsewhere in the universe.

Finlandia Foundation featured young jazz great Olli Hirvonen in Concert at the Consular Residence.  It was a well received night of music by Olli and delicious food by Sirpa, Chef at the Residence.

Finlandia Foundation featured young jazz great Olli Hirvonen in Concert at the Consular Residence.  It was a well received night of music by Olli and delicious food by Sirpa, Chef at the Residence.

Finlandia Foundation featured young jazz great Olli Hirvonen in Concert at the Consular Residence. It was a well received night of music by Olli and delicious food by Sirpa, Chef at the Residence.

Speaking of music, Seppo Hurme (head of the Veteraani Tuki) was with his family at the SCAN Midsummer Festival.  He had just been to the Hollywood Bowl the night before; The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary Audience Sing-Along.  Seppo said there were many attendees in costume featuring Austrian garb –even someone in a ‘mousetrap’ costume in homage to the Von Trapp family.

Speaking of music, Seppo Hurme (head of the Veteraani Tuki) was with his family at the SCAN Midsummer Festival.

Speaking of music, Seppo Hurme (head of the Veteraani Tuki) was with his family at the SCAN Midsummer Festival.

The Finnish Church held its last Service until the Fall.  Beautiful music braced words of comfort and wisdom from the Reverend Jarmo Tarkki.  As is customary, the Service was followed by a Coffee with Finnish treats in the Parish Hall.  The Katirilli performed.  What could make a Sunday before Summer any better?

The Finnish Church held its last Service until the Fall.  Beautiful music braced words of comfort and wisdom from the Reverend Jarmo Tarkki.  As is customary, the Service was followed by a Coffee with Finnish treats in the Parish Hall.  The Katirilli performed.  What could make a Sunday before Summer any better?

The Finnish Church held its last Service until the Fall. Beautiful music braced words of comfort and wisdom from the Reverend Jarmo Tarkki. As is customary, the Service was followed by a Coffee with Finnish treats in the Parish Hall.

The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce [FACC] held an informative meeting featuring Bob Foster, head of the GAP Program at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business.  Professor Foster shared his work with the myriad Finnish [and other] companies he has worked with in Finland and here.  Finnish companies [and Finnish government agencies] have been strong supporters of this unique UCLA Program.  It was fun to see so many ‘new faces’ who had learned of the event at the FACC Vappu party.  Good events attract good people.

The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce [FACC] held an informative meeting featuring Bob Foster head of the GAP Program at UCLA's Anderson School of Business.

The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce [FACC] held an informative meeting featuring Bob Foster, head of the GAP Program at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business.

And, good people get to know each other even when the event they attend is not directly in their line of work.  Actress Nina Sallinen and playwright Park Cofield of the Sisu is in the Heart project had both come to the FACC Vappu party.  Talking with her before the FACC Foster/GAP lecture, Nina told of summer plans that include a trip to Macedonia where she received an award last year.   And, she noted that she had recently agreed to perform in Park Cofield’s Sisu play set for a premier in Fairport Harbor,  Ohio. Almost on cue, Park arrived for the evening’s festivities!

Actress Nina Sallinen and playwright Park Cofield of the Sisu is in the Heart project had both come to the FACC Vappu party.

Actress Nina Sallinen and playwright Park Cofield of the Sisu is in the Heart project had both come to the FACC Vappu party.

The SisuIsInTheHeart project is growing.  Check out their website for information and to support the work at www.sisuisintheheart.com

The Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation held its Annual Scholarship Picnic.  Music welcomed young, excited students about to head off to college with scholarship help from a supportive Finnish community.  The celebration included delicious sandwiches, blueberries, and ice cream in the shade of the Tupa in Pasadena.  What a delightful start to Summer.  Great work by the dedicated members of LAFF.

While Shakespeare told us that “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, the power of words to define something is in the fast lane –just as technology is in overdrive.  This was evident at the Slush Future Brunch, an event for entrepreneurs and thought leaders in LA media and tech space.  It was hosted by memBrain (organizers of TEDxHollywood and by producers of Helsinki’s SLUSH event.  The event presented insights from ‘game changers’ in Virtual Reality and storytelling.  A great panel of experts on “VR & AR” [Virtual Reality and Adjusted Reality] was a fitting theme for glimpsing the future.  The event anticipated and promoted the upcoming Slush event to be held in Helsinki in November.  Mark your calendar–and dust off your Nokia boots!

(Slush Future Brunch) ..an event for entrepreneurs and thought leaders in LA media and tech space.  It was hosted by memBrain (organizers of TEDxHollywood and by producers of Helsinki's SLUSH event.

(Slush Future Brunch) ..an event for entrepreneurs and thought leaders in LA media and tech space. It was hosted by memBrain (organizers of TEDxHollywood and by producers of Helsinki’s SLUSH event.

As we begin to experience our world not through “rose colored glasses” but through “VR/AR goggles”, our brains and souls will need to accelerate to ‘warp speed’ to keep up.

As we begin to experience our world not through "rose colored glasses" but through "VR/AR goggles", our brains and souls will need to accelerate to 'warp speed' to keep up.

As we begin to experience our world not through “rose colored glasses” but through “VR/AR goggles”, our brains and souls will need to accelerate to ‘warp speed’ to keep up.

An old Finnish client of mine used to say of his lawsuit adversary: “en tiedä onko se lintu vai kala” (I don’t know whether he/she is a bird or fish.)  Maybe a better way of saying it in English is “Is he is fish or fowl?”.

Even people get branded or re-branded these days.  Look at the gentleman walking by my house who, not much later, is wearing a dress and looking beautiful,  Is it a he or a she?  In Finnish it’s easy with no pronoun problem it is–hän.

Recently, the white parents of an NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)executive ‘outed’ her as not being black as she had claimed in her employment application and in her role as a Program Director.  While being black is not a requirement for employment or leadership in the NAACP, her organization peers were startled to learn of her charade insisting she is black.

 Look at the gentleman walking by my house who, not much later, is wearing a dress and looking beautiful,  Is it a he or a she?  In Finnish it's easy with no pronoun problem it is--han.

Look at the gentleman walking by my house who, not much later, is wearing a dress and looking beautiful, Is it a he or a she? In Finnish it’s easy with no pronoun problem it is–han.

Another example is currently leading in the ’16 Presidential political polls.  Before the Trump ‘kurfluffle’, he was just another real estate mogul who bought a golf course in LA by the Pacific Ocean at a bargain because 3 of the 18 holes had fallen into that ocean.  We often took Finnish and other ‘out of town’ visitors for a peaceful (and good) lunch overlooking Catalina with seagulls, dolphin, and even migrating whales providing entertainment.

...The last time we were there, a one-person helicopter 'drone-like-thing' soared by.  [The 3 golf holes have been re-built, but a major Golf Tournament was canceled over 'The Donald's' immigration pronouncements.

…The last time we were there, a one-person helicopter ‘drone-like-thing’ soared by. [The 3 golf holes have been re-built, but a major Golf Tournament was canceled over ‘The Donald’s’ immigration pronouncements.

The last time we were there, a one-person helicopter ‘drone-like-thing’ soared by.  [The 3 golf holes have been re-built, but a major Golf Tournament was canceled over ‘The Donald’s’ immigration pronouncements.  His large portrait is still prominently displayed in the Lobby, however.

His large portrait is still prominently displayed in the Lobby, however.

His large portrait is still prominently displayed in the Lobby, however.

‘Plutopalattza’

At Griffith Park –and all over LA, Pluto is hot in Hollywood.

Virtual Reality/Adjusted Reality are on us before I know what they mean.  What things used to be are different now.  Look at Pluto.  Poor Pluto was a planet when I went to school.  It was easy to remember because it was the ‘farthest thing out there’.  After centuries of being a planet, Pluto was banished from being called a planet just recently.

At Griffith Park --and all over LA, Pluto is hot in Hollywood.

At Griffith Park –and all over LA, Pluto is hot in Hollywood.

Now, after 10 years and billions of infrequent flyer miles, Pluto has had its Hollywood makeover.  A “star” was reborn after 11,000′ mountains were discovered on its surface by a piano sized camera.  [The image makeover even got the poor thing a new moniker. They are now calling it a “dwarf planet”– how cute and so ‘Disneyesque’!]

Actually, that ‘piano’ is awe inspiring.

swea

What IS No Longer

What a shocking sight.  In taking our recent visitors on a sightseeing tour, I was sad to see that the Marimekko store off of Rodeo Drive is gone.  An upside down image of a woman doing yoga may be a metaphor–if I understood what it was meant to convey.  Back to Real Reality!  I am sad to see such a happy place filled with Finnish spirit (and goodies) gone.

An upside down image of a woman doing yoga may be a metaphor--if I understood what it was meant to convey.

An upside down image of a woman doing yoga may be a metaphor–if I understood what it was meant to convey.

What Still IS –In A New Dress

Taking a detour from the 10 Freeway to Beverly Hills on a Sunday morning, I made a side trip expecting to feel a wave of sad nostalgia as I drove along Pico where Olson’s Scandinavian Delicatessen has been a bastion of old fashioned Nordic goodness since 1948.  A nice surprise–not only was Olson’s open on a Sunday, it had been redone and was doing a nice business.  The decor is charming.  There is a wall of bulk candies where I found Finnish Geisha and Marianne candies.  The old Olson’s standbys are still there, but the addition of interesting new items available makes the trip a winner!

I made a side trip expecting to feel a wave of sad nostalgia as I drove along Pico where Olson's Scandinavian Delicatessen has been a bastion of old fashioned Nordic goodness since 1948.

I made a side trip expecting to feel a wave of sad nostalgia as I drove along Pico where Olson’s Scandinavian Delicatessen has been a bastion of old fashioned Nordic goodness since 1948.

So, next time you are in the mood for a cloudberry sandwich, that is where you can get one.  Really, that IS the truth in whatever Reality you are operating in tomorrow!!  Don’t let the flying Finnish flag be replaced with “…an upside down woman doing yoga”!!!

So Is IT What It Is?

Sure, except when it is not.

Que sera sera.

 AFTERWORD

 Have a fun Summer!  We deserve it!!

 If you cannot get to Finland, fix a fish and pretend you are by a Finnish Lake and that your Imagined Reality is Real Reality!!!

Summer Lake Fish

This month everyone in Finland( or thinking of Finland on a summer evening) will serve grilled or smoked fish. In Finland it is all about freshness and simplicity.

Ingredients

Fish (gutted and cleaned)1 per person

note: whole fish such as trout is recommended.(available year-round at Costco usually 4-6 per package.)

 whole fish such as trout is recommended.(available year-round at Costco usually 4-6 per package.)

A whole fish such as trout is recommended.(available year-round at Costco usually 4-6 per package (Double click on the image to enlarge the view)

Salt the fish inside and out and let rest for 1-2 hours.

Salt the fish inside and out and let rest for 1-2 hours

Salt the fish inside and out and let rest for 1-2 hours (Double click on the image to enlarge the view)

Sprinkling of kosher salt.

Heat grill and brush grate with oil.

Place small foil packet of wet smoking chips (alder chips if you can find them, if not apple wood) on heating element or coals.

Place fish on grill (fish can lay on its side or be placed spread- eagled) Cook covered for about 8 minutes total until done. (Plate each portion by placing whole fish on individual plates over Fried Potatoes (boiled potatoes cut in very small cubes sauteed in butter with onions and dill)

Summer Lake Fish by Ava

Summer Lake Fish by Ava

Leftover fish makes for a delightful salad, pate or spread.

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: MAY-nia

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: MAY-nia

What is so fair as a beautiful day in May??

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..

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..

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.

The scents of sausage, salmon, and herring are magnetic for Finns, of course.

The scents of sausage, salmon, and herring are magnetic for Finns, of course.

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.

n 2 May, the sky was as blue as the Finnish flag flying high on the 30’ flag pole.

n 2 May, the sky was as blue as the Finnish flag flying high on the 30’ flag pole.

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!!”

To quote hardworking FACC Board member Eila Kopra, “…it was a blast!!”

To quote hardworking FACC Board member Eila Kopra, “…it was a blast!!” (double click to view larger photo)

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.

The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce had invited all local Finns to celebrate VAPPU as their guests.

The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce had invited all local Finns to celebrate VAPPU as their guests.

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.

Consul General JP Markkanen and the Katirilli Dancers at the Annual Scandinavian Festival in Thousand Oaks

Consul General JP Markkanen and the Katirilli Dancers 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.

Consul General Markkanen hosted a productive working breakfast meeting at the Consular residence (double click to view larger photo)

Consul General Markkanen hosted a productive working breakfast meeting at the Consular residence (double click to view larger photo)

Sima

What does every Finn have on mind in late April? It is time to make Sima, of course!

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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!]

his 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.

his 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.

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.

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.

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 (double click to view larger photo)

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!

Sisu

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.

Sisu Is In the Heart,

Sisu Is In the Heart (double click to view larger photo)

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.

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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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

All generations of living Finns were present from beautiful babies and lively children to seasoned citizens..

All generations of living Finns were present from beautiful babies and lively children to seasoned citizens..

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.

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.

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.

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!

Alek Hautanen

Alek Hautanen

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.

I was honored to be a guest as one of our two remaining local Finnish War Veterans, Mark Salo, celebrated his 90th birthday.

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!

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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 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.

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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.

The legacy of awesomeness of the Salo family is what the Finnish community stands for...

The legacy of awesomeness of the Salo family is what the Finnish community stands for…

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 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.

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.

[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.]

More Vappu

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.

Among the many distinguished Vappu guests were Mikko Setelä of Rovio and his wife, Marie.

Among the many distinguished Vappu guests were Mikko Setelä of Rovio and his wife, Marie.

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.

The Angry Birds game [released in 2009] became an instant phenomenon and is now the most downloaded ‘app’ ever!

The Angry Birds game [released in 2009] became an instant phenomenon and is now the most downloaded ‘app’ ever!

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.

This was a special occasion, indeed, as the Reverend Auvo Naukkarinen of the Temppeliaukkionkirkko (The Rock Church) in Helsinki delivered the sermon.

This was a special occasion, indeed, as the Reverend Auvo Naukkarinen of the Temppeliaukkionkirkko (The Rock Church) in Helsinki delivered the sermon.

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.

The Annual Scorecard Index by Save the Children ranked Finland as the 2nd best place in the world to be a mother.

The Annual Scorecard Index by Save the Children ranked Finland as the 2nd best place in the world to be a mother.

AFTERWORD

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)

Kahvi (Coffee)

Sima (Homemade Finnish Fermented Lemon Mead)

Carlsberg on Tap

Modavi Sauvignon Blanc

Cava de Espania

AVA ANTTILA’S ODE TO MARK SALO AT 90

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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!!

PALJON ONNEA!!

KATÉA’S BIG HOLLYWOOD DÉBUT

STORY & PHOTOS: TOMI HINKKANEN

Katéa in Hollywood.

Katéa in Hollywood.

Finnish singer Katéa was introduced to the Hollywood music professionals at the annual Musexpo music convention held at the Roosevelt Hotel across TCL Chinese Theatre. She made a splash at a showcase, in which she performed five of her songs to music moguls. Finntimes met with the singer at Musexpo for an exclusive interview.

The singer and the manager - Katéa and Sami Peura on Hollywood Boulevard.

The singer and the manager – Katéa and Sami Peura in Hollywood.

Katéa is escorted to the Rosevelt lobby by her manager Sami Peura. The experienced manager has been working toward this event for the past year and a half. There’s a badge that says ”artist” hanging on the singer’s chest.

Katéa’s real name is Katja Pihlainen. She was born in Vaasa, Finland 21 years ago. Since then she has lived in many places – Joensuu, Häneenlinna, Turku and nowadays she resides in Helsinki.

“I’ve always made music and sung since I was a child. I started writing music at nine. Since then, I have written and sung even more. This has been an interesting journey”, Katéa describes.

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She studied jazz under Taina Lehto in Hämeenlinna and classical music in Montana, where she spent a year as an exchange student at 15 some six years ago. Other than that, she is self-taught.

How did you end up in Montana?

“I looked at brochures with people running with surfboards on the beach, but I found myself in Polson, Montana, living on an Indian reservation (Her host family however, were not indigenous people). It was a really interesting experience. American culture opened to me there in a new way. It was also interesting to go to the Polson High School with my peers. It helped my career and I learned English there.”

Her host family were the Mattsons. The wife as working in a bank and the husband owned a mechanic shop. Their children had already flown the coop but there was another exchange student, a Norwegian boy also staying with the family.

“My ‘host-brother’ was a year older than myself. It was nice to have another Scandinavian in the family. Together we were able to discuss the things that were strange to us. It helped the culture shock.”

Speaking of which:

“People are quite different in Finland and America. Here, people are really social. I had to practice small talk at the beginning, so that it would come naturally. That year taught me to be a lot more independent. I learned to appreciate many things from Finland, and started to see the country with different eyes.”

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Polson High School was accommodating to her music.

“They had a serious work ethic. They allowed me to take singing lessons. I got a room at my disposal for an hour a day in which I was able to write and rehearse”, the singer reminisces.

A local school teacher taught her classical singing.

“He advised you should hang out with more talented people than yourself. If you play with musicians, make sure they are better than yourself. It has been a good piece of advice, which could be recommended for everyone.”

Although not a classical musician, she admires the genre.

“I admire the discipline and perfection. It cannot be done half-baked. I also like the work ethic. I like classical music, even though I would not do it myself for a living. I could practice it more. Classical training has taught me about voice and vocalization in many different ways.”

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After returning to Finland, Katéa enrolled in Juhana Herttua’s Performing Arts School in Turku.

“I composed a lot of music there. I got acquainted with musician and mixer Timo Haanpää, who owns a studio in Turku. We started collaborating, performing cover songs to gain experience in performing.”

Together they played at local clubs and rehearsed in a studio built in a bomb shelter.

“I started to bring my own songs to the studio. We discussed them and began to produce them together. Timo taught me about producing and technology. I spent a lot of time in there. I learned how to use a microphone, and what happens in the mixing process. I am a perfectionist and want to understand the whole palette. It was a fruitful time for me as a musician.”

At 18 Katéa moved to The Netherlands for six months.

“I worked, composed and got to know some rappers in Rotterdam.”

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She plays the piano and the guitar ‘sufficiently’, as she puts it in her own words. Her work method in the beginning was quite unusual.

“The text is terribly important to me. So, I wrote the lyrics first and then started to think about what kind of world it is musically. I didn’t realize that it’s a strange way to make music, but it suited me back then.”

Her process has since changed as producers and other professionals have entered the picture. Katéa has purposefully kept a low profile, finessing her art, fine tuning her songs. In fact the world had not heard of her until a song called ‘That Ain’t Love’ came about.

“It was born last December in Stockholm. I was in the studio with three Swedish producers and a New Zealand lyricist. The song was created in collaboration with this young production team called Money Bridge.”

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After presenting their demo for the song ‘That Ain’t Love’, the production team got a music publishing contract with BMG Chrysalis. BMG is a big international music company focused on the management of music publishing, recording rights and music distribution. The single came out in April and can be heard here: http://www.clashmusic.com/news/premiere-kat%C3%A9a-that-aint-love

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Katéa returned to America for the first time since her exchange student year. This time around she is accompanied by two Finnish musicians, pianist Joni Saukkoriipi and guitarist Antti Merisalo, as well as manager Sami Peura. ‘That Ain’t Love’ could be heard everywhere at Musexpo – at the café, by the swimming pool and in between panel discussions on the hallways. Katéa also performed it for a local LA station Radio Summit.

Katéa and Sami Peura

Katéa and Sami Peura

As the interview took place, manager Peura was preparing for Katéa’s big night – a 20 minute showcase at a studio instruments rental company S.I.R. stage on Sunset Boulevard.

“There will be representatives from record companies, representatives of the American and the international program office, TV, film and game industry people. Some of them have come specifically to watch the Katéa”, Peura, who has been in music business for 20 years, tells.

“I hope to pique people’s interest and to be able to continue to work with these people”, Katéa says before the big night.

Performing at S.I.R. Studios on Sunset.

Performing at S.I.R. Studios on Sunset.

And what a night it was. S.I.R. Studios was teaming with young and hip music people. Katéa’s showcase started promptly at 8.30 pm. First pianist Joni Saukkoriipi and guitarist Antti Merisalo appeared. The strong Southern California sun had taken Antti by surprise – he had painful looking sunburn. Then, dressed in a black top and a yellow skirt, her raven black hair tied in a bun, songstress Katéa took the stage. She performed five original songs – ballads and pop tunes, culminating with ‘That Ain’t Love’. It was a fantastic performance full of emotion, incredible range and interpretation. The material she was working with was also very high class. If one had to compare her with other artists, Björk and Amy Winehouse would come to mind. We will be sure to hear from this singer in the near future. Right now Katéa is back in Europe and making rounds in Scandinavia, but California has left an indelible mark in her heart.

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“Los Angeles is an interesting town with interesting people who have lots of stories. It has been interesting to hear them. I’m interested in human psychology and how people  think. It is a big source of inspiration for me and I will use it in my writing”, Katéa sums up.

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AROUND LA WITH AVA®: “HAVE COURAGE AND BE KIND”

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: “HAVE COURAGE AND BE KIND”

Marchin’ on as Women’s Month celebrating female success and strength in our hearts, minds, and accomplishments drew to a close, we welcomed Spring’s arrival with optimism, joy, and hope.

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The US Winter this year was a ‘puzzlement’, to say the least. Conversations with family and friends around the country and the world were awkward, at best. While here in our City of Angels we basked in Summer-type swelter [80º to 90º+F/27º to 32º+C], the Midwest and East were having trouble getting above 0ºF, to say nothing of above freezing [32ºF/0ºC ] or seeing over the 100+ inches of fallen snow that will not melt at those temperatures.

While here in our City of Angels we basked in Summer-type swelter [80º to 90º+F/27º to 32º+C], the Midwest and East were having trouble getting above 0ºF.

While here in our City of Angels we basked in Summer-type swelter [80º to 90º+F/27º to 32º+C], the Midwest and East were having trouble getting above 0ºF.

 I finally found air conditioned refuge in the wonderful world of Disney at the grand opening of the luxurious Playa Vista Cinemark Theater. The “take-away” prescription came from the latest Cinderella movie release with her theme message reminding us all to “…have courage and be kind!”

I finally found air conditioned refuge in the wonderful world of Disney at the grand opening of the luxurious Playa Vista Cinemark Theater

I finally found air conditioned refuge in the wonderful world of Disney at the grand opening of the luxurious Playa Vista Cinemark Theater

The movie Cinderella [Tuhkimo]] ‘grossed’ over $80 M in its premier weekend. It continued to be the preeminent worldwide box office hit for several weeks. The Rogers and Hammerstein based stage musical is currently playing at the LA Music Center’s Ahmanson Theater. Even shoe designers such as Ferragamo and Jimmy Choo seem to have “glass slipper” inspired fantasy footwear this season.

The universal appeal of this story was first captured by Disney in the 1950s animated version we grew up loving.   Cinderella is the ultimate “make-over” story: the heroine with gumption (a mild form of Sisu) faces adversity and female jealously with a happy ending involving a handsome Prince. It is a satisfying parable for a Finn.

The universal appeal of this story was first captured by Disney in the 1950s animated version we grew up loving.

Livin’ La Vida Around LA With Ava®

View from Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes.

View from Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes.

As your humble correspondent/observer of the LA “arki“ scene [everyday activities/events] for some 5 years now, I continue to do my usual and go where I have always gone, but I do find myself looking at things differently.   While I still put one foot in front of the other on my way from one unusual place to another, I have a different perspective from behind the wheel or the camera lens. Since my perceived assignment is to share with you, dear reader, an inside look with a Finnish Point of View at the “day to day” life of an involved, long-term activist who is reasonably well-connected here in our fair little town, it seems my own world looks different. For example, as I was driving off of Palos Verdes after a delightful lunch and some other business at the Terranea Resort the other day, I reflected on the beautiful day, the interesting conversation, the magnificent view of the Pacific and Catalina Island from our outdoor table, and the exquisite Lobster Roll I ate. I found myself regretting not having taken a picture of one of the Terranea golf carts with 4 rows of seats behind the driver who whisked us from one resort site to the next as the day’s business unfolded—how many readers have ridden in a pristine ‘stretch golf cart’ like an open-air limousine? How “…so LA”!

as I was driving off of Palos Verdes after a delightful lunch and some other business at the Terranea Resort the other day, I reflected on the beautiful day, the interesting conversation, the magnificent view of the Pacific and Catalina Island from our outdoor table, and the exquisite Lobster Roll I ate.

as I was driving off of Palos Verdes after a delightful lunch and some other business at the Terranea Resort the other day, I reflected on the beautiful day, the interesting conversation, the magnificent view of the Pacific and Catalina Island from our outdoor table, and the exquisite Lobster Roll I ate.

A Void Filled

If you live in the Los Angeles area, there are certain places you really should visit. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley was a “must see” I had not bothered to explore even though I had driven past the modest entrance scores of times.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley was a “must see” I had not bothered to explore even though I had driven past the modest entrance scores of times.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley was a “must see” I had not bothered to explore even though I had driven past the modest entrance scores of times.

There was no valid excuse for not stopping to experience the real artifacts and to re-view newsreels of the history I had lived through in my lifetime and had seen on my family TV screen. I could rationalize not making a special trip to see the visage of President Reagan made of 10,000 of his favorite jelly beans and I could even comfortably miss “The Ultimate Car Exhibit” featuring the Batmobile and other ‘star’ cars of Hollywood movies that was a secondary attraction. There is soooo much more.

I could rationalize not making a special trip to see the visage of President Reagan made of 10,000 of his favorite jelly beans and I could even comfortably miss “The Ultimate Car Exhibit” featuring the Batmobile and other ‘star’ cars of Hollywood movies that was a secondary attraction.

I could rationalize not making a special trip to see the visage of President Reagan made of 10,000 of his favorite jelly beans and I could even comfortably miss “The Ultimate Car Exhibit” featuring the Batmobile and other ‘star’ cars of Hollywood movies that was a secondary attraction.

What a great return I got from a small investment of time!

At the Reagan Library on a glorious, often windy California mountaintop with ‘never ending’ vistas, the world in all its complexity comes alive from a grand era in American history...

At the Reagan Library on a glorious, often windy California mountaintop with ‘never ending’ vistas, the world in all its complexity comes alive from a grand era in American history…

At the Reagan Library on a glorious, often windy California mountaintop with ‘never ending’ vistas, the world in all its complexity comes alive from a grand era in American history: the glamorous lives of the Reagans in California and Washington, the earth shaking political times of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall coming down (with real ‘chunks’ you can touch or be ‘selfied’ beside), experiencing the Hinckley Presidential assassination attempt almost as an on-the-street eyewitness, and countless other exhibits that put you ‘in the moment’ and ‘in the place’ of the history our children study in school. It all becomes an existential experience.

Dress gowns, White House menus, and tables with china, silver, and stemware set the scene world leaders experienced at State Dinners during their visits to the US.

Dress gowns, White House menus, and tables with china, silver, and stemware set the scene world leaders experienced at State Dinners during their visits to the US.

Dress gowns, White House menus, and tables with china, silver, and stemware set the scene world leaders experienced at State Dinners during their visits to the US. You can walk through a scale replica of the Oval office […a lot cozier than you might expect]. From there, down a long hallway, you arrive at a mind blowing exhibition: the actual Boeing 707 that was President Reagan’s Air Force One. The airplane was mounted in place and, then, the pavilion was built around it! Marine One [the Presidential helicopter] sits just off of the starboard nose of Air Force One. The fleet is at the ready. The plane faces a multi-story glass semi-circle wall, but seems as if it could take off over the canyons at a moment’s notice! It feels so real because it is real!!

The airplane was mounted in place and, then, the pavilion was built around it! Marine One [the Presidential helicopter] sits just off of the starboard nose of Air Force One.

The airplane was mounted in place and, then, the pavilion was built around it! Marine One [the Presidential helicopter] sits just off of the starboard nose of Air Force One.

Did I mention that you can walk through both aircraft as if you were a member of the Secret Service? Or, pretend President—if you prefer!!!

A Personal Aside

A remarkable woman, Nancy Reagan was responsible for so much of the success of the Reagan Presidency –as are so many First Ladies. I had the honor of meeting her personally. I was privileged to serve on a Board with her many years ago. She was a great inspiration with a real sense of style.

I had the honor of meeting her personally. I was privileged to serve on a Board with her many years ago.

I had the honor of meeting her personally. I was privileged to serve on a Board with her many years ago.

Presidential politics (observation, analysis, pontification about it) has become a national sport. Politics aside, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is a must see. It is an experience for young and old, history buff or cultural newbie, jaded local or star-struck tourist to LA or the USA.

Politics aside, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is a must see. It is an experience for young and old, history buff or cultural newbie, jaded local or star-struck tourist to LA or the USA.

Politics aside, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is a must see. It is an experience for young and old, history buff or cultural newbie, jaded local or star-struck tourist to LA or the USA.

Women to Celebrate

Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen was honored for Advancing Women in Politics. President Halonen is pictured on the Finnish Embassy website in a photo with Cindy McCain, wife of Arizona Republican Senator and former US Presidential Candidate John McCain.

Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen

Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen

Women Harassed

As March celebrates women of accomplishment, there are still worldwide issues of abuse even in everyday situations. Driving to Costco on Venice Boulevard I became an ‘Eye Witness’ to news as I made a left hand turn just past Venice High School. No need to ‘phone it in’, the police cars and news vans with cameras were already on scene at 10:00 AM on Friday the 13th. The news stations reported that 14 juvenile males had been arrested for harassing behavior toward two young female students. Little in detail is given in the media when minors are involved.

It is alarming to hear that every 107 seconds someone is sexually abused in the US.

It is alarming to hear that every 107 seconds someone is sexually abused in the US.

It is alarming to hear that every 107 seconds someone is sexually abused in the US.

Things to Ponder

Last year, I reported about the local taxpayer funded Public Metro Transit promoting a Valentine’s Day ‘hook up’ facilitation for singles. It happened again this year. The hebahabas were on duty again. Is it a surprise to anyone that the ‘warm and fuzzy’ promotion led to sexual harassment lawsuits from Metro riders? Guess who pays for that ticket?

Is it a surprise to anyone that the ‘warm and fuzzy’ promotion led to sexual harassment lawsuits from Metro riders? Guess who pays for that ticket?

Is it a surprise to anyone that the ‘warm and fuzzy’ promotion led to sexual harassment lawsuits from Metro riders? Guess who pays for that ticket?

The last I heard, the Metro is now sponsoring a “harassment awareness” program for riders! Go figure.

Bach and Forth

Instead of government promoted hook-ups in the subway, here is something wonderful: how about Bach on the rails? This beautiful world-wide event celebrated Bach’s 330th birthday across 129 cities in 39 countries. Our fair City of Angels featured a 10 hour Bach marathon with Union Station appearances by, among others, LA Opera Violinist James Start. There was an event at the Glendale Metro Link Station, as well as, a flute choir at the LA Zoo and a youth program at Santa Monica Place. All of these celebrations were done for the pure joy of sharing classical music with no one asking anything in return—not even a donation.

Celebrating J.S. Bach's 330th birthday at Los Angeles' Union Station.

Celebrating J.S. Bach’s 330th birthday at Los Angeles’ Union Station.

What a lovely, joyous event on the First Day of Spring!

International Day of Happiness

March 20th was declared the International Day of Happiness. Pharell Williams (known for his “Happy” song) spoke at the United Nations. He may not be as happy these days, personally, since he lost a $7 million lawsuit concerning “Blurred Lines”, his endeavor with Robin Thicke. They were accused by Marvin Gaye’s family of taking material from the deceased artist’s “Got to Give It Up” for their 2013 mega-hit.

March 20th was declared the International Day of Happiness.

March 20th was declared the International Day of Happiness.

All this happiness, a lunar eclipse, incredible northern lights displays, a ‘super moon’, and the first day of Spring.   I was going to share my Aurora Borealis Parfait this month, but I decided to wait because I was inspired otherwise by the annual St. Urho’s Day meeting of the LAFF.

Finnish Name Day Update

For those of us with Finnish names and/or their variations, it is fun to have that extra annual day of celebration. We are warmed by greetings from friends, celebrating with flowers, cards, email messages, or a cake. The tradition of the celebration of name days goes back to the Christian calendar noting Saint’s days. Each day of the year is assigned a name or names. The original source of Finland’s name day calendar is the University of Helsinki Almanac.**

The tradition of the celebration of name days goes back to the Christian calendar noting Saint’s days. Each day of the year is assigned a name or names.

The tradition of the celebration of name days goes back to the Christian calendar noting Saint’s days. Each day of the year is assigned a name or names.

The new Almanac for 2015 has been published featuring some new names. As it turns out, on February 28th the name Sisu was added. That date is also Kalevala Day and Finland’s National Flag Day honoring Finnish culture!

**[I was told in family lore that my dear, late father was the first to officially be named “Ari” in Finland—NTS: look into that.]

Sisu Going Forth

How appropriate that February 28th was the day an exciting happening was taking place in LA: The Sisu Project! The event was held at the Chekhov Studio International in Glendale. Activities of the evening orchestrated by Park Cofield included a story circle and a facilitated discussion about the creative process.   Park is a participant in the Global Connections–On the Road Program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by Theater Communications Group, the national organization for the Professional Not-for-Profit American Theater.   The event is part of the Year of Sisu—2015, a global initiative spearheaded by “sisu” researcher Emilia Lahti and Sisu LAB.

Saara Wacklin and Park Cofield

Saara Wacklin and Park Cofield

It was great to see Nina Sallinen, Marjo-Riika Mäkinen, Susanna Goltch, and many other familiar faces participating. Finlandia Foundation National is part of the support for research and development by way of providing a grant.

 The Sisu Project! The event was held at the Chekhov Studio International in Glendale. Activities of the evening orchestrated by Park Cofield included a story circle and a facilitated discussion about the creative process.

The Sisu Project! The event was held at the Chekhov Studio International in Glendale. Activities of the evening orchestrated by Park Cofield included a story circle and a facilitated discussion about the creative process.

Plans are in the works for another Sisu in the Heart Event. The hope is that all local Finns will familiarize themselves with the project and enjoy the experience of participating in an event.   Please keep posted and plan to attend: www.SISUisintheHeart.com

The hope is that all local Finns will familiarize themselves with the project and enjoy the experience of participating in an event.

The hope is that all local Finns will familiarize themselves with the project and enjoy the experience of participating in an event.

Finnish Activities and News

Pastor Jarmo Tarkki gave a Lenten Sermon that moved the congregation with a great message: “…what you don’t say can be as important as what you do say”. A good lesson for us all. Pastor Tarkki was excited to tell about baptizing the great-great-granddaughter of Jean Sibelius in a recent ceremony in one of his Congregations. Ruusumarja Teppo, Sibelius’ great-granddaughter will be part of a joint San Diego/Los Angeles Finnish Congregation event in September.

Pastor Tarkki was excited to tell about baptizing the great-great-granddaughter of Jean Sibelius in a recent ceremony in one of his Congregations.

Pastor Tarkki was excited to tell about baptizing the great-great-granddaughter of Jean Sibelius in a recent ceremony in one of his Congregations.

The Hauli Huvila Annual Fundraiser was held at the Burbank Spa on March 21.

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The FACC is gearing up to move forward in a big way –back to its golden future under the leadership of new President Michael Berlin.

Former Presidents of FACC (me& Heidi Crooks), new Pres. Michael Berlin, Philip Johnson, President of Finlandia University.

Former Presidents of FACC (me& Heidi Crooks), new Pres. Michael Berlin, Philip Johnson, President of Finlandia University.

Dr. Michael Berlin is a renowned Beverly Hills ophthalmologist, researcher, UCLA professor, businessman, inventor, and a loyal, active member and supporter of the FACC for decades. FACC is the Finnish “American” Chamber of Commerce and, therefore, under Michael’s leadership it will thrive especially with Michael’s underlying American love of all things and people Finnish. How many people do you know who have become fluent in the Finnish language as an adult? I rest my case!

Philip, Michael and Heidi.

Philip, Michael and Heidi.

More ‘March Celebrates Women’

A woman to celebrate in our Finnish American community here is Liisa Linnala who is the newly elected President of Suomi Kerho. The multi-talented Liisa has been a unifying member of the Finnish community and all things Suomi Kerho. Many will know her through her leadership in (among other things) putting together the club’s excellent newsletter.

Liisa Linnala

Liisa Linnala

LAFF

The Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation always has its St. Urho Day themed March meeting. The ‘holiday’ is actually a Finnish-American tradition originating in Minnesota. This ‘made up’, goofy frivolity is named for St. Urho who “…drove the grasshoppers from Finland” or some such folly. Members dress in purple and green. Realtor Janice Hiltunen (who also has a home in Minneapolis), was decked out in festive purple outfit and hat. By local tradition, a tub of grapes is passed and each member gets to guess the number of grapes in the container. The winner gets to keep the grapes! I did not win, but I did think of pie on my way home.

Realtor Janice Hiltunen (who also has a home in Minneapolis), was decked out in festive purple outfit and hat.

Realtor Janice Hiltunen (who also has a home in Minneapolis), was decked out in festive purple outfit and hat.

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Earlier this month, America celebrated Pie Day which (this year) was also Pi Day (as in the mathematical 3.14). Since this year was 3.14.15 it was bigger than ever. With all this happening, I just had to feature my decades old standby pie dessert: Grasshopper Pie.

RELAX! It is not made with ground up grasshoppers!

RELAX! It is not made with ground up grasshoppers!

RELAX! It is not made with ground up grasshoppers! It is named for the old cocktail from the ‘50s –the Grasshopper that was named for its color.

The Grasshopper pie is perfect for your Finnish American St. Urho’s celebration or any Spring festivity you care to invent.   For your Easter dessert, simply decorate with Easter candies or edible flowers.

Tiina Purtonen and Kimmo Heinström’s Grand Adventure

Tiina Purtonen and Kimmo Heinström

Tiina Purtonen and Kimmo Heinström

On March 22, after the St. Uhro grapes had been passed, the LAFF meeting featured Tiina Purtonen and Kimmo Heinström sharing their grand adventure of over 20,000 miles in a 14 month expedition over 37 US states and 4 Canadian provinces. It has been fun keeping up with Tiina and Kimmo’s travels, but it is especially nice to have this darling couple back with us in LA.

LA Marathon—30th Anniversary

The new LA Marathon route continues to attract a first rate field and massive participation.

The new LA Marathon route continues to attract a first rate field and massive participation.

Despite Summer-like weather forcing an earlier start, the new LA Marathon route continues to attract a first rate field and massive participation. No Finns were in the top finishing positions.

GRASSHOPPER PIE

Grasshopper Pie

Grasshopper Pie

This pie was taught to me when we moved to the US (and I was just a young girl) by my mother’s new friend, Alice, an interior decorator. Alice was a blue-haired, blue-blooded lady from the South (where the drink originated). The grasshopper cocktails were all the rage in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Alice had great style and panache –always ‘dressed to the nines’. [I think she preferred her Grasshopper pie in liquid form, if you know what I mean.]

Grasshopper Pie ingredients

Grasshopper Pie ingredients

For crust:

1 ½ C chocolate cookie crumbs (the thin wafers or chocolate sandwich type mashed up). Save a few tablespoons for decorating the top of pie, if you like.

½ C (1/4 lb) melted butter or margarine

For filling:

½ C milk

About 2 dozen large marshmallows*** or 3 cups small

***They didn’t have marshmallows in Finland when I started making this. I remember looking up the word in the dictionary and it said “samettihaapio”. The translation now is “vaahtokaramelli”.

1 C whipping cream

¼ C white crème de cacao liqueur

¼ C green crème de menthe liqueur

A couple of drops green food coloring

For garnish:

Chocolate curls, after dinner mints (the kind in the green wrapper—crumbled) candies, fresh mint, edible flowers, drizzle of chocolate sauce, or whatever suits your theme or eye!

Process:

Heat milk and marshmallows together in a saucepan over a low flame, stirring continuously until the marshmallows are melted. Let cool.

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Make crust by combining cookie crumbs and melted butter. Press ‘result’ into bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch pie tin.

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Whip the cream; add the liqueurs and food coloring. Fold in marshmallow/milk mixture. Put into crust and chill.

 

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Garnish as desired.IMG2290

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Makes 8 servings.

Note: Rather than one big pie, I often make small individual pies (dessert tarts) out of the same ingredients. Adding the garnishes, drizzles of sauce, eyedroppers of the crème de menthe to the plate makes for a fun dinner party presentation.

AFTERWORD

Have courage and be kind!!

Advance voting in the United States for the parliamentary elections of 2015

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Advance voting in the United States for the parliamentary elections of 2015

Advance voting for the parliamentary elections of spring 2015 is possible in the United States on April 8 – 11. The parliamentary elections take place in Finland on Sunday, April 19.

Every Finnish citizen who has reached the age of 18 years not later than on Election Day (April 19) is entitled to vote in the 2015 parliamentary elections regardless of the place of residence.

A passport or other official identity card must be presented at the polling station. It is also good to take the notice of your right to vote with you, but it is also possible to vote without it.

A person entitled to vote who lives abroad will be notified by post if the register office of his or her last place of residence in Finland has the correct address.
List of polling stations and opening hours on the website http://tulospalvelu.vaalit.fi/E-2015/en/uap_840.html

 

Further information on the embassy’s website www.finland.org and

 

Embassy of Finland, Washington
Tel. +1-202-298 5800,

 

Consulate General of Finland, New York
Tel. +1-212-750 4400,

 

Consulate General of Finland, Los Angeles
Tel. +1-310-203 9903,

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: HILLS, VALLEYS, & CLEAVAGE

AROUND LA WITH AVA®:  HILLS, VALLEYS, & CLEAVAGE

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Heights, Achievements, and Awards—LA Has What the World Wants

There is something about California that brings the dreamers and the overachievers [sometimes even underachievers who get lucky] to pursue their schemes, to showcase their personae and products, and to defy the STAR odds in amazing and surprising ways.

In January/February the ‘Hollywood’ beautiful people are out en force.  It is Awards Season.  In other parts of the world, the season is called “winter” and snow falls.  Here, ‘star dust’ is sprinkled with massive publicity campaigns that, when successful, yield ‘gold drifts’ that easily surpass the big Boston piles this winter.

The beautiful people and the ‘wanna-be’s are on their treadmills, at their plastic surgeons &/or stylists, and priming their publicists with juicy tidbits [or outrageous headlines, if necessary] as the fans are bombarded with look-at-me commercials on all media sources

The beautiful people and the ‘wanna-be’s are on their treadmills, at their plastic surgeons &/or stylists, and priming their publicists with juicy tidbits [or outrageous headlines, if necessary] as the fans are bombarded with look-at-me commercials on all media sources

The beautiful people and the ‘wanna-be’s are on their treadmills, at their plastic surgeons &/or stylists, and priming their publicists with juicy tidbits [or outrageous headlines, if necessary] as the fans are bombarded with look-at-me commercials on all media sources.  Each year—at this time of year, there is a fantasy land favorite that keeps running that has the tag line: “…make your body into your personal work of art!”.  The ad features a perfectly shaped sculptress putting the final touches to a perfectly shaped female clay sculpture.  That is all well and good for an advertisement for plastic surgery, a gastric bypass process, or the like, but it sure takes the steam out of mere mortals’ vows to be healthier and thinner in the New Year.

Most of us real people need to have some tailoring tune-ups to good garments we buy—in Hollywood, the stars have their bodies sculpted to fit the designer gowns they borrow for the Red Carpet parades!

—in Hollywood, the stars have their bodies sculpted to fit the designer gowns they borrow for the Red Carpet parades!

—in Hollywood, the stars have their bodies sculpted to fit the designer gowns they borrow for the Red Carpet parades!

[Of course, LA is world headquarters for the newly fashionable transgender plastic surgery.  Earlier this month, I had a scare when an out-of-town friend called to ask if I would pick up her adult son from a procedure he was scheduled to have here.  The doctor had to change the date schedule so Mom could not be here in time.  Having agreed to be a ‘responsible adult’ for patient pick-up, I did an Internet check to be sure I had the right address and enough time to be at the doctor’s clinic for the discharge.  I admit to more than mild panic when I recognized the physician as a premier Beverly Hills plastic surgeon noted for, among other things, transgender innovations.  I could not shake the image of the little boy whose diapers I had changed—now 6’ 4”, emerging from the recovery room on 6” heels and a dress!  Whew!! He was still an adult male who was happy to see his mom’s old friend.  Maybe next time??  It does take some adjustment to do favors for friends as the world’s parameters change.]

Red Carpet Time

Watching the Awards Shows, especially the Red Carpet entrances prior to the ceremonies where most all of the women look like stick figures with exaggerated cleavage, it is fascinating to ponder how do they do it –how they achieve that perfection.  Hard work, determination, deprivation, plus lots of time and money are committed to feed this society’s ideal of feminine beauty.

Watching the Awards Shows, especially the Red Carpet entrances prior to the ceremonies where most all of the women look like stick figures with exaggerated cleavage.

Watching the Awards Shows, especially the Red Carpet entrances prior to the ceremonies where most all of the women look like stick figures with exaggerated cleavage.

The Changing Shape of Beauty

My recipe to share this month was going to be a low calorie spinach concoction I serve with salmon.  I was ‘sipping the Kool-Aid’.  Then, I remembered that currently The Getty Center Museum features an exhibit by the painter Reubens.  If you have not reached your diet goals this Award Season, have a look at a Reubens painting.  Then, go eat a reuben sandwich as you watch the next Fashion Police Red Carpet review and critique of the beautiful people –you will feel better.

Rubens' Jupiter and Callisto

Rubens’ Jupiter and Callisto

Super Bowl/Birthday Bash = Oscar Party Practice

My steamed spinach recipe was temporarily put on hiatus because my party preparations for the Super Bowl ‘made’ me detour to bring you award winning wings.  And, it is time to plan for your Oscar party.  The City of Angels Award Winning Wings are perfect!  You can even make them now and freeze them –a perfect party food [even if Birdman were not nominated] for a busy party host.

My steamed spinach recipe was temporarily put on hiatus because my party preparations for the Super Bowl ‘made’ me detour to bring you award winning wings.

My steamed spinach recipe was temporarily put on hiatus because my party preparations for the Super Bowl ‘made’ me detour to bring you award winning wings.

As usual, I have no idea how many will be at my home for Oscar Night viewing, but I am ready.  You see, I practiced on Super Bowl Sunday with a willing crowd who assembled to watch the game, eat some good food, celebrate 2 birthdays, eat some good food,  welcome East/West Coast family, eat some good food, celebrate 4 generations of family/friends together, and eat some good food.

A LA Perspective on Heights

I find it amazing to learn what people set as goals to achieve.  As a frequent visitor to one of California’s natural wonders, Yosemite National Park, I was awestruck recently by the gumption of two young men determined to climb the face of El Capitan –a 3,000 foot tall vertical granite wall.

Picture of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson at their hanging camp on El Cap at Yosemite

Picture of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson at their hanging camp on El Cap at Yosemite

For perspective, just imagine standing at the foot of the Library Tower (some call it the US Bank Building) in Downtown LA.  It is the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.  Look up and imagine a smooth-faced rock 3 times that height!  [I get dizzy just being inside that building.  The last time I was there I was on the 19th floor doing depositions at a law office.  I had to face ‘inward’ to be able to maintain focus.]  Now, imagine climbing for 19 days to reach the top using only your hands and feet.  At night, you sleep in a tent hanging suspended in midair from the largest piece of granite the world.   You watch as a rope and pulley system moves supplies up and down, but the only ropes you use in your climb are safety harnesses to keep your falls from smashing you back to ‘ground zero’.   Occasionally, you take time off from climbing to let your raw finger tips re-grow skin so you can grip yet another crevice in your climb.  A 3 week life of freeze dried meals and baby-wipes.

Is that Sisu –or something else that starts with the letter “s”?

Finns in the Hollywood Awards Spotlight

Were you tuned in to the Golden Globes presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association when our Finnish superstar members were personally mentioned in a speech on global TV?

Recent weeks have been huge for Finns in Hollywood, starting with the Golden Globes.  We Finns are proud of our Finnish members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association: Erkki Kanto and Kirpi Uimonen.  The HFPA is known to be super exclusive.  Erkki and Kirpi are active, influential voting members who, this year, were recognized by The Grand Budapest Hotel Golden Globe winner Wes Anderson in his speech of thanks.  The whole world heard the names “Erkki” and “Kirpi” –and we cheered our friends!

Kirpi Uimonen

Kirpi Uimonen

Scandinavian Film Festival

Finnish films were showcased on January 2-12 at the International Film Festival in Palm Springs.  This exciting venue is the first of the year where international films are presented for Oscar consideration.  Fond memories of Finland’s Klaus Haro were conjured from a few years back.  Klaus had spent Thanksgiving with us and he wowed the crowd in the desert with his film contribution that year (Letters to Father Jacob).

Fond memories of Finland’s Klaus Haro were conjured from a few years back.  Klaus had spent Thanksgiving with us and he wowed the crowd in the desert with his film contribution that year.

Fond memories of Finland’s Klaus Haro were conjured from a few years back. Klaus had spent Thanksgiving with us and he wowed the crowd in the desert with his film contribution that year (Letters to Father Jacob).

The annual SFLA Film Festival in LA was held on January 17 to 25.  Finnish films presented were Concrete Night, Heart of a Lion, and Raspberry Boat Refugee.

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) has a Finnish nominee this year.  Cinematographer Peter Finchenger is nominated in the Spotlight Award category for his work in Pirjo Honkasalo’s Concrete Night.  That awards event takes place on February 15th in LA.

Music

This January, Esa-Pekka Salonen was named the Marie-Josée Kravis New York Philharmonic Composer-in-Residence for the 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 seasons.

When Esa-Pekka Salonen was Music Director of the LA Philharmonic, he wrote LA Variations. It has become a modern classic and will be featured at the New York Premier in the fall of 2015.

Food

Finland rocked the food world in this years’ ranking—its best ever!  Finland won the prize for the Best Meat Platter and Antti Lukkari was awarded as the competition’s best Commis.

The most noted chefs’ competition in the world, Bocuse d’Or, welcomed Finland’s best placement at fourth when Matti Jämsen represented Finland along with his Commis Antti Lukkari and Coach Eero Vottonen.

Matti Jämsen represented Finland along with his Commis Antti Lukkari and Coach Eero Vottonen.

Matti Jämsen represented Finland along with his Commis Antti Lukkari and Coach Eero Vottonen.

Designer Pekka Palkkari was responsible for the platter’s breathtaking design.  The Finnish team’s theme was a story of ‘the Finnish forest on a plate’ starring forest berries, mushrooms, caviar, and reindeer in the dishes.  Ohhh!! Yes!!

Designer Pekka Palkkari was responsible for the platter’s breathtaking design.

Designer Pekka Palkkari was responsible for the platter’s breathtaking design.

Sports

Teemu Selänne was celebrated on January 11th on “Teemu Tribute Night” when he was the first Anaheim Ducks player to have his game jersey retired.  Known as the “Finnish Flash”, the 44 year old retired after 21 remarkable seasons as one of the best players in the National Hockey League where he still holds the Rookie Record for Most Goals and Points.  His career 684 goals are the 11th highest total in NHL history.

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Teemu Selänne –just another humble Finn with awesome achievements.

American Sport’s Biggest Event—The Super Bowl

The annual Super Bowl has become so big, it is as if it has become part of Awards’ Season.  All of America stops for this grandest of sports/friends/family/communal celebrations.  They say it is the second biggest eating day of the year—after Thanksgiving.

Over 1/3 of all American households are tuned in to the Super Bowl on their televisions.  The commercials are as watched (or more) than the game itself.  Air time alone went for $4.5 million for a 30 second spot!


Tomi Hinkkanen and Nina Sallinen starred in  H-E-B’s 2015 Super Bowl Commercial: “On the Road” (which did not play in California, unfortunately)
What Has Chicken Got to Do With Anything

Now, Finland is not as into American jalkapallo football as it is into soccer.  Nor is it into chicken so much.  Food stores in Finland may have chicken (though not so much), but if you find chicken, it is usually in a tub of some strange orange colored marinade.  When Finns come to visit, they often ask me to cook chicken since that is what they have heard America does best as far as cuisine.

Things to Ponder Category:  Chicken Wings

Chicken wings (kanan siivet) –no, we are not talking about the chicken legs or the thighs [legitimate parts with meat on them], but wings (siivet).  Think about it.  Have you ever seen a chicken fly?  As a lawyer, I rest my case. This is a useless, ‘non-purposeful’ part of the animal with no more meat than a runway model!  Sorry, precious little hens and vegan friends—no harm intended.

Yet, the fact is chicken wings are a standard item on Super Bowl menus around the country.  According to the National Chicken Council, 1.25 billion wings were to be eaten during Super Bowl XLIX.  For my Grand Canyon fanatic Finnish friends [Pertti, are you listening], 1.25 billion wing segments laid end to end would circle the Grand Canyon 120 times!

[There is more than you will ever want to know at the National Chicken Council website.]

If Finns do not even favor the meaty pieces of chicken, why do Americans obsess over chicken wings?

It is like algebra.  Chicken wings are to Americans like crayfish are to Finns.  Being a lawyer (word person) rather than something else (numbers person), I hope that my effort at an algebraic formula makes sense:

If:

A = y/rapujuhla (crayfish party) and

B = x/chicken wing feast (super bowl party)

Then:

A + B = Fun aka a virtually nonexistent-meat promoted thing to put into your mouth to suck on and to wash down with adult beverages for hours while pursuing communal camaraderie.  [Caution: Do not drive or operate machinery for at least 12 hours.  This has been rumored to cause a condition called “a hangover”.]

A most popular chicken wing in America for sporting events is the Buffalo Wing.  It is cooked with butter and hot sauce; then, served with a blue cheese dressing and celery sticks.  Yum!!  [Note: BWs have nothing to do with the ’buffalo that roam’  who have no useable wings either, but are named for Buffalo, New York where it originated at the Anchor Bar.]  

buffalo

Super Bowl/Birthday Bash Extravaganza

My Super Bowl Sunday this year included human guests ages 2 to 92, 1 dog, two birthday heroes (one a football hero), their fans and loved ones.  Finger food items including the City of Angels Award Winning Wings created a game time ‘groaning board’ on the Aalto table in the Library.  Drinks: hard, medium, and soft were set up for self-service on the back patio.  Greta’s “Chasin’ Chili”, with all the ‘fixins’, and Tamale Pie waited for the half time main course.  Desserts included 2 birthday cakes and three varieties of homemade cookies.

Ava's Super Bowl Helmet Centerpiece

Super Bowl Helmet Centerpiece

Scaling the Heights to the Hollywood Sign to Visit a Finnish Award Winner and Hero

We Finns have heroes still in our midst.I saw both of our Lottas recently. Elma Maisack was at the February Veteran’s Meeting at Suomi Kerho.

Elma Maisack was at the February Veteran’s Meeting at Suomi Kerho.

Elma Maisack was at the February Veteran’s Meeting at Suomi Kerho.

A privilege for me this month was a long-anticipated/oft postponed visit with Sirkka Toth –one of the other remaining Finnish Lottas in Southern California.  Sirkka is a remarkable oral poetry historian/performer, a Finlandia Foundation Honoree –a wonderful person of talent and positive Finnish energy.  And, Sirkka lives as close to the Hollywood Sign as anyone I know.  Getting up Beachwood Canyon to the city’s most enduring icon [the Sign, not Sirkka !] has become quite an ordeal.  Residents in that area have had it with all the cars and tourists now that mobile Internet connections and navigation systems readily reveal ‘secret’ ways known only to locals in decades past.  Of course, everyone wants that ‘selfie’ to memorialize their conquest of the urban maze.  It is not El Capitan, but crowds are clamoring to make that climb!

A privilege for me this month was a long-anticipated/oft postponed visit with Sirkka Toth –one of the other remaining Finnish Lottas in Southern California.

A privilege for me this month was a long-anticipated/oft postponed visit with Sirkka Toth –one of the other remaining Finnish Lottas in Southern California (pictured with her longtime friend, Irene Yaro).

Sirkka is lovingly cared for by her longtime friend, Irene Yaro, in a house filled with adoring pets eagerly vying for a turn on Sirkka’s lap.  We shared coyote stories –apparently tourists aren’t the only pesky problem in the neighborhood.  The little dog in the photo was actually snatched by a coyote that Irene had to chase up the street with some neighbors who joined the rout.  Fortunately the coyote dropped the Chihuahua mix in order to jump the fence where it was cornered. The little dog needed stitches [no, no plastic surgery], but has recovered well from her injuries –not usually the fate for small animals in the hills.

Sirkka lives as close to the Hollywood Sign as anyone I know.

Sirkka lives as close to the Hollywood Sign as anyone I know.

Speaking of Meals…

AFTER WORD

Super Bowl/Birthday Bash Menu 

Homemade Guacamole in Morcajete with Chips

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Homemade Guacamole in Morcajete with Chips

Spinach Dip in Bread Bowl

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Spinach Dip in Bread Bowl

Ceviche Style Shrimp

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Ceviche Style Shrimp

 

Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla Rolls

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Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla Rolls

Blue Cheese Garlic Sauce

Greta’s ‘Chasin’ Chili

City of Angels Award Winning Wings

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City of Angels Award Winning Wings

Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms

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Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms

Charcuterie/Pickle Plank

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Charcuterie/Pickle Plank

Cheese Board

7 Layer Sunset Beach Dip

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7 Layer Sunset Beach Dip

Tamale Pie Bake

Macaroni and Cheese

Vegetarian Butternut Squash, Bean, and Kale Chili

Green Garden Salad

Acanto Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Garlic Fingerling Potatoes

Hot Off the Grill LA Bacon Wrapped Street Dogs with Peppers and Onions

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Hot Off the Grill LA Bacon Wrapped Street Dogs with Peppers and Onions

Kiwi, Blackberry, Blueberry Angel Food Dessert

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Kiwi, Blackberry, Blueberry Angel Food Dessert

Chocolate Cake with a Homemade Chocolate Dipped Lemon Truffle Crown

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Chocolate Cake with a Homemade Chocolate Dipped Lemon Truffle Crown

Ava’s Cookies: Candy Corn Ginger Blocks, Meyer Lemon Bars, Chocolate Coconut Squares

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Ava’s Cookies: Candy Corn Ginger Blocks, Meyer Lemon Bars, Chocolate Coconut Squares

Finnish Chocolates

Icelandic & Belgian Beer, Chalk Hill & Geyser Peak Chardonnay, Niebaum-Coppola Claret

Recipe

Award Winning City of Angels Wings

A foody friend once asked me for this recipe.  He won a contest with it!
4-5 lbs of chicken wings*

1 cup brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup Marsala or sherry

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1 cup soy sauce

2-4 cloves of garlic, minced

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Place wings on baking sheet [11” x 15” rimmed pan] in a single layer (jelly roll pan) and bake at 350º F for 30 minutes.

ava Feb1

 

 

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, Marsala, mustard, soy sauce, and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
ava Feb1aaa
Pour over wings and continue cooking for 1½ to 2 more hours, turning occasionally, until sauce has been absorbed and wings are deeply glazed.  [Yield: about 50-60 pieces.]

ava Febwwwww3

ava Feb22222

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* Butchers/markets sell whole chicken wings which have three sections to them: two with meat and the tiny wing tip.  You can cut them up yourself with poultry shears and use the two portions with meat to please your friends’ appetites.  Discard the wing tips or save them to make stock.  I usually buy the wings already in pieces called “drummettes” or “party wings” –they look like baby drumsticks.  Four packets fit perfectly in a pan.   

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Saying Goodbyes

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Saying Goodbyes

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Candles From Above

Sometimes saying goodbye comes with a ‘wink from above’.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a column entitled Pennies From Heaven to describe a phenomenon my father and I experienced when my dear mother passed away. Then, shiny new pennies suddenly began appearing in places and at times that ‘meant’ Ӓiti was with us and paying attention. Goodbye 101 is on the record.

Penny from heaven

Penny from heaven

Well, it has happened again.

Before you write me off as being a little off, let me tell you what has happened that looks an awful lot like Goodbye 102!

A few years ago while visiting in Minnesota, I saw realistic, wax, battery operated, ‘flameless candles’ for the first time. Like all Finns, I have always loved candlelight, use candles as a decorating statement, and look for interesting ways to place candles to enhance the mood of a party. Since my home is in a high fire risk area, ‘cool candles’ seemed pretty cool to me. I resolved to look for some flameless candles back home.

I saw sets of flameless candles at Costco many months later. Of course, I bought the box of various sizes. I had no real candle plan in mind so I just placed the candles up high on the open rafters of my parents’ suite just to get them out of the way. I never put batteries in them, tried to see if they worked, or read any directions. There they sat, out of the way, and virtually forgotten.

The night after the day of my father’s passing, the strangest thing happened. I walked by the darkened suite where he and my mom had lived for 10 years and the shortest of the candles on that open beam was lit! Each time I checked that evening, that candle was still lit.   It stayed on all night.

The night after the day of my father’s passing, the strangest thing happened.  I walked by the darkened suite where he and my mom had lived for 10 years and the shortest of the candles on that open beam was lit!  Each time I checked that evening, that candle was still lit.  It stayed on all night.

The night after the day of my father’s passing, the strangest thing happened. I walked by the darkened suite where he and my mom had lived for 10 years and the shortest of the candles on that open beam was lit! Each time I checked that evening, that candle was still lit. It stayed on all night.

The very next night, the tallest candle [–the one next to the shortest candle] had come on too! Those who knew my parents know that my mother was 5’2” and that my father was 6’2”. The message seemed clear: my mother was saying “I am here –and, then the next evening, Isä is now with me. All is good.” Those two candle lights […only those two] continued to come on every night for a month. I smiled –and was comforted.

As an educated professional woman, good sense suggested I show this unique happening to others for personal confirmation that my mind was not playing tricks. Just to be ‘safe’, I took pictures which do show the lighted flameless candles on the rafter. The calm, the peace, and the majesty of the original occurrence and the repeated reprieves are not captured!

Life Goes On

Even with death, life goes on.

In the year just passed, our local Finnish community said goodbye to many including: Alvar Kauti, Anja Reynolds, Dave Larsen, Eino Nurminen, and Marjatta Coughlan –a longtime staff member of the Finnish Consulate who taught me how to make her famous sourdough rye bread with her parrot, Pepe, on her shoulder.

May each of us leave values, memories, a recipe, and/or a technique true to our heritage for the following generations to cherish and to sanctify with loving use.

Holiday Happenings

The Finnish community’s social calendar was chock-a-block starting right after Thanksgiving.

The grand and glorious Finnish Independence Day Reception at the Consul General of Finland’s Residence was both respectful and fun. December 6th was on a weekend this year so it coincided with many other local Finnish and non-Finnish festivities.

Finnish Independence Day Reception at the Consul General of Finland’s Residence .

Finnish Independence Day Reception at the Consul General of Finland’s Residence .

I began the ‘season’ that day at my friend Mona’s Annual Luncheon at the Valley Hunt Club [creator of the original Rose Parade] which always kick-starts me into the holiday spirit. On the weekend schedule was Finnish artist Seija Gerdt’s annual glass sale, the Marimekko store’s holiday event and sale, my legal colleagues at Holland & Knight’s “Shopping at Bloomingdales” fundraising party with a significant portion of the proceeds going to the Downtown Women’s Shelter, and some of my own ‘what do I want to give—or get’ looking. We were not even to Sunday yet and, already, I had missed SWEA’s Annual Santa Lucia Pageant and Sale (which was at a new location on Broadway this year).   There was just too much to do!   I rationalized that making salmon sandwiches for the next day’s Finnish Church “Most Beautiful Christmas Carols” program was more urgent than spending money buying SWEA’s Scandinavian ‘goodies’ even if it was for a good cause.

marimekko

The Most Beautiful Christmas Carols were as advertised. From my usual place in the back of the church pew section [a good site for counting heads], it looked like more than 140 of all ages were in attendance.   As I sat there looking up to the forward, center aisle place my dad always sat so he could better hear the Pastor, the Lessons, and the music—and so he did not have far to walk to take Communion, my heart and my eyes welled up. The contemplation of my vision from just weeks ago was interrupted by the banter of the youngsters seated with their parents in the pew behind me.   My pending melancholy was aborted by hearing young children excitedly explaining to each other “…in Finland, at Christmas… !!!”. The music of the season began before the music of the season began! The music was beautiful indeed!

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The Most Beautiful Christmas Carols at our local Finnish Lutheran Church

Even without the preamble above, hearing those Most Beautiful Christmas Carols in Finnish would have gotten my ‘waterworks going’! Thanks to a comforting hand from Barbara Tuuri sitting to my right and a fresh hankie handed to me from my left, I made it through the service.

The music was beautiful indeed!   HALLELUJAH!!

And the Beat Goes On

The following weekend was equally jam-packed.   Our Annual Bel Air Christmas Dinner with friends was scheduled for the same evening as the Suomi Kerho Annual Bake Sale and Christmas Party.   I got to the North Hollywood clubhouse where the SK fun was just starting. While I arrived at the announced ‘start time’ for their famous Bake Sale, half of the prized Finnish delicacies had been ‘captured’ already by ‘early birds’.   I knew I could not stay for the Christmas dinner and festivities, but I did have a flashback to several years ago when my dad and I attended the same event together. Then, my father’s prankish Finnish sense of humor got the best of him—and me. Without warning, he had secretly bought, wrapped, labeled, and handed over a present with my name on it for joulupukki to hand out to me as if I were his 5 year old daughter. Santa called my name and insisted that I sit on his lap to get my present. Fun —and a few good laughs, were had by all! Well, almost all.

Suomi Kerho Annual Bake Sale and Christmas Party

Suomi Kerho Annual Bake Sale and Christmas Party

Reflections on my dad’s impish sense of humor occupied my thoughts as I headed off to participate in a tradition of over 25 years, the ‘so-called’ Bel Air Dinner. Through the years, the same 4 or 5 couples scheduled a ‘start of the Season’ dinner together where good food, good wine, and good humor made for good friendships and good fellowship. The Bel Air Dinner was traditionally held at the restrained Bel Air Hotel where the elegant main dining room tolerated our disruption of their traditional tranquility because we had become one of their traditions, their normally staid clientele seemed to enjoy our fun, their normally stuffy staff did enjoy our fun, and our end-of-evening bill reflected our enjoyment.

When the Bel Air Hotel closed for a year for major facility renovations, our dinner moved to the Peninsula in Beverly Hills

When the Bel Air Hotel closed for a year for major facility renovations, our dinner moved to the Peninsula in Beverly Hills

When the Bel Air Hotel closed for a year for major facility renovations, our dinner moved to the Peninsula in Beverly Hills for that year—and for additional years. I am sure there are Congressional leaders, Presidential advisors, TV news anchors, and the like at the Bel Air who are happy not to have to find an excuse to decline invitations to join our table revelries—just as I am sure there is a ‘bean counter’ somewhere in a Bel Air backroom wondering what happened to their early December profits without our ‘contribution’ for the past several years!

More 2014

The week after Suomi Kerho held its tradition laden Finnish Christmas and the ‘Bel Air’ Dinner happened at the Peninsula, the Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation held its Pikku Joulu and the Suomi Koulu and Katirilli held their special Christmas Party in Costa Mesa.

Friends from law school whom I had not seen in decades were in town the following week. So, of course, we found ourselves at a window table overlooking the Pacific having lunch at The Lobster in Santa Monica. What a fun afternoon of ‘catch-up’ on old times and colorful ‘war’ stories.

..we found ourselves at a window table overlooking the Pacific having lunch at The Lobster in Santa Monica

..we found ourselves at a window table overlooking the Pacific having lunch at The Lobster in Santa Monica

 

The three of us were tempted to have our picture taken on the Santa Monica Pier where there was a guy with the big yellow eight foot boa constrictor offering ‘pay for pose’ opportunities to tourists.   But, time was running short and the ‘clock was running’ to get those rutabagas boiling in preparation for what we Finns long for: Christmas Peace.

The three of us were tempted to have our picture taken on the Santa Monica Pier where there was a guy with the big yellow eight foot boa constrictor offering ‘pay for pose’ opportunities to tourists

The three of us were tempted to have our picture taken on the Santa Monica Pier where there was a guy with the big yellow eight foot boa constrictor offering ‘pay for pose’ opportunities to tourists

But, time was running short and the ‘clock was running’ to get those rutabagas boiling in preparation for what we Finns long for: Christmas Peace.

But, time was running short and the ‘clock was running’ to get those rutabagas boiling in preparation for what we Finns long for: Christmas Peace

Memorial Preparations

A Celebration of Life suits my preference over the term Memorial Service. While some may say that is just semantics, I feel the difference is in focus. ‘Memorial’ suggests ‘done’/ready to be ‘filed’ under history.   ‘Celebration’ suggests that we will put the spotlight on your life’s accomplishments and rejoice in your qualities, your accomplishments, and your contributions to our lives and the lives of others.

Either is so hard for people who lose loved ones –especially at this time of year. It is difficult to sing Joy to the World when all you feel is a great sense of loss. If not for the candle incident, the flickering winks, and the pennies from heaven, I might not have been able to cope with all that needed to be done to properly honor my father. With out of state family in town, it made sense to do something while they were here. If we were going to do anything, it had to be put together quickly.

Thanks be to God for Pastor Jarmo Tarkki, for Sirpa Welch with her new Scandinavian Kitchen in LA catering business, and for Michael Armstrong (my Dad’s favorite pianist from the old Finnish Church in Van Nuys)

Thanks be to God for Pastor Jarmo Tarkki, for Sirpa Welch with her new Scandinavian Kitchen in LA catering business, and for Michael Armstrong (my Dad’s favorite pianist from the old Finnish Church in Van Nuys)—all of whom rose to the occasion to create the most wonderful, warm, and comforting Celebration of Life imaginable. So many friends from the Finnish community and organizations came together, shared their memories, and brought such love and good feelings to the day.

A delicious Finnish luncheon with all of my dad’s favorite foods followed, especially: pea soup, smoked salmon, delicious salads, scalloped potatoes, karjalanpiirakkas, a majestic pullakranssi with spoon and fork cookies and blueberry pie.

A delicious Finnish luncheon with all of my dad’s favorite foods followed, especially: pea soup, smoked salmon, delicious salads, scalloped potatoes, karjalanpiirakkas, a majestic pullakranssi with spoon and fork cookies and blueberry pie.

Jonny Kahleyn Dieb, photographer and photo editor for Finntimes, made a beautiful pictorial tribute from old photographs from my dad’s albums. Tomi Hinkkanen, international journalist and Finntimes editor, memorialized the Celebration Service on video.   My children, now accomplished adults with families of their own, spoke with loving and touching words describing the impact and value Iso Vaari had in shaping their lives. A delicious Finnish luncheon with all of my dad’s favorite foods followed, especially: pea soup, smoked salmon, delicious salads, scalloped potatoes, karjalanpiirakkas, a majestic pullakranssi with spoon and fork cookies and blueberry pie. The special foods were expertly homemade by Sirpa and beautifully presented with the help of Sirpa’s professional staff including table stylist extraordinaire, Brain Gandolfo.

Everyone present had to feel my father’s presence, his modest appreciation at being Celebrated, and his smiles from heaven.

Eino Nurminen Has Left Us Too

All of this talk of celebrations, of food, and of Sirpa carrying on the Finnish/Scandinavian catering tradition in Los Angeles reminds me of the legacy she is following. I wanted to share some memories of another Finnish culinary legend who passed on last year.

The Finnish American community in Southern California has lost one of its most remarkable icons. Eino Nurminen was a community leader, a businessman, a chef, a novelist, a columnist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, and, for all of us expatriate Finns, an influence beyond description. I labored over the order of those descriptors until I realized that the ‘order’ was dependent solely upon the hat(s) that fit the circumstances in which he found himself—often more than one was appropriately worn!

Eino Nurminen was a community leader, a businessman, a chef, a novelist, a columnist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, and, for all of us expatriate Finns, an influence beyond description

Eino Nurminen was a community leader, a businessman, a chef, a novelist, a columnist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, and, for all of us expatriate Finns, an influence beyond description

Anja, otamme osaa (we take part in your grief). You were Eino’s great partner in a life of adventures and accomplishments. You were a fantastic team.

Kiitos Eino for your friendship, joy, inspiration, and the Finnish spirit you demonstrated to (and for) all of us. We will miss you. We thank you for all you did for the Finnish American community when you were here in Los Angeles. Your contribution is permanent and indelible.

One of my last memories of Eino was when Anja and he attended one of my father’s “big” birthday gatherings at the lake cabin in Finland a few years ago. Eino was wearing a snazzy fedora to shade him from the long day’s Summer sun. With the hat tilted at a rakish angle, he looked a bit like Indiana Jones! But, his Hollywood days were behind him. Anja and Eino had come to the party from their home in a neighboring Finnish village where they were enjoying their retirement.

As always, Eino brought that warm smile and twinkle in his eye that we all had experienced for so many years when he was evolving as a Renaissance Man during his ‘prime time’ in Southern California. Those who knew Eino, know what I am talking about.

Eino had the best qualities a Finn could have: a happy hard work ethic, perseverance, a quiet sense of humor, humility backed with significant accomplishment, a vision for the future, a willingness to do whatever needs to be done, and an appreciation for Finnish culture and tradition—and a desire to make sure those values were passed on.

Most knew Eino had talent as a chef—they had eaten at his restaurant (The Nordic Inn on Ventura Boulevard), been to a party at the Finnish Consulate that Anja and he catered, or participated in a Finnish community event where he volunteered his considerable talents.   Some simply bought his Chef Eino’s Finnish Mustard to impress their friends. Eino’s creativity served many of us well when entertaining since we were able to order his laatikkos, karjalan piirakkas, and the special Christmas hams for our Finnish festivities.

Others knew Eino as a writer: he had novels published and wrote media/by-line articles in Finnish and English for international publications. Anja and he were supreme Finnish folk dancers (Katirilli) sharing and passing on this joyous tradition to everyone who would watch. When Finnair commissioned a film special on The Naked Truth About the Finnish Sauna, there was Eino sitting on his Finnish porch demonstrating the proper techniques for preparing a hand-made vihta from fresh birch branches.

Others knew Eino as a writer: he had novels published and wrote media/by-line articles in Finnish and English for international publications

Others knew Eino as a writer: he had novels published and wrote media/by-line articles in Finnish and English for international publications

Eino was always there at whatever Finnish event was going on with whatever organization. One of my favorite and definitive Eino memories occurred at Suomi Kerho many years ago. I had volunteered to make Finnish Field Marshall Mannerheim’s favorite food (vorschmak) for an event being held at the clubhouse. My now daughter-in-law was game to have a real Finnish exposure—and did she ever! We brought the enormous pot that had been cooking for literally days [54 hours is prescribed by the General’s favorite Savoy Restaurant in Helsinki] and the large oven baking potatoes to be prepared on the premises. We were quite proud of ourselves because we had done all of the hard work.   All we had to do was set the huge SK gas stove ovens for potato baking and wait—we had planned our time well and were quite pleased with ourselves.

Fate takes care of smugness quickly! We could not get the monster gas stove and its cavernous ovens lit! My panic at the prospect of serving ‘candle-baked’ potatoes to demanding Finns was compounded by the Finnish National Costume I was wearing so proudly.   Literally, I could not move or take a deep breath because of the cinched laced waist of my grandmother’s kansallispuku from Ikaallinen. I did not want to risk a ripped lace or a bodice ‘malfunction’. Figuring out how to fire up that recalcitrant potato baking machine was a punishing time-line challenge I was losing.   Then, like the Lone Ranger to the rescue, Eino arrived, laughed at the quirky oven he knew so well [and us!], and quickly solved our problem by crawling on his back to get under the stove to light it successfully. Eino always went the extra mile—with a smile.

Eino mastered working with his hands and with his mind. For so many years generations of us were amazed at his many and varied talents. I can remember so many events and so many dishes that made me proud to be a Finn.   Some of the dishes that remain in my memory are the Salmon Rice Pie in a Crust, the Dried Plum Mousse, a Whitefish Gravlax!  Eino’s food was exquisite before anyone in LA knew what a “foodie” was!

Celebrate Being Alive In Two Oh One Five

As we remember those who have gone beyond last year, it is always good to get perspective on our own mortality. I was abruptly reminded of mine when my perceptive little grandson who is always full of questions said: “Iso Vaari died, right”? Yes. “And, that is because he was really old, right?” Yes. His third and final volley: “I guess that means you are almost dead!!!”

Out of the mouths of babes!

Preparing for and participating in A Celebration of Life helps us realize that “…life is not a dress rehearsal”. In looking to another’s aspirations, accomplishments, and influences we are reminded to live our own lives every day, helping each other and ourselves in striving toward our greatest good in the best way we can.

Preparing for and participating in A Celebration of Life helps us realize that “…life is not a dress rehearsal”. In looking to another’s aspirations, accomplishments, and influences we are reminded to live our own lives every day, helping each other and ourselves in striving toward our greatest good in the best way we can.

AFTERWORD

Preparing for and participating in A Celebration of Life helps us realize that “…life is not a dress rehearsal”. In looking to another’s aspirations, accomplishments, and influences we are reminded to live our own lives every day, helping each other and ourselves in striving toward our greatest good in the best way we can.

Oh yes, as I was clearing out a clean white box of receipts from my dad’s medical expenses in 2014 just after finishing the first draft of this article, there at the bottom of the storage box was another of those shiny new pennies smiling up at me! You tell me!!

Have a Happy, Healthy, and Helpful New Year!!!!

SIBELIUS & GÓRECKI: Music from the Heart with the Los Angeles Philharmonic

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SIBELIUS & GÓRECKI

Music from the Heart with the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Friday, Saturday, January 16-17 @ 8:00 PM & Sunday, January 18 @ 2:00 PM

Walt Disney Concert Hall

111 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012

(Conductor: Andrey Boreyko)

(Conductor: Andrey Boreyko)

ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE:

Górecki’s Fourth Symphony, which was left unfinished at the composer’s death and now receives its American premiere in a completion by his son Mikolaj, pays homage to the composer’s Polish colleague Alexandre Tansman. Tansman’s own tribute to Stravinsky opens the program, followed by Sibelius’ mercilessly beautiful Violin Concerto, performed by the Danish-Israeli master Nikolaj Znaider.

Friday’s performance is part of our new series “Inside the Music with Brian Lauritzen,” in which you’ll get access to pre-show videos and talks, post-show Q&As with the musicians, and even an online game.

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Los Angeles Philharmonic

Andrey Boreyko, conductor

Nikolaj Znaider, violin

TANSMAN Stelè in memoriam Igor Stravinsky

SIBELIUS Violin Concerto

GÓRECKI Symphony No. 4 (U.S. premiere, LA Phil commission)

 

For tickets and more information, visit http://www.laphil.com/tickets/gorecki039s-fourth-symphony/2015-01-16?utm_source=consulate&utm_campaign=MFTH

The LA Phil’s Concertmaster helps you find the perfect performance based on your unique tastes. Try it: http://laphil.com/concertmaster.

LOS ANGELES FINNISH INDEPENDENCE CELEBRATION 2014

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LOS ANGELES FINNISH INDEPENDENCE CELEBRATION 2014

Kiitos Consul General Juha Markkanen and Tuula Markkanen for hosting such a beautiful celebratory event in Los Angeles.

Quoting from Ava Anttila’s most recent ‘AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Hail and Farewell’ (dedicated to her father Finnish Veteran Ari Anttila who I missed so very much at this year’s celebration):

‘There is a long legacy of individuals and organizations continuing in the Finnish tradition that will make sure that what is true, righteous, and proud in our history, heritage, and national treasure will live on. We will share our history; we will work hard; we will never forget; we will honor your Sisu and sacrifice.’

Here are some pictures of the the event by photographer Jonny Kahleyn:

Vintage Jewelry and Natural Parfums Sale  Until 12/15 (Use code HIMOM15 for a 15% discount)

Vintage Jewelry and Natural Parfums Sale Until 12/15 (Use code HIMOM15 for a 15% discount)

Joshua Tree National Park video tour with Tomi Hinkkanen and Wandering Finns Tiina Purtonen, and Kimmo Heinström

Joshua Tree National Park video tour with Tomi Hinkkanen, Tiina Purtonen, and Kimmo Heinström

To celebrate wondering Finns Tiina Purtonen and Kimmo Heinström’s return to Los Angeles after a very busy year on the road (http://wanderingfinns.tumblr.com/), Finntimes is releasing an amusing yet informative video tour to Joshua Tree National Park with Tomi Hinkkanen, Tiina Purtonen, and Kimmo Heinström.

In Finnish only for now (English subtitles will be added soon).

Welcome back, buddies.

Cameraman: Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

ALASKA DIARY

STORY AND PICTURES: TOMI HINKKANEN – ALASKA

Kenai Peninsula in Alaska has breathtakingly beautiful scenery

Kenai Peninsula in Southern Alaska offers breathtakingly beautiful vistas.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 15TH, 2013

I am on a non-stop Alaska Airlines flight 157 from Los Angeles to Anchorage. Exciting! The estimated duration of the trip is 5 hours 45 minutes, but we start landing about a half an hour early at Ted Stevens International Airport. From the plane window I see snow-glazed mountain tops everywhere.

Snowy mountaintops near Anchorage.

Snowy mountaintops near Anchorage.

The weather is crystal clear as we touch down this state billed as the last frontier. There are stuffed animals – a bear and a buffalo – on display at the airport. Not in a million years would you see something that in the politically correct California.

Stuffed animals "greet" travelers at ted Stevens International Airport.

Stuffed animals “greet” travelers at Ted Stevens International Airport.

I march to the rental car counter. After refusing the obligatory sales pitch for insurance, I pull my luggage to a brand new red Toyota Corolla. This will be my sweet ride for the week. The weather outside is about 60 F / 15 C. Although it’s only September, it feels like October in Southern Finland (Anchorage is on the same latitude). I have an appointment in the southern outskirts of Anchorage to meet some local Finns at their club house. The streets are straight, wide and well-maintained. Suburban Anchorage looks like outskirts of any city in the U.S.

The scenery outside Anchorage looks nondescript.

I stop for a bite to eat at a fast food restaurant. It is about 4 pm and it looks like the sun is setting. I better get to my destination before it gets dark (As it turned out, the sun wouldn’t set for hours. At this time of the year, the sun in Alaska appears to be in a perpetual sunset position low on the horizon). The Finnish Hall looks exactly like dozens of others around the U.S. It could be a town hall somewhere in rural Finland. Birch trees in front of the building are starting to turn yellow. I park my Corolla and step in.

Alaska Finns have their own club house in Anchorage.

Alaska Finns have their own club house in Anchorage.

 

There are about a dozen people inside. Jyri and Riitta Larm are running a cleaning service. The are in their 40’s and have lived in Alaska for 20 years. As a result, their teenage kids don’t speak more than a few words of Finnish. The 70-somethings Seija and Matti Raja have braved the subarctic weather for the past 45 years now. Matti made his career in construction, Seija was a homemaker. Both are now retired. Tuomo Latva-Kiskola, 50, found a wife and career in Alaska. He is a physical therapist, who enjoys fishing and hunting in his spare time. The couple has three children and a beautiful house near a lake. Many of the Alaska Finns – there are said to be about a hundred in all – are from Western Finland. Oftentimes they first migrated to Canada and then found their way to Alaska. Many work or worked in honest-to-goodness blue collar jobs. Many felt they were somehow left behind in the Finnish system.

Inside the Finnish hall.

Inside the Finnish hall.

Winters here are awfully long and cold. One needs to keep oneself busy in order to maintain sanity in such harsh conditions. So people belong to church and different kinds of clubs. Anything to keep themselves occupied on those dark winter days. I am being escorted to my downtown Anchorage hotel by Ulla Rantalainen. More of this interesting woman later. Downtown Anchorage is ugly. There, I said it, but there is no other way to describe it.

Downtown Anchorage

Downtown Anchorage

One-way streets are lined with sterile 1970’s hotels and office towers. There is no street life. A massive 9.2 magnitude earthquake destroyed most of Anchorage back in 1964. After that, the city was quickly rebuilt with little thought for aesthetics. The city leaders ought to be ashamed of themselves! Everything quiets down at sunset and this city of 300,000 turns into a ghost town. My hotel is the Econo Inn on one of the main fares. It is a somewhat drab place that has seen its best days but it’s clean and hey, at 70 dollars a night, who’s complaining. Besides, I only intend to sleep in my room and it’s for two nights only. Since there’s nothing else but fast food places open, it’s a Big Mac meal for dinner. After watching the local news I call it a night.

Econo Inn in downtown Anchorage offers modest and cheap accommodation.

Econo Inn in downtown Anchorage offers modest and cheap accommodation.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 16TH

This morning I have a date with Tuomo Latva-Kiskola, the physical therapist. He and his wife have a comfortable two storey house on the southern edge of Anchorage in the Sand Lake district.

Tuomo Latva-Kiskola in his yard. Tuomo enjoys fishing and hunting.

Tuomo Latva-Kiskola in his yard. Tuomo enjoys fishing and hunting.

Tuomo drives us to the lake where rich people have their houses at the water’s edge, complete with private seaplanes docked at the end of their piers, ready to take off at their owners’ pleasure at any time. In fact, other people are clearly uninvited to enjoy the lake. There are signs posted everywhere declaring it’s a private area.

Sand lake - the stomping ground of the Anchorage well-heeled crowd.

Sand Lake – the stomping ground of the Anchorage well-heeled crowd.

Only winter brings a little bit of equality to this affluent suburb. As the lake freezes over, the locals get to go ice skating and skiing on the lake. Anyway, by that time, most of the rich people have taken off on their planes to Florida or somewhere else for the winter. After I bid adieu to Tuomo, I stop at City Diner for lunch. At $16.95, the old-fashioned pot roast with mashed potatoes sounds a bit pricey but I decide on it anyway. After waiting for what seems like an eternity, my entrée is brought to me. It is delicious.  After lunch it’s time to explore the city. Not much to see in Anchorage, unless you’re into a mall or a museum. I find the charming little Elderberry Park at the end of the 5th Avenue. With a paper cup of hot coffee, I sit down at one of the park tables to write my assignment for that night, watching people walk their dogs and kids play at the playground. Another fast food dinner, TV and bed.

Tomi Hinkkanen in Eldenberry Park, Anchorage.

Tomi Hinkkanen in Elderberry Park, Anchorage.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17TH

I am up bright and early at 6.30 am, since I have a long drive ahead of me. I am heading to Denali National Park, some five hours to the north. It is the shoulder season, so regular tours of the park are not offered at this time of the year. However, I have reserved a five-hour bus tour with Aramark Company, still offering some of the last tours of the year. I check out of my hotel, since I have another accommodation for that night. It is freezing outside. The rowan trees on the parking lot are full of blood red berries. Old-time Finns know it means it’s going to be a cold, snowy winter.

Rowan trees are full of berries in Anchorage - a sure sign of an upcoming cold and snowy winter.

Rowan trees are full of berries in Anchorage – a sure sign of an upcoming cold and snowy winter.

I head north on Glenn Highway. It’s starting to drizzle. After about 20 minutes I pass Wasilla, a small town perhaps best known for its one-time mayor, Sarah Palin. I fill the tank – wouldn’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with an empty tank. After about a half an hour, the four-lane highway turns into a two lane country road. There are very few cars anywhere. The fall colors are spectacular. As I get close to the park, I stop at a vista point to take a picture of the mountains.

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The tallest peak in the entire North America is here – Mount McKinley. Most days the park is overcast, but I think I manage to capture it before the clouds set in. The Denali National Park is huge – six million acres. That’s over 24,000 square kilometers, folks – larger than the state of Massachusetts. As I enter the park grounds, I feel the same vibe as the in the Stanley Kubrick horror film The Shining starring Jack Nicholson. There’s even a hotel on a mountainside (The Grande Denali Lodge), that looks like Overlook Hotel in the movie.

The Grande Denali Lodge can be seen on the mountainside.

The Grande Denali Lodge can be seen on the mountainside.

As it turns out, my comparison is not so far-fetched. I and about 25 others that are taking today’s tour are one of the last visitors to the park this season. After that, the tours end for the season, the visitors center, hotel (buu) and most activities shut down. Only a small skeleton crew remains over winter as caretakers.

Denali National Park visitors' center.

Denali National Park visitors’ center.

Tour guide Caroline welcomes our group gathered in the visitors center. We are given box lunches and onto the bus we step. Caroline doubles as a driver as well. With a headset on, she narrates through the five hour tour, talking about the flora and fauna of the park.

Denali bus tour takes you through the national park.

Denali bus tour takes you through the national park.

The mammals that make their home here include bears, moose and wolves. It is a tough place to live. The temperature hovers around the freezing point and it’s only mid September.

Fall foliage of Denali.

Fall foliage of Denali.

The fall colors in different shades of rust are mesmerizing. Twice we disembark the bus and take a little walking tour through the wilderness. At the end of the tour we spot a moose by the road. Cameras click as everyone jockeys to capture the animal on their memory cards.

Tourists view Denali's natural wonders from a vista point.

Tourists view Denali’s natural wonders from a vista point.

After the tour I thank and shake hands with Caroline, who has been such a knowledgeable guide. The shy woman doesn’t want to be photographed. Even though I had an inkling of Alaska’s vastness, it still took me somewhat by surprise. I booked myself a cabin for the three remaining nights in Cooper Landing, located in the Kenai Peninsula, 200 miles (320 km) away. And we are not talking about freeway miles either. The estimated travel time is six hours.

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As it turned out, at this time of the year the road construction workers are frantically trying to finish repaving roads before winter sets in. So, I had to wait about a half an hour in one spot before we motorists were let to proceed. I strike up a conversation with two fellows, who had been moose hunting. Their catch lay in pieces in the back of the guys’ pick-up truck. This topic is definitely out of my comfort zone.

Hunters and their catch in the back of their red pick-up.

Hunters and their catch in the back of their red pick-up.

Even though it is already pitch dark as I get to the Kenai Peninsula, I immediately realize I have come to a very special place. At 1.30 am I pull in the parking lot of the Kenai Drifter’s River Lodge in Cooper Landing, a township of some 300 residents. The manager kindly comes out to hand me the keys to my two storey cabin named after the late George Nelson, a game warden, hunter and trapper.

Kenai River Lodge sign at night.

Kenai Drifter’s River Lodge sign at night.

My cabin has all the comforts of home. On the first level there’s a bathroom with a shower, a kitchenette with a stove, microwave and a refrigerator and a living room area with a couch, table and chairs.

The cabin has all creature comforts.

The cabin has all creature comforts.

A sliding door leads to a balcony overlooking the Kenai River. I stock the fridge with food items I purchased on the way. After a hot shower and a snack I climb upstairs and fall asleep in my queen-sized bed.

My cabin  Jack Lean on grounds of the Kenai River Lodge.

My cabin on grounds of the Kenai Drifter’s River Lodge.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18TH

After yesterday’s long drive, I wake up late. I walk down the path to the green Kenai River flowing fast by. This is a prime area for fishermen. In fact, the Kenai Drifter’s River Lodge organizes fishing expeditions that leave early in the morning. One such trip has just concluded and the happy fishermen walk past me with their catch. I have a chat with one of the lodge maids – a California girl from San Diego. She has spent her first summer in Alaska and intends to stay over winter at another resort. The River Lodge will close in two weeks for the winter.

You can rent a cabin at Kenai River Lodge.

You can rent a cabin at Kenai Drifter’s River Lodge.

Later on I see many places that are already closed. To me it’s a plus. It is peaceful and serene. I feel far, far away from civilization and all its troubles. I take a little drive, keeping the radio turned off, take in the breathtakingly beautiful scenery – and take lots of pictures. The clouds hang low on mountainsides. At one moment it’s sunny, the next it rains. A perfect time to cuddle on the sofa with a good book and to just relax.

Kenai River

Kenai River

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 19TH

I am on my way to Seward, a town an hour and a half away from Cooper Landing on the southern tip of the peninsula. Again, I run into some road construction and have to wait, but no worries, I have all the time in the world. Seward was named after the Secretary of State William Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia for 7 million dollars in 1867. Seward was ridiculed for this and the deal called “Seward’s Folly”. It goes down in history as possibly the best real estate deal ever and Seward himself as one of the best secretaries of state because of it..

Seward is located on tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

Seward is located on tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

But Seward the town is a small place of some 2600 people nestled in an inlet surrounded by snow-capped mountains. In the nearby small boat harbor there are fishing vessels and tour boats ready to take you for a ride. It’s time for lunch. I settle for Alaska Nellie’s Roadhouse – a modest-looking diner on the town’s main drag. As it turns out, a big mistake. Without thinking twice or looking at the price, I order fish and chips (after all, one should have a sea food meal here). The food is mediocre, but the bill is not – 27 dollars for the meal and a Coke! So, with a small tip that comes to 30 bucks! As I leave, in front of the restaurant I see the manager (Nellie herself, I presume), talking to a friend about her plans to winter in Florida (Yes, with money from suckers like me, I fume to myself). I walk around Seward. At summertime this is a touristy town and also the cruise ships stop here. So there are plenty of souvenir shops and restaurants to choose from.

Downtown Seward is small and touristy.

Downtown Seward is small and touristy.

At the waterfront I run into an interesting bearded man. He is working for Nokia’s Here Business, mapping the highways of Alaska. Here Maps is a similar service to Google Street View. The man says it takes him five weeks to map all Alaska highways. Once in a while he runs into a bit of trouble in his business. In certain neighborhoods people don’t appreciate their homes being photographed. Ironically, the resistance normally happens in either very wealthy or very poor neighborhoods.

This man is mapping Alaska highways for Nokia's Here Business.

This man is mapping Alaska highways for Nokia’s Here Business.

I have a date with Tuula Hollmén,  a professor at Alaska University and bird researcher at the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward. The center is located in a foreboding-looking concrete building. My guess is it never won any architectural prices. The interior is more interesting. It contains everything you ever wanted to know about Alaskan sea life. Aquariums have different kinds of fish swimming about and there is a large pool for sea birds that the audience can see. Tuula Hollmén is a delightful woman in her 40’s. Like her subjects, she is tiny and bird-like herself. She has made a stellar scientific career researching sea life, sea birds and eiders in particular. I interview her for a newspaper story.

Bird researcher Tuula Hollmén sits outside Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward.

Bird researcher Tuula Hollmén sits outside Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward.

She is married to an American judge. They live in town. She has lived here for ten years and describes summers here as “cold Finnish summers” (Burrrr). The plus side is that since it is windy year round, at least there are no mosquitoes. Alaska is a bird researcher’s paradise.

Tuula Hollmén has carved out a career of researching birds in Alaska.

Tuula Hollmén has carved out a career of researching birds in Alaska.

Tuula can’t wait to embark on one of her bird expeditions that take her to all kinds of faraway places in this huge state. After saying goodbye to Tuula, I decide to take a long drive to the other side of the peninsula, to a town called Homer. After all, this is my last full day in Alaska.

The northern side of the Kenai Peninsula is sparsely populated.

The northern side of the Kenai Peninsula is sparsely populated.

My trip takes me virtually almost completely around the peninsula, the reason being that the road doesn’t go completely all the way around. The northern side of the Kenai Peninsula is even more sparsely populated than the south side. I drive miles and miles without seeing any human habitation, only scrawny small coniferous trees. Caroline at Denali National Park had told us those trees can be 200 years old but remain small due to the subarctic weather. I reach Homer at sunset and stop at a vista point to take this picture, which by the way is not altered or color enhanced in any way.

A view from Homer at dusk.

A view from Homer at dusk.

Next I head to the beach. There are some locals there, walking their dogs, but as it is getting dark, they too hurry to their cars. After my long drive, nature calls. There are plastic lavatories on the beach. I check into one of them. After finishing my business I try the door. It won’t open. I already envision the headlines: A man freezes to death in Alaska restroom. Is this the end for me, in a place that seems to be in the end of the world? Thank goodness, no. The door was just a little tricky. I get out safely.

Homer, Alaska seems like the most faraway place in the United States.

Homer, Alaska seems like the most faraway place in the United States.

Now I’m hungry. I drive aimlessly the streets of Homer, population 5,000, but everything seems to be closed. There are all kinds of houses of worship to satisfy any creed from Christian Scientists to Jehovah’s Witnesses but no place to eat. There is a roadhouse, but it looks kinda rough, and I don’t think I would fit in very well, so I pass. On the long trip back to my cabin I come to a town called Soldotna. By now it’s late and dark. I stop to ask a local man if there’s a restaurant nearby. He directs me to the Caribou Family Restaurant. There are only a handful of people in this cozy-looking place. I order a chicken dinner. It turns out to be the best meal of my entire Alaska trip. The satisfaction of a good meal washes away bad memories of Alaska Nellie and her outrageous prices. This dinner is half the price and ten times better. Again, I arrive at my cabin late and turn in.

This hungry voyager found a delicious meal at the Caribou Family Restaurant in Soldotna, Alaska.

This hungry voyager found a delicious meal at the Caribou Family Restaurant in Soldotna, Alaska.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 20TH

The final day. After packing up I go to the office to thank the manager of the Kenai Drifter’s River Lodge. It turned out to be a wonderful place to stay at a very reasonable cost of 150 dollars a night. The nature around the cabins is beautiful, the sounds of the river soothing and everything is very peaceful. The management didn’t make a fuss but left me alone, which is exactly the way I prefer.

Kenai River Lodge offers a peaceful place to stay.

Kenai Drifter’s River Lodge offers a peaceful place to stay.

My final date is with Ulla Rasilainen. Her story is the most interesting of all the people I met in Alaska. Ulla started her career as a streetcar driver in Helsinki but yearned to be a pilot. At 25, Finnair said she was too old for their pilot training! So, Ulla moved to San Francisco and got her pilot’s license there by taking private lessons. After working as an entrepreneur and flying FedEx cargo planes, Ulla moved to Alaska and worked as a bush pilot, delivering people and supplies in small villages in Alaska. About a year ago she got a job as a medivac pilot with a company contracted by the Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage.

Captain Ulla Rasilainen at the helm of her plane.

Captain Ulla Rasilainen at the helm of her plane.

She rescues sick people from dangerous and faraway places and flies them to the hospital. We tour her twin turbo engine plane at a hangar in Ted Stevens Airport. It accommodates a crew of four and there are two sick beds in the passenger compartment. She has landed this plane in -50 degree temperatures and inclement weather, rescuing among others, elderly cruise ship passengers, who have broken a hip or suffered a heart attack. It takes a special person to do this kind of a job and Ulla is that person. I truly feel we became good friends.

Ulla on a mission in Sitka, Alaska. Photo courtesy Ulla Rasilainen.

Ulla on a mission in Sitka, Alaska. Photo courtesy Ulla Rasilainen.

Then it is time to head to the passenger side of the airport, turn in my car (no accidents, thank you), and fly back home after a marvelous trip. Looking through the plane window the icy mountain tops disappear into the distance, I say to myself: I will return to Alaska.

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AROUND LA WITH AVA – A POSTCARD FROM FINLAND

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

AROUND LA WITH AVA

A POSTCARD FROM FINLAND

Photographs by Ava Anttila

HERITAGE

The gift of Finnish ancestry brings with it the most abiding love of nature.  Mere arrival on Finnish soil completes the spiritual connection, welcomes the heart home, and beckons the Finnish soul to grand adventures available nowhere else on Earth!

The photos of lake scenery I took on my arrival the first night are from the very spot I have stood from the time I was a small child.  This is my secret paradise.

Dear reader, I hope this Postcard helps you feel the joy of my time on Finnish soil.  The sights, sounds, the gifts of nature… . 

Circumstances kept me away for the past 4 years—I missed my almost annual ‘transfusion’.  

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We each have our own story.  It may have been a long time since you have been in Finnish nature and you miss it so, too.  Perhaps you have never been in a Finnish forest or dipped your toes in a pristine Finnish lake, but you would like to one day.  No matter what the delay, do do it one day!!  Find your paradise. You will never be the same!!!

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HASSLES

When you are used to full throttle entrances into speeding freeway traffic where you need to be over 4 lanes to exit onto another whizzing mass of cars in mere moments, the idea of getting to the airport 3 hours prior to an international flight presents certain ‘adjustment’ requirements.  Of course, we use the same freeways—or the ‘secret six’ alternatives we have learned through the years, to get to the airport.  The frenetic pace continues through check-in and security clearance.  That is our way—we are in shape and the adrenalin pumps.  Then, out of breath and perspiring from the unusual humidity, we are seated outside the gate we will soon enter to fly away.  It dawns on us—the flight does not leave for 3 hours!  On a good day that is enough time to get from LAX to the LA County Fair in Pomona for a deep-fried Twinkie and back. 

inside LAX

inside LAX

No option, vacation must start now.  “Almost Heaven…country roads.” 

The stresses of life in LA, the urgent pace grinds to a halt.  Cares begin to shed like layers from a Tootsie Pop.  Patience is certainly required when almost 14 flying hours, 10 time zones, and the usual arrival airport ‘rig-a-ma-rol’ are involved.  Once at Vantaa Airport in Helsinki, anticipation builds. 

Vantaa Airport in Helsinki

Like any major metropolis at home or abroad, Helsinki is ringed by freeways to whisk you wherever.  After all that travel, I always look forward to the trip to the lake.  Driving time is 2 hours—the direction is due north!  The transition is from super highway to major highway to macadam road with opposing traffic to country road to 2 different dirt roads before we make the turn into the compound my grandfather acquired in 1937 for his bourgeoning family. 

As we turn into the two ruts in the grass that pretend to be a road in the birch and pine forest, the car stops for my exit—the final meters are always on foot for me!

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The air is so soft; the sounds so silent.  The birch and the pines wave their welcoming branches, like greeting a long lost friend home.  With eyes closed, the scent of the forest offers a familiar hello/hug.  I was literally brought to my knees and overjoyed with excitement at the most beautiful sight welcoming me “home”—the exquisite newborn chanterelle mushrooms, just sprouted after a gentle rain.  You must know there is no better taste on earth than newly picked chanterelle mushrooms carefully cleaned and cooked when fresh from the forest.  Simple fact.  Trust me.  [Actually, I will have quite a bit to say, with pictures, later on—it will be worth the wait!]

lovely chanterelle mushrooms

lovely chanterelle mushrooms

HEAVEN

Shedding my clothes, walking into the lake in my altogether to become one with the water and nature is the moment I have waited for all this time.  The Finnish baptism and renewal of body and spirit; this communing with nature is a rejuvenating experience.  The battery charging has begun.

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This little spot from whence I came has stood through the decades.  The same choices for entering the lake remain—dive off of a humongous granite rock or walk gently, gradually into the depth from the tree shaded beach.  Each year, the little sandy beach is prepared for the young ones.  Just as my parents removed the reeds and leaves that appeared on the shore during the winter for me and I prepared the same place for my little tykes, they will be doing the same next summer for their young ones.  My Grandchildren will be the 5th generation to play in that little patch of water. 

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When their Grandchildren feed the ducks and catch the frogs, they can be assured even though my body has shed its mortal coil; my spirit will be felt and continue to be on this very spot.

When the water is still, the lake becomes like glass –a real Lapin Kulta ad*.  You cannot tell which side is up and which side is down.  You are just in the middle loving it like Alice Through the Looking Glass.  The reflection becomes a new dimension.   A hyper reality and a fourth dimension seem to set in that envelops you as you enjoy such peace, exhilaration, and Finnish spirit.  The island across the narrows looks like a giant green Oreo cookie with green filling.  [I heard this year’s new Oreo flavor was watermelon –yes, that’s it!]  No Mad Hatters here, just the spirit of Vainamoinen and the Kalevala.  The Impi is rising from the water. 

*[The Finnish beer company packaging and ads feature spectacular sunsets—the beer is good too!] 

THINGS TO PONDER: FRIENDS AND THE FINNISH FOREST

There are over 13 million people in Los Angeles County.  Each day we are just a little cog in a giant wheel of life in the City of Angeles as we go through our paces pursuing our endeavors. Putting one foot in front of the other (…or on the accelerator of our car to get on the 405 safely), we do our little part in our own little way.  We are an infinitesimal speck in our Southern California wonderland –anonymous strangers passing in the day and in the night.

Still, TMZ and Star Tours will show you where the ‘special’ folks live(d)—and you can even find them picking up prescriptions or plums in the same stores where you shop.  Of course they pretend to be as anonymous as we actually are unless they are promoting a new project.

Then, again…

Have you ever traveled to “the ends of the earth” –far, far from LA, and run into someone you know from LA?  It seems to happen to me all the time.  For some reason, the same people/places are involved even though there has been no planning or prior communication. 

It used to be the dear, late Vivi Friedman and/or Ernie and Mirja Covarrubias.  Year after year, whenever I was far from home, they would be there too.  It was so ‘spooky’ we could only laugh.  Was there/is there a secret plan with our travel agents, with the great Almighty, or a metaphysical raison d’être that we run into people far from our home?

Several years ago while making a quick stop in Stockmann’s in Helsinki, there was Veli-Matti Mattila, husband of former Deputy Consul General for Finland in Los Angeles, Anne Huhtamäki.  Veli-Matti, now CEO of Finnish tele-giant Elisa, used to visit us in LA regularly when working on his MBA at UCLA’s prestigious Anderson School [we were at his graduation].  Is it serendipity when friends from homes 10,000 miles apart meet in the men’s underwear department of a store?  Actually, the coincidence was even ‘weirder’ since Veli-Matti and son were waiting for Anne and daughter who arrived almost simultaneously!

Veli-Matti Mattila

Finns claim Stockmann’s has everything—and they are right.  The very next year, a visit to the Department Store produced former Finnish Consul General in LA Erkki Huittinen right on schedule –he was shopping for an Oiva Toikka bird for his wife’s birthday gift.

A prior Finland visit brought me to the “boonies” on a very quiet Sunday.  As you probably know, in Lutheran Finland there is literally nothing ‘open’ [except Church] on Sunday morning.  So, finding a little store open and ready to sell me some groceries and a few other necessities in a little …forsaken grove of pine trees in the middle of “nowhere” was a welcome, but totally unexpected event.  As I am searching the unfamiliar aisles for my necessities, I hear a strangely familiar voice calling “Eeva”.  Of course, hearing the name is not special since Eeva is a popular female moniker in Finland.  It is as common as “Jennifer” or “Kathy” in the US.  I barely looked up from my grocery search.  The insistent voice calling “Eeva” was familiar because it was that of friend Tuula Stark: long time LA resident, educator, Finnish language guru, and Official California Court translator.  Tuula rarely even comes to Finland!  A strange and wonderful meeting in a most unlikely place—a little store in a cross-road in the Finnish woods!  What is “serendipity’ in Finnish?

This year, a trip to Lahti to look into locally usable cell phones during our stay brought us face to face [actually, side by side since we were in a queue] with a decades old friend from the SF Bay Area –a regular Skype buddy of my Dad’s.  Neither knew the other was going to be in the area.  [What do they talk about each week???]  No, it was a DNA facility, not an Elisa office.

Again this year, minding my own business while taking my Father to the shoemaker in our nearby little village, LA super star Finnish artist Kari Walden’s head pops in to the cobbler’s shop with a “…what ‘s going on”?  He had seen me go inside and stopped to say hello.  Even the Village Philosopher—the cobbler, was confused.  He thought he knew everyone in town!  Once again, it was “old LA home week” in the “boonies” of Finland.  

Kari Walden

Kari Walden

The column is called Around LA –well, LA is quite large sometimes!

These moments happen almost every time I come to Finland –and almost always in the most unlikely places.

When I mentioned these phenomena to a movie producer friend [former head of big studio] in LA, he had the perfect explanation/rebuttal:

Ava, he said in his movie producer way, there are really only 300 people in the world –you see them at the airport or when you travel, the rest are “extras”!!! 

How is that for a Hollywood perspective?

 Gallery:

The photos of lake scenery I took on my arrival the first night are from the very spot I have stood from the time I was a small child.  This is my secret paradise.

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PAULIINA HAUSTEIN’S SUMMER AT THE BOWL

STORY: PAULIINA HAUSTEIN

REPORTER AND PHOTOS: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES

DATE: SEPT. 3RD, 2013

Cellist Pauliina Haustein has been a part of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra during its 2013 Summer season.

Cellist Pauliina Haustein is a member of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra this Summer.

Hollywood Bowl’s summer season is soon coming to an end. The spectacular outdoor venue again hosted some of the music world’s biggest stars, starting with the opening concert that starred Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Patti Austin, and John Legend. The house orchestra of the bowl is called the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Finnish cellist Pauliina Haustein won the coveted position as a stand-in player in the orchestra. Finntimes met the young cellist to talk about her life and music career.

Pauliina Haustein, neé Pölönen, was born in Klaukkala, Finland 26 years ago. She was a musical child from the very beginning.

– I have been told that I started to sing before talking. In the morning, when my eyes opened, I started singing and continued throughout the day. At five, I knew lyrics of 60 songs – all the verses, Pauliina laughs.

Music was in Pauliina's blood from the very beginning.

Music was in Pauliina’s blood from the very beginning.

When she was four, the family moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where her father Ilpo did his doctorate in sustainable agriculture. Meantime back at the ranch, her mother Jaana took care of the children. In the often rainy Oregon, Pauliina became bilingual. A year and a half later the family returned to Finland. To maintain her language skills, Pauliina was enrolled at the Kaivoksela English language elementary school.

Pauliina's family came to see her perform at the Hollywood Bowl's opening gala. From the left: Mother Jaana, father Ilpo, brother Perttu and husband Martin.

Pauliina’s family came to see her perform at the Hollywood Bowl’s opening gala. From the left: Mother Jaana, father Ilpo, brother Perttu and husband Martin.

The Pölönen family has four children – Pauliina is the oldest. Her siblings are also musically talented. Sister Juulia is studying the 36 -string concert Kantele (harp), and brother Perttu film composing – both at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Though he also has an ear for music, second brother Pietu became an economist. Pauliina studied the cello at the Conservatory and then at the Sibelius Academy, graduating with a BA in music.

In the summer of 2009, Pauliina and her cello headed to Sárospatak Christian music festival in Hungary. On her penultimate day, she met a German man named Martin Haustein, who worked there as a volunteer.

– He is a native of Wilkau-Haßlau of the former East Germany. He was 10 years old when the wall came down, Pauliina tells. The couple hit it off at first glance.

-I was living in Finland and Martin in England, where he was making his doctoral dissertation in Neurobiology. He found me on Facebook and Skype. During the first six months we met a couple of times in both countries. We found out that it was serious enough between us to begin to date, even though we couldn’t live together for the first year, Pauliina chuckles.

They married August 6th, 2011. At the end of the month they moved to Los Angeles, where Martin had gotten a job as a researcher at UCLA. Pauliina began house hunting. In addition to having lived in Oregon as a child, she had toured the United States with the Chamber Ensemble Halo, but had never been to Los Angeles before.

Pauliina practices the cello for several hours a day.

Pauliina practices the cello for several hours a day.

-I got daily panic attacks in the LA traffic. Even the idea of having to ​​leave the house and hit the road kept me awake at nights, she sighs.

Eventually they found a suitable apartment in West LA.

– Two days later I was sitting in the traffic and waiting at a red light. Someone rear-ended me at full speed. As a result, my car crashed into another vehicle.

It was a hit and run – the culprit fled the scene and was never caught.

– We had not yet paid for the car. So, every month we had to make payments on a car, which we didn’t have. Our insurance refused to pay for the damage that incurred to the other car. We had to hire an attorney and fight for almost a year before the insurance company finally agreed to pay, Pauliina fumes.

Pauliina suffered a whiplash injury.

-For several times a week for months I had to see a chiropractor. It took me six months to get back to the rehearsing rhythm, she recounts.

For a year Pauliina biked everywhere and through it learned the traffic patterns in different parts of the city at any given times. As we are driving toward Hollywood, she gives advise on what routes to take to avoid traffic jams as if she had lived here her entire life.

Pauliina has acclimated well to Los Angeles.

Pauliina has acclimated well to Los Angeles.

Haustein is practicing the cello up to four hours a day. She is also taking music lessons. Having recovered from the accident, she began building her musical career in the City of Angels.

-My friend, an Israeli-French pianist Pascal Solomon had married a woman who had a green card in the United States, and they had moved to Santa Barbara. We started putting together a concert program. Then I met local Finns. I got gigs through them, Pauliina gratefully acknowledges.

She then got wind of a TV series looking for musicians. There was no mention of the name of the show in the advert.

-I sent them an application with my picture attached. A month later, I got a call to come to the set of Glee at Paramount Studios. They sent me the song that I was to play the day before shooting. Based on that I wrote the notes for the cello, Pauliina explains.

Matthew Morrison is one of the stars of Glee.

Matthew Morrison is one of the stars of Glee.

The scene in question took place at the school’s gym. A string quartet played a song from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. One of the actresses sang.

-The scene was filmed with four cameras from different angles. We worked on that three minute piece for eight hours. We played for real, but what is heard in the final episode was prerecorded somewhere else, the cellist explains.

-The Actors were nice and interested in the fact that I am from Finland. I had not seen the show before, so I wasn’t star-struck. Only afterwards I realized that the guy I spoke with for 15 minutes was one of the main stars.

The gig paid $320. She has revisited the series twice since.

-The compensation was not great, but how else could I have been involved in a Hollywood TV series, Pauliina asks rhetorically.

Pauliina Haustein has gained success in California in a very short time.

Pauliina Haustein has gained success in California in a very short time.

She has worked at a steady pace – weddings, retirement parties, church concerts, and as an assistant in local orchestras.

Hollywood Bowl is an amphitheater that seats 17,000 people.

Hollywood Bowl is an amphitheater that seats 17,000 people.

Then, Pauliina heard that the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra was seeking musicians. Entrance exams were held at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. In the first round, 20 musicians played from behind a curtain, so that their appearance would not affect the jury. Pauliina and five others made it to the finals.

– At the end the jury applauded and congratulated us. Then they offered me an assistant position. I am now on  the list as an assistant to the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Pauliina smiles.

Pauliina's parents Jaana and Ilpo watching their daughter perform at the Hollywood Bowl.

The orchestra consists of musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as studio musicians. To play with them at the world-famous Hollywood Bowl with 17 thousand people watching is definitely the greatest accomplishment so far in the young musician’s career. Pauliina played in the orchestra during the opening gala with Steve Tyler. The old crooner took a liking to the young statuesque Finn and winked at her. The summer 2013 season at the bowl concludes later in September.

Pauliina Haustein spent the Summer 2013 performing at the Hollywood Bowl.

Pauliina Haustein spent the Summer 2013 performing at the Hollywood Bowl.

SUMMER: COMINGS AND GOINGS

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

AROUND LA WITH AVA 

SUMMER: COMINGS AND GOINGS

Summer is here!!

“No more pencils; no more books; no more teachers’ dirty looks…”

Do you remember those glorious days of yesteryear when the final school bell of the year rang and we burst outdoors for the start of a grand period of “freedom”?  Everyone had plans—even if they were going nowhere!

Do you remember those glorious days of yesteryear when the final school bell of the year rang and we burst outdoors for the start of a grand period of “freedom”?

Do you remember those glorious days of yesteryear when the final school bell of the year rang and we burst outdoors for the start of a grand period of “freedom”?

Not much is different today—except we are the ‘teachers’.  Now, not only are there people coming and going as part of their plans in Southern California, but new projects and annual rituals are playing out as well in the City of Angels.

June 2013

On Sunday June 2nd, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica was filled with beautiful music and over 70 attendees in the Finnish Congregation.  This Mass of Music included kantele, piano, cello, and voice offerings.  The sermon was delivered by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, filling in for Pastor Jarmo Tarkki.  Bible readings were by Maiju Boele and Jonny Kahleyn Dieb.  The Finnish Folk Dance Group Katirilli performed an assortment of delightful dances during the coffee hour.

The Finnish Folk Dance Group Katirilli performed an assortment of delightful dances during the coffee hour

Treats at the coffee table included open faced sandwiches, cinnamon rolls, cakes and Karelian pies, and deep-fried lihapiirrakkas.

Traffic was horrendous in Santa Monica, but the outstanding Finnish Lutheran turnout was not the sole problem.  Obviously, the tourists have come to Southern California to celebrate their Summer —and our schools are out!  The local “weather-casters” had billed the day as “…perfect beach weather”.  An hour of worship, followed by Finnish fellowship and feasting before a dip in the Pacific—now that is a perfect LA Sunday!

More, please!!!!!!

The Bowl

One of the most anticipated events of the Los Angeles Summer season is the Opening of the Hollywood Bowl.  From Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon—and most villages in between, concerts ‘on-the-lawn’/’in-the-park’/’at-the-Center Square’ are standard fare.  Everyone knows they are coming—no big deal—we’ll be there—strike up the band.

The Hollywood Bowl

The Hollywood Bowl

Well, not in LA.  Here Hollywood requires a ‘production’ of some sort.  On a recent Saturday at mid-day after wrapping up a FACC Board meeting at a member’s home high on Mountaingate near the Getty, we actually witnessed planes skywriting overhead announcing of the Grand Opening of our favorite, beloved, outdoor venue in the City of Angels—The Hollywood Bowl.

my most favorite Bowl memories are of being in the last row of the Bowl where the $1 seats permitted my then younger boys to take an after-dinner nap on the bench under the starlit sky

My most favorite Bowl memories are of being in the last row of the Bowl where the $1 seats permitted my then younger boys to take an after-dinner nap on the bench under the starlit sky

Each year when the written Bowl Program arrives in the mail, we quickly scour it for Finnish conductors and soloists—or pieces by Sibelius.  What a great excuse to pack a Finnish-themed picnic with your Marimekko tablecloth, Iittala candle holders and stem ware for a fabulous night under the Summer stars.  Actually, as glamorous as it is to be in a ‘front and center’ Founders’ Circle box with all of the accoutrements and ‘star power’ neighbors, my most favorite Bowl memories are of being in the last row of the Bowl where the $1 seats permitted my then younger boys to take an after-dinner nap on the bench under the starlit sky while Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra playing Sibelius –how great a lullaby is that???  [Actually, I am not sure if it was the hour of night, a great meal, the classical music, or the ‘funny’ aromas wafting from the bushes behind the last row that brought the ‘nukkumatti’ (sandman), but it worked—and the kids love classical music to this day!]

This year, there is a Sibelius piece on July 11th : Violin Concerto performed by the LA Phil conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.  Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky are also on the program.  Also new this year: world famous LA restaurant Patina has just opened a full service tapas and wine bar at the Hollywood Bowl.  Chef/Owner Joachim Splichal certainly can cook—and tapas are a perfect start to a perfect Bowl evening

This year, there is a Sibelius piece on July 11th : Violin Concerto performed by the LA Phil conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

This year, there is a Sibelius piece on July 11th : Violin Concerto performed by the LA Phil conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

Check it out: www.hollywoodbowl.com

LAFF SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM

The Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation held their annual Scholarship Picnic on June 9th.   This fund raising event helps LAFF support Finnish related educational opportunities for worthy young people.

SUOMI  KERHO JUHANNUS BLOW OUT

Suomi Kerho cranked up its annual Midsummer celebration on June 22nd.

Suomi Kerho cranked up its annual Midsummer celebration on June 22nd

Suomi Kerho cranked up its annual Midsummer celebration on June 22nd

Seppo Kotajarvi was at “Makkara Central” manning the grill.  Perfection was achieved with the taste and the snap factor on those wieners—an A+.  There were a multitude of delicious salads thanks to my favorite ‘Kitchen Ladies’.  Freshly baked pulla warmed our hearts.  Background music set the mood.  Lovely new table runners made by the ‘Sewing Circle Ladies’ decorated the dining areas.  Beautiful birch branches hung from the rafters [freshly cut from Eila Korpinen’s tree that morning].  All we needed was a lake to make the transformation to Finland complete.

Seppo Kotajarvi was at “Makkara Central” manning the grill.  Perfection was achieved with the taste and the snap factor on those wieners—an A+

Seppo Kotajarvi was at “Makkara Central” manning the grill. Perfection was achieved with the taste and the snap factor on those wieners—an A+

A properly adorned hall, traditional Finnish food, music, a libation or so, and, you guessed it, Finns from all around the community were in great spirits!

A properly adorned hall, traditional Finnish food, music, a libation or so, and, you guessed it, Finns from all around the community were in great spirits!

A properly adorned hall, traditional Finnish food, music, a libation or so, and, you guessed it, Finns from all around the community were in great spirits!

SUMMER IS NOW OFFICIAL!!

SYMPOSIUM ON FINNISH EDUCATION

As one of her final events as Consul General in Los Angeles, Kirsti Westphalen hosted a meeting in conjunction with the FACC that focused on Finnish Education.  The film “Finland Phenomenon–A Documentary” was followed by a Panel Discussion moderated by Andréa Hautala McAleenan, PhD [Special Advisor to the President, Azusa Pacific University].  Dr. McAleenan was joined by panelists Carl Cohn, PhD [Professor of Education, Director of the Urban Leadership Program, Claremont Graduate University], Jaana Juvonen PhD [Professor of Developmental Psychology, UCLA], and Dennis Sheridan, PhD [President of Educational Leadership, California Lutheran University].  A lively discussion followed.  With an audience of educators, journalists, film producers, current and former teachers, and some regular people, there were many perspectives aired.

Andrea Hautala McAleenan, Ph.D., Special Advisor to the President, Azusa Pacific University (moderator)  Carl Cohn, Ph.D., Professor of Education, Director of the Urban Leadership Program, Claremont Graduate University  Jaana Juvonen, Ph.D., Professor of Developmental Psychology, UCLA  Dennis Sheridan, Ph.D., Professor of Educational Leadership, California Lutheran University — with Carl Cohn, Ph.D., Professor of Education, Director of the Urban Leadership Program, Claremont Graduate University, Jaana Juvonen, Ph.D., Professor of Developmental Psychology, UCLA, Dennis Sheridan, Ph.D., Professor of Educational Leadership, California Lutheran University and Andrea Hautala McAleenan, Ph.D., Special Advisor to the President, Azusa Pacific University (moderator) at Bel Air, Los Angeles.

The film “Finland Phenomenon–A Documentary” was followed by a Panel Discussion moderated by Andréa Hautala McAleenan, PhD [Special Advisor to the President, Azusa Pacific University]. Dr. McAleenan was joined by panelists Carl Cohn, PhD [Professor of Education, Director of the Urban Leadership Program, Claremont Graduate University], Jaana Juvonen PhD [Professor of Developmental Psychology, UCLA], and Dennis Sheridan, PhD [President of Educational Leadership, California Lutheran University]. A lively discussion followed.

Chef Sirpa Welch served up additional Finnish pride which featured delicious Salmon and rice piirakka, Caesar salad, and sweet bites and berries as refreshments.We were all reminded of the breadth of impact of Kirsti’s tenure here in Los Angeles when Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca had a Certificate of Appreciation presented to our own Dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps.As Kirsti and Mouf go off to Thailand, we salute them as well.  We will miss their enthusiasm, their Finnish focus, their leadership, and their friendship.  Kirsti and Mouf: a “fond farewell” and a “welcome back soon” from your many friends.

Ava Anttila, VP of the European American Sheriff’s Advisory Council presenting Consul General Kirsti Westphalen with a Certificate of Appreciation from Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca

[Through the years, I have been fortunate to know and work with many of Finland’s Consuls General in California—even one whose daughter attended the French School in Helsinki with me as a little tyke.   It is always sad to see a Consul General and family move away.  It seems like they just get here, get acquainted, do their great work in representing Finland and the local Finnish community, make personal and national friends –and it is time to leave.  Each is different, each makes their own ‘mark’, each stamps “Finland” with a different hue in this Southern California Finnish tapestry, each is appreciated –and, then, they are gone (not forgotten, however).]

INSPECTOR COMING = STUFF GOING

It is fun to have visitors—many come through.  Some amazing people have been here –“…if walls could talk”.  One of my most precious possessions is a photograph taken by and given to me by an internationally renowned Finnish photographer.  The beautifully framed photograph depicts an old Finnish building with large lettering on its side that says Kansantalo (the house of the people).  The sentiment he expressed when presenting it to me means so much: that this is a place where all are welcome –to share thoughts, ask questions, get helpful hints, have strong coffee, eat a home-cooked meal, and to learn something about the ‘American way’ [some So Cal freeway tricks, too] –a place where someone cares.  There is always an ear, a shoulder, and a warm hug [for almost everyone].

There are some “visitors” who come who are not as welcome as others.  Those who have followed this column for any time probably know that this gal’s plate is normally quite full.  Off to many places, doing many things.  The daily schedule is highly unpredictable –I may be able to tell you what I am doing for the month of August, but not know where I will be on Monday!

My ‘day job’ is attorney—lots and lots of paper, most of which must be kept for 7+ years.  Others may know that my dear, recently deceased, Mom was a dedicated ‘garage sale’ maven who took great pride in her various and sundry collections and clothes—lots and lots of clothes!  When my folks moved into my home about 5 years ago, we absorbed the contents of a 4 bedroom/3 car garage home—yes, that is a lot of storage space for 2 people!

So, when my home insurance agent called to say that my carrier wanted to send out an inspector to measure, photograph, and “inspect” every inch of my property inside and out, I thought it best to suggest a delay.

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As it turned out, the dreaded inspector was quite a nice fellow

Southern California property owners know that each May 1 the LA Fire Department begins inspections of all properties in any potential fire hazard zones.  The requirements are quite specific and quite demanding—and the consequences of non-compliance are equally severe and range from losing your house to fire to thousands of $s in non-compliance penalties/costs.  Yesterday, the DWP picked up over 150 45 gallon trash bags (plus allowed loose items) so you know lots and lots of work was done to pass the ‘Fire Inspection’ and that some of my Mom’s stuff did not make the ‘give-to-charity’ cut.  Still, the process was somewhat chaotic and took a long time to accomplish.  If nothing else, just the sight of 150+ 45 gallon trash bags waiting to ‘go away’ is enough to delay a ‘photo inspection’.

The DWP picked up over 150 45 gallon trash bags (plus allowed loose items) so you know lots and lots of work was done to pass the ‘Fire Inspection’

The DWP picked up over 150 45 gallon trash bags (plus allowed loose items) so you know lots and lots of work was done to pass the ‘Fire Inspection’

A persistent “insurance inspector” insisting that he urgently needed to inspect, to measure, to photograph, and to do whatever else both inside and outside my home in order to make a report was about as welcome as a root canal without anesthesia!

The inspector’s coming reminded me of how we need to learn to luopua or give up things we hang onto.  Ӓiti did not have luopua in her vocabulary—did I?   Could I say goodbye to enough ‘stuff’ to pass a penetrating inspection?

As it turned out, the dreaded inspector was quite a nice fellow.  He was so excited about his son’s imminent graduation from UCLA—the teaching job awaiting the son in Italy was at least as important as not having to write any more tuition checks!  He told of his recent visit to inspect Eddy Murphy’s place [a 34,000 square foot crib with a shooting range and a bowling alley!].  I thought of telling the inspector man my Eddie Murphy/Ivy restaurant story shared with FinnTimes readers earlier, but things seemed to be going well and I was guessing that Mr. Murphy did not have 150+ 45 gallon trash bags sitting in his yard.

We Finns have always lived “green” with the ‘waste not/want not’ philosophy while Americans have been more a ‘throwaway’ society.  Sometimes people carry things too far.  For example, an elderly client of mine was so happy when I visited him at his place in Finland because he was able to show off the lampshades he had woven out of used Paulig coffee bags!!

Here is the question:  Is it better to use your used coffee bags to make a decorating/fashion statement as my “crafty” Finn did in his living room, or should the trash go directly to a landfill?

Difficult call n’est, pas?

GOING IN LA

One of the most delightful, often breathtaking, Los Angeles sights is the snow-capped mountains that hug the LA basin.  You can get a great long distance view heading East on Culver Boulevard in Culver City […someone else should be driving!].  My favorite view is on Santa Monica Boulevard just under the 405 –if you are stuck in traffic, it is a delight.  Looking East, past the Century City skyscrapers, as the West setting sun spreads its pinkish glow toward the snow capped mountains, a traffic jam is a welcomed pause in our go-go-go world.

One of the most delightful, often breathtaking, Los Angeles sights is the snow-capped mountains that hug the LA basin

One of the most delightful, often breathtaking, Los Angeles sights is the snow-capped mountains that hug the LA basin

I cannot believe I just voted for a traffic jam to remind us of LA’s favorite boast to non- Angelenos of skiing on a mountain top in the morning and swimming or surfing at the beach in the afternoon.

I love LA!!

GOING, GOING IN LA

Rumor has it that the “snowcapped” part of our wonders of Nature may be going away, forever.  By mid-century, scientists say that 30-40% of the snow will disappear from our local mountains.  Boo Hoo—traffic jams will turn nasty!

GOING, GOING, GONE IN LA

The Wilshire Grand Hotel [originally, The Statler and, later, a Hilton] in downtown Los Angeles has been a landmark since it opened in 1952.  The hotel was a competitor of the glamorous Biltmore as a center of business, legal, and society activities for as long as I can remember.  When LA was ‘famous’ for not having a ‘downtown’, the hotel was popular with international travelers and had a near ‘lock’ on the activities on the Southwest downtown business.

The Wilshire Grand Hotel

Heading up Figueroa on my way to Court the other day, I saw the huge empty pit with lots of demo going on at the corner of Wilshire where the Wilshire Grand once stood. GONE!

Early in my legal career, I worked near downtown and had many meetings, seminars, and meals at the hotel.  (Lots and lots of good memories.)  Somehow, we expect that places that were always there will always be there.

Heading up Figueroa on my way to Court the other day, I saw the huge empty pit with lots of demo going on at the corner of Wilshire where the Wilshire Grand once stood.  GONE!

Currently, they are working on the demolition of the underground garage.  Massive digging will begin in August.  The $1 billion Korean Air skyscraper will eventually grow taller than the US Bank Tower [what Angelenos still call the Library Tower].  The new structure will become the tallest building West of the Mississippi River.  The plans include a hotel, offices, restaurants, and stores.  Double-decker elevators and an observation deck will provide views to the ocean—and to my mountains (with or without snow—no traffic jam required).

This Korean Air skyscraper will rise in place of the now demolished Wilshire Grand.

This Korean Air skyscraper will rise in place of the now demolished Wilshire Grand.

Actually, “GOING, GOING, …GONE” is what Vin Scully et al scream into their broadcast microphones when Yasiel Puig or some other Dodger [or Angel] star hits another ‘4 bagger’ [aka homerun]!  While there are some signs of improvement lately, for a while it did not seem as if either local baseball team knew whether it was COMING OR GOING.

COMING OR GOING

The adage of “…justice delayed is justice denied” has been parsed by those trying to explain the latest cuts to the LA County Court System funding.  Seven regional Courthouses will be closed and more than 500 jobs will be eliminated.  Budget cuts!

California’s largest Court system [here] has about 4,400 employees and approximately 540 Judges.  Last year’s operating budget was about $734 million.

Be ready for higher filing fees, longer waiting times, and further travel to your Courthouse.  Civil Courts (rather than Criminal Courts) have borne recent cuts more heavily with effects like: lines around the block/waiting for hours to dispute a traffic ticket have become commonplace.  If you are anxious to get a divorce, sue your landlord, have a custody battle, settle an inheritance matter, or get a certified copy of an essential document, be ready to pay more, “take a number”, and be patient!

The Clerk who helped me file a critical document looked harried and worried.  He has been there forever and really knows his ‘stuff’.  He said the latest ‘cuts’ had just kicked in—and more were coming.  This guy looks like he could play for the Lakers or the Clippers –I’ll bet he wishes he did!

Pondering:

How can we start building a ‘super train’ no one will ride between Fresno and Bakersfield before we even own the needed land [or have the $ to buy it], but we can take 30 days to process a Probate closing that used to take 3 days?  

BEEN THERE/COMING AGAIN

Two hundred eleven (211) Hollywood ‘stars’ have just been sent to “rehab”!!  No, I did not just ‘scoop’ TMZ.  I am referring to the ‘gold’ stars planted in the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalks, not the ‘humans’.  This ‘nip and tuck’ of the famous Walk began in September and will continue for the next 3 years –to the tune of $44 million!  As Governor Arnold used to say: “…I’ll be back!!!”

Two hundred eleven (211) Hollywood ‘stars’ have just been sent to “rehab”!!

Two hundred eleven (211) Hollywood ‘stars’ have just been sent to “rehab”!!

Stolen Lotus Blossoms Repatriated/Thief Thanked.

Recently, the annual Lotus Blossom Festival at Echo Park has had to be cancelled—no lotus blossoms!  For years, the quantity and quality of the lotus blossoms declined as the ‘stank’ and pollution of Echo Lake increased.  Finally, there were no blossoms to be ‘festive’ over and the event ‘disappeared’.  It was sad.  It was sooo sad….

A project was launched to re-do and ‘purify’ the Echo Park lake

A project was launched to re-do and ‘purify’ the Echo Park lake

Then, a project was launched to re-do and ‘purify’ the lake.  Too late—the lotus plants had died a cruel death in the stagnant waters.  The lamented loss was remedied when a ‘sheepish’ citizen came to the rescue.  It seems that our hero had ‘borrowed’ some of the grand plants when they were still thriving and had propagated more in his own clean pond.  Our thief was prepared to share his ‘bounty’ in exchange for amnesty!  The Lotus Blossom Festival at Echo Park should be on again soon!  No word, yet, on whether the lake will be re-named.

The lamented loss was remedied when a ‘sheepish’ citizen came to the rescue.  It seems that our hero had ‘borrowed’ some of the grand plants when they were still thriving and had propagated more in his own clean pond

The lamented loss was remedied when a ‘sheepish’ citizen came to the rescue. It seems that our hero had ‘borrowed’ some of the grand plants when they were still thriving and had propagated more in his own clean pond

Echo Park Lake with lotuses and all is now better than ever.

Echo Park Lake with lotuses and all is now better than ever.

ICONIC/WHO CARES

The TMZ and other Star Tours busses always visit—or at least talk about, the Capitol Records Building in Hollywood as they ply their fantasies about ‘tinsel town’.  Tourists from around the world include it as a ‘must see’ sight even if they have never seen a stack of phonograph records that the Building is supposed to resemble!!

The Capitol Records Building in Hollywood

The Capitol Records Building in Hollywood

Looking to boost its sagging circulation through controversy—real or imagined, the Los Angeles Times recently ran a piece highlighting the speculation surrounding, and the opposition to, two proposed towers that would “tower over” the iconic Capitol Records Building.  Rather than ruminating on the ‘appropriate’ height of the two, tall, circular buildings developers are proposing and architects are drawing, it seems the debate should focus on whether tourists will be attracted more to three ‘stacks of records’ than one when most do not know what a “record” is, was, or could be used for in today’s technology!   What is Chinese for “…why are we paying good US$s to look at 3 round buildings?”

WHO CARES/ICONIC

On to more ‘important stuff’!  Rumor has it that:

Going down the street in Brentwood, Harrison Ford was stopped for using his cell phone in his classic Jaguar.  Despite claiming he was on speakerphone, it did not set well with the officer.   

for_d

I CARE/CAREFUL

Crows (not Russell or a rock group) have come and they not going—well, perhaps I should clarify:

I know that there is an Alfred Hitchcock movie festival in town and that The Birds was one of his most notable films.  If you have seen that film—or even a promo, you already know that crows can be scary in the hands of a master film maker.  Let me tell you, they can scare the AH out of you in ‘real life’ too.

My quiet little neighborhood has been invaded.  It has been taken over by a loud, ‘swacking’, rowdy invasion of crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos).  These birds are huge; they are loud; they are scary; and they are destructive.  Do we have to live the Hitchcock nightmare on a daily basis when the film is in re-runs???

My quiet little neighborhood has been invaded.  It has been taken over by a loud, ‘swacking’, rowdy invasion of crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

My quiet little neighborhood has been invaded. It has been taken over by a loud, ‘swacking’, rowdy invasion of crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

Seriously, LA, not only do they destroy the lawns we try so hard to keep looking nice, they “decorate” our cars, lawn furniture, and other indiscriminate targets with their output/offerings.

Two crows were fighting on my roof yesterday.  Hearing the ruckus, I went to investigate and was almost crashed into during their scrimmage.  The crows have gotten so big (like haukkas), I am afraid they are going to swoop down and carry off Sohvi-Koira!

While not quite as big, the crows have become like the coyotes who are not scared of humans –mere ‘shooing’ them away does no good.  Both are omnivorous scavenger pirates.  The crows have become the bullies of the bird world here lately.  Apparently they have become prolific all around LA and are here to stay.

I read recently that pesky birds (seagulls, in that case) are causing similar problems in Helsinki Harbor marketplace. We empathize.

Splat, splat be sure you wear a hat!!!

YOU CARE/CONSIDER CAREFULLY

Tuliaiset: Souvenirs and Hostess Gifts

If you are going to Finland for a visit, you may be thinking of what special things to bring along.

The tuliainen is brought to your Finnish host and presented upon arrival.  It is usually a thoughtful souvenir or ‘pre-thanks’ hostess gift for someone you are visiting –especially if you will be staying in their home.  It is always nice to bring a little touch of the USA, California, and/or LA with you.

Some like to bring a touch of Finland back home for “someone” –often ourselves when Finnish chocolate is involved!

In the US, wine or a floral arrangement is nice to bring for a dinner party.

In the US, wine or a floral arrangement is nice to bring for a dinner party.

In the US, wine or a floral arrangement is nice to bring for a dinner party.  Here, a hostess gift can be presented upon arrival or sent after a stay at someone’s home.  A handwritten note provides a nice personal touch.  [Linens, stationery, a book, or an interesting household item are also appropriate.]

Gone are the days when an Angeleno going to Finland could be a ‘hero’ by bringing a nice bottle of California wine to a Finnish host/aficionado.  The new weight and liquid restrictions make the wine next to impossible.

[NTF:  You can get ideas from your Finnish friends who visit here from what they purchase to take back home.  Recent ‘discoveries’: Victoria’s Secret items are huge, even for the teen set; Apple computer products, especially new releases; cedar wood ‘moth’ balls for closets; and corned beef are among a few of the things I have seen packed for the homeland by Finns.  Of course, any official NHL game jersey with a Finnish star’s name on the back is pure gold!  When in doubt, ask.  As you know, there are some things Finns do not tell you unless asked!]

Whenever I am planning a trip to Finland, I try to remind myself that the best thing anyone can bring is your joy, love, and appreciation –it does not hurt to carry-on the makings of a California celebration for your friends, as well.

Even before I leave, I start to think about what I can bring home –I plan for suitcase space accordingly.  We all have our favorite Finnish things that best remind us of our stay: the tastes, the fashions, the art and design for the home, the little ‘reminder-things’ that will keep the memories of experiences alive as long as possible, or that make it easier for you to share with those back home.

‘Tis a shame, but that six pack of Lapin Kulta is better enjoyed while in Finland.  Liquids will be hard to transport even if there is a legal way.  I cannot help but think of my American friend Mona who is a converted conscientious cloudberry fan.  I always brought her a bottle of Cloudberry Liqueur –she now gets a Lumene Cloudberry Face Cream purchased in the US.  [Don’t tell her please –this will be our little secret.]

Lumene Cloudberry Face Cream

Lumene Cloudberry Face Cream

Things in my ‘coming home’ bag, always: smoking bags (available in any Finnish supermarket), tubes of mustard, Fazer chocolate bars, licorice (best purchased freshly-made from a farmers market), Oululainen’s hapankorppu, tubes of cardamom seeds, and anything not ‘sniffable’ by the NSA beagles […remind me to tell you about the accidentally hidden makkara one day].

Whether you are GOING, COMING, or just HANGING –HAVE A HAPPY SUMMER!!

Or as Arnold ‘Governator’ would say:

“Hasta LA Vista, Baabee!!”

 

JARKKO SIPILÄ’S LIFE OF CRIME

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – SANTA MONICA, CA

DATE: 7/5/2013

Crime author Jarkko Sipilä in Santa Monica, CA.

Crime author Jarkko Sipilä in Santa Monica, CA.

Crime pays – at least if you are a successful crime fiction writer like Jarkko Sipilä. And he knows what he is writing about. Jarkko is also a crime reporter working for the Finnish TV network MTV3. The author is currently on a U.S. tour. He recently appeared at FinnFest in Hancock, Michigan to publicize his latest novel, Cold Trail. Finntimes caught up with Sipilä on Independence Day in Santa Monica, California.

He is a big and tall guy of 6’4’’, who cuts an impressive figure walking down Ocean Avenue. When some writers express themselves better on paper, both in his books and in person Jarkko comes across clear and concise. He is a story teller. Jarkko and the family are about to finish a tour of The United States that took them among other places, to the Great Lakes region.

Jarkko Sipilä's book tour took him to the Great Lakes region.

Jarkko Sipilä’s book tour took him to the Great Lakes region.

-I came to Minneapolis about three weeks ago. We did some book promoting over there. It was ten days of work, work, work. After that, my publisher let me have two weeks off in California, so I’m here now.

-I have written 18 books in Finnish, of which four have been translated into English. In addition, two books have been translated into German and two in Italian.

Which books were you selling at FinnFest?

-I have written four Helsinki Homicide books. The latest one is called Cold Trail, which came out in April. In Finnish they are called Takamäki Books and they are about a detective by the same name, who works at the Helsinki police department’s Violent Crime Unit. Hence the name Helsinki Homicide.

Sipilä's latest book translated in English.

Sipilä’s latest book translated in English.

What is Cold Trail about?

-In Finland, Cold Trail was the seventh in the Takamäki series. It’s a story about a convict, who escapes from his guards at his father’s funeral. It’s up to the Helsinki PD’s homicide unit to bring him back to prison. They start digging into his story and the crime he was convicted of and find strange things. The question that arises is: How far can you go to take the law into your own hands.

In light of the Trayvon Martin murder case, it is a very American as well as current question, isn’t it?

-it is a universal topic.

Sipilä has been touring the U.S. with his family for three weeks.

Sipilä has been touring the U.S. with his family for three weeks.

Scandinavian crime literature is red hot right now in the U.S.. Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy has been made into movies. When are you going to see a movie version of one of your books?

-Hopefully some time. I actually met with some Hollywood producers in Burbank. They have been reading my books, as well as Harri Nykänen’s crime series. They are trying to pitch them to TV networks and film companies. Maybe something will come out of it, or then not.

-The company is called New Wave Entertainment and it is akin to an agency. I met with one of their producers. We had a nice hour long chat.

-They have read Cold Trail and three other books of mine and they like them, but you never know… These are police stories and a lot of such stories have been made into TV series. But at this time we don’t have in the U.S. or anywhere else, for that matter, this kind of very realistic story telling. Stories and characters we see currently on TV are exaggerated and eccentric. In my books, the plot lines and characters are more realistic. The events could happen in real life but are still exciting.

If Cold Trail was made into a movie or TV series, could it be set in the U.S. or would it work better if actually shot in Finland?

-I don’t think it matters where you set it. It could be set in LA,  Northern Minnesota, Texas or even Johannesburg, South Africa, because police officers’ mind set is pretty much the same all over the world. Not every cop is corrupt, but want to get to the truth instead. That’s what good cops are made of.

Jarkko Sipilä's crime fiction has universal appeal.

Jarkko Sipilä’s crime fiction has universal appeal.

You have a brother who is your partner in crime – tell us about him?

-My brother Jouko Sipilä used to work as an investment banker on Wall Street in New York and got out of that business in 2008. The next year he moved to Minneapolis started a publishing house called Ice Cold Crime, which publishes Finnish crime fiction in English. In addition to my four books, we have two Harri Nykänen’s books and one by Seppo Jokinen. Anja Snellman’s Pet Shop Girls is coming out this summer and next fall we will probably have Jari Tervo’s Among Saints (Pyhiesi yhteyteen). So, we have very good books coming out.

Jarkko is always on the lookout for good story ideas.

Jarkko is always on the lookout for good story ideas.

What’s next for you – are you perhaps researching for a new book here in America?

-We did one book with my brother’s friend, who was also a New York banker. It’s a story set in NYC at the eve of the financial crisis. It’s a detective story about two bankers – how they handle the events leading to the crisis. I wrote the Finnish version of it. In the U.S. it is published under Scott Stevenson’s name. It’s called Decay Time. You always think about stories when you are on vacation.

Have you seen any crimes taking place here?

-I saw police helicopters circling above our hotel. You see policemen everywhere here. You don’t see that in Helsinki.

The mindset of police officers is the same everywhere in the word, says Sipilä.

The mindset of police officers is the same everywhere in the word, says Sipilä.

Are there differences that you have seen between the Finnish and American police?

-Like here, in Helsinki every cop has a Glock or another type of a gun. Maybe not the detectives but street cops. In terms of crime, Finland is quite similar to Minnesota. We have about as many people (5.3 million), and homicides as Minnesota does. The cold and snow cool people down, unlike here in LA where it is always warm.

You are not only an author but also a crime journalist – tell us about that?

-It kind of works hand in hand with the writing. You get a lot of ideas from working at MTV3 network’s news. I’ve been doing crime reporting for over 20 years now. At first for the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper and since 1996 for MTV3.

Why is crime so interesting to you?

-It’s not that it is interesting to me but to the TV audiences, readers, web surfers and radio listeners. I think people need and like to know about bad things that are happening in the society. Crime is a little like a magnifying mirror that you have for applying make-up and so on. That makes all the bad things appear bigger as well.

Unlike Wall Street's Gordon Gekko, Jarkko Sipilä says greed is not good.

Unlike Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko, Jarkko Sipilä says greed is not good.

-Greed is a big problem these days. You have criminals that are greedier than before. If you have a lot of violence in a society, like in the U.S., with wars going on, then crimes are also more violent. It maybe one of the reasons we don’t have that many violent crimes in Finland or Europe.

What’s your take on gun control?

-Well, of course you have to realize that shooting is an Olympic sport. In Finland it has some historical value with the long eastern border and wars with Russia. Finns used to think it was beneficial to have lots of guns in case of an enemy invasion. Putting up a militia type of resistance would be easier. If you don’t shoot as a hobby or you are not a hunter, maybe you really don’t need a gun.

If you are not a target shooter or a hunter, perhaps you don't need a gun, the author suggests.

If you are not a target shooter or a hunter, perhaps you don’t need a gun, the author suggests.

What kind of sentences should be handed for violent crimes – harsh ones like in the U.S. or light ones like in Finland?

-It depends. Maybe we should have tougher sentences for repeat offenders in Finland when it comes to violent or sex crimes. Sentencing should escalate more than it does nowadays in Finland. But being in prison really doesn’t make anyone a better person. The rate at which ex-convicts end up back in jail is high. Maybe the best way to control crime would be prevention, helping some of these people before they commit crimes. They are doing it in Finland. But of course you have high youth unemployment and that can lead into criminal behavior. That and drugs are a big problem in Europe. In my opinion, they are only going to get worse.

Where can people buy your books?

-The best way is to go to Amazon.com.

Are you working on a new book?

-My latest one was published in Finland about a month ago. It’s called Valepoliisi (Fake Cop). It may take until fall before I start working on a new one.

Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen and crime author Jarkko Sipilä in Santa Monica, CA.

Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen and crime author Jarkko Sipilä in Santa Monica, CA.

THE MERRY MONTH

ava51

AROUND LA WITH AVA

THE MERRY MONTH

May is always fun.  It is a mad-cap month of May frolics, Motherly celebrations, Mexican fiestas, and Memorials.  May is a long month that always goes by so quickly!  Perhaps that is because it begins with back-to-back-to-back parties and, then, before we can recover it melts into what has become a long four day Memorial Day weekend that marks the semi-official start of Summer in America.*   Even though Californians have Jacarandas in flower and roses budding instead of the “April showers [that] bring May flowers”, ice tsunamis, or floods to mark our Spring, we do find everyone buzzing with new energy finalizing Winter projects and setting up Summer plans.  To those who have lived in Finland […to say nothing of those still there!], the prospect of Summer ‘right around the corner’ is intoxicating.

Jacaranda Trees on Alta Drive in Beverly Hills

Jacaranda Trees on Alta Drive in Beverly Hills

Finns sense the impending arrival of Midsummer even without the benefit of a calendar.  For those of you going to Finland for the Summer Solstice celebrations, you are lucky! [Have your umbrellas and rubbers handy!]

Here, or there–now is the time to start planning your Finnish Midsummer Night using your ‘inner Finn’ as your guide.  Or, if you like, you can get a little LA help from ‘yours truly’.

Actually, if you live in Los Angeles where 70º F and blue sky/sunny by noon is a daily occurrence, a Finnish Midsummer celebration has less urgency to be on a specific date.  Here you can party outdoors on almost any night –Summer or not!  We can make our own heavenly Juhannus without worrying about whether or not the lake ice has fully melted.  [In case you are compulsive—or just like to pretend you are in the homeland, I will give some easy/fun suggestions and a recipe for Juhannus in this column.]

May Day

May Day is not really big in LA.  There is always a labor parade downtown, but that is usually pretty grim—more about immigration issues these days than the ‘springing of Spring’.  I know of only one May Pole with multicolored ribbons to be braided on the pole by dancing maidens with fresh flowers in their hair.  When The Archer School for Girls [Brentwood] bought the ‘old folks home’ on Sunset near Barrington, they kicked the ‘grannies’ and ‘grunties’ out to make their school but they actually kept the May Pole that used to grace the front lawn of the property each May.  A beautiful tradition continues to mark May!

maypole

Maypole at the Archer School for Girls in Brentwood

Cinco de Mayo

While it has been some time since Southern California was a part of Mexico, each 5th of May we re-live and celebrate a major Mexican military victory with a blast that has the same party-until-tomorrow ‘enthusiasm’ as Finnish Juhannus.  In March, Angelenos become Irish for a day.  In May, we all become Mexican for a long, joyous day—and many of us actually speak Spanish!

Cinco de Mayo celebration in downtown Los Angeles

Cinco de Mayo celebration in downtown Los Angeles

Mother’s Day

The second Sunday of May is Mother’s Day in the US.  Mother’s Day is big.  And on the 365th day, Mother rested—or something to that effect.  A day of rest and futile attempts by families to prepare breakfast-in-bed for Mom has morphed into a major shopping spree and a restaurateurs’ retirement plan.  But, as a Mother, I have no complaints!!

Mothers Day Brunch reservations are booked early even in ‘walk-in’ places.  Grand hotels and country clubs stage celebrations around LA that can be truly “over-the-top” extravaganzas.  This year, I got an “E Ticket”!  [For ‘newbees’, an E Ticket got you on the very best rides at old-time Disneyland while A, B, C, & D tickets got you onto/into lesser attractions.]

My younger Son made reservations and was host.  When I arrived at the designated location at the indicated time, I found myself in a ballroom sized room with numerous buffets, carving stations with prime rib and turkey, presentation tables with delicacies, a made-to-order omelet bar, a French macaroon display, a gravlax table with all the trimmings, a cold buffet, a hot dish table at least ‘a mile long’, a raw bar, multiple cheese platters, appetizer trays, side dishes, and salads!  Phew!

IMG_3024

The jumbo shrimp on the ice sculpture with “Happy Mother’s Day” inscribed on it was my favorite course

The jumbo shrimp on the ice sculpture with “Happy Mother’s Day” inscribed on it was my favorite course.  While such a lavish ‘spread’ could conjure diet-busting guilt, here there were ‘no worries’ –enjoying these myriad delicacies involved a lot of exercise walking to the stations and back!

The food was extravagant  and included a made-to-order omelet bar

The food was extravagant and included a made-to-order omelet bar

[I must admit to being a bit apprehensive as I headed toward Manhattan Beach that Sunday morning.  This was my first Mother’s Day, ever, without my dear Mother.  Still, it was special to be invited to be with my ‘local’ Son and his family.  The company was great, the setting was fine, the food was extravagant, and they gave me some cool Marimekko gifts. What a fun experience it turned out to be!]  

Finnish Community Happenings

Finnish American Chamber of Commerce and the Creative Finns

On May 15th, Laura Laaksonen gave a presentation to the FACC about her research on the Creative Finns currently burgeoning in the area.  The diverse group has an age range spread from 21 to 60, holds monthly meetings, and is up to 200 members now.

Ms. Laaksonen’s survey received 80 responses.  She found that the group is in film, television, and music –most of the members having a high level of education.  The Creative Finns are looking forward to working together with local service providers, to taking part in government and private fundraising, and to exchanging ideas with those in the education and scholarship fields as well as their own disciplines.

Laura noted that the next CF meeting would be the upcoming Friday night at the “Pink Taco” in West Hollywood.  Needless to say, your intrepid reporter ‘needed’ to be there!  While I pride myself in staying in touch with what is ‘happening’ in our tinsel town, I have never really been into the Friday night pub crawling scene.  So, first, there was need for some research so I would be at the right place at the right time.  As locals know, LA is crazy with multiple locations, several places (and even streets with the same names) in proximity to one another, and the same street changing names as you move from one ‘area code’ to the next.

[Schedule Note:  On June 12th, the Consulate General of Finland and the FACC will present an evening panel discussion event on the Finnish Education System.  Mark your calendar and be there to learn why and how Finnish education is ranked #1 in the world!! ]

Creative Finns Monthly Meeting On May 17th

I had not heard of the Pink Taco where the CFs meeting was scheduled.  But, enjoying both the color pink and tacos, I liked the cute name and wanted to be sure I got to the right location.  Searching the Internet for proper coordinates, I found that apparently the name is not so cute to some and that there are two locations in LA.  Leaving the controversy aside [check it out if you like—it did make the late night talk shows], the two locations presented a challenge to be solved before heading out.  [Actually, the’ pink taco’ is a menu item that has pickled onions in a lovely shade of pink as an accoutrement and garnish.  An opening promo did feature a poor donkey that was shaved and painted pink with the name “Pink Taco” on its side.]

Creative Finns Meeting at the Pink Taco

Creative Finns Meeting at the Pink Taco

Having found the meeting place even without the donkey to wave me in from the street, it was great to be with young, vibrant, Creative Finns.  Laura Laaksonen was there, as well as, Pekka Pekkala who writes his poignant observations in a column in Helsingin Sanomat.  What fun it was to sit with the ever-charming, effervescent Sauli whose blog about his life in Ilta Sanomat is such a kick to follow.

Truth be told, the hard driving, loud music made it difficult to have a conversation with anyone more than a few feet away.  [Ooooh—someone is not a ‘20 something’ anymore!]

Ava and Sauli Koskinen

Ava and Sauli Koskinen

The afternoon ‘happy hour’ was morphing into ‘Friday night on the Sunset Strip’ as the sun was setting into the Pacific.  Having retrieved my car from the valet, I did manage a quick handshake through the car window and an ‘air kiss’ with Kirpi Uimonen who has ‘arrived’ in Hollywood where many CFs dream to be one day!  Here was a mentor arriving to share experiences and give insights to the next generation of ‘stars’ –surely there are exciting things ahead for many members of the CF group.  We will be proud for their individual and collective accomplishments to come.  Finland and the local Finnish community needs to be supportive and helpful to the CFs –and will be, if I have anything to say on the matter.

“Kokko-itis” [Bonfire-Ban-Itis] Comes Home

Celebrating Midsummer [Juhannus, i.e., the Summer Solstice] in LA used to be easier.  If you have lived or visited here, you know the vastness of the beaches –our entire West border is the fun, scenic rim of the Pacific Ocean.  Southern California Summers are all about singing around a fire and roasting marshmallows at the beach. [Adult beverages are prohibited by local Ordinance, but occasionally consumed nonetheless.]  If you have lived in or visited Finland, you know that virtually every person able to be there is at the edge of a body of water at Midsummer to enjoy the “kokko” [bonfire]—and an occasional adult beverage.

The latest buzz on the California bonfires is that some local residents are said to be objecting to the smoke emitted.  One of the most popular local LA beaches with fire rings permitting bonfires is Dockweiler State Beach which lies almost directly under the LAX runways.  Having lived on the beach a mile or so from Dockweiler, I can testify that the air pollution problems near that beach do not come from 15 or 20 per evening kokko, when 15 to 20 jet planes take-off per hour and 4 lanes of cars stream by on Playa del Vista day and night.  Actually, the real offenders are the Scattergood Sewage Treatment Plant which is immediately South of Dockweiler and the Chevron Oil Refinery next door, both of which run 24/7.  [Have you noticed that reporters sometimes seek quotes that suit their story and ignore facts that do not?  Besides, what would you rather inhale—a burning birch log or the ‘stuff’ that comes from those other sources??  I rest my case!]

One of the most popular local LA beaches with fire rings permitting bonfires is Dockweiler State Beach which lies almost directly under the LAX runways

One of the most popular local LA beaches with fire rings permitting bonfires is Dockweiler State Beach which lies almost directly under the LAX runways

Next target: home fireplaces.  The Winter nights do get cold here—even Summer evenings at the beach.  There is something romantic about a bear rug in front of a cozy fireplace.  What is a Finn to do?  We need our flame!

But –why are we talking about fireplaces when May is about planting and planning “…the start of Summer in America”.

Midsummer in LA “102”

We begin our ‘course’ at102 because just having some Finnish blood justifies skipping the basic introduction materials.  Let’s get on with some advanced fundamentals.

One:  Heat your sauna –or call a friend who has one and ask them to “crank it”!!

Two:  Get some birch branches.  We really do see some beautiful birch plantings in LA.  If you are Finnish, you know you know where they are!  Now, I am not advocating you trespass to get your hands on some prime birch branches.  [Use your imagination: You could offer free tree trimming which is always badly needed in this lush growth spurt time and take away the discard.]  Do get enough for the vihtas you will need for your sauna and for decorating your doorways, interior and exterior.  The local birches lack the signature aroma of the Finnish variety, but topping off your sauna with birch scented shampoo and soap for your ‘wash up’ will give you that shot of olfactory nostalgia you need on this holiday.

sauna birch branches

sauna birch branches

Three:  Take that sauna!

Those lucky enough to have a pool to enjoy know what to do on your Juhannus sauna.  Otherwise, improvise: buckets, washtubs, a plastic kiddy pool, a garden hose, or any ready source of cool, clean water.  We have a cold water outdoor shower for a quick ‘shot’.  If all else fails, try turning on the lawn sprinklers and running naked through the mist.  [Don’t knock it until you have tried it!  Back yard please, not the front!]

Take a sauna!

Take that sauna!

Four:  Light the bonfire!!

Even if you are not on a fire permissive beach or do not have a fire pit on your back yard, safe substitutes are available.  Not long ago at a small Albertson’s, I found Estonian sliced pine trunk mini bonfire kits you can light for your adorable little “mini-kokko”.  When all else fails, just put a multitude of candles together and call it a bonfire –and raise a glass to the Finnish Juhannus tradition.

Light the bonfire!!

Light the bonfire!!

Five:  Drink a beer –maybe more than one if you are going to do the fun sprinkler run!

Just as it is for a Finnish Christmas Eve meal, beer is essential to Finnish Midsummer rituals. [If you are one of those aficionados into sahti, knock yourself out –you are on your own.]

Unless you brought home a case of Lapin Kulta from your last trip to Finland, you will need to settle for what is available locally.  Many years ago, there was a beer called Finlandia sold in California.  I had a special space in a closet just for my ‘stash’!

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Summer Solstice is a cream ale style beer brewed by Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, CA

 An adequate Scandinavian substitute we have used for years is Carlsberg, a good Danish beer.  I even like Kronenberg (French).  Both are hard to find.  I get Carlsberg for Finnish dinners at a place on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Berkeley Street in Santa Monica.

An adequate Scandinavian substitute we have used for years is Carlsberg, a good Danish beer

An adequate Scandinavian substitute we have used for years is Carlsberg, a good Danish beer

Things to Ponder Category

Why has no one imported some good Finnish beer?

If you are into stronger libations, you can make infused vodkas as schnapps.  I like to infuse Finlandia vodkas with various fresh essences such as lemon, dill, berries, and spices.  Shelf life is not a problem given the medium.  I enjoy serving them in ice encased Finlandia bottles for Midsummer, as well as, other Finn-themed parties. 

[If you have a lot of Finnish friends, you probably do not have to wonder when your next empty vodka bottle will appear—you just have to allow enough time for the infusion flavors to mellow and the ice to form encasing the bottle.  Hint: rinse out an empty paper juice or milk carton—boil some water and let cool before pouring around the vodka bottle you are going to put in the freezer over night (boiling makes clear ice)—insert some ‘seasonal’ decorations (e.g. birch bark and leaves for Juhannus or holly leaves and berries for Christmas) into the water before freezing.]

Ooops!  If you are going to sauna, drink beer and schnapps shots, run naked through the sprinklers, and mellow in front of a kokko, you had better serve some great Finnish food!

The Main Featured Recipe: Pih-Mummi’s Special Sauna Lenkki

Pih-Mummi’s Special Sauna Lenkki

Pih-Mummi’s Special Sauna Lenkki

This special recipe is a makkara preparation my Paternal Grandmother used to make.  I watched and learned.  (There is probably a similar recipe in every Finnish household!)  We called her “Helsingin Mummi” or “Pih-Mummi” because she lived on PIhlajatie.  Go figure –but, she “rocked”!  Pih-Mummi was a grand lady, a concert pianist, and a little Finnish girl’s idol.

Speaking of the Mothers/Grandmothers we celebrate in May, apparently the ‘baby-boomer’ generation here (now becoming Grandparents) are bristling at the titles “Grandma” and “Grandpa”.  They are trying to come up with alternatives: something less “old-sounding” and/or more “hip”.  NaNa, GaGa, G-Mom, Gummi, NutherMother, BonBon, and such are now becoming popular.  The pair that got me is the couple who have actually asked their Grandkids to call then Chablis and Cabernet!  Only in California!!

But, I digress.

Speaking of wine….

Buzz in Bel Air

I digress again…but it is worthwhile.

If you have been to the Finnish Consular Residence, you have been by a winery in Bel Air!  The most expensive real estate in the world and grape vines are planted on the rocky sloped back yard!  If you take the Getty tram to the top, look East SouthEast and you will have a spectacular view of the Vineyards of Moraga.  This stunning prize of a Bel Air property was ‘uncorked’ by none other than Rupert Murdoch of News Corp fame.  Kippis to you, you lucky fellow!!

Vineyards of Moraga in Brentwood

Vineyards of Moraga in Brentwood

The 16 acre property brought in the range of USD$30 million.  The seller was businessman Tom Jones (no, not the singer with the tight pants) who lovingly created magnificent –and very expensive wines.  The expense comes from the exceptional quality and the limited production.

tomjones

I used to see Mr. Jones in his Prius with wooden cases on the back seat

I used to see Mr. Jones in his Prius with wooden cases on the back seat.  Often, he was headed for Wally’s in Westwood making a delivery to one of the best wine shops in the country.  [OK, OK –I did follow him once out of curiosity to be sure my hunch was right and to be sure that nectar got to a place it could be found when the time was right.]

Changing of the Guard—and Consuls General

Kirsti Westphalen and Juha Markkanen welcome Andrea Hautala-McAleenan to the residence.

Kirsti Westphalen and Juha Markkanen welcome Andrea Hautala-McAleenan to the residence.

I was thinking of the Jones/Murdoch property transfer while on my way to the Finnish Consul Residence for the official “Goodbye” to Consul General Kirsti Westphalen [and husband Mouf] prior to her posting as Ambassador of Finland to Thailand.  The “Hail and Farewell” event at 1100 Moraga Drive was also a grand “Welcome” to Consul-General-In-Waiting Juha Markkanen [“…call me JP”] and his family who will soon hold court beneath the Moraga Vineyard.

[Please see Tomi Hinkkanen’s recent interview of Minister Markkanen for FinnTimes.]

The Finnish Consul Residence is such a proud property.  The Residence lends dignity to any event—and Finns are always pleased to be invited there to greet, learn, or celebrate.  The grace and dignity of the facility is enhanced by the culinary wizardry of Finnish Chef Sirpa Welch who sets a ‘mean’ table of tasty homeland specialties.  I so enjoy her enthusiasm and her skill.

Sirpa Welch oversees the lavish buffet

Sirpa Welch oversees the lavish buffet

 Now to the Nitty/Gritty Serious Makkara Recipe??

First, another detour.

A Most Important Décor Suggestion

You already have the birch branches absconded from your neighborhood, now go get some river rocks!  Since the Los Angeles River (and its kin) is lined with cement, you will have to look for the large, smooth gray pebbles at Home Depot or your local hardware store.  Gray is nice, but if you can find some recycled blue ‘sand glass’, that is all the better.

Next, in most any good grocery store produce section they sell cubes of wheatgrass or catnip.  You will also need some little tea lights which most Californians have in their household for emergencies and most Finns have just because we Finns must have our candles!

Now, form an undulating creek bed down the length of your table with the stones.  Place the wheatgrass alongside of the rocks as if it were the lawn or reed grass along a Finnish stream.  Place tea lights strategically in the wheatgrass down the length of your table.

If you can get your hands on those little ‘toothpick’ Finnish flags to place into the wheatgrass “tablescape” for your party, your guests will exhale Oohs and Aahs complimenting you with your creation in tribute to Finnish Summer and Finnish Greatness!  The Finnish Tourist Board website will get a ‘kazillion’ more hits from your friends saluting your efforts!!

Finally, The Food: Makkara/Grilli-Linkki with Boiled New Potatoes and Dill

Some Finns like to cook on their sauna rocks.  To me, that is like Americans who strap food to their car engines so it can cook while they drive.  While these ‘techniques’ may make a great TV Tip Clip on multi-tasking or eco-sustainability, some ideas just don’t work!  I prefer to keep the sauna rocks—and my car, as pure and pristine as possible without the stench of burned salmon when I get trapped in traffic on the 405 Freeway!  [If you do put the makkara ‘on the rocks’, it should be a ‘no brainer’ to wrap it well in heavy duty aluminum foil.  If you strap it to your engine block, watch out for melting cheese—it burns!]

In the oven, makkara is best baked uncovered on a cookie sheet or in a sturdy oven pan.

Pih-Mummin Makkara

(4 Servings)

1  Ring Bologna  – This is as close to a Sauna Makkara or Sauna Lenkki as you can get in LA.  You can also use a Kielbasa which is spicier, but may be easier to find.

Brown Mustard in a tube or squeeze bottle

1  Onion, thinly sliced

1  Tomato, sliced (Roma preferred because they handle heat better)

3  Pieces of a white cheese, sliced into strips (Finlandia brand, of course)

 

Ingredients: 1 ring bologna, brown mustard in a tube or squeeze bottle, 1 thinly sliced onion, and 3 pieces of white cheese, sliced into strips (Finlandia brand, of course)

Ingredients: 1 ring bologna, brown mustard in a tube or squeeze bottle, 1 thinly sliced onion, and 3 pieces of white cheese, sliced into strips (Finlandia brand, of course)

Directions:

Make an incision running the length of the top of the sausage about ¾ of the way down into the ‘flesh’ to create an opening.

IMG_3104

Put the top of the tube or the bottle of mustard into the incision and squirt mustard all along the incision bottom.

IMG_3106

Put slices of cheese, onion, and tomato all around, stuffing the makkara opening as neatly as you can.

IMG_3109

Place sausage on a cookie sheet or oven pan and into a 375º F oven, baking for about 20 to 30 minutes until the sausage begins to brown and the cheese melts.

IMG_3114

Serve with additional mustard.  New potatoes boiled with dill sprigs make a nice accompaniment.

IMG_3115

Ice cold beer is the perfect drink.

HAPPY SUMMER PLANNING!!!!

*Memorial Day in America honors those who sacrificed to make and keep America free.  It is not just a day of barbeque and shopping.

To experience the solemnity, pride, and joy that makes Memorial Day so special, visit the United States Veterans Cemetery in Los Angeles that runs from Sepulveda to Veteran between Wilshire and Montana.  Worthwhile visiting anytime, it is a sight to behold on Memorial Day weekend each year when the 88,000 graves of the fallen are decorated with flags reverently and precisely placed by local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.   
Ava-June1a

HELLO AND GOODBYE

Kirsti Westphalen and Juha Markkanen welcome Andrea Hautala-McAleenan to the residence.

Kirsti Westphalen and Juha Markkanen welcome Andrea Hautala-McAleenan to the residence.

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES

DATE: 5/23/2013

At the Consul General’s residence in Bel Air, a change of guards took place Wednesday night. Kirsti Westphalen, who has served as Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles for the past five years, bid a fond farewell to the local Finnish community and friends of Finland. Then she introduced the new incoming Consul General, Juha Markkanen. Finntimes was there to record the memorable evening and to interview both the incoming and outgoing Consul Generals.

Outgoing Consul General Kirsti Westphalen introduced her successor Juha markkanen to the audience.

Outgoing Consul General Kirsti Westphalen introduced her successor Juha markkanen to the audience.

The nature of the event was evident already at the front door. Both the old and new Consul Generals were there to meet and greet the guests. They then mingled in the crowd. People were eager to say farewell to Kirsti Westphalen and to meet her successor.

Susanna Golche and Ava Anttila

Susanna Golche and Ava Anttila

Henry and Eeva Syvänen, Kirpi Uimonen-Ballesteros and Tiina Purtonen

Henry and Eeva Syvänen, Kirpi Uimonen-Ballesteros and Tiina Purtonen

 

Scandinavian Film Festival director Jim Koenig and actress Irina Björklund

Scandinavian Film Festival director Jim Koenig and actress Irina Björklund

David and Mira Scott

David and Mira Scott

The new Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Juha Markkanen, will assume his post September 1st, 2013

The new Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Juha Markkanen, will assume his post September 1st, 2013

Juha Markkanen has had a long career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. He has worked in the  EU secretariat and the embassies of Tokyo and Bonn. His latest post was in the Embassy of Stockholm, where he served as Minister. He has also worked as Editor-in-Chief of the trade policy magazine Kauppapolitiikka and as Director of Information in the Department for Communication and Culture. He is married with Tuula Markkanen. She will be working on her Master’s thesis in education while in Los Angeles.

Juha and Tuula Markkanen get refreshments at the residence.

Juha and Tuula Markkanen get refreshments at the residence.

We sat down with Juha Markkanen for a chat.

Please introduce yourself to us.

-My name is Juha Markkanen. I think I’m going to use the name JP Markkanen – it’s easier here. I’m the new Consul General of Finland as of the first of September here in LA.

-I am 50 years old and I’m coming from Stockholm, Sweden. I have been in foreign service for the past 22 years. I hope to be of assistance here in promoting Finland in various ways and deepening the Finnish – U.S. relations. That is my task and I need co-operation with the locals. Let’s make this a win-win situation!

What did you do in Stockholm?

-I’m the number two at the Finnish embassy in Stockholm – the Deputy Chief of Mission. That work entailed a lot of administration and also reporting on various subjects.

-Here in California, I will also deal with Arctic issues, since Alaska is one of the states under the Consul General’s territory. In Stockholm I was evaluating the Arctic perspectives.

-Last week in Kiiruna, Northern Sweden, we had a ministerial meeting that the Secretary of State, John Kerry attended.

Juha Markkanen with Abdellatif Moufakkir, the spouse of Kirsti Westphalen.

Juha Markkanen with Abdellatif Moufakkir, the spouse of Kirsti Westphalen.

You couldn’t come to a more different place than that – Los Angeles – have you been here before?

-No, unfortunately I haven’t. We have only been here since this past Sunday – four days.

What are your first impressions?

-It is an enormously interesting and challenging city and state – huge traffic problems, but very friendly people.

Juha Markkanen will become the next Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles.

Juha Markkanen will become the next Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles.

Tell me about your family?

-I have two children – daughter Maria, 16, and son Juho, 18. We are now seeking high school options for my daughter and a college or university for our son. We have considered both public and private high schools. I have asked people’s opinions tonight and I also learned about a couple of schools nearby.

Your son could complete his undergraduate studies during your four-year term?

-Yes, that’s his wish. I think Santa Monica City College will be his starting point.

When you formally start this fall, what are the first items on the agenda?

-I need to have a chat at the office, because we have moved to a new, more affordable premises. Kirsti Westphalen fought for the survival of the Consulate General of Los Angeles (that was under the threat of being shut down). I need to meet with many people to gain knowledge on issues in order to start my work.

You don’t come in with a set agenda?

-No, no. I need to learn, I need help from my friends – Finnish and U.S. citizens, the media… This is a collaboration.

Is there anything that surprised you upon arriving here?

-Well, I knew that people would be friendly here, but that turned out to be an understatement. I have been received very warmly – also at the schools I’ve been evaluating for my children. After having spent four days in California, I am starting to understand how it is up to oneself to accomplish one’s work. You are on your own.

-I had a chat with the former Consul General Maria Serenius two months ago in Helsinki and got good advice from her. I highly respect both Maria Serenius’ and Kirsti Westphalen’s work here. We have had two excellent ladies here. Now it is a man’s turn here and I am trying to do my best.

-I am enormously excited!

Honorary Council of San Diego, Kathryn Mautino, gave Kirsti Westphalen a picture depicting San Diego.

Honorary Council of San Diego, Kathryn Mautino, gave Kirsti Westphalen a picture depicting San Diego.

An endless stream of well-wishers inundated the outgoing Kirsti Westphalen and her husband Abdellatif Moufakkir. I finally got a change to catch up with Kirsti at the end of the evening.

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Kirsti Westphalen with Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen.

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Kirsti Westphalen with Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen.

We are sad to see you go. Thank you very much for the wonderful five years that you’ve been with us here. Now you are heading toward new adventures as the Ambassador to Thailand – your feelings?

-Well, we are going to be really sorry to go. We are going to have wonderful memories of California. And I’ve got to tell you: California is going to follow us in our footsteps. I have a life-long interest in anything that is new, dynamic, progressive, sustainable – that is what California is to the United States and to the world.

-So, I am sure I will be following this sort of dynamics, wherever I will be in the world.

Kirsti Westphalen with real estate agent Janice Hiltunen.

Kirsti Westphalen with real estate agent Janice Hiltunen.

Over the years, what has been the biggest surprise to you here?

-I had lived in California as an exchange student, as a youngster. I was always fascinated by the diversity in California. Through this more professional approach, it has not been a surprise, but I have been so grateful of the fact that I have gotten to know so many talented people. I have learned so much of the direction that the world is going to take in the future – how people are going to consume, how they are going to behave online, what the world is going to look like and what direction it is going to take and what California is going to predict for Finland as well.

Ava Anttila and Christel Pauli from the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce Pacific Chapter handed a plaque of appreciation to Kirsti Westphalen.

Ava Anttila and Christel Pauli from the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce Pacific Chapter handed a plaque of appreciation to Kirsti Westphalen.

-It has been tremendously rewarding working as a liaison, communicating what is best in Finland to California and to the United States – for example, education. But also communicating vice versa, because the world is not a two way street. The world is a place of networks. Where the best brains, that counts. And that’s where the Finns should be.

And indeed you have been very active in communicating with other countries as well, in addition to Finland and the U.S.?

-This has been a particular honor that has been bestowed upon me last year, when I became the dean of the Los Angeles consular core, where we have the representation of 98 countries altogether. Virtually the entire world is present here in Los Angeles diplomatically.

Actress Lisa Niemi and Kirsti Westphalen

Actress Lisa Niemi and Kirsti Westphalen

-Part of the honor of representing the consular core is that you have the opportunity to take part in so many events and that you meet people from all of these countries. And you meet important Californians. You get to hang out with the mayor and the governor!

Tell me about the new premises of the consulate?

-We, as a part of the Finnish government, are counting our pennies. We want to make sure that where we use money, it is wisely used and invested. So, the premises have been changed to more modest and smaller ones.

-This has brought on important savings of taxpayer money. So, while we can cut down on fixed costs, like rent, we are able to retain the basic core functions of the consulate – servicing our Finnish community nearly ten thousand strong in 13 western states.

-And the important political tasks that we have here, in communicating what is best in Finland, whether it’s education, science and innovation, clean technology, sustainable solutions, whether it is supporting our creative Finns in the “Silicon Beach” kind of thinking that is so important to the growth of Los Angeles, California and Finland in the future.

Is there a particular item that you were able to accomplish that stands out that you are proud of?

-Perhaps I can say that the new way of doing things in a wider Finnish foreign service and Finnish public service – the team Finland thinking, in which all of us have to pull together to achieve results. That is what we have done here in California – not only during my time, but the time of my predecessors.

-I’m very grateful to see that the rest of Finland is going California way!

Abdellatif Moufakkir and Kirsti Westphalen are getting ready to move to Thailand.

Abdellatif Moufakkir and Kirsti Westphalen are getting ready to move to Thailand.

And now onto the new challenge – what do you know about your upcoming post as the Ambassador to Thailand?

-Well, I wish I knew more. Our embassy in Thailand covers countries of Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. This is a new part of the world and our employer is so kind as to always offer us new challenges, which I really will have in front of me. I have lots to learn.

-You referred to the fact that the consulate here was in danger of closing and we have been able to save the consulate through savings. I want to thank you personally, Tomi and Finntimes and all your efforts in getting the Finnish community organized and in communicating the strong desire of the local Finnish community here in supporting the activities of the consulate. Not only its service functions, but the fact that we are doing important work for the success of Finland here. So, I’m very grateful of that.

And I’m sure I will speak for all Finntimes readers in saying that we are glad we were able to help.

The Finnish community toasts Kirsti Westphalen.

The Finnish community toasts Kirsti Westphalen.

 

BEING FESTIVE—A THIN LINE

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

BEING  FESTIVE—A THIN LINE
by Ava Anttila

Los Angeles’ Spring is a time of celebrations and festivals.

Here, we have to go to the mountains to watch the snow melt.  We have to turn on TV news to see the rivers and lakes flood the lowlands with the Spring run-offs.  Our local skies are clear, blue, and sparkling—with the occasional white cloud reminding us of the Finnish flag.  We know we face ‘May gray’ and ‘June gloom’ before Summer sets us free to enjoy our magnificent climate again!  Even though we do not really have Winter, Spring  is special!!

Spring in Los Angeles

Spring in Los Angeles

We dust off our Winter cobwebs, do our Spring cleaning, put on a new mindset, come outside to enjoy the sunshine and new growth, gather with like-minded people for meaningful (and fun) activities, cheer the flutter of the birds preparing for their young to hatch soon in freshly built nests, and watch our grass and flowers grow.

BUSY AS A BEE

In the Los Angeles area, particularly during the last two weekends in April, there is a frenzy of huge annual festivals and happenings.

We just had the Los Angeles Marathon—a woman crossed the Finish Line first, by-the-way!

Aleksandra Duliba of Belarus has won the women's race and $50,000 gender challenge in the 28th Asics Los Angeles Marathon

Aleksandra Duliba of Belarus has won the women’s race and $50,000 gender challenge in the 28th Asics Los Angeles Marathon

For the last two years, the LA Marathon has used a new, different route which puts the race into the ‘showcase’ category.  Last year, the rain failed to prove anything about the new route other than that the water—and the runners, go downhill to finish at the ocean.  [And, that California can be cold if you are skinny and wear short shorts!]

A NOVEL EVENT

This year must have been such a joy for the runners from around the world who got a real ‘tour d’LA’ on a glorious day.  Instead of circling around the ‘less lovely’ parts of Los Angeles for a few hours in the ‘smog belt’ as they did in the past, the route now is like reading a great-city novel.   The story starts at venerable Dodger Stadium and gets better as it moves through the historic city, down Santa Monica Boulevard, gaining momentum as it presses with urgency toward our ever-green “Champs-Elysée” –a super-wide grass center strip shaded by Coral Trees that is San Vicente Boulevard from Brentwood to Santa Monica.  The trail tale makes a beautiful climax and denouement as it ends on a beautiful California beach just as the beautiful sun sets peacefully into the golden Pacific.  Phew!!!

Coral Trees along San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood

Coral Trees along San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood

THE PROS GO—AND MISS THE GLOW

The elite international athletes show up for the race, run, pop their appearance fee checks into the nearest ATM, have a quick shower and a meal before heading to LAX for an airplane snooze on their way to the next event.  I would guess that nary-a-one noticed that Los Angeles is ringed with snow capped mountains this time of year!  But, the joy of the LA Marathon is that all who can scrape up the Registration Fee are welcome to spend the day in a novel way—running, walking, or spinning their wheelchair through fan-lined streets toward a grand sunset [pot of gold] at the end of a long downhill ‘coast’!  If you are slow enough, you can even smell the roses!!

We all share in the joy of those participants who have trained, strained, and made it to the Finish Line.  We welcome them and offer our LA to them.  We sincerely hope they will take our goodwill and love with them when they head home.  Although, it is a mystery as to how they will get home since all of the streets around the Westside are blocked off to motor traffic in the vicinity of the race route and there are detours-aplenty because of the 405 construction.

SORROW AND JOY

The line between joy and sorrow is thin –or so it seems.

The thought sticks in my head this month like one of those ‘brain worms’ that haunt your thoughts for no apparent reason.  Actually, the term “brain worm” comes from the effect that a silly slogan, ditty, show theme, or song has on your mind as it plays over and over and over again.

I think my ‘worm’ was from one of Simon and Garfunkel’s most beautiful songs from the ‘60s or ‘70s:  “…..the line is thinly drawn ’tween joy and sorrow.”  It really rings true for me this month.

Having ‘waxed poetic’ about the joyfully triumphant Los Angeles Marathon and its successful new route, that thinly drawn ‘line’ was crossed in another town in which I once lived—Boston.

The Boston Marathon is the premier, by-invitation-only US distance run.  Held each year on Patriots’ Day, this year’s 26.2 miles ended at 26.1 miles for all but the most elite superstars.  The bomb blasts at the Finish Line sent people scrambling –or worse.

We Finns know and love the performers and the sport of long distance running.  Lasse Viren and Paavo Nurmi are Finnish national heroes—and, I think, a Finnish woman actually won the Boston Marathon some years ago.  Many come from many lands for the NY, Boston, and LA events. These Marathons openly embrace the international community whose residents are often the winners.  We gladly celebrate the greatness and achievement that comes to our shores.

Lasse Viren

Lasse Viren

The attack in Boston brought the joy of such a beautiful Boston tradition [celebrating Spring and Patriots past] to a collective national gasp of disbelief and horror.  A week went by with prayers, sorrow, worry, hope –and outrage.

The attack in Boston brought the joy of such a beautiful Boston tradition [celebrating Spring and Patriots past] to a collective national gasp of disbelief and horror

When the week was done, good had won out over evil –the good guys got the bad guys.  Media [and cell phones] had captured images of the brave, kind, caring people: participants, spectators, and the first responders putting themselves on the line for the afflicted.  Vivid, moving images such as that of a 78 year old runner being knocked to the ground by the first blast just before the Finish Line picking himself up for the final 15 steps to complete his journey—not knowing if those would be his last steps, but determined to ‘finish’!  The carnage could have been much worse had it not been for the selflessness and good spirit of those who came to help.
BOSTON STRONG DEFEATS TERRORISM
My head and heart reached out to my former Boston neighbors upon hearing the events unfold.  I had many memories from living in nearby Cambridge while in graduate school.  I taught Scandinavian cooking lessons to a Harvard group –I taught high school drama, English, and rock poetry in the area –I directed plays, one with a coffin … !  Memories flood back at times like this.

I had many memories from living in nearby Cambridge while in graduate school

Watertown (where “# 2 went down” last week) was across “Mass Ave” from where I lived behind the Radcliffe Library.  My experience with the Watertown Police was quite positive.  Our car had been stolen, but was found/recovered (already repainted) in Watertown.

Despite the casualties, at the end of the Boston Marathon ordeal there was a collective sigh of relief in New England, in America, and in the world.  A festival of determination, resolve, and courage erupted as the “Boston Strong” community moved forward celebrating its traditions and the spirit of its people.  The horror and sorrow turned to joy as the collective spirit came together.

Terror works only when people are afraid.  Terrorist tactics are effective only when people are intimidated.  Americans are a curious breed—they can seem to be self-absorbed, selfish, and aloof in their quest for “…life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” which is their “… inalienable right”.  They seem not to care sometimes.  Then, whether it is Pearl Harbor or the Boston Bomb, there comes a time when “enough is enough”, a ‘switch’ is thrown, and THE YANKS ARE COMING!

Boston's Defiant Spirit on Display at Fenway Park

Boston’s Defiant Spirit on Display at Fenway Park

That Saturday –less than 24 hours after the lockdown was lifted and the 2nd suspect captured, “Boston Strong” was what it was about.  The Red Sox played baseball for the first time since the bombing and, at the Bruins hockey game, even the opposing goalie wore a Boston sticker on his helmet!  At the ball game, legend Neil Diamond showed up to lead the fans in their favorite 7th inning ‘sing-along’ of his Sweet Caroline, a years-long tradition—Fenway Park rocked!!  The Metro re-opened.  Boston Common was once more filled with families, nannies pushing strollers, joggers running in memory of the victims and in defiance of potential terrorists, citizens showering law enforcement and first responders with cheers of gratitude, and the entire city of Boston earned the respect from the world.  Boston lived its new moniker:”Boston Strong”.


legend Neil Diamond showed up to lead the fans in their favorite 7th inning ‘sing-along’
of his Sweet Caroline, a years-long tradition
FESTIVE IS JOYOUS AND HAPPY

The Boston sorrow had brought forth a Festival of Life.

Collectively the Boston event cast a cloak of fear all across the country.  All large cities (including LA) went into heightened mode with security.  While the expected ‘copycat’ consequences of a surge in bomb squad calls and an uptick in fake threats and other hoaxes followed, local law enforcement erred on the side of caution and dealt professionally with the increased number of emergency calls that is the pattern after high-profile violence.

Like other major cities in America, LA stood strong, kept calm, and carried on as planned in solidarity with Boston.  Great Britain stood tall and successfully welcomed the world to their annual London Marathon which features the best and quickest for 26.2 miles!

Nothing fazed people here—or there.  They prayed (and then cheered) for their Boston friends.  The message was simple: “You go guys!  We’ve got your back!”

Huge events planned for this past weekend went on as scheduled.  Just like with Spring cleaning –once done, we dust ourselves off, get up, and start all over again.

WHAT A WEEKEND IT WAS

For the young (and the young at heart) Coachella music crowd in the desert, the annual Spring festival has grown from one weekend to two.  This year, a ‘special addition’ was a tent with air conditioning and comfortable seating for the older “baby boomer” group.

Each April, Long Beach closes their local streets to high powered racing cars that roar around temporary barriers at scary and very noisy speeds. The Long Beach Grand Prix is a major motor tour event televised around the world.  This past weekend was not a time for a casual stroll and window shopping in our near neighbor, but they do draw a huge crowd.

The Long Beach Grand Prix is a major motor tour event televised around the world.

The Long Beach Grand Prix is a major motor tour event televised around the world.

Spring means the Baseball Season ‘Openers’ in LA with the Dodgers playing under new ownership in the National League and the Angels playing in the American League.  Not to be out done, both the Lakers and the Clippers were good enough during the Winter to make it to the Spring NBA Playoffs!  Oh yes, the Kings and Ducks are still playing NHL hockey as I write.

Just to be sure everyone not cheering a local pro or college team had a good excuse to be outside exercising while avoiding Spring cleaning or the mandatory Brush Clearance prior to Fire Department inspections which begin May 1st, many Los Angeles streets from downtown to the beach along Venice Boulevard were closed to motorized traffic for a bicycling event called CicLAvia. Foot powered transit only—I believe!

FESTIVALS ARE FUN

April featured several major festivals: The Festival of Books on the University of Southern California (USC) campus and the Annual Scandinavian Festival on the campus of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

What fun it was to participate in the two day Scandinavian Festival held at Cal Lutheran.  There was an awesome Finnish presence.  I was honored to stand in for Finnish Consul General and Dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps Kirsti Westphalen who had to be away on Finland business.  The recent Finnish national preeminence in international accomplishment rankings made it easy to say some good words about the 700,000 or so American Finns—and to remind folks that ‘we’ have been here for 375 years!

Christina Lin with Finnish flag

Christina Lin with Finnish flag

Joining in the grand procession to the stage for the Opening Ceremonies was Finland Flag Bearer Christina Lin of Finlandia Foundation National.  Christina had recently been instrumental in the amazing success of the 60th Year of FFN celebration festivities.  Christina was dressed in a beautiful Finnish National Costume as she proudly carried the flag in the procession and properly displayed it during the singing of the Finnish National Anthem.

Maria and Christina Lin at reception

Maria and Christina Lin at reception

Maria Kizirian was our Finnish songbird who so beautifully presented “Maamme” laulu.  It was fun to get better acquainted as we made our way to the dais.

The Katrilli Dancers were ‘first up’ on the featured Scandinavian Festival performances.  This incredibly dedicated and talented group of dancing people headed by the effervescent Pirkko Satola-Weeres is always a treat to behold.  Finnish pride, culture, and talent were on display for all to see, hear, and cheer!

The Katrilli Dancers were ‘first up’ on the featured Scandinavian Festival performances

The Katrilli Dancers were ‘first up’ on the featured Scandinavian Festival performances

A CELEBRATION OF LIFE

The sorrow and grief of a departed Mother contrasted with the comfort and joy of family, friends, and community coming together on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  Remembering Raija turned out to be a festive occasion as we celebrated a good, long life well lived.

Ari Anttila

Ari Anttila

The day was sorrowful/the day was joyful –at the same time.  Tears of sadness/tears of joy flowed as poignant memories and funny stories brought our Dear One to mind and midst.

The line between joy and sorrow was thin and blurred!!

ONWARD…

Tiny Arrival: Incubator in Action

Hummingbird Nest:

It is always such a joy to see the miracle of nature.  Sometimes, when you give nature a chance, it makes you pause and takes your breath away.

It had been awhile since our sauna had been heated.  Preparations for Ӓiti’s Memorial Service required much attention and sprucing up for other areas in the yard.  The clutter that accumulates had been cleared and, suddenly, there it was.  Following the “If you have it, use it” adage, it seemed to make sense to follow the ancient ritual of our forefathers and mothers to relieve the stress of events and the busy activities of the last couple of weeks.  I told my Dad to get ready, I am going to ‘crank’ the sauna.

On the lowest branch of a small tree in front of the sauna I saw the tiniest, cutest, most precious, little bird’s nest I had ever seen

On the lowest branch of a small tree in front of the sauna I saw the tiniest, cutest, most precious, little bird’s nest I had ever seen

Rushing toward the sauna building to start the heating routine, I was taken aback –literally stopped in my tracks, with what I saw.  On the lowest branch of a small tree in front of the sauna I saw the tiniest, cutest, most precious, little bird’s nest I had ever seen.  Apparently a little hummingbird (colibri) had decided that this was a safe and wonderful place for its little one to be born and raised. [I got up on a step ladder to look inside the golf-ball-sized nest and spotted a tiny little egg!]

IMG_2939

If I do not answer my phone when you call, it may be because I am in the sauna ‘spying’ through the window to be sure that mamma and baby are OK.  Let’s hope that the predators leave our new neighbors alone!


Kiisseli
in a Meringue Nest:

Rhubarb has long been a harbinger of Spring.  And, there is nothing more quintessentially Finnish than raparperi kiisseli or, as my children called it, “rubberberry slime” [sorry about that!].

Rhubarb grows like a weed in the rainy Finnish climate, is used like a fruit, but is actually a vegetable.  [If you grow or pick your own, be sure to remember that the green tops are poisonous!]

I like to make my kiisseli like a compote –more fruit, less ‘jiggly’ stuff.  Since rhubarb is borderline ‘super-tart and sour’, it needs lots of sweetening if served in dessert form.

My recipe this month presents the rhubarb in a meringue nest.  It is festive in homage and celebration of the arrival of the new hummingbird nest by my sauna.

Kiisseli

6  stalks of rhubarb

1  cup sugar

3  cups water

5  tablespoon potato starch* dissolved in ½ cup water

Cut rhubarb stalks into slices.

Boil rhubarb with sugar and water until just tender; about 10 minutes.

Mix potato starch and water together and pour into boiling mixture while stirring.

Take off heat before it boils again.

Let cool.

*Potato starch may be hard to find.  I get it at an Oriental Market, of all places.

Meringue Nests

Preheat oven to 250º Fahrenheit

4  egg whites at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

Beat egg whites with electric mixer adding sugar gradually.

Beat until stiff and glossy so the mixture holds a peak when the beater is lifted.

Scrape mixture into plastic food storage bag.

Cut small opening at the tip of the bag.

Squeeze mixture into small rounds in a circular motion on parchment paper lined baking sheet beginning in the middle and working outward.

When the right diameter size, continue to squeeze as you slightly lift and continue around the edge to make two layers more to form a nest.

Bake 10 minutes and turn off heat.

Leave meringues for several hours (or overnight) in oven until dry.

Assembly

Right before serving, fill meringue nests with rhubarb mixture.

Serve with whipped cream and/or in a pool of strawberry sauce.

Alternative

Warm leftover kiisseli in the micro and pour over vanilla ice cream for a quick tasty sweet treat!

This is life in LA now.

The line is thin.

This month, this is how we roll.

REFLECTIONS ON FINNISH-AMERICANS

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN DATE: April 8th, 2013

-From snowbirds to oddbirds, there’s a Finn for every occasion.

Finns gathered on the grounds of Hauli Huvila near Reedley, California in the early 1970's.

Finns gathered on the grounds of Hauli Huvila near Reedley, California in the early 1970’s.

There are approximately 750,000 Finns and people of Finnish heritage living in the United States today, according to official statistics. It is an understatement to say that it is a very heterogeneous group of people scattered across a vast geographical area. There are Finns living in every state of the union, as well as a handful of pockets with greater numbers, such as in Minnesota, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Florida’s Lantana – Lake Worth and the Bay Area. Also big cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles – San Diego have sizable Finnish populations. 006 LA JUHANNUS 2012 In a totally unscientific way, I have identified the following six main groups of Finns in the U.S. and  given each group a nickname:

1) ORIGINAL FINNS: Those later generation Finns, whose ancestors immigrated to the U.S. between the late 1800’s and 1920’s.

2) POST-WAR FINNS:  Finns, who immigrated after WW2 in the 1940’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s.

3) SNOWBIRDS: Florida Finns, who arrived between the 1960’s and ‘80’s.

4) ODD BIRDS: People like myself, who came to this country between the 1980’s and ‘90’s during low immigration years from Finland.

5) OFFICIAL FINNS: The staffs of the embassy in Washington DC and consulate generals in New York and LA plus other governmental agencies, such as Tekes, Finpro, etc.

6) COMPUTER NERDS: The latest crop to land into the country are the IT-people. They immigrated in the late 1990’s to present day. As you can surmise, these six groups of Finns are very different from one another. Each have some connecting characteristics.

The Simpsons producer Bonita Pietila hails from Minnesota. She grew up in a totally Finnish family but was never taught the language.

The Simpsons producer Bonita Pietila originally hails from U.P. Michigan. She grew up in a totally Finnish family but was never taught the language.

ORIGINAL FINNS:  As a rule, they don’t speak Finnish, even though I have run into such Finnish speaking Finns in the oddest of places – like in rural Montana and a mountain village in Utah. Amazingly, also many older U.P. Finns still speak it, though many of them have never even visited Finland. These Finns are as American as Apple Pie and you would never be able to distinguish them from the rest of the population.

Taisto Liski with his alter ego. Taisto immigrated to the U.S. in 1967, built a successful car mechanic business and retired after 30 years. He lives with his wife Helka in Signal Hill, California.

Taisto Liski with his alter ego. Taisto immigrated to the U.S. in 1967, built a successful car mechanic business and retired after 30 years. He lives with his wife Helka in Signal Hill, California.

POST-WAR FINNS: They not only speak Finnish but also retain many of their Finnish habits and traditions to date. I have friends who belong to this group. Visiting their house is like going back to Finland. This generation often worked in blue collar occupations, such as maids, mechanics and construction workers and earned their living the hard way. This aging group is disappearing fast. Their children and grandchildren are now adults and usually do not speak the language.

Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen with singer Eino Grön in Pasadena, California. Eikka has lived in Florida for over 30 years with his wife marjatta. He still entertains people on both sides of the Atlantic.

Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen with singer Eino Grön in Pasadena, California. Eikka has lived in Florida for over 30 years with his wife Marjatta. He still entertains people on both sides of the Atlantic.

SNOWBIRDS: They live in Florida and are mainly retirees, although there are also some entrepreneurs and a few very wealthy business people in this group. They of course speak Finnish but oftentimes the retirees’  English skills are poor. Therefore they tend to stick together and organize activities among themselves.

Jouni Passi's Burbank Spa & Garden is a luxurious massage parlor in Burbank, California, frequented by Hollywood stars.

Jouni Passi’s Burbank Spa & Garden is a luxurious massage parlor in Burbank, California, frequented by Hollywood stars.

ODD BIRDS:  This group speaks Finnish, although those of them who don’t practice it, lose it. Oftentimes they tend to be female and married to an American spouse or divorced from one. They can be found across the country in a variety of occupations from governmental positions to private entrepreneurs. They blend in the rest of the population. Many of them never attend any Finnish events.

Kirsti Westphalen is the current Consul General in Los Angeles.

Kirsti Westphalen is the current Consul General in Los Angeles.

OFFICIAL FINNS: These government officials rotate in and out of the country every four years. Their language skills are excellent in Finnish, English as well as Swedish, they retain all their Finnish habits, build connections with Americans, oftentimes socialize with one another and after their time is up, move to the next country.

Niko Ruokosuo, CEO of P2S Media Group Inc., a photo sharing business.

Niko Ruokosuo, CEO of P2S Media Group Inc., a photo sharing business.

COMPUTER NERDS: They are mainly men, who bring along their families, highly educated, speak fluent Finnish and English and are employed in the high tech sector in high paying positions. Sometimes they are on an assignment but oftentimes end up staying in the country. They frequently travel between the U.S. and Finland and maintain close ties with their friends and family in the old country. These Finns can be found in California’s Silicon Valley, Dallas – Fort Worth and San Diego areas. These people tend to have families in which the wife stays at home with small children.

The shoe manufacturing mogul Sari Ratsula with husband jussi and son Aku in Orange County, California.

The shoe manufacturing mogul Sari Ratsula with husband Jussi and son Aku in Orange County, California.

Epilogue: Finnish-Americans hail from different eras, experiences and socio-economic backgrounds. Like all people, they are a sum of their genes, environment and experiences. Against all odds, many second, third and later generation Finnish-Americans retain surprisingly strong ties to their heritage. For them being Finnish is an inner journey to one self. Understanding their background helps understand themselves – their stubbornness, their quiet ways, their fondness for coffee. The present day Republic of Finland is a totally foreign country to them and in their festivals and gatherings they rather wish to remember Finland as it was in the days of their forefathers.

Actress Lisa Niemi, neé Haapaniemi, was born to a Finnish immigrant family in Texas.

Actress Lisa Niemi, neé Haapaniemi, was born to a Finnish immigrant family in Texas.

But it would be a grave mistake to dismiss them as merely American. They are as Finnish as members of any other Finnish group. Environment affects political views. You will find that a Finn living in a small Texas town is likely to be more conservative than a Finn living in Hollywood. The whole immigrant experience varies greatly between generations and individuals. Those hard-working original and post-war Finns got the full experience of what it is like to start from scratch. The IT-engineer hired by a Silicon Valley company directly from Espoo, Finland, not so much. But whatever the background, place, experience or generation, all of the above are Finns in the true meaning of the word. It is the task of Finntimes to try to bring all these various Finns together to celebrate our rich history and heritage.

A Finnish gathering in North Hollywood, California.

A Finnish gathering in North Hollywood, California.

VICTORY – CONSULATE STAYS IN LA!

Reporter, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen &  Jonny Kahleyn

Last October the Foreign Ministry of Finland announced plans to shut down the Consulate General of  Finland in Los Angeles and move its operations to Silicon Valley.

Consul General Kirsti Westphalen at her Bel Air residence during an independence ball.

Finntimes mounted a vigorous campaign to keep the consulate in L.A. where we feel it rightfully belongs. Our readers really stepped up to support this cause. In a couple of months, 641 of you signed our on-line petition. An additional 142 signed the petition at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills. That’s 783 signatures in total. They were delivered to the deciders in Finland, including the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

Film director Renny Harlin signing the Finntimes petition to save the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills.

Now our efforts have yielded results. The Foreign Ministry has revised their plans and made the absolutely right decision to keep the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles after all. We have won!

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles Kirsti Westphalen

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Kirsti Westphalen, has worked tirelessly to secure this monumental decision. She spoke exclusively to Finntimes right before the decision was made public.

What was decided about the future of the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles?

“Well, I’m happy to tell you that the Consulate General of Finland will continue its operations in Los Angeles, but with a reduced budget. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as other actors in Finland continue to be under tremendous economic pressures. The Ministry reviewed the issue in light of the cost benefit that might have been accrued from moving our Consulate General to the joint premises that we have in Silicon Valley. But as it turned out, the savings were not as substantial as were previously thought. The prices in Silicon Valley have turned out to be exorbitant. This was one of the factors. We will be able to achieve savings and at the same time retain and keep the core functions of the Consulate General – servicing the Finns, who are entitled to consular services.”

Between 7,000 and 9,500 Finns  live in the 13 western states that the consulate serves. Many of them reside in SoCal.

L.A. Finns celebrating Juhannus – midsummer – at the Finnish club in North Hollywood.

What will be cut from the budget?

“The major savings will come from our rent costs. Currently the Consulate General occupies an office in Century City. We will be looking at cheaper alternatives, which will not be too far from the current location. We are aiming to relocate in the 405-corridor in West L.A.. Substantial savings can be achieved this way. We also have to cut from our operating expenditure, but in such a way that we still hope to be able to retain our core functions to be of service to Finnish citizens and public diplomacy work on education and clean, sustainable solutions, including the support to creative Finns in Los Angeles.”

Kristian Jokinen is the clean tech expert at the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles.

So, you will not cut any personnel?

“We will be able to maintain the personnel that we have at the moment. We are under staffed as it is and people are working very hard. We are eight persons altogether.”

One major event had to be cut from the Consulate General’s social calendar, though:

“Already this year we will be very careful with our budget. Thus, this year we will not be holding the traditional Independence Day Party at the residence. We want to put our budget into activities that directly contribute to the success of Finland here in the U.S.. I hope that in the years to come, when the budgetary situation will be better, we will be able to get together to celebrate the independence of Finland with a party at the residence. This year, however, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate independence in the Bay Area, here in Los Angeles and in San Diego, where local Finns are planning independence day celebrations.”

Who made this decision?

“All these very painful decisions were reviewed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with very highest of our decision makers, including the President of the Republic.”

Even though Los Angeles was saved, some other representations have to be shut down.

“Consulate General of Hamburg, Germany and Consulate in Sydney, Australia will be closed during 2013 and our mission at the Organization of  Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, will be merged with the Finnish Embassy in Vienna. So, this is an ongoing process. These are in addition to closures that have been announced already earlier.”

Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen promoting the petition to save the Consulate General of Finland in L.A. at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills.

Do you think that the petition on Finntimes played any role in saving the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles?

“I am sure it played a very important role. It was duly noted that the support of the Finnish community on the U.S. West Coast was strongly in favor of maintaining activities of the Consulate General of Los Angeles. It had an important role, as the decision was being reviewed. That in the addition to the fact that the government decided earlier on this year in the so-called “Team Finland Report”, where we are trying to reinforce the activities of Finnish missions abroad, that one must have a strong Finnish presence here in the  U.S.  West Coast.”

Kirsti Westphalen wants to personally thank our readers.

“My personal thanks goes to you, your readers, Finntimes and your article and petition on retaining  the consulate here in Los Angeles.”

Virpi Sidler of FACC and Kirsti Westphalen at the Finnish Community Roundtable event at the Consul General’s residence in Bel Air.

And Finntimes and myself want to thank Consul General Kirsti Westphalen for playing a key role in successfully defending the Consulate General of  Finland in Los Angeles. As the icing on today’s victory cake, Ms. Westphalen will stay on an extra year in L.A., until the Summer of 2013. And a million thanks to all you readers, who signed our petition and made this happy outcome possible.

Consul General Kirsti Westphalen by Jonny Kahleyn

Thank you, Consul General Kirsti Westphalen for saving our consulate!

Links: 

SAVE THE CONSULATE GENERAL OF LOS ANGELES

CONSULATE GENERAL OF FINLAND IN LOS ANGELES

SHERIFF LEE BACA: LOS ANGELES COUNTY’S TOP COP REACHES OUT TO LOCAL FINNS

Sheriff Lee Baca, Consul General of Finland Kirsti Westphalen and Ava Anttila, Esq.

AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SHERIFF LEE BACA
REPORTER/PHOTOS: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is the largest sheriff’s department in the world. It provides general-service law enforcement to unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. People from every country in the world live in the county. Therefore the sheriff keeps tabs with all nationalities – Finns as well. I recently met Sheriff Baca at a European-American Advisory Council luncheon in the sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park.

The 69-year-old Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca, was born in East LA. His own ethnic background is Mexican and Spanish. Lee Baca has had a long career in law enforcement. He began at the LA County Sheriff’s office in 1965. He has been Los Angeles County Sheriff for the past 13 years. Sheriffs are elected and Baca is currently serving his fourth term. The first thing that catches one’s eye about Mr. Baca appearance is his terrific physical shape. Baca wakes up every morning at 5.30 and goes for a run. He calculates having run an equal distance as that of three times around the Earth over the last three decades.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca by Tomi Hinkkanen

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca

The European-American Council is the forum to by which the sheriff keeps in touch with the local Finns. There were Consuls General of several European countries present at the luncheon – Finland was represented by consul general Kirsti Westphalen and a prominent member of the council, attorney Ava Anttila. The council is not just about PR. For example, if a particular country’s citizen is suspected of a crime here, the sheriff can turn to that country’s representative for information. The sheriff has similar information sharing networks with other world countries as well. In this spirit of sharing information, we sat down for a frank one-on-one interview.

Q. Thank you, Mr. Baca for taking time to talk to Finntimes. Have you ever been to Scandinavia?

Yes, I have been to the Netherlands as well. The whole point of those visits is the connections between Los Angeles and the Scandinavian world.”

Q. Have you been to Finland?

Yes, I have. I find Finland to be fascinating, because we all know that Helsinki is a very important city. Internationally speaking it is very diverse. I believe that the Finnish society has made significant contributions to the western world.

Q. About the LA County jail system – can you give us a picture of how many places for inmates do you have and how many actual inmates?

Well, we have capacity for 20,000, we have 16,000 inmates. The important thing about it is, 80% are pre-trial – they have not been tried or convicted yet. It makes it interesting and challenging to me that many of them are in jail for serious drug dealing crimes, crimes of violence obviously. We have about 700 murderers waiting for trial. Sometimes they are in jail locally for 2-4 years. A couple of them have been in there for five years and they still haven’t been convicted. So, it is a challenging responsibility. But I believe that education is an important part of incarceration, so I’m offering education courses for these individuals, so they can improve their lives while they are in jail.

Sheriff Lee Baca with the European-American Council

Q. One of your celebrity inmates is Dr. Conrad Murray, who is probably going to sit his entire sentence in your jail system. Being a high profile inmate, he needs special protection from the other inmates and that means more tax payer dollars, correct?

It’s interesting. We have 24 sheriff’s stations. We have smaller jails. I believe his sentence should be served in one of those stations. It would be with less security obviously, because he is not a security risk. I think you are correct in saying that he is someone who is a target of some perhaps more aggressive inmates. But in a smaller sheriff station jail he would be best suited.”

Q. There has been some trouble especially in Men’s Central Jail. Former commander Robert Olmsted has emerged as one of your toughest critics. He said in a recent LA Times interview, that he tried to warn you that deputies were getting away with using unnecessary force, beating up inmates. He says you ignored his warnings. What do you say to his allegations?

We, his allegation is completely out of context. I knew of the force issues, because of six deputies that got into a fight at a Christmas party. He tells me after I learned already. That’s not a very good warning. He should have told me before he retired. And that’s my response to his concern. He and I spoke. He told me he tried to warn his supervisors, but when I spoke to his supervisors, they said he didn’t try to warn them. So, the guy strikes me as being a little odd. If he knew about these things, why didn’t he tell me while he was working there instead months later when he is retired and left the department.”

Q. Maybe he was afraid that there would be retribution if he came forward before his retirement?

Well, he should be strong enough to understand that anything that is under his command, he has the responsibility to correct himself and not blame others above him.

Q. But in one way or another, there was a communications error and the information did not reach you in a timely manner?

That’s correct.

Q. You mentioned the Christmas party brawl between the deputies. Those were the deputies who worked at Men’s Central jail?

Correct, which Robert Olmsted was the captain there and he was also a commander over that captain. So, it was totally in his control. If he knew about this, he should have done something.

LA County's Sheriff Lee Baca and journalist Tomi Hinkkanen

Q. KTLA did a report about the so-called 3000 block gang of deputies, who have their own hand signals just like members of street gangs. Those were the deputies who got into this Christmas brawl. How have you dealt with?

Well, those deputies, first of all, they were not a gang. And secondly, they didn’t have hand signals for themselves. They took a photograph off duty and used what were commonly thought of as gang type signals. But it is not a fact that they were operating like a gang in jails. We don’t have gangs in county jails. Every deputy has specific assignments. They don’t work together as a group. They are spread out to all the different cells. So, they were friends. The KTLA report with even the allegations that they were a gang are completely false. They were just new deputies assigned to the sheriff’s department – been on for 2,3 years. You don’t have a chance to form a gang under those circumstances. So, my answer to this is that the news took it upon themselves to make this sound like this is worse than what it really is. Nonetheless, I fired six of the deputies for getting into the fight. You initiate a fight, that’s unacceptable. That’s where they made their mistake and now they are gone.

Q. The former commander Olmsted also claimed that in Men’s Central Jail there was a culture of disobedience – writings on the office walls saying “don’t feed the animals”, things like that. Have you heard of this kind of a culture prevailing in Men’s central Jail?

It’s not a culture as much as it is an act of wrong doing by – who knows who. When this happened, commander Olmsted was the captain of the Central Jail. He should have done a criminal investigation. He did not. He basically said, let’s just fix the problem in terms of painting over graffiti. A report was made, but in my opinion a crime report should have been initiated. And in that place we would try to find out who did this and then severely discipline this person who did it. So, you see, a few mistakes have been made along the way. But this is not me trying to be critical of commander Olmsted, but at the same time I rely on captains and commanders to fix problems. And it appears to me that commander Olmsted, then captain Olmsted didn’t fix the problem to the extend that he should have. That’s all I’m saying.

Q. So, have you looked into this “don’t feed the animals” signs and other forms of disobedience, or wrong doing?

I have, but you cannot go back three years and say, we sufficient timeliness. It should have been done at the time it was discovered, when Olmsted was captain. He should have commenced a criminal investigation.

Q. I have seen some reports, where inmates have come forward, who have said that they have been beaten up by the deputies in the jail system. Is that still happening?

Inmates say they’ve been beaten up, but they don’t say, what were the circumstances in which they were involved in fights with deputies. It’s easy to say that they were beaten up, but those who have not reported the force – the deputies are supposed to report all the force they use – we discharge those deputies who don’t report all the force. No one has been harmed to the extent that they are permanently incapacitated, or even killed in the hands of deputies. The biggest concern that the inmates have is other inmates attacking them. Most of the fights that the deputies get into are provoked by the inmates. But I do believe that we can do a better job. That’s why I have a force prevention policy, because some of the inmates, who the deputies themselves have used the force, tell me, are people, who have mental issues. And they don’t have any context as to how to control themselves. So, when the deputies try to move them from one place to the other, whey resist and then force is used and then there is a fight. Of course, let me make clear that in a jail operation, where inmates are violent, the deputies must always win. If we don’t have control a hundred percent during fights, we wouldn’t have anyone that we would be able to protect within the jail system, particularly inmates on inmates. So, every inmate that attacks a deputy or gets into a fight with a deputy, is ultimately going to lose. That’s the reality. And for some that have lost, they say, I was beaten up. But they never say what they did to strike the deputy.

LA County's Sheriff Lee Baca

Q. There is also an ongoing FBI investigation into the jails and officer misconduct. What is the status of that FBI investigation and when can we expect results?

I don’t know what the status is and when the results will be, but we welcome the investigation.

Q. You mentioned in the beginning of the interview that you have implemented policies, where inmates are being taught. Can you tell me about that?

Yes, we have several programs. The first is the merit program where we teach them life skills and they enjoy learning about these. How to build a stronger character in relationships with their loved ones – children in particular. That’s one of the most successful programs we have. The other is the Imagine 21 program, which also builds stronger self control tools – people, who are addicted, people, who have violence in their background – they learn to live life in a more positive way. But it takes a lot of steps and a lot of communication with our instructors to build that confidence. Most people in jail are depressed and stressed and have anxiety. And what we do is we teach them how to live a positive life and not a negative life. Those are very successful programs. And that’s going on now, as all these other issues you mentioned have happened, we still have other alternatives for the inmates. But the biggest factor is, in my judgment, a person in jail or prison should be educated when they come out and be better prepared to go back into the community and live a productive life.”

Q. What is the average time an inmate spends in one of your facilities?

The average ones that are sentenced – now remember, only 20% are sentenced, the other 80% are awaiting trial, like I mentioned earlier – they spend about 45 days. And that’s generally long enough to make a change.”

Q. Are they normally young people?

No, they are of all ages. They run from young to old.

Q.Finally, what would you like to see happen with the jail system, if you got your wish?

Two things, I would like to have more staff, because this is part of the problem. If you have less supervision, then there is a likelihood that you will have more force. I need 91 more sergeants, more deputy personnel and then I would like to have every inmate have an educational plan, so that their time spent in jail is more productive than just serving punishment.

FINNISH FILM DIRECTOR VIVI FRIEDMAN DIES AT 44

Vivi Friedman

Now cracks a noble heart.
Good night, sweet princess.
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
(Hamlet, V.ii.359-360)

It is with deep regret and profound sadness that we inform you of the passing of Vivi Friedman yesterday, January 2nd, 2012, after a long battle with cancer.

Our condolences to Vivi’s partner Steven and relatives. Ha-Makom yenahem etkhem be-tokh avelei Ẓiyyon vi-Yrushalayim.

Here is a story we ran just a few months ago on the premiere of Vivi’s first feature film in the United States:

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – WEST HOLLYWOOD
PREMIERE PHOTOGRAPHS BY JONNY KAHLEYN/TOMI HINKKANEN

Finnish Vivi Friedman’s first feature film ‘The Family Tree’ premiered on the big screen last weekend in Los Angeles and New York. The film boasts a star-studded cast: Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Chy McBride, Selma Blair, Jane Seymour, and others. Vivi Friedman is not yet a household name, but she is well-known in the advertising world. The 43-year-old director has had a long career in TV commercials. She has directed spots for both Finnish and international companies and is represented by an agency in Germany. In America, ad agencies don’t seem to bother much with subterfuge while European TV commercials often tell a clever little story with a twist (revealing the advertised product or service at the end). Vivi became known for these kinds of story-driven commercials. Vivi Friedman came to the United States 20 years ago. She studied at Rochester University in New York and at UCLA in Los Angeles. However, she admits that school was not really something for her and that she got most of her training in the field. In Hollywood, Vivi familiarized herself with the production process of American movie-making by taking on production assistant jobs here and there. Then she made a short film called ‘Certainly Not a Fairytale’.

Vivi Friedman directs Dermot Mulroney and Hope Davis

“My agent sent copies of the my film to various producers and agencies, and one of the recipients was screenwriter Mark Lisson’s manager who was looking for a director for Mark’s script. I then met with Mark and we got along great. That’s how it all started,” Vivi recalls. Along with the writer, Allan Jones produced. Alan didn’t divulge the exact budget amount, but said it cost less than five million dollars to make. The Ohio-based movie was actually filmed in Los Angeles in 2008. The tight budget allowed for only 25 days of shooting.

‘The Family Tree’ is a dark comedy about a family in crisis. The parents are on the brink of a divorce, the teenage son is mixed up with a fundamentalist church and its gun-worshipping pastor, and the daughter struggles with her sexuality. The Burnetts get a second chance when the mother (played by Hope Davis) loses her memory due to a head concussion and starts believing that everything is fine with the family. This reboot starts the chaotic sorting out of the whole family mess.

Vivi Friedman at the LA premiere of 'The Family Tree'

Before the cameras were able to start rolling, Vivi had to ‘sell’ her film to some top Hollywood names. With the help of a good casting director, she succeeded in attracting a stellar cast to her first directorial effort. The first one hired was Dermot Mulroney for the role of Jack Burnett, the husband and father of the family. Mulroney is perhaps best remembered from Julia Roberts’ 1997 film ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding.’

“Dermot has a dry sense of humor. He is fantastic as an actor. He totally put his heart and soul in a role that required him to be less than his usual handsome leading man,” Vivi describes. Dermot is reunited with his ‘About Schmidt’ costar Hope Davis who plays the mother and his wife Bunnie.

“Hope is aware of her talents and she has an enormous scale as an actor. She took the young actors under her wing. She says that once you have made a movie together, you are like family members with them for the rest of your life.”

Dermot Mulroney and Hope Davis in 'The Family Tree'

Brittany Robertson, Max Thieriot and Jane Seymor complete the Burnett family as the teenage daughter, son, and grandmother.

“Jane is fantastic. She appears at the end of the film in a scene that requires her to cry. When we were discussing that, Jane asked, if I wanted her to cry from the left eye, from the right eye or from both eyes.”

Chy McBride plays Bunnie’s neighbor and lover. He agreed to show an intimate body shot for the film.

“Chy said that he would rather not appear naked. I said that I just want to show your ass. He replies, oh that? Go ahead, it’s in good shape!”

The featured cast is also full of familiar names. Keith Carradine is the gum-chewing, gun-toting priest. Christina Hendricks of the TV series Mad Men is cast in a similar office manager’s role. Selma Blair portrays a lesbian teacher.

“Selma is just as wild in real life as in her roles. She is an incredibly wonderful person. She questions everything but agrees to everything as well.”

The premiere night at the Laemmle 5 Theater in West Hollywood attracted a great audience who applauded enthusiastically at the end.

Vivi Friedman

VIVI FRIEDMAN

Family background: Vivi was born in Helsinki in 1967. She spent her childhood years in Nummela, Southern Finland. Her brother Sami works for the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE).

Education: University of Rochester, NY, UCLA, CA. Career: Started making TV commercials in 1989. Has made spots for Aktia Bank, Asuntopörssi (a real-estate company), Lumene (cosmetics) and Valio (dairy products). Directed a short subject ‘Certainly Not a Fairytale’ in 2003.

Vivi Friedman

Personal life: Vivi is in a relationship with Steven Kaminsky, a post-production supervisor.

‘The Family Tree’ movie trailer:

Links:

http://www.thefamilytreemovie.com/ (Official website)

http://www.vivifriedman.com/

 

SAVE THE CONSULATE GENERAL OF LOS ANGELES

EDITORIAL: SAVE THE CONSULATE GENERAL OF LOS ANGELES
By Tomi Hinkkanen, Los Angeles, CA
Photograph by Jonny Kahleyn

Plans are in the works to move all or some functions of the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles to Silicon Valley, some 350 miles (550 kilometers) north of LA. The worst scenario would be the complete shutdown of the consulate in Los Angeles. This is a very bad idea that should be soundly rejected. You can help by signing the petition below this message.

Finland has had representation in the Los Angeles area in one form or another for over 60 years. The Office of the Vice Consul of Finland opened in Los Angeles in 1948. The first Honorary Vice Consul, later Consul, was the legendary Yrjö A. Paloheimo. The Consulate General offices have been located in the Century City section of Los Angeles since the early 1980’s. Over the years the consulate has promoted Finnish arts, education, technology, businesses, culture, tourism, and even Santa Claus. The Consulate General in LA represents 13 Western States that have 70 million inhabitants. Some 7,500 to 9,000 Finnish citizens live in its close proximity. Out of those, about 4,000 Finns call Southern California home (versus approximately 2,000 in the Bay Area).

Southern California has a highly motivated, dedicated, caring, and diverse Finnish community encompassing individuals of many professional and socio-economic backgrounds that range from regular hard working Finns to artists, painters, sculptors, actors, filmmakers, musicians, researchers, scientists, students, educators, business people, lawyers, medical professionals, retirees and, yes, even us journalists. The Consulate General of Finland has been the magnet that has brought all these people together. Gatherings sponsored by the Consulate General have been extremely beneficial as they offer Finnish and American experts of various fields a chance to meet and interchange knowledge and experience. Under Consul General Kirsti Westphalen, the consulate has been especially active in organizing events around various themes important to the success of Finland and it played an essential role in promoting FinnFest in San Diego, held in August 2011.

Trends come and go, and the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles has always adapted accordingly. The ex-Consul General Maria Serenius was instrumental in starting the Global Access Program (GAP) in collaboration with the Finnish Technology Agency Tekes and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Each year GAP brings Finnish high tech companies to UCLA where fully employed MBA students create strategic business plans for those companies. The program has been extremely successful. During the last 13 years, some 120 Finnish companies have participated in GAP with many been able to expand their operations to the United States thanks to the program. Tarja Halonen, the president of Finland, has just acknowledged the importance of GAP by granting its director, UCLA Anderson Business School professor Bob Foster, a Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland medal. Furthermore, the GAP program has been extended for the next three years. This would not have happened without the help of the Consulate General.

Recently, the Consulate General has recognized the emergence and importance of green economy and green technology that offer great possibilities for Finnish companies, and it has acted as a liaison between the Finnish clean tech cluster and the American know-how in the area. The Consulate General has also been a major promoter of the Finnish education model (which has emerged as a new Finnish export) by organizing seminars and gatherings on the theme.

The Consulate General of Los Angeles has, for many years, worked closely with all Finnish public and non-governmental entities such Finnode, Finpro, Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce, FinnFest as well as many others in the spirit of House of Finland. All parties have been extremely satisfied by this co-operation and with its quality and direction. The Finnish community has been served outstandingly by the competent staff of the Consulate General.

California is the eight largest economy of the world. Los Angeles particularly as the second largest city of the United States and the second largest media market offers the best possible location for the Consulate General of Finland in the Western United States. Los Angeles has a large and diverse population. Trends are born here. It is estimated that over 50% of the internet content is generated here. Hollywood, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and vast array of institutions of higher education such as UCLA and USC are all in Los Angeles. The lovely residence of the Consul General in the Bel Air section is fully paid for and owned by the Finnish Government and offers an excellent showcase for Finland. Los Angeles is the place to be. Without putting down the good people of Silicon Valley, it is clear that Finland would not get anywhere near the visibility, attention and results there it gets in Los Angeles. A consulate in the far reaches of Silicon Valley wouldn’t even be practical to a casual Finnish tourist visiting San Francisco. It would only serve the interests of high tech industry (who are already represented there by Finnode and Finpro). We recognize the need to save money, but it would be penny wise and pound foolish to close down the Consulate General in Los Angeles which best embodies the direction all Finnish representations abroad are aiming for, namely promoting a very competitive Finland. The closure of the Consulate General in Los Angeles would not be in the best interests of Finland. Therefore, I urge you to join me and reject these plans. The Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles is near and dear to us and we want to keep it right here, where it rightfully belongs.

Please sign the petition below this message to save the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles.

Sincerely,
Tomi Hinkkanen
Publisher – Finntimes

 

 

FINNISH EDUCATOR PASI SAHLBERG TOURS THE U.S.: WHY THE FINNISH EDUCATION SYSTEM WORKS

 

FINNISH EDUCATOR PASI SAHLBERG TOURS THE U.S.
Reporter: Tomi Hinkkanen
Photos by P. Shalberg, Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho, Karri Huhtanen and  ‘Tungsten’

Finnish education system has repeatedly been ranked as the best in the world.
We asked Paul Sahberg, one of the most qualified experts in the area, what is so good about it  and what could be done to improve schools in the United States.

Q. Could you give us your title in English, explain what Cimo is (what does it do, who is behind that organization, etc.), and what do your duties there include. Also, if you could tell us a little about yourself – your background, family, etc?

My title is Director General at CIMO. CIMO is the Finnish Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation that operates as an agency of the Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland. CIMO advances internationalization of Finnish society by offering students and youth opportunities to international exchange, internships, development cooperation and joint projects. CIMO serves as an information service point for foreign people who are interested in studying in Finland and supports teaching Finnish language in foreign universities, e.g. Columbia University and University of Madison in Wisconsin. CIMO has 110 staff in Helsinki and 22 in foreign universities around the world. I am director of CIMO.

I was born in Oulu, Finland and studies in Turku and Helsinki universities before receiving my PhD in Jyväskylä university. I have worked as teacher, teacher educator and policymaker with the Finnish government. I lived in Washington, DC, for five years in early 21st century working for the World Bank and have been back home now for two years. I am author of Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn for educational change in Finland? Teachers College Press, 2011).

Team work in action

Q. Finland has been ranked the best country in education. Could you talk about the criteria, what organization did the ranking and what was found to be so exceptionally good in the Finnish education system?

I would be careful to conclude that Finland has the best education system in the world. First, there is no commonly agreed criteria for making such ranking of education systems. People and especially media often use the Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA by the OECD (based in Paris) to compare education systems internationally. PISA is a useful tool to learn more about how education systems are working but it is just a part of the story. We need to look at participation, drop-out and graduation rates, too. How equitable education systems are, in other words, how they provide opportunities for different learners to succeed is important. And, of course, we need to look at how much education costs for tax-payers and parents before we can say whether education system is good or not.

Second, we have more comprehensive and comparable data only for about one third of worlds education systems. So, being best in the world only refers to this part of the globe. Finally, PISA only deals with school system upto age 15 trhat is in the U.S. the end of junior high school. We have very little data of the performance of high schools or universities in the world.

Finland has been successful with its K-9 school system in all respects mentioned above. Finnish education system is probably the most equitable, accessible and affordable in the world. It also produces high learning outcomes. But since we can not say much about high schools or universities in Finland in the international perspective I would say that we have very good basis for our education but would remain silent about the education system as a whole at this point.

Q. In the United States, much emphasis is put on evaluating each school and ranking all schools in terms of academic success. Parents even move to areas with good schools. Some people would like to give students / parents vouchers so that their children could attend a better school. Now, could you explain us, how this is done in Finland and how does it differ from the American system?

Well, the first think in Finland is that we don’t measure our schools using external standardized test as is done in the U.S.. These test almost solely assess academic achievement and in very few subject areas. Therefore Finnish parents don’t know where the good schools in the sense of academic performance are. Actually, most Finnish parents don’t think that this is the most important issue in the first place. For many it is more important to be sure that the school offers programmes and support that their children need. Parents offen choose school that is in the neighborhood and if they don’t, they look for a school that has more arts or sports or foreign languages for their child. Academic achievement in primary schools is secondary issue. It turns to primary issue in upper secondary school.

Q. What do you do in Finland, if one particular school is found to have problems, like bad teachers, violence on campus or poor academic success?

Schools are governed by municipalities. Therefore all these issues must be processed and solved within and by the municipality. Finland has systematically worked over the last two decades to upgrade school leadership to the level where school principals are able to deal with most of these issues independently. In some cases they need support and advice for other schools or the municipality. The government never intervenes in these matters unless there is a serious legal matter that requires more thorough authority. Finnish schools are also closely networked in the municipalities and are able to help one another when difficulties emerge.

Q. There is a tendency in the U.S. to reward good schools and good teachers and punish bad schools by withdrawing funding from them and dismissing bad teachers. Is this kind of “carrot and stick” method used in Finland?

Because we don’t have data from standardized test, we are not able to label schools or teacher ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as is done in the U.S. commonly. Rather than punishing teachers or schools we concentrate on identifying those who are struggling and likely to end up in troubles early and then make support and resources available to help them out of that situation. This is a very different policy than ‘carrot and stick’ that you mentioned. We think that merit pay to teachers based on students’ standardized test scores is a bad idea. However, we do think that teachers who work more should be paid more. And this is what we do here. All teachers are paid the same throughout the country. When teachers progress in their seniority path, their salaries also gradually increase.

Q. There have been school shootings both in the U.S. and Finland. What have you there learned from these incidences – can anything be done to prevent them?

First of all, these are very very sad incidences regardless of where they happen. I think that these acts of crime are not motivated by school alone but, at least in two Finnish cases, more by the society in which young people live. I have noticed here in Finland that we have an increasing number of young people, often boys or young men, who spend much of their free time with the Internet, computer games or TV and thereby away from other people. We have, unfortunately, more and more single-parent families where children lack proper parental love and care. To prevent any further bloodshed in our societies or schools by anybody we need more love, caring of one another and humanity in our schools. I think we should seriously reconsider our thinking about technology in schools and whether increasing it in schools is really a smart thing to do. Instead, I believe, we should transform our schools as places for social interaction, mutual responsibility and well-being where all young people would belong to a community. If we let things go and leave it upto the world of entertainment to decide, I am afraid we are doomed to a road of more violence and sadness in and out of our schools.

Q. You have visited the U.S. several times and toured schools here. What do you see are the major problems in the American education system and what kind of advice could you give to remedy them?

Indeed, I have seen schools in different parts of the U.S. and learned a lot. First of all I want to say that we in Finland have learned a lot from American educators and schools. Teaching methods, innovative schools and teaching self-confidence in schools in American schools have been inspirations to the Finnish education system. We all have problems in our schools, even we here in Finland. I think American education today suffers from three main deficits. First, I think you rely far to much on standardized data from academic knowledge tests. In this respect American education system is over-tested and under-assessed. By this I refer to classroom assessments that teacher do and use for monitoring the progress of their students. Current testing system is expensive, focuses on narrow part of curriculum and leads to teaching to test as several American research projects have clearly shown. Second, in many states you have moved to hyper-accountability in schools where individual teachers are held accountable for their students’ performance. Teachers’ pay is tied to this accountability system that has led to massive misconducts and corruption in schools and districts as we have seen in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. I think that as accountability gets stronger in school system, responsibility and trust get weaker. When we lose trust in schools and school systems, only bad things are ahead. Third, there is a serious devaluation of teaching as a profession in America. Half of teachers leave their profession before the end of their fifth year in service. Teaching is a primary career choice for decreasing number of high school graduates. This is kind of catch-22. Poorer intake in teacher education leads to lower-than-expected quality of new teachers who are not able to convince younger generations that teaching is a noble job. Although Teach for America may help some schools and be an experience for some young professionals who teach in that program, I doubt it will ever be able to solve the deeper rooted problem of teachers in America. Charter school movement and involvement of larger corporations in public education will further jeopardize the moral of teachers and ethos of teaching profession in America, I am afraid.

Q. How would you rate the American school system?

American school system will in any case remain an inspiration to others. It is an innovation-rich system with some of the best schools in the world operating in it. Unfortunately, as I see it, American school system today is moving to wrong direction. It is moving away from whole child idea where well-being, happiness and health of children would matter the most. It gives too much value to numeric data and misses the human side of schooling. And by doing so, American schools are able to serve only some of the youth in their communities, not all of them. I think American school system can make the transformation that its current leaders are hoping to see but it requires rethinking of some of the core policies and reforms of today.

Q. You give lectures in the U.S. about the Finnish school system. Could you talk about that. Where do you give these lectures and to whom, what has the reception been and what are the most often asked questions that your audience members ask you?

I speak to very diverse audiences in the U.S. ranging from State School Officers to superintendents, principals, teachers, students, parents an business leaders. Most people know very little about Finland or Finnish education. They often ask how do we test our students, how do we find bad teachers, what children do after school day, and how to build trust in the school system. I often hear also comments about Finland being homogeneous and small and therefore not comparable to the U.S..

Q. Finally, could you share an anecdote about your own family, perhaps something interesting about your own school days or if you have children, about their school?

I often tell people about my son who has already completed his schools successfully. When he came home from school I often asked him about homework he got for the following day. His regular answer was ‘I did it already on my way home in the bus’. And that is true. Finnish schools don’t believe in homework. They rather provide children time during the school day to completed whatever they are asked to do for the next day. My son did all sort of other things after school that he found interesting: played music, played basketball or just hanged around with his friends. I think it is very important to hang around without any plan when you are young.

Mr. Sahlberg is currently on a speaking tour in the U.S.

Here is his schedule:

12/5 Chicago, Univeristy of Illinois at Chicago
12/7 Washington DC, Finnish Embassy
12/8 New York, Columbia University
12/9 Nashville, Vanderbilt University

1/12 Washington, DC Education Week Conference
1/13 New York, Harvard Club
1/17-18 San Francisco, Stanford University

AROUND LA WITH AVA

‘AROUND TOWN WITH AVA’

REPORTER: AVA ANTTILA – LOS ANGELES

Veterans’ Meeting 

The Veteran’s support group met at Suomi Kerho on November 9th .  Seppo Hurme, President, opened the meeting with Pauli Majamaki serving as Secretary pro tem. Several Veterans were in attendance along with one Lotta, Elma Maisac,  and her son.  A topic of discussion at the meeting was the possibility of a joint Finnish event featuring the military orchestra that performed at Finnfest 2011.  They would like to come out to Los Angeles in November 2012.
 

Following lunch the members watched Härmästä Poikia Kymmenen, director Ilmari Unho’s 1950 film with Tauno Palo in the starring role. The film deals with 1860 West Pohjanmaa themes.

Finnish Church’s 94th Birthday

The congregation gathered in the afternoon of November 13th at the Finnish Lutheran Church to partake in the celebration with worship and music.  Michael Armstrong played the organ, Wesley Radlein played violin, and there was a special presentation with bells.

 

Patti Lamb on the kantele is always a special treat.

All enjoyed the refreshments that included salmon soup.

FACC Pikku Joulu

 

The warm glow of a traditional Finnish Christmas greeted members of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce last Sunday afternoon.  Winter presented itself here in Los Angeles –not by a snow storm, but by a brutal windstorm causing power outages from downed trees and branches. 
 

The sounds of Finnish Christmas carols welcomed guests who gathered around the piano, glogg cups in hand, for a sing along.  Michael Armstrong performed as pianist.  The traditional buffet included lanttulaatikko, porkkanalaattikko, imelytettyperunalaatikko, rosolli, and salads, as well as, a whole poached salmon and home smoked trout.  A Finnish meat pie was personalized with the F.A.C.C. initials.  Luumukiisseli and riisipuuro were accompanied by joulu torttu and traditional cookies.

Independence Day-Helsinki

 

The most romantic Independence Day news ever:  On Independence Day, before proceeding on their way to the Presidents Palace for the Gala, long time Los Angeles resident and former FACC Board member, the renowned doctor Pertti Rintahaka and his beautiful Diana became engaged!

FINNISH INDEPENDENCE

FINNISH INDEPENDENCE
by Ava Anttila – Los Angeles

On December 6, 1917, the fiercely independent Finns became self-governing. Independents became Independence. Much with Finns and about Finland happens quietly. At 6:00 p.m. [properly 18:00], 2 lights appear in windows all over Finland and in Finnish homes here in Los Angeles. If you are looking – and if you know what you are looking at, you will know that Finns are celebrating their freedom and independence.

Finland has celebrated Independence Day for 94 years. The United States has celebrated for 235 years — since July 4, 1776.

Finland is such a young country that we who are the 1st , 2nd , 3rd , and 4th generations of free Finns can feel the recentness of our Independence, revel in the security of freedom, and feel the joy it has brought to the great people of Finland who live, create, and thrive wherever they are living.

There is a connection to Finland’s history and how/why she has delivered to the world such amazing world class leaders in so many demanding fields. Finland’s ‘story’ is the reason, I believe. Part of that ‘story’ runs like this:

In 1155, the first missionaries arrived in Finland from Sweden. Finland became part of the Swedish realm (those street signs in the two languages have a legitimate history!) In 1809 Sweden surrendered Finland to Russia, with the Czar declaring himself as a constitutional monarch over an autonomous Duchy. In 1917, Finland declared its independence and was recognized as a new state by the Soviet Union, France, Germany, and Sweden –with Finland soon becoming a Republic, with a President as its head of state.

Venäjän kansankomissaarien neuvoston päätös tunnustaa Suomen itsenäisyys

In 1939, the Soviet Union attacked Finland and the Winter War was fought.

In 1941-44 (in what was called the Continuation War) fighting between Russia and Finland resumed, with some territory ceded to the Soviet Union at the war’s end.

Finland was never occupied by the Russians and, thanks to the warriors we honor on Independence Day, Finland preserved its independence and sovereignty.

Our history is part of how we think and live as Finns. Yet, the ‘story’ is so recent it is ever fresh in our minds. How many people in the world can say they personally know some of the people who are responsible for the freedom of their country? Very few, indeed.

Even here in Southern California, we have local Finnish war heroes and heroines who preserved Finnish independence in the two wars with Russia still living among us. On December 6th each year we get to personally thank them for fighting for the independence and the freedoms Finns everywhere enjoy. My beloved father is a war Veteran and my dear mother is a Lotta—both are in their late 80s. The Veterans who are still mobile meet bi-monthly under the Veteraani Tuki Ry (a support group) banner with Suomi Kerho as their quiet hosts.

Source: Koti-Rintama Sotavuosien Suomi Naisten Ja Lasten Silmin

Whenever I take my father to meet with his contemporaries at those Veteran meetings, at the Finnish Lutheran Church services, or at the too frequent Memorial Services, I am reminded of how truly fortunate we are to have grown up under such strong, though often silent, heroes. In my decades of Finnish activism, I can think of no event that was more satisfying than helping organize the various disparate Finnish groups in a cooperative salute to our Finnish War Veterans and Lottas on the occasion of Finland’s 80th Anniversary of Independence. We had a grand, formal Gala! And, the Finnish community turned out in record numbers to salute our national heroes as they marched down a grand stair case into a cheering ball room with their medals shining and their chests puffed out in pride as their accomplishments were remembered—not so quietly on that evening in 1997! Even then, many were using walkers and canes. Now, there are far fewer of them and they are a bit frailer, but their Sisu remains as always. When we celebrate Independence Day each year, I hope all local Finns will take the opportunity to seek out and thank those Veterans and Lottas who are still with us for their legacy all Finns enjoy. But, please speak up—the hearing ain’t what it used to be!

Polkupyöräpataljoona

On Independence Day, here and in Finland, we thank and honor those surviving heroes and heroines, the Veterans and Lottas. We gratefully remember the many others who served: our fathers, uncles, brothers, and grandfathers, as well as our mothers, aunts, sisters, and grandmothers. We remember with reverence those who paid the ultimate price and those now at rest in the cemeteries of Finland and elsewhere.

Whether fighting to preserve Finland’s independence against all odds, leading the high tech world into a new millennium, guiding the planet into responsible green living, creating the world’s premier educational system, conquering the arts or athletics, finding solutions to the riddles of science, or conquering cuisine, there are certain Finnish qualities her history has created in its people that stand out: values, hard work, quiet dignity, integrity, Sisu, and a dedication to quality. These are the qualities we see in the Finns in Finland. These are the values Finns are brought up with to respect and to live by. These are the attributes of the great Finns that have made Los Angeles their home, for whatever period, that have made Los Angeles claim them as theirs.

Air surveillance Lottas on duty (Image source: Koskimies 2)

 I am a long time resident of this great City of Angels –Los Angeles. At this time of year I ponder how fortunate we have been and continue to be the Mecca for such Finnish greatness. Los Angeles has drawn the leading people in modern history in the fields of music, medical research, academics, diplomacy, education, technology, entertainment, business, industry, athletics, and other exotic endeavors. Yet, at the core of contributions lies the strong core of skilled trades people, merchants, entrepreneurs, and adventurous Finns who have come here, thrived in this environment, and given this world so much with so little fan fare.

Independence Day is a great time to hail Finland and the character of her people. So, as you drive around Los Angeles–by Disney Hall at the Music Center, by the Olympic Stadium at USC, by the UCLA Genetics Building, by the UCLA Anderson School of Business, by the Nokia Theatre, by the hockey rinks, and by the many other venues that celebrate Finnish contributions, remember the Finnish character (and characters!) that brought greatness and creativity to Los Angeles. Then, when you get home, light a blue candle and a white candle in your window. Be thankful for the gifts that freedom and independence create in the human existence. Reflect on your heritage. And, look outside and wave to that person walking by quietly with their eyes down—most likely a Finn with a smile of recognition!

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn

 

 

SUPERMODEL SUVI’S GREEN HAVEN

SUVI KOPONEN by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb - copyrighted 2011

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES
PHOTOS: JONNY KAHLEYN

SUPERMODEL SUVI’S GREEN HAVEN

Suvi Koponen’s modeling career got started at 16 when she won a Finnish modeling TV show. The top prize was a contract with modeling agency which led to quite a splash at a Prada show in Milan. She then moved to New York City where she fell in love with a tall and handsome model named Tyler Riggs. Last summer the couple moved to Los Angeles and purchased a house in the leafy Sherman Oaks area. Life is smiling at the young couple as they look forward to welcoming their first Christmas in their beautiful new home surrounded by lush green vegetation.

Tall, gorgeous Suvi Koponen, 23, was born in Helsinki and grew up in Vantaa. She is the oldest of three children. Her mother is a kindergarten teacher and her father is the manager of an assisted living facility.

“Our home had goats and horses, Suvi remembers fondly. She led the life of a normal school girl until one day she spotted an advertisement in the paper calling for young people to audition for a reality TV show called Mallikoulu (Model School).

“I was supposed to go audition for the show with a friend, but she could not take time off from school, so I went alone and was accepted as a contestant. The show taught us how to be better models, and we weren’t humiliated if we didn’t do well as I’ve seen in some shows in America. A model must have a natural ability to be photogenic and be able to act natural in front of the camera. The more one works at it, the easier it becomes. I ended up winning the competition. The prize was a contract with a modeling agency Paparazzi”, Suvi recounts.

Suvi and Tyler

“Already during the taping of the show, they took us to a modeling school in Milan. There I signed with the modeling agency Women. Later on I signed with the Women of Paris as well. The following Summer I went back to Milan for a month followed by a month in Paris.

Even though Suvi is currently being represented by several modeling agencies, she has not abandoned her very first one: Finnish Paparazzi agency which is led by the grand old lady of the Finnish modeling world, Laila Snellman.

“It is my mother agency and they have always been very supporting”, Suvi acknowledges. She quickly started getting modeling gigs on the world’s runways. At 18 she made quite a splash at a Prada show in Milan, a turning point in her career. After modeling for Prada, everybody wanted Suvi for their fashion show. She then moved to New York to better be able to pursue her career.

Fall is the busiest time for a model. That’s when New York, London, Milan and Paris have fashion weeks.

by_Ed_Kavishe_for_Fashion_Wire_Press

Suvi Koponen in Michael Kors

“Some people may think we just get there and walk the runway. What people don’t know is all the background work a model must do in addition to that. First you go to casting to meet the people who make those shows and then you will be called for a fitting which may be at any time of day or night. You must show up at each show hours earlier so that they can do your hair and make-up. Then you have to run to the next show. Models do not sleep at all during that month. You are constantly on the move and flying from city to city”, Suvi describes.

In the fashion world, there are three different types of modeling jobs: runway, editorial and catalogue. Runway models are not paid extremely well, but runways are extremely important for models because that’s where they are seen by fashion moguls. So, runway gigs can lead to editorials. Editorials are photo shoots for fashion magazines such as Vogue and they take place in a studio or on location. Pictures from catalogue shoots will appear either in designers or department store’s catalogues.

Suvi Koponen in Herve Leger by Ed Kavishe

Suvi Koponen in Herve Leger

“When you do good shows, you get good editorials and that will lead to catalogue work which pays the best money, Suvi clarifies. Some catalogue work can pay ten thousand a day.

She is at a point now where she does not have to do all the runway shows – people know her and like her. However, runways remain in her repertoire.

“The fashion moguls want to see whether you have gained or lost weight. Some girls do not eat at all and will become too skinny. Or they have gone through a lot of stress which may result in acne problems. No one wants a model that doesn’t look her best”, she blurts out. “As far as exercising, a runway model gets so much exercise by running from place to place that no further workout is necessary during the fashion weeks”, she says with a smile.

Common afflictions in the modeling world are bulimia and anorexia nervosa.

“Of course I have seen both. When you go from a fashion show to another and run into the same models, one can only notice that some of models don’t eat at all. But what do you do? Everyone has different schedules. I try to look after my closest modeling buddies.”

Suvi and Joyce

It hasn’t been all work and no play for Suvi, though. A young man by the name of Tyler Riggs caught Suvi’s eye.

“We met a couple of times while working in Milan and just hung out together. We met again a few years later in New York and started dating. We’ve been together now for over two years”, Suvi says with gleamy eyes. Tyler Riggs, 25, is originally from Florida. He is a successful model in his own right and has aspirations of becoming an actor, something that played into the couple’s decision of moving to Los Angeles.

“Tyler has been going to drama school for two years and wants to be an actor. And I had been wanting to move from New York for quite some time because life there was so stressful.”

They made the big move last Summer.

“We drove here from NYC in mid-June. It was a great experience. We took our time, made some stops such as in the Grand Canyon and slept in motels along the way. After arriving in LA, the first couple of months we lived at my boyfriend’s manager’s place. We started looking for houses. We found this house and moved here in August.”

The Mediterranean house is located on a quiet residential street where gigantic trees provide well needed shade in the hot San Fernando Valley. Restaurants and shopping are within walking distance. The house has a large living room with a fireplace, and an equally spacious dining room as well as a well-equipped kitchen and three bedrooms. There is also a good-sized backyard perfect for the dogs Joyce and Stevie.

Most of her work is still booked via New York. Since she now lives in Los Angeles, I ask her if she has gotten local modeling gigs.

“My looks are not suited for the Los Angeles market – I do not have fake boobs!”
Nowadays she flies to New York and elsewhere for work, and the LA home offers Suvi a much needed respite from the hectic modeling world.

“We try to cook as much as possible at home. The food in Los Angeles is a lot healthier, and we get to buy a lot of locally grown vegetables and fruits.

SUVI KOPONEN by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb - copyrighted 2011

Suvi and Joyce

They are eagerly waiting for the holidays when Suvi’s family will come to visit.

“My parents and my siblings are coming here for Christmas. I’m so excited because it is my mother’s first trip to the States. And they will get to see my house.”

At the conclusion of our chat, I ask Suvi to give advice to a young person interested in becoming a model.

“Don’t listen to what others say. You must be a really strong person to be able to take all the criticism. We models basically sell our face and body. It is a difficult career for young girls and boys. You just have to keep your head up and be self-confident.”

 

AROUND LA WITH AVA – INTRODUCING A BRAND NEW COLUMN BY AVA ANTTILA

‘AROUND TOWN WITH AVA’

 

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn

REPORTER: AVA ANTTILA – LOS ANGELES

Finn Fest Organizers and Performers Feted

Consul General Kirsti Westphalen chose a perfect California night, October 12th, with a full moon over the Consul residence in Bel Air to celebrate the FinnFest 2011 organizers and performers. Also, the spectacular night of Southern California weather welcomed Inspectors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Helsinki, Finland who shared in this special evening as significant guests.

Ms. Westphalen opened the festivities by thanking all the FinnFest crew for their spectacular dedication and successful efforts to put the spotlight on Finland today. The Consul General saluted the teamwork that put on such a wonderful event featuring modern Finland. The Consular staff and FinnFest crew were honored by her touching words of thanks and praise.

Those in attendance included Henry and Eeva Syvanen; Honorary Consul in San Diego, Kathryn Mautino; and actress Anna Easteden who had delighted all at the FinnFest Gala as Master of Ceremonies. In continuing dedication of the theme of FinnFest, a special ribbon cutting celebrated the Consular residence’s official “greening”—newly installed solar panels. The delicious cornucopia of Finnish Fall fare featuring cabbage rolls, beet salad, salmon and fabulous salad was enjoyed by all.


LAFF Annual Luncheon

The Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation held its Annual Luncheon to celebrate its 37th year on November 6th at Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City. Kriss Larson and the Scandia Gammaldans Band. Linnea Jackson, Katirilli Finnish Folk Dancers and the Kalifornia Kanteles provided entertainment. Christina Lin presented Honoree Award of the Year to Marilyn Kujala. Pastor Rueben Perttula announced after the invocation that next Sunday, November 13th, the Finnish Lutheran church will be celebrating its 94th anniversary. All are welcome to the event beginning at 1 p.m. A special musical tribute will feature a bell player who previously moved the audience to tears with the rendition of Finlandia.

Spotted in the audience, surprise visitors from the homeland, novelist/chef Eino Nurminen and his wife Anja. Also in attendance was former head of Finnair in New York, the ever-dapper Pentti Rosenberg with wife Dolores.

The stirrings in a Finnish soul are always satisfied with the appearance of the beauty of the sounds of the Kanteles, the deeply moving melodies that are so meaningful to the fabric of the nation. The pageantry, the playfulness, the costumes of the Katirilli dancers delighted us with the joy of our heritage. The treat of these performances showcased the remarkable dedication of these volunteer efforts that keep these precious traditions alive for the Finnish community.

Note of Loss

One of the great local Finnish ladies, an “angel of the kitchen” at Suomi Kerho Finnish Center, has left us and will be remembered on December 11 at a memorial service. Rauha Loponen was the ever-present force and muse of Finnish heritage cuisine for so many of us. For countless years she tirelessly put together the menus for Suomi Kerho, the Veterans, the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce and others with their events. There was always a smile and a hug, a helpful hint a deference and the quiet modesty of a Finnish hostess. For the ‘epicurious’ of us, a poke into the kitchen yielded the reward of a nugget of wisdom and the true comfort of our homeland. Rauha (a name which means “peace” in Finnish), you will live in our thankful hearts and kitchens as inspiration.

Michael Jackson’s MD Found Guilty

LA is a great town. For the past several weeks in one ‘eyeful’ I have taken in the breathtaking beauty of Disney Hall walking into the solemnity of the courthouse for a hearing and in one ‘earful’ was distracted by the ever present airplanes circling with banners and cheering factions of crowds for the media ‘circus’ outside for the Jackson matter. All within the same few blocks.

Now it is over; another celebrity trial. The convicted felon hauled off in handcuffs likely won’t be in jail for long. The airplanes will return to where they belong –at the beach advertising beer and suntan lotion. I love LA!!

DARUDE, THE FINNISH STAR DJ TOURS NORTH AMERICA

DARUDE, THE FINNISH STAR DJ TOURS NORTH AMERICA
REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – ATLANTA, GA
PHOTOS BY MICKEY McNULTY AND TIM WILSON

Ville Virtanen, aka Darude, is best known for his 2000 hit single Sandstorm. He has sold over five million records. For the past decade, Ville has been touring the world, doing DJ sets in more than 40 countries. Ville has been ranked as one of the top 100 DJ’s in the world. He has moved to Georgia with his lovely wife Michelle. They have a 2 year-old child. The family lives in an Atlanta suburb, Georgia, where Ville works in his home studio and collaborates with artists around the world with modern techniques.

Q. Tell us a little about your background. How and when did you get into music?

I’ve always been interested in music, been listening to dance music for years, started making my own music 1996 after some friends of mine showed me what they were doing with just a computer and some freeware programs. I realized that I could make my own music and decided to have a go at that. I bought my first PC and started fooling around with it and losing too much sleep… 😉 I never thought about ‘making it big’, I was just making music because I liked it so much. I tortured my friends with my early production and sent some demos to magazines and radio stations in Finland in ’97 and ’98 and also to some record companies and got some good feedback, but nothing more. I made music on my own and also had two separate projects with two of my friends. On a Wednesday night in August ’99 after his DJ set I gave my later-to-be-producer, Jaakko “JS16” Salovaara, a demo CD (my third one for him actually) which included my original demo of ‘Sandstorm’ (and some other tracks of mine) which got Jaakko’s attention. All I wanted was his professional opinion of the tracks and some tips about better sounds and things like that. What I got was a phone call a week later. We met the same night in the same club in Turku, Finland, and agreed on working together. We spent two or three days in his studio and the next Tuesday Sandstorm (plus his JS16 remix) was ready as you hear it now on the single. It took a few weeks to get the track mastered and to get the singles from the plant and to get it on the Finnish Dance Chart. After three weeks it was number one and stayed there for 16 weeks. The things snowballed from there and I started touring in Finland, then Scandinavia, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, UK, US, Australia, all over the place.

Q. There is a funny story about how you got your stage name Darude. Could you tell that to us?

When I was studying my first year in Turku Polytechnic we had a party at my classmate’s apartment. We were eating and drinking and playing records and I guess I was feeling really, ummm, “happy” as I played one favourite track of mine of that time, ‘Rudeboys’ by Leila K, several times in a row. In short, it’s because of that my friends started kind of mockingly calling me ‘Rudeboy’. I started using that as a nickname online and as my artist name when I started making music. Later on it got shortened to ‘da Rude’ (I didn’t wanna be a ‘boy’ 😉 which was then put together by the graphic artist when the single cover for my first single ‘Sandstorm’ was made; it looked visually better like that so… ‘Darude’.


Q. When people think of musicians they think of a band with live singers but you work differently. Could you shed light on this to those who don’t know about it?

I’m the first one to admit that I’m not the greatest live instrumentalist on earth… My music-making is based more on my ears and my sense of style and sounds, and I work in the studio with computer software and synthesizer and effect unit and other gadgets. I DO compose, though, all the time, every day, even if there’s a general misconception that “that techno music” can be made automatically with a push of a button”… Not true. In a way, an electronic musician can be compared to someone composing for the whole symphonic orchestra, as the producer/composer is often making everything from drums and percussion to bass to lead instruments, their harmony counterparts and everything in between, singing (demo) vocals + they usually have at least partly studio engineer’s and producer’s hats on, too. I usually start from somewhere, whatever it is at the time, a rhythm, melody, a bit of lyrics, and start building from there, one Lego at a time, finding and creating bits that fit together and eventually will create bigger combos and parts of the final full track.

Q. You stuck gold with the hit single Sandstorm. What gave you inspiration to compose it?

In the beginning I tried to learn stuff from other peoples’ tracks, and now later on I still get kicks and inspiration from other people’s great music. The vibe is the key thing, the right mood. Sometimes it might be a track, sometimes it might be a single sound or a drumloop that does it for me. With Sandstorm it was a certain club in my hometown where the DJ played good uplifting trance. I went there 2-3 nights a week just to listen to the music and practically ran back home, switched on my gear and started to make music. After one of those nights and early mornings ‘Sandstorm’ got the basic form and sound it still has.

Q. Every four years or so you release a new studio album. Do you work alone in your studio composing the songs?

I’m usually alone in the studio, but I collaborate with artists around the world all the time via the internet. I make a basic track frame and send it over as separate instrument etc files, they work it further, send it back and I take it further again. We go on like this a couple of times, and every now and then we chat via email, AIM and Skype until we’re happy and get to the finishing part. The same goes for vocalists; they often have their regular studio, or their own one, where they record vocals and they send them over and I put them in the project, edit, mangle, and ask for more lines, like variations, ad libs, harmonies, or altogether new melodies, until we’re both happy.

Q. There is a whole secret world out there of star DJs who travel the world, playing in clubs. Teel us about your gigs: where do you play and who is your audience?

99% of my gigs these days are DJ sets, consisting of up to 50%, or sometimes even more, of my own material, either my own tracks and my remixes and the rest is great banging music new and old. I play all over the world, I’ve played in over 40 countries, but the last couple of years my main territory has been North America. I play mainly in clubs, but every now and then also bigger arena and outdoor events. My audience is quite broad, usually from 18 or 21 to people in their 40s and 50s, and I’ve even got a couple of grandmas & grandpas showing up here and there, too, which is amazing! I also love doing underage shows, but unfortunately those are not as common as the usual club nights.

Q. For years now you have played various discos, clubs and dance events in the United States. What does the club scene look like these days?

I think US has a great dance music culture, though it still is way more underground in general than it is in Europe, but there’s been growth and breakouts to Top40 the last decade, especially the last two or three years. Mixing and matching sounds and artists from different genres has been the trend the last couple of years, and I like that a lot. These days the DJs seem to be playing a wider variety of styles in their sets and not only ‘trance’ or ‘house’ etc, so the sets are more interesting and also that way might be of interest for wider audience as well. I think the electro house wave of the last couple of years has brought a breath of fresh air to dance music because there has been several top40 breaking tracks so the general public has been exposed to the sound as well, not only the clubbers. Trance has been merged with all kinds of things like electro, rock, r’n’b and it’s all exciting, it keeps the music alive and approachable for both long-time producers and new-comers. I think the US has always had a great scene, but it just hasn’t gotten widely recognized until recently. Dance music is not just “that techno” any more, but accepted and cherished by mainstream media and people outside the usual clubbing crowds.

Q. As an outsider to the club world, I have to ask you: Why does the music have to be so loud and how do you protect your ears?

The best clubs create a full audio-visual sensory tickling experience, where the music is heard and the bass is felt in your body, and the visuals, lights and lasers support all that with rhythmic movement, mood affecting and ambience creating colours, images on screens… I’ve worn professional ear protection since the very beginning, custom-molded earplugs with -15dB near-flat frequency response filters. I love my earplugs, and I’m almost religiously spreading the word about them. Granted, the custom molds are costly, in the +/-$200 range, but if you work in a club or other noisy environment, you owe it to your ears to get them, they’re a perfect fit, comfortable, protect your hearing really well, yet you can hear the music and people speaking really well. Contact your local audiologist for details, there are a lot of places who can do the molds, and many of them use Etymotic Research filters (Google it! 😉 )

Q. There has been a lot of press about drug-related incidents in clubs, such as a death of an overdose at the Electric Daisy carnival in LA about two years ago. Do drugs flow freely at these venues?

There are definitely drugs in the club scene, sure, and I in no way support any kind of drug use, I’ve never touched any of that stuff, but I think it’s unfair to label electronic dance music “drug music”, like I often hear, because there are drugs in every genre and every profession. Take rock’n’roll, reggae, goth and numerous more, you name it, I’m sure you’ll find both users and suppliers… And check out behind the scenes in the medical world, med students and doctors self-medicating… Or to the business suits world, where some people work 18 hours a day, I don’t believe it for a second that it’s only caffeine they’re on… I KNOW, the above sentences are big generalizations, and I don’t mean that EVERYONE uses something, so my apologies to anyone offended, but I’m just trying to make a point.

Any overdose, fatal or not, is horrible; but I, as a producer and a DJ, performer of an event, can’t be held responsible if someone that I don’t know decides to pop pill that are known to be not the safest thing in the world. It’s their call, and I have nothing to do with it. I don’t make music on drugs and I don’t make music to be specifically listened on drugs, either.

Q. When is your next record coming out and what are your future plans?

My next release will come out very soon. It’s a DJ compilation called ‘Salmiakki Sessions Vol. 1’ mixed by me and consisting of several remixes by me, a couple of previously unreleased ones, too, and some Finnish favourites of mine from the last year or two. I’m also working on an original artist album, but it’s way too early give any kind of deadlines, let alone release date, yet. It’ll definitely go to the 2012 side. Before that there’ll be a Darude & Randy Boyer remix on our label EnMass Music’s latest release ‘Welcome To The Future’ by Kristina Sky & Randy Boyer feat. ShyBoy, which got its first ever airplay on BBC Radio 1 exclusively by none other than DJ legend Judge Jules. The release date is November 15th and you can already pre-order from iTunes  (http://itunes.apple.com/preorder/welcome-to-the-future-feat./id474392104) and take a listen to it there or on www.soundcloud.com/enmassmusic.

Q. Finally, can you give us a little peek into your private world – are you married, dating, single, any kids?

I keep my private and public music life pretty much separate, but it’s no secret that I’m married and I have a 2+ year old kid. We currently live in Roswell, GA, USA, and we also have a place in Turku, Finland, where we stay a couple of months every year.

 

Links:

www.enmassmusic.com
www.darude.com
www.facebook.com/darude
www.youtube.com/darude
www.twitter.com/darudevil
www.myspace.com/darude
www.soundcloud.com/darude

Photographs by:

Ekat kuvat – Mikey McNulty
www.mikeymcnulty.com

Kaks viimeist – Tim Wilson
www.amfek.com

 

RITVA KOUKKU-RONDE, THE 1ST FEMALE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES

Ritva Koukku-Ronde, Ambassador of Finland to the United States

AMBASSADOR RITVA KOUKKU-RONDE – QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Reporter: Tomi Hinkkenen – Washington DC

On September 1, 2011, Ritva Koukku-Ronde assumed her post as the appointed Ambassador of Finland to the United States. Ms. Koukku-Ronde is the first female Finnish ambassador to the United States.

Q. You have had a long career at the Foreign Ministry of Finland – what are your most memorable posts and experiences?

Actually, all my posts have been extremely interesting and memorable. It is impossible to single out any of them because they were all unique and rewarding experiences in their own ways.

Q. Have you submitted you credentials to President Barack Obama yet and if you have, can you describe the event and what was Mr. Obama like?

I submitted my credentials to President Obama on September 9 during a short ceremony at the White House. He was very sympathetic and interested in Finland.

Q. Oftentimes the world of diplomacy is shrouded in secrecy and regular people do not know much about what is going on behind closed doors, but could you talk about some of the things you are working on right now to further improve trade, culture and the collaboration between Finland and the U.S.?

I will focus on advancing the relationship between Finland and the U.S. in the areas of economy, education, security, environment, high technology and culture – to mention just a few. As a member of the European Union, Finland is also keen to see the transatlantic cooperation grow stronger.

Our work at the embassy happens on many levels, from having discussions with decision makers to organizing cultural events and policy seminars to communicating with the American public. All these activities help further improve collaboration between Finland and the U.S.

Q. Finland has been trying to get to the U.N. Security Council as a non-permanent member. As a permanent member in the Security Council, the U.S. has a lot of clout in selecting non-permanent members. How are you going to convince the U.S. to give Finland a term at the Security Council?

Finland has actively contributed to the UN’s unique role as the guarantor of peace and security, promoter of sustainable development, and advocate of human rights and democracy. In the international fora Finland has earned a reputation of an active and reliable actor. We Finns wish to carry our responsibility as a member of the international community. Our candidacy for a seat in the Security Council is a reflection of this objective.

Q. The tightening of the U.S. immigration policies has all but ended immigration from Finland to the U.S. It is now more difficult than ever to immigrate in the U.S. You can see this in a concrete way for example in Florida, where the once thriving Finnish community is slowly dying, because no new immigrants are coming in. Are there any bilateral agreements in the works between Finland and the U.S., or EU and US to facilitate the immigration both to and from the U.S. to Finland / EU?

The U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) is the appropriate agency to answer all questions regarding immigration to the United States.

President Obama and Ambassador Koukku Ronde

Q. One bright spot in the otherwise sagging economy, both in Finland and the U.S., has been the high tech sector. A good example of this is the GAP (Global Access Program), the collaboration between UCLA and Tekes. In the GAP program, Finnish high tech companies team up with UCLA Anderson School of Management students, who create business plans for the Finnish companies. This enables the Finnish companies to grow and expand into the U.S. and other countries. The program has been a smashing success. However, it seems to me that there is competition between Finnish semi-governmental and official organizations to vie with the same clients (the Finnish high tech companies) and snatch them away from GAP. Do you think it is time to close ranks and for all the Finnish organizations to work in collaboration rather than competition with each other?

I can’t speak directly to the example you mentioned but, in the case of our embassy, all the different Finnish actors —the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Forces, Finnode, Finpro, Tekes and VTT Technical Research Center—operate as a “House of Finland.” This means that we work together and make the best use of the wide variety of expertise and know-how that we have under the same roof to further enhance and deepen relations between Finland and the U.S.

Q. Finland has about 30 Honorary Councils in the United States. These unpaid individuals are supposed to represent Finland in their geographical areas. However, this writer has gotten a very inconsistent image of these honorary councils. Some are very active and helpful indeed, others, not so much. For example, I recall a cross country road trip from California to Florida that I made a couple of years ago. I e-mailed honorary councils in states along the way, asking about Finnish people and activities that I could write about in the media. I never heard back from most of them. Is it time to somehow revamp the whole honorary council system?

Overall, honorary consuls serve as an important and invaluable resource for Finland, and their service is greatly appreciated. Like you mentioned, honorary consuls are indeed unpaid and serve in their positions voluntarily. They assume the duties of the honorary consul in addition to all their other professional and private responsibilities, and I believe it is understandable that some have more time to devote to their consul roles than others.

Q. President John F. Kennedy famously said in his inauguration speech: “Ask not what the country can do for you. Ask what you can do for the country.” What can we Finns who live in The United States, do to benefit Finland?

In their daily lives, Finns living in the U.S. already represent Finland in many ways. From my perspective, all Finns, Finnish Americans, and Finnish organizations in the U.S. form a so called “Team Finland” that shares the same goal of improving and deepening relations between our countries. We may have different ways of working toward that goal, but we all benefit from a strong relationship between Finland and the U.S.

Also, I would like to encourage all Finns and Finnish Americans to visit our website, finland.org, and follow us on Facebook (http://facebook.com/FinnishEmbassyWashingtonDC) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/FinnEmbassyDC) to keep up to date on news regarding Finland and Finland’s role in the U.S.

Q. What is the most important thing you would you like to accomplish during your term as the ambassador?

During my term, I would like to see the manifold relations between Finland and the U.S. grow even deeper and more far-reaching..

thisisFINLAND - things you should and shouldn't know
Ambassador Ritva Koukku-Ronde’s Currilum Vitae:

1 September 2011 Ambassador of Finland to the United States of America

2009-2011 Under-Secretary of State, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
2005-2009 Director General, Department for Development Policy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
2003-2005 Deputy Director General, Department for European Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
1998-2003 Minister, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Finland, Bonn, Berlin
1996-1998 Director for the United Nations Development Issues, Department for International Development Cooperation, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
1995 Special Adviser to the Director General of the Political Department, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
1994-1995 Counselor, Political Department, Unit for the European Union and Western European Countries, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
1990-1994 Counselor, Deputy Head of Mission, The Hague
1987-1990 Second Secretary, First Secretary, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Finland, Nairobi; Focal Point to UNEP and UN Habitat
1987 Attaché, Department for International Development Cooperation, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
1986 Attaché, Embassy of Finland, Bonn
1985 Attaché, Press and Cultural Section, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
1982-1985 Free lance Journalist
1982 Master of Arts (history), University of Tampere

Links:

www.finland.org

www.thisisfinland.fi

twitter.com/FinnEmbassyDC

www.facebook.com/FinnishEmbassyWashingtonDC

Embassy of Finland, the first LEED certified embassy in the U.S.

 

THE PIA PAKARINEN PHENOMENON

STORY: PIA PAKARINEN
REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES
PHOTOS: JONNY KAHLEYN
MAKE-UP AND HAIR: KRISTINA DUFF

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn (copyrighted)

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn ©

The Finnish beauty queen was crowned Miss Finland in March, 2011, and by September she had abdicated her crown amidst terrible press. “What happened?” we asked Pia as she arrived in America for the very first time.

A year ago nobody knew anything about Pia Pakarinen, a 21-year-old country girl from Juuka, Northern Karelia. Then, last spring, she won the Miss Finland beauty pageant and became an overnight sensation. The beautiful and well-spoken blond bombshell seemed to be everywhere. With great triumph, the Nordic maiden was sent to the Miss Universe contest in São Paulo, Brazil. That’s when things started to go haywire. Reports began appearing in the media that Pia insisted that her entourage be brought along and that she demanded money for interviews. She returned from Brazil empty-handed and was said to be canceling and/or missing gigs that she had previously agreed to do. She then dramatically gives up her Miss Finland title in a live TV-broadcast and denounces the organization behind it. Pia Pakarinen was a persona non grata in Finland. There was only one thing to do: Go Hollywood!

Enter Maria and Paul Kizirian, a couple who work at the Network modeling agency in Los Angeles. The Finnish-born Maria happened to know Wille Wilenius, a friend of Pia’s.

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn (copyrighted)

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn ©

“Wille Wilenius contacted me to ask if it would be possible to introduce Pia Pakarinen to the people of Network. Paul had written an article for the Network website about Pia while she was competing in Brazil.”

That set the ball in motion. Maria Kizirian decided to take the bull by the horns and created a full schedule of meetings and events for Pia on her week long trip. The beauty queen arrived in Los Angeles on Friday, October the 14th. That weekend she attended movie industry parties that led to other meetings.

I and photographer Jonny Kahleyn first met Pia the following Sunday at Temptu make-up studio in downtown LA where we briefly shook hands. At first glance, she looked like a girl next door with her hair pulled back into a ponytail rather than an international beauty queen. But as soon as make-up artist Kristina Duff started working her magic on Pia, her eyes started to take on deeper dimensions, and her cheeks were brought out with blush. Her face was airbrushed with an instrument that looked as if it belonged in a doctor’s office and her hair was teased and blow dried to look like a lion’s mane. And, all of a sudden, this gorgeous woman was standing in front of me, looking demure yet seductive in a sixties-inspired electric blue gown that left her knees bare. We sat down to talk. The second impression, after her great beauty, was the calmness about her. It was as though she had remained unscathed by all the negative publicity.

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn (copyrighted)

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn ©

“It’s my first time in America. I am impressed how friendly and talkative people are here. I like it when people can just come up to you and start a conversation.”

When she entered the Miss Finland pageant, she still lived in Eastern Finland.

“Me and my boyfriend moved to Vantaa (near Helsinki), in May.”

She does not seem startled by the sudden publicity.

“Everything has happened quite naturally. One thing has led to another.”

Kristina Duff, Pia Pakarinen, and Jackie Fan at Temptu Pro Studios by Jonny Kahleyn (copyrighted)

Kristina Duff, Pia Pakarinen, and Jackie Fan at Temptu Pro Studios in Los Angeles

I ask her about the whole pay-to-play fuss, where she was being accused of trying to cash in on interviews while competing for Miss Universe crown in Brazil.

“While we contestants were there, all press interviews were supposed to go through the Miss Universe organization. They had press there and we were allocated specific times to be with them. Of course we gave those journalists interviews that were published all over the world.”

Things got a bit complex when reporters started calling her from Finland.

“Since I only had my own personal phone, I said to them that I should get some compensation. They did not ask how much or If I was asking for a few dollars or a million. Then the headlines appeared that I was demanding money for interviews. I only wanted to get my phone bills reimbursed. It costs even when you just answer the phone abroad. Former contestant had told me that after returning back home from pageants; they had to pay thousands of dollars in phone bills. And that’s not fair.”

The papers also claimed that Pia had asked for 5,000 Euros just to appear at a publicity party.

“I know nothing of that. Those matters are between Finnartists agency and the client, so I can’t say anything about that.”

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn (copyrighted)

Pia Pakarinen and Kristina Duff at Temptu Pro Studios in Los Angeles

There was also the incident where Pia had agreed to pose in a pin-up calendar put out by Maria’s Hospital in Helsinki. She was supposed to submit a publicity photo to the organizers. But Pia allegedly never responded to their repeated requests. Finally the gig was given to another model.

“I was in Brussels at the time and no one asked me for that promo photo. It was done and ready for them, so I could have sent it to them any time.”

She says she never received those emails or phone calls and that the whole thing was a misunderstanding.

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn ©

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn ©

On September 16th, Pia appeared on the live talk show “Korkojen kera” (With Interest). A tearful Pia, who showed up in the TV studio wearing her Miss Finland crown, took it off and resigned her Miss Finland title right then and there. The broadcast was on Friday. The next Tuesday she was due to meet with “Miss Baron” Eino Makunen to discuss her difficulties. Pia explains why the resignation could not have waited until after that meeting.

“I wanted to appear on the live TV broadcast because my words had been distorted and misconstrued in the past. I wanted to explain myself with my own words. It was not an easy decision. I had tried to talk to Finnartists (the organization behind the Miss Finland pageant) to improve things, but to no avail.”

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn ©

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn ©

She ponders for a long time when asked what this experience has taught her.

“Well, you always learn something new. There is always room for improvement – nobody is perfect. And I feel that I tried to improve things and get help. But it was never given to me.”

So, for better or for worse, Pia moved on and formed her own company, Luxury Promotions.

“I run it with the help of my boyfriend, professional footballer Niko Väyrynen. He has a financial background and takes care of the bookkeeping and other paperwork.”

The couple has been together for three and a half years. They make their home in Vantaa. Are we going to hear wedding bells anytime soon?

“We haven’t talked about it. We live together taking day by day.”

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn ©

Through her company, Pia offers her services as a model and a hostess. She says she is working now more than ever before. I ask her if people who hire her will get a reliable working partner.

“There have been all kinds of stories in the papers, but I have received only positive feedback from people who have actually worked with me. They know what kind of a person I am. If someone wants to believe in the news stories, then go ahead. I let my work speak for itself.”

That’s a deal. We decide to test Pia’s modeling skills in practice. Our gang, producers Maria and Paul Kizirian, make-up artist Kristina Duff, photographer Jonny Kahleyn and I hop onto a rented minivan and head out to Malibu, the playground of the rich and famous, for a photo shoot. We chose Leo Carrilo State Beach where many famous movies, such as Grease, The Karate Kid, The Usual Suspects and Inception have been filmed. The reason for its popularity with Hollywood lies in its uniqueness from other Southern California beaches with its dramatic volcanic rock formations and the only sea cave within hundreds of miles.

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn ©

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn ©

It is early afternoon and the tide is rising. Pia poses professionally for Jonny, while Paul and I take turns holding the reflector. Every now and then Kristina retouches Pia’s make-up and brushes her hair from her face. It all may seem very glamorous, but we had to avoid other crowds of people and other photographers while it was getting cold and downright stormy. We climb to the sea cave with the tide rushing in and gigantic waves washing ashore, flooding the place we were standing just seconds before. Even though Pia was cold and at times shivering due to the strong winds, she never utters a word of complaint. She takes the waves, wind, onlookers and arduous hikes on the rocks in stride. The long shoot ends at dusk. We climb back onto the minivan and head back to LA tired but happy. I found Pia to be an extremely professional, reliable, co-operative, smart and charming person to be around with.

Pia’s LA week was eventful. She was taken to industry parties, visited the taping of Dancing with the Stars at CBS Studios, met with the Network modeling agency people as well as producer Chad Oman at Jerry Bruckheimer’s office. Maria and Paul Kizirian also showed Pia the less glamorous side of town. She visited the Occupy LA encampment in downtown.

Pia Pakarinen and Kristina Duff on location in Malibu

“It was an interesting experience. I heard opinions from the people. They had camped out there in front of City Hall.”

Pia also attended a ride-along in an LAPD police car in the notorious South Central district. She saw the local police work in action – how they stopped and frisked suspicious characters, responded to domestic disturbance calls, and found drugs in one suspect’s car.

The purpose of the trip was to introduce Pia to Hollywood bigwigs in order to get her modeling career started in the United States. She sees herself more as a photographic model.

“I am perhaps not tall enough for runways (5’7’’), but there is plenty of catalogue work that I could do. Contacts are essential in this field. I would like to see how far I can get. I am very interested in working abroad.”

Pia was originally supposed to return to Finland on Friday the 21st, but she prolonged her trip in order to meet the CEO of the Nework modeling agency, Paul Fisher, who had been out of town. He is the man behind supermodels Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiefer. Her first visit to Hollywood couldn’t have ended on a better note.

Links:

www.piapakarinen.fi

www.thenetworktalent.com

www.kristinaduff.com

Temptu Pro Los Angeles

www.mariakizirian.com

THE TOYMAN STORY

Mikko Meronen by Tomi Hinkkanen

STORY: MIKKO MERONEN
REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – IRVINE
PHOTOS BY TOM HIKKANEN PRODUCTIONS

Mikko Meronen designs children’s toys for fast food chains. The toys advertise children’s movies and attract kids to the hamburger restaurants.

Designer Mikko Meronen sits calmly in his office filled with toys of all kinds. The Strottman company is located in a nondescript office building, one of many similar looking, that dot Orange County’s City of Irvine. The phone rings constantly and the computer keeps beeping as new emails pop on the screen. It is an unlikely place to create whimsical kids’ toys. For years Mikko worked in a similar office but for a different company, Equity Marketing, which manufactured toys for the Burger King chain. A few years ago he changed companies but the work remains pretty much the same. His current employer, Strottman, designs for Wendy’s Hamburgers and other fast food chains. Mikko is the lead designer. He is like a conductor. But instead of musicians, his orchestra consists of art directors, graphic designers, industrial designers, as well as freelance illustrators and cartoonists.
“When I first started my career, my job was probably 90% art and 10% business. Now it is vice versa. We have to make well thought out business decisions. I no longer design the toys or necessarily have to invent them. But if the group produces something that is not good, I have to get involved”, Meronen describes.

Mikko Meronen by Tomi Hinkkanen

Mikko Meronen by Tomi Hinkkanen

How does one become a hamburger toy designer? The Finnish-born Mikko’s journey into the hamburger toy world started by taking a bite of the Big Apple. He studied in the New York School of Visual Arts in 1987 – 1991.

“We studied everything: sculpture, drawing, painting and graphics. I got an A in each subject. My painting teacher said that I should be a painter, the sculpting teacher said that I am a sculptor, and so on. But an artist must have something to say. Van Gogh did not paint for money, but because he had a burning desire to do so. I told the teachers that I had nothing to say. It is mental masturbation to paint a picture, put it up, if it does not interest me. That doesn’t appeal to me at all. I realized that I am an entertainer of the masses. I am interested in pleasing the widest possible group of people as possible.”

After graduation, Mikko got a job as a studio assistant at Equity Marketing where he remained for 15 years,gradually ascending in ranks to finally become the head designer.

Sometimes a film is successful, but the toys are not.
“Shrek is a good example. Both Shrek movies made 300-400 million dollars at the box office, but the toys they did not sell at all. Why not? You have a donkey, a princess, the green man and a cat. There was no motif to tie them together and make children want the toys.”

Mikko Meronen by Tomi Hinkkanen

Mikko Meronen by Tomi Hinkkanen

Over the years Mikko has designed thousands of toys. One of his favorite campaigns was for the Dreamworks animated feature ‘Stallion – Spirit of the Cimarron’.

“It was a movie about horses. They don’t normally interest boys. The team worked for a couple of weeks, but the end result was a fiasco. I found an old book of radio toys. There was a picture of a view master and a horse. At that moment the skies opened up and an angel choir sang. I knew immediately what the campaign would be. We made a horse whose legs moved. The horse was on a stand that had a landscape background. The background could be inserted into the base, from which images could be seen in 3D. The movie took place in the 1890’s, when that kind of a toy already existed. I got a creative orgasm of that.”

For years Burger King took bids from two toy designers from which only one was selected for each campaign.

“There were two dogs and one bone every time. And since every deal is worth millions, you can only imagine what pressure that created every single month”, Meronen sighs. After a while Burger King gave up on the monthly competitions and learned to rely solely on Mikko. Still twice the number of toys were designed for each campaign. The customer selected the ones to be used and the rest would go to the trash.
At Strottman, Mikko’s task is to keep the calendar full of toy campaigns year round. Each campaign takes a year to realize, so Mikko must be constantly one step ahead of the times and competitors. His job is to identify suitable films that are in production and negotiate tie-in deals with film studios. Then the designers hit the drawing boards. They create the toys from scratch and send them to be manufactured. A team of 10 people produce 20 campaigns a year. In other words, a toy per day.
Each campaign begins a week before the movie opens and lasts for a month. Toys sold in toy stores are carefully targeted to a specific gender and age groups, but hamburger toys have to please all children.
“For the longest time the aim was to find a popular children’s film that would sell as many kids meals as possible. Today, we listen to the mothers, fathers and children. The majority of parents want to spend more time together with their children. Today, every toy is designed so that the kid is able to play with it alone and together with a parent.”

Mikko Meronen by Tomi Hinkkanen

The toys must also meet stringent safety regulations. Under no condition should the child be able to swallow the toy, or stick it in his or her eye, ear or nose. An accident usually means a costly lawsuit.

“One other company made diving sticks. When they were thrown to the bottom of the pool, they stood there upright. When kids jumped in cannonball, you can only imagine where those sticks ended up”, Mikko laughs. In addition to safety concerns, there are also monetary ones. Each promotion usually consists of eight million toys. The production cost of each toy must be kept under 50 cents. The rise of oil price directly affects the production costs of oil-based plastic toys. The toys are manufactured in China. Now the country has begun to flex its financial muscles. “The pay for many years remained almost constant. Now the Chinese want more money. China has raised their minimum wages and continues to do so. Thus, the work becomes more challenging.”

Mikko Meronen by Tomi Hinkkanen

In recent years additional pressure has come from within the United States, a country that battles childhood obesity. A number of local laws now prohibit offering toys with kids meals, if they do not meet certain nutritional requirements. A couple of years ago a Finnish nature magazine named hamburger toys as the most unnecessary product of the year. The toyman is not swayed by the insult. “Families that eat fast food are generally not well-off. Take for example a family in LA with seven children where the father is a mechanic and the mother works as a dishwasher. That family does not have much money. My mission throughout the years has been, that even though these toys are free giveaways, they do not have to be crap. With the money that I am allocated, I do my utmost to create as cool toys as possible. These toys go into the hands of children who do not have a lot of toys.”

MY SATURDAYS WITH VAMPIRA

Maila Nurmi and Tomi Hinkkanen

STORY: MAILA NURMI
REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES

I had the pleasure of knowing the fascinating Finnish-born Maila Nurmi aka Vampira. She was perhaps the most unique Hollywood personality I have ever met.

Maila was a true character who loved animals and was in perfect tune with the 20-something crowd who idolized her. Even though she was living in poverty when I met her, there were flashes of elegance and glamour in her life. She was very comfortable in her role as a fixture in the cult circles of Hollywood where pop-culture icons are cherished and celebrated. In spite of the fact that her actual time in the limelight was short-lived, she remains a true Hollywood icon.

publicity photo for film 'Grave Robbers from Outer Space' (later called 'Plan 9 from Outer Space')

Our friendship began after Tim Burton’s biographical movie ‘Ed Wood’ starring Johnny Depp hit the screens in 1994. The film was about B-movie maker Edward D. Wood, Jr., who went down in history as the director of the worst movie ever made, ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’.

The release of ‘Ed Wood’ resurrected the career of one of the stars of ‘Plan 9’ who was portrayed in Burton’s movie: Vampira. The actress behind the original Vampira was Maila Nurmi. For years she had been leading a quiet life while living in a dilapidated apartment on Hudson Avenue (in a less than glamorous part of Hollywood). But now, because of the movie ‘Ed Wood’, Maila was back in vogue. She was interviewed for numerous documentaries and TV programs. Hollywood’s goth youth found a new idol in her. She was often picked up in a hearse to go to parties and premiers. It was then that I approached her to do a feature news story about her life for the Finnish television. That started a friendship that lasted for many years.

Maila Nurmi and her beloved pigeons

My first date with Maila Nurmi happened on a rainy and dreary January day in 1995. She had agreed to meet me at a diner close to her Hollywood apartment. I remember she wore her favorite color, black, and had a bow adorning her hair. On that first lunch she warned me about ordering French fries with my cheeseburger. “It makes your skin look bad”, she said. We negotiated a small 300 dollar fee for a one day shoot. I don’t usually pay for interviews, but in this case the fee was in order for she had no steady income. I later learned that she didn’t to go on social security because she feared that government would come after her for some back taxes.

We shot the TV story on various locations around LA that were meaningful to her: the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the exterior of her old apartment in the Hollywood Hills, a memorabilia shop in Hollywood where her pictures were sold, and the Griffith Observatory where sculptor Kenneth Kendall’s statue of James Dean stands. Maila knew both men.

We had an absolutely fabulous day during which she poured her heart out to me. After that day, I felt I knew her quite well already and we kept in touch. I normally visited her on Saturdays when we would go to Sizzler’s for lunch and talk. And boy, the stories she told!

Maila as a young girl with a little monkey

She was born in Petsamo, then a part of Finland, December 11th, 1922.

“My very first friend was a mouse who lived in the closet. I followed his movements, except when the closet door was closed and I didn’t see him.” That was her only memory from Petsamo. When Maila was two years old, the family moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts. In those days it was a small fishing village. Her father Onni Syrjäniemi was a journalist and an ardent demagogue for the temperance movement. Her mother Aina Sofia Nurmi was a newspaper editor and a translator.“My mother was an alcoholic, but a good mother”, she said.

Her first memory on the new continent was true to her nature which was both melancholy and macabre: “I was playing on the sand dunes by the beach when a local fisherman stopped by to chat with me. Later I heard that he had gone to the sea and drowned. I had been the last person to see him alive. I still remember that fine man.”

Maila was a born performer. At four, she sang hymns in a Finnish church. At nine she acted in radio plays. At 15 she won a scholarship to Oregon University to study drama. In 1941, at the tender age of 19, Maila traveled to New York to become an actress. She went to auditions and got small roles on Broadway as a choir girl. She supplemented her income by working as a hatcheck and cigarette girl in clubs. The high point of her New York years was a role in the comedy ‘Catherine was Great’ starring Mae West.

“Mae West was great. I was afraid of her, though, for she cursed a lot and I had never heard such language before.”

Maila left New York and headed west where, for a few years, she worked as a pin-up model.

Early pin-up photograph

“I was then married to my first husband and he wasn’t completely over his ex-girlfriend who was the most famous bikini model at the time. I was a little chubby back then but I lost weigh and decided to become one of the most popular pin-up girls of America. I never do anything half way. It took a lot of work since posing in front of a camera did not come naturally to me.”

While working as a model, Maila befriended Norma Jean Dougherty, who later became known as Marilyn Monroe. She was also close friends with James Dean. They would sit together in Googie’s coffee shop in Hollywood and talk for hours. When Dean died in a car accident at the age of 24, the tabloids fabricated stories that Maila had put a curse on him. She was distraught for years because of that.

In the 1950’s Maila Nurmi reached the peak of her career.

Early pin-up photograph

“I wanted to become a preacher and needed money. Television was new then. I thought I would do well on TV since I had been performing in front of people all my life.”

At that time cartoonist Charles Addams’ the Addams Family was not yet on TV, but appeared as a newspaper comic strip. Maila decided to parody one of the characters, Morticia Addams. Maila Nurmi’s alter ego Vampira was born. The local KABC-TV in Los Angeles hired Maila, or rather Vampira, as the presenter of Saturday night horror movies. They were shown at the midnight timeslot which was considered the worst possible. That didn’t bother Maila. She put all her energy into her character which she played to perfection.

“I was a romantic and a puritan. I wanted to create a character that was everything that I hate in a person: a personification of evil. I thought I would have to get people’s attention by giving them what they wanted: breasts, net stockings, and phallic symbols. Once I had gotten their attention, I could preach to them. But I never got to that point.”

Early pin-up photograph

The Vampira Show premiered May 1st, 1954. Despite the lousy time slot and poor movie selection (the TV station paid a hundred dollars for each movie), Maila’s program was a hit. She was rewarded by an earlier time slot. Maila grossed 60 dollars a week for her gig. To achieve the famous thin waistline, she didn’t eat a bite for two days preceding the show. And every week she would take a Turkish bath to further shed the pounds. Rigorous fasting later led to health problems, but nobody knew about the pain it took to bring Vampira on screen. She would appear at the beginning of the movie and during commercial breaks, always telling naughty jokes and making fun of the celebrities of the time. In the ‘50’s TV broadcasts were live so that, unfortunately, there are no videotapes of Vampira’s show, but some kinescopes remain and can be seen in a documentary called Vampire: The Movie. Her gig at KABC-TV lasted a little over a year. At that point the TV station wanted to acquire the rights to the Vampira character. She told me that when she fired when she refused. She went on to sat that she was blacklisted and could not get other TV or film work afterwards.

Publicity photo as Vampira

Desperate for money, Maila accepted an offer from Ed Wood to appear in his sci-fi thriller ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ on the condition that she did not have to utter a line in the film. It starred horror actor Bela Lugosi who died before the filming even began. That didn’t deter the entrepreneurial Wood. He had shot some footage of Lugosi while he was still alive and incorporated that into his movie. The rest of the time another actor played the Lugosi character while covering his face with a cape.

Maila Nurmi as Vampire in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) -Wikipedia

“Ed didn’t give me any other kind of direction except “walk there and when I say stop, stop.” He was a tender, caring, and friendly man who loved animals.”

It is ironic that Maila Nurmi became best known for ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’. The film earned the title ‘the worst movie ever made’ for a reason. The actors were given ridiculously pompous lines written by Wood himself. The sets look home-spun and there were flying saucers made out of car hubcaps. The script seems to have been written in the spur of the moment and is full of inconsistencies. After that, Maila appeared in a couple more horror movies and then retired from show business in the early 1960’s. She supported herself by working odd jobs (she once gave an interview where she called herself ‘a lady linoleum layer’). Then she opened an antique store in Hollywood called ‘Vampira’s Attic’ which lasted for 15 years. In the 1980’s, she unsuccessfully sued Cassandra Peterson for copying her Vampira character.

At home in Hollywood

After the Tim Burton’s Ed Wood movie craziness of the 90’s died down, Maila made a living by making and selling her own paintings. She also appeared at horror and sci-fi conventions where she sold autographs and pictures to fans. There was even a collectable doll, an action figure made of the Vampira character. In 1998 Maila appeared in her final movie role, Aris Iliopulos’ ‘I Woke Up Early the Day I Died’ along with a star-studded cast including Billy Zane, Tippi Hedren, Christina Ricci, Andrew McCarthy, and Ron Perlman. The script was written by none other than Ed Wood who had died in 1978 at the age of 54.

The captivating smile of a true Hollywood legend

“I am a half recluse – and by my own choice, but because of the circumstances: poverty, illness and old age. But then I have these new young fans who have come into to my life. And I still appear in videos and play cameo parts in movies, so I have a little bit of a career left. My existence as a senior citizen is a small, mouse-like way of living.” Mouse-like as that mouse that was her first friend.

Maila Nurmi with director Aris Iliopulos and actress Karen Black at the premiere of her last film 'I Woke Up Early the Day I Died'.

Many a Saturday Maila and I would sit on the pavement in front of her apartment, talked, and fed the pigeons. She had named them all and knew every single one by name. An all white one was called Lana Turner. She would tell me stories about James Dean, her husbands, and the career that never quite took off.

One day her landlord announced that her house was to be demolished and that she needed to find another place to live. I was happy to find out that some of Maila’s friends managed to find her a nice place to live. We didn’t keep much in contact after that for one reason or the other.

Maila Nurmi by Tomi Hinkkanen

About eight years later, I read in the paper that Maila had passed away. She died on January 10th, 2008 of natural causes at the age of 85. That made me reminisce of the rainy January day 13 years before when our paths first crossed. Her body laid for some time in the city morgue before friends were able to collect enough money to give her a proper burial. Later on, I visited her grave at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery where we had once filmed a segment for our TV news story.

Maila Nurmi's grave at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Her tombstone is small but appropriate: it has her name, birth and death years and an engraving of the Vampira character that made her famous. The text on the bottom reads: ‘Hollywood Legend’. And that she most certainly was.


 

BABY SWIMMING IS CATCHING ON

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – PHOENIX, AZ

very young students and parents at SWIMkids USA

Seven hundred children drown every year in the United States, most of them in their family’s swimming pool. The majority of the deaths could have been avoided if the children had known how to swim.

Swimming is the third most popular form of exercise in the U.S. after walking and exercising with equipment. There are almost seven million Jacuzzis and nine million swimming pools in the country which, compounded with natural waters, claim more than 3,000 people each year. Of those drowning victims, 700 are children. Accidental drowning claims a quarter of all children who die between the ages of one and four. More than one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another four receive emergency care for submersion injuries. Near-drowning accidents may cause permanent brain damage to hundreds of kids.

Eighty-eight percent of children’s swimming pool fatalities could have been avoided if the children had known how to swim. Swimming skills have also shown to reduce children’s deaths in natural waters, such as flowing rivers, by 40 percent. Until recent years, pediatricians have recommended children to start receiving swimming lessons at the age of four. They now encourage children to be taught how to swim at the age when the child begins to walk, or at about the age of one.

student todler at SWIMkids USA

In an Arizona-based children’s swimming school, kids start at an even earlier age. Swimkids USA, a swimming school in Phoenix, starts them out as young as at 3 months old. Swimkids was founded in 1971 by Lana Whitehead.

“I am a teacher by profession. I went to YMCA to teach my 4 month-old baby how to swim. At that time nobody was teaching babies how to swim. It was something out of the ordinary. YMCA saw me and asked me if I would develop their program in Northern California. I developed the program for them and went on my own after that”, Lana explains. Since those early days, approximately 50,000 children have learned how to swim at Lana’s swimming school. Former students are now bringing their children and grandchildren to her school. Lana’s rule of thumb is: The sooner swimming lessons begin, the better. However, the baby must first get a clean bill of health from a doctor. Lana taught her son to swim at the age of four months. At Swimkids, it all begins with relaxation in the water. Parent and child are constantly in contact with each other.

“It is very easy to teach babies to swim. It is very bonding. The water resistance covers the entire body. Water has 600 to 700 times the resistance of air. So, the pressure on the body actually encourages neurological development. The other thing about the water pressure is that it deepens the emotional bond between the parent and the child. They are skin to skin, face to face, touching in the water. Touching is very important. It actually supplies the child with emotional memory. So, there are a lot of good reasons to start early.”

The Baby is first taught to float on his or her back.

“We want to get them so that they can relax. We work with them on buoyancy and balance. We put them on their backs and work with them, teaching them how to float on their backs and relax in the water. That’s probably the safest you can be. If you are in danger, turn over to your back where you can breathe and relax.”

It will become a reflex for the baby to turn on their back upon exposure to water. Then the baby’s head is gently pushed under water and lifted up.

“We work with submersion. So, we push down and lift their head so that they can get a breath.”

student todler at SWIMkids USA

This way the baby learns the connection between the lifting of the head and inhaling. Lana says that sometimes babies are drowning even in small containers of water because they do not understand to lift their big and heavy heads up.

“Children especially in Arizona, California and Florida are drowning – not just in swimming pools, but in inflatable pools, buckets, bathtubs and toilets. They get disoriented when the face goes in because their head is so heavy. They don’t know that if they lift their head, they can get a breath. That’s very tragic. We teach them to self-rescue, to push down, and lift their head and get their breath.”

Then, little by little, the baby is taught to turn around his stomach and swim toward the edge of the pool. It will take months. Lana urges parents to train at the beginning of the baby several times a week.

There are things that the parent should never do with a child in the water. A popular game that parents play with their kids seems harmless at the outset: Jump into the water, Dad or Mom will catch you.

Lana Whitehead, founder and president of SWIMkids USA

“Parents play this game, not realizing that it is dangerous: Jump to mommy or daddy in the pool. They don’t realize that if you are not there, the child thinks he or she can jump in and be safe. They don’t realize that if there’s nobody there, nobody is going to catch them.
Children have to learn to swim first. They can’t just jump to mommy or daddy, get caught and think – what a fun game!”

Recently in California, a 35-year-old intoxicated father dropped his seven-year-old son from a tourist boat to the ocean in Newport harbor, because the boy was crying. Fortunately the boy was rescued by the people in a passing boat. The father now faces child endangerment charges. Lana Whitehead says that a child should never be forced into the water.

“That’s no joke, that’s awful: it is a matter of life and death!

Drowning is a silent and fast event. In one moment a child is on the surface, a moment later already drowned. In 70 percent of cases, children have been accompanied by an adult at the time of drowning. The majority of successful rescues have happened within two minutes of submersion. After ten minutes under water the majority of children will perish. Small children should never be let go further than an arm’s length of an adult in the water.

“Swimming lessons make a child safer around the water, but you always still have to have barriers, and layers of protection: you need to have a fence around the pool with a locked gate; you need to learn how to administer CPR; you need to practice touch supervision, and the child needs to learn to swim. If you do all these layers of protection, the chance of a problem is greatly lessened.”

For more information go to:
www.swimkidsusa.us 

 

 

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