Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tell me about this place... // Helsinki

Helsinki?  Where do I start... I've been seven times!  I've been only once in the winter... The city sits up on a bay of the  Baltic Sea.  The ocean freezes over along the shorelines up to about a mile out.  You can walk on the ice; people are scattered about ice fishing as well... Huge cargo ships have these massive metal claw-like contraptions on the bow that break apart the ice as they barrel through the waters.  You can stand about 100 feet from them on the frozen sea while they break through on their way to the docks.   It's unlike anything I've ever seen.

I've never been up north to Lapland.  In the winter, on the shortest days of the year, the sun doesn't rise.  It never gets lighter than dusk and twilight outside, and that's only for a few hours mid day.  Helsinki is dark as well, but the sun shows its face for a few hours, though the days are short.  Everyone - young, old, rich, poor - has a sauna (they were invented in Finland).  It is an age old tradition to sauna in the dead of winter, then run out onto the ice of a frozen lake and jump into a hole carved in the ice, then climb out on a make-shift wooden latter and sprint back to the dry heat of the sauna.  (You thought snow angels after hot-tubs in Idaho was bad-ass).

The buildings in Helsinki are pastel shaded and colorful, as characteristic of many of the surrounding places that experience long, dark winters.  The thought behind this is that it helps to brighten up the streets in a place where darkness is so prevalent, at least for a part of the year.  The streets aren't as narrow or windy as you'll find them in many European cities, even in Stockholm, but they do run at odd angles.  Many streets are cobbled with bricks, which quaintness is contrasted by runs of tram tracks.  Within the core neighborhoods that make up the city, the public transportation is widespread, and highly utilized.  There are lots of parks, providing a fair offering of greenness, as well as dog-friendly space.  Pests like flies and ants may as well be creatures of myth.

Many may fight me on this, but I will argue that Helsinki is one of the best cities on the planet to see in summertime.  All that darkness goes completely reverse!  On what is celebrated as the longest day of the year, June 25th (called Juhanos, and also the day of my birth!), the sun sets around 11pm.  Twilight lingers for a bit longer than we're used to Stateside, and then a light darkness falls - ever so briefly - before the sun rises again around 4am.  The general rule of summertime thumb is that it's dusk when you enter the nightclub, and a slightly brighter dawn when you leave.  In a time and place where darkness is more or less obsolete, questions of safety and numbers wandering about the streets fall largely to the wayside.  Free to roam and wander in the light, boundaries begin to melt, and the fluidity of people between and among groups rises, aided by slightly discrete, public alcohol consumption - coined "pusikaliya".

Between beaches, parks, paths along the water, the bazaar and farmer's market on the bay, coin-op rental bikes stationed like ZipCars throughout the city, and semi frequent city-wide festivals, the summer is brimming with energy and activity.  People do not take for granted the warmth and light for a second.  After enduring a longer and more wretched winter than most of us have ever known, even an hour of Santa Barbara-like weather is idyllic.  The joviality is tangible, even for one who has not undergone the winter. 

Out of all the places I've been, Helsinki has earned a place in me that I will always love.  Should you be so lucky to visit, you will not regret it.  Quick tip: "Moi" (rhymes with 'boy') is hello.  "Moi moi" is good bye.  "Joo" (yo) is yes (informal).  "Ei" (ay) is no.  "Kiitos" (keyyy-tose) is thank you.  "Toi oli ihan naurettavaa" is 'that was absolutely ridiculous'.  The latter phrase can be used in a remarkable number of instances - I highly recommend practicing the pronunciation and reciting.  

Pus! Moikka! [(poose! moy-kah!) Kiss! Bubye!]

"Peep Peep!"

Beep, beep!  As I opened my eyes to the sound of my alarm, I woke to see sun pouring through my window.  Despite only a few hours of sleep, I was able to hop out of bed after only one snooze - a rare occurrence in my book.  With only a few minutes to get out the door, I ran across my bed from one side of the room to the other, no less than four times, trying to locate my outfit for the day.  I was looking for my vintage Kenneth Jay Lane ivory and gold rams heads bracelet - the one I manage to wear with just about everything - over by my dresser, and I noticed this black line on the side of the dresser ... "what the f*** IS that" ... I stood on tip toes in between two piles of clothing on the floor - [the floor is my clean closet, and no one dare set a toe on it] - and balancing with my left hand on the front of the dresser, I craned my neck, leaning in for a closer look at this black line.  Do you know what it was?  It was, (not even kidding you), a half-inch thick river of ants crawling up and down the entire length of the dresser.  I flipped my sh*t!  I frantically started trying to determine the origin and destination of the ants, trying to rifle through perfume bottles, jewelry, and ticket stubs, without spreading the ants all over the dresser surface, and then... there it was.  There was an unopened package of PEEPS on top of my empty Chloé perfume box, and I looked inside at the little yellow chickies, and they were black - covered in ants!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I started screaming, grabbed the package, and went running outside in my thong and tank top and dramatically threw the package into the driveway.  I'm sure someone saw.  Probably some poor child taking her first walk all by herself to the Catholic girl's academy down the block.  It was disgusting.  I went back upstairs and sprayed ant kill all over the whole river - they were like a colony of settlers, for goodness sake.  They all died, and then I had to wipe them all up and flush them in eight separate flushes.  Eight!

The only positive thing to come from all of this was the surprisingly delightful floral scent that masked the bedroom after the wrath of the ant kill spray.  On the other hand, in addition to feeling as though this gorgeous, sun-soaked morning-getting-ready-sesh was pooped on by ants, I'm really having doubts about my ability to ever eat Peeps again.  Do you know how many boxes of Peeps and Cadbury mini creme eggs I bought this year for Easter?  Neither do I, but if I had to guess, I would say it averaged out to a box of Peeps per day for the entire duration of Easter candy's stay on the drugstore shelves this spring.  Not usually a big fan of candy, I must admit there's just something about that ole Easter Bunny that gets me going.  In all seriousness though, I really cannot believe how many ants there were in that river, and engulfing those poor Peeps.  Can you imagine if they made little "peep peep!" sounds?  Oy vey... Nightmare extravaganza.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kyle Mulle: In the Valley of Eden // #proudsister

Just yesterday, I bid farewell to my love, my brother, seeing him off on the journey of a lifetime.  A whole catalogue of emotions ran through me as we parted and I made my way back to my comfortable and familiar apartment thereafter, but the strongest of these was pride.   I am proud of my brother, and I am proud to be his big (hardly) sister.  Hence I share with you an excerpt of his very first blog entry.  Should his words engage you the way I believe capable, check out the rest of his blog when you have the chance.  For now, here's a glance.

Taxi to the East Side

"This is my first blog, and I am writing from the desk of my apartment in Amman, Jordan. Likewise, this is the first time I have traveled to Jordan and for that matter the Middle East. For the next month I will be studying at a language school across the street from the University of Jordan. On June 30 when I depart, I will fly to Beirut, Lebanon and will live among Palestinian refugees in the Shatila camp on the west side of town for another month. In addition to my own studies, I will be teaching English to youth living in the camp.
Eden is geographically attributed to an area near the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which is Iraq, though it is also purportedly in the area of greater Syria, which includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and traditional Palestine. In the Book of Genesis, God charged Adam with tending the Garden of Eden, where there lay two trees; the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. As the story goes, Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and then God banished them from the Garden forever and hid the Tree of Life. In the Book of Ezekiel, he claimed that the Trees in the Garden came from what is today Lebanon.

Today, I am not only in the part of the world where this fabled utopia once existed, but I also am on a philosophical journey seeking both knowledge, and in many ways my own path in life. It is for these reasons that I title my blog 'In the Valley of Eden.' I hope that you all will enjoy my writing and that I can share some of my knowledge and experiences with you."