Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Sounds and Silence
Trying to Celebrate and Share Silence in LA
by Ava Anttila
Celebrations provide the ‘punctuation’ in life that separates the special from the ordinary in our day-to-day race to get ‘somewhere’—the ‘memory making’ pauses, if you will. In the same vein, I love those expressions that describe the life lessons we have learned, know to be true, and try to live by.  One of my favorite caveats since my college days is “…bloom where you are planted.”   It is a more elegant version of “…when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.  If life were simple, we could live our clichés in peace.  But then, over and over again, we are taught the lesson: “…timing is everything”.

For example, every once in a while you have something planned.  The factors coming together are certain; it looks like a good idea.  Your creative juices are prepared to deliver a pithy, poignant, fun story that has been brewing in your cranium –this article for example.  

“…to everything thing turn, turn, turn –there is a season –turn, turn, turn –a purpose for everything under heaven.”  Or as someone in my past [recently passed on] liked to say: “…there are no accidents in life”.  

Suddenly, without warning, I find myself getting way too philosophical for this lighthearted little column.

My plan was to write about the sensuous joy of silence… .

Living in LA means driving.  LA driving means freeways—if you want to get somewhere distant in a hurry unless it is rush hour or some idiootti has dropped a bathtub or a mattress off of his car roof/pick-up truck.  Then, driving –or getting to where you need to be, means knowing every conceivable alternate route even if you spend time going in the opposite direction [if that does not make sense, you do not live in Los Angeles].  Every LA driver has one car radio ‘button’ tuned to a station where we hear about “…incidents, accidents, and ‘Sig-Alerts’.”  Traffic reporters are as well known as movie stars.

My car radio is set to KNX1070 which gives traffic reports every six minutes.  On a recent Thursday, I matter-of-factly did the usual ‘…checking the traffic report’ as I was beginning the trip home from my Dad’s doctor’s office in Thousand Oaks.  Then, I had one of those “O! S!” moments –the instant when your heart stops, drops, races, or begins an abnormal rhythm because, suddenly, you know there is big trouble ahead and not many options in your control!  I panicked!  I tried to maintain apparent composure for the benefit of my Dad—and because I knew I had to find a quick way home despite the nasty traffic tie-ups being announced.   

The news channels were totally devoted to coverage of a huge, out of control fire in the Sepulveda Pass, East of the San Diego/405 Freeway.  With the controlled urgency of seasoned reporters covering a breaking news story, the announcers gave the emergency coordinates and their threat assessments: “…homes are threatened North of Moraga Drive, South of Getty Center Drive…Sepulveda Boulevard is closed to all but emergency equipment and personnel North of Sunset.” 

a brush fire scorched 70 acres in the Sepulveda Pass along the San Diego (405)


Heading South on the 101 from Thousand Oaks, I could see the enormous cloud of smoke rising over the Malibu Mountain ridge.  Traffic was at a standstill.  A fast food stop was needed as my diabetic Dad did not have his insulin and this had the makings of a very long evening/night.  Nothing like a leisurely stop for a ‘Big Mac’ when your house [life] is ‘on fire’!!

A brief call home got my sweetie into action just as Dani, my Mom’s caregiver sought him out to announce that the TV was showing pictures of flames near our neighborhood.  Phone in hand, he made a quick trip outside and confirmed that there was massive smoke billowing up over the hill behind the house, but no visible flames –yet.  [Was he telling me the truth—or trying to calm me as I eased my way back into the traffic jam??]   I could hear fire engine/ambulance sirens screaming in the background –not a calming sound, but I was reassured by the plans made to evacuate my dear bed-ridden Mother when/if necessary.      

Almost everything I cherish was in that house: my loved ones, Sohvi Koira, Finnish family heirlooms and history lovingly preserved, decades of legal work, photographs and scrapbooks, fine art and kids’ ‘scribbles’, trophies and memorabilia from decades of efforts and activities…and my notes for this Around LA With Ava column.  There are times when you have to trust others to do the right things, in the right way, in a timely manner, and hope for the best—this was one of those ‘no option’ times!

And, there does come a time in a crisis when you have done what you can do and the rest is up to the good Lord.  After a deep breath and a sigh—I was a bit more ‘collected’.  The traffic was still crawling along, but I was not much closer to home.  My mind turned to my dear across-the-street neighbors of over 30 years.  I called Marilyn to be sure they were OK, were aware of the fire, had their TV on, and to ask them to keep an ‘eye’ on my family across the street should an evacuation become necessary. 

The transition from being scared ‘witless’ to calm to ‘spitting nails’ was almost seamless.  My emergency call to Marilyn was interrupted by the red flashing lights on the patrol car of a young CHP [highway patrol] Officer who chose that moment to pull me over for using a cell phone while driving!  After giving him my ID and insurance information, as requested, I explained that I was frantically attempting to save my family, business, and home in this emergency. He responded “What emergency?”  “Aren’t you listening to what is going on?” I said.  ”We don’t listen to the news” was his response.  Despite the fact that the traffic on the 101 was at a standstill, the smoke clouds were darkening the horizon, and there were emergency vehicles with flashing lights and sirens racing by on the road ‘shoulders’, he was prepared to cite me for a cell phone violation.  Ultimately, he let me go with a warning, telling me “…this is on your record!” 

Since I was creeping along in one of those rare ‘no-reasonable-alternative-route’ freeway sections, I had time to realize that even the CHiP’s mother may not have been born at the time of the “Great Bel Air Fire of 1961”.  Over 50 years ago, the infamous Bel Air Fire swept through the same area destroying 484 homes and 21 other buildings.  The original builder and owner of my house told me that this home only had a fence burn while the homes on the hill above were all destroyed.   Yes—the same hill I was just told  had “…lots of black smoke—but no flame yet!!!”

Great Bel Air Fire of 1961

[For perspective, if you walk out of my front door, through Marilyn and Jack’s house across the street, and up over the hill behind their house you will be at the Finnish Consular Residence.  If you have been at a large event at the Residence, you may have parked in front of the house at the end of Moraga Drive that was the focus of much of the TV air coverage/speculation as to homes instantly threatened by the rapidly moving fire.]  

Gratefully, my home was still there when I got there.  The sun was about to set but the final furor of helicopters—water droppers, spotters, police, fire strategists, news, and ‘you name its’; fixed wing ‘super-scoopers’; and assorted, siren vehicles was still under way.  The thick black smoke had thinned and was wispy white.  The crisis was over—the superstars of firefighting had worked their magic one more time!  Their noise is always as disconcerting as it is welcomed!!  


I love silence too!  Do you? 

Where do you find silence?   Finns are famous for being silent.  And now, while Helsinki reigns as the World Design Capitol, Simonkatu is the location of the round, wooden Chapel of Silence.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle of downtown Helsinki you can enter the building on Narinkka Square where a contemplative calm awaits.  The Chapel of Silence was meant to make visitors feel peaceful and celebrate divine warmth and stillness to improve spiritual wellbeing and to escape from the noise of life.

Kamppi Chapel of Silence in Simonkatu

It would have been wonderful to be in Helsinki this summer. Many friends had it on their summer plans. I would have been a proud tour guide and hostess to my American friends.  I love the idea of a Chapel devoted to silence, especially this month.

Silent Night

As the fire Thursday evening turned to night, the exhausted ‘heavy hitters’ of the fire fight went home to their loved ones for some well-earned rest.  They left ‘boots on the ground’ to deal with any nighttime flare-ups and an occasional reconnaissance chopper would make a loop to spot any potential problem areas.  The night became suddenly silent.

The fire night was so silent it was eerie.  There was not a car going by.  There was nothing but silence.  It was as if Life had stopped in the Sepulveda Pass.

The Sepulveda Pass Fire burned 70 acres around us and took 3 days to be declared “contained”, i.e., out.

Silent Night ‘Silenced’

On Saturday September 29, 2012, I wanted to give my Finnish and American friends a literal ‘once in a lifetime’ experience: total silence in my backyard!  I envisioned the kind of event we LA Finns travel to our homeland for: total peace and quiet.  You see, I have owned my home since the 1970’s.  It is “freeway adjacent” [a nice realtors’ euphemism for “noisy”] to the 405, perhaps the most traveled freeway in the world.  The other nearby North/South artery is Sepulveda Boulevard and runs beside my house between my fence and the 405.  Lots of cars and trucks go by on a daily basis.  The Getty Center tram is even visible from the front yard.  While the constant traffic “whoosh” outside brings back fond memories of the waves and our life at the beach, the property has never been totally quiet in 30 some years—except for one day last year. They called it “Carmageddon”.   And, it was magical!  We were outdoors all day—you could hear the birds chirping in happiness.  That was it—the only sound.  Well, almost.  Of course, this is LA and news helicopters need to be where something is happening (even if nothing is happening) so we knew our ears were still functional.

The 405 Freeway empty of vehicle traffic while the freeway is closed for a 10 mile stretch during Carmaggedon

The media name “Carmageddon” was playfully combined from “car and “Armageddon” [end of the world from the Bible].  It was the appellation given the first complete closure of the 405 Freeway for a construction weekend.  With much planning, Carmageddon I came off without a hitch. Some young people actually climbed over construction barriers with a small folding table, place settings, utensils, a candelabra, and food for quite a ‘photo opp’ meal on the silent traffic lanes of the super highway!  Angelenos either really know how to have fun—or their agents never miss a chance to make a media hit.  Or, both??

A day like this was a gift I wanted my friends to experience.  It was like being on another planet. It was Jodie Foster in Contact, when she meets up with her departed father and it seems like being in another dimension.  I am always happiest when there is a cause for celebration on the horizon with a party in the works.  My mind goes into menu planning mode: I was creating the recipes for beverages in my head.  They already had names: The SigAlert, The Cal Trans-tini, and, of course, “Bloody Fender-Bender Mary”.

With Carmageddon II, my Celebration of Silence Party was meant to give my Finnish and American friends the joy of silence on Sepulveda in September because all of the cars were somewhere else.  I was all set to write about “silence” in FinnTimes, our Finnish spirit at one with nature while sharing time with dear ones as they enjoy super silence and peace in my yard.  I was trying to figure out how to ‘project’ the Aurora Borealis images sent to me by a thoughtful reader and friend.  Plans for a grand celebration were coming together nicely until I mentioned my scheme to a friend who asked an unfortunate question …”how will we get there??”  …On to alternate Plan C!!

Not So Silent Nights

Actually, I have been looking forward to Carmageddon II even without the silence party planned.  In the last weeks leading up to Carmaggedon II, there has been the ultimate lack of silence—at night/all night!!!  Excavators, back hoes, hopper trucks, bulldozers, ‘tampers’ and every possible piece of heavy duty dirt equipment [my grandson knows each by their ‘real’ name] are noisily doing their thing.  They light up the entire hillside beside our house with what looks like some giant Alvar Aalto designed floor lamps.  The light is really bright.  The sound is really invasive.  It is not the kind of noise that you can remedy with foam earplugs for a decent night’s sleep.  When I tell you “the earth moved”, it is not in the way you think.  It is like the house is about to shake off of its California foundation.  The ‘beep’, ‘beep’, ‘beep’ of the backing bulldozer is followed by tamper thumps so violent that the windows rattle and the brass door ‘knocker’ on the front door thumps harder than it does when a real visitor knocks.  [Think of a 3.5 earthquake that lasts from 10 PM to 6 AM!]    

With any luck, all construction hands will be on deck at the Mulholland Bridge demolition this weekend.  After all, it is Fall.

Sohvi Koira on Silence-The Dog’s Perspective

My peaceful world has been rattled of late.  I am all about calm, comfort, and silence.  You might say ‘silence’ is my middle name.  When necessary, a quiet yelp, a tilt or nod of my head, or a ‘soulful’ look gets me what I want or need.  Life is good!   Of late my naps have been interrupted by all of the construction sounds and shakes.

To make matters worse, I had a visitor this month who stayed almost a whole week.  Things are not ‘silent’ in my world when Milo-man [I call him Perro-Malo] who is my ‘sort-of-brother’ comes for a visit.  He does not bark like a normal dog, but brays like a donkey—at anything, for no known purpose, and very loudly.  So gauche!  Since Milo saved me from a coyote once, he is always welcome–and forgiven.  But, silent he is not!   

Sohvi koira’s “brother”, Milo

When Milo was here this month, the entire neighborhood was aware within minutes of his arrival.  You could never imagine the sound that comes out of that beagle.  His bark is as bad—and as often, as I have ever heard!  Here is his picture.  You may think he is cute.  However, as for as silence: “thanks for nothing” Milo!!

Sohvi koira and Milo

Around Town Highlights

FACC Annual Meeting:  The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce held its election and Annual Meeting at Christel Pauli’s residence in Mar Vista on September 8.  The newly elected Board then held its first Board meeting.

Finnish American Chamber of Commerce new board

The FACC is excited to have two brand new Board members: Heidi Crooks and Liisa Evestina.  These magnificent and accomplished ladies are stars in their fields of hospital administration and entertainment, respectively. Both ladies are enthusiastic to get involved to work on programs and social activities for the Chamber.  Welcome aboard!

Finnish Church Service September 9

The Finnish community came together for worship, followed by “coffee time”, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica.  It was great to see so many Finnish community members and leaders, including many of those from the recently closed Van Nuys congregation.  Everyone enjoyed Pastor Jarmo Tarkki’s thoughtful sermon on miracles.

church attendees

We are grateful for the times Pastor Tarkki is here in our City of Angels to comfort and inspire us. 

Following the Service, the traditional Finnish “coffee” featured delicious home-baked goods.  As one of the volunteers for the ‘sandwich detail’ I was excited to make karjalanpiirakas.  Along with the open faced sandwiches (ham, cucumber, and tomato) made with Atlanta baked Scandia rye bread donated by Ari Anttila from his ‘private stash’. I tried out my new creation: rosolli rectangles, which turned out to be very popular.  Rosolli is the traditional Finnish beet salad.  I just diced the ingredients super fine and put them on toast rectangles with a sprig of dill.  Give it a try! 

Sandwiches and Karjalanpiirakkas

Attendees included:  Pirkko and Chris Satola Wieres, Linda Homer, Pirkko Bastecki, Ari Anttila, and others.

Veteran Meeting September 21:

The Finnish War Veterans and Lottas support group meeting was help at Suomi Kerho on September 21st.

Veteran’s meeting

Gunnell Kullbak had made a kaalilaatikko (cabbage casserole) to sustain “the troops” followed by a lovely dessert table.  After the meal, all were treated to a movie:  Mika Waltari’s Tanssi Yli Hautojen.

Gunnell Kullbak had made a kaalilaatikko (cabbage casserole) to sustain “the troops” followed by a lovely dessert table

Peace and Silence

Sometimes life does not make sense.  “Incidents and accidents” come our way.  Sad news has to set in and make its way into our being.  We Finns know all about that.  Our forefathers had Sisu. I think that in addition to meaning “perseverance under adversity”, it also implies “adaptability”.

The origin of the species of primate ethology makes the strongest survive.  We Finns here in LA are often tested, but we are adaptable.  We have Sisu in our genes.  We can take what life throws our way.  We stand strong with our God given Sisu inspired by the way those who defended our homeland and Independence did.

This has been a month of life being in crisis after crisis.  But, the ‘bell curve’ starts ‘up’ again.  It is Fall, my favorite season. Wishing you all peace as the leaves of life change, and, a little quiet.