THEY’RE BACK: MARIA & TAPIO SERENIUS

Maria Serenius was consul general of Finland in Los Angeles 1997-2001

Maria Serenius was the consul general of Finland in Los Angeles 1997-2001

Maria Serenius has had a long and successful career as a diplomat. She joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland in 1975. Since then, Serenius has served in Egypt, Japan, Sri Lanka and Switzerland. She was the Consul General in Los Angeles 1997-2001. After L.A., Maria became the Finnish Ambassador to Turkey and then served as Ambassador to Latvia. She retired last fall. Alongside throughout her various adventures has been husband Tapio Serenius. He is known as a jovial people’s person with a twinkle in his eye, seamlessly blending in wherever his wife’s work took them.

Tomi Hinkkanen interviews Maria Serenius on February 2nd, 2013 in Bel Air, California.

Tomi Hinkkanen interviews Maria Serenius on February 2nd, 2013 in Bel Air, California.

Finntimes interviewed Maria exclusively on Saturday, February 2nd 2013 at attorney Ava Anttila’s  Bel Air home during a garden party the gracious hostess gave in honor of the beloved consular couple.

One achievement from Maria’s consular years in L.A. shines prominently even today. It is the Global Access Program she helped launch with other Finnish agencies, such as Tekes. Each year the program brings around a dozen Finnish high tech companies to UCLA. There they connect with a team of MBA students who create a business plan for them.

Maria in front of the Finnish Consulate General in Century City in 2001

Maria in front of the Finnish Consulate General in Century City in 2001

How does it make you feel that the GAP process that you started is still going strong?

-It’s a very rewarding feeling that something that one has planted the seeds has grown and has been so beneficial to Finnish companies. It has also created a quite vast network of people, who have been in contact with each other over the years. It’s been very valuable.

You introduced two new concepts to Finns – small talk and networking – what did you have to go through to get the message through about those concepts in the early years?

-It wasn’t characteristic to Finns to do small talk. We thought it was something for others to do – superficial. If somebody’s talking about the weather or something else that has no meaning or significance right away, the person is shallow (laughs). We didn’t quite understand the significance of that. Then later on they organized courses in Finland on how to do small talk. But Finns and Finland have since changed. Still there is a lingering feeling that talking about petty things is not really dignified.

 

Serenius in her consular office back in the day

Serenius in her consular office back in the day

Tell me if I’m wrong but I think in Finland the feeling is that in order for anything to get done, things must go through proper official channels but here it depends more on whom you know and who knows you?

-It’s not only here. I was serving four years in Cairo. In the Middle East and Turkey as well, it is very important whom you know and who is networking with whom. You need to know the connections. In most of the countries in the world it’s not necessarily your position in the government or somewhere else that indicates, how much influence you have in the society. An important part in the work of a diplomat is to dig out those people who are really influential and then network with them. It’s hard work. I did learn to do that here in Los Angeles, because networking is the key to everything here. The consul general in L.A. doesn’t have any position among the people here – they don’t know what a consul general is. It’s up to you to give an impression that you might be useful to people whom you are meeting. When one is an ambassador in Turkey or Latvia, the title is enough. You are an ambassador – more or less all the doors open for you. Here you need to work to open those doors.

Power couple: While Maria was scouting Finnish businesses in Silicon Valley, her husband Tapio worked as a consultant for many such businesses.

Power couple: While Maria was scouting Finnish businesses in Silicon Valley, her husband Tapio worked as a consultant for many such businesses.

And you really did that. Even on weekends you went to Silicon Valley to build relations with the local Finnish companies and movers and shakers there.

-When I came here, nobody in Finland knew what a venture capitalist is. I didn’t know either, but I wanted to learn. So, I flew to San Francisco, rented a car and drove to Sand Hill Road. That is the road where the most important venture capital funds are located (comparable to Wall Street in the stock market). So, I made appointments to meet with some of these people and I did. I started that really from the scratch. They explained the system to me. Once you have had a meeting like that, in the second meeting you must have something to give back. Otherwise you are using too much of someone’s time that is not useful to them.

Silicon Valley - home of the American high tech

Silicon Valley – home of the American high tech

So, what did you give back?

-The high tech miracle of Finland! During those years Finland was like a high tech utopia of the world. That lasted only a couple of years. Nokia was on top and we were the most wired and wireless country in the world. So, everybody in America dealing with ICT, high technology, knew about Finland. It was a unique time in history. Most companies and investment funds knew about Finland. The Wired magazine and Red Herring had Finland on their cover.

Maria and Tapio connected with an old friend - chef Sirpa Welch in Los Angeles

Maria and Tapio connected with an old friend – chef Sirpa Welch in Los Angeles

You were able to generate a lot of publicity for Finland. Your predecessor, Jörn Donner had given a statement, in which he said one can do the work of a consul general in two hours a day. With all due respect, I think he missed the point. In reality each consul general creates the job description by themselves – isn’t that true?

-Maybe he tried to concentrate on cultural affairs and and didn’t find it interesting. So yes, Los Angeles is one of the few places where you have to create the job. You have to decide the focus. You can spend 24 hours a day doing this and that here and there. But the main thing is: Is it adding value to your work for Finland – to Finnish companies, to people? That value comes only by focusing. We are a small country, a little over five million people and America is so big. So, focus, focus, focus. I was privileged to come at that time. There was momentum in my life and career at that particular stage.

Consul General Maria Serenius outside her residence in Bel Air, spring 2001

Consul General Maria Serenius outside her residence in Bel Air, spring 2001

You recognized that momentum and focused on high tech?

-I stumbled on it. I needed to do something that would be valuable to Finland.

Out of those contacts that you created in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and elsewhere, are they still relevant today and have they yielded results?

-For Finland, yes indeed. It has created even more networking and relationships. Not all, but quite a few of them and I’m very proud of that.

Maria at the consul general's residence, spring 2001

Maria at the consul general’s residence, spring 2001

What kind of an experience was it for you to be the consul general in Los Angeles?

-It was great. It was energizing. There’s a feeling here that anything is possible, just do it! Another sentiment here is to think big. Coming from Finland, I was not used to this positive American atmosphere that anything is possible, if you work hard enough. I love that type of a sentiment. Since my time in Los Angeles, I tried to use that kind of a spirit in my work as well. Wherever I went afterwards, I always started by saying: I need you to be proactive, innovative. So much so, that people were joking about me!

Maria and Tapio Serenius said good bye to L.A. in 2001.

Maria and Tapio Serenius said good bye to L.A. in 2001.

-After L.A. I went to be the director general for Africa and the Middle East in the Ministry for Foreign affairs. I did that for three years. It was very challenging. The Middle East was higher on the agenda than Africa in those days and it still is. So, I traveled a lot in the Middle East.

-In the 1980’s I had been in Cairo for four years. So, I already knew about the mentality there and I even spoke a little Arabic. It was a great job to be the director general in the ministry.

Tomi Hinkkanen & Maria Serenius in Bel Air

Tomi Hinkkanen & Maria Serenius in Bel Air

Then you were rewarded for your efforts and you became ambassador to Turkey, a country of over 75 million people. You were stationed in the capital Ankara, instead of Istanbul, which probably would have been a more interesting place to be?

-Most of my colleagues in Ankara complained bitterly about that – why can’t the capital be in Istanbul! Being a woman there is no problem. I brought Tapio along, but for a spouse it’s quite a challenge if the spouse wants to work. In Istanbul it would have been much easier. All the companies and business world is in Istanbul. It’s a 5-6 hour drive from Ankara to Istanbul. Ankara is more or less an administrative and political capital of Turkey. So, the country is divided in that way. I did travel to Istanbul once or twice a month.

A central business district of Ankara, the capital of Turkey

A central business district of Ankara, the capital of Turkey

What was the residence and the embassy like there?

-We rented a house that had four floors. The residence was on the top of that building. It’s a big embassy. There was an office of the military attaché of Finland there. So, at one time we had 37 people working there. I had seven people working at the consular section alone.

What was your focus in Turkey?

-The focus of course deals with the political dialogue with Turkey. At that time Turkey was applying for the EU membership. All the issues related to that fell onto me. Finland supported Turkey’s membership application. Therefore I needed to follow the international political situation very closely. Turkey is a regional superpower. It is also  a very important country to Europe. I started a chamber of commerce in Istanbul. We have had business with Turkey for the past 50 years. We had about 30 Finnish companies there. Our trade was one billion Euros a year.

What sort of Finnish companies are there in Turkey?

-All the big ones – the paper companies, Kone, Ahlstrom, Nokia and a whole lot of smaller companies. They have been there for a long time. If you ask about job satisfaction, the starting the chamber of commerce in Istanbul was great.

Tapio & Maria Serenius with hosts Jack & Ava Anttila in their garden in Bel Air

Tapio & Maria Serenius with hosts Jack & Ava Anttila in their garden in Bel Air

What is the major difference in doing business between the U.S. and Turkey?

-Here you are more or less alone. There is a consular core, but every consul general is on his or her own. The co-operation between the consulates in L.A. is non-existent. We do meet, but we don’t have anything in common. If you are in the capital of a country, embassies work very closely, especially the EU countries. In my time in Turkey, Finland had the EU presidency for six months. It was a big challenge.

Tapio Serenius has adapted to his wife's various posts. here he is hugging the hostess, Ava Anttila.

Tapio Serenius has adapted to his wife’s various posts. Here he is hugging the hostess, Ava Anttila.

What is it like to live in Ankara?

-Well……(a smile and a long pause). L.A. is a wonderful location in every respect – the people, the American mentality… It does snow in Ankara and it gets quite cold in the winter, but it is sunnier there than in Finland. Summers are hot.

What’s the mentality of people there?

-Turks seem to think that we Finns are their relatives. So, we are always welcome with open arms wherever we go. People in the countryside, everywhere think we are their cousins. I did promote that concept. It’s the language. Our languages are distantly related to ne another. Turks think a few thousand years ago both peoples were living near Mongolia. We started to cross Siberia to Finland, whereas they came down to Turkey.

Maria and Ava

Maria and Ava

Is there any truth to that?

-No, I don’t think so.

Are Turks outgoing and friendly?

-They are friendly. They have a high sense of honor and integrity. They are hard working. There’s that same kind of entrepreneurial spirit there that you have here in Los Angeles.

Maria and Tapio met new and old friends on their visit to L.A.

Maria and Tapio met new and old friends on their visit to L.A.

-The Ottoman Empire, which lasted for 700 years, encompassed the whole Middle East. The Turks are not Arabs and they don’t speak an Arabic language.

-What is happening in Turkey right now, is very interesting. It is at the same time an Islamic and a democratic country. So, everybody is following, how Islam, democracy and capitalism can live side by side. All the Islamic countries are following Turkey very closely.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was built in the 6th century.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was built in the 6th century.

Did you run into any culture shock in Turkey?

-No, if you have a position of an ambassador, there is no problem about being a woman in Turkey, not at all. Not even in Egypt, where I was in the 80’s. It is more challenging to be a local woman there. But to a foreigner with a position, everyone is very friendly and helpful.

It’s a great and an important country and it was a privilege to serve there.

What is the greatest misconception about Turkey that the westerners have?

-They are suspicious about Islam. It has such a negative connotation nowadays. It’s not really fair to judge the whole population because of problems and challenges we have had lately. I think there are also some reservations regarding Turks. There is a large Turkish population in Europe, especially in Germany and Austria. It seems that those Turks that went there in the 1950’s and 60’s are more conservative than the Turkish people in Turkey nowadays. Europeans get their image of Turkey from the migrants. Those immigrants are not so interested in what is going on in the modern day Turkey. They like things just the way they were.

A siluet of Istanbul with minarets raising in the distance

Silhouette of Istanbul with minarets raising in the distance

After Turkey, Maria Serenius was appointed Finnish ambassador to Latvia.

-It’s a small country of 2.2 million people, but all the Baltic countries are important to Nordic countries. We are a part of the Baltic sea countries.

How did it feel to go from Turkey to Latvia?

-It took some adjustment. It was my own wish to be closer to Finland. Latvia is also an interesting, fascinating country. History in the Baltic states and Latvia has been very tough and painful. It is still alive there. That caused a lot of challenges – how to deal with the Baltic countries. Latvia is an EU and NATO country. They don’t have the Euro yet but they want to join the monetary union. Their currency is Lati.

Riga, the capital of Latvia is seen here from the Daugava River. It is the largest city of Latvia with 700,000 inhabitants.

Riga, the capital of Latvia is seen here from the Daugava River. It is the largest city of Latvia with 700,000 inhabitants.

-It is a small country, so for the Finnish ambassador, all the doors are open there. The Latvians admire Finland, the Winter War, our achievements and politics – their opinion is very positive.

-People do speak English, but Russian is a more important language there. 40 per cent of Latvians speak Russian as a first language. More than half the inhabitants of capital Riga are of Russian descent.

Old Riga has historical charm.

Old Riga has historical charm.

What was your focus in Latvia?

-Because both Finland and Latvia are EU countries, the focus was to follow Latvia’s EU policy and security policy, because they are members of NATO. Another task was to promote business between the two countries and culture – everything.

Latvia was the long term diplomat’s last assignment.

-I retired September 1st last year – five months ago. I was in the  Ministry of Foreign affairs for 37 years. Retiring felt great. It was my own choice to retire at 64. That was the end of that part of my life.

Maria arrives in Matamanoa, Fidzi

Maria arrives in Matamanoa, Fidzi

After retiring, you and Tapio departed for an around-the-world tour – tell me about that?

-We started two months ago. We went to Australia and did the Great Ocean Road (A 150-mile heritage road along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Warrnnambool). We went to New Zealand and visited mostly national parks. We hiked and did other relaxing things, concentrating mainly on nature.

Tapio and Maria on the Great Ocean Road in Australia

Tapio and Maria on the Great Ocean Road in Australia

Maria and Tapio’s around-the-world tour concludes in Los Angeles.

-We are here for 2.5 weeks. It’s wonderful to be back, really great!

 

Maria with a Green Rosella bird in Australia

Maria with a Green Rosella bird in Australia

It’s wonderful to have you back. How long has this whole trip been?

-Two and a half months. We have never been on such a long trip before. I thought that it would be too much but it hasn’t been. It’s been very nice. I recommend this to the people who can do it – to go and forget about all the problems and challenges at home.

Maria toast life at sunset in Fidzi.

Maria toast life at sunset in Fidzi.

FILMMAKER MIKA JOHNSON

STORY: AARON LARABEE

PHOTOS: JACKSON BIERFELDT, JENNIFER RAY, TOMI HINKKANEN, SCREEN CAPS FROM “THE AMERIKANS”

Mika Johnson makes documentaries in Oberlin, Ohio.

Mika Johnson, a filmmaker based in Oberlin, Ohio.

Mika Johnson is an emerging Finnish-American filmmaker who is creating a body of documentary and fiction films that reveal American myths and realities in artistically excellent and entertaining new ways.

Mika’s grandparents lived in one of the exclusive Finnish immigrant enclaves of the Northwestern U.S., keeping language and customs well beyond the usual time of assimilation. Mika’s father was a restless man (a boat surveyor and commercial diver, amongst other things), and Mika himself has been quite a traveler.  Mostly raised in the Midwestern state of Ohio, Mika also lived and worked as a filmmaker internationally for six years. His wife Kaori  is Japanese.

Mika Johnson with wife, Kaori.

Mika Johnson with wife, Kaori Mitsushima.

Now based again in the university town of Oberlin, Ohio (home to the first American college to admit students of both sexes and any race, as well as the first music conservatory in the country), Johnson and his collaborator Jeffrey Pence are producing exciting work that is garnering attention.

Mika Johnson lives in Oberlin, a college town in Ohio.

Mika Johnson lives in Oberlin, a college town in Ohio.

Johnson became inspired to depict the extraordinary within the ordinary faces and places of the United States, a poetic and direct approach that blurs the line between fiction and documentary filmmaking and offers serious entertainment that stands out in the American scene. “The Amerikans” is an ongoing web series of 3 – 5 minute short documentaries that capture the unique quirks, charm, and eccentric stories of people living in the American Midwest.

Don Matis, "a human paintbrush", can be seen in an episode of "The Amerikans."

Don Matis, “a Human Paintbrush”, can be seen in an episode of “The Amerikans.”

In Johnson’s recent film, “Human Paintbrush,” the title character, Don Matis, says, “I’m a human paintbrush…and this brush is deeply rooted to my imagination, my mind, my body and my spirit.” He then demonstrates his technique, dipping his long, wizard-like beard in paint and dabbing and whipping it carefully across a canvas to create intricate patterns that recall flower-covered meadows. Matis, who peers at the camera from beneath a fuzzy purple hat, looks uncannily youthful and has an almost otherworldly gentleness and enthusiasm: he seems like a visitor from some distant time and place. In fact, he lives in Stow, Ohio, the state where Johnson has shot many of his films, where he grew up, and where he has recently found an unlikely source of inspiration.’

“In depicting Ohio – and America in general – I wanted to avoid the stereotypes of farmers, picket fences, and old industrial towns,” said Johnson.

Johnson and crew on location somewhere in Ohio.

Johnson and crew on location in rural Ohio.

To anyone who has seen The Amerikans, the series to which “Human Paint Brush” belongs, this sounds like an understatement. Along with Matis, other subjects of films in The Amerikans include a graffiti artist who writes his elaborate tag on abandoned trains (and insists on being filmed in a mask to preserve his anonymity), and a woman who has collected and meticulously categorized paper napkins for over 70 years, accumulating over 2,000 in all.

Ethel Moyers, seen in the Amerikans'" episode "Napkin Tales," has collected over 2,000 paper napkins.

Ethel Moyers, as seen in “the Amerikans'” episode “Napkin Tales,” has collected over 2,000 paper napkins.

Then there is a writer who has commissioned a silicone model of his head so that his likeness can be preserved in the event of global apocalypse. The short features blend documentary and fiction in a way reminiscent of a more cheerful Werner Herzog, the narration moving seamlessly between the subject’s daily lives and their fantasy lives.

Writer Aaron Larrabee has his head preserved in silicone in the episode aptly named "Head."

Writer Aaron Larabee has his head preserved in silicone in the episode aptly named “Head.”

The Amerikans has garnered attention from PBS and gained an international fan base. It is an unexpected reward for Johnson, who began the series as a side project to a feature film. Johnson returned to Ohio to begin work on his feature, Amerika, after working in the film industry in Japan, Europe, and New York. Amerika, which has recently begun production, is a dark portrait of its title country. It tells the story of Kat, a refugee from a hostess club in Tokyo who flees her homeland and crisscrosses America in the company of various dreamers, degenerates, and oddballs. Johnson lists Finnish-American director David Lynch and famed Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki among his influences. Like Lynch, Johnson is fascinated by the grotesque and mysterious elements of the American landscape. Like Kaurismäki, his work features unhurried pacing, a mixture of trained and non-professional actors, and deceptively simple storylines, techniques he has employed in his previous films, Yonder and The Mountain of Signs.

There's an ever increasing cast of oddball characters in the series "The Amerikans."

There’s an ever increasing cast of oddball characters in the series “The Amerikans.”

“It’s this minimalist style that goes back to Bresson, Ozu and Melville that appeals to me,” says Johnson. “Except for Jim Jarmusch, you rarely see this deliberately pared-down approach in American cinema.”

Amerika has begun shooting on locations in Ohio, and Johnson has sited a variety of locations around the country: scenes of both iconic grandeur — the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore — iconic ruin — the urban ruins of Detroit — and everything in between.

Mika's film shoot took him to the iconic location of Mount Rushmore, South Dakota.

Mika’s film shoot took him to the iconic location of Mount Rushmore, South Dakota.

“My goal for the end of the film is to work with dancers from various Native American tribes in a large ritual,” says Johnson, adding, “That will take some arranging.”

Johnson’s collaborators on the project include his producer, Jeffrey Pence, a professor of Cinema Studies at Oberlin College, and his wife, Kaori Mitsushima, who plays the role of Kat.

Kaori Mitsushima plays a role of Kat in Mika Johnson's movie Amerika.

Kaori Mitsushima plays a role of Kat in Mika Johnson’s movie Amerika.

Amerika also features a cameo appearance by Johnson’s father, Dick, the son of Finnish immigrants from Centralia, Washington, a Finnish enclave whose residents assiduously preserved their national culture, traditions and language long after assimilation.

Mika's grandparents lived in Centralia, a Finnish enclave in Washington.

Mika’s grandparents lived in Centralia, a Finnish enclave in Washington.

“Growing up,” says Johnson, “I rarely thought about my Finnish heritage. But now I’m proud when I see the influence of Finnish designers on my work, or a shared aesthetic with directors like Kaurismaki or the filmmakers who did the documentary Steam of Life, Joonas Berghäll and Mika Hotakainen. As a filmmaker, I’d love to discover those elements of Finnish culture that are still expressed in my family, generations later. I have this daydream of being able to visit Finland with my father, who has never been there, and document the process.”

In the meantime, Johnson is keeping busy, between working on Amerika and finishing the last two episodes of The Amerikans. After years spent travelling and working overseas, he says it’s been exciting to discover the creative potential of the American heartland. The latest episode of The Amerikans, Johnson says, is about a beekeeper in Wellington, Ohio, who believes in the healing power of bee venom and treats people by stinging them.

Mika Johnson has found the creative potential of the American heartland.

Mika Johnson has found the creative potential of the American heartland.

“I’d never seen anything like it before,” says Johnson. “People swear by it. They get bee stings on the scalp, on the hands, in the mouth. And the beekeeper has enlisted a whole community around this, helping to take care of the bees and even to apply the stings to each other. When I tell my friends in New York and L.A. about it, they think it’s totally exotic. But it’s completely American.”

Mika Johnson's "The Amerikans" series shows a different face of America.

Mika Johnson’s series “The Amerikans”  shows a different face of America.

The Amerikans can be seen at www.theamerikans.org

DEBT CLOCK

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES

Capitol_-_west_front

After months of partisan bickering, the U.S. Congress finally agreed on taxes and cuts on New Year’s Day. The American Taxpayer Relief Act seems to please very few people, and no wonder why. It offers “relief” only in a sense that had the lawmakers not come to a deal, taxes would have gone up for everybody even more than they do now.

The top tax rate will go up from 35 to 39.6% for individuals earning more than $400,000 and for couples making $450,000 or more. The additional tax is subtracted only on the amount exceeding those figures. The inheritance tax will go up from 53% to 40% for estates worth more than 5 million. All wage earners regardless of how much they make – about 77% of the population – will see their paycheck shrink this year due to the comeback of the payroll tax. For an average earner of $50,000 it means an expense of $1,500 a year – roughly the cost of filling the car tank twice a month. The act extends tax credits for college students, low income families and families with children and limits deductions for individuals with incomes of more than $250,000 and couples with incomes of more than $300,000.

congress ext - capitol building

These measures will generate $620 billion over the next ten years – less than five percent of the gigantic national debt, which is 16.5 trillion and mounting. 16 trillion is 16 million million, or 16 thousand billion with 12 zeroes. If one was to pay off the debt with hundred dollar notes, tied in packets worth ten thousand each and organized in standard pallets stacked two pallets high, the payment would fill 16 football fields. You can see the national debt here (WARNING: Not for the faint of heart):

Bob Foster is an Adjunct Professor at UCLA Anderson School of Management. He visits Finland each year to recruit high tech companies to take part in the University’s Global Access Program, GAP. In the program, fully employed MBA students work with the companies for six months and create a business plan for each company wanting to expand their business beyond their country borders.

Bob Foster is the director of the GAP program at UCLA Anderson.

Bob Foster is the director of the GAP program at UCLA Anderson.

Mr. Foster characterizes the American Taxpayer Relief Act as a middle of the road bill that does little more than kicks the can down the road.

“It only defers more serious decisions for two months. If you are a corporation thinking of making big purchases, you are concerned about the economy anyway. You also have to be concerned about the very large national debt – the largest we have had in our history. What are we going to do to get that under control,” Professor Foster asks.

Two months from now the congress will face yet another cliff – the raising of the debt ceiling.

“I can’t remember the gov’t being so out of control in my 70 years,” professor adds.

He says at the root of the national debt is a structural problem.

“I believe one out five people are sick or incapable of working for different reasons. We have a moral obligation to take care of those people. I hear about 42% of Americans pay absolutely zero income taxes. It appears to me that something is wrong. Every citizen of the country should pay something – even a small amount.”

In other words:

“20% of the population falls under social support network. I think there’s another 20% of the population that are taking advantage of the many loopholes, there’s fraud in the Medicare, social security…There is something fundamentally wrong here. We have to fulfill our social obligations but at the same time live within our means.”

Professor Bob Foster has an extensive background as a CEO of various companies.

Professor Bob Foster has an extensive background as a CEO of various companies.

Foster, who describes himself as a Blue Dog Democrat, says the Republicans’ reluctance to “tax the job creators” argument is not as valid as they claim. However, he notes that the U.S. cannot fork out the money to pay off the national debt just by taxing the rich.

“If you take the one percent of the top earners and take 100% of their compensation – not just some but 100% – it wouldn’t even begin to solve the debt problem. There’s just not that many of them. They cannot finance everybody else.”

Foster’s solution to the problem:

“Simplify the tax code, eliminate a lot of the exceptions that complicate the tax code. Clamp down on those individuals who are fraudulently benefiting from the system.”

Bob Foster would like the government to crack down on tax cheats.

Bob Foster would like the government to crack down on tax cheats.

His advice Finnish companies wanting to expand into the U.S.:

“Our recommendations to any company wanting to come to the U.S. is make sure you hire the services of knowledgeable lawyers and tax professionals to prepare your accounting and tax returns in order to be aware of what the law requires and to maximize profits legally.”

Businessman Heikki Ketola serves as a judge in the GAP program at UCLA Anderson.

Businessman Heikki Ketola serves as a judge in the GAP program at UCLA Anderson.

The Finnish business community in the U.S. has mixed emotions about the tax bill. Malibu-based bar code entrepreneur Heikki Ketola doesn’t mince words scolding the congress.

“They have done nothing but delayed the decision by two months. At the same time they bicker about the debt ceiling. It’s American antics. The congress has already signed off to certain things – building of bridges and aircraft carriers. Now they have to separately decide, whether to pay for them!”

Heikki Ketola calls the debt ceiling negotiations American antics.

Heikki Ketola calls the debt ceiling negotiations American antics.

Ketola laments the lack of willingness to compromise. Instead, the two parties are at each others’ throat instead of working towards solving the problem. He predicts the impasse will continue and fears filibuster when it comes time to decide on the debt ceiling.

Esa Ylä-Soininmäki is the owner of the furniture company Monte Allen.

Esa Ylä-Soininmäki is the owner of the furniture company Monte Allen.

Esa Ylä-Soininmäki is the owner and CEO of Monte Allen, a company that manufactures custom made furniture. His company employs 40 people and generates sales between two and three million dollars.

“I think the 450 thousand mark for a tax increase is reasonable. President Obama wanted to set the limit at 250 thousand. It would have hurt too many small entrepreneurs who file taxes as individuals,” Ylä-Soininmäki says.

He himself has an S Corporation, in which the profits are passed on to the shareholders, and are taxed on personal returns. Therefore, if his revenue exceeds the $450,000 mark, Ylä-Soininmäki will stock on inventory at the end of the year to lower the revenue and thus avoid the tax increase.

Esa Ylä-Soininmäki with wife Anne

Esa Ylä-Soininmäki with wife Anne

“On the other hand, the middle class and the low income earners will suffer, because of the return of the payroll tax. In all reality it is a tax increase – the amount of the paycheck after taxes is smaller than before.”

Esa Ylä-Soininmäki says the tax bill did nothing to alleviate his uncertainty about the future.

“It is just as unclear as before. My business is going well and we are even going up a bit, but with all these cliffs and talk about the national debt, one does not feel like investing any more than is necessary.”

He says the uncertainty has lasted for the past few years and also reprimands politicians for the lack of leadership.

Monte Allen has many celebrity clients

Monte Allen has many celebrity clients

Monte Allen deals with celebrity clients who want the very best. Lately Esa Ylä-Soininmäki has acquired two more star customers – Michael Richards, who played Kramer in the TV show Frazier and Jane Fonda.

“Michael Richards has a Mediterranean style house in Pacific Palisades with a gorgeous view of the Pacific. He is as funny as in the show and I always feel like laughing going there. We’ve made him some modern furniture.”

Jane Fonda, 75, is one of Monte Allen's star clients.

Jane Fonda, 75, is one of Monte Allen’s star clients.

Jane Fonda knows what she wants.

“Jane Fonda has purchased a house in the Trousdale Estates section of Beverly Hills. We’ve been furnishing it since the end of the year – desks, shelves in the media room that are of eclectic, modern style. Jane is a very determined lady, who knows exactly what she wants and is not shy about it. She also takes responsibility of her decisions and is easy to work with,” Esa describes.

President George W. Bush signing a $1.35 trillion tax cut into law June 7, 2001.

President George W. Bush signing a $1.35 trillion tax cut into law June 7, 2001.

Here are my two cents:

The current debt crisis was born during the presidency of George W. Bush. He put two wars on a credit card and at the same time lowered taxes on everybody, including the rich. Therefore, it was necessary to take on debt starting at the end of President Bush’s presidency in the fall of 2008, when the economy was on the verge of a total collapse. It was equally important to salvage the banking sector, the car industry and to stimulate the economy in the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term in 2009.

Presidents Bush and Barack Obama in the Oval Office.

Presidents Bush and Barack Obama in the Oval Office.

Now we have to find ways to start reversing the dreaded debt clock. The American Taxpayer Relief Act starts to do just that by taxing the rich their fair share. The wealthy still get off easy, since their earnings are oftentimes in the form of a much lower taxed capitol gains, not wages. For example Mitt Romney only paid 13% in taxes. The obvious way is to reverse the debt clock is to create more jobs to generate more tax revenue. The other way is to cut expenditure, including military spending. There are over a thousand U.S. military bases around the world. Now that the Iraq war is over and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, it is time to take a serious look to see if all this U.S. involvement is really necessary. Other painful cuts have to be made as well. There is nothing so fundamentally wrong with the U.S. economy that it couldn’t be fixed. This country is full of bright people and entrepreneurs. There’d be even more of them, if the broken down immigration system was fixed. Nobody wants to create another Greece, nor duplicate the British style austerity measures that are so harsh that they themselves drown the economy. What is needed is a golden middle road. It is time for the political leaders to stop bickering and to come together for the good of the country.

U.S. House Committee in session.

U.S. House Committee in session.

THEN ONE FOGGY CHRISTMAS EVE

A little girl admires her dolls at a Christmas dinner party in the Finnish club, Suomi-Kerho, North Hollywood.

All the hustle and bustle is dying down, as the last of the procrastinators finish their Christmas shopping. Malls and markets have been full here in LA. The Whole Foods Market even hired their own traffic cop to guide soccer moms in their Ford Flexes hurrying to buy soy milk, tofu and the latest concoction that’s supposed to be good for you. National Retail Federation forecasts that the this holiday season shopping is up four percent over last year and that Americans will spend a total of 586 billion dollars on holiday-related items.

A Secret Santa at the Finnish Christmas party

This year “Secret Santa” has surprised many customers redeeming their layaway items at stores. The items had already been paid by an anonymous benefactor. Some say it is the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut that prompted some to do good to their fellow man.

Finnish bakery goods sold well at the Finnish club house.

In LA we express our Christmas spirit by decorating our houses with Christmas lights. Every year someone goes overboard. Or how would you like to be the neighbor of a guy who put up ten thousand blinking led lights right after Thanksgiving and played Christmas carols ‘til midnight every night, as crowds gathered in the neighborhood to see the wonder?

A girl admires the Christmas tree at the Finnish club.

A Christmas tree is an old German tradition that has made its way all the way to Southern California, even though we don’t grow our own spruce trees here. The trees you see at a street corner lot are actually from Oregon and Washington state. At Ralph’s Noble Firs were 40 dollars and Douglas Firs 28 bucks – both whisked here from hundreds of miles away. You could buy a tree that is already frosted or without frosting. Speaking of Christmas trees – there was a beautiful one at the Finnish Club, Suomi-Kerho in North Hollywood, decorated with Finnish flags.

 

The ladies cooked up a storm in the club kitchen.

The annual Suomi-Kerho Christmas dinner drew well over a hundred people in the clubhouse. The chefs in the kitchen has done it once again – created a wonderful dinner – ham, rutabaga and potato casseroles, salad, lutefisk and all the trimmings. Bakery goods were for sale, but once again I arrived too late to lay my hands on any rye bread.

 

Finnish home-made pastries were for sale at the club.

After the tasty dinner we sang Christmas carols to the accompaniment of the master pianist Erkki kanto. He also served as Santa Claus while Liisa Linnala was a delightful Santa’s helper. Erkki, or Enrico, as we like to call him here in the valley, was a surprisingly effective Santa, interviewing kids and gently teasing them about being naughty or nice.

 

Erkki Kanto was a marvelous Santa, mustering all his interviewing skills as a journalist to quizz the kids. Liisa Linnala was a delightful Santa’s Little Helper.

I distributed a questionnaire among the dinner guests. 22 people took the time to respond, for which I thank you. The respondents had lived in the United States on an average of 34 years. Some respondents had lived here even longer – I saw a couple of cards that said 50 plus years. I asked people, what’s best in a Christmas in LA.

-Warm weather, food, family, friends, friendly people and cheerful Christmas carols, they responded.

 

Naughty or nice?

And what do you miss about Christmas in Finland?

-White Christmas, snow, cold weather, a genuine Christmas spirit,  Christmas Eve dinners with family, darkness, the glitter of snowy slopes, relatives, food, sauna, peace – and for some strange reason – moose. The LA Finns said they would spend the Christmas at home with friends and family, in Mexico, as a volunteer feeding the homeless, at a Christmas church, enjoying good food and music.

 

Bottoms up!

This is what the LA Finns wish for the new year:

-Luck, money, health, new friends and experiences, that president Obama would be able to fix the problems of the country, a new home, peace, empathy, solidarity, the end to violence, a new job, more work, trips, economically better times, love and happiness. May at least some of your wishes come true. And let me wish you all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

2012 just  f-l-e-w  by – Happy New Year!

 

 

THE DAYS OF YRJÖ AND LEONORA PALOHEIMO

 

Fenyes Mansion has gone through a complete renovation and is now open to public.

The fabled Fenyes Mansion in Pasadena recently reopened to the public after a three-year, 1.7 million dollar renovation. It is a fine house indeed, but it is the people who used to occupy it – Yrjö and Leonora Paloheimo – that makes the mansion so special to the Finnish community. This is their story.

On a spectacular Sunday afternoon a group of people gathered in the Pasadena Museum of History got a special treat. Paul O. Halme, Chairman of the Board of the Paloheimo Foundation, gave a special presentation, a look into the lives of Yrjö Paloheimo and his wife, Leonora Curtin Paloheimo and a tour of their home. This power couple built a bridge between Finland and the United States that still stands today.

Leonora and Yrjö Paloheimo in front of their home, Fenyes Mansion

Yrjö Paloheimo was born in Finland in 1899. The youngest of five sons of Kerttu and K.A. Paloheimo, he was born to luxury and privilege. K.A. was a wealthy industrialist, who owned saw mills around Finland. But he was not just another businessman. K.A. was also interested in establishing a cultural identity for Finland, struggling under the Tsar’s Russia. This would be brought about by establishing an artists’ colony on the eastern shore of Lake Tuusula. It would combine literature, visual arts and music under one special place. Lucky for K.A., he had friends in the very fields. Together with novelist Juhani Aho, painters Pekka Halonen and Eero Järnefelt and composer Jean Sibelius, the colony was realized.

“The sons of K.A. Paloheimo were called “the lazy sons”, since they married their neighbors’ daughters – one son married Sibelius’ daughter, the other one Halonen’s daughter and the third one Järnefelt’s daughter,” Paul Halme bemuses.

Attorney Paul Halme giving a tour of Fenyes Mansion in Pasadena

The sons also went into business with their father. One exception to the rule was the youngest son, Yrjö. He studied agriculture at the Helsinki University. After receiving his Master’s degree, the young man set out to west. He first arrived in the United States in the 1920’s. He lived and worked in Los Angeles and Ojai, a mountain community 83 miles north of L.A. In much the same way that a college student in these days would, he experimented with different philosophies, trying to find his own voice. There were other Finns living in Ojai as well at the time. Yrjö held discussions with them about topics such as religion, of which he was said to have liberal views. After this sojourn, Yrjö returned to Finland. But not for long. In 1933 he returned to the new continent, this time for good. Paloheimo was employed by the consulate general of Finland in New York. He was promoted to be in charge of travel promotion. In this capacity he had a chance to shake hands with presidents Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt and became good friends with Roosevelt’s mother, Sara. In 1939, New York hosted the World Fair. Paloheimo was in charge of the construction of the Finnish pavilion as a commissioner. That same fall the Soviet Union attacked Finland. Yrjö mobilized the American Finnish community, working as a Field Secretary for Help Finland, a relief organization. The enthusiasm in which the U.S. Finns embarked on their mission, never left Paloheimo.

A Finnish machine gun brigade near Lemetti, Karelia during Winter War

After the war Yrjö, now an American citizen, found himself in his mid-forties and unmarried. Things were about to chance – big time. In Washington D.C.,  socialite Leonora “Babsie” Curtin, daughter of the late newspaper tycoon Thomas Curtin, was working at the Smithsonian Institute, studying dialects of the Pueblo Indians. One evening in 1946, a family friend called Babsie and invited her to a dinner party in New York. Yrjö was at the same party. They met, fell in love and married later that same year. Their honeymoon took them to his homeland, Finland. Leonora brought an armada of luggage along wherever she traveled. And as to make up for all those years both had been single, in rabid succession, between 1946 and 1949, they adopted four orphans – Nina, George, Eric and Eva – from Finland. They were promptly dispatched to the best boarding schools America had to offer.

Leonora “Babsie” Curtin Paloheimo dedicated her life to her passions – culture, arts and Indigenous peoples.

Leonora and her family had many cultural interests. Her grandmother, Eva Fenyes, was a businesswoman, painter and pot maker, who traveled extensively. Wherever she went –Egypt, Venice, India – instead of buying a postcard, she painted a picture of the local scenery instead. American Indian cultures were especially close to Eva’s heart. She built houses in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Pasadena, California. After she passed away, it was Eva’s house in Pasadena, called after her Fenyes Mansion, that the Paloheimos settled in. It is a beau arts style house that has three floors and 16 rooms in over ten thousand square feet.

Fenyes Mansion has been a setting for several movies, including the satire Being There starring Peter Sellers,1979.

Yrjö was named Honorary Consul of Finland to the Western United States. So Fenyes Mansion also became the Consulate of Finland. With his excellent connections and people skills, Yrjö Paloheimo set out to put Finland on the map in America.

“If Yrjö Paloheimo was in this room, he would make you feel like you were the most important person. He could come up to you and say, I feel safe because you are here. And you would believe it,” says the family attorney Paul Halme.

Yrjö Paloheimo ran his consular affairs from this desk, displayed in Fenyes Mansion.

“He was a diplomat. And he always went and sought out people and shook their hands. He lifted the Finnish presence here. The consular core from Sweden, Norway, etc. – they really enjoyed him. And all of a sudden, the Finnish presence in Los Angeles was something different than it was before,” Halme adds. Before Paloheimo, Finland in Los Angeles was known mainly for its maids who at the time were working in the better households around town.

In the meantime, Leonora was no shrinking violet either. Throughout her life, she remained focused on her projects and studies.

“She continued to promote art and folk art. She was writing. Leonora and her mother and grandmother owned lots of properties. They had gas stations, etc. But they had hard time doing business, because they were women. Men had a hard time dealing with these women,” Halme points out.

Yrjö Paloheimo served as Honorary Consul from 1948 until 1964. Amazingly enough, at that same time, the Paloheimos were also able to find time to do business, engage in cultural affairs, take care of their children and travel around the globe. And there was still one thing Yrjö wanted to achieve. He yearned for the days when all Finns despite of their political views pulled together to help Finland in need during the war. In that same spirit, in January of 1953 he gathered nine of his most trusted men in the sauna building next to Fenyes Mansion. There Finlandia Foundation was born, in a Finnish sauna. Family friend Jean Sibelius agreed to be its first patron.

Composer Jean Sibelius agreed to be the first patron of the newly formed Finlandia Foundation in 1953.

As you know by now, the Paloheimos were involved in a myriad of businesses, foundations, property, cultural affairs and what not. As they got on in years, it became necessary to put their affairs in order. Fenyes Mansion was the first to go. The Paloheimos donated it to the city of Pasadena as a museum in 1972.

The Paloheimos moved out of Fenyes Mansion and into their other home in Carpinteria, California in 1972.

But there was still a lot of work to be done. Enter Paul Halme, attorney at law. His father- a Lutheran minister in a missionary – had been good friends with Yrjö Paloheimo.

“Yrjö used to talk to my daddy. He said you are my brother. They were very close doing Finnish cultural things together. My father was born in a Finnish family in Massachusetts but as a child he went back to Finland and was raised in Viipuri,” Halme, now 72, explains. He himself was born in Los Angeles.

“Yrjö was bringing me in to handle their affairs because he was concerned. I used to say, well, I don’t know which one of you is going to die first and he said, I’m going to die first. He was worried about Leonora and wanted her protected, because there would be lots of relatives showing up and so forth. Yrjö was the insulation, handling all the business affairs. He was trying to find someone to be in a position to protect her.”

A salon in Fenyes Mansion

Very soon the vast scope of the task dawned on Halme.

“I had to get my head around this whole estate and to try to see what the issues were, because they had many different documents. They had five trusts set up and they had a lot of different moving parts.”

At that point the Paloheimos had three residences in Carpinteria, CA, Santa Fe, NM and Järvenpää, Finland.

“I had many meetings with Yrjö. We would sit down for a couple of hours. We would meet in Carpinteria and sometimes he brought me to Santa Fe. He said, let’s bring Leonora and talk to her, let’s have fun! So, we’d go to the country club and have lunch. He was always very precise about everything. He was not a casual person, nor was Leonora. So, we’d go to lunch. He’d say, OK, where are the women going to sit and where are we going to sit,” Paul Halme reminisces.

Attorney Paul O. Halme runs the Paloheimo Foundation as the Chairman of the Board.

In 1985, the year before his death, Leonora and Yrjö traveled to Finland for the very last time. They had often spent their summers there, staying in their Kallio-Kuninkala house in Järvenpää, near Helsinki. The main building was in disrepair. It had recently served as a restaurant. There Yrjö met Ellen Urho, rector of the Sibelius Academy. Perhaps because of the old Sibelius-connection, Yrjö told her that he would like the place to be associated with music. It was agreed that the academy would take over the buildings and convert them into a learning center. Yrjö Paloheimo never saw the completed work. He died in the spring of 1986. The following year the Kallio-Kuninkala Course Center opened.

Yrjö Paloheimo was a distinguished, formal man with exceptional people skills.

By now Paul Halme had become the lead attorney handling all the Paloheimo affairs. For the last 20 years of her life, Leonora was deaf, so it took an extra effort for Paul to communicate with her.

“She was a very bright woman, very intelligent. She loved humor. I used to put a joke in the letters I sent her. Because she was deaf, I would send a letter in advance. Then she would read it and be prepared to give me answers,” Paul recounts.

A painting of a young woman adorns one of the rooms at Fenyes Mansion.

Leonora passed away in 1999 – 13 years after her husband. Today Paul Halme is the Chairman of the Board of the Paloheimo Foundation. Making his home in Carpinteria, he is busier than ever, dividing his time between Carpinteria and Santa Fe. He tells me he is trying to renovate the New Mexico style Paloheimo house there. Paul’s wife is in a bakery business. Their four children are all grown up now and the Halmes have ten grandchildren. In the meantime, Finlandia Foundation is stronger than ever, giving out grants totaling a hundred thousand dollars a year. They are also a major force behind Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan. 2013 marks their 60th anniversary, so in March the storied Fanyes Mansion will once again come alive with music, clinging glasses and laughter, as Yrjö Paloheimo’s life work is befittingly celebrated in the place where it all begun so many years ago.

Fenyes Mansion will be the venue for Finlandia Foundation National 60th anniversary, March 22-23, 2013.

For more info about Finlandia Foundation and the upcoming celebration, go to: www.finlandiafoundation.org

FINLAND, 95

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES
PHOTOS: JONNY KAHLEYN DIEB

FINLAND, 95

The Finnish Independence Day is December 6th. This year the local LA Finns celebrated it early at the Marriott in Sherman Oaks. The superbly-organized gala evening attracted about a hundred people in the hotel’s grand ballroom. Gourmet salad, chicken and vegetarian entrees, and ice cream with white chocolate were on the menu. They went down with either red or white wine. Later on many Finns were delighted to find out that strong Sisu booze was available at the bar.

This year a spotlight shone on those, without whom there wouldn’t be an independent Finland as we know it. There are about a dozen Finnish war veterans still living in Southern California, plus just a handful of Lottas (female volunteers of the Finnish Armed Forces ). All but a couple made it to the party. Ava Anttila gave a moving speech, in which she recognized the sacrifice the veterans had given to their country.

Finnish war veteran Ari Antiila with daughter Ava

“Finnish Independence Day on December 6th is a solemn, reverent homage to the SISU of our fathers and mothers who ‘told’ Russia they could not take back Finland in 1939 –independent only since 1917.  Finns do not like change—and they certainly do not respond well to being told what to do!,” Ava explained.

Click here for the full text of Ava Anttila’s speech

Ava then produced a small wooden box, explaining that her father Ari gave it to her. In the box there were war time leaflets, urging Finns to put down their weapons and surrender – courtesy of Russians.  The now 87-year-old Finnish war veteran Ari Anttila, completed the story. The Germans had spread boxes like that throughout the forests in the eastern front. They were made of wood as not to be able to be detected by a metal detector and to make them look like something one would like to pick up and take home. But each box was filled with explosives and upon opening would have exploded, doing some serious bodily damage to the poor soul who opened it. Ari, who served in the Continuation War as a Corporal, explained that they used to prod them carefully with long sticks. This particular box had not exploded. He had taken it home, kept it all these years and even brought it along to America, where he emigrated with his family in 1959. Not well enough to attend was Ava’s mother Raija, but no doubt she was there in spirit. Raija is one of those few remaining Lottas that are still with us. Lilja and Vincent, around five years old, hand-delivered a small, wooden Finnish flag to each veteran and Lotta in attendance. That brought tears to many an eye.

Honorary Council Kathryn Mautino of San Diego delivered official greetings from the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö.

Then there were the official greetings from the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, delivered by the Honorary Council Kathryn Mautino of San Diego. In the early part of the evening we were treated to some cello music by Pauliina Haustein, née Pölönen from Nurmijärvi. Pauliina, 26, studied cello at the Sibelius Academy. She met her future husband, Martin Haustein at a music festival in Hungary. Martin is a neurobiologist, working as a researcher at UCLA. The Hausteins have made their home in LA just for a year, but it has been a successful one. Pauliina recently got a coveted seat as an understudy at the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the summer home of the LA Phil. She will replace the regular cellist in case of an illness. And just last Friday Pauliina made her big Hollywood debut as a cellist on the hit show Glee. Pauliina can be seen on episode 11 of the current 4th season. Fans of Pauliina can hear her beautiful music during the regularly scheduled Finnish church services at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica.

Cellist Pauliina Haustein, née Pölönen, with husband Martin Haustein.

Outside on the patio party guests exchanged news. Businessman Kimmo Piironen, a barcode industry expert, had just returned from a business trip to France. In the past with a longer hairdo, one could mistake him for Conan O’Brien.

“Food in Lyon is much better than in Paris,” Kimmo hinted.

Tuomas Keskinen, 32, was there. The younger set might remember Tuomas as the ex-guitarist of the Finnish rock band Negative. These days Kimmo leads a dual life. During summers he works in Finland. Last summer he performed 150 concerts. In the winters he works in a recording studio in Hollywood owned by a fellow Finn and an Ostrobothnia resident Jimmy Westerlund. Tuomas plans to spend this Christmas with his parents in Finland. The Keskinen family house in Lappajärvi is located in an idyllic setting – on an island with only 50 inhabitants.

Tuomas Keskinen with the ever so beautiful Kristina Duff

The star performer of the evening was Pepe Willberg, 65. Pepe’s career has lasted amazing 50 years. Last year he was awarded the prestigious Iskelmä-Finlandia, a music award for popular music comparable to a lifetime Grammy. Pepe and his wife Pauliina had not been to LA before. Pepe told me he had visited San Francisco some 15 years ago. They first visited New York for a couple of days, then flew into LA four days before the show. Pepe said they had been doing a lot of sight seeing and had spent hardly any time in their hotel room except to sleep. Pepe was bewildered about the “chaotic” traffic of the city of angels. When he returns to Finland, he will give Christmas concerts in Turku and Helsinki. Pepe and Pauliina also sing in a choir, so Helsinki residents and visitors, look out for those upcoming choir concerts there as well.

Finnish icon Pepe Willberg

Willberg, accompanied by Jouko and Sari Nyqvist, had selected his program thoughtfully. The first set consisted of songs familiar to the WW II generation. Among others, we heard the beautiful “Romanssi” from the Finnish war time hit movie “Katariina ja Munniniemen kreivi”, (Katariina and the Count of Munkkiniemi). There was also a moving moment, when Willberg announced that the lyrics for his next song “Niitty”, (meadow), were written by his good friend, poet Tommy Tabermann, who died a little over two years ago of brain cancer at 62. Tommy’s older sister, the cosmetics queen Marita Tabermann was sitting in the audience. She was moved by this lovely tribute to her late brother. As the Sisu-booze took effect, more and more couples overcame their shyness and took to the dance floor to the tune of the master crooner Pepe Willberg. He was in fine form, the unmistakable, original velvety voice untouched by years. He is a man of contrasts – soft-spoken, even a little distant when you talk to him, but oh boy, when he starts to sing. It is as if though he possessed the master key to all the yearnings, secrets and desires of the heart.

Comedian Josh Steinberg

After the solemn start, comic relief was delivered by Josh Steinberg, who had spent some serious time in Finland. His observational humor went to the jugular. Among other humorous quips, he complained having had difficulties in landing a job in Finland, where formal degrees are worshipped to the high heavens.

“Even to be an auto mechanic in Finland you need a degree in engineering!”

Pepe Willberg with Mikko Koskinen

The other singer of the evening was Mikko Koskinen, who belted out contemporary Finnish pop tunes. There was a silent auction going on at a side table with art, food, wine and other goodies. A Teemu Selänne signed hockey jersey had gone up to $310 last time I looked.

I had the incredible honor of interviewing  Finnish war veteran Veikko Kautiainen, 85, and I hope to do justice to his story. Veikko was born in Kemi, Northern Finland in 1927. His father died when the boy was eight years old. Mom took him and two sisters to Petsamo (that other “arm” of Finland that was lost to Russians in the war). The gold rush was going on and she supported her family as a seamstress, employing a couple of other ladies. They would make and mend men’s clothing. In the fall of 1939 the Russians invaded Petsamo and the civilian population was evacuated. Veikko was 13 at the time.

Finnish war veteran Veikko Kautiainen with wife Aino and daughter Kathryn

“We watched from the other side of the lake as Finns burned down our home village, Salmijärvi, so that the Russians wouldn’t get it. It was heart wrenching.”

The family fled to Narvik, Northern Norway. But unbeknownst to them, the town was a prime target for the allied. For it was through Narvik that the Germans shipped iron ore, produced in Kiiruna, Sweden, back to the Third Reich. So the allied started bombing Narvik and again the Kautiainen family had to flee – this time to a nearby fjord. They realized that it had been a mistake to go to Norway. After six months they returned to Finland. At first, they went back to Petsamo, but there was nothing left there but ruins. So they settled in Kemi.

“There I joined the military boys, sotapojat, a voluntary organization for underage boys who wanted to serve. I thought that there I’d at least get food a roof over my head.”

Veikko never returned home after that. He first served as a messenger. After a short truce with the Russians, the Continuation War broke out in June of 1941 with a Soviet offensive. Veikko served in the strategic air defense (ilmatorjuntapatteri), and stayed until the end of the war in September, 1944. After the war Veikko remained in the army. After having been properly trained, he got into the car company and says having enjoyed driving (he still drives around town by himself and just got a five year driver’s license). Finally in 1948 Veikko was discharged from the army. He worked odd jobs at as a lumberjack, carpenter and postman. Then in 1949 he moved to Sweden. There were recruiters there from Canada, who enticed young, able-bodied men to immigrate there. So, in 1951 he said goodbye to the old continent and headed west to Canada.

“I was in London, Ontario. My first job was a dish washer for 50 cents an hour,” he chuckles.

He got a job as a lumberjack in the forests of Northern Ontario. But the winters were too cold there for even the robust Finn. His next job was a miner in a town called South Porcupine – right next to Finntown, Ontario. He met a young lady named Aino, who also was from a Finnish stock. They married in 1954. Life in the Canadian wilderness was harsh, so Veikko filled out paperwork to immigrate to the U.S. Three and a half years later the papers came through and in 1962 – 50 years ago – Aino and Veikko Kautiainen moved to North Hollywood, California. They still live there today.

Tomi Hinkkanen interviews Finnish war veteran Veikko Kautiainen

“I’ve been an extension of the hammer all these years,” Veikko responds, when I ask about his work.

By that he means that for decades he worked in construction and also has a contractor’s license. Veikko has been retired for the past 24 years and he has visited Finland every single year, except this year. Aino and Veikko had three children, two of whom are alive. Their son Jimmy took after his father and is a construction supervisor. Daughter Kathryn married a Texan and moved to Dallas. She visited her parents and came to the independence ball. At the end of our meeting, I ask this Finnish war hero, what does independence mean to him. He responds modestly:

“It’s nice to be independent.”

It is, indeed. Thank you, Veikko and others like you!

Lotta Sirkka Toth shared her rendition of a beautiful poem

Slideshow with Music:

SUOMI 95, Los Angeles

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INVENTOR SANTTU WINTER

Santtu Winter – a civil engineer and an inventor

It was 1985 when Pertti and Eila Winter packed up their bags in their home town Iisalmi in Eastern Finland and headed west to the Washington State. They settled in Seattle, where Pertti had a job waiting as a pulp and paper consultant in a Finnish company called Ekono. Eila worked in accounting for another company. Nine months later Santtu was born. At the time the family lived in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle.

“Adventure was definitely a big part of it. They wanted to explore the world a little bit, Santtu, now 27, thinks about the parents’ big move.

He enrolled in the University of Washington, majoring in Civil Engineering and graduated from there in 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree. When he turned 18, Santtu got a dual citizenship. His parents moved back to Finland in 2004, this time in the capitol region. The young man stayed behind in Seattle. He fell in love with Amy Schlilaty, a lovely brunette from the affluent neighboring community of Issaquah They got married in the Summer of 2008. That same year Santtu started working for CH2M Hill, an engineering company.

Santtu and Amy Winter now make their home in Portland, Oregon.

“I’m enjoying married life. I think one of my favorite parts of it is companionship. My wife and I are the best of friends,” Santtu testifies. In fact, it was Amy’s studies that brought the couple some 200 miles south to their current home in Portland, Oregon.

“My wife Amy got a residency at a hospital here. She is going to be a dentist. We moved just five months ago. I work for an engineering consulting company dealing with waste water,” Santtu explains.

In addition to his day job, Santtu has been tinkering something with his friends in a garage for quite some time now. It all started when his parents came from Finland to visit.

“They brought a game called Mölkky (mul-kuh), with them. We were on an Oregon coast playing it. It was a lot of fun. When I was in Finland a year or two later, I picked up my own Mölkky set, brought it home and played it at the park with friends. And people would stop and ask, what are you playing,” Santtu reminisces.

 

Santtu created his Palikka game from an old Finnish tossing game called Mölkky.

Mölkky is a tossing game. There are 12 wooden pins that are 5-6 inches tall and they are numbered 1 through 12. You set them up in a tight, little group. Then you have a slightly larger log that you toss underhand and try to knock off as many pins as you can. The object is to get exactly 50 points by lobbing the tossing log at the tossing line – about three lumberjack steps away from the numbered pins. If a player knocks just one pin down, he or she gets the value of that pin’s number. The same goes with multiple knock-outs.

“So, me and a couple of friends decided that we should take the idea from Mölkky and try to expand on it and make it more versatile. That’s how the idea for a new game was spawned,” Santtu recalls.

“We tried to make it more like a deck of cards or like a dart board. You can play a lot of different games with the same game pieces. The only change we made with the physical set is that we added a 13th pin that is unnumbered. That opens up a lot of doors of different ways to play. You can play the Finnish game Mölkky and the Swedish game Kubb on the same set, Santtu explains.

Santtu tossing.

The new game is called Palikka, which means “block” in Finnish. It is a labor of love of three men: Santtu Winter came up with the original idea. Kevin Kotecki deals with the business aspect of things. Ryan Boyett is a carpenter, who actually builds the sets in his garage. Another Finnish-American, Marko Wallenius, is an artist, who created the Palikka mascot and the company website.

“We got into it for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a great game. The other was just the adventure of starting a business. I’ve never done anything like this before. So, there’s a lot of learning in how to develop a product and make in profitable. It’s also fun to develop something with your friends,” Santtu lists.

For anyone out there, trying to find a Christmas gift that is not made in China, why not consider a truly original gift – a Palikka set.

“We have a website www.palikkagame.com. You can buy it there on-line. It costs $39.50.”

Santtu and Amy playing the Palikka game.

Santtu and company have sold around 160 sets so far.

“At first I expected most of the sales to come from the Seattle area, because that’s where we started building them. But as it turns out, we have found customers from throughout the U.S. We have shipped Palikka sets to 25 different states. People hear about it from a friend, or they want to get the game for a friend or for a Christmas gift.”

Speaking of Christmas, Amy and Santtu plan to spend it up north.

“We are going up to Issaquah, where Amy’s parent’s live. That should be a lot of fun.”

Winter in Issaquah

MARIMEKKO ARRIVES IN BEVERLY HILLS

A festive crowd celebrates the opening of the latest Marimekko store in Beverly Hills.

The Finnish clothing and home textile brand Marimekko opened a store in Beverly Hills Friday. The grand opening was preceded by an invitation-only star-studded party Thursday night. Finntimes was there and met the CEO of Marimekko, Mr. Mika Ihamuotila.

 

The CEO of Marimekko, Mika Ihamuotila with his wife, Helena “Kitty” Ihamuotila.

You have been busy opening stores abroad lately, haven’t you?

-Yes, I just returned from a two week trip to Asia. Last week we opened stores in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Tokyo and Shanghai. Last week we opened a store in Palo Alto, California as well. In the middle of it all, I flew into Helsinki to open our new store there.

There are also spanking new Marimekko stores on New York’sFifth Avenue and Newbury Street in Boston.

-We wanted the best possible location in each city. The new stores are big as well.

Ihamuotila, 48, admits that the opening frenzy is not business as usual for Marimekko.

-This if far from ordinary for us, these are exceptional times.

The Beverly Hills store is the 103rd Marimekko shop. Since Ihamuotila took the helm of Marimekko some five years ago, the company has opened 20 new stores a year – most of them in Asia and the United States.

Guests arrive at the new Marimekko store, located on 370 North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills.

-If we did not do brisk business, I wouldn’t have the courage to expand so vigorously. We are doing really well at the moment. Our collection has been well-received around the world. Our show at the New York Fashion Week received praise from fashion magazines. A week ago we published our quarter annual report. In it we told our international sales have increased by 23% and our revenue has doubled. It looks good, but one has to remain humble, as the economic situation in the world looks troublesome.

 

The children’s corner was temporarily turned into a bar on the opening night. The bar served tasty Marimekko drinks, of course.

The Beverly Hills store offers a wide range of Marimekko products.

-Fashion has become an ever important part of Marimekko. Here we have separate departments for men’s and women’s fashions. Then we have bags and even iPad covers. In the new Marimekko stores, our fabrics have been placed in the very center of the store. Many other fashion brands have forgotten their roots. We want to shine a spotlight on our fabulous fabrics. There is also a children’s corner here and all the glassware and ceramics can be found in the back of the store. They are rather new product categories that we didn’t have five years ago. There are also wooden and fabric jewelry here.

 

Barbara Tuuri tries on a Marimekko fabric. Mika Ihamuotila wants to honor the history of the brand by displaying fabrics in the center of the store.

How well do Americans know about the Marimekko products ?

-We have ten shop-in shops in Crate and Barrel stores. We are increasing our visibility with these new Marimekko stores. Our ambitions are on a totally different level than at any time in the company’s history.

Now that we are in “Hollywood”, do you have celebrity endorsers?

-Last week Sarah Jessica Parker was photographed wearing Marimekko, Elton John wore Marimekko shoes in Saint Tropez and Anne Hathaway has been seen wearing our clothes almost weekly. It seems to me that we are at a time when marimekko clothes are being widely used.

 

Irina Björklund performs at the Marimekko opening in a Marimekko dress.

Ihamuotila has no plans to use star power in advertising.

-We have no such plans, nor do I think we will use stars in the future either. We think of Marimekko in organic terms. If someone likes our clothes, fine. However, I don’t like the idea of paying a star to wear Marimekko. It doesn’t seem to fit our values. Many other brands pay actors up to hundreds of thousands to wear their clothing.

The marketing is done mainly via media articles and public relations.

 

TV journalist Abdellatif Mouffakkir and his wife, consul general of Finland Kirsti Westphalen, were taking pictures and trying on mittens at the grand opening of Marimekko.

-We employ one of the best PR firms in the United States. I have had nine interviews with American news media. Through these news articles we aim to inform the public about Marimekko’s values, history, production and design. There’s less emphasis on advertising.

How do you feel now that the Beverly Hills store is reality?

-It feels really good. As I was walking here tonight I saw the store full of people. I passed a restaurant next door that is a favorite place for actors and directors to dine in. They were curious to see what was going on in our store next door. As I saw the bright Marimekko colors through the large windows, I felt proud about our brand and people. It feels incredible but it is true!

 

Colorful Marimekko dishes are the latest addition to the Marimekko line of products.

Mika Ihamuotila comes from a famous and prestigious Finnish family. His father Risto was the chancellor of Helsinki University and uncle Jaakko was the long time CEO of the Finnish petroleum company Neste. His gradfather Veikko served as a minister in the Finnish government and his mother was a textile designer. The family still owns a manor house in Espoo named Hista.

 

Mika Ihamuotila discusses with actress Anna Easteden at the Marimekko opening.

Mika Ihamuotila became the CEO of Marimekko in 2007 after acquiring 13% of the company stock. Just a year earlier Ihamuotila underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. It took him months to recover from the serious procedure. Last year he was once again under the knife for the same reason. But you would never know it by looking at the man. He looks tanned, healthy and strong – not to mention handsome as hell. I ask the famously private man about his health.

-Perfect, couldn’t be better, he responds.

Mika Ihamuotila is married to Hannele “Kitty” Ihamuotila, née Mandelin. She was beaming at the store premiere by his husband’s side. They have four sons. Mika Ihamuotila’s hobbies iclude reading, tennis and nature, especially the Finnish archipelago and the Alps.

 

Kitty and Mika Ihamuotila opened the 103rd Marimekko store in Beverly Hills.

It was a fun opening indeed that read like who’s who in the LA Finnish circles. Consul general Kirsti Westphalen was having fun with her husband Abdellatif Mouffakkir. They were taking pictures at the Marimekko photo booth and trying on mittens. Barbara Tuuri from Warner Bros. was there. The patrons of everything Finnish, Mirja and Ernie Covarrubias were mingling in the crowd, sipping Marimekko drinks. Mirja met up with media personality Sauli Koskinen, who was there with some friends.

Mirja Covarrubias connected with Sauli Koskinen.

Sauli Koskinen came to the Marimekko opening with his friends.

Finnish actresses Susanna Finn and Marjo-Riikka Mäkelä were present, as was the ever so lovely colleague Anna Easteden. Magician turned movie mogul, Iiro Seppänen had just returned from a six-month vacation to see the wonders of the world. Iiro’s Pan Pacific Entertainment focuses on U.S. -China -collaborations. His latest endeavor was a Chinese TV series featuring wing suit jumpers.

These days movie producer Iiro Seppänen spends half of his time in China.

Janne Kouri, who runs a gym for the paraplegics showed up with his banker-wife Susan.

Gym entrepreneur Janne Kouri with wife Susan.

The crowd was entertained by the lovely actress-singer Irina Björklund and her five man band. Irina sang and played the saw – yes, the saw. She recently recorded a brand new album in France in which she sings in French.

 

Irina and her band, all dressed in Marimekko. From the left: Janne Haavisto, Joe Karnes, Janne Lappalainen, Irina Björklund, Peter Fox and Markus Nordenstreng.

The store looked fabulous. Everything was bright, elegant – and I’m afraid quite expensive. This is definitely not a store for the bargain hunter. A canvas shopping tote for 21 dollars, anyone?

A couple browses Marimekko products in the brand new store.

However, if you want to remember that special someone this holiday season, you cannot go wrong with Marimekko. Finntimes wishes the new Marimekko store the best of success.

Marimekko marketing director Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko was happy after a successful opening.

ENTER TO WIN TICKETS TO SALONEN CONDUCTS BEETHOVEN NOV 30

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Enter to win tickets to

Salonen conducts Beethoven

November 30 at 8pm at Walt Disney Concert Hall

 Salonen conducts Beethoven

Fri-Sat November 30-December 1 @ 8pm • Sun December 2 @ 2pm at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Artists:
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Program:
BEETHOVEN  King Stephen Overture
LUTOSŁAWSKI  Symphony No. 1
LUTOSŁAWSKI  Fanfare for Los Angeles Philharmonic
BEETHOVEN  Symphony No. 2

TO ENTER , EMAIL  

(LAST DAY TO ENTER IS NOVEMBER 23)

About This Performance
As a cabaret pianist on the run from the Nazis in occupied Warsaw and then a staunchly independent composer denounced by Communist party apparatchiks, Witold Lutosławski survived some of the 20th-century’s grimmest years, and his cultural importance seems only to have grown since his death. Lutosławski became a close artistic associate of the LA Phil and Esa-Pekka Salonen in the last decade of his life, and his First Symphony will be recorded at these concerts to complete a Salonen/LA Phil cycle of the composer’s four symphonies for Sony Classical.

Come for:
A quintessential Salonen program. He has paired Beethoven and Lutosławski before, for his Beethoven Unbound festival in the 2004/05 season.

And more:
Lutosławski wrote his Fanfare for Los Angeles Philharmonic, a short piece for brass and percussion, in celebration of the LA Phil’s 75th Anniversary Season.

http://www.laphil.com/tickets/lutosawski-centenary-salonen-conducts-beethoven/2012-11-30

You can find additional details about EPS on the About the Conductor Page:

http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/esa-pekka-salonen

OBAMA WINS SECOND TERM

Obama gives a rousing victory speech in Chicago, after having won the election for the second term.

The long battle for the White House is over and Democratic Barack Obama, 51, defeated Republican Mitt Romney, 65, and was re-elected for the second term. Obama got 332 electoral votes and Romney 206. Out of more than 119 million votes cast, Obama got about 3 million more votes than Romney. It was sometimes frustrating to follow the campaign here in California when all the hullabaloo seemed to concentrate on the handful of battleground states, like Ohio and Florida. Once again, the Golden State had the role of a supporting actor, when all the attention was focused on the farmers of  Hamilton County, OH. California also served as a sponsor. Especially Obama collected a fortune to his war chest from Hollywood stars and Silicon Valley IT-millionaires. And yet California is the most populous state of the union with 37 million people and 55 electoral votes. It seems wrong that we have to be in the sidelines. A move from electoral college to popular vote would remedy this problem.

Maarit Fenwick cast her vote for Mitt Romney in Chatsworth, California

I had an exciting election day. At noon I met with Maarit Fenwick, née Halme, at her lovely house in Chatsworth, suburban Los Angeles. I was greeted by Maarit, her two dogs and a very fluffy black cat, all of whom seemed happy to see me. Maarit has lived in the U.S. for 26 years. She is a dual citizen, which means the lucky lady can vote both in Finnish and American elections. We drove the short distance to the Methodist church that served as the local polling place. Voters’ cars filled the parking lot and a steady stream of voters were checking with the officials and were seen casting their vote in the little booths. It was all white, middle-classed, calm, peaceful and subdued. Californians were asked to vote for 20 different political offices and measures, including senator, state representative and various measures, that dealt with death penalty, financing for schools and mass transit and here in LA, whether porn actors should be required to wear condoms or not. Maarit cast her vote for Mitt Romney, basing her decision solely on economics. Social issues, such as gay marriage, access to contraception and abortion did not factor in her decision. She admitted to me being liberal on those issues. After voting, Maarit proudly wore her “I voted” sticker, having fulfilled her civic duty.

Maarit proudly wore her “I voted” sticker after having fulfilled her civic duty.

It was quite a different scene at UCLA in Westwood. The students had organized a big election night viewing party at the tennis center on campus. About a thousand students gathered around gigantic TV monitors that were tuned to CNN, Fox and MSNBC’s election coverage. It seemed most students preferred to get their news from other sources, though. The young heads were hunched down to laptops and cell phones – all clicked onto various political sites, blogs and tweets. I was hard-pressed to find any Romney supporters here. This generation went for Obama in full force. They wore Obama t-shirts and buttons. Many voted for the very first time.

Young Obama voters watch the election night results at a viewing party on UCLA campus.

The ethnic diversity in the room was also noticeable. I saw many blacks, Latinos and Muslim women wearing their headdress. The most important issues to students were jobs, economy, funding for education, marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights. Many also felt that the rich should pay their fair and higher share of taxes than the poor and the middle class. In other words, the very same themes and issues resonated with this young crowd that Barack Obama has been talking about all these long months on the stump. If I were a Republican, I would take notice. This is your future electorate. Whether you like it or not, times are moving on. There’s no turning back to 1950’s style morals and practices.

African American women watch the results come in at UCLA viewing party.

Finally, it was a short election night. Soon after the polls had closed in California at 8 pm, Obama was declared winner. The big picture was that the older rural people went for Mitt Romney, the young and urban folk for Barack Obama. Indeed the president deserved a second term. Although the economy has not fully recuperated from the recession, we are on the right path of doing so. The business world is now creating close to a 200.000 jobs a month, when it lost about 800.000 a month when Obama first took office. He saved the U.S.auto industry, gave millions of Americans access to health care, gave young undocumented immigrants, the so-called dreamers their chance, put an end to the discriminative “don’t ask and don’t tell” policy in the military (with no problems with the much talked about unit cohesion), and decimated Osama Bin Laden and many of his Al Qaida followers. A lot remains to be done. A divided congress must learn to work together for the common good for all of us in this great country. I think most people would agree that the most pressing issue now is to get the economy running again. That would also go a long way of solving the debt crisis. There is no question in my mind that this should be accomplished both by careful cuts in unnecessary programs, as well as taxing the wealthiest Americans their fair share. In addition to the economic issues, it is important to have a country where everybody, whether white, black, Latino, immigrant, gay or straight feels welcome and a full-fledged member of the society. It is time to deal with the immigration issue once and for all and get a comprehensive immigration reform done. It is time to deal with the marriage equality issue as well. This is up to the Supreme Court, but the president and his message of support is essential. The election is over and the real work begins. Now we should all unite behind President Barack Obama and start working for the common good of this wonderful country.

ART, SCIENCE AND SPIRIT

 

Dr. Professor’s Thesis of Evil got its Hollywood premiere.

THESIS OF EVIL

The Finnish trio from Oulu, Jukka Vidgren, Juuso Laatio and Petteri Staven recently visited Hollywood, where their 35-minute short film Dr. Professor’s Thesis of Evil was shown at the L.A. Short Film Festival. I sat down with the men to discuss their movie, which they describe as a dark comedy.

All the men hail from the northern city of Oulu, which in the last decade has emerged as a high tech hub. Petteri works at Nokia as a motion designer. Juuso and Jukka have a production company – they make commercials and music videos.

 

Jukka Vidgren, Juuso Laatio, Petteri Staven, Juha Nieminen

Where did you meet each other?

“Juuso and I were media students at Oulu University. Juuso is more into graphics design, photography and I am more into producing. We knew each other way back from school. This film actually started as our final thesis for the university, but it grew from there to a full-blown indie production” director Jukka Vidgren, 29, says.

“We made it with a technique called “motion novel”. We took photographs of our actors, made backgrounds with computer graphics and then blended them together, added sound effects, voiceover and music. It’s a new kind of a narrative technique,” Vidgren explains.

In other words, the actors in the film are presented as still images and the movement is limited to other elements, such as smoke, fire and other special effects.

Do you have to be an actor in a motion novel?

“Yes, it’s a still image, in which you have to convey a specific emotion. You only get one frame to cover a whole lot of dialogue.”

Where did you find your actors?

“Here and there. We had to use actors whom we knew. The villain is played by Pentti Korhonen. He is an actor in the Theater of Oulu. The others were students and other people we knew.”

 

The voice actors were cast in Canada and the U.S.. They were compensated for their work with a grant from the Finnish Film Foundation. In addition to that, they collected 8,000 euros from crowd funding.

 

Director Jukka Vidgren in front of the Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

What is your movie about?

“It’s like a superhero story with a super villain. The film is about a super villain, who is the most successful and known super villain in the world – Dr. Professor. He is trying to take over the world. Our hero is Alphaman, a superman kind of a figure, who is trying to destroy Dr. Professor’s plans.”

The idea reminds me of another new Finnish sci-fi movie, Iron Sky – why is that genre so popular in Finland right now?

“Genre films in general are getting big in Finland. Sci-fi is one of them. I don’t know if I would categorize our film as a sci-fi movie – it’s a fantasy film. We have had very few genre movies of any kind in the past – action, sci-fi or fantasy. They appeal to our generation of filmmakers, who were born in the early 1980’s,” Jukka Vidgren believes.

How long did it take you to make this movie?

“About two and a half years. We had a small team of ten people and only ten days to shoot in the studio with actors. The post-production took about a year and a half.”

The title Dr. Professor’s Thesis of Evil was Juuso Laatio’s idea. He also served as the director of photography.

“I took all the pictures and did about 95% of the photoshop –keying the characters from backgrounds and doing all the color work and stuff. Petteri did the moving parts and there were many other people involved as well,” Laatio, 31, specifies.

Petteri Staven’s job title is motion visualist.

“I took the layers of the photoshop, which Juuso did and processed them in the after effects, which is also an Adobe product, so it was easy. The movement was not based on characters but smoke, fire and gunshots,” Staven, 27, explains.

How did you get to the LA Short Film Festival?

“We submitted our movie and it was accepted. It was pretty awesome, because we get to attend the opening night with some pretty big names and studios, like Marvel. We had conversations with other filmmakers and industry insiders,” Jukka Vidgren reveals.

 

Thesis of Evil is available on iTunes.

The filmmakers are already working on their next film, which is going to be a feature film. You can buy Thesis of Evil on iTunes for $1.99.

For more info go to: http://www.thesisofevil.com/

 

Juha Nieminen started his space studies at USC.

SPACEMAN

32-year-old M.Sc. Juha Nieminen was inspired by space after reading the recently deceased Neil Armstrong’s memoirs. This fall he began to study for a space technology Master’s degree in Space Technology at the prestigious University of Southern California, USC. He immediately joined the university’s hockey team. Thus, the first Finnish person whom he met in LA was the hockey player Saku Koivu. So far, the students have been lectured by Virgin Galactic’s president and an Apollo astronaut. About 1,500 foreign students at USC study space technology – the vast majority of them Chinese and Indian. Juha’s focus is the design of a new generation rocket engine. After graduation, Juha is allowed to work in the U.S. for a year. He would like to get a job in his field in Southern California, a hub for start-up space companies. Juha dreams of being able to travel in space one day. Meanwhile, the rocket man gets around on his bicycle, as he doesn’t have a car yet.

 

Juha Nieminen at USC

ACTING COACH

Beautiful, slim, dark and fiery Marjo-Riikka Mäkelä is a Karelian girl from  Lappeenranta, Eastern Finland. She studied drama in Århus, Denmark, as well as in Moscow and Amsterdam. MR arrived in the United States in 2004. Five years ago she graduated from Long Beach State University with a Master’s in Drama.  She was married for a while but has since divorced. At school actor-colleagues used to turn to her for help in different scenes, for she was able to shed tears at command and live each part to the fullest. So teaching came to her naturally. Today, Marjo-Riikka, 41, teaches in two drama schools in Los Angeles. She also has private students, and occasionally gives drama courses at various universities. Each week, she teaches about a hundred actors.

 

Marjo-Riikka Mäkelä teaches acting at the Chekhov Studio International.

The average person might think it is enough when an actor learns his lines, puts on a costume and then tries to bring the character alive. But as any professional, an actor needs tools to accomplish this. According to Marjo-Riikka, an actor is an explorer of humanity. She teaches Michael (Mikhail), Chekhov’s acting technique. This Chekhov was Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s nephew, who moved to the U.S. after the Russian revolution. Marilyn Monroe, Yul Brynner, and Robert Stack used his technique. Clint Eastwood is one of the living disciples of it. In short, the technique stresses empathizing with the character and learning different emotions kinetically. As a result, the learning process is physical.

 

Marjo-Riikka takes a physical approach to drama coaching.

On a recent Sunday I got to attend a rehearsal Marjo-Riikka gave at the Chekhov Studio International. There were 10 students attending – seven women and three men – the vast majority of them young adults in their twenties and thirties. The venue was a dance studio with mirrored walls and bars. The students wore track suits and and were working bare-footed.  A random visitor could well have mistaken these for dance rehearsals. The session was very physical indeed – breathing exercises, throwing a ball back and forth with one’s acting partner and taking steps back and forth while reciting lines. The students were rehearsing a new play about Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedy clan. I even saw a Spanish-speaking Marilyn! She was played by a  Chilean girl, who spoke her lines in Spanish. Middle-aged Roxette Wilson is already a successful actor in her native Australia. She is taking lessons from Marjo-Riikka in order to keep her skills sharp. Marjo-Riikka’s courses last for four to ten weeks.  This was an intensive course and she was preparing to start a master class. Next January Marjo-Riikka Mäkelä will take a breather from teaching to appear in a movie that will be shot in Brazil called the Star and the Cross.

 

Pastor Jarmo Tarkki is formally installed as the new pastor of the Finnish Lutheran congregation in the Western United States.

FINNISH PASTOR’S INSTALLATION

The Lutheran Church of California and Texas invite you to the installation service of Pastor Jarmo Tarkki, PhD. The service takes place at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 958 Lincoln Blvd,Santa Monica, on Sunday, October 21, at 2:00pm.

TEKES/UCLA’S GAP (GLOBAL ACCESS PROGRAM): THE HISTORY BEHIND IT

LOS ANGELES CONSUL GENERAL KIRSTI WESTPHALEN, EX-CONSUL GENERAL S MANU VIRTAMO AND MARIA SERENIUS TALK CANDIDLY ABOUT THE VERY SUCESSFUL TEKES’ EXPONSORED PROGRAM CALLED ‘GAP’ (GLOBAL ACCESS PROGRAM) . GAP HAS FACILIATED THE PARTNERSHIP OF INNUMEROUS FINNISH COMPANIES WITH THE UCLA ANDERSON SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT IN AN EFFORT TO CONQUER THE US MARKET. A FASCINATING STORY IN FINNISH/ENGLISH (W/ SUBTILES).

THIS ‘N’ THAT 2

Costume designer Susanna Puisto at Disney Studios in Burbank

SUSANNA PUISTO & DANA DELANY

Our Hollywood costume designer in residence, Susanna Puisto, is busy these days working her…um, behind off at the Disney Studios in Burbank. The hit series Body of Proof started shooting its third season there in August. The show stars Dana Delany, whom viewers may remember from the series Desperate Housewives and before that China Beach some 20 years ago. Dana and Susanna met on the set of The Right Temptation – a thriller that was shot in Utah 12 years ago. At that time Susanna was working for another star, Rebecca De Mornay, but ended up helping Dana Delany as well. Dana never forgot the sexy but stylish outfits Susanna created for her in that movie. So, when Body of Proof moved production from Rhode Island to LA, Dana remembered Susanna and invited her to become the costume designer for the show.

The star of Body of Proof, Dana Delany, tailor Syros Roshandel and costume designer Susanna Puisto at a wrap up party of Body of Proof in Hollywood.

Body of Proof is a procedural crime drama. The lead character, played by Delany, is a coroner, who used to be a neurosurgeon but after an accident that injured her hands, had to change careers. An eerily similar accident happened to Delany just as Body of Proof was about to start production of its first season. Dana was driving in Santa Monica. She came to an intersection. There was a car behind her. The female driver kept honking her horn at her, urging Dana to make a left turn. She finally relented and tried to turn left, but a bus crashed right into her car. The lady driver behind Dana fled the scene, leaving Delany in her smashed up car. They never caught the driver. But Dana says she believes in karma. She injured her hand in the accident just as the character she plays in Body of Proof. Dana believes there is a lesson in the accident – never to let anybody push you into doing anything you don’t want to do. Now Dana’s hand is better.

Dana Delany as Dr. Megan Hunt in Body of Proof

Susanna Puisto is the head of the costume department for the show. There are tailors, seamstresses, shoppers and other assistants working under her. Some clothes are purchased at the best boutiques of Beverly Hills, others are made from scratch. She and Susanna are the same size, so Susanna personally tries on clothes designed for Dana and emails the pictures to her. Susanna then supervises the first shot of each scene to make sure the new costume works out OK. She has to be constantly a few steps ahead of production schedule. Dozens of outfits are created for each episode. Many a woman might envy Susanna – she gets to shop Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. But make no mistake – the working hours on the set are long and she also has to design less glamorous items, such as lab coats… Hey, who are we kidding – Susanna Puisto is in her dream job and just loves every minute of it!

Susanna Puisto on the set of Body of Proof

GAP

Finnish companies have been participating in gap – the Global Access Program at UCLA for 12 years now. In the program, MBA students create business plans for Finnish companies.

The executives of Vianova Systems Finland Ltd. The company creates visual models of large infrastructure projects, such as the subway extension to the city of Espoo.

The way it works is this: The Finnish technology agency Tekes collaborates with UCLA Anderson School of Management. Tekes and UCLA staff scour Finland and look for high tech companies that have a potential to expand their businesses beyond their country borders. They then gather up suitable and willing companies and bring their executives to LA to meet with the UCLA Anderson’s fully employed MBA students. Each company gets a team of five students to work for them. Together the executives and students discuss the needs of the company. Then the students start their research. They talk to at least a hundred people in the field – competitors, distributors, potential customers and the like. Then the students prepare a 30 page, investor quality business plan. It contains detailed recommendations on what to do and not to do – how to expand the business and where. It will be unveiled to each participating company executives and outside judges in a formal presentation in December. This year 12 Finnish companies are participating in the program. There are 53 companies in GAP 2012 altogether from all over the world. The Finnish GAP companies have revolutionary inventions ready to be monetized. One company makes bone out of a patient’s own stem cells, the other has come up with a gadget that recharges your cell phone cordlessly and the third turns you into a press photographer who can make money out of your pictures. The GAP program has been an enormous success. Over the years it has helped 133 Finnish companies grow and expand their businesses to the U.S.and elsewhere. For more information, go to: http://www.tekes.fi/gap

Kristian Tornivaara, CEO of Surma – a ship design company, with a member of his MBA team on the UCLA campus.

LONG, HOT SUMMER

As Labor Day is upon us, it’s time to glance at this past Summer. I hear it was chilly and rainy in Finland. The same cannot be said about the Summer here in San Fernando Valley. After having lived on the Westside for a few years, we relocated in the valley in June. Within the city limits, the weather in L.A. can vary immensely depending on which part of the city you live. You can have 68 degrees F on the coast and 105 in the Valley at the same time. At first, a fan in every room cooled us down sufficiently. However, come July, the weather started to heat up. When those days of a 100 F (38 Celsius), hit, we had to go and buy an air conditioning unit in the living room. It is a big, bulky thing standing in the corner with the gigantic exhaust pipe propped to the window. Not exactly an attractive conversation piece in the living room – more like a big, white elephant!

AC unit in the living room

That was OK for a while. However, the AC in the living room did nothing to the other rooms. The fan in my bedroom was blasting in full force but it was still too hot to sleep. In my utter desperation, one night I even brought coolers from the freezer to bed with me. The second AC we got is the kind you install on the window. It alleviated the situation considerably. My Summer days started and ended with a cold shower. In the meantime the plants in the garden were suffering in the blazing sun. I had to move some of them in the sun room, where – despite of its name – it is shady.

The ferns like it in the sun room.

The azalea didn’t like that either – it was too hot for it there, so I moved it back out – this time to a shady corner. I started taking our pit bull Monty out for our daily walks early in the morning. After 9 am it was way too hot to venture outside.

Monty the pit bull has made new firends in the neighborhood. His favorite buddy is an all white hybrid wolf named Osso.

I started organizing my other activities, such as going to the store, after sunset. Little by little you learn to live with the heat, just as people in Finland have learned to live with the cold. At least I’m a bit wiser now than some years ago, when I attempted to wash my car in the heat of the day. As I sprayed cold water from the garden hose onto the windshield, it cracked!

El Timo the cat has found a cool place on top of the refrigerator.

FINLAND LURES HOLLYWOOD

Tourists pose with movie character impersonators in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Movie productions bring money and work to the filming locations. Therefore many states and countries offer incentives for film productions to come and shoot their movies in their turf. So far Finland has remained passive in the matter. But  after the formation of local film commissions a few years ago, plans are being hatched on how to lure Hollywood to make movies in Finland.

Warren Beatty directed and starred in the 1981 movie Reds. Though the film was about the Russian revolution, it was largely shot in Finland.

During the cold war Finland had the dubious honor of playing the Soviet Union in several Hollywood pictures. The Kremlin Letter, Telefon, Reds and Gorky Park were all shot in and around Helsinki. It was a perfect match – Hollywood needed a location that looked like Russia. And since filming in the actual Soviet Union was impossible at the time, Finland, namely Helsinki, filled the void. With its similar architecture, all that was needed were a couple of red banners, a Lenin’s picture, plus a few Russian signs and voilà – you were in Moscow!

Helsinki’s Uspenski Cathedral was used for its Russian style in the 1970 thriller The Kremlin Letter.

This, of course, is no longer the case. Today’s filmmakers can simply go to real Moscow – or any other part of Russia for that matter. That has left Finland cold. International movie shoots rarely film anything but nature documentaries there. And why would anyone want to film there? For its natural beauty? A little doubtful in the case of a feature film – there’s a lot of equally spectacular nature to be found in the United States and Canada – for a lesser price. However, Finland does have some historic sights, such as castles, churches, other old building and European streetscapes totally lacking in North America.

Finland offers splendid nature to enhance the look of a movie. Pictured: Repovesi National Park in Eastern Finland.

Hollywood productions are being lured by various countries with tax exemptions, free shooting permits and tax-free purchases. Hollywood favors low cost and cheap labor countries, such as Bulgaria, Romania and to the lesser extend –  the Czech Republic. However, the much more expensive New Zealand has also managed to enchant Hollywood.  The Lord of the Rings movies, King Kong and the Russell Crowe blockbuster Master and Commander: At World’s End, were all shot there. This summer the Hobbit, the Emperor and the Evil Dead were filmed in New Zealand.

Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most famous tourist attractions.

New Zealand Film Commission Director Michael Brook says that under certain conditions they reimburse film producers 15 percent of the money spent there. The island’s other attractions  include natural landscapes and opposite seasons compared to the northern hemisphere. So, summer scenes can be filmed there in January. Also, Canada’s Vancouver – a city about the size of Helsinki – has established itself as a Hollywood staple. The city can accommodate 40 big film productions simultaneously. Vancouver will pardon a third of the taxes, if the film crew  uses mostly local talent. Also 40 U.S. states offer incentives. For example, Louisiana and New York give a 30 per cent tax relief to movie productions that shoot there.

Finnish film commissioners Päivi Söderström and Teija Raninen at the Scandinavian Locations event in Los Angeles.

Finland and the other Nordic film commissions have come together under the banner “Scandinavian Locations”. Finnish film commissioners Teija Raninen and Päivi Söderström recently visited Los Angeles in this capacity with their Scandinavian colleagues to market Finnish locations to Hollywood producers. There are four regional film commissions in Finland. Oddly enough, Helsinki does not have one. So any inquiries from Hollywood or other international film producers are directed to the local production companies or the city tourism office.

Consul general of Finland, Kirsti Westphalen and film commissioner Päivi Söderström at the Scandinavian Locations event at Hotel Figueroa, downtown LA.

The Finnish film commissioners advertised Finland in Hollywood as a naturally beautiful country with many industry professionals ready to be hired and eager background actors willing to work for a meal. Other advantages of shooting  in Finland include flexibility and security.

Turku Castle was seen in the 1967 Ken Russell spy thriller Billion Dollar Brain, starring Michael Caine.

Finland cannot boast about low prices or incentives, though. A free three day search for shooting locations hardly counts as a tempting incentive. Finnish film officials have not even considered tax relief. Instead, the film commissioners have proposed a quirky solution: The producers could apply part of  the money back that they used in Finland. The reimbursement would be subject to a scoring system. Criteria would include artistic content, local employment, whether the movie has a Finnish co-producer and whether Finland will retain any intellectual property rights. A jury would then assess each production separately.

Päivi Söderström – a film commissioner from Finland travels once a year to Hollywood to tell film producers about the benefits of shooting in Finland.

Such a system, however, would be highly complicated and impractical to a film producer trying to make his budget. How is he or she to know the outcome of that assessment in advance and be able to accurately calculate the real costs of shooting  in Finland? A simple tax credit would be far better. It could include some conditions – such as having to use a certain number of local talent and crew, just like in Canada.

The 2011 action movie Hanna featured breathtaking Finnish winter sceneries. the movie was partially shot in Kuusamo, North Eastern Finland.

It makes a lot of financial sense to try to get movie productions to come and shoot in Finland. Economic benefits can be sizable – especially in rural areas struggling with recession. Motion Picture Association of America – a lobbying arm for the movie industry – recently published a study on the financial impact of movie shoots. According to the study, film productions and state incentives are a boost to the local film professionals and other industries, such as hotels, restaurants and caterers. Producers go to the cheapest possible locations that meet their artistic and other needs. For example, the TV series Body of Proof moved production from Rhode Island to Los Angeles, because the show got better tax benefits in LA. And this despite the fact that the story is set in Philadelphia!

Costume designer Susanna Puisto works on the set of Body of Proof at Disney Studios in Burbank .The show recently relocated to Los Angeles because of more favorable tax benefits.

In late winter of 2010, an American action movie Hanna shot for five days in Kuusamo. The production left a million dollars to the area suffering from high unemployment. Other economic opportunities film productions provide include product placement, geocaching and film tourism.

The 1965 musical the Sound of Music was shot on location in Austria.

The Sound of Music premiered back in 1965. The musical was shot in the beautiful Austrian locations. Even today, the film still draws tourists to Austria. Therefore, it is important for Finnish officials and politicians to come together and come up with a comprehensive scheme that includes heavy tax advantages to lure Hollywood movies to shoot in Finland. Movie shoots bring money, work, fame and visibility to the shooting locations. They boost tourism and interest in the country and benefit the local economy.

Lake Pielinen in the Koli National Park, Eastern Finland

PASTOR JARMO TARKKI SERVES WESTERN FINNS

Story, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen

There’s a new pastor in town. Jarmo Tarkki began his tenure as the Lutheran pastor of California and Texas Finns April 1st, 2012.

 

Pastor Jarmo Tarkki

 

“And that’s no April fools joke,” he quips about his starting date.

The very first impression of the man is that he smiles a lot. I get to attend the first sermon at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica. Tarkki involved the audience in the proceedings by quizzing their knowledge of  charismatic protestant movements of Finland. He also performed a baby boy’s baptismal to the horror of the boy himself, who kept crying throughout the rite. Afterwards there was a coffee and cake reception for the new pastor. A week later we sit down for an interview with the good pastor at the Glendale Hilton, while he was attending a meeting of Lutheran pastors.

Jarmo Tarkki at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Santa Monica

His official title is Finnish Minister of California and Texas Finns. It is an office of American Evangelical Lutheran Church, but by agreement, his salary is paid by the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church. There were 17 applicants to this job. Previously Tarkki had a post in the Danish Lutheran Church in Solvang, California, where he still resides (Although he does not speak Danish, he tells). Jarmo Tarkki first came to the United States in 1978 while working on his doctoral thesis on the subject “questioning religious authority.” After receiving his Ph.D. in Theology, Tarkki served as the pastor in Siuntio, Southern Finland and has also served as a prison minister. In the 1990’s he briefly dappled in politics, wrote newspaper columns and appeared as the host of a popular TV talk show “Mars and Venus”. He returned to the States in 1999 and has lived here ever since. This new post as the pastor to the Finnish immigrants just might geographically be the largest Lutheran congregation in the world.

Pastor Jarmo Tarkki

“The congregation consists of the whole of California, Texas and Mexico. I also serve Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. It has been estimated that there are approximately 60 000 first, second and third generation Finns in California who still identify themselves as such,” the pastor knows.

He has an unusual way of getting around his vast congregation.

“I have my own airplane, Cessna 172, with which I fly from Solvang to San Diego and San Francisco.”

To longer destinations, such as Dallas, he flies on a commercial airliner. Each congregation has a distinctly different flavor.

A reception after services given by Pastor Tarkki in Santa Monica

“Dallas has younger Finns, 30-40 years old, a lot of families with children – Finns who moved there to work for Nokia Siemens Networks and other high-tech companies. We had 105 people there for Mother’s Day worship.”

The pastor squeezes in several functions on these longer trips.

“I flew there Thursday and came back on Monday.  All day Friday, there were many meetings. We had a church that evening, the Council meeting and the new pastor’s barbecue party. It was held in a local Finnish home and was attended by about forty people. On Saturday, there was the end of semester celebration for the Finnish school with children and families involved. Then I held confirmation rehearsals for four  four candidates for confirmation. On Sunday, there was church service, which culminated in the confirmation. After that I went to the home of one newly confirmed, whose family threw him a reception.”

The new pastor was well-received in Dallas.

“The majority of the Dallas congregation are Finnish, though some of them have American spouses. They are open, cheerful, positive people, who keep in close contact with each other out there, even though the newer entrants are fluent in English. However, there is this sort of Finnish community. It is of great importance, especially on holidays such as Mother’s Day or Christmas.”

Pastor Tarkki gave the Easter service in San Diego.

“Beause there is a Nokia research and development in San Diego, it resembles somewhat Dallas. Then there are the academics – researchers, scientists and the like. There are also a few older folk – Armi Kuusela among others participated in the worship, sitting in the front row with her husband Albert. She promised to come back the next time. The San Diego Finnish congregation is a nice, active community.”

Tarkki has a touching memory from his last trip there.

“I went to see an elderly Finnish woman in a retirement home there. She died only a few days after my visit.”

Los Angeles feels like a typical Finnish community to Tarkki. About 40 people attended his inaugural worship in Santa Monica.

Pastor Jarmo Tarkki with Suomi-Koulu (Finnish school), teacher Mira Scott at St. Paul’s Church in Santa Monica

There is an entirely new congregation in the making in Silicon Valley.

“I assume that in Silicon Valley there are probably similar people as in Dallas. In Berkeley, there is a Finnish Church, the Lutheran Church of the Cross. They had a Finnish pastor there before. There is a Finnish deaconess there, who has presided over services there from time to time.”

The idea is to have Finnish church services in each of the locations six times a year. In addition, Tarkki will travel to Mexico City on December 15th to give services there to the consular staff.

Jarmo Tarkki wants to invite all western Finns to his church service.

“I want to inform Finnish residents that such a possibility of  having a worship service now exists six times a year in these different places. And if someone has a need to contact the minister – whether it be a discussion of pastoral care, baptisms, weddings or funerals – so they can now be handled from here.”

“The idea is to integrate the local Finns in the American Lutheran Church, rather than creating Finnish ghettoes here, where services are given only by Finnish pastors.”

Pastor Tarkki points out that this approach differs from the Swedish model, in which separate Swedish congregations are encouraged.

“In this sense, the Finnish model is really good. When there are no Finnish church services, the congregation is encouraged to attend the American Lutheran Church.”

What is amazing is that Tarkki does all this without any help – he doesn’t even have an assistant. So, this reporter encourages you all to give generously when the collection times comes. There is always need for extra this and that in the church.

Tarkki’s new Finnish congregation differs from his former Danish-American one.

“In Solvang, I did a lot of pastoral work over the phone. People called on all sorts of things. Some Finns will call as well, but the threshold for them to call is higher than for Americans. They are more used to it.”

Church plays a significantly larger role in American lives than it does in Finns’  lives.

“I don’t think there are big differences in terms of religiousness, but the social interaction is totally different here. Our American churches have a strong social function. Many younger people use them as dating venues. The church also has a networking task – reaching out to people. Americans move a lot. If you are a member of  the Lutheran church, by joining a new Lutheran congregation, you will instantly gain a network of a couple hundred people. Among them, there is almost certainly a person for every purpose, whether you need a lawyer or a doctor.”

Jarmo Tarkki says that church plays a large role in American lives.

In Finland, on the other hand, the church no longer plays a significant role in connecting people.

“In Finland, there is substantially less need for that. People move around less and they create their networks in other ways. When no one attends church, it is difficult to create any kind of a network.”

In some ways the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church can blame itself for becoming irrelevant. YLE 2 – a TV channel in Finland aired a gay-themed night in the fall of 2010. The Finnish panelists affiliated with the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church largely condemned homosexuality, causing tens of thousands of Finns to resign from the church within weeks of the broadcast. Jarmo Tarkki has dealt with the issue in his own church and former congregation.

“The U.S. Lutheran church made its decision three years ago. After all, it has ordained openly gay people as pastors for a long time. The burning question was: Can a person living in a homosexual relationship be ordained. It had previously been prohibited, but even that was permitted at that time three years ago.”

Tarkki agrees with the decision.

“In my opinion, the American Lutheran Church has acted in a fine way and set an example that this should now be followed elsewhere.”

The American Evangelical Lutheran Church was present at this year’s Gay Pride march in West Hollywood.

He says he has no problem presiding over same sex weddings.

“I could do it even today. It is a matter of state law. When California allowed same-sex marriages, I announced that if anyone should ask such a blessing, I’m willing to wed them and I do not see in any kind of problem in it.”

Tarkki extended his offer to his parish in Solvang, but in the rural community no such couples stepped forward. He had earlier held a series of discussions on the subject with his parishioners.

“There were some people who presented loud and strong views. Others are made equally strong views of an opposite opinion. We had agreed beforehand that this is a secure location to speak. Everyone has the right to express their views, but must also listen to others. We dealt with these things so much that when the  American Evangelical Lutheran Church finally made its decision, it was no longer a novelty.”

Tarkki criticizes the church as a whole on human rights.

“The church should always defend the human rights of those who are in need of defending. This includes all minorities, whether racial, religious, or of sexual orientation. We should now be in the world today where the Church has no right to discriminate. It is a shocking situation that a private employer cannot discriminate a person based on his or her sexual orientation, but the church can. It should be the other way around – the church should have led the way.”

Jarmo Tarkki thinks the church leaders in Finland are too timid on human rights as not to “rock the boat”.

“I once had a long person-to-person meeting at the Cathedral Chapter with the Helsinki Bishop Eero Huovinen. We talked about this. Bishop Huovinen thought, as many of the bishops think, that the bishop’s main role is to ensure that the church ship does not sway. I said to him, that it is difficult to rock the church boat, when it’s already half submerged!”

He says in Finland the church is known mainly for the things it opposes.

“The Church has distinguished itself by what it opposes, not by what it is for. That the Church opposes abortion, stores being open on Sundays – supposedly on the grounds that if the stores were open on Sunday mornings, people would not come to church. Well, they will not go there anyway! And then the gay debate. I think that people will form the impression that the Church always opposes something.”

Pastor Jarmo Tarkki criticizes the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church on being known mainly for what it opposes.

The immigrant pastors work sometimes takes Tarkki to unusual places and situations.

“I received word from a prison priest in Finland that I know. He said there is a Finnish inmate in a Las Vegas detention center – if I could visit him? Well, I flew to Vegas on my plane. It took a full day to arrange the half an hour meeting at the Clark County Jail with the detainee. He was visibly surprised and delighted that a Finnish pastor came to see him. It was an interesting meeting. I told him we can talk about anything he wants. That started the conversation. Now, this is exactly what I think the actual work of  Church should be.”

Then there was a rather unusual baptismal the pastor was sent to perform.

“I got a request from Ridgecrest to baptize the child of Finnish couple. Ridgecrest is located in Indian Wells Valley, the middle of a desert. Again, I flew there on my plane. The child’s father came to pick me up and was glad to know that the pastor comes from the sky. Then we went to his house. The mother’s parents were visiting from Finland. It turned out that the father is a Finnish Air Force engineer. He develops the F-18 fighter jet Hornet’s computer systems in the nearby China Lake Naval Air Station. We had a completely Finnish baptismal with hymns and all.”

Pastor Tarkki reminisces about unusual situations that his work sometimes gets him into.

There was also a very untraditional wedding that Jarmo Tarkki performed.

“A Finnish couple wanted to get married in San Diego. It was Saturday, and I had to fly there from Solvang. We had agreed that I’d be there that morning. But that day it was still foggy at noon, so I couldn’t take off. Finally at 1 pm the fog had lifted and I was able to get on the way, flying there over Catalina island. I had called the couple before taking off, telling them I was in a tight spot: I had a wedding rehearsal back in Solvang that same evening. I asked them to come to the airport, so I could marry them right there. They were very excited. So, I married them at the end of the runway and had the reception in a nearby private air terminal. Then I jumped on my plane and flew back to Solvang, just in time for the wedding rehearsal.”

Jarmo Tarkki and Dean Nelson, Bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

Pastor Jarmo Tarkki will be officially sworn in as the minister of the Finnish congregation by Dean Nelson, Bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The ceremony is set to take place in Santa Monica, California on October 21st, 2012.

See you at the worship services!

VICTORY – CONSULATE STAYS IN LA!

Reporter, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen &  Jonny Kahleyn

Last October the Foreign Ministry of Finland announced plans to shut down the Consulate General of  Finland in Los Angeles and move its operations to Silicon Valley.

Consul General Kirsti Westphalen at her Bel Air residence during an independence ball.

Finntimes mounted a vigorous campaign to keep the consulate in L.A. where we feel it rightfully belongs. Our readers really stepped up to support this cause. In a couple of months, 641 of you signed our on-line petition. An additional 142 signed the petition at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills. That’s 783 signatures in total. They were delivered to the deciders in Finland, including the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

Film director Renny Harlin signing the Finntimes petition to save the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills.

Now our efforts have yielded results. The Foreign Ministry has revised their plans and made the absolutely right decision to keep the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles after all. We have won!

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles Kirsti Westphalen

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Kirsti Westphalen, has worked tirelessly to secure this monumental decision. She spoke exclusively to Finntimes right before the decision was made public.

What was decided about the future of the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles?

“Well, I’m happy to tell you that the Consulate General of Finland will continue its operations in Los Angeles, but with a reduced budget. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as other actors in Finland continue to be under tremendous economic pressures. The Ministry reviewed the issue in light of the cost benefit that might have been accrued from moving our Consulate General to the joint premises that we have in Silicon Valley. But as it turned out, the savings were not as substantial as were previously thought. The prices in Silicon Valley have turned out to be exorbitant. This was one of the factors. We will be able to achieve savings and at the same time retain and keep the core functions of the Consulate General – servicing the Finns, who are entitled to consular services.”

Between 7,000 and 9,500 Finns  live in the 13 western states that the consulate serves. Many of them reside in SoCal.

L.A. Finns celebrating Juhannus – midsummer – at the Finnish club in North Hollywood.

What will be cut from the budget?

“The major savings will come from our rent costs. Currently the Consulate General occupies an office in Century City. We will be looking at cheaper alternatives, which will not be too far from the current location. We are aiming to relocate in the 405-corridor in West L.A.. Substantial savings can be achieved this way. We also have to cut from our operating expenditure, but in such a way that we still hope to be able to retain our core functions to be of service to Finnish citizens and public diplomacy work on education and clean, sustainable solutions, including the support to creative Finns in Los Angeles.”

Kristian Jokinen is the clean tech expert at the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles.

So, you will not cut any personnel?

“We will be able to maintain the personnel that we have at the moment. We are under staffed as it is and people are working very hard. We are eight persons altogether.”

One major event had to be cut from the Consulate General’s social calendar, though:

“Already this year we will be very careful with our budget. Thus, this year we will not be holding the traditional Independence Day Party at the residence. We want to put our budget into activities that directly contribute to the success of Finland here in the U.S.. I hope that in the years to come, when the budgetary situation will be better, we will be able to get together to celebrate the independence of Finland with a party at the residence. This year, however, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate independence in the Bay Area, here in Los Angeles and in San Diego, where local Finns are planning independence day celebrations.”

Who made this decision?

“All these very painful decisions were reviewed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with very highest of our decision makers, including the President of the Republic.”

Even though Los Angeles was saved, some other representations have to be shut down.

“Consulate General of Hamburg, Germany and Consulate in Sydney, Australia will be closed during 2013 and our mission at the Organization of  Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, will be merged with the Finnish Embassy in Vienna. So, this is an ongoing process. These are in addition to closures that have been announced already earlier.”

Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen promoting the petition to save the Consulate General of Finland in L.A. at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills.

Do you think that the petition on Finntimes played any role in saving the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles?

“I am sure it played a very important role. It was duly noted that the support of the Finnish community on the U.S. West Coast was strongly in favor of maintaining activities of the Consulate General of Los Angeles. It had an important role, as the decision was being reviewed. That in the addition to the fact that the government decided earlier on this year in the so-called “Team Finland Report”, where we are trying to reinforce the activities of Finnish missions abroad, that one must have a strong Finnish presence here in the  U.S.  West Coast.”

Kirsti Westphalen wants to personally thank our readers.

“My personal thanks goes to you, your readers, Finntimes and your article and petition on retaining  the consulate here in Los Angeles.”

Virpi Sidler of FACC and Kirsti Westphalen at the Finnish Community Roundtable event at the Consul General’s residence in Bel Air.

And Finntimes and myself want to thank Consul General Kirsti Westphalen for playing a key role in successfully defending the Consulate General of  Finland in Los Angeles. As the icing on today’s victory cake, Ms. Westphalen will stay on an extra year in L.A., until the Summer of 2013. And a million thanks to all you readers, who signed our petition and made this happy outcome possible.

Consul General Kirsti Westphalen by Jonny Kahleyn

Thank you, Consul General Kirsti Westphalen for saving our consulate!

Links: 

SAVE THE CONSULATE GENERAL OF LOS ANGELES

CONSULATE GENERAL OF FINLAND IN LOS ANGELES

THE HARTIKAINEN FAMILY STORY

Story, pictures: Lena Hartikainen – West Palm Beach, FL

The Hartikainen family - from the left: Nico, Seppo, Lena and Robert

It was May 1999  in  Helsinki. My husband, Seppo Hartikainen came to me and asked, “If I was to be offered a job in America, would you go with me? Spontaneously I replied: “Sure as long as it is not Florida!

Lo and behold, its now 2012 and I’m writing this, out of all places, in Florida. But back to 1999.  My husband is a Lutheran pastor and in August 1999 he was offered a  job to serve at the Finnish Lutheran Church in Seattle,WA.  We though it would be a nice one-to-three-year experience. Our sons, Nico “the drummer” was 12 and Robert a first grader. We are still on that same trip.

The Hartikainens settled in a Seattle suburb called Edmonds, purchasing a fixer-upper there.

When our good friend in Portland, Oregon heard that we are moving to Seattle, he predicted it will take us exactly five minutes to get used it. It proved out to be true. Naturally, the fact that we had both spend quite a bit of time in Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada, which is literally next-door, helped, as we had many friends in the Pacific North West region already.

We loved every minute of the seven and a half years that we lived there, except the traffic. My worst traffic experience was on Monday after Thanksgiving in 2006, when I got stuck on the freeway for nine hours in an ice and snowstorm!

The first years were a bit of a struggle financially for us, as it took longer than we expected to get work permit for me. So I spent the first two years renovating an old house built in the 1950’s . For a city girl from Helsinki, who has never even held a hammer in her hand, I have to say I did pretty good job. I learned how to paint, sand hardwood floors, build drywalls, lay tiles and you name it.

Lena renovated the Hartikainen family home by herself.

I loved every corner of that old house. It was a house with an unfinished basement, which we totally finished adding some 1, 000 square feet of  living space. Eventually we even added a sauna. The house was located in the suburbs of Seattle in a little town called Edmonds. It has a terminal where the ferries take you to the Olympic Peninsula.

The Washington state ferries dock in Edmonds.

It was a quaint little town with a lot of charm. We had the Pacific ocean/Puget Sound within walking distance from our home. We couldn’t have asked for more. The public schools were great and our kids blended in in no time. For the 12-year-old Nico, it took a bit longer as he was missing his friend. However, the language of music is the same everywhere. Since he was a talented drummer, the other kids and his music teacher adored him. Nico was enrolled in the pre-IB program and eventually graduated with the IB-diploma from Edmonds-Woodway High School.

The Edmonds marina

It took less for Robert to adapt as he was such an easy going little kid. On the first day however, he was a bit nervous and asked me what he should say if someone says something. “Just use what ever language skills you have and it’ll be ok,” I advised him. So we walk into the room together. As he walks in, he says: “hastala vista baby, I’ll be back!” That was all he knew in “English”. “This boy will do just fine,” the teacher smiled. And so he did.

 

While living in Washington, Lena had to re-invent herself.

While doing the renovation, I studied for a new career. Professional Life Coaching was not well known yet in the year 2000. My original intention had been to continue my studies in Social Psychology, but as an out-of-state student, the tuition was totally out of my reach, so I found coaching.

 

The Hartikainens

In Finland, I had worked for Pan Am, Delta and China Airlines in various positions – sales, customer service and management for some 10 + years.  But the travel industry jobs were scarce in the late summer of 2001 when I received my green card. Especially after 9/11 they became almost extinct. I still managed to get a job with a tour operator. My job was to organize tours to Scandinavia, Finland, Russia and the Baltic states.

My unfinished degree from Finland was bothering me. So, in 2005 I enrolled in the University of  Phoenix, and graduated with B.S. in Management two years later.

While a student, I found a job as a Call Center Manager for AAA Washington. I greatly enjoyed the job for its fast pace and great teamwork.

I also ran my first marathon in November of 2005.

At the end of 2006, my husband told me there was an opportunity for him in Florida. So in February of 2007 we found ourselves in the Sunshine State. This time just our younger son Robert came with us.

After living in the Pacific Northwest for seven years, Lena Hartikainen found herself in balmier Florida.

Nico was already 20 and had just signed a record contract with Photo Finish Records. He and his band Danger Radio were ready to tour the world. We accepted the fact that one must follow one’s dream.

 

While the rest of the family moved to Florida, the eldest son, Nico Hartikainen pursued his dreams in Hollywood.

Now we are in Florida.

My husband Seppo works at the St. Andrews Lutheran Churchas the Senior Pastor. Robert was enrolled in a small private Lake Worth Christian School in the last quarter of his last year in middle school. Again he acclimated to new surroundings without any qualms.

 

The Hartikainens at church

In 2007 recession hit Florida, which again made it challenging for me to land a job. I used my coaching skills to help others find jobs and develop their careers by launching FindYourJuice-coaching.  But I missed the energy of a larger company. While wondering how to get integrated into the local business world, I co-founded the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce Florida with three other businesspeople. I soon discovered the Finnish companies needed more help than what the chamber could offer. So, with another entrepreneur, I co-founded  Optimus Consulting Group Inc. in February of 2011. The first year has been full of excitement and hard work, which is starting to pay off. I look forward to each working day!

 

Lena Hartikainen went into business by herself in Florida, founding a consulting company.

Meanwhile Robert has graduated from high school and is finishing his first year in Palm Beach State College. Nico has lived in L.A. for the last five years, producing music, both independently and working as a sound engineer for Atlantic Records.

 

Nico Hartikainen is making a career in Hollywood as a sound engineer and a song writer.

Now that we live in Florida, a steadier stream of visitors come from Finland – most likely due to the more favorable climate and the pool in the backyard.

We did not want to acquire another renovation job in Florida, but purchased a house that had been recently upgraded. Our little Oreo-dog has been with us since 2003 and is loved by visitors and family alike.

The Hartikainen family pool attracts visitors from Finland.

Naturally, due to the role my husband has with the church and I with the FACC we have strong connections to the local Finnish community. So much so, that we don’t feel the need to visit Finland that often – perhaps every two or three years. The boys seem to long for Finland even less, as they are busy with their own lives.

Lena Hartikainen on the beach with her mom, Sisko Antturi

I can’t say I miss anything specific from Finland anymore, as the world is so global and even “näkkileipä” and rye bread can be found at a local supermarket. Naturally we miss family and friends.

The Hartikainen family has happily settled in the United States.

TIU SAILS AROUND THE WORLD

Reporter, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen – Oakland, CA

Banker Tea “Tiu” Tuominen took a year off and paid hersef silly to race around the world on a sailboat.

Clipper Race is the world’s longest ocean race. Ten 68 foot yachts race 40,000 miles around the world in a course of one year. There are approximately 450 participants – many of whom are just regular folks without a sailing background. There are three Finns among the sailors. Their boat is called Visit Finland.

Clippers at Oakland harbor

I meet Tiu at the Oakland small boat harbor just as the racers are getting ready to continue their arduous journey. Helsinki-born Tea “Tiu” Tuominen, 39, is a successful banker based in London. She is not new to adventure. Her work in a private equity firm recently took her to Ghana, Africa, where she helped secure financing for small and medium-sized businesses. She heard about the clipper race from friends. Last Summer Tiu married another banker, the British Rupert Melsom. They originally planned to sail together on the same boat.

Tea “Tiu” Tuominen at the Oakland harbor

“Originally the idea was to sail on the same boat, but the clipper organization was of the opinion that it is not healthy for a relationship, nor fair to other people on board,” Tiu explains.

So, it was decided that they would race on separate boats. Tiu is sailing on Visit Finland and Rupert on a Dutch boat called De Lage Landen.

They had been on a couple of test runs on two different sailboats. Other than that, neither had previous sailing experience. But before they journey could begin, they had to participate in a month-long training program and pay the admission to participate in the race – 43,000 pounds (66,500 dollars), each to the Clipper Organization.

Rupert Melsom and Tea “Tiu” Tuominen on a stopover in San Francisco

The race started on July 31st, 2011 in Southampton, England.

“We had a huge departure ceremony. The British aircraft carrier Illustrious followed us. Helicopters and the media were buzzing around. At that point, I said to myself, wow!”

Tea “Tiu” Tuominen and the boat medic Carter Croft

Tiu shares the small yacht with 17 other crew members. Space is tight and privacy minimal. There are two lavatories on board that are separated from the cabin only by a curtain. Each crew member is only allowed 20 kilos (44 pounds), of personal items. They all have a small bunk bed. Some other yachts are even more cramped . They have to resort to “hot bunking”, meaning that two people share the same bunk, sleeping there in turns.

British captain Oliver Osborne helms Visit Finland on her around the world voyage.

The first stopover was in Madeira, where they stayed for three days. Then it was onto Rio De Janeiro. It took them 25 days to cross the Atlantic to Brazil. Just as they were about to dock in Rio, one of the three Finns on board Visit Finland, Riikka Puustinen, slipped and fell on deck, breaking her wrist. She had to leave the race for the next to legs but later on returned to continue the race.

Riikka Puustinen had to withdraw from the clipper race for two legs due to wrist injury.

Then they sailed to Cape Town. The Finnish ambassador to South Africa threw a dinner party for the Finns. The journey then continued to Australia, New Zealand and China. The longest leg of the entire voyage was the crossing from China to the West Coast of the U.S. It was also the most arduous part of the whole trip.

Tiu points to a spot in California on the map where she was at the time of the interview.

“During the 30-day crossing we only had two days of sunshine. Most of the time the sea was stormy, so we sailed only with small sails. It also took its emotional toll. No sun, it was cold, wet, and clothing or anything else never dried. Most of the crew were sick at some point. Only two people, a medic Carter and I were spared from disease.”

Helming a clipper during a storm takes a lot of physical strength.

“The cold dampness went to the bones. We do not have any form of heating on board. Other boats have electric heaters and air conditioners. We decided to do without them.,” Tiu adds.

It all paid off when they finally saw a familiar landmark in the distance.

“Sailing under the Golden Gate bridge was absolutely incredible. It was one of the best and most memorable events I have ever experienced in my life.”

Clippers arriving in San Francisco under the Golden gate bridge

Life on board is anything but a leisure cruise. This is a competition, so the crew has to sail as fast as possible 24/7.

“We have two guard shifts – four hours at night and six hours during day. When one shift is sailing, the other is asleep.”

So the crew members sleep twice a day, three, four hours at a time.

Tiu shows her bunkbed on board the clipper Visit Finland.

“It has gone surprisingly well. Prior to the start of the trip I was pretty worried, wondered how it would work. Iif one counts the hours, we get quite enough sleep.”

Tiu does admit that being awakened to do a shift is anything but pleasant.

“It hurts, especially in the middle of the night. It is wet, cold, you have just fallen asleep and warmed up. Then someone will wake up and you have 20 minutes to put up to five layers of clothing on. Must put the wet clothes on. Cannot be late, that wouldn’t be fair to the others. Outside it’s raining and it is cold.”

Life onboard is no picnick – the crew has to sail as fast as possible 24/7.

On the deck the task is to sail as efficiently as possible.

“We must always ensure that we have the right sail plan. The sails are changed according to wind.  When the wind is on the increase, we must change to smaller sails. When the wind is reduced, they have to be replaced with larger sails. All the time we are trying to get maximum speed out of the boat.”

 

Derrick Bikea, Tea Tuominen and Nigel Jenkins on board Visit Finland

Sailing is brutal mental and physical work.

“In the beginning people are not necessarily in top physical shape, but as the race goes on your physique gets stronger and your weight drops.”

Everybody participates in steering of the boat.

“It would be too tiresome for only one or two people to steer the boat. I was especially hard during this last leg in the high waves and wind. Steering requires quite a lot of muscle power. It is physically hard. That is why people have to take turns. It raises your self-confidence and helps you get over your fears. On our boat, we have a lot of people who are good drivers. The waves sweep over the boat and whoever is at the helm will get just soaked. You are certainly quite frozen, when finally the watch ends and you get back inside. You will fall asleep right away”

 

Tiu at the helm of Visit Finland – steering the boat in a storm is arduous work.

Eating and drinking on a boat also differs from meals at home.

“We do not have any fresh food – no meat, fish, vegetables. The sea is full of fish, but we go too fast to fish. There is a water-engine which converts the seawater for drinking water. It’s really good, clean-tasting and cold when it comes to the sea. On tropical sections of the trip, it is warm.”

 

Galley of Visit Finland is stocked with non-perishables, water is converted salt water from the ocean.

They don’t have showers on the boat, but occasionally crew members are treated to nature’s own shower.

“We have shower gel on deck in case of tropical rain showers. When it rains we, wash in the rain, which is often hard. It is a great luxury for us.”

The starry night sky on high seas looks awesome. Tiu has also seen a lot of nature and sea creatures on the long sea journey.

Visit Finland clipper docked at the Oakland harbor

“There are lots of dolphins. We have seen as quite a lot of whales in the South Sea and the South Atlantic . We have seen their water spouts and whales have dived from under our boat. Once one big dark-gray whale came beside the boat, lifted its head and looked at us curiously. In the middle of the South Sea there were albatrosses. Sea is always full of life.”

Tea “Tiu” Tuominen, captain Oliver Osborne, medic Carter Croft and another Finn, Thomas Linblom in the cabin of Visit Finland

Personal chemistry has worked well among crew members.

“It has gone surprisingly well. Everyone understands, that one must have patience and tolerance towards others. Quite a few – myself included – have learned a lot about tolerance and to give people the time and understand them. In bad moments, you need support from others. You also learn to support others.”

 

Tiu with husband Rupert in San Francisco. The couple has to spend long periods of time apart.

Tiu admits that trip has taken its toll on her marriage, even though the spouses are traveling on separate boats.

“Yes, because we are separated from each other for so long, and see each other only on stopovers. On the other hand, it has been a good thing in the sense that we have been able to share this experience together. The experience is kind of the same on both. We can support each other better.”

 

Clipper race around the world has been a transformative experience to Tiu.

All in all, the race around the world has been a life changing experience for Tiu.

“Such an experience is just an incredibly valuable. I believe that in my future work, this experience will bear fruit. I can look back on this experience and get power, ideas and inspiration . You can cope with anything, as long as you  have faith in yourself and others. It gets you far.

Therefore, when the sailors arrive in Southampton this Summer, a different Tiu will return from this trip than the one who embarked on it.

“I believe so. A better, improved Tiu.”

Visit Finland is cheduled to arrive in Southampton, England in July 2012.

FINNISH CELEBRITIES IN HOLLYWOOD – PART 1

Reporter, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen

One must humbly admit that Finland cannot even begin to compete with our dear neighbor, Sweden, when it comes to movie stars and other Hollywood luminaries. After all, Sweden has given us Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Lena Olin. Nevertheless, over the years there has been a steady Finnish presence in Tinseltown. Some of the Hollywood Finns have been serious artists, some shooting stars and some just famous for being famous. Here’s a  few mental sketches of some Finnish Hollywood celebs, whom I’ve met personally while working here as a journalist since 1994.

 

Renny Harlin signing a petition to keep the Consulate General of Finland in LA open, January 2012.

RENNY HARLIN

There has never been a bigger Finnish star in Hollywood than director-producer Renny Harlin. He has had a long and illustrious Hollywood career with hits such as Nightmare on Elm Street Part Four, Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea. I have met Renny several times over the years. The very first time we met was around 1985 or so, when his very first movie, Born American was shown in Hollywood. I was a film student then, lived in Hollywood and just happened to notice that his movie was being shown in a local theater. Renny had long hair back then that was tied in a ponytail. He was standing in the theater lobby and I walked up to him to introduce myself. He asked me, if I had seen the movie yet. No I haven’t, I said. He then gave me a ticket and invited me to a party in the Hollywood Hills after the screening. Later on I was a young journalist in Finland, when he brought his then-wife Geena Davis for a visit. It was a media circus. I have met Renny at various occasions after that. He is always a gentleman. Last January at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills, he spoke lovingly of his dog Little Harlin, who had died recently. During the post-production of his movie, 5 Days of War, the dog got a special permit on the Warner Bros. lot, where pets aren’t normally allowed. The reason was that Little Harlin was Renny’s muse that helped him edit the picture. Afterwards Renny signed our petition to keep the Consulate General of Finland in LA open.

Renny Harlin with girlfriend Erika Marchino

Harlin is a striking presence. Heads turn when he walks into a room. He is tall, handsome, blond, one of the most confident men I have ever met. Many ladies have lost their heart to the tall Finnish Viking. He’s been elusive about giving interviews lately, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Renny, if you happen to read this, I promise to make it real classy and do the best interview ever written about you.

 

Renny Harlin and Finnish model Pia Pakarinen at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills, January 2012.

TAINA ELG

I met Taina Elg when she toured with a theater group, performing in a musical version of Titanic in 1997. Elg played the real life character Mrs. Strauss, who rather went down with the ship to remain with her husband than to be rescued alone. Elg was extremely friendly and open, telling me her life story – how she was discovered by an American producer and as a result, went on to sign a seven-year contract with MGM. There her most famous movie was the musical Les Girls, directed by George Cukor. She won a Golden Globe for that role. Taina was not happy with the pictures I took of her with her hair in a ponytail, but let me publish them and the story anyway. Taina Elg is now 82. She lives in with her husband, professor Rocco Caporale in New York. This Summer Elg will appear at the Sodankylä Film Festival in Lapland.

 

Taina Elg in the 1950's.

MAILA NURMI AKA VAMPIRA

I wrote a whole piece about Maila on Finntimes recently. She was the most original person I have ever met. I know it’s a lot to say, but she was. Born in Petsamo,Finland, Maila created the alter ego Vampira, which she says is based on the Charles Addams character Morticia in the Addams Family. I got to know her after the Tim Burton movie Ed Wood had hit the screens in 1994.

Maila Nurmi in the autumn of her life.

She lived in a converted garage in a blue collar part of Hollywood. She had no car, but would be chauffeured around by young friends who would take her to parties and other events. Maila had been good friends with James Dean, who died tragically in a car crash at 23. She once told me that everybody had abandoned Dean during the production of George Stevens’ Giant – supposedly to strengthen his performance as a lone field hand who in the movie became a millionaire after finding oil. Maila had spent the last night with James before his death. She never quite recovered from it. Maila was an animal lover. She sheltered injured animals in her humble little adobe (I was never invited in), and had named every pigeon that she fed in front of her apartment. Maila had a fiery temper – everything was either black of white to her, there were no gray areas. Hence, her time in the limelight was brief. She introduced horror movies on KABC-TV in the mid-fifties but got into trouble with the management due to her uncompromising nature. She also appeared in a handful of Ed Wood movies, of which Plan 9 from Outer Space remains a cult favorite. Maila died at the age of 85 in 2008. She was a truly original Hollywood character.

 

Maila Nurmi was a Hollywood original.

TONY HALME

Tony appeared on the Hollywood scene some time in the mid ‘90’s. The big and burly Tony boxed and wrestled and apparently was paid handsomely for both. He also had a big mouth. I never will forget the day I shot a TV segment with him. He climbed down laboriously from his second floor Venice apartment into a waiting limousine at the curb. I asked him about his limo usage. He responded: “I am chauffeured to the boxing matches and back home in a limousine and my adversary is taken to a hospital in an ambulance.”

Tony Halme appeared as "Viikinki" (the Viking), on the Finnish TV show Gladiators.

Tony got into some trouble later on when the police found illegal weapons and drugs in his apartment. He was detained and deported from the U.S. Later on Tony bounced back and got elected in the Finnish parliament (Eduskunta), on a populist platform that emphasized war veterans’ rights and shunned immigrants – refugees in particular. Frequent sick leaves marred his term and he was often incomprehensible. Then came the faithful day in July 2003. A handgun was fired in Halme’s Helsinki apartment. Tony was found inside unconscious. He remained so for days. After a DUI arrest and a stay in a mental hospital, Tony shot himself fatally in his apartment in January 2010. He was 47 years old.

Linda Lampenius had a whirlwind romance with Hollywood.

LINDA LAMPENIUS

Classically trained violinist Linda Lampenius had both looks and talent. After having excelled in music, modeling and acting In Finland, she came to Hollywood in 1997 and was instantly signed up by talent agent Mike Reynolds, who spoke very highly about her to me back then. Linda’s Hollywood premiere happened in the Century Club. She played the violin in a bikini, causing an instant sensation (if not something else as well among male audience members). TV roles in Fame L.A. and Baywatch followed. But then things started to go south. Her business relationship with manager Mike Reynolds soured amidst accusations of swindling. Lawsuits followed. Linda got a difficult reputation in Hollywood that virtually ended her career before it even had begun.

Linda turned heads in Beverly Hills.

I got to spend an afternoon with her. She was dressed in a two-piece outfit that left her midriff bare, showcasing her ample bosom. Heads turned and fire trucks honked. We had lunch in Beverly Hills. She had brought along an old issue of Playboy, in which she was featured. She showed the copy to the producers we met at Caffe Roma. With Linda, there was only one topic that was spoken all day – Linda. This was after her troubles in Hollywood. So, I asked her, if her Hollywood career was now over. She got very upset about that. I dropped her off at the Playboy Mansion, where she was staying. Later on Linda continued her musical career, moved to Sweden and married a Swedish lawyer with whom she had a daughter.

Linda Lampenius left Hollywood after a few TV roles and a whole lot of off-stage drama.

A STAR-STUDDED FINNISH HUB

Reporter, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen

Consul general Kirsti Westphalen hosting the Finnish Hub on the tennis court of the consul general's residence in Bel Air.

The newly created forum for the LA Finns, the Finnish Hub, was held Tuesday night at the Consul General Kirsti Westphalen’s residence in Bel Air. 130 guests gathered on the tennis court, where Westphalen outlined the future of the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles. The consulate has been under a threat of closing down due to financial reasons. Finntimes has been active in gathering signatures for the consulate to remain open right here in LA, where it rightfully belongs. We thank each and every person who kindly signed our petition. Westphalen revealed, that the decision about the consulate will be made within days in Helsinki. We will bring you the latest news as soon as they become available. Westphalen would like to create a Creative House of Finland, where artists, scientists, business people and everybody would be welcome under the same roof. It would also serve as an address for Finnish start-ups that require a local presence. Since in the current economic environment funds are scarce, the consulate puts its emphasis on green technologies and education.

Kirsti Westphalen said that the faith of the Finnish Consulate general in LA will be decided within days.

Among the audience, there were executives from Tekes – a Finnish Technology Agency, as well as Aalto University. Also the music world was well represented due to the Musexpo convention that is going on in Hollywood. Merja Laaksonen from Tekes told that they have a budget of 600 million euros that helps Finnish high tech businesses. There is also a 70 million euro creative fund for such endeavors. Laura Laaksonen from Aalto University was doing her dissertation on the internationalization of Finnish heavy metal bands. Local attorney and Finntimes blogger Ava Anttila spoke about the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce, of which she is a member and invited new  businesses and individuals to join in. Sami Häikiö was here from Finland. He works for Music Export Finland, an organization dedicated to advancing Finnish music exports around the world. He told the organization has achieved great results, especially in Japan, where Finnish heavy metal is popular.

Cheers to Finland!

After the official speeches, there was an open mike for the audience members. Actress, singer and songwriter Irina Björklund wanted to see, if anything could be done to the facilitate Finnish and other international performers’ entry to the U.S. She said oftentimes performers have to wait for months to get a work visa to perform in the United States. A recent example comes from FinnFest, that was held last August in San Diego. The Finnish musicians had tough time in getting into the country and were questioned by the U.S.  immigration officials, who had asked,  couldn’t an American performer do the job instead. Westphalen replied that the Finnish government has tried to influence the powers to be. Of course it is up to the American officials to adjust their procedures and practices.

Irina Björklund with guitarist Steven McCormick and cameraman Janne Tamminen

There were also high flying ideas of creating an inn for Finns wanting to visit LA, complete with a restaurant and all. The reality of it is that if anything else, budgets are being tightened and as I mentioned before, the very existence of the consulate is in jeopardy. The government can’t do everything, Westphalen said with a smile . Maria Kizirian had a more realistic idea: Why not create an email list of volunteers, who would be willing to put up guests visiting from Finland in their own  homes. And she puts her money where her mouth is. Maria and her husband Paul Kizirian are currently hosting ex-Miss Finland, the lovely Pia Pakarinen in their home, as Pia is busily crafting a career for herself in modeling.

Maria Kizirian, in the middle, suggested an email list of volunteers who want to house Finns visiting Los Angeles.

The meeting lasted an hour and a half. It was truly the most comprehensive information package and a brainstorming session in recent memory held by the local Finns and their friends.

Fitness guru Pauliina Talus

After the meeting,  it was party time. There were many celebrities among the guests. Fitness guru Pauliina Talus had finished her Talus Integrated Training System – a workout program that fits the needs of any age or ability.  The new Lutheran pastor Jarmo Tarkki was there. He lives in Solvang, California and represents a large area encompassing Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and even Mexico City. The next LA area service will be held at St. Paul’s church in Santa Monica on May 20th. Pastor Tarkki was happy about the Easter service’s attendance – 85 people.

Finnish celebrity Sauli Koskinen, right, partied with his friends.

Finnish Big Brother winner from five years ago and singer Adam Lambert’s boyfriend Sauli Koskinen was partying with his friends. Sauli was in great spirits and tanned as ever. I asked him, if it was a real or spray tan. Sauli then took off one of his many rings, revealing a white spot on his skin underneath. Sauli said he takes every opportunity to tan on his rooftop in the couple’s home in Hollywood Hills.

sauli_koskinen_finntimes_com by Tomi Hinkkanen for Finntimes

Sauli Koskinen was tanned as ever and in great spirits.

Early on I spotted a familiar looking blond lady in the audience, then realizing it is Patrick Swayze’s widow Lisa Niemi. She came to the festivities with her mother-in-law Mary.

Patrick Swayze's widow, Lisa Niemi attended the Finnish Hub.

Lisa’s grandparents came to the U.S. from Finland. She said her father’s family was from northern Finland and mother’s family from Karelia. Lisa was in a good mood as well. Her husband Patrick died two and a half years ago of pancreatic cancer. Niemi wrote a book called “Worth Fighting For”, detailing her husband’s battle against cancer. It made it to the New York Times list of bestsellers. She is also a spokesperson for Pancreatic cancer Action Network and has her own website lisaniemiswayze.com

Lisa_Niemi_finntimes_com

Lisa Niemi wrote a book "Worth Fighting For" about her husband's struggle with cancer

“Patrick lost his battle, but the fight against pancreatic cancer goes on,” Lisa Niemi declared.