I am on a plane on the way to Finland. I”ve never been to this land of my heritage before, and I’m excited. I’m also a bit apprehensive. If you know anything about the Finns, you might be apprehensive for me.
Take, for instance, the movie I went to in Los Angeles with a friend a few years ago. It was directed by a Finn, and the theatre was packed full with expectant film afficionados many of whom – like me – had never even heard of a Finnish movie before. The film was dark. It was sad. It was filled with starvation and potatoes being planted in frozen soil in hopes of everyone in the film not dying before the movie was over. It was framed with morose faces and it cycled through one bad familial relationship or broken heart after another. It was SO sad that the theatre patrons – who had clearly not grown up with my family – laughed with glee thinking it was all very cleverly Film Noir. They assumed it was some brilliant new take on how everything can be so depressing as to turn in on itself and become its own hilarity. This took me some time to understand….another Finnish trait when it comes to humour.
“Jesse”, I whispered to my friend, ‘Why are they laughing’?! He looked at me surprised. ‘Because it’s funny”, he responded. I looked more surprised than he did. ‘No it’s not”, I insisted. ‘Why don’t you think it’s funny’? he asked me after I elbowed his side at another fit of laughter around us. ‘Because it’s not all Film Noir. It’s like a family gathering at my house’, I said, recalling grey moods over cornmeal purple pudding and waves of hands that often brushed away my childhood questions. He said, “The only thing I find more funny than the film is the fact that the only person not laughing here is the Finn! Lighten up Meredith’.
Despite my pleas for him to understand that the film was to be taken literally, not figuratively, or covertly, or metaphorically – it really was just another depressing day in the life of a Finn – he never went for it. I overheard others leaving the theatre discussing how this new take on emotional inter-relationship could turn a whole new page in the history of film making.
I will not bore you with the details of my Finnish grandparents who I can never recall smiling, lovely and influential though they were, or some other memories of family dynamics. I will let the newspaper I picked up getting on the plane speak for itself.
A small article on Mid summer magic – the June 21st Solstice which is the second largest celebration next to Christmas in Finland – offers some interesting side bars:
‘The Sun is visible again, outdoor cafes and pubs start to appear everywhere and they’re full of happy people. You may finally start to believe those rumours about us grim Finns being able to smile and have fun”.
I’m trusting this may be true, but true to my Finnish blood, I am wary. I have brought my video camera along in order to see how many smiles I can catch on film in the two weeks we are there. I am on a mission to find the humour hidden within the straight faces. I am determined to find the source of my own seriousness and transform it to laughter.
I will say that sitting in the airport lobby waiting for our flight left my mother and I staring in quiet discussion over some sour faces that smack of the typical Finnish Frown. It’s more than a frown, it’s a way of life we often live ourselves. And caught somewhere between the gregariousness of my Father’s loose canon side of the family, and these serious, dour Finns with their ridiculously rigorous work ethic, I find myself – in all seriousness of course – determined to discover exactly WHY the Finns are so morose. And therefore, understand myself better.
To leave you with some more news of midsummer magic for this upcoming Solstice – (when we will most likely be in Lapland where the sun is shining 24 hours a day) here are some more words from the local airline paper from Helsinki…
“Traditional spells for Midsummer Magic;
If you are a lady still looking for that significant other”, (my eyes naturally gravitated to that paragraph, particularly after noticing some rather stunning Vikings at check-in before boarding) “you should do the following: come Midsummer night, take off all your clothes and walk around a rye-field picking nine different types of flowers. With your new bouquet of flowers, roll around several times in the Rye field. After this, when you look into the bottom of the nearest well, you will see the image of your future spouse.”
(Hmm. I’m not too sure I’m down with that, but I am one for trying almost anything once. Are there still wells within naked walking distance in Finland?! Does it matter what type of flowers I pick?!)
For Men: “Men shouldn’t get involved in this spell, but unfortunately several do every year. Sit in the sauna for several hours drinking at least a bottle of Koskenkorva” (I can only imagine what that is). “After this, dress up leaving your zipper open. Take a small rowing boat to the middle of the lake”. (notice how they say ‘the lake’, like everyone has one) “Stand up in the boat and start relieving yourself into the lake. Usually, at this point, you will see your future widow screaming at you from shore”.
And that, my friends, marks the first words of advice I have received for the next two weeks of this new adventure.
If I don’t return, look for me in a Rye field somewhere in Finland. Filming naked.