IRINA WITH A FRENCH ACCENT

Irina Björklund's brand new 4th album is called La vie est une fête (photo Richard Dumas)

Irina Björklund’s brand new 4th album is called La vie est une fête (photo by Richard Dumas)

International actress and singer-songwriter  Irina Björklund has appeared in over 50 films and TV shows and released four albums. In the Hollywood thriller  the American she played opposite to George Clooney and in the war film Ambush she was paired with her true life husband, actor Peter Franzén.

For 14 years the couple was a familiar sight in the L.A. artistic circles. Many in the Finnish community went to see Irina perform on stage at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. She would sing songs from her albums and play the saw. Irina Björklund and Peter Franzén were also regular stars at the annual Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills, where many of their movies were shown.

A year ago the couple, along with their 7 year-old son Diego, moved to Southern France. Her latest album is called La vie est une fête. Exclusively to Finntimes Irina Björklund now talks about her new album and life in France.

Irina Björklund's 4th album consists of old and new Finnish songs sung in French. (photo Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

Irina Björklund’s 4th album consists of old and new Finnish songs sung in French. (photo by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

1) La vie est une fête is the name of your latest album. It consists of Finnish songs from 1940 to 2012 that you have translated into French. Tell me about this album?

A few years ago, while still living in LA, one of my favorite song writers, Timo Kiiskinen contacted me, asking whether I would be interested in recording one of his songs, Kaiken Nähnyt, in French, one day. That triggered an idea in me: why not translate a selection of my own favorite Finnish songs through time to French language? So I started doing it, and asked the producer of one of my favorite French bands, Nouvelle Vague, to produce it – Marc Collin, along with the band’s singer, Liset Alea. Them having a 100% objective view and not knowing any of the tunes before, said it was like “opening a treasure chest of untouched pearls” that the world hadn’t heard before. That, to me, proved that Finland has some absolutely gorgeous, international caliber tunes, that have only been held back by language barriers. The arrangements of the album are the result of a truly international collaboration – my Finnish band along with French Marc Collin, and Cuban Liset Alea. To my great delight, my favorite French label, Naïve Records (Pink Martini, Carla Bruni, Tanita Tikaram) embraced the idea, and is now releasing the album world wide.

In this picture caption Irina Björklund is performing the song La vie est une fête by Samuli Putro in a music video directed by Maarit Lalli and photographed by Rauno Ronkainen.

In this caption Irina Björklund is performing the song La vie est une fête by Samuli Putro in a music video directed by Maarit Lalli and photographed by Rauno Ronkainen.

2) In the video for the title song you are laying on sawdust in a circus tent, dressed as a circus performer as camels walk by – tell us about this video and its production?

The title song, La vie est une fête (= Life is a party, originally Elämä on juhla by brilliant song writer Samuli Putro) , describes in one song a human’s life, from birth to the last breath, in a nut shell. Just an amazing text, sharp and honest as a razor. For the video, it gave me the idea of showing a dying person, going through her life in flashes. I find the circus ambience visually entrancing… and just thought of this idea of a tightrope walker who have slipped off her rope… together with Pete Eklund, my partner in crime at my Finnish label Kaiho Republic. Circus Finlandia gave us the beautiful tools to make the video happen. And director Maarit Lalli along with DP Rauno Ronkainen gave it life.

Irina Björklund (photo Richard Dumas)

Irina Björklund (photo by Richard Dumas)

3) Are you performing songs from this album to live audiences in France, Finland or elsewhere and do you have future plans of performing them  – if so, what has the reception been like?

Yes, we have been doing quite a few live concerts in Finland – the album has done amazing in Finland, and to my great awe the concerts have been sold out – what a treat to be performing for full venues – very gratifying. We are still starting out with the international scene, but have so far performed in France a couple of times – the international release was depending on the French critics, so I was happy to find out it made the cut, and that the French liked what they heard.

4) In Los Angeles you collaborated with Peter Fox on your previous albums – is he still in the picture or have you found new collaborators in France?

Peter Fox and I stay in contact, and the songs we created live on (currently in commercials in Finland and such) – however the distance between us makes active collaboration hard – he lives in New York now, and me in France. But I simply see us as in being on hiatus – I’m sure we’ll find an opportunity to work together again.

Irina played the saw at the opening of the Marimekko store in Beverly Hills in 2012. (photo Tomi Hinkkanen)

Irina played the saw at the opening of the Marimekko store in Beverly Hills in 2012. (photo by Tomi Hinkkanen)

5) Do you play the saw on this album?

The saw is on hiatus for this album, too – however, I like to bring it out now and then during live shows, for a song or two.

6) You have released four albums now but many people don’t know about your music career – what about your collaborations?

I have collaborated on quite a few albums or soundtracks as either a composer, singer or saw player with artists/bands such as Miranda Lee Richards, Garbage, Samuli Edelmann, Olavi Uusivirta, Latebirds, Edu Kettunen, Mikko Kuustonen, Phoebe Killdeer & the Shortstraws to mention a few.

Last year Irina Björklund and family moved to South of France. (photo Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

Last year Irina Björklund and family moved to South of France. (photo by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

7) I think many people were taken by surprise that about a year ago you and your family packed up after 14 years in L.A. and moved to South of France – why did you make the big move?

We just finally woke up to the fact, that LA is extremely far away from family and work in Europe – something had to be done for the family’s sake. And my French record deal had a lot to do with it – I also wanted to be available when my big dream of releasing an album in France suddenly came true. And honestly – we’re quite conveniently located for traveling everywhere now – I’ve been working a lot in New York and Finland this last year. Not too far for going anywhere, really. We do visit LA regularly for work and friends, too.

Irina spent her teenage years in France. (photo Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

Irina spent her teenage years in France. (photo by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

8) How is life treating you in France in terms of work, people, friendships and what do you  like and dislike about living there?

Even if I spent years of my childhood/teen years in France, everything is still new what comes to the region we live in, work scenes, friendships etc. But we take a day at the time, and are enjoying pretty much everything except the French traffic habits. Not that I very much enjoyed LA traffic, either:)

9) How have Peter and Diego settled in France?

I couldn’t be prouder of them – after all, the French language wasn’t new to me, and they are the ones who must work the most.

Irina Björklund performs at the opening gala of Marimekko store in Beverly Hills, 2012. (photo Tomi Hinkkanen)

Irina Björklund performs at the opening gala of the Marimekko store in Beverly Hills, 2012. (photo by Tomi Hinkkanen)

11) What are your future plans – any new movies in the works?

This year I’ve spent a lot of time in New York shooting a film by Emilia Ferreira – The Erotic Fire of the Unattainable. I was lucky to work with brilliant and fun actors such as Harry Hamlin, Kevin Kilner, Caprice Benedetti, Edoardo Ballerini and Margot Bingham.

I’m also preparing to play the lead in a Finnish/European movie about a historically important Finnish lady – Aurora Karamzin. The movie is to be directed by Maarit Lalli, who also directed my music video.

Irina Björklund (photo Richard Dumas)

Irina Björklund (photo by Richard Dumas)

12) What would you like to say to your friends and fans in Los Angeles?

Happy Thanksgiving!! Merry Christmas!! …..and hope to see you very very soon, again!!!

LINKS:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/la-vie-est-une-fete/id838277163
Physical copy:
http://www.amazon.com/La-vie-est-une-f%C3%AAte/dp/B00FJAKW4U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413322895&sr=8-1&keywords=irina+bjorklund
Merchandise department, order in the USA:
http://www.recordshopx.com/merch/bjorklund_irina/la_vie_est_une_fete/
Music video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwSxU7ySkhE
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/IrinaBjorklundofficial

Irina Björklund’s albums:

Oh l’Amour – 2006

Vintage Espresso – 2007

Chanson d’Automne – 2011

La vie est une fête – 2014

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: An LA Autumn

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

The Unrelenting Heat

In Finland and in much of the rest of America, Fall has arrived. There is a snap in the air. Take a deep breath and the crisp ozone fills your head—it puts a bounce in your step and sends you out looking for properly colored Pom Poms to take to a football game! In some corners of the upper Mid West, the first snows have fallen and people are airing out their Raccoon coats for next week’s big game.

Here in our City of Angels we are sweltering in triple digit heat (over 100º F or 37º C).

Here in our City of Angels we are sweltering in triple digit heat (over 100º F or 37º C).

Here in our City of Angels we are sweltering in triple digit heat (over 100º F or 37º C).

Back in the days before Jimmy Fallon or Jay Leno kept people up past their proper bedtime, THE Tonight Show host was Johnny Carson. For years, he had a running line in his monologue where he interacted with the audience about the heat in Los Angeles that went something like this:

Carson: It was really hot today in LA!

Audience in unison: How hot was it?

Carson: It was so hot that … [insert whatever funny punch line]

Mr. Carson could have had a zinger for material this week:

Carson: It is so hot that even in Bel Air, the maids are going topless!

Picture that! If you were in the west end of Bel Air recently, at the corner of Moraga and Bellagio, there was a pink van beckoning business. This blight on the neighborhood was parked advertising its provocative topless maid service for over a month. I was surprised that the parking authorities had not ticketed or towed the darned thing away.

This blight on the neighborhood was parked advertising its provocative topless maid service for over a month.

This blight on the neighborhood was parked advertising its provocative topless maid service for over a month.

LA Finns and other students of exclusive [read: outrageously expensive!] Los Angeles real estate enclaves will recognize Moraga Drive as one of the premier ‘high rent’ neighborhoods in the mega-million dollar market. Moraga Drive recently received attention when global media mogul Rupert Murdock purchased the vaunted Moraga Vineyard property close to the Finnish Consular Residence which sits just inside the gates guarding the eastern end of Moraga.   VIP visitors to the Consular Residence (or others in the beautiful residential area) could hardly miss the shocking pink van parked at the head of the Moraga corridor. Business must be good.

Colossus Flameout

There was more heat out in Castaic at Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park where Colossus [once the worlds’ tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster] caught fire. The 36 year old venue had completed its last customer thrill-ride on August 17th. Almost 70 million riders experienced its iconic breath-defying transport. KaChinggg!!!

Colossus [once the worlds’ tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster] caught fire.

Colossus [once the worlds’ tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster] caught fire.

Apparently the fire was caused by a spark from a welder’s torch. Spectacular pictures of firefighters aiming their hoses at the fire on the abandoned super-structure from fully extended ladder trucks were timely released to the TV and print media! Jaded Angelinos will need to be forgiven the suspicion that the fire sparked at the very top of the wooden structure was nicely coincidental with the announcement that Colossus is being replaced with a new steel track ‘coaster’ that will have rolls, spirals, and steep banks. The new ride will reopen with the name Twisted Colossus. The Red Carpet guest list for the Grand Opening has not been released just yet.

Blond, Blue Eyed Snake

Another ‘breaking news’ story from up in the lovely, very ‘Scandinavianly’ populated area of Thousand Oaks was the blond snake on the loose. No, really, LA County Animal Control had ‘alerts’ out for an Albino Monocle Cobra that had bitten a dog. News crews clamored, helicopters hovered, and intrepid paparazzi were able to capture images as the cobra was secured after a woman reported it slithering on the hot pavement near Rancho Road.

A County Animal Control had ‘alerts’ out for an Albino Monocle Cobra that had bitten a dog.

A County Animal Control had ‘alerts’ out for an Albino Monocle Cobra that had bitten a dog.

Fire, Fire, Fire Everywhere…

Another fire at a landmark in our tinder-box-of-a-town was caused by a spark from another welder’s torch. A dock at the massive Port of Los Angeles was triggered by the torch and smoldered for days. News crews clamored, helicopters hovered, and intrepid paparazzi captured images of the flames requiring evacuation of hundreds of workers and restricting nearby local school functions for several days. Along with its sister Port of Long Beach, the Port of Los Angeles handles 40% of all of America’s import trade.   No ‘Red Carpets’ here!

A dock at the massive Port of Los Angeles was triggered by the torch and smoldered for days.

A dock at the massive Port of Los Angeles was triggered by the torch and smoldered for days.

I hope that the re-inflated 61’ Rubber Ducky that had been hanging around nearby Port of San Pedro did not have a meltdown.   Rubber Ducky a l’Orange has never been on any restaurant menu I have seen—here or on the Continent!

I hope that the re-inflated 61’ Rubber Ducky that had been hanging around nearby Port of San Pedro did not have a meltdown...

I hope that the re-inflated 61’ Rubber Ducky that had been hanging around nearby Port of San Pedro did not have a meltdown…

“S” is for September

September was also for singing, Santa Monica, Simojoki, Sirpa, Sibelius, Sunset Strip, and Selänne

September 2014 started with celebrations of and in song. The Finnish Church of Santa Monica held its first service of the Fall with the St. Thomas Mass featuring the music of Pekka Simojoki. A choral workshop on Saturday preceded the Sunday Service with Terhi Miikki-Broersma and the Choir from the San Diego Suomikirkko. This event was topped off by a performance by the great granddaughter of Finnish Composer Jean Sibelius, Ruusumari Teppo! What blessings we find in Church.

The Saturday choral workshop featured a catered lunch by Chef Extraordinaire Sirpa Welch whose delicacies the Finnish American community has enjoyed at the Consular residence through the years. Sirpa has started her own catering business: Scandinavian Kitchen in Los Angeles. Sirpa has been so impressive at a broad range of events, including wonderful and informative cooking demonstrations at the recent Finnfest in San Diego. She worked with my nephew-in-law, Great Chefs of 2014 Troy Clayton out of Old Towne Alexandria VA, on my son’s wedding over a dozen years ago. [Troy and Sirpa prepared and served a 4 course, gourmet, sit-down feast for 150 in my back yard out of my kitchen—with some help from some ‘friends’.] Sirpa follows in the footsteps of another Finnish culinary master, the late beloved Eino Nurminen.

The Saturday choral workshop featured a catered lunch by Chef Extraordinaire Sirpa Welch.

The Saturday choral workshop featured a catered lunch by Chef Extraordinaire Sirpa Welch.

Speaking of Sibelius, LA Finlandia Foundation held its meeting on September 7th in Pasadena. It was great to see and get caught up with everyone after the long Summer. An enthusiastic crowd including Valerie Jokela, Larry Soronen, Ellen Harju, Al Jokela, Aino Lustig, Elida Mäki, Elissa Della Rocca, Anita Finifrock (who brought her special “apron cake”) welcomed speaker Professor Michael Hart.   Professor Hart from Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks made a spirited and informative presentation on the life of Jean Sibelius which delighted everyone. What a great program in anticipation of Sibelius’ 150th. [While there is a Finnish Sauna on the grounds of the Pasadena Historical Museum at the Tupa, I felt like I was getting into a personal, portable sauna on wheels for the ride home as the interior temperature in my car registered 114º F!]

 LA Finlandia Foundation held its meeting on September 7th in Pasadena.  It was great to see and get caught up with everyone after the long Summer

LA Finlandia Foundation held its meeting on September 7th in Pasadena. It was great to see and get caught up with everyone after the long Summer

With the heat still on, is there a better place to be in our City of Angels than on the sand in Santa Monica? Then, if you are an opera buff, the season started with a free live cast ‘simulfeed’ of La Traviata broadcast from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in ‘high def’ captured by 9 cameras! This was part of a new biannual series of live video broadcasts. Picnicking was encouraged. A bike “valet” was available. No Red Carpet needed!

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With the heat still on, is there a better place to be in our City of Angels than on the sand in Santa Monica? Then, if you are an opera buff, the season started with a free live cast ‘simulfeed’ of La Traviata broadcast from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in ‘high def’ captured by 9 cameras!

Special slick solicitations arrive at my home regularly. One such promo that arrived by mail was apparently tailored for a younger generation and/or ’newbies’ to opera. While showcasing the 2014-15 Los Angeles Opera Season, the mailing was splattered with interesting factoids for statistics buffs including:

< 130 pieces of jewelry and two disco balls were used for La Traviata

< in Dido & Aeneas/Bluebeard two gold fig leaf g-strings were to be worn, and

< 18 ounces of golden glitter is used in each performance

Sunset Strip

There is nothing more wonderful than an early morning weekend drive along Sunset Boulevard –taking those curves without any traffic, feeling the air on your face, and actually making it from the 405 into Hollywood in about 15 minutes. The sights along the quiet Strip are almost serene (even with debris from the revelries the night before). Rarely is the Strip ever closed off requiring one to take frustrating detours –unless the recent rash of 100 year old water pipe bursts continues.

The Sunset Strip Music Festival –now a two day event in its 7th year.

The Sunset Strip Music Festival –now a two day event in its 7th year.

One planned weekend exception where people take precedence over cars and when Sunset is closed between San Vicente Boulevard and Doheny Drive is for The Sunset Strip Music Festival –now a two day event in its 7th year.

The event makes the Roxy and the Whisky A Go-Go the epicenter(s) for groups such as The Doors, Guns ‘N Roses, The Byrds, and Van Halen where they got their starts. Jane’s Addiction was featured this year.

Among Those Sounds of Saint-Saëns

Meanwhile, in another neck of our LA woods, the classical music Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen performed Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on their season-opener that same Saturday night. Music Director Jeffrey Kahane conducted.

Classical music Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen performed Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on their season-opener.

Classical music Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen performed Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on their season-opener.

Special Stops on Sunset

Probably one of the most famous stretches along Sunset Boulevard is just as you begin to enter Beverly Hills. Heading east on Sunset at Carolwood, almost directly across from the house where Michael Jackson died, there is a house on the right with many statues: children playing, a security guard, a park bench ‘napper’, even children scaling the fence for a peek … . The tour buses all slow down so their tourist customers can snap pictures of what has become a local landmark on the sightseeing tours.   Everyone must wonder who lives there and what it is like behind the fence (like the statute of the children peeking over the wall). I know I always point out the property when giving a tour to friends new to Los Angeles. Truth be told, I never drive by that property without checking to see if the population has grown—again. Quite often, I will spot something new. Only in Beverly Hills do you use a ‘drive by’ for a Museum!

The tour buses all slow down so their tourist customers can snap pictures of what has become a local landmark on the sightseeing tours.

The tour buses all slow down so their tourist customers can snap pictures of what has become a local landmark on the sightseeing tours.

My friend Elizabeth Von Schlesinger (multimedia personality and founder of the European American Sheriff’s Advisory Council) was at the home where we were to meet. When I went to pick her up one day, I was let in through the gates onto a grand circular drive. [Like with Pandora’s Box, it is natural to wonder what is inside.] The answer: beautiful, manicured grounds and (you guessed it) more statues! The interior site presented a beautiful and breathtaking vista showcasing an even more extensive collection of statues by various artists. There was one figure that looked like Finland’s Lasse Viren* (the great Olympic Gold Medals distance runner) enjoying the cooling fountain in one area of the garden. It was so hot that day, I was ready to join ‘Lasse’ in the fountain!

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My friend Elizabeth Von Schlesinger (multimedia personality and founder of the European American Sheriff’s Advisory Council) was at the home where we were to meet.

In this entertainment wonderland of a city, it is always fun to get a peek behind the scenes.

[* Lasse was sculpted in LA and cast in bronze for The Final Meter by Finnish sculptor Eino Romppanen.   The sculpture was commissioned for and was a focal point of attention during the Atlanta Olympics. That sculpture remains in Atlanta. Greta Peck was an Eino collector. She had a scaled replica of The Final Meter in her yard on Summit Drive in Beverly Hills.]

The Final Meter by Finnish sculptor Eino Romppanen.

The Final Meter by Finnish sculptor Eino Romppanen.

Around LA with Super Heroes: Behind the Scenes

Only in a place like LA where “you know people who know people” do you have the chance of attending a monthly book club meeting where the author shows up –or of attending a film festival where the director and/or the writer are right there seated beside you. This month I went to two events where the actual subjects (the protagonists of the works themselves) were there too!

Whale Warrior

War of the Whales, written by Joshua Horowitz, is a great nonfiction read. An Amazon Best Book of the Month [July 2014] and a NY Times Bestseller List work was the chosen book for an evening hosted by friends Joanne Jackson and Carlyle Hall. Carlyle is one of the three founders of the Center for Law in the Public Interest. Carlyle’s friend and fellow environmental lawyer is the actual hero of the book [Joel Reynolds; Western Director and Senior Attorney of NRDC –the Natural Resources Defense Council]. Discussions for a film based on the book are in the works.

War of the Whales group photo

War of the Whales group photo

The riveting ‘save the whales’ tale tells of the battle for balance between national security and environmental protection.   The connection between naval sonar and deadly mass ‘stranding’ of whales is revealed. The book chronicles the twenty year battle against military sonar by environmental activists seeking to protect dolphins and whales from the assault of Navy sonar. The suits and legal maneuvering all the way to the Supreme Court of the US are discussed.

Joanne Jackson and Joel Reynolds

Joanne Jackson and Joel Reynolds

You may have made a visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. As a Member and a Director of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce, I helped with a Finnish Independence Day event one year under the big Blue Whale that ‘floats’ over the main lobby. The sheer size of that ‘statue’ is awesome. Over a hundred feet long and weighing over 200 tons [in ‘real life’], the Blue Whale is the largest ‘animal’ ever to have lived on Earth.   Standing in the Lobby and looking up, it is only natural to say “Wow, that whale is big!”

The Blue Whale still travels just off the Southern California coast in the Channel Islands chain. The War of the Whales issues are close to home for us here on the Pacific Coast.   The man who raised the issues that became the book sat with us that evening to answer questions and to provide insights.

Joshua Horwitz's book War of the Whales.

Joshua Horwitz’s book War of the Whales.

Now, that is a Book Club meeting worth attending!

The Finnish Flash

Another evening in LA, I was at a film viewing where the starring hero was personally present! The movie: SEL8NNE is a documentary about Teemu Selänne –the best Finnish hockey player of all time. Teemu’s life is followed from childhood to the latest NHL season. His story is revealed through his own words and those of his family members and colleagues.

Teemu and Sirpa Selänne at the screening of his biography, Sel8nne at USC. The movie is a part of the first  EUphoria Film Festival.

Teemu and Sirpa Selänne at the screening of his biography, Sel8nne at USC. The movie is a part of the first EUphoria Film Festival.

SEL8NNE is about our own Teemu Selänne. The film presents a fascinating view of the life and hockey career of our hockey phenom. The word “our” is used here because Teemu and his delightful wife Sirpa have been such generous, kind, long standing, supportive members of the Southern California Finnish community. From their support of charitable events to Finnish Independence Day celebrations, their warm and enthusiastic presence has been appreciated.

The film gave a great look into the public and private life of a talented, hard working, determined Finn.

The film gave a great look into the public and private life of a talented, hard working, determined Finn.

The film gave a great look into the public and private life of a talented, hard working, determined Finn. [SISU is the appropriate Finnish descriptor.] The Finns in the audience roared with approval as Lord Stanley’s Cup was used to pour water onto the rocks in a sauna! In the unique traditions of the Stanley Cup, the name of each winning team member is engraved onto the silver trophy and each winning team member gets to ‘…take the Cup home’. In Teemu’s case, that was Finland for 3 days. Teemu confirmed that the Cup has many tales to tell—taking a sauna is not its most unique experience! [I wonder if anyone checked the melting point of silver before ‘cranking’ the sauna?]

Teemu was his usual gracious self. Consul General of Finland, Juha Markkanen chats with Teemu Selänne after the screening.

Consul General of Finland, Juha Markkanen chats with Teemu Selänne after the screening.

Teemu was his usual gracious self. He willingly spent time with each person who wanted a private moment, an autograph, or a picture. I cannot wait to read the book that has just been published!

Post Autumnal Equinox

We are now past the Autumnal Equinox.   It is getting cold and dark in our native homeland. Even though we will have warm, light evenings here and probably another hot spell or two (at least until November 2 when daylight savings time ends), we can imagine ourselves coming home from the Finnish forest with a basketful of wild mushrooms.   Closing our eyes, our minds can savor a taste of Finnish Autumn on our tongue.

While mushroom soup usually has chunks of mushrooms, the soup presented is pureed to be smooth and to extract more mushroom flavor. This soup is healthier and more figure-friendly because it has very little cream and butter. If you are healthy enough already—or just nostalgic, you can kick it up a notch by adding a tiny drizzle of truffle oil to bring you even closer to the actual Finnish forest primeval.

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Finnish Fungus ‘Amongus’ Soup

Finnish Fall Mushroom Soup aka Finnish Fungus ‘Amongus’ Soup.

Finnish Fall Mushroom Soup aka Finnish Fungus ‘Amongus’ Soup.

Ingredients

1 lb wild mushrooms, sliced

(Hard to find Chanterelles or fresh Porcini preferred—here, Shiitakes were used. If using Shiitakes, remove the stems and discard.)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon oil

I large carrot, chopped

1 large onion (or 1 leek, white part only), chopped

1 small (or ½ large) parsnip, chopped

3 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 cubes vegetable bouillon

6 cups water (alternatively, substitute 1½ quarts liquid vegetable broth for the cubes/water)

¼ cup cream

1 tablespoon sherry

1 tablespoon truffle oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Double click on pictures above for full size view

Double click on image for full size view

Process

Peel and chop root vegetables. Sauté the ‘veggies’ in oil and butter until golden and soft.

Peel and chop root vegetables.

Peel and chop root vegetables.

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Sauté the ‘veggies’ in oil and butter until golden and soft.

Sauté mushroom slices in a hot pan until they exude liquid. Save about 4 slices to chop for garnish.

 Sauté mushroom slices in a hot pan until they exude liquid.

Sauté mushroom slices in a hot pan until they exude liquid.

Combine broth, vegetables, garlic, and tomato paste. Boil until vegetables are soft –about 20 minutes.

Combine broth, vegetables, garlic, and tomato paste. Boil until vegetables are soft –about 20 minutes.

Combine broth, vegetables, garlic, and tomato paste. Boil until vegetables are soft –about 20 minutes. (double click on  for full size view)

Puree with an immersion blender (or in a food processor) gradually adding cream and sherry. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender (or in a food processor) gradually adding cream and sherry. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender (or in a food processor) gradually adding cream and sherry. Cook an additional 5 minutes. (double click on image for full size view)

Taste for seasoning.

Pour into Finnish bowls and garnish with sour cream, chopped mushrooms, and herbs.

Add truffle oil to finish.

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Serving Suggestions

Begin preparation during the 1st LA blizzard of the season—or, at least, wait until the Santa Ana’s stop blowing!   A ‘marine layer’ evening party will get off to a great start with a nice warm soup serving. This tasty liquid Finnish Forest is great to put into a thermos and take to your Fall concert or picnic—perfect for an Opera at the beach!

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Fall Is Here, The Calendar Tells Me So!

It is officially Fall in LA. The way you know is you look at the calendar and ignore the thermometer! For confirmation, you go to Costco where Christmas decorations are for sale already. A trip to any local grocery store confirms that, indeed, they do have pumpkins and bales of hay as their front door displays. Starbucks is trying to tempt us into the Fall mood by running full page ads for their pumpkin spice lattes.

A trip to any local grocery store confirms that, indeed, they do have pumpkins and bales of hay as their front door displays

A trip to any local grocery store confirms that, indeed, they do have pumpkins and bales of hay as their front door displays

The real ‘tell’ is that ‘everyone’ is back in town and the Fall buzz of activities has started. Calendars are filled with events for the next several months.

See—the calendar tells you so!

Pumpkins Know It’s So

It takes pumpkins to celebrate an LA Autumn. One of our suburbs is even called “Pumpkins” in Spanish. Yes, Calabasas, home to the ubiquitous Kardashian clan is named for the large orange orbs. In fact, to have a real LA moment, there is a Pumpkin Festival there with live entertainment, costumes, food, beer, and pumpkin carving. [calabasaspumpkinfestival.com]

..to have a real LA moment, there is a Pumpkin Festival there with live entertainment, costumes, food, beer, and pumpkin carving.

..to have a real LA moment, there is a Pumpkin Festival there with live entertainment, costumes, food, beer, and pumpkin carving.

And, if you want more Kardashian in your Calabasas celebration, you can see renderings of the visages of the frighteningly popular Kardashian sisters in pumpkin among 5,000 hand-carved Jack-o-Lanterns of celebrities, dinosaurs, and more. This Rise of the Jack-o-Lanterns is debuting and lighting up the Descanso Rose Garden. [therise.org or descansogardens.org]

END NOTE

Now that the Moraga maids have cleaned your house and the pot of soup is hot, it is officially LA Autumn! “…The frost is on the pumpkin” even if it is generated through air conditioning!

Enjoy our Autumn.

And, have a Happy LA Halloween!!

halloww

TEEMU SELÄNNE RETIRES IN CALIFORNIA

Teemu and Sirpa Selänne at the screening of his biography, Sel8nne at USC. The movie is a part of the first  EUphoria Film Festival.

Teemu and Sirpa Selänne at the screening of his biography, Sel8nne at USC. The movie is a part of the first EUphoria Film Festival.

The all time greatest Finnish ice hockey player Teemu Selänne, 44, ended his illustrious career in August. “The Finnish Flash” began his career in Finland in 1989. He then played 21 seasons in the NHL for the Winnipeg Jest, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche. Selänne is the highest scoring Finn it the NHL history. Now he has come home to live at the Selänne family home in Coto de Caza, California.

Teemu Selänne in front of an audience. Programming Director Alex Ago moderated the Q & A after the screening of the documentary Sel8anne.

Teemu Selänne in front of an audience. Programming Director Alex Ago moderated the Q & A after the screening of the documentary Sel8anne.

Teemu Selänne and wife Sirpa Selänne are sitting in the Ray Stark Theater  of the University of Southern California, watching for the first time a full-length documentary “Sel8nne” , directed by JP Siili. The screening is part of the very first Euphoria Film Festival organized by the Finnish Consulate General headed by Consul General Juha Markkanen along with 12 other EU consulates. There are about a hundred people in the audience – most of them local Finns. After the screening there is a Q & A with Teemu Selänne and the audience. USC’s Programming Director Alex Ago served as a moderator.

Q: What made you decide to agree to this documentary?

TS: -At first I didn’t know how much I would want to open up my life. Then I thought it would be a nice memory when I’m old. I’m happy I did it. It’s a pretty honest story. I didn’t want the documentary crew to be around too much. I had a job to do too. the whole process took almost 2 years.

A bulk of Teemu’s interviews were done in the Summer at his house in Kirkkonummi, Finland.

TS: -Summer time was easier, I was able to be more flexible. We were landing in Helsinki (coming from California), and I told my family there was going to be a camera crew waiting. They are going to do the story of my life and you are going to be part of it. They looked at me like, seriously?

Q & A with Teemu Selänne

Q & A with Teemu Selänne

Selänne says the filming didn’t interrupt too much of the family’s life. The Selännes have four children – three teen-age boys Eemil, Eetu, Leevi and a six-year-old daughter Veera.

TS: -the cameras weren’t there all the time, just a couple of days here and there. Our life hasn’t been so private anyway, that’s why it was pretty easy to do.

The Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007. In one scene Teemu is seen pouring water from his Stanley Cup onto the rocks of a sauna stove.

TS: -There are some crazy stories about what people do with it. I heard some people let their dogs eat from it!

Q: How hands-on were you in the making of the movie?

TS: -I wanted to know what was going to be in the movie but did not want to involve myself too much. I didn’t want to open my garage door, but they wanted it. I’ve been very lucky to be able to collect those cars. Actually we drove my wife’s car here. (I only have one, Sirpa quips from the audience), It’s too fast for her anyway.

Teemu Selänne saw the Sel8nne documentary for the first time at the EUphoria Film Festival, USC.

Teemu Selänne saw the Sel8nne documentary for the first time at the EUphoria Film Festival, USC.

Selänne is said to have about 30 antique cars in his garage. In the 90’s Teemu also used to drive rally in Finland under a pseudonym because the team owners didn’t want him to jeopardize his life. He was involved in a serious accident in 1999 in which no one died but his friend Kalervo Kummola, the Vice President of the International Ice Hockey Federation, was seriously hurt.

TS:  – I haven’t driven after the 1999 incident. I don’t have time for it from playing golf.

Q: What are you going to do now?

TS: -I played such a long time and lived a disciplined life with a schedule. For a little while I’m not going to do much. I like it that when I wake up in the morning I really don’t have to go anywhere. I can travel and be more part of the kids’ lives. After a while I want to find something that is going to be more challenging. I have a restaurant in Laguna Beach which is going to keep me busy. For a little while I’m just going to enjoy life.

Teemu then jokes that his wife Sirpa better not boss him around too much.

TS: -If the to do list gets too long she knows I can always go back playing hockey!

Sirpa Selänne watched her husband's Q & A from the audience. She is happy to have her husbad at home after years of living on the terms and conditions of his hockey career.

Sirpa Selänne watched her husband’s Q & A from the audience. She is happy to have her husbad at home after years of living on the terms and conditions of his hockey career.

Q: How were you able to overcome a bad game?

TS: -Bouncing back from a bad night was the most difficult thing to do. It’s the same with golf. When you hit a bad shot, forget that, stay positive and focus on the next one. Hockey is all about confidence, staying positive and believing tomorrow is going to be another opportunity. That’s the only way to move forward.

Q: Would you have liked to have played in a town more into hockey?

TS: -I really enjoy the fact that people don’t recognize me all the time. I can live a normal life and enjoy privacy. Orange County and LA have been happy places for us. You can surf in the morning, play golf in the afternoon and go skiing at night if you want – it’s only a couple of hours away. That’s my kind of life!

Teemu says he would leave his work in the hockey rink.

TS: -My family couldn’t tell whether I played well or not. Some players don’t talk on game days. I can watch Baywatch before the game starts. That’s my approach.

Q: Would you like to do more charitable work?

TS: -I think so. It’s something I really enjoy doing. I am going to start a hockey academy in Finland and probably here too.

Q: There was some talk of you retiring after the Stanley Cup victory – was it the right choice to continue?

TS: -I am happy I didn’t retire in 2007. There were still many great years left. Obviously last year was pretty tough for the Ducks and Sochi Olympics were important to me. I am thankful the Finnish team gave me one more chance to play a big role. It was important to me.

Consul General of Finland, Juha Markkanen chats with Teemu Selänne after the screening. Markkanen was instrumental in bringing the Sel8nne movie to LA.

Consul General of Finland, Juha Markkanen chats with Teemu Selänne after the screening. Markkanen was instrumental in bringing the Sel8nne movie to LA.

Q: You were on a book tour in Finland, promoting your biography Teemu written by sports journalist Ari Mennander – are there plans to translate the book into English?

TS: -There are no plans right now to translate the book into English. Obviously I have to take some comments off (Ducks Coach), Bruce Boudreau – I’m just kidding. There are too many stories about Finnish games for American audience. It’s better I remain a mystery man here.

Q: There has been some talk about you going to Finland to play for the Jokerit – is there any truth to that?

TS: -Our oldest son is going to go to college next year. My middle one is going to play junior hockey in Wisconsin. So, going now to Finland knowing my family can’t come with me sounds selfish. Of course a part of me still wants to play but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Or something weird has to happen if I wake up one day and decide I’m going to play on that level again. I think it was the perfect time to go out. I’m ready for another chapter in my life.

From the left: Pascal Ladreyt, Juha Markkanen, Sirpa & Teemu Selänne, Heidi Luukkonen and Alex Ago at the EUphoria Film Festival screening of the documentary Sel8nne at USC.

From the left: Pascal Ladreyt, Juha Markkanen, Sirpa & Teemu Selänne, Heidi Luukkonen and Alex Ago at the EUphoria Film Festival screening of the documentary Sel8nne at USC.

MINNESOTA DIARY

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A group of about 20 people is about to embark on a journey to Finnish history in Minnesota. Our bus leaves Minneapolis promptly in the morning for a small town named Cokato some 50 miles to the west. Most of the passengers are Finnish-American retirees. We traverse trough rolling hills, fields and small woods. Then the bus pulls in front of the Cokato Museum. Inside, there are exhibits depicting life in the olden days, when Finnish settlers arrived 150 years ago. Next door at Gust Akerlund Photo Studio there are some old photographic equipment, a backdrop for studio portraits and black and white photos in which serious looking people look straight at the camera. A four-year-old boy in a coffin is also memorialized in a photograph before his final voyage to the beyond.

Lunch at the Temperance Corner

Lunch at the Temperance Corner

Our trip continues to the Temperance Corner – no boozing here! There is an old school house, a church and a smoke sauna there. We enjoy a box lunch of pasties and (non-alcoholic) refreshments.

Old Finnish Church in Pioneer Village

Old Finnish Church in Pioneer Village

Many of the Finns who arrived 150 years ago came from the Tornio River Valley in Northern Finland and the prominent religion there was the Lestadian brand of Christianity. But Finns are Finns and notoriously we require our own little groups where ever we go. Thus there are not one but two Lestadian churches in town – The Lestadian Church and the Apostolic Lutheran Church. Both look exactly alike and I never got a clear explanation as to what dogma or feud divided the congregation into two – something vague about the role of the clergy. Then it’s off to the cemetery, where many of the headstones bear Finnish names – some misspelled.

Cokato Cemetery where many Finns are buried.

Ben Wheeler, whose mother is Finnish, tours Cokato Cemetery where many Finns are buried.

What brought Finnish immigrants here starting 1864 was the Homestead Act that gave free land to settlers who were willing to clear the forest and start a farm. The area was a remote wilderness then that had no railroad access. In that sense the past has returned, since there is no public transportation whatsoever in Cokato. So, if you don’t have a car, you are out of luck getting around.

The oldest smoke sauna in Minnesota can be found in Cokato.

The oldest smoke sauna in Minnesota can be found in Cokato.

Cokato is advertised as the oldest continuous Finnish settlement aside from Delaware that was settled by Swedes and Finns in the 1600’s. In all reality, there is no longer Finnish being spoken here and no Finns that I could see, unless you count the descendants of the early Finnish settlers 150 years ago. I call them Americans. Traditions however, are alive. There is a quaint atmosphere here. You never get a short ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to any question, but a long-winded explanation. People speak the same way they do in the Coen Brothers black comedy Fargo. And they call us Finns ‘Finlanders’ here. To me the old-fashioned word evokes images of Aleksis Kivi’s novel The Seven Brothers set in 1800’s rural Finland.

Pioneer Village, where old buildings have been relocated.

Pioneer Village, where old buildings have been relocated.

Back in Minneapolis I look in on the preparations of FinnFest and attend the opening gala patronized by the Finnish Ambassador Ritva Koukku-Ronde, her husband, Dr. Hidde Ronde and the Consul General of New York Jukka Pietikäinen.

Ambassador Ritva Koukku-Ronde and her husband, Dr. Hidde Ronde nad Consul General of New York Jukka Pietikäinen attend the opening gala of FinnFest 2014 in Minneapolis.

Ambassador Ritva Koukku-Ronde and her husband, Dr. Hidde Ronde and Consul General of New York Jukka Pietikäinen attend the opening gala of FinnFest 2014 in Minneapolis.

It’s a fun program of little bit of everything that was to come in the festival itself. I won’t bore you with details but just pick out one outstanding act – the Roman Hilja Grönfors Trio, which performed traditional gypsy songs.

Hilja Grönfors Trio - from the left Kiureli Sammallahti (accordion), Hilja Grönfors (soloist), Valtteri Bron (guitar)

Hilja Grönfors Trio – from the left Kiureli Sammallahti (accordion), Hilja Grönfors (soloist), Valtteri Bron (guitar)

Minneapolis on the Mississippi River has been called the Helsinki of The United States. There are similarities. Both cities are clean and progressive with excellent public transportation systems and a pedestrian friendly downtown.

The golden hour at Nicollet Mall

The golden hour at Nicollet Mall

Things missing from Minneapolis compared to Helsinki are old historical buildings and the sea. But there is a new convenient tram that takes me from downtown to my hotel in Midway in a half an hour.

Minneapolis from the Mississippi River

Minneapolis from the Mississippi River

In my brand new rental car Dodge Avenger I head up north in search of Findians – descendants of Finns and American Indians. I have managed to locate two but they have not responded to my interview requests, so I decide to pay them a visit. The first one is an Ojibwe physician Dr. Arne Vainio, who practices medicine at the Fond du Lac Reservation near Cloquet.

An Indian gas station at the Fond du Lac Reservation near Cloquet

An Indian gas station at the Fond du Lac Reservation near Cloquet

I arrive at the Indian clinic on a Friday afternoon. There are about 20 patients in the waiting room. After stating my business, Dr. Vainio’s assistant comes out. No, the doctor will not see me even to shake hands. No use waiting until his shift ends either, the assistant says. I get a hand-written email address but when I write the good doctor a note, my email comes back undeliverable! Later on I hear Dr. Vainio had delivered a lecture next day at the FinnFest. Why he refused to see me, I suppose I’ll never now.

The home of artist Carl Gawboy near Lake Superior

The home of artist Carl Gawboy near Lake Superior

Undeterred, I move on to my next victim…eh, potential interviewee. He is a Findian artist Carl Gawboy, who lives in a breathtakingly beautiful spot by Lake Superior. It’s a rural area but I manage to find it with a help of the navigator. Gawboy’s compound consists of six red cottages that are scattered on a lush green garden. I knock on every door but the only answer I get is from a tan colored cat meowing at me from behind a glass door. There are chicken and quails in the chicken house – but no Carl Gawboy. His neighbors tell me they normally see a car parked on the yard but it is absent now. I stick around for an hour, leave a note on the door and leave. I never hear back from either Dr. Arne Vainio or Carl Gawboy, but here’s a watercolor Mr. Gawboy painted. He specializes in nature and indigenous peoples scenes.

A Carl Gawboy watercolor

A Carl Gawboy watercolor

Duluth on Lake Superior is a spectacular looking town with many historical buildings on a hill. The town was the center of the timber industry and many timber barons built their mansions in town. Winters here are especially harsh because of the lake effect that generates snow storms. I take a short cruise on the lake.

On a cruise on Lake Superior

On a cruise on Lake Superior

The young guide tells us Lake Superior is the third largest lake in the world and holds 10 percent of world’s fresh water. We could use some of that in California, I think to myself. But there are also 350 ships at the bottom of the lake – victims of brutal and deadly storms. Duluthians have gathered to the shores to enjoy this beautiful summer day. Some are entertained by a blues festival on the waterfront.

Duluth from Lake Superior

Duluth from Lake Superior

As the sun is setting I head north and drive through some beautiful forests with lakes glistening with the last rays of the sun. A deer and her fawn look at me and then run away to the safety of the woods.

A deer and her fawn in a forest near Ely

A deer and her fawn in a forest near Ely

As I arrive in Ely it is already dark. Jim Bettcher is the proprietor of Shagawa Inn, my home for the next three days. He hands me the key to my cabin. The resort is by Lake Shagawa. Some late night fishermen return from their fishing trip on a boat equipped with lights.

You can rent a cabin at Shagawa Inn in Ely.

You can rent a cabin at Shagawa Inn in Ely.

The next day one of the fishermen is filleting a Walleye fish in the fish room. I have a date with David Kess, a local Finnish-American. Dave is a retired schoolteacher, who is active in a myriad of Finnish organizations.

David Kess in downtown Ely

David Kess in downtown Ely

We go to the Vermilion Community College, where Ely Winton Historical Society has a museum. It is compact and nicely organized in different sections that show how people here lived some hundred years ago. Finns came to Ely to work in iron mines. There were five of them in their heyday. All of them are closed now.

A 1920's kitchen in the Ely Winton Historical Society Museum

A 1920’s kitchen in the Ely Winton Historical Society Museum

Some people would like to start mining anew, since it was discovered that this land holds the world’s largest copper deposits. I see signs on people’s lawns that proclaim “I support mining”. I wonder if they would still support it if they saw what happened in Sudbury, Canada some 700 miles west. There mining destroyed the nature and the area suffered near total loss of vegetation, permanently charcoal black stained ground and acid rain. Ely on the other hand, is a paradise perched next to Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness – a million acre (4400 square kilometers) area in Superior National Forest. So my plea to Elyans: Don’t let mining destroy your pristine wonderland!

A view of Lake Shagawa

A view of Lake Shagawa

David Kess takes me to his vacation house aptly named Camp David. His brother Paul takes us on a boat ride on beautiful Burntside Lake.

David and Paul Kess on Burntside Lake

David and Paul Kess on Burntside Lake

Later that day I meet Sally Koski Fauchald, a nursing professor based in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. She commutes to Duluth 75 miles away several times a week. Sally plans to one day retire in Ely, where she and her brother own a cabin. In the winter there are days when the weather gets so bad that classes are cancelled. That’s when Sally turns her car around and returns home.

Sally Koski Fauchald teaches nursing in Duluth.

Sally Koski Fauchald teaches nursing in Duluth.

But not tonight. On this beautiful summer night Sally, Dave and I dine at a marvelous Grand Ely Lodge’s restaurant overlooking a lake. It is my best meal on the whole trip – a green salad with blue cheese dressing, chicken soup with local wild rice and prime rib with potatoes au gratin – hold the dessert! A beautiful woman in a designer gown and with an air of a socialite walks up to our table and makes our acquaintance. She had heard us talk and that I was an out-of-towner. After a little chat she glides away with her entourage. Later on Dave tells me she is the wife of a supermarket chain tycoon. Well, that’s never happened to me in LA!

A sunset in Ely

A sunset in Ely

On my last day I visit the towns of Aurora and Embarrass. The latter too has a Finnish heritage museum – this one run by the Sisu Society. On my way back to Ely I see a sign “North American Bear Center” and pull  into the parking lot. They have four live bears there. They live on a 2.5 acre spread that has a woodsy area, caves, a pond and a waterfall.

Lucky is the star of the North American Bear Center.

Lucky is the star of the North American Bear Center.

This is Lucky, a seven-year-old male bear. Lucky gave us quite a show, after which he disappeared into the woods.  That last night, as I have retired to my cabin it starts to rain. I hear loons make a commotion on the lake.

My cabin at Shagawa Inn

My cabin at Shagawa Inn

I take my last swim in the crystal clear waters of Lake Shagawa and head back to Minneapolis. As interesting as the whole trip to Minnesota was, I must say I lost my heart to Ely and its lovely people and nature. I will be back – some day.

The writer waves farewell to beautiful Minnesota.

The writer waves farewell to beautiful Minnesota.