In honor of International Women’s Day this week (March 8), we are featuring an Around LA with Ava column from a few years ago entitled WOMEN:
Things to Ponder Category:
Why is there a Women’s History Month when there is not a Men’s History Month?
Women still seem to be considered a minority even though they populate half of the world. Most men will acknowledge that we women have been running ‘things’ for quite a while, even if in a quiet, ‘behind-the-scenes’ way. However, now that so many men now report to women bosses in the workplace, it is best not to press that issue.
Anyway, I am all for celebrating. Any excuse for a party, n’est pas?
The first Women’s Month celebration I can remember was hosted by dear friend Bitte Westerlund, wife of former Consul General Jörn Donner, during their tenure here in LA. It was a remarkable event. Attending were this area’s most prominent women in politics, business, film, and the like. Nothing like this had been held before. All of us attending were so excited to be a part of something new –we felt a universal bond. Connie Rice [no, not the Secretary—she is a civil rights attorney], Beata Pozniak, Elina Vesara, Ruth Goldway, Dr. Leena Peltonen-Palotie, and so many others were brought together by Bitte. It is hard to get Finns together collectively, but Bitte “leaned in” and her personal force has left an indelible mark on the LA scene and on the Finnish women’s dynamic. We are eternally grateful in the Finnish community for her contributions during her time here.
This has been a big year for celebrating Women’s History Month.
Easter weekend marked the 100th anniversary of Suffrage for Women in the US . Finnish women gained full political rights in 1906, even before our homeland won its Independence. Finland was the first nation in the world to have women elected to its Parliament .
Finnish women have been particularly on my mind with their awesome accomplishments [no bias—just pride!]. I was led to reflect on the famous Finnish females who have graced our sunny Southern California shores when now retired Ambassador Maria Serenius returned ‘home’ this March. Maria was the first woman Finnish Consul General in Los Angeles.
As a ‘fringe benefit’ of being active in local Finnish groups and programs –and, if you are willing to get downtown for a 7 AM breakfast, you get to ‘visit’ with some really neat people. Sometimes those visits are in a ‘small group’ setting as a few of us experienced with the then Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen who went on to serve as Finland’s President for 12 years. I can remember the Finnish pride I felt as Minister Halonen answered a tricky question about Finland’s vaunted neutrality and the NATO participation requirement for membership in European Union that was in final formation stages. The future President proved her diplomatic ‘chops’ with an answer she may have been ‘trying out’ for similar questions from a larger audience in the future: NATO participation is problematic for Finland. Since we have the longest border with Russia, I propose that Finland secure that border and let NATO take care of the rest. Poised, confident, and bold in her answer, there were no follow-up questions on the subject.
Finland’s First Female Ambassador to the United States Visits:
Speaking of famous Finnish females, I hope you got to meet Ritva Koukku-Ronde, Finland’s first female Ambassador to the United States on her recent West Coast visit. The Ambassador joined Consul General Kirsti Westphalen and Honorary Consul Kathryn Mautino in San Diego before being the Guest of Honor and Keynote Speaker at the Finlandia Foundation National’s 60th Anniversary Celebration in Pasadena.
Finlandia Foundation National’s Performers of the Year:
Marja Kaisla (FFN Performer of the Year 2013) and Maria Mannisto (FFN Performer of the Year 2007) each performed in concert for the large and appreciative 60th Anniversary Celebration audience.
Finlandia Foundation National’s Lecturer of the Year:
As part of the 60th Anniversary Celebration, FFN showcased their 2012 Lecturer of the Year, Glenda Dawn Goss, on Friday night preceding the Anniversary Gala. Dr. Goss made Finland’s cultural awakening come to life through her unique presentation on the life of Jean Sibelius. She used music, historical slides, and personal descriptions in her scholarly evaluation. Dr. Goss’s personal perspective comes as a scholar from Georgia (in the American South) who has lived in Finland since 1998.
Those of us in the sold-out audience were taken back in time by a description of the life of Sibelius that also detailed how the Maestro came to be such an important and recognized figure in the United States.
She declared that Sibelius created “…what it means to be Finnish” and, thereby, paved the way for the Golden Age of Arts that was to follow. This was the awakening of the Finnish Identity. I think Finns all have the sounds of Sibelius’s music burned in our hearts, minds, and souls –an affirmation of our Finnish pride.
I can’t wait to read Dr. Goss’s new biography: Sibelius: A Composer’s Life and the Awakening of Finland; University of Chicago Press; 2009.
A Little Girl Remembers:
As a youngster my parents would put me on a Greyhound bus, alone, headed for San Francisco from the San Jose depot [no one would dare do that today, I know—different time/different rules]. My Pirkko-täti (a vivacious single lady in those days) would take me to a record shop by Ghirardelli Square on those visits. I remember the shop because Sibelius played in the background, just like home! The owner of the shop had a ‘thing’ for my aunt, I think. Once, he bent down and told me “ …you will never be fit to marry unless you know all of the symphonies of Sibelius”.
That long-buried memory came back as I listened to Dr. Goss’s lecture. Still, I do keep playing those symphonies!
More About FFN Lecturer of the Year Program:
LOY is a national initiative by Finlandia Foundation National started in 2006. The program’s aim is to promote Finland and to explain the Finnish-American connection.
An early FNN/LOY I supported at the Beverly Hills Library was a fascinating presentation by Susan Saarinen (granddaughter of Eliel and Loja Saarinen) and Mark Coir (architectural historian). That too was an excellent program with talks that illuminated the international exhibit on Finnish architect Eero Saarinen’s life and work that toured the US for several years. Saarinen’s work in the US [TWA at JFK/Dulles at Washington, DC—and his LA work with Eames of chair fame] is well known and admired.
These programs are so well organized, inspiring, informative, and fun!! When you leave, you want to be sure your fellow attendees know you are Finnish too—even though boasting is not permitted!
FFN Is 60!!:
The crown jewel of activities in the Finnish community this March was Finlandia Foundation National’s 60th Anniversary Gala Dinner and Concert. Finland’s Ambassador to the United States Ritva Koukku-Ronde was the Honored Guest and Keynote Speaker.
Marvin Suomi served as Master of Ceremonies. With Marvin was his lovely wife Marieclaire even though the whole Suomi family was leaving for Japan the next morning when the children’s Spring Break began.
The evening was informative and entertaining. It was a delight to meet the many Trustees of FFN. Tarja Silverman (a FFN Trustee from New York) was seated at my table. Between us was one of my favorite local Finns and long time friend Heidi Crooks (Chief Nursing Officer of the UCLA Health System). Andrea McAleenan of Azusa-Pacific University (formerly in charge of the EU Center at the Claremont Colleges) dropped by to say hello and to remind us all to attend FinnFest ’13 being held on the Finlandia University Campus in June on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Finlandia University President Philip Johnson was in attendance, as well.
Hollywood in the Desert:
After Awards Season in LA [aka Winter], the fancy gowns are out and everyone is still in a festive mood ready for the next big party. When Hollywood quiets down, the real fun, social scene moves with the ‘glitterati’ to the California desert. They are joined by the “snowbirds” from colder climates who have the resources and resolve to ‘get out of Dodge’ before the snow flies!
My dear old Hollywood friend (the late Greta Peck) loved her ‘Winter’ time with her ‘crowd’ in the warm and welcoming desert with all the activities and ‘goings-on’. She loved to tell tales—but my lips are sealed. In the sweltering Summer months, the place turns into a ghost town. Now, in high season, the streets are bumper to bumper and dinner reservations at the top restaurants are a precious commodity. The parties go on late into the night in this warm, happy party town.
A desert resurgence has taken place as a new generation has taken over with second/third… homes in lavish surroundings. Private jets now vie with commercial airliners for space at the Palm Springs Airport. Those who can do live in leisure and luxury. Even those who still work can carry an electronic ‘office’ and are able to shuttle back and forth depending on the season, the reason, or the event. Smiles, tans, and good moods abound. A strong sense of philanthropy dominates the social world and many charities benefit from those ‘goings-on’.
Golf, Tennis, Pools, and Pageants:
Golf, tennis, and pools have long been desert daytime staples. Professional golf and tennis tours have major tournaments in the desert during March each year. Following an afternoon of watching the professionals play, an evening of talk over cocktails and dinner, a good night of great dreams in the balmy, fresh night air, it is no surprise to find the sweet morning stillness at La Quinta Resort broken by the thuds of tennis balls and ‘grunts’. The morning ‘jocks’ have been inspired by their heroes’ performances from the day [or their dreams of the night] before and seek to duplicate the same perfect strokes. After a short bit, the gardeners take over with their equipment manicuring the grounds before the heat of the midday sun. The sequential noise patterns combine to leave a ‘peace offering’ of grapefruit that have been ‘rattled’ from the trees for the guests to enjoy.
As my friend from Washington, DC [VB] and I were quietly doing water aerobics in a small pool in Santa Rosa Cove at La Quinta we noticed Donald Rumsfeld [Gulf War I Secretary of Defense—among his many other accomplishments] ‘chilling’ on a poolside lounge chair. Just another day at the beach—his war is over.
My concert pianist friend [DP] is also a superb tennis player. The Tour Tennis Tournament was ‘on’ and all La Quinta televisions were turned to the tennis action 24/7 –especially in the pro shop where exquisite tennis gear can dress one for success on the court or in your dreams.
Fashion Week is also big during this season in the desert. That grand pageant was about to begin with exhibitions and special events scheduled back to back. The night I was there, my architect friend [JJ] from LA was able to obtain much coveted tickets to The Fashions of Leonore Annenberg at the Visitor’s Center at Sunnylands. [The Walter and Leonore Anneberg Estate Sunnylands is a must see recommendation for everyone.]
The Fashion Show on March 13th was abuzz with the beautiful women of the desert. Each designer shown was interpreting (in their own contemporary perspective) the designs originally worn by Leonore Annenberg. Mrs. Annenberg’s original gowns were on display and a runway presentation of the new designs was featured. Among those guests present was iconic black fashion model Betsey Johnson. A martini tasting of infused vodkas and hors d’oeuvres preceded the runway show.
[The Annenberg Estate ‘Sunnylands’ tour provides a marvelous view into American history, but must be deferred for another column. ‘Sunnylands’ (designed by US architect A. Quincy Jones) now offers tours to the public. Tickets are hard to come by, but are worth the effort if you know you will be in the area.]
Leonore Annenberg fits into the Celebration of Women for her accomplishments in the world of politics and diplomacy not only as the wife of an Ambassador, but because she held the rank of Ambassador herself when she served as Chief of Protocol for President Ronald Reagan. More importantly, she worked quietly ‘behind-the-scenes’ facilitating the movers and shakers of American history, as well as, foreign leaders and royalty in historic preparations/negotiations in her homes.
Female Finnish Conductor Coming to LA Philharmonic at Disney Hall:
Susanna Mälkki, Finnish Conductor and Music Director of the Ensemble intercontemporain, will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra on April 12, 13, and 14. The Concerts will feature works by Poppe, Stravinsky, and Brahms. www.laphil.com.
The Annual Scandinavian Festival in Thousand Oaks at the Cal Lutheran University Campus begins on April 20th. This is always a fun event. Come meet fellow Finns and other Scandinavians. Shop, taste treats, see friends, and enjoy entertainment. Stand with Finnish pride. Come say hello!
New Los Angeles County Jail Chief Is A Woman:
Sheriff of Los Angeles County is an elected position. As we know, politicians are noted for telling constituents whatever they want to hear. We have learned to ‘filter’ statements and responses to questions, withholding judgment of our ‘leaders’ until we see their actions.
Lee Baca has mentioned how much he admires the strength and leadership of Finnish women. Words of a politician—words of a diplomat—words to please a constituent—words to assuage a volunteer? Proof is in performance.
Sheriff LeRoy D. Baca has just appointed a woman to manage the nation’s largest jail system. His appointee (Terri McDonald) has earned a reputation as a tough manager. Previously Ms. McDonald was with the California State Prison System where she helped institute major prison reform.
Other Women Warriors:
As I close this column, the ‘wires’ are humming with the news that Julia Pierson has been named the first woman in charge of the US Secret Service.
YOU GO GIRLS!!!