Saturday, 28 April 2012

Helsinki: Font Walk

Napa Gallery, Eerikinkatu 18, Helsinki, Finland. I ask the woman in the back room about the  Font Walk map and she points me to the small cardboard box on the corner table. Only one per customer, please. It is only fair; this is a limited edition. After examining the beautiful map for a while at the gallery, I step back outside. Actually, it would be a good idea to go for a cup of tea and get into the mood for observing fonts... But I decide to do it while walking.
What is Font Walk about? Being part of the World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 program, it promises design experiences. However, the main idea is to pay attention to some, selected details in Kamppi area, and learn to look at the texts and visual messages that we easily pass every day without noticing them. For example, have a look at the neon letters above the Orion cinema.
The walk will guide me to about 30 interesting stops in the district, and the estimated walking time of the route is about 45 minutes. Well, better take it easy and allow more time for observation and stops along the way. As I turn from Eerikinkatu street to Fredrikinkatu (or 'Freda'), I realize that some details are easier to spot from the other side of the street. Especially the ones that are higher up on the building walls. The "hieroglyph" gates are open when I pass them and a moment later I find myself walking back to find them. This symbol resembles a walker, doesn't it?

The optician's sign reminds you of the old days when it was much more common to use descriptive objects or symbols as signage for certain professions. Today we mostly see text signs.
The purpose of the Font Walk is not font-spotting but to discover details. Therefore, I don't feel guilty about not focusing just on the lightning bolts of Sähkötalo building (Electric House)... The building was designed by architect Alvar Aalto and I simply have to check out its door handles.
My eyes stray off from the map also when I walk towards Salomonkatu and see the tall pillars above Tennispalatsi building. Until now, I've always "seen" only the curved shape of the roof of the building but never noticed the pillars, so the texts advertising the museum and cinema have been wasted on me.
I've also failed to notice the flagpoles on Autotalo (Car House) building. Probably because there have been no flags flapping in the wind. The next stop is the Kamppi underground station, marked with "M" for Metro, but of course there is also a sign for the appropriately located Subway fast food restaurant, with the 'S' shaped like a curved arrow.
The map guides me back from Kamppi station, past Voimatalo house with the surprisingly uniform fonts on its walls, and further down to Albertinkatu street. The old, now closed wooden kiosk seems bare at a first glance, but a closer look reveals messages here and there.
There are a couple of fonts to spot in this corner. Number 12 on the map, Kallio sign, is on a building that has really beautiful wooden doors and a lovely round window on the ground floor. It takes me a while to find the round sign of a former bank, Helsingin Työväen Säästöpankki, on the wall.
On Eerikinkatu I walk beneath the scaffolds right in front of Eerikinkatu 25 and think about the art deco home of Hercule Poirot in the films made of Agatha Christie's detective stories. The font like ornaments are actually above the scaffolding... The street signs in two languages (the city's majority language Finnish on top, minority language Swedish below) are a refreshing sight because of their old style font which is very different from what is mostly used in newer areas today.
The people live on the corner building of Abrahaminkatu and Kalevankatu streets are lucky. If you take a peek throught the locked glass doors to the hall, you can discern stylish reliefs inside, including animals and of course, walkers. I also pass the sign of the Consulate of the Republic of Seychells, and one of my favourites, Maitoa - Mjölk (Milk) which I saw for the first time about a week ago.

Number 20 on the map, the Porras sign, remains a mystery. There is a renovation project going on in the courtyard and either I'm in the wrong place or the sign has been removed temporarily.
I turn my eyes also towards other things than those listed on the map. For example, right next to the barbershop (mentioned in the map) you can just about decipher the logo and text for Loma-Auto (Holiday-Car). Long gone.
There are also other ghost-like texts on Kalevankatu, and they are to be discovered with your own eyes only. MI VUODESOHVIA (MI SOFABEDS) store has not been here for a while.
The decorative Kirjavälitys - Bokspedition (Book trading) sign is hidden inside the entrance to the courtyard at Kalevankatu 16. Don't forget to look at the stylish dark metal gates.
There are so many different façades at Kamppi area. Usually, my eyes seem to wander more easily to the old buildings. At Annankatu street, I've surely passed the Hopeatalo loads of times, without seeing the sign for Silver House or what the house itself looks like.
Back on Eerikinkatu street, the ELO building looks terrific. These days you don't often see texts fit on the façades as permanently as this. The map guides me to the other side of the street to have a look at another neat art deco entrance and its elegant sign, and finally to the last stop, to the neon signs of Corona bar and Andorra cinema, owned by the brothers and movie directors Kaurismäki. 
I fold the map away and turn to walk towards the railway station. I realize I'm looking at different things now, compared to when I was coming here. My eyes seem to scan signs and texts, interesting entrances to houses. It is very easy to walk in Helsinki too fast, focusing on where you are going and how quickly you can make it, instead of focusing on where you are. When you slow down, it is so much easier to discover new details along the way: different messages, shapes, surfaces, stories behind them.

Wow, what a great door handle, shaped like an E!

P.S. The Font Walk map is available for download here: Font Walk map

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Jyväskylä: Mämminiemi by Lake Päijänne

Mämminiemi is a recreational area about 24 kilometres south from Jyväskylä - by road. Typically, many people arrive there by boat because Mämminiemi is located on Lake Päijänne, the second biggest lake in Finland. I've been here only once before, in the summertime, by boat. This time there's no other way to get here but by car because I'm not in the mood for cycling here and back today!
We park close to the gate of the private road although the gate is open. You never know when someone with a key could close it. It means a short, less than 2 km walk to Mämminiemi. The narrow road is clear but there is still plenty of snow in the woods around us.
The forest next to the road has been planted, you can tell... The trees are there in unnaturally straight lines. There are beautiful birches and spruces, forming corridors.
Reaching the last Mämminiemi sign, we leave the gravel road and follow the snow-covered trail to the right. The closer we get to the shore, the less snow there seems to be. The rocks have had their share of the sun on this side of the lake.
There are some impressive rocks around us - remains from thousands of years ago, from the Ice Age.
There is a narrow stretch of beach that is no longer covered in snow but the Lake Päijänne is still frozen solid. However, I wouldn't count on how solid the ice is here and there, because there can be currents that make the ice weak in unexpected places. You definitely don't want to risk it. Also, the ice is already weaker close to the shore.
If you arrive here by boat (once the lake is no longer frozen!) you are greeted by the wooden sign of Mämminiemi that faces the lake.
The pier is strong and large enough for larger boats as well. The bollards are leaning sideways. It looks like the ice is going to start melting soon.
The tall, grey wooden bollards serve only those with a boat that is large enough; if you arrive here on a kayak, you had better paddle to the shore...
It is worth it to climb up to the the rocks above the pier for the view to the lake. You can also take a break and sit down at a wooden table and benches on the top. The droppings on the ground tell that a couple of elks must have paid a visit here as well recently. For the view, perhaps?
There are more rocks on the slope leading to the shore. This is such a great spot to enjoy a great day out! However, if you want to make a fire, you'll have to get down to the marked spots.
Jyväskylä city is taking good care of Mämminiemi. There is plenty of firewood available and some kind souls - previous visitors -  have left a neat ready-to-use pile to dry out in the sun. We choose the sunniest place on the shore for making our fire.
Is there anything nicer on a spring day like this than to sit out here in the sun, by the fire, have a bite to eat and a good chat...
Before leaving Mämminiemi, I visit the northernmost place of the area, towards Hauhonselkä on Lake Päijänne. The view is stunning already now, so you can imagine what it will look like a month or two later, when the lake is glittering blue. There are some droppings by a black grouse on the rocks so if you are here in May you might hear them making their mating calls...

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Helsinki: Kunsthalle, liquor store and milk

Kunsthalle Helsinki (or Helsingin Taidehalli in Finnish) at Nervanderinkatu 3 has a church-like atmosphere, perhaps because of the echo of footsteps on the stone floor and the height of the rooms upstairs. The tall window at the end of the hall resembles an altarpiece or a stained glass window (even without the stained glass). Appropriate for a temple of art, of course.  
The exhibition by Finnish artist Lauri Laine is called Paintings of Light and Space. Unfortunately, I soon realize that right now I'm more interested in the light and space of the building than of his artwork. This is my first visit to Kunsthalle and there's something so special about the place.
The paintings on the ceiling remind me of something. My thoughts escape back to my hometown Jyväskylä and specifically to Taulumäki church. Later, in my mind I also compare something in Kunsthalle also with Workers' Club (1925) at Jyväskylä, by Alvar Aalto. What do these places have in common? Certainly not the architect, because the architect of Taulumäki church (1928-29) was Elsi Borg, and Kunsthalle (1928) was designed by Jarl Eklund and Hilding Ekelund.  However, they all represent a trend of classicism.
On street level, behind the ticket office, there is a tiny exhibition space called Studio which now houses Heini Hölttä's photography exhibition, Selfportrait as a building: Oslo, Helsinki. There is something really charming about her photographs, and the atmosphere that you sense in them. It seems that Oslo is somewhat dearer to Hölttä than Helsinki.

The café at Kunsthalle is about to close its doors so I can't linger in the building much longer. I head away from the city streets, towards Hietaniemi and the seashore at Lapinlahti bay. Have to watch my step there; the cyclists zoom past very fast. Once back inside the fences of the cemetery, the gravel paths through Hietaniemi cemetery are guaranteed to provide you with peace and quiet, with just the occasional bird or a squirrel. So many lives, so many memories. Having reached the tombs of Finland's former presidents, I turn back towards the city center.
I walk through the busy Kamppi area and can already hear the traffic from Mannerheimintie street. The liquor store Alko Arkadia has simply but nicely decorated windows and if you look closely, you can see an interesting work of art on the wall inside. For a closer look, better step in! I think they used to make this kind of artwork in the 1970's?
The bottom corner of this work of art reveals that it was designed by Aleksi Hautamäki who has also done the interior design of this Alko flagship store. You don't necessarily have to enter a museum or a gallery to see interesting design / art: it can be found also in places like this even if this is not marked with the blue World Design Capital stickers.

Where to next? I choose Kalevankatu street and turn back towards the sea, this time to Hietalahti. In one window I notice a life-sized Spiderman that turns its head all of a sudden. Oh! The body painting job is nearly finished, and there are only some finishing touches to his face left and he'll be ready to go. The sun will set soon...
On Kalevankatu, there are many restaurants, shops and art galleries. At number 33 there is something missing though: the text in black on the wall says MAITOA - MJÖLK (MILK) but the dairy shop is long gone.
The next morning I'm reading the local newspaper (Helsingin Sanomat) and find a short article that features a picture of the same text MAITOA of the pretty building I stopped to look at yesterday. The story advertises Font walk which will help you pay attention to graphic design by looking at different fonts you meet on the way. The map will be available in April... Later the same day, I decide to ignore the rain and get my copy of the Font Walk map from Napa Gallery at Eerikinkatu street.
I close my umbrella and step inside. Napa Gallery is exciting but I feel stupid because I didn't read the article carefully enough; the Font Walk map won't be available until next Wednesday, April 25, 2012.  Sigh. Back into the rain.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Jyväskylä: A grey, snowy day

Where have all the colours gone? There seems to be only white and different shades of grey left in the scenery that greets me this morning. The wet snowflakes attack everything that moves or doesn't move.
At the end of Kortesuonkatu street there are the sad remains of Jyvälä, or Nisula estate that housed for example a kindergarten and offered adult education - before someone set it on fire in November 2011. Bit by bit the last remaining part of the building is being torn down.
Next to the Nisula estate, in the yard of the neighbouring apartment building, a felled tree is neatly stacked and waiting for its destiny as firewood.
More snow keeps falling down from the sky. My footprints leave a wet mark on the pavement of Syrjälänkatu street. A car passes me by and slush flies into the air, but luckily it doesn't land on me.
Early in the evening I walk past the Seminaarinmäki campus and slow down in front of Villa Rana building. Quite a few trees have been felled next to its white fence. There are not too many trees left but the remaining ones are protected by red ribbons that say SÄÄSTETÄÄN (to be saved). This adds colour to the day...
Following the Villa Rana fence towards the Jyväskylä University Library, I notice on it a white frame that seems to be missing something. What has disappeared from there or what is still to come there?
The hedge next to Ylä-Ruth, or unofficially Sivukirjasto bar (Branch Library, a nickname it got from being the building next to the University Library), is leafless but not lifeless. The hedge is crying off the melting snow and gaining strength to grow its first green leaves for the spring.
Kuuntele (Listen). Of course I could close my eyes and just listen to the snow melting, water dripping, the sound of gravel beneath my feet. I take a peek at Galleria Patina from behind the window;  Pipa Rauhamäki 's artwork is on display at the exhibition Huhtikuun tytöt (April Girls). A grieving torso of an angel stands on a wooden pedestal that says Kun ikävöin sinua (When I miss you). It makes me think what I'm missing right now: colours. Welcome back, Spring!

Monday, 16 April 2012

France: Cannes - Antibes

Walking by the sea is so tempting that I cannot resist continuing from Cannes to Antibes on foot - yesterday's was such an enjoyable walk. It will be an easy one, totally on level ground. The natural starting point is where I left off the previous afternoon: la Croisette, next to the Palais des festivals and its red carpet. I visit a favourite hand print, that of the mysterious and original Pink Panther.
Before taking off towards Antibes, I check out the film world hand prints once more, and to my surprise I was right about seeing some stars' hand prints there twice. For example Dennis Hopper and the French singer Johnny Hallyday (who has also featured in some films). Their fresh prints are shiny, silvery ones right in front of the festival palace.
La Croisette is busy with tourists, kiosks selling crêpes and coffee, kids playing under the tall palm trees. If you want another film star-related souvenir, just pose behind a cardboard figure (e.g. Charlie's Angels and Jack Sparrow available) and have your photo taken.
Palme d'Or, or the Golden Palm is the symbol of Cannes Film Festival. You can see it also painted on the asphalt, but not everywhere;  the most appropriate place is of course the zebra crossing that leads from the Croisette boulevard to the luxurious Carlton hotel. Or is it the other way round because the stars often have their photo sessions next to the beach?
The people who enter the fancy palace-like hotel are immaculately dressed and the restaurant on the terrace is busy with guests having lunch. I don't think I'm appropriately dressed to march in...
So I'd better continue along the wonderfully wide la Croisette which is getting less crowded, the further I get from the expensive hotels. The beach is almost deserted, thanks to the less sunny day and the wind that blows from the sea.
At the end of la Croisette there is a playing area for children and right in front of it you get a reminder of children's rights (Les enfants ont des droits) in the form of the colourful work of art. The glass paneled fence that surrounds the artwork summarizes the Declaration of the rights of the children.
The coastline curves to Cap de la Croisette and you get a nice view towards Esterel, Théoule-sur-Mer and Cannes. There is plenty of room to walk because only few people seem to be taking a stroll in this area. Some fishermen with their long fishing rods are trying their luck on the rocky shore after the sandy beaches.
At Port Canto there are boats, boats and more boats, from tiny ones to large and expensive ones. It is an art to keep it simple.
At the very end of Cap de la Croisette, the Palm Beach casino invites in people with extra cash. The red foot sculpture (by an anonymous artist) in front of the casino invites different interpretations. Is it a walker's foot, stepping down, or someone standing on tiptoe, or the foot of a woman with an invisible high heel shoe? I walk behind the casino and have a look at the island of Sainte Marguerite which is surprisingly close to mainland right here.
My journey continues along the seashore. On my right there is usually a beach but sometimes there is only the sea, a couple of meters down. Shall I walk down the steps and rinse my feet in the sea? It is not that warm...
The Mediterranian seems a bit colder today, and a different shade of blue than yesterday, even if the sun appears quite frequently. I wonder if I'll be able to walk right by the sea all the way to Juan les Pins and soon the road steers off the shore, across the railroad tracks. There is a narrow path down below but it may well be a dead end because there are private houses ahead. I'd better follow the road, then.
Adieu Cannes; I'm already stepping to the next town. This is the most boring part of the walk, squeezed between the road and railroad tracks with its metal fence. The private houses on the side of the sea seem accessible only by sea or via locked footbridges across the tracks. Glad I followed the road instead.
A villa by the sea on the French Riviera isn't necessarily a luxurious one, not always... Perhaps the view to the Mediterranian sea does not compensate enough for the difficult access to the house and its noisy location right next to the railroad track .
With the arrival at Golfe Juan, the road luckily turns back to the sea. There are some flowers to look at, but otherwise not too much; I focus on simply walking and breathing the fresh air from the sea.
I don't expect to find anything special at Golfe Juan but there is a surprise waiting: at the seafront promenade, full of restaurants, there is also a sign about Napoléon. Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte arrived at this beach from the Isle of Elba, and took off with his troops from Golfe Juan on 1 March, 1815, towards Grenoble which they reached after a walk of 331 kilometres on 7 March.What a March for them...
More boats, couples and families on a leisurely walk on the boulevard. In a flash I'm at Juan les Pins where it is lunchtime, and the tables on the terraces facing the sea are full. Zivo's little elephant, First Found,  seems like it can hardly keep itself together and it has to be content with watching the buildings and passers-by. I turn left after the shiny Casino and follow the shortest route towards Antibes.
Uphill, downhill. I am already close to Vieil Antibes when I take a random turn to the right, towards the sea. Strolling on the boulevard Maréchal Foch, I spot a sign on the gatepost of a villa: Antibes Randonnées, Antibes Hiking club. The club seems to offer very interesting hikes for its members, leading them up into the mountains. Aren't they lucky! However, I'm still quite happy about today's walk, even if I stayed at the same low altitude all the way from Cannes to Antibes.