Valentine’s Day postcard from 1909

U.S. vs. Finland

America gave Finland a wonderful gift—Valentine’s Day. Ever the smart country that it is, Finland did the US one better. They improved it. While most of the world celebrates St. Valentine’s Day on February 14, Finland celebrates “Friend’s (or Friendship) Day” [Ystävänpäivä]. This tradition is a relatively young one in Finland –only since the late 80’s.

Rather than the American tradition that dedicates the day to love and romance, Finns celebrate all of their friends. I say we in the Finnish American community should take on the Finnish improvement, yet keep the love and romance part in our lives. Everyone needs some flowers and a little chocolate in their lives. N’est pas ?

Finns celebrate Friendship Day by giving cards, flowers, candy, and jewelry to friends and relatives. The official Friend’s Day flower is a pink rose (love it!). Of all odd things, Finns have made Kalakukko, a dish from the Savo region, the traditional Valentine’s dish (you have got to love it!). The Kalakukko literally: “fishrooster”, or “fishcock” [gee, that doesn’t sound right, does it?—oh well, it’s Finnish food] is something only the resourceful Finns could have invented. It is a fish, bones and all, wrapped in pork fat enclosed in a big wad of rye dough. When baked it, looks like a typical loaf of rye bread. The bones of the fish soften during the baking process and the filling becomes moist from the fat and fish juices. It is one of those iconic Finnish dishes that you do not tell your cardiologist about! If you choose to make a Kalakukko, it travels well for a picnic. [I have a better Valentine dinner venue recommendation at the end of the column.]


Friends are such an important part of life–especially here in our City of Angels. With its vast areas, huge multitudes of people, and the transient nature of the locals (moving all the time—except on the freeway), when you find a true friend it is special. Those of us in the Finnish community have a natural connection and should support one another, taking pride in and celebrating each one’s successes –as well as, being there in difficult and sad times.

A Road Less Traveled—or, Wilshire Boulevard on a Saturday Night

…Which reminds me of last Saturday night. I was driving back from downtown Los Angeles after attending the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Gala and Concert at the California Club with my friend and colleague, the eminent Probate Attorney to the stars, Bruce Ross. I was standing in for his wife, my friend Carol, who was ill. Since the hour was late (and people in LA do drink and drive), I figured the safest route home was Wilshire Boulevard, not the freeway. [By the way, if you have not been downtown lately, it is a very lively place on a Saturday night. The skyline and city view are just beautiful with the lighting on the skyscrapers, the new Ritz Carlton hotel, and the Staples/Nokia complex.]

Wilshire Blvd

Wilshire was moving along well. A few years ago, I would not have wanted to drive alone at night there. Tonight, even MacArthur Park was lit up–the lake and fountain looked peaceful and beautiful. It had been awhile since I took this nostalgia drive by my first law office, by Southwestern Law School where I began my JD studies, and by their Law Library building which used to be Bullock’s Wilshire Department Store where I spent way too much of my first ‘lawyer’ paychecks! You know the place–the gorgeous Art Deco building with the tower.

The Bullocks Wilshire Building on the campus of the Southwestern Law School

The green lights seemed to be cooperating with the ‘get home safely’ driving plan. Coming into Beverly Hills, there was a strange slowing and too much traffic for 11:30 at night. At the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire [The Beverly Hilton] there were dozens of news trucks with satellite towers aimed skyward. People lined the sidewalks with cameras and flowers. Why? The Golden Globes were ‘history’. The Grammys were not supposed to be until Sunday. Since only freeway driving generally requires the “…every 6 minutes traffic reports”, the radio was not on. Quickly, I remedied that. The sad news about the death of Whitney Houston explained what was going on. She had just passed away a few hours before.

Whitney Houston’s aunt is Dionne Warwick. The lyrics to her song “That’s What Friends Are For” is appropriate today. Friends are there for one another through good times and bad. Yet, we get busy, lost in our work, isolated, and in the ‘pressure cooker’ and ‘fast lane that is Los Angeles. It is good to have a day, in the Finnish way, to say ‘thanks’ to our friends, to celebrate human kindness, and to re-trace the paths we traveled to get to where we are today.


Things to Ponder

Los Angeles has some things that make one wonder why things are so. For those of us who have lived here for decades, strange things pop into your head. For me, I have wondered for years why, with the vast amounts of coastline and beaches, there is no nice restaurant where you can be in a lovely environment near the waves, have a delicious meal, and watch the sunset. It should be a no-brainer.

Well guess what, such a venue now exists! [And, no, it is not Geoffrey’s in Malibu, a mere 27 hours away!]. The ‘no-brainer’ is called the Strand House. It is located on the beach, by the pier in Manhattan Beach. Be a friend to yourself—and a loved one. Be your own Valentine –if necessary. Book a window table for sunset. Order the hamachi crudo and watch as the sun disappears into the Pacific. This is life in LA as it is meant to be!

Strand House restaurant in Manhattan Beach, CA.

Strand House restaurant in Manhattan Beach

Have I said: “Happy Valentine’s Day”?

P.S.: While you enjoy your Valentine’s Day with your loved ones and friends, I will be spending February 14th at the hospital welcoming the most wonderful Valentine’s present of all–a new grandson scheduled to arrive at sunrise! It will be OK with me to miss the sunset this time around.



Ava Anttila

Already February? Earlier this year, we made grand resolutions, started our paths for the year with goals to rise to our greatest good, to sustain our health, to be our best physically, to grow emotionally, and to do our best to help those around us in meaningful ways. For me, this annual catharsis always begins with channeling my inner ‘Greta Peck’; re-visiting her life and reflecting on her example. Before launching poetic about our former Famous Finn, I will detour to her movie world.

Greta and Gregory Peck

In Los Angeles, this is the ‘awards’ season. We just watched the ‘kickoff’ Golden Globe Awards spectacle with all its fashion, style, and glamour. Driving to the Finnish Consulate in Century City on Finnish election voting day two days before the event, neon warning signs flashed about upcoming traffic problems associated with the Golden Globes about to be held in the neighborhood. I took a turn from Wilshire though the former Robinson’s Store parking lot as a short cut to Santa Monica Boulevard. [Locals know this as the route the stars’ limousines take to enter the Beverly Hilton Hotel.] Trucks with rolls of ‘red carpet’ were lining up for laying the foyer that is the gauntlet soon to be traversed while millions watch on television around the world. The stage was being set for the Awards.

January has just passed. We lost a great Finn in January 4 years ago —Greta Peck). [And sadly, this January our dear, far too young, Finnish film talent Vivi Friedman left us for a greater stage.] While years have slipped by since Greta’s passing, virtually every day I remember her. She remains an inspiration, a role model, and a spiritual mentor in my life. Her goodness has left an eternal legacy for all of us in the Finnish community where she remains an icon. She was a treasure to those who knew her. Since one of my life’s greatest personal gifts is having been a close friend of Greta Peck, this will be the first of a number of columns introducing you to my dear friend.

Greta Peck

 Greta and I shared thoughts, ideas, secrets, and some really good times. Despite the age difference of over 30 years, we were almost as close as teenage ‘BFFs’—sometimes giggling as if we were! We had fun things in common: our love for Finland, the arts, music, entertaining, travel, and having raised great sons as single mothers in Los Angeles.

In this season of glitzy award programs, the world is reminded of the awesome physical beauty of the Hollywood women. While many are intimidated by Hollywood glamour events, Greta always smiled, looked great, put her best foot forward, and enjoyed every minute of any occasion. Not a spotlight seeker, she really enjoyed a good party, non-the-less!

The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce established the Greta Peck Award in her honor to recognize individuals who care enough to make a difference in the community and who reflect positively on Finland by their good work. Fitting.

Greta never had an unkind word that I ever heard. She inspired all who knew her. She was always up for anything, she kept her commitments, and she had a sense of fun and mischief.
Greta had incredible stories from her incredible life—some of which I will share later on.

Our local War Veterans (Veteraani Tuki) met at Suomi Kerho for their January gathering. Seppo Hurme led the meeting which was followed by a lunch of traditional ohraryynikeitto (barley soup). All enjoyed a movie from the 1930’s Nainen on Valttia written by Mika Waltari. The film featured actors from the Finnish National Theater: Ansa Ikonen, Uuno Laakso, Aku Korhonen and Unto Salminen. Veteran Ari Anttila reminisced about seeing these actors on the stage as a youngster in Helsinki when he attended the Finnish National Theater performances with his father Aarne Anttila. Aarne Anttila was Dean of Helsinki University, sat on the Board of the Finnish National Theatre, and had season tickets annually. It is interesting how a new year brings old memories.

The Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation held a January potluck luncheon meeting at the Gidding Room of the Pasadena Museum of History. Ava Anttila presented the work of the Nominating Committee and introduced the slate of Officers for the next term: Ellen Harju, President; Renato Della Rocca, Vice President; Christina Lin, Vice President; Al Jokela, Treasurer; and Valerie Jokela, Recording Secretary. The members enjoyed a wonderful documentary movie about Finnish education The Finland Phenomenon. An impressive number of teachers were in the audience. Current President Janet Santiestevan (a former teacher herself) led a lively discussion comparing and contrasting education trends in Finland and the US.




Veterans’ Meeting 

The Veteran’s support group met at Suomi Kerho on November 9th .  Seppo Hurme, President, opened the meeting with Pauli Majamaki serving as Secretary pro tem. Several Veterans were in attendance along with one Lotta, Elma Maisac,  and her son.  A topic of discussion at the meeting was the possibility of a joint Finnish event featuring the military orchestra that performed at Finnfest 2011.  They would like to come out to Los Angeles in November 2012.

Following lunch the members watched Härmästä Poikia Kymmenen, director Ilmari Unho’s 1950 film with Tauno Palo in the starring role. The film deals with 1860 West Pohjanmaa themes.

Finnish Church’s 94th Birthday

The congregation gathered in the afternoon of November 13th at the Finnish Lutheran Church to partake in the celebration with worship and music.  Michael Armstrong played the organ, Wesley Radlein played violin, and there was a special presentation with bells.


Patti Lamb on the kantele is always a special treat.

All enjoyed the refreshments that included salmon soup.

FACC Pikku Joulu


The warm glow of a traditional Finnish Christmas greeted members of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce last Sunday afternoon.  Winter presented itself here in Los Angeles –not by a snow storm, but by a brutal windstorm causing power outages from downed trees and branches. 

The sounds of Finnish Christmas carols welcomed guests who gathered around the piano, glogg cups in hand, for a sing along.  Michael Armstrong performed as pianist.  The traditional buffet included lanttulaatikko, porkkanalaattikko, imelytettyperunalaatikko, rosolli, and salads, as well as, a whole poached salmon and home smoked trout.  A Finnish meat pie was personalized with the F.A.C.C. initials.  Luumukiisseli and riisipuuro were accompanied by joulu torttu and traditional cookies.

Independence Day-Helsinki


The most romantic Independence Day news ever:  On Independence Day, before proceeding on their way to the Presidents Palace for the Gala, long time Los Angeles resident and former FACC Board member, the renowned doctor Pertti Rintahaka and his beautiful Diana became engaged!




Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn


Finn Fest Organizers and Performers Feted

Consul General Kirsti Westphalen chose a perfect California night, October 12th, with a full moon over the Consul residence in Bel Air to celebrate the FinnFest 2011 organizers and performers. Also, the spectacular night of Southern California weather welcomed Inspectors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Helsinki, Finland who shared in this special evening as significant guests.

Ms. Westphalen opened the festivities by thanking all the FinnFest crew for their spectacular dedication and successful efforts to put the spotlight on Finland today. The Consul General saluted the teamwork that put on such a wonderful event featuring modern Finland. The Consular staff and FinnFest crew were honored by her touching words of thanks and praise.

Those in attendance included Henry and Eeva Syvanen; Honorary Consul in San Diego, Kathryn Mautino; and actress Anna Easteden who had delighted all at the FinnFest Gala as Master of Ceremonies. In continuing dedication of the theme of FinnFest, a special ribbon cutting celebrated the Consular residence’s official “greening”—newly installed solar panels. The delicious cornucopia of Finnish Fall fare featuring cabbage rolls, beet salad, salmon and fabulous salad was enjoyed by all.

LAFF Annual Luncheon

The Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation held its Annual Luncheon to celebrate its 37th year on November 6th at Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City. Kriss Larson and the Scandia Gammaldans Band. Linnea Jackson, Katirilli Finnish Folk Dancers and the Kalifornia Kanteles provided entertainment. Christina Lin presented Honoree Award of the Year to Marilyn Kujala. Pastor Rueben Perttula announced after the invocation that next Sunday, November 13th, the Finnish Lutheran church will be celebrating its 94th anniversary. All are welcome to the event beginning at 1 p.m. A special musical tribute will feature a bell player who previously moved the audience to tears with the rendition of Finlandia.

Spotted in the audience, surprise visitors from the homeland, novelist/chef Eino Nurminen and his wife Anja. Also in attendance was former head of Finnair in New York, the ever-dapper Pentti Rosenberg with wife Dolores.

The stirrings in a Finnish soul are always satisfied with the appearance of the beauty of the sounds of the Kanteles, the deeply moving melodies that are so meaningful to the fabric of the nation. The pageantry, the playfulness, the costumes of the Katirilli dancers delighted us with the joy of our heritage. The treat of these performances showcased the remarkable dedication of these volunteer efforts that keep these precious traditions alive for the Finnish community.

Note of Loss

One of the great local Finnish ladies, an “angel of the kitchen” at Suomi Kerho Finnish Center, has left us and will be remembered on December 11 at a memorial service. Rauha Loponen was the ever-present force and muse of Finnish heritage cuisine for so many of us. For countless years she tirelessly put together the menus for Suomi Kerho, the Veterans, the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce and others with their events. There was always a smile and a hug, a helpful hint a deference and the quiet modesty of a Finnish hostess. For the ‘epicurious’ of us, a poke into the kitchen yielded the reward of a nugget of wisdom and the true comfort of our homeland. Rauha (a name which means “peace” in Finnish), you will live in our thankful hearts and kitchens as inspiration.

Michael Jackson’s MD Found Guilty

LA is a great town. For the past several weeks in one ‘eyeful’ I have taken in the breathtaking beauty of Disney Hall walking into the solemnity of the courthouse for a hearing and in one ‘earful’ was distracted by the ever present airplanes circling with banners and cheering factions of crowds for the media ‘circus’ outside for the Jackson matter. All within the same few blocks.

Now it is over; another celebrity trial. The convicted felon hauled off in handcuffs likely won’t be in jail for long. The airplanes will return to where they belong –at the beach advertising beer and suntan lotion. I love LA!!