Friday, 29 June 2012

Ilomantsi: Views and dolls

Lake Ilomantsi sparkles in the late afternoon sun. I have to shade my eyes, the light is so bright. The lakeside footpath leads me close to a hotel and an asphalt road but I choose a grass covered path up the hill instead.
There are a couple of hares jumping on the hillside where the grass is longer. The pasture and the old drying barn again makes me imagine I've stepped back in time. This open space where the only sound you hear is pretty much just the wind. Wish I had a picnic basket with me! This would be a perfect spot for a lazy day out in the sun.
On the other side of the open hillside there is an orthodox cross with its typical Karelian decorations. The cross stands on the hill where Ilomantsi's first Orthodox churches were since the 15th century until 1794. However, there is another memorial right next to it: also the first Lutheran churches stood here. The first one was built in 1653 and the fourth and last one of them burned down in 1794.
I walk up the hill, my shoes getting moist in the grass. When I arrive at the first house, the path winds to the left and goes round the garden, taking me to Papintie (Vicar's road) which leads to an old water tower. Today the water tower is better known for another liquid: it is called Viinitorni (Wine Tower) because there is a wine bar / café at the top!
In the summer, the wine tower is open daily and there is a good selection of local produce available: for example wine. However, remember that local wine is not made of grapes (for which the climate isn't exactly ideal) but of local farmed and wild berries! While sipping your drink you can get a great view to every direction. Ilomantsi area is indeed full of forests, no matter which way you look.
I walk down the spiral steps and return to the ground. This late afternoon offers also some entertainment: there is a cultural event on Kauppatie street so I get to taste some more Ilomantsi. Like delicious fresh pancakes made of birch sap, served with homemade jam! Nukke- ja nalletalo (Doll and Teddy Bear House) displays thousands of dolls and teddy bears among which there are for example Karelian dolls that have been made without a needle or scissors.
In another museum / gallery at Kauppatie 30 there is also an amazing selection of hand-made dolls. When I enter the gallery, the only couples dancing to the live music are the carefully crafted unique dolls, but it wouldn't surprise me if someone else started dancing too.
However, on the other side of the room there is a scene from a church, with a sermon going on. I hear some other visitors spotting a familiar face or two among the churchgoers; there is at least one Finnish politician I recognize as well.
Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck's painting Tanssiaiskengät (Dancing Shoes, 1882) comes alive through Ippa Särkkä's wonderful doll and there are many other unique creations that are real masterpieces. Wow!
I spend the evening strolling on Kauppatie and nearby, hear about local bard Mateli Kuivalatar's life on a guided visit to her grave and memorial, have another great pancake. Last, I head for a final view of Lake Ilomantsi and the setting sun. Slow is good. And Ilomantsi... ilo means joy, so I'd say Ilomantsi is joy.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Ilomantsi: Kokonniemi cemetery walk

I push open the white wooden gate to Kokonniemi kalmisto, or cemetery, at Ilomantsi, Karelia. Which way to go? I choose the path turning to the left and step on the solitary path; there is nobody else walking here among the dead. Kokonniemi has served the local Orthodox community as a cemetery for centuries. However, these days there are rarely burials here anymore because the local parish has another cemetery nearby.
The traditional wooden Orthodox cross with  the simple yet beautiful carvings is the very first thing I notice. Someone has tied a linen cloth, tuulipaikka, on the horizontal crossbeam, for remembrance.  
On this cemetery you can see lots of variations of graves. Some families have reserved a very large area for there use...
...whereas most graves, especially the older ones, are usually marked with a simple cross or stone only. Mr Sallijeff, a local merchant has lain here for over 100 years.
Iivar Surakka (died in 1917) has had to do with a plain wooden cross which is half rotten already.
There are also some more regular looking granite gravestones that you can see on any graveyard in Finland. However, here even they look more at home with their surroundings than they do at the typical large graveyards which are managed... Well, more efficiently. Over here, the nature is closer in a more natural way, with fewer rules telling which way the grass or the trees can grow. 
As I walk on the path which meanders towards the end of the Kokonniemi cape, bordered by blueberry bushes, I feel this is the first time I am walking on a graveyard that seems a perfect final resting place.
At the tip of Kokonniemi there are more different looking grave stones.  Maria (born) Laadikain (1835-68) has only a very simple gravestone but the local bard Irinja Arhipoff (1864-1934) has been honoured with a newish granite monument.
The waves sing their own songs, the wind blows restful thoughts in the air. If you want to stop, sit down and look through the trees to lake Ilomantsinjärvi and listen to the world around you.
The treetops and branches stretch protectively above the path. I really don't miss the regular cemeteries with their neat and straight walkways and gardening made as easy as possible, with the (often) identical flowers that decorate the graves. Kokonniemi cemetery was established at a time when there were fewer rules and luckily it has stayed that way. Here you may find your way to the family grave by remembering the right turn of the path and that certain tall tree.
Oh well, there are of course some family graves that you can find even more easily: there is a wooden fence that you can't miss. This one looks a bit worn out but it is still erect, unlike another one which is partly fallen down on the ground. Nothing lasts forever.
The most traditional grave monument is very close to the gate of the cemetery. Grobu is a Karelian word for this log "house" that was not just a monument but also protected the body of the deceased. They have been known mostly in Karelia and northern parts of Russia. This one is dedicated to famous local bard Simana Sissonen (1786-1848) who contributed to Finnish national epic Kalevala with many ancient songs. Apparently Sissonen was originally buried in Kukonniemi cemetery, but this is not an original grobu from his time.
A walk in Kokonniemi is simply enchanting, and makes you feel that here life and death meet in peace. I don't think I've ever been to a more beautiful cemetery.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Ilomantsi: Church yards and Poetry Path

The morning sun is partly hiding behind the clouds at Ilomantsi. I walk up to the old Lutheran church on top of which a rooster is keeping an eye on the parish and telling which way the wind blows.
I boldly try the colourful church doors, but unfortunately they are locked and I can't get in to see the colourful pictures inside. Ilomantsi Lutheran Church will actually be open during the summer, as part of the Tiekirkko (Road Church) program so that travellers can visit churches more easily also outside the times of church services. However, that is on during the holiday season which starts towards the end of June, so not just yet.
The old Lutheran church dates to 1796 and it is surrounded by a lovely rocky fence, almost totally covered in moss. The dew still remains there...
I leave Henrikintie road and turn to Kirkkotie road and its combined foot and cycle path. Actually, the painted symbol on the asphalt reveals something about the local population: zimmer frames are quite common in the village. This is the first time I see it painted on the road.
I walk past the war memorial and the graves before arriving to another simple, yet beautiful church. The orthodox church is dedicated to prophet St Elias. The wooden church has five cupolas and it is the largest wooden orthodox church in Finland. Unfortunately the church doors are locked here as well.
Opposite the orthodox church, there are black and white signs that point to Iljala and Kalmisto. Kalmisto is an old Finnish word for cemetery so I decide to follow the road through Iljala yard. Although this is no valley, lilies of the valley abound. Can I feel the scent in the air?
The meadow is also in full bloom, with yellow dandelions spotting the pasture. I feel I am stepping back in time, looking at the scenery. The old traditional wooden fence, no nails used when building it, reminds me of times long gone. I can almost hear a cowbell although there are no animals in sight.
There are more and more lilies of the valley. I spot a sign with a medieval prayer dedicated to this flower, and soon I see another wooden sign, with yet another poem about lilies of the valley, this time by poet and writer Katri Vala who lived in Ilomantsi for a while. What a simple yet great idea!
As I walk a bit further, I discover there are more poems in sight and start to follow them. I'll visit the old cemetery a bit later... The path winds close to lake Ilomantsinjärvi shore and soon I arrive at a meadow spotted with lovely birches.
I walk under the birches, mostly young and straight, but there is an older one among them, still going strong. It feels great to fill your lungs with this fresh early summer air, the greenness, the dew.
A little shelter in the meadow indicates that the area is probably taken care of by a flock of sheep during the summer months. Why use lawnmowers when sheep can do a much better job? However, they are not "working" currently.
This morning walk in the poetic Karelian landscape feels like meditation, with the birds singing around me. You can simply label it peace.
I advance slowly, taking in every moment and enjoying every breath. Almost too soon the path arrives at a red and white outbuilding and the dirt road next to it. Simanantie is the end of the Poetry Path (Runopolku). Or actually, it is the beginning; I simply walked it in the opposite direction, having found it accidentally.

I'm glad I followed my instinct and the poems. Poetry Path fits this village of poems and bards perfectly! 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Jyväskylä: Wivi Lönn Walk

Wivi Lönn (1872-1966) was the first independently practicing female architect in Finland. During her career, Ms Lönn lived and worked Jyväskylä, Finland in 1911-18. I enter the garden of the house (1910) Wivi Lönn designed for herself and her mother. The private house at Wivi Lönnin katu 3 is owned by Kauko Sorjonen, a local businessman and patron of the arts who has over the years helped rescue many old buildings in the area through his foundation.

The walking tour will take us past some of the houses designed by Wivi Lönn in the small area of Seminaarinrinne (there are also other buildings by her elsewhere in town), right next to the campus of University of Jyväskylä. For starters, our guide Sanni Kankainen shows us into a side building which is nicknamed 'kanala', a henhouse.
Behind the pretty pediment there actually was a henhouse as well as room for taking care of some household tasks. The former henhouse part is now decorated as a guest room; we are welcomed to watch a short video of Wivi Lönn's life, career and the history of her house in the other room. It is a good orientation for our walk.
Ms Lönn designed quite a few buildings in Jyväskylä and many of them have luckily survived until today. When Wivi Lönn lived here, her large garden included a kitchen garden as well. Today, the garden is more or less for pure enjoyment. Right now, the Flowering Onions are in full bloom but the apple trees have alredy shed their blossoms on the neat lawn.
The latest artistic addition to the garden seems to be the slim maiden by the apple tree. The statue by Liisa Äärynen is called Puutarhassa (In the Garden). She is well placed to have a good view over the garden below, although the view is not as quite as fantastic as it was in Lönn's day when lake Jyväsjärvi was much closer than now and visible also from here.
Another statue depicts the architect herself. Wivi Lönn (Sonja Vectomov 2010) is facing the architect's former home the outlines of which can be seen also on the pedestal, just like those of the doghouse which she also designed to her house.
The doghouse itself is located just above the stone foundation of the building. That may at least partly explain why the doghouse wasn't apparently used that much. I wonder if there might have been wooden steps leading to it originally? If the pictures tell a real story, Wivi had two dogs, and the one on the right is a Finnish Spitz.
This shady area, the entry corridor leading to the wooden gate, must be wonderful on a hot day (yes, they do exist although you may not believe it now!). At the other end of the tile-covered corridor you can discern a conservatory which is entered from the house, not from the outside. I hear even bananas and grapes grow there! We step out of the garden through the "apple gate"on the side wall. By the gate there is a relief of Wivi Lönn and a large map which shows her work in the area, as well as photographs of some of the buildings.
On the other side of Hämeenkatu street there is a house Wivi designed for her brother Ville. However, we return to Wivi Lönn street which features more of her work. We first meet the Heinonen house (above, 1913) - if I got it right, slightly altered in 1997 - and later, the Pesonius house. At the end of the street there was also a beautiful wooden house designed by Lönn but that was torn down to give way to the rather basic apartment building which was planned to be the first of many in this area. I feel a shiver go through me. The whole Seminaarinrinne would have been destroyed by the plan. Thanks for those who stood against it and saved these beauties!
Originally, the back wall of Wivi's henhouse was plain yellow, but now there is artwork: Portti tulevaisuuteen (Gate to the Future) by Onni Kosonen (1991).
Next, our guide surprises us and leads us to the wonderful, flowering private garden of the pink Nousiainen house (1911) so we get to see it from close quarters. The garden offers also a lovely view to Wivi's house next door. One of the house's former residents was Martti Haavio (1899-1973) who became known as poet P. Mustapää but had also an academic career as a folklorist in the University of Helsinki.
Lönn loved arched windows and you can often find one in buildings designed by her, just like in this pink house. There must have been a great view to lake Jyväsjärvi originally! The scent of lilacs fills the air. In the garden, there is also a tall fir tree, planted in celebration of Finland's independence (1917). Such fir trees still exist in many of the gardens in this area.
We walk through the back yard of the apartment building and arrive at Vapaudenkatu street but soon turn to Seminaarinkatu street on the right. In the first house on our right, called Karpio house (1914) which Wivi Lönn designed, there is also local architectural history. Alvar Aalto and his newlywed wife Aino lived here in the 1920's when Aalto established his first architect's office in Jyväskylä.
We pass by the Pesonius house as well as Emil Lönn house before arriving to a more modern looking house which today is known as Kirjailijatalo (Writers' House) as it acts as the headquarters of the local writers' club and offers rooms for writers and translators for both working and overnight stays.
Writers' House, originally Stoore house (1906) is deceptive. To my surprise, this house was originally designed by Wivi Lönn but its new owner Mr Airaksinen decided to make 'some' alterations which turned it probably quite different from what it was. No arched windows found here!
Finally, we arrive at the end of the Wivi Lönn walk at Seminaarinkatu 32. The red brick building was not designed by Lönn - it was originally built in 1851 as a granary - but she designed the necessary alterations (1915) for the building to become a library instead. Behind the large arched windows, the building has served the town as the university library, the town library as well as the craft museum. Currently, the building is called Rehtoraatti, housing the University of Jyväskylä's administration and the Rector's office.
Beside the Rehtoraatti, the wooden building, originally Librarian's house (1916), does not seem to have an occupant right now but probably serves as a storage room. What a shame if that is true... Although the guided tour is now over, our group stays for a while talking about her work in Jyväskylä. Wivi Lönn's buildings are a true treasure. Thanks for our excellent guide!
After the tour I retrace my steps back to Hämeenkatu, to see the photography exhibition attached to the garden wall of Wivi's house. At the corner of Vapaudenkatu and Hämeenkatu streets, there is a cry for help taped to the wall: Suojele minua! Protect me!
Is this what the decision-makers want next door? The largest image shows what kind of neighbours are planned on the other side of the street - something rather modern in contrast with the early 20th century buildings. Seminaarinrinne will soon face major construction work if the plans go through. The winner of the planning competition, Sisääntulo Jyväskylään (Entry to Jyväskylä) is making a statement of a modern city. However, there is history behind it, and some people in the town have started to protest against the new plans. Let's see what will happen. Jyväskylä isn't exactly known for conservation of its older buildings; this area seems to have escaped bulldozers by both luck and thanks to some spirited individuals.

Wivi Lönn Walk is sponsored by Kauko Sorjonen foundation and it is organized each Wednesday at 6 pm during the summer 2012. The tour is Finnish-speaking.