AROUND LA WITH AVA®: MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Many Happy Returns?? Americans have never quite bought into Boxing Day when the rest of the world blatantly returns gifts that “… do not fit” without guilt. And, to be perfectly honest, I am not anxious for some marketing guru to find the “hook” to get us back into the stores. I know, the drones are coming –but I really can wait!
The happiest returns of the holiday season—or of any season, always seem to involve a renewed acquaintance, the return of a favor long forgotten, the return to a location with fond memories, or just a chance recollection of times gone by through a serendipity of circumstances for an unknown purpose. The momentary smile on my face may be the only physical manifestation of a profound experience. I like that. It feels good. Yes, I am Finnish.
As another frantic year draws to a close, our souls recall the beautiful Peace of Finnish Christmas.
As the distal boom of the old year melds into the crescendo of the year ahead on the ever spinning, ever so busy cycle of life here, recent events have been so fun to look back on with fondness.
A Personal Favorite: Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen’s return to Los Angeles for a major speaking engagement at the World Affairs Council luncheon at Spago was the culmination of this Finn’s ‘season’. I had been present at her first World Affairs Council speech as Foreign Minister and, now again, as a former Finnish President at the pinnacle of her status as an influential world leader sharing her perspective of times past and present. I was fortunate to be able to raise a question referencing her answer to one issue raised on her last visit regarding defense of Finland’s border with Russia. It was fun to recollect on years past from old and new perspectives.
LA’s Downtown has taken on a remarkable transformation. I have to be careful here because many of us think of Los Angeles as the only major US city without a ‘Downtown’. More recent ‘arrivers’ think of Downtown as a ‘happening place’. When Famous Finn Greta Peck and friends arrived to create ‘Hollywood’ and the movie industry, there was a business and commerce center where all of those skyscrapers are today. The ‘movers and shakers’ built mansions in Hancock Park, just west of Downtown, before moving their polo ponies to Beverly Hills and, later, on to Pacific Palisades and Malibu. Even I am not old enough to have been there then, but I sure do relish the tales Greta shared with us!
If you are going West toward the Pacific Ocean or the Westside from Downtown, it is sometimes worth not getting on the Freeways just to sit in traffic. Be adventurous. Discover what is new on the streets of LA. [Be cautious; have a plan; know your alternatives—and, of course, lock you doors!]
One night after an evening legal seminar downtown, it was a gridlock situation heading to the West so I skipped the I 10. I trekked through ‘Koreatown’ heading toward the Farmer’s Market on 3rd Street. Taking a left on Fairfax became necessary due to a traffic jam. And, there it was, an old favorite: the Peterson Automotive Museum in its shocking new incarnation. [I remember the days when that building housed Orbach’s Department Store that seemed to specialize in “recreating Oscar gowns” and other fashion replications. Returning to old favorite places can have a whole new complex of feelings and thoughts when the building now houses old cars instead of old clothes.]
Speaking of cars and fashion, this is where it all comes together. In the City of Angels we love fashion. We love beautiful cars. They belong together. No matter how many factions lobby to kill the car culture, that is “…not gonna happen!” It is part of our history and our lifestyle. Can you imagine the Golden Globes or the Oscars opening with the stars arriving at their Red Carpet interviews on foot or by bicycle?!?
Even the Annual LA Auto Show had an “On the Red Carpet” feature as beautiful celebrities arrived in their coutured magnificence to view the new wheeled beauties in their sculpted magnificence. “Just like Bogie and Bacall!!”
The new Petersen Museum is a real ‘brake slammer’. The outside was such a shock: Hot Rod Red with Gracefully Twisted Aluminum. I will have much more to say in a future column after I have been inside. I am quite optimistic since I have known one of the Peterson’s principal exhibitors for decades.
Clifton’s Cafeteria in Downtown has made a “re-turn”. The new owners want to return to the glory days of yore that no one living Downtown today remembers. Horn & Hardart’s in Philadelphia and New York set the tone that lasted for decades. I hope Clifton’s makes it until I can get there for a unique dining experience under the redwood tree and the taxidermed animals where some of the great writers (Kerouac, Bukowski, Bradbury) of historical LA dined! It is so special when LA decides to reinvent, recondition, and restore instead of tearing down.
Do you remember Scandia, that pillar of Scandinavian cuisine that was everyone’s (especially celebrities) special occasion restaurant? Like Clifton’s, it has been closed for decades though the building stands forever. Each drive on the Sunset Strip brings back memories and the hope that, one day, that magic place will return again! There was so much to love about it: memories of happy times and the splendor of our Nordic homelands—the great Hamlet’s Dagger (lobster tails on a skewer with caviar sauce), gravlax, meatballs … everything done to perfection and with style. One of the favorite Scandia desserts was just like our family’s cake with apples. Both were made with leftover ingredients like crumbled cookies and stewed apples or spare applesauce.
We called our family dessert “pappilanhätävara” . A Finnish family staple, pappilanhätävara translated loosely means “parsonageemergencyfare”. In other words, if visitors came to the parsonage unannounced, for example, this treat could be thrown together with what was “on hand”, e.g., leftover fruit, jam, and cookies. I make this dish for American Thanksgiving, for Christmas holiday buffets, and even for free-flowing Oscar parties because it serves more than a regular “apple pie”. It is a magical ‘thing’ to make—it looks good, and tastes even better! How can this be a cake when you don’t add eggs, flour, or leavening? But, I digress.
Would I violate Canon Law by serving pappilanhätävara with a Bishop present?? I hoped not, but I was not bold enough to take the chance.
Perhaps it was my late Dad’s subtle Finnish sense of humor shining through when I considered putting pappilanhätävara on the menu as a perfect dessert when entertaining Ilkka Mäkelä, Bishop of the Finnish Lutheran Church who was visiting Los Angeles and several important local Finnish Congregants including the Vuorenmaas, the Salos, and the Majamäkis.
Bishop Mäkelä was here for the Ordination Ceremony of Veli Matti Kärkkänen. There was a sanctuary full of celebrants from our Finnish community and from the Fuller Theological Seminary where Dr. Kärkkänen has been a professor. My contribution for the refreshment table at the Ordination was to be a cake. I settled on a voileipäkakku (sandwich cake). [I will share that recipe/process later. It has a ‘wow factor’ for any celebration, tea, bridal shower, graduation … .]
The Ordination was a full regalia celebration enjoyed by all.
Star Wars Return
The biggest box office event ever (grossing 1.767 billion USD to date) was the return of the Star Wars series movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.
To me, it seems pretty crazy. The film is being shown around the clock on over ¼ of all movie screens in the US and Canada. All those people lining up for hours and days to be the first to get in to experience a cultural phenomenon. Then again, I did not understand Black Friday this year when people camped out in weather just to get a $40 Darth Vader toaster.
Having just written that last paragraph, I laughed out loud. I had one of those déjà-vu moments from our past that makes us happy and brings a reflection on the meaning of our lives. Even small details of experiences and feelings become real again in vivid detail!
In 1977 [it was not the first night craziness, but] I did take my newborn in an infant carrier to the first Star Wars movie. I was hoping for a ‘no-cry zone’ in the balcony of a small theater in a small town in Oregon. That same awesome newborn (now 38) was on line opening night this go-round, Internet tickets in hand! A happy return indeed.
A Well Received Premier:
I was in a big hurry to get to the Aero Theater in Santa Monica where I was to attend the Premier of old friend Klaus Hӓrö’s film The Fencer. A Finn is always embarrassed to be late, no matter how good the excuse. I was late.
Director Klaus and Kai Nordberg, the film’s Producer, were standing outside the theater on Montana as I arrived, breathlessly, just as the film was to start. Ever gallant, Klaus gave me a big hug [graciously remembering our shared Thanksgiving Feast of days past] and escorted me into the auditorium.
The Fencer is set in Estonia during the Stalinist era of the USSR. The film draws on the story of a real life fencer and coach (Endel Nelis) who was forced to flee Leningrad in 1952 to avoid investigation by the Secret Police. He founded a sports club for students in Estonia, teaching them about his great passion, fencing. The children (many of whom were orphans as a result of the Russian occupation) are his students whom he serves as teacher and father figure. The poignant and heart-warming film is a beautiful story of a teacher’s devotion to his students, as well as, an exquisitely nuanced love story set in a time of political oppression.
At the Q&A after the film showing, Klaus shared some ‘behind the scenes’ information and insights. This story is so personal to Estonia, having only recently become independent from Russia. [For many Finns with almost 100 years of independence, the oppression is more theoretical.]
Klaus told of a moment during the filming where (contrary to tradition and protocol) everyone on set was on their cell phones. Klaus did not understand this interruption or the emotion of the scene unfolding until he realized that this was the moment when Russia invaded the Ukraine!
Klaus’ return to Los Angeles is a gift to us all who can claim ‘heritage’ share in his great accomplishment with his wonderful film, The Fencer.
The Fencer was also Finland’s foreign language entry for the 2016 Academy Awards. It got on the long list but did not make the cut to the final five nominated foreign films. Klaus and the film were all the talk of Hollywood. The International Film Festival in Palm Springs opened with The Fencer. On Opening Night, Klaus with his Finnish humor and self-deprecating charm wowed the audience. Bravo Klaus!! Two thumbs up!!!
Elsewhere in the World of Film, Fun, and Finland
It is always wonderful to touch bases with dear, talented people you have not seen in awhile. Bo Svenson (venerable actor, producer, writer) had exciting news to share. Bo’s long term project based on the Winter War is now in publication as a novel and he is working on making the film for a special Centennial opening.
We were delighted to have Bo attend the December 4 Finnish Christmas party entitled Celebrate Finland as a VIP guest. The Celebrate Finland event was a brainchild event that took hold at an earlier Friends of Finland meeting. The independent event was put together by a magnificent committee under the leadership of Leena Tukiainen, supported by Nape Singh, Autumn Jackson, and Ava Anttila. Though no Independence Day party was arranged by the Consulate this year, Consul General Juha Markkanen kindly allowed the Christmas party to be held at the Consul Residence. Old and new friends were in abundance including Mr. and Mrs. Teemu Selanne and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.
Actress Nina Sallinen made a surprise appearance and performed some material from her one-person play Poor Poor Lear. Sketch Williams, breakout artist for Sisu Entertainment performed for the sold out audience. A fun raffle, karaoke, and a sumptuous buffet by Scandinavian Kitchen in LA got everyone off to a great holiday season start. Grand Finnish spirit was stoked with great excitement and vision for the time leading up the Finland’s great Centennial celebrations.
Philip Johnson President of Finlandia University made a re-turn visit to Los Angeles. Over a dozen Finnish community leaders enjoyed hearing his vision in education and about what is going on at the Finlandia campus. My home was filled with friends, food, and Finnish good will. We had fun—and we learned more about how to help create a better future for our Finnish friends.
Finnish Independence Day December 6th
Independence Day 2015 happened to fall on a Sunday. The Finnish community had a special celebration at the Finnish Lutheran Church service in Santa Monica. It just so happened that the December Most Beautiful Christmas Carols service (a perennial favorite) happened on the same day.
There were some poignant and special surprises. The Suomi Koulu children performed several Finnish songs under the leadership of Mira Scott. Finnish Deputy Consul Selin brought greetings from the government of Finland in her words to the Congregation. Deputy Consul Selin’s son Lauri brought down the house with his vocal performance. He is quite gifted. At the coffee hour, Lauri showed off the special tie he was wearing that contained the music to Finlandia.
Now that is ‘flying the flag’!
Elma Maisack returned to Church with Sirkka and Jim Aldridge. Elma and Sirkka Toth are Finnish treasures as the remaining living Lottas. Elma has the unique distinction of having an Independence Day birthday so everyone was able to serenade her with Happy Birthday in both English and Finnish.
It is such a joy and pleasure to know and spend time with these magnificent women who did so much for Finland. Irene Yaro (who is now caregiver of Sirkka) brought me the most touching gift: Sirkka’s National Costume. I can visualize Sirkka from all her performances throughout the years, speaking in her strong, beautiful Finnish voice while reciting tales and poems (all from memory!) wearing that dress.
When I personally visited with Sirkka to thank her for her magnificent gift, she recited a poem with certainty and with clarity. I know this, if the Russians invade Finland again, I want her on our side!
Guns N’ Roses will return and will be featured at the next Coachella Music Festival.
Return visits bring such joy!! I just learned of dear friends jetting their way to LA. They are near and dear to many of us who have been enlightened, enriched, and educated during their tenure in LA. That will be a really Happy Return to see them.
EMERGENCY APPLE “CAKE”
Bag of apples (about 12-14): peeled, cored, and sliced—Granny Smith for non-emergencies
Sugar to taste
Splash of water with ‘spritz’ of lemon juice
Cook apples, sugar, and lemon water together until apples are tender. Cool in a strainer to extract liquid. Of course, you know to save the liquid with Finnish sensibility for other uses.
The sliced apple mixture will keep [covered] in your refrigerator for a week or two.
1½ cups leftover cake (or pulla) crumbs, toasted
½ cup jelly (strawberry or current, if available)
½ cup nuts, ground
1 dozen coconut macaroons
1½ cups whipping cream
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted, with a sprinkling of sugar
Melt enough butter to cover the bottom of a 10” pan [350º F oven]
Sprinkle one third of the crumb mixture as a first layer in the pan over the melted butter. Add one half of the apples.
The jelly is the next layer; followed by the nuts and another one third of the crumbs. Now, place the macaroons; followed by the rest of the apples and the last third of the crumbs.
Bake the ‘Assembly’ at 425º F for ½ hour. [Let cool gradually. Then, refrigerate until chilled.]
Meanwhile, toast the sliced almonds for about 15 minutes at 350ºF, stirring once or twice –until golden. Whip the cream and frost the ‘cake’; sprinkle the top with the toasted almonds.
As I write this, the dreaded El Nino officially arrived, announcing its return with a vengeance. My little blue canvas party tent (The Kahvitupa) got smacked by the first hit of ‘inch-an-hour’ rain.
El Nino: —As they say at Universal Studios: “Hold on everybody, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!!”