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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