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!!
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!
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!!!
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.
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.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.
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!
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
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.
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!
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 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!
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.
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!!
Tiny Arrival: Incubator in Action
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.
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!]
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.
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.
*Potato starch may be hard to find. I get it at an Oriental Market, of all places.
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.
Right before serving, fill meringue nests with rhubarb mixture.
Serve with whipped cream and/or in a pool of strawberry sauce.
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.