AROUND LA WITH AVA: Is It What It Is ?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?]
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!
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.
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).
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!
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?”.
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.
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.
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 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.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!
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!
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.
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. His large portrait is still prominently displayed in the Lobby, however.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.)
Salt the fish inside and out and let rest for 1-2 hours.
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)
Leftover fish makes for a delightful salad, pate or spread.