June 30, 2001

In the Finnish countryside: I wasn’t sure what it would be like to see Päivi again after 15 years, but very quickly we were talking as if no time had passed at all. It seems odd that it could be so very natural, but so it was. We sat on the porch of her apartment outside Helsinki eating salmon and salad and drinking wine and talking about what had happened over all this time until late at night — although of course it never really got dark.

That was yesterday. Tonight, Saturday, I’m sitting in bed in a guest room of the very charming summer cottage which belongs to Päivi’s parents. It’s in the forest some hours outside Helsinki. Raili told me that this house was actually the first thing Päivi designed as an architect, though she’d asked her mother not to tell me. Neither Raili nor Erkki seem to have changed at all since I met them in 1985. Marja is also here — She seems to have changed very little, though she’s only just returned from UCLA and is suffering jet lag so it’s hard to know. But she looks very much the same.

June 27, 2001

Tampere: So much modern “International Style” architecture in America is so ugly. There is a lot of this sort of architecture in Tampere, and some of it is just as ugly, but somehow much of it is not. Why? What’s the difference?

As I write this I’m sitting at the foot of yet another church, Kalevan Kirkko. It’s very strange, very tall, very modern — hardly looks like a church at all.

Nobody locks their bikes here — and there are many, many bikes. The city is small and clean but very cosmopolitan. Almost everyone speaks English, but what’s amazing is how many people speak it so well. They must get lots of practice. And of course the Nordic system of social welfare, with universal healthcare, no poverty, and virtually no crime, all adds up to make this seem very close to paradise.

Except that the sun is too damn small in the sky. It’s really unnerving.

A Spaniard’s been rooming with me the last two nights at the hostel. I never quite caught his name. He used to be a student at the university here, but he doesn’t know Finnish. I thought that was strange. Apparently many courses are taught in English.

Last night we went out for beer to a nice pub where we sat outside just above the river and talked about public radio (and how NPR isn’t very “public” by European standards) and access TV, religion, race politics, anarchism, and many other things. After a couple of beers we relocated to a place called Café Europa, filled with antique sofas and armchairs around low tables with candles. I’ve never seen anything quite so cool. I had a Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale, and we talked some more. When we got back to the hostel, it was past midnight, but the sky was still bright although the sun was below the horizon.

June 26, 2001

Tampere: Damn I’m tired — combination of jet lag, three nights of inadequate sleep, and the fatigue of travel, the stress of being in a foreign country. Also the memories evoked by being in Scandinavia again are mildly confusing, though mostly pleasant.

I’m sitting on a bench in a public square in Tampere, in front of the Greek Orthodox cathedral. Soaking in the 17:00 sun. It looks almost like high noon, but the sun is smaller than I’m used to seeing it. Won’t be dark for another six or seven hours.

It’s warm, almost hot. I’ve seen a couple women lying on blankets in bikinis, here at the square and at a nearby park. Last night it seemed as though the entire town was out by the river, enjoying the sunlight and the mild weather.

I hope I can sleep tonight. I’m going to try making a blindfold of my bandanna.

Things that went wrong on the way here: A storm kept us in a holding pattern some distance from Newark. Finally we landed — in Baltimore. After an hour or so they stuck 15 kids on our plane, a tour group bound for Rome. But then word came that Newark would not be holding the flight to Rome, so they unloaded the kids, and their baggage. When we got back in the air, we were put in a holding pattern again, and when we eventually did land at Newark, we couldn’t get to the gate. The people in front of me watched in frustration as their plane for Portugal was boarded, taxied down the runway, and took off without them. They chewed out the flight attendant, and I castigated them for whining too much. (They were in their mid-fifties at least; “I thought my generation was supposed to do all the whining.) When we got off the plane, Newark Airport was in chaos, as both arrivals and departures had been canceled or delayed for hours because of the weather. I’d missed my flight to London. I was directed to stand in one line, then another. There were lots of lines, all insanely long, and nobody seemed to know if they were in the right line. The Continental reps seems as confused as the travelers, and more harried. One passenger, a Frenchman, tipped me off about the toll-free number for Continental’s customer service. I walked to a payphone, no line at all, and in mere minutes had my flight re-booked for the next day. However, I still had to stand in a long line to arrange for overnight accommodations. It took a couple hours before the bus arrived to take us to the hotel, and then there wasn’t room for even half of us. So we waited for the next bus, which still couldn’t accommodate the multitude of displaced Continental passengers, but I got a seat this time. The Airport Hilton was already overflowing, but it was only a 45 minute ride to the East Brunswick Hilton — or so we thought. After half an hour, the bus driver pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway and made a phone call. “She’s lost,” said the man sitting next to me, a videographer turned high school teacher from Alameda, California. “I bet she went the wrong direction on the highway.” Sure enough, thirty minutes later we were driving past the Newark Airport again. 45 minutes after that, we were at the hotel, but the driver missed two separate turnoffs and ended up in an inclined cul-de-sac. She had to back the bus up, uphill, and then the damn thing would shift into reverse. We finally checked into the hotel at around 1:00 AM. Many of us got booked into occupied rooms and had to return to the front desk, more than once in some cases. I got to sleep around 2:00 or 2:30, then got up at 6:00 to catch the 7:00 shuttle back to the airport. Unfortunately that bus also seemed to be ominously late in arriving. But this is when things began to pick up. Three passengers decided to hire a taxicab; they were looking for a fourth to share the cost and chose me at random form the mass of people waiting in front of the hotel. The cab driver informed us that he would not accept Continental vouchers for payment because “they simply don’t pay.” But we didn’t have any such vouchers anyway. My fellow travelers were all going to London on my flight, as it turned out: Jane, a jet-setting new age hippie from Boulder; Josie, a Filipino living in Buckinghamshire; and Zoe, a British geologist living in Utah and running very late for a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she was presenting a paper on earthquakes.

After that, the rest of the trip went very smoothly.

After soaking in the sun and reflecting for an hour or so, I don’t feel tired at all.