AROUND LA WITH AVA®: MANY HAPPY RETURNS

 

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

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.

024  But

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.

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HELLO AND GOODBYE

Kirsti Westphalen and Juha Markkanen welcome Andrea Hautala-McAleenan to the residence.

Kirsti Westphalen and Juha Markkanen welcome Andrea Hautala-McAleenan to the residence.

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES

DATE: 5/23/2013

At the Consul General’s residence in Bel Air, a change of guards took place Wednesday night. Kirsti Westphalen, who has served as Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles for the past five years, bid a fond farewell to the local Finnish community and friends of Finland. Then she introduced the new incoming Consul General, Juha Markkanen. Finntimes was there to record the memorable evening and to interview both the incoming and outgoing Consul Generals.

Outgoing Consul General Kirsti Westphalen introduced her successor Juha markkanen to the audience.

Outgoing Consul General Kirsti Westphalen introduced her successor Juha markkanen to the audience.

The nature of the event was evident already at the front door. Both the old and new Consul Generals were there to meet and greet the guests. They then mingled in the crowd. People were eager to say farewell to Kirsti Westphalen and to meet her successor.

Susanna Golche and Ava Anttila

Susanna Golche and Ava Anttila

Henry and Eeva Syvänen, Kirpi Uimonen-Ballesteros and Tiina Purtonen

Henry and Eeva Syvänen, Kirpi Uimonen-Ballesteros and Tiina Purtonen

 

Scandinavian Film Festival director Jim Koenig and actress Irina Björklund

Scandinavian Film Festival director Jim Koenig and actress Irina Björklund

David and Mira Scott

David and Mira Scott

The new Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Juha Markkanen, will assume his post September 1st, 2013

The new Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Juha Markkanen, will assume his post September 1st, 2013

Juha Markkanen has had a long career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. He has worked in the  EU secretariat and the embassies of Tokyo and Bonn. His latest post was in the Embassy of Stockholm, where he served as Minister. He has also worked as Editor-in-Chief of the trade policy magazine Kauppapolitiikka and as Director of Information in the Department for Communication and Culture. He is married with Tuula Markkanen. She will be working on her Master’s thesis in education while in Los Angeles.

Juha and Tuula Markkanen get refreshments at the residence.

Juha and Tuula Markkanen get refreshments at the residence.

We sat down with Juha Markkanen for a chat.

Please introduce yourself to us.

-My name is Juha Markkanen. I think I’m going to use the name JP Markkanen – it’s easier here. I’m the new Consul General of Finland as of the first of September here in LA.

-I am 50 years old and I’m coming from Stockholm, Sweden. I have been in foreign service for the past 22 years. I hope to be of assistance here in promoting Finland in various ways and deepening the Finnish – U.S. relations. That is my task and I need co-operation with the locals. Let’s make this a win-win situation!

What did you do in Stockholm?

-I’m the number two at the Finnish embassy in Stockholm – the Deputy Chief of Mission. That work entailed a lot of administration and also reporting on various subjects.

-Here in California, I will also deal with Arctic issues, since Alaska is one of the states under the Consul General’s territory. In Stockholm I was evaluating the Arctic perspectives.

-Last week in Kiiruna, Northern Sweden, we had a ministerial meeting that the Secretary of State, John Kerry attended.

Juha Markkanen with Abdellatif Moufakkir, the spouse of Kirsti Westphalen.

Juha Markkanen with Abdellatif Moufakkir, the spouse of Kirsti Westphalen.

You couldn’t come to a more different place than that – Los Angeles – have you been here before?

-No, unfortunately I haven’t. We have only been here since this past Sunday – four days.

What are your first impressions?

-It is an enormously interesting and challenging city and state – huge traffic problems, but very friendly people.

Juha Markkanen will become the next Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles.

Juha Markkanen will become the next Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles.

Tell me about your family?

-I have two children – daughter Maria, 16, and son Juho, 18. We are now seeking high school options for my daughter and a college or university for our son. We have considered both public and private high schools. I have asked people’s opinions tonight and I also learned about a couple of schools nearby.

Your son could complete his undergraduate studies during your four-year term?

-Yes, that’s his wish. I think Santa Monica City College will be his starting point.

When you formally start this fall, what are the first items on the agenda?

-I need to have a chat at the office, because we have moved to a new, more affordable premises. Kirsti Westphalen fought for the survival of the Consulate General of Los Angeles (that was under the threat of being shut down). I need to meet with many people to gain knowledge on issues in order to start my work.

You don’t come in with a set agenda?

-No, no. I need to learn, I need help from my friends – Finnish and U.S. citizens, the media… This is a collaboration.

Is there anything that surprised you upon arriving here?

-Well, I knew that people would be friendly here, but that turned out to be an understatement. I have been received very warmly – also at the schools I’ve been evaluating for my children. After having spent four days in California, I am starting to understand how it is up to oneself to accomplish one’s work. You are on your own.

-I had a chat with the former Consul General Maria Serenius two months ago in Helsinki and got good advice from her. I highly respect both Maria Serenius’ and Kirsti Westphalen’s work here. We have had two excellent ladies here. Now it is a man’s turn here and I am trying to do my best.

-I am enormously excited!

Honorary Council of San Diego, Kathryn Mautino, gave Kirsti Westphalen a picture depicting San Diego.

Honorary Council of San Diego, Kathryn Mautino, gave Kirsti Westphalen a picture depicting San Diego.

An endless stream of well-wishers inundated the outgoing Kirsti Westphalen and her husband Abdellatif Moufakkir. I finally got a change to catch up with Kirsti at the end of the evening.

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Kirsti Westphalen with Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen.

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Kirsti Westphalen with Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen.

We are sad to see you go. Thank you very much for the wonderful five years that you’ve been with us here. Now you are heading toward new adventures as the Ambassador to Thailand – your feelings?

-Well, we are going to be really sorry to go. We are going to have wonderful memories of California. And I’ve got to tell you: California is going to follow us in our footsteps. I have a life-long interest in anything that is new, dynamic, progressive, sustainable – that is what California is to the United States and to the world.

-So, I am sure I will be following this sort of dynamics, wherever I will be in the world.

Kirsti Westphalen with real estate agent Janice Hiltunen.

Kirsti Westphalen with real estate agent Janice Hiltunen.

Over the years, what has been the biggest surprise to you here?

-I had lived in California as an exchange student, as a youngster. I was always fascinated by the diversity in California. Through this more professional approach, it has not been a surprise, but I have been so grateful of the fact that I have gotten to know so many talented people. I have learned so much of the direction that the world is going to take in the future – how people are going to consume, how they are going to behave online, what the world is going to look like and what direction it is going to take and what California is going to predict for Finland as well.

Ava Anttila and Christel Pauli from the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce Pacific Chapter handed a plaque of appreciation to Kirsti Westphalen.

Ava Anttila and Christel Pauli from the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce Pacific Chapter handed a plaque of appreciation to Kirsti Westphalen.

-It has been tremendously rewarding working as a liaison, communicating what is best in Finland to California and to the United States – for example, education. But also communicating vice versa, because the world is not a two way street. The world is a place of networks. Where the best brains, that counts. And that’s where the Finns should be.

And indeed you have been very active in communicating with other countries as well, in addition to Finland and the U.S.?

-This has been a particular honor that has been bestowed upon me last year, when I became the dean of the Los Angeles consular core, where we have the representation of 98 countries altogether. Virtually the entire world is present here in Los Angeles diplomatically.

Actress Lisa Niemi and Kirsti Westphalen

Actress Lisa Niemi and Kirsti Westphalen

-Part of the honor of representing the consular core is that you have the opportunity to take part in so many events and that you meet people from all of these countries. And you meet important Californians. You get to hang out with the mayor and the governor!

Tell me about the new premises of the consulate?

-We, as a part of the Finnish government, are counting our pennies. We want to make sure that where we use money, it is wisely used and invested. So, the premises have been changed to more modest and smaller ones.

-This has brought on important savings of taxpayer money. So, while we can cut down on fixed costs, like rent, we are able to retain the basic core functions of the consulate – servicing our Finnish community nearly ten thousand strong in 13 western states.

-And the important political tasks that we have here, in communicating what is best in Finland, whether it’s education, science and innovation, clean technology, sustainable solutions, whether it is supporting our creative Finns in the “Silicon Beach” kind of thinking that is so important to the growth of Los Angeles, California and Finland in the future.

Is there a particular item that you were able to accomplish that stands out that you are proud of?

-Perhaps I can say that the new way of doing things in a wider Finnish foreign service and Finnish public service – the team Finland thinking, in which all of us have to pull together to achieve results. That is what we have done here in California – not only during my time, but the time of my predecessors.

-I’m very grateful to see that the rest of Finland is going California way!

Abdellatif Moufakkir and Kirsti Westphalen are getting ready to move to Thailand.

Abdellatif Moufakkir and Kirsti Westphalen are getting ready to move to Thailand.

And now onto the new challenge – what do you know about your upcoming post as the Ambassador to Thailand?

-Well, I wish I knew more. Our embassy in Thailand covers countries of Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. This is a new part of the world and our employer is so kind as to always offer us new challenges, which I really will have in front of me. I have lots to learn.

-You referred to the fact that the consulate here was in danger of closing and we have been able to save the consulate through savings. I want to thank you personally, Tomi and Finntimes and all your efforts in getting the Finnish community organized and in communicating the strong desire of the local Finnish community here in supporting the activities of the consulate. Not only its service functions, but the fact that we are doing important work for the success of Finland here. So, I’m very grateful of that.

And I’m sure I will speak for all Finntimes readers in saying that we are glad we were able to help.

The Finnish community toasts Kirsti Westphalen.

The Finnish community toasts Kirsti Westphalen.