AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Honoring Jörn Donner

Kuva: Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

We in LA honor the life and legacy of Finnish icon of literature, film and politics, Jörn Donner, as he is laid to rest in Helsinki today February 21, 2020. Donner was a former Consul General of Finland here in Los Angeles.

Kuva: Jonny Kahleyn Dieb
Jörn Donner by Pekka Elomaa

Migrationsinstitutet – The Migration Institute of Finland to archive all content from


On my recent trip to FinnFest in Detroit, Michigan, I met the director of Migration Institute of Finland, Tuomas Martikainen. I expressed him my wish to archive the pages of, because they contain lots of stories about Finnish-American people and events.

Well, today I got an email from the institute and I’m pleased to inform, that pages of will be preserved for posterity by the Migration Institute of Finland!

Migration Institute of Finland in Turku

I want to thank all of you, who have participated in our little website, whether as readers, contributors, or interview subjects and the institute for including us. I especially want to thank Ava Anttila, who has been writing several columns about the local goings on in her column Around L.A. with Ava.

Thank you!

Tomi Hinkkanen


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!!!

Physical copy:
Merchandise department, order in the USA:
Music video:

Irina Björklund’s albums:

Oh l’Amour – 2006

Vintage Espresso – 2007

Chanson d’Automne – 2011

La vie est une fête – 2014


Ava Antiila by Jonny Kahleyn

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb


Time for another column:  Where to begin?   Perhaps I should flip a coin—heads or tails?

Good idea!

Actually ‘head’ or ‘nose’ to ‘tail’ cookery is something that many chefs in the fine dining scene in Los Angeles [and around the US] have embraced as a part of their cooking perspective.  This recent trend is so labeled to keep patrons from focusing on the truth that the new cuisine has to do with eating organ meats!  As Finns, we have always been part of the ‘nose to tail’ movement through our tradition of sustainability and our sensitivity to not waste anything!

[The ‘nose to tail’ movement has such a funny connotation: Forgive me but, having a dog in our household and watching dog behavior, nose to tail sounds like the protocol greeting canines go through when meeting each other!]

As we well know, Finns are very thrifty.  So, it should be no surprise that we are adept in using all parts of the animal.  To many Americans, such things as alatoopi (head cheese) and verilätty (blood pancakes) are a bit too bizarre.  Americans were just getting used to the idea of eating liver —fois gras (goose liver), when it was banned in California.  In fairness to our American friends, restaurants in Los Angeles do offer such things as fried pig ears and cock’s combs.

[Organ meats are called “offal” –funny how that sounds so much like “awful”!]

Bloomfield for Congress:

Bill Bloomfield

The father of my children is running for US Congress in California’s 33rd District.  As I was writing the paragraphs above, his TV commercial was playing in the background.  The clip ends with Bill walking on the beach with the Pacific in the background.  For some reason that reminded of the time he came home for lunch and, smelling something good that he thought was lunch, he lifted the lid of the pot boiling on the stove and found fish heads and bones!  He thought that was awful!  He was ready to have me committed.  I was just being a Finn.

Then, I remembered being in Finland as a young bride on our honeymoon with my American husband whose complexion turned ashen –and he literally had to leave the room, when my Great Aunt Kyllikki proudly presented her Liver Pudding she had made for him as a special treat!  That really was “offal”!!

Oh well—our kids turned out great.  They are real ‘foodies’ too.  And, their Dad is an owner of the chic Strand House in Manhattan Beach where his chefs regularly boil fish skeletons and make paté.

Vote for Bill as many times as you can.  He will be a beneficial Congressman.

Check him out at

Recipe for Liver Pudding (Maksalaatikko)

[Please do not turn up YOUR nose, even if you do not like liver. 

There is a secret ‘nose to tail’ –actually ‘beak to tail-feather’ ingredient.]

I have tried different livers over the years from cow to calves.  This variation with chicken livers seems to be the favorite.  Try it served with melted butter and Lingonberry sauce.

1 pound chicken livers
3  tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 cups cooked rice, cooled
2  cups milk
1 large egg
¼ cup dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup raisins
dash white pepper
dash dried marjoram

Preheat oven to 350º F

Butter a 2 quart oven proof dish

Put livers into a food processor and puree

Sautee onion in butter; let cool

Combine rice, milk, egg, syrup, onion, salt, pepper, marjoram, and raisins with pureed livers.

Pour into baking dish and bake for an hour (until set)

Serves 6.

Butchery 101:

Huntington Meats at the Farmer’s Market on 3rd and Fairfax

When I learned that the butchers at Huntington Meats at the Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax were offering a butchering class, I had to be there.  For decades, when something special was needed for a meal, that was my destination.  Their products are prime and their knowledge of the subject top in the field.  They are known as the ‘butchers to the stars’.  Sam Goldwyn of MGM, among others, would come by their ‘stand’ weekly for his meat purchases.  Just the other week I saw Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery fame heading toward Huntington Meats as I was heading toward her gourmet ‘burger joint called Short Order right nearby.  Since I did not see her at the restaurant during my lunch, I guess she just picked up some of her special ‘burger mix carried by HM and went home to cook her own.  Bet she uses her own buns too!   Burgers are indeed the official food of L.A.

Huntington Meats

You may know that HM is ‘in the open’ near the South East corner of the Farmers Market.  Our butchery class convened behind the counter –2 women and 18 men, on a hot Sunday night after closing time.

We learned all about types of cattle, cuts of beef, “harvesting”, and cooking.  The demonstration was up close and personal!  I was in the very front row of folding chairs about a foot from the two humongous sides of beef swinging on huge hooks –and an enthusiastic butcher with a very sharp, bowed knife swooshing and slicing away.  I was just glad the guy did not trip during the demonstration and fall on my lap with his weapon.

 butchering class at Huntington Meats

an enthusiastic butcher with a very sharp, bowed knife swooshing and slicing away..

The knowledge, skill, technique, and experience of our butchering ‘professors’ was truly impressive.  It is always fun to watch masters at work.  I really learned a great deal.  There are parts of a steer/cow I had not known about or thought about.  Often we overlook value cuts and buy familiar, more expensive staples such as Filet, New York, and Ribeye.  These cuts are full of flavor but, as I learned, make up a very small part of the meat coming from a side of beef.  In knowing the character of and using the other cuts, skilled chefs are practicing the Finnish ‘whole carcass utilization’ which makes culinary and economic sense –and helps our local farms and meat processers.

butchering class at Huntington Meats

It was a good thing the ‘war stories’ came after the butchering demonstration. This one butcher –a macho and much tattooed fellow, told of how he had amputated his finger (successfully reattached later).  Another ‘professor’ told of stabbing himself in his femoral artery while trimming a head loin.  He almost bled to death on the spot.

Phew!!  I was glad to have made it out alive!  Yes, I will sign up for Butchery 102.  No, I did not bring home a whole side of beef—yet!

Canine Event at LASD

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Special Forces presentation on Tactics and Canine Training

Clearly, I lead a strange, interesting life.  Or, maybe this is just a ghoulish Halloween themed column.

More frightening ‘meat’ demonstrations took place when I attended a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Special Forces presentation on Tactics and Canine Training.  There are 16 LASD Canine ‘Teams’.  The dog members of the teams are special breeds brought from Europe.  Often their “signal” command is in a foreign language.  It is helpful that the dogs are bilingual because you would not want to accidently be on the other end of a “signaled” attack—they are all business!

European American Sheriff’s Advisory Council members were given a presentation on Tactics and Canine Training

Each month members of the European American Sheriff’s Advisory Council meet to learn more about the vast and complex operations of the largest police organization in the world led by LA County Sheriff Lee Baca.  This day, our subject was a different version of the Animal Kingdom.  Of course, as civilian volunteers, we were all dressed in our normal street clothing.  At the program outset we were told to stay “far away” as the procedures were being demonstrated by an officer in a “bite suit”!  You see, the dogs know those in uniform are their leaders/friends and others are their enemies/targets.  It was emphasized that these special dogs are not sent into situations to sniff out suspects or sausages like Airport dogs.  They are taught one thing: attack and subdue!  Like I said—you do not want to be on the other end of a “signaled” attack.

LASD Sheriff’s Special Forces

The LASD Sheriff’s Special Forces displayed many of their other SWAT Team capabilities.  Suffice it to say, they are thoroughly trained and unbelievably equipped.  It is reassuring to learn that the “good guys/gals” have the latest equipment, weapons, and powerful ‘vehicles’ at their disposal to “Serve and Protect” us.  Their capabilities are impressive, indeed.  Sorry, you will have to take my word on the equipment, weapons, and vehicles –we were requested not to take photographs.  The dedication, talent, and training of the Teams are even more impressive!

Finnish Education Via Finnish Comfort Food

Most of us first generation Finns came from a household where both parents were in the work force.  We bonded with the puisto tätis –the nannies in the park, and had our “comfort food” in the schools as the days were long, the studies intensive.

As an inquisitive 3 year old, I loved to find my way into the school cafeteria at Lycėe Français in Helsinki that was in Eira at the time.  My maternal Grandparents lived in the Superintendent’s quarters on premises—my paternal Uncle was the Headmaster.

Lycėe Français in Helsinki

I was awed by the school’s humongous industrial kitchen with the giant sized pots and utensils.  The aromas of the soups on the stove started early in the morning.  The cooks were appropriately dressed in chef’s whites and toques. They started very early, as I recall. The gigantic stock pots were big enough for me to hide in. We had some fun banter in Finnish and French.  I loved to watch them cook.  Sometimes they chased me away by threatening to put me into the walk-in refrigerator if I did not behave.

The cafeteria lunches my chef friends prepared are important to young students.  I am convinced that reverence for and enjoyment of our daily sustenance elevates the quality of our lives in a simple but important way.   America is starting to learn the importance of proper nutrition in education now.

You may have read about the various controversies in school lunches lately and the sorry state of same here in Los Angeles.  Even British chef Jamie Oliver has been here trying to improve quality –or to promote his next TV show.

When our family came to America in the late ‘50s, life was markedly different than in Finland.  The typical family here had a Father who worked outside the home and a Mother who was a “housewife”.  She raised the children, shopped, cleaned, and cooked. American ‘sitcoms’ through the decades have portrayed this life here and abroad.  My Finnish Mother wanted no part of it.  She was an educated career woman who was not interested in the domestic life.  Off to work she went.

The wonderful Finnish comfort foods I remember were things from school and from ‘hanging’ with my Grandmothers.  I suppose that is why I so relish my role as ‘memory maker’ for my Grandchildren.

I almost fell off my chair the other day when reading of the latest food celebration at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  The MoMA restaurant is featuring school cafeteria meals served to children in Finland.  Yes, that is what I said!  That is what I read!  MoMA is serving Finnish school cafeteria meals to its sophisticated visitors!!!  Holy cow!!!

MoMA’s Back to School: A Taste of Finland

We all know Finland is recognized world-wide for excellence in education, but now Finnish school lunches are ‘cutting edge’.  The Back to School: a Taste of Finland was in conjunction with MoMA’s exhibition Century of the Child: Growing by Design 1900-2000.  Featured dishes included salmon soup, macaroni casserole, and whipped berry pudding.  Sounds good to me!  Back to boiling fish carcasses—and big pots!!  What fun!!!

Things to Ponder in L.A.:

Stranger than fiction:  The 99 Cent Store chain is looking at real estate on Rodeo Drive!  What???

The company has about 300 stores across California, Texas, Arizona, and Nevada.  One store on Wilshire is the chain’s best performing unit with sales of $12 million last year.  [I am not sure if that is before or after they raised their prices 10% to $.9999 from $.99.  Regardless, that is a lot of product sold.]

I had never been into one of their stores until I had heard it mentioned, of all places, at a memorial service for a Finn.  A friend saluted the Finn’s parsimony in a humorous anecdote describing how he did all of his Christmas shopping at the 99 Cent Store.

When I learned that the amazing premise of the store is that there is nothing that costs over 99cents!  I had to investigate!  I came, I saw …and, I keep going back—even though they raised their prices so outrageously in the middle of the Recession.

a 99 Cent store in North Hollywood, CA

Will economic reality overcome the snob factor?  Will Chanel, Cartier, and Louis Vuitton be happy to rub elbows with the 99 Cent Store next door?  Will Beverly Hills babes and Bel Air dowagers bring their own Gucci bags to carry home a big box of organic arugula, giant cauliflowers, bags of yellow potatoes (that taste so Finnish), and Toblerone chocolate?  Will the chauffeur park the Bentley in the front or the rear of the store?

This could give a whole new dimension to Shabby Chic!

LA –SF Community Happenings:

Eero Saarinen Exhibit Opens

On October 4th, Consul General of Finland Kirsti Westphalen welcomed VIP guests with her opening remarks at the A+D Museum.

Consul General of Finland Kirsti Westphalen welcomed VIP guests with her opening remarks at the A+D Museum


In attendance were Mina Marefat, Ph.D, AIA (Curator of the Exhibit), Virpi Sidler (much involved in making the exhibit happen during her term as President of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce), William Russell, Christel Pauli (current President of the FACC), Mirja and Ernie Covarrubias, and many others in the Finnish American community.

Eero Saarinen Exhibit at the A + D Museum

The exhibition called A Reputation for Innovation captures the impact the iconic Saarinen had internationally and how he helped shape American modernism.  It was truly an informative and inspirational exhibit.  Eero Saarinen’s connection with our City of Angels was solidified through his friendship and work with designer Charles Eames.  Saarinen’s philosophy, work, and architectural principals are still relevant today –almost 50 years after his death.  His life, his career, his impact on American architecture, and his Finnish roots make the exhibition well worth checking out.

The exhibition called A Reputation for Innovation captures the impact the iconic Saarinen had internationally and how he helped shape American modernism

Consul General of Finland Kirsti Westphalen: Dean of the Consular Corps

We in the Finnish community are just “busting’ our buttons” with pride.  Our Consul General Kirsti Westphalen has been named Dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps.


Ava with Consul General Kirsti Westphalen and Abdellatif Moufakkir at the Consular Corps event at the Consular residence

This is a major acknowledgement of Finland’s supreme diplomatic and political leadership.  The Los Angeles Consular Corps is the largest in the world.

The Los Angeles Consular Corps is a nonprofit corporation that fosters and promotes goodwill, cooperation, and interaction between its members, its countries, and US federal, state, and local governmental authorities. Most Consular Corps members work to exchange information and to meet with local and official leaders.  The Senior Consul (by rank and/or longevity) is called the Dean and represents the Corps for protocol purposes.

Kirsti and her husband Abdellatif Moufakkir hosted the Consular Corps and their families at an event at the Consular residence on a recent beautiful, warm October afternoon.  It was great to see a myriad of local officials, Consuls General, and Honorary Consuls having a wonderful time with their families.  All enjoyed the wonderful fare prepared by Chef at the Residence, Sirpa Welch.

Tomi Hikkanen Celebrates His 50th Birthday

Tomi’s(as a deranged inmate from an insane asylum) with mother Eeva and sister Katja

Tomi Hinkkanen(as a deranged inmate from an insane asylum) with mother Eeva and sister Katja

Tomi Hinkkanen –FinnTimes founder/publisher, film producer, and  journalist was celebrated by family, friends, and colleagues on his 50th birthday.

Tomi’s Mother Eeva and Sister Katja came all of the way from Finland for the festivities.  Tomi was welcomed “over the hill” by Halloween-themed revelers.  Eeva and Katja wore beautiful Venetian masks.  Jonny Kayhlen was a soccer player.  Tomi was decked out as a deranged inmate from an insane asylum and was fully in his element enjoying the festivities, feasting, and song.  Monty the house pit bull (with a quarter of cats at his side) greeted guests and showed off his new digs [–Tomi, Jonny, and Monty just bought a wonderful new house]. A full-throated Happy Birthday chorus serenaded the birthday boy as he blew out the candles on his blue and white birthday cake.  Close friends from various interesting fields enjoyed getting to know one another and celebrating Tomi’s big day!  Fun was had by all!!

Installation of Pastor Tarkki

Bishop Dean Nelson blesses installed Pastor Jarmo Tarkki

Pastor Jarmo Tarkki was installed as ‘migrant’ Pastor to serve Lutheran Finns in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas, and Mexico.  Bishop Dean Nelson presided at the installation ceremony on October 21, 2012 at St. Paul‘s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica.

Installation of Pastor Tarkki

The church was filled to capacity with congregants and well wishers.  Joyous music filled the sanctuary.  Consul General of Finland, the Honorable Kirsti Westphalen, and her husband Abdellatif Moufakkir hosted a reception at the Consular Residence following the installation ceremony.

Suomi 95

Plan to join the California Finnish American community in celebrating Finland’s 95th Independence Anniversary on December 1, 2012.  Your committee is hard at work planning a grand celebration!

A fund raising ‘garage sale’ will be held in support of Suomi 95 on Saturday, November 3rd at Suomi Kerho beginning at 10:00 a.m..  Please donate your ‘treasures’ on Friday, November 2nd after 3:00 p.m. at 10701 Magnolia Boulevard; North Hollywood 91601.  Pulla, coffee and Independence Day Gala tickets will be available for sale on Saturday. 95




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.