AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Finnish Root Touch Up
November signals the start of the Holiday Season. Are you ready?
Now is the time to take inventory, make lists, set up calendars, plan events, figure out where the appropriate decorations were stored last year, and do the necessary ‘touch-ups’ so our homes, offices, and we, ourselves, will look ‘just right’ when the multitudes arrive or we step out.
It is time to get in touch with our heritage. Before the ‘whirlwind’ of events hits, be sure to take a few reflective moments where you pay special attention to your original Finnish roots including our grand religious, economic, and political freedoms and traditions that deserve to be ‘passed on’ with the Thanks, Reverence, and bounty inspired by the calendars of the Church, the State, and the stores (street or ether-based).
Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and months turn into years even if we just sit and breathe. In the blur that is our lives as they are lived here in Los Angeles, it is easy to press forward without looking back. “To every season turn, turn, turn…”
Finland’s Centennial is almost here. Late November/early December are filled with Thanksgiving, Pikku Joulus, and Christmas parties. Nonetheless, there is still time and the perfect opportunity to create your own Finnish family tradition or add to the ones you have already. Highlight the celebration of Finnish Independence with an infusion of national pride! And, share that pride with others—especially those who are not familiar with our fascinating history and heritage.
Somehow, the proximity of Finnish Independence Day (6 December) with Thanksgiving reminds us of the immigrant experience we and/or our forefathers and foremothers shared with the first European settlers who came to America centuries ago. Once here, the early Pilgrims had to learn the ways of the New World from the Indian natives if they were to survive and prosper in a demanding foreign land. Yet, the Pilgrims retained their history and culture even as they adapted and learned new ways. So, too, do we immigrant Finns retain the deep, everlasting roots of our Finnish heritage woven into our life tapestries.
In just a few years, Finland will celebrate its 100th year of Independence. There will be a bevy of publications, events, and proclamations highlighting our trip through history at that time. The period preceding the Centennial presents an opportunity to study the centuries of relationships with our Swedish and Russian neighbors, to review the role that the Lutheran Church had in shaping our national culture and character, and to learn about Finland’s modern transformation from an agricultural, iconoclastic society to a global paragon of technological and educational wizardry! This is an excellent time to involve our youngest generations in noting and honoring our homeland as part of a Finnish family tradition. As Americans, they will learn about how the United States evolved in school. ‘They came, they saw, they conquered—and, they wanted to live happily ever after!’
As we celebrate Finnish Independence on 6 December, Americans remember the surprise attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor on December 7th. The Finnish Continuation War was the American equivalent of Pearl Harbor. A reluctant participant in World War I—“The War to End All Wars”, the US was more than hesitant to become involved in World War II until the Pacific attack. In December 1941, Finland was 24 years old—the US was 165 years old. [The ‘new’ world was old, the ‘old’ world was new.] If the US had not entered WW II, we Finns would still be blue-eyed and blond, but we would speak German, not Finnish. Then, again, if it were not for the Sisu of our parents and grandparents who fought Russia to a ‘stand still’, we would speak Russian, not Finnish.
Modern History Can Be Fun While You Live It!
Suggesting a fun, modern, LA-style approach to Finnish Independence Day is in no way meant to denigrate the solemnity, dignity, and reverence of the occasion honoring those who made Finland possible. That is always important to do.
However, this is the time of year to have some fun with your heritage. Modern Finland (with its unique, beautifully innovative spirit) is a source of pride and inspiration for many of us in the way we live, how we present ourselves, the clothes we wear, how we decorate our homes, and how we share our heritage with our friends and the world. For me, food is fun—and can be expressive in its own way.
When I entertain, I always try to have a number of interesting desserts for guests to experience. This year, my personal quest for a dessert theme at the Finnish War Veterans’ Suomi Sisu Summit was to create a blue and white dessert. It was meant to be a tasty, colorful, patriotic salute to those heroes and the heroine present that day. The effort was successful. The result was a fun conversation piece, easy to make, colorfully Finnish, and a big hit.
My party meal conclusion inspiration was born of a T-shirt—would you believe? Try this for your Independence Day party—or any future Finnish celebration. It is easy, made-ahead, and festive for all busy Finn-Angelenos. The blue and white striped treat is based on the Tasaraita Marimekko T-Shirt which was a ‘classic’ from the ‘60s—1960s, of course.
Fashion Note: My long-term favorite ‘go-to’ outfit is that same Marimekko T-Shirt under a tailored blue blazer with my Finnish grandmother’s [Pih-Mummi] pearls or a Tapio Wirkkala Lapponia gold necklace. A pair of jeans (if that is your thing) or nice slacks and great Palmroth loafers (or slinky heels) will ‘suit you up’ properly and comfortably for any event this City of Angels has to offer.
The Tasaraita T-Shirt has been a staple in practically every Finn’s closet for decades. The blue and white stripes are a reminder of Finnish flag colors that reflect the water and the sky of our homeland. The elegant nautical colors always make for a fun and festive party theme and décor. I have blue and white striped table toppers that I used for this year’s Finnish War Veterans’ Suomi Sisu Summit. So, the dessert matched the drapes! The colorful Finnish dessert was such a hit—my Father ate 5!
Festivities for Finnish Independence
Invite your favorite ‘Finnophiles’. Virtually every Finnish home (and many ‘wired’ Finnish homes around the world) are tuned to the Red Carpet arrivals of Finns prominent in science, literature, sports, government, and industry. As in Hollywood, a Finnish favorite ‘sport’ of media and ‘fans’ is critiquing the outfits of the guests as they exit the Receiving Line after greeting the President of Finland. I just read that the official invitations for 2014 have been sent out in Finland. The social world there is all ‘a-buzz’ in anticipation.
Have Your Own Red Carpet Party
Finnish Independence Day is ‘party-perfect’ this year because it falls on a Saturday. The time difference [10 hours] will allow you to have your own version of an LA Red Carpet Convergence as Finnish Independence is celebrated in Helsinki. In years past when the receiving line occurred during working hours, many of us here sat at our desks covertly trying to catch glimpses of what was happening ‘on the Red Carpet’ in Helsinki.
[My Grandparents were regular guests at the Independence Day Reception back in the ‘40s when my Grandfather was a Dean at the University in Helsinki. They lived right on Hallituskatu by Senate Square, but were driven to the Reception. The Finnish men always wondered why my Grandmother would not walk the several blocks to the Reception, but, as women in formal wear on formal occasions know, you need to “arrive properly” for such grand events.
People watching, attire critiquing will be ‘de rigueur’ as each Finland Finn is glued to their TV and smart devices. Our recently, dearly departed Joan Rivers (or Mr. Blackwell) would have a ball watching as the procession of Finnish political, sports, business, journalistic, and literary glitterati arrive at the Presidential Palace.
Finnish Activities Around LA
A recent visit by Dr. Pertti Rintahaka from Helsinki was a reminder of the Finnish Red Carpet Independence Day procession prior to the glorious Reception held at the Presidential Palace on December 6th each year. An Around LA With Ava three years ago chronicled the most “romantic Independence Day evening” when Pertti proposed to his beautiful Diana Cavonius on the way to the Independence Day Gala. Pertti (a former Angeleno and FACC Board Member) was back in town for a medical conference. He is a renowned neurologist/psychiatrist in Finland who worked at UCLA for a number of years. His bride Diana is an international expert and practitioner on adolescent issues.
Pertti (with his eclectic taste for American music) had just been to a John Fogerty concert in Las Vegas. Anxious to take some rare recordings home, Pertti wanted to head for Tower Records on Sunset. His disappointment at their demise disappeared when I told him that Amoeba Records had replaced Tower as the mecca for everything in recorded music in Los Angeles. He was excited to be introduced to such a favorite source of hard-to-find sounds for even classical conductors here in LA.
My month of covering Finns began and ended at the same location. On a beautiful So Cal evening, I was back across the street from Amoeba Records at a movie screening featuring none other than……. (read on to find out who—this is a ‘Hollywood tease’).
A busy few weeks followed starting with:
Snow Leopard’s Den –an espionage farce built on the Edward Snowden ‘information release’, hit the boards in an intimate Santa Monica theater. The Funland Comedy Ensemble presented the play. Opening Night festivities were sponsored by the Consulate General of Finland. The show was written by Finn Markus Leikola and directed by Finn Katarina Laurila—Saara Wacklin produced. Opening Night was a sold-out delight.
For years, I have been busy with the various European communities here in LA. Again this year, I was excited to attend the Austrian National Day where I met up with old friends from the Austrian community, the Sheriff’s Department, the LA Consular Corps, and, most especially, our own Consul General JP Markkanen and his lovely wife Tuula. The scene around the Austrian Consul General’s residence was quite an event onto itself with helicopters overhead, blocks of cars, long lines of LA’s politicians and EU social notables waiting to enter and to be greeted by the ever gracious Ulrike Ritzinger, Consul General of Austria.
[I did not catch a glimpse of Austrian former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He lives in the same area. The ‘Arnoldnator’ is always a topic of comment at Austrian events.]
Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation
LAFF held its Annual Honoree Luncheon at the Sportsmen’s Lodge. This year’s Honoree was Howard Rockstad. The Lodge was filled with pre-holiday joy and warmth.
A silent auction to benefit the LAFF scholarship fund included some special books that had been donated by the Consulate General of Finland. I was delighted with my winning bid as those books will find their way under my Christmas tree for my Grandchildren who will learn some more about their Finnish roots. And, they will be pleased to learn some more about their Great Grandfather who is mentioned in one of the books.
Supporting LAFF (its work and its scholarships) is important for promoting Finnish heritage here.
An Evening of Jazz and the Launch of Finlandia Foundation National’s Sibelius 150th Celebration at the Consular Residence
The Finnish Consulate and FFN co-sponsored an Evening of Jazz with the Olli Soikkeli Band launching the upcoming Sibelius 150th Anniversary Year in 2015. Esa Pekka Salonen and his wife Jane were present. It was a great night of cool music, good food, and grand plan announcements. Fun was had by all.
[The Markkanen’s delightful son was celebrating his 20th birthday the same weekend. He captured some great shots while honing his photographic skills at this star-studded event.]
The very next night following the Jazz/FFN Launch was a private screening of Drifting. There I was—right where the month started for me, across from Amoeba Records at Sunset near Vine. On the big screen before me was none other than Tomi Hinkkanen (FinnTimes Publisher) in a major acting role in the movie! BRAVO on your performance Tomi!
The range of successes talented Finns have never ceases to amaze me. Here in Los Angeles you can be a journalist, a researcher, a professional, a photographer, an actor, an entrepreneur, a chef, a designer, an author, an inventor, a nanny, a politician, a teacher, an artist, a playwright, a musician, a scientist, a composer, an expert in different fields—or all of the above, and at the same time do it all well.
That is what modern Finland prepares people to do I guess. And, as the Creative Finns who have flocked here have found out, LA embraces talent—no matter what your ambition!
We have so much to celebrate and to be thankful for each Thanksgiving: family, friends (old and new), our Finnish heritage, warm weather, opportunities for growth and success—and so much more.
Let’s have Finnish fun and be thankful for our many blessings as we come into this season of celebrations of things good.
Please always reserve December 6th to remember the sacrifices of the Veterans and Lottas who preserved Finnish Independence. Put out the blue and white décor, light the candles, recite the history of the brave, and celebrate the wonders of modern Finland. Rejoice in your Finnish-American heritage.
For Blue Stripe Layers:
- 6 oz. package blueberry Jello
- 2 cups boiling water
- 2 cups cold water
Pour and stir pack of Jello in boiling water until dissolved. Stir in cold water. Pour into pitcher for use in layering. Do not refrigerate. Pour small amount from pitcher on bottom of shot glasses to make first stripe. A plastic box or tray containing all glasses will ease transport back and forth as you continue layering. Refrigerate glasses until first layer is firm—about an hour.
For White Stripe Layers:
- 2 teaspoons gelatin powder
- ½ cup cold water
- cup boiling water
- 15 oz can cream of coconut (Coco Lopez brand easiest to find at wine shops)
Soften gelatin powder by sprinkling over the cold water in a bowl. Add boiling water and stir until completely dissolved. Add can of coconut cream and stir. Pour into clean pitcher for use in layering.
Alternate blue and white layers, letting each set before adding the next layer. Chill for at least one hour. Can be made up to 3 days ahead. If desired, top with whipped cream, blue sprinkles, a miniature Finnish flag, or whatever. [You will have lots of blue Jello left over if you use ‘even’ stripes. Enjoy.]
Provide a little demitasse spoon that fits into the small glass. This dessert is good to the last drop!
*Add or interchange colors for other occasions or nationalities!
Super easy ideas for your menu while you watch the Red Carpet Helsinki happenings:
Traditional Finnish pea soup
Finnish open faced salmon sandwiches, or sliced cheese and sausage with Finn Crisp Scandinavian Beer (Carlsberg), Lingonberry Juice, and/or Koskenkorva Vodka
A Pot of Finnish Coffee
and, by all means:
An order of karjalanpiirakkas or any other of the delights you can get your hands on from the Scandinavian Kitchen, Chef Sirpa’s new catering company.
Do As Finnish Households Do On Independence Evening
LIGHT A BLUE CANDLE AND A WHITE CANDLE IN THE WINDOW AT DUSK