Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Jyväskylä: Cathedral of Light

All of a sudden I notice one rainbow, or actually, two of them - the second one faint but still visible - above the church in the middle of Kirkkopuisto (Church park). As if they were trying to tell me that there is a treasure at the rainbows' end. Tonight at least this may well be true because the church will be illuminated as soon as darkness falls over the city of Jyväskylä, as part of the City of Light festival that is celebrated here on 21-30 September, 2012.
The opening ceremony speeches over, the large crowd that is gathered in the church park and on the square in front of the city hall can finally turn their eyes to the spectacle that combines light and dance. The church bells chime eight times and the dancers, dressed in white, and each of them carrying lanterns, open the doors of the church and step outside. They move in slow procession to take over the excitingly illuminated lawns. The light has arrived.
The dancers keep their lanterns as well as themselves in slow motion, dancing to the mysterious lights.
The smoke machines add to the atmosphere, as well as the fires that are lit one by one as the dance goes on. The wonderful music creates an eerie feeling. Is this really Kirkkopuisto park? Rather, this feels like a fairytale land.
The church park corridors are full of people, with crowds getting closer to the lawns as everyone with a camera realizes that this is a special moment, something to photograph. I so agree but put the lens cap on. Better focus on the show.
After the dancers have put down their lanterns and disappeared into the slowly dispersing crowds, I turn my eyes to the church. However, it is hardly recognizable; gone is the simple red brick shape and in front of me is the Cathedral of Light. It is quite a transformation; as if it was carnival time! And perhaps it is, a bit of light into the long autumn ahead. The lights in different colours are dancing their own dance in the night.
I am simply enthralled by the fantastically illuminated cathedral. Somehow it looks larger than usual! Although the dancers have left us, the music is still playing into the night, keeping up the mysterious atmosphere. The flute reminds me of Akira Kurosawa's film music. And the colours... they are like fireworks lighting up the park. Light artist and his company Valoparta Oy have really put their heart into this project.
For me, the church at Kirkkopuisto is born again. Usually, when you walk past the building, you hardly pay any attention to the brickwork but now you can't help noticing the arched or round windows or any other shapes that are now highlighted with different, changing colours.
The doors to the church are also open, exceptionally for a late Friday night. There is a short sermon going on when I enter the building, also in celebration of the Cathedral of Light, and thanks to the event, there are quite a few attendees sitting on the wooden benches.
A beautiful song fills the air. Seppo Wuolio, the curate, wishes us good night and safe journey home, on this well lit town. I linger inside the church a little while longer, staring at the blue ceiling with its golden stars, the large chandelier and the altar which shines white in the night. Simply gorgeous!
The Cathedral of Light must be the most beautiful temporary light installation in the history of the City of Light festival in Jyväskylä. The double rainbow that was pointing at the church got it right. There was a treasure at the rainbows' end. However, unfortunately the Cathedral of Light won't remain lit like this but lasts only two nights (21-22 Sep, 2012). Such a wonderful attraction for such a short time. I really hope we haven't seen the last of this light installation - how about returning next year?
As I walk across the park to the sound of music and the lights still dancing around me, the magic continues. Close to the statue of writer Minna Canth (who is gazing dreamily towards the city theatre) there is a small pond into which water is continuously flowing from three directions. However, it is a miracle pond: the centre of it is on fire!
On the other side of Vapaudenkatu street, I notice the reflections of blueish light above street level. I enter the terrace next to the foyer and enjoy the light show playing on the ceiling and the whole foyer. A private function, apparently, but they must be celebrating the City of Light. However, I'm quite happy to be an outsider tonight because the best light show was here, outside!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Helsinki: Everyday discoveries

I am strolling across Kasarmitori square in Helsinki when I notice a red and white sign hanging from a lamp post. I don't think it's been there before, at least not for long. "My daughter is obsessed with Moomin, I'm not sure why. I think he is like all Finns, the strong and silent type!"
The little arrow suggests that I should check out the other side of the sign. What is this about? Could it be that there is a tagged route in Helsinki, similar to what there was in Turku last year, when Turku was European Capital of Culture and there was a great collection of 50 comics posted around town? Helsinki Tagged! I wonder if I've got time for a visit to Suvilahti today?
I meander through Esplanadi park and the busy shopping areas towards the central railway station. Another red and white thingy, like a piece of ribbon made into a chair. Which is now occupied by father and child. Happy Birthday Helsinki 200? Come on, the city was founded in 1550... However, Happy 200 Birthday Helsinki is instead celebrating the fact that it is Helsinki has been Finland's capital for 200 years - after the capital was moved from the original capital Turku to Helsinki.
I decide to make a detour to Suvilahti but this time I cheat and don't walk there. Instead, I take the underground to Kalasatama, the closest stop to the exhibition area. Suvilahti is only a short walk away and although I've never visited the area, it is easy to follow the signs towards the sea. There are tips painted also on the asphalt - like Ihana kahvila vain 1250 m (Lovely café only 1250 m). This is very promising.
I wonder what I am actually looking for, or forward to. Someone else has walked here before me, perhaps a bit doubtful? In Search of the Ridiculous...
The colourful flags point out the beginning of the Everyday Discoveries exhibition area. They are no ordinary flags but unique works of art. Another discovery.
While passing a dull grey lamp post, I detect another poetic sight. Broken Street Poetry. There must be a wild poet loose around town, leaving his or her lines in unexpected places. To be discovered.
Entering the Everyday Discoveries exhibition, part of the World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 program, takes me to a former power plant area which these days acts as a cultural venue. This exhibition has been titled a mini world expo of design, with participants from many different countries. Torino, Italy has contributed to the exhibition a tiny, egg shaped showroom, and a fiery red Fiat 500 in addition to other design products.
Kattilahalli exhibition halls house lots of everyday design from clothes to lamps and chairs. However, on most chairs there seems to be a sign: Do not sit. Also on this massive, yet light Turkish chair for two so I don't dare to try it. Imagination Playground makes a difference: children are already playing with the elastic blue pieces that can be joined together to form different shapes.
I return back to fresh air and step aside from the exhibition area. Round the corner, there is another discovery: a window on the rusted corrugated iron shack has been covered with black veneer and someone has made it into a simple work of art with white tape: it has become a window.
Back to more Everyday discoveries. There are many colourful containers scattered on the large exhibition area, and one of them is Helsinki Plant Tram, a project produced by British Council Finland. However, this tram is not on rails...Perhaps it was grounded here, being literally taken over by a large number of plants on its roof. A local environmental organization Dodo  has been involved in the project in addition to Wayward Plants from London.
One part of the project was to collect plants - in a way! The tram container, container tram, or tram stop - whatever to call this one! - is covered with sheets of paper which each include a plant that someone has donated to the project. Not a real plant, though, but a picture and a story of a plant. Laura has drawn redcurrant for which she can't find a place in her yard.
The project continues right behind my back. I start walking beside the rollercoaster-shaped garden (built to resemble the Linnanmäki amusement park rollercoaster in Helsinki) which is absolutely full of different kinds of plants. A fantastic idea!
I rub some leaves gently against my fingers and smell the fresh peppermint. Not just nice things to see but to smell as well. There is plenty to discover: onions, different flowers, herbs... I can't name them all. A project like this is a real treasure and it reminds me of Miracle Garden that made passers-by happy in Helsinki Railway Station from May onwards this summer.
The rollercoaster garden is surrounded by design-filled containers. One of them contains a café from which a wonderful smell of coffee is floating to mix with the scent of the plants. There are some chairs and tables amidst the meandering garden. It really makes a difference to have a garden on this grey asphalt.
Only few steps away, there is less green art but from 100% natural ingredients - Nordic design from Norway. There are two interesting wooden constructions that act as gateways: Pixel Pine Portal (made by Ida Nilson, Elisia Kathleen Brask, Annhild Kjørsvik)
and Allports Portal that you only really get when you walk slowly through it. Pixel Pine Portal was awarded the 1st prize at Bergen International Wood Festival in May 2012 and Allports Portal received 3rd prize.
Allports Portal (Vidar Laksfors, Are-Dag Eriksen, Frode Ljøkjell) reminds me a a huge wooden bird, with wings like wooden crates, and it starts to make a noise as soon as I take a first step on it - and the platform gives way, sliding to the ground. I take another step, advance further, and the "wings" move with me, strings pulling pieces of wood up and down. I feel compelled to step back, step forward, just to watch and listen to the sounds this giant bird portal makes. She likes to play.
Leaving the portals behind, I step inside another container. Here it is: the white walled Helsinki Tagged that lured me to come right here from another part of town! So there was a map to help finding all the tags scattered around Helsinki.
There are some Helsinki Tagged! signs on the corrugated iron walls, for example number 74/80 - or actually, it has to be a copy of one. According to the map, the original seems to be somewhere else. I live near this villa, it used to be so full of life, but now it is in really bad shape, it is so sad. My sister and I dream of turning it into a small concert hall some day. I wish I could have walked round Helsinki to discover all of these tags and their stories!
On the container opposite there are many ancient, red Viewmasters hanging from the ceiling, in ghost style. They are not just a piece of art in themselves but allow you to make a brief visit to the streets of Dublin. When viewing the images, I discover Dublin Tagged! project and a collection of short everyday stories and pictures from this great city. When I happen to find see pictures of places that I faintly remember from years ago, it feels simply wonderful to look at a place like that through a local person's memory related to that place.
After Dublin experience, I take a peek into a couple more design containers but I feel I've already made plenty of discoveries for today. My absolute favourites at Suvilahti are the rollercoaster garden, Helsinki / Dublin Tagged! and as the last item, perhaps the handmade flags of countries. Finnish flag looks much more fun like this...

The exhibition Everyday discoveries and Helsinki Tagged! project finished on Sep 16, 2012. Time for new discoveries. They are everywhere.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Helsinki: Little Turtle teahouse

Mannerheimintie street is busy in Helsinki. As usual, I scan instinctively if I need to step aside to the left or right, keep going straight or slip between people rushing towards me, and when someone in front of me is progressing at a slower pace, make a quick decision on how to get past, keeping my own rhythm. I turn to Yrjönkatu street and things slow down. Only few more steps. A small stone turtle is keeping the door slightly ajar.
Helsinki's latest tea house, Pieni kilpikonna (literally Little Turtle) has recently opened at Eerikinkatu 1. Curious, I step into the small room and the bustle of the streets begins to fade away. Only one question remains: what kind of tea to drink? The list of available teas is long... Alright, it's going to be wu long tea. Or oolong, as I'm used to call it.
After a while the tea tray arrives and momentarily, my thoughts fly to China and a visit to a local tea shop there where I first watched in fascination the way the tea was served to us. The wooden tray holds a tiny teapot and two cups, a strainer and a glass tea pitcher into which the ready brewed tea is poured for serving. This is serving tea gong fu style, a first time for me in Finland. Just lovely. 

There is Chinese music playing gently in the background. We sip fragrant oolong tea from the little cups, talk and simply enjoy the moment. Welcome to Helsinki, Little Turtle!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Jyväskylä: Women's Bank Charity Walk

On Sunday, 9 September, a group of people gathers at Yliopistoportti sculpture at the entrance to the campus of University of Jyväskylä. Women's Bank is doing a charity walk to raise money for vocational training for women in developing countries. For one woman, the cost of vocational training is 25 euros and thanks to this walk, 29 women will get that training. There are many similar events organized by Women's Bank all over Finland on this very day.

Our guides, Pirkko Veijo and Asta Häkkinen are donating us this guided walk. Our large group splits into two after which we start our walk following the footsteps of important women in Jyväskylä.
On the other side of the road is the lovely Lounaispuisto park on the grounds of which there are some statues of local people. P. J. Hannikainen was a Finnish composer, a music teacher at the Jyväskylä teacher seminary and he founded some famous choirs. His statue was sculpted by Nina Sailo whose husband Alpo made the original plans for the sculpture before his own death.  Hannikainen's wife Alli was also much into music; she founded a women's choir Vaput more than 100 years ago. Our guide starts to read aloud from some old newspaper ads that the owner of the original café at the corner of the park had placed. The lady owner advertises mostly innocent refreshments...
The red brick building next to us originally served as a granary, was later converted to a library, then became a museum of handicrafts but now houses the Rector's Office of the University of Jyväskylä. We hear about the female writer Ain' Elisabet Pennanen who was quite daring in her time and had a relationship with another writer, Juhani Siljo, who worked here as a librarian. They met secretly at the library. The previous rector of the university Aino Sallinen was the first female university rector in Finland. She has retired only recently.
A couple of steps further along Seminaarinkatu street, there is a large wooden house which used to be the "winter palace" of Ms Hanna Parviainen who owned a saw mill and a plywood factory in Säynätsalo, close to Jyväskylä. She supported financially a group of local girl scouts, Reippaat Tytöt.
The first female architect in Finland was Wivi Lönn who made the original plans for the current Kirjailijatalo (Writer's House) which its later owner however modernised radically. On the other hand, Lönn herself modernised the granary into a library...
Still further down Seminaarinkatu, we turn left to Hämeenkatu street to see the lovely house which architect Wivi Lönn designed for herself and her mother. To our pleasant surprise, the current owner Kauko Sorjonen kindly invites us into the garden so that we can visit Wivi's statue and see the house from another side. I spot beautiful flowers through the partly open conservatory windows and ask our host what kind of flowers are they. Mr Sorjonen responds: bougainvillea. 
It is time to leave the carefully tended garden and walk towards the side entrance. However, suddenly a door opens and we're in for the next surprise. Mr Sorjonen welcomes us inside to visit the conservatory!
No wonder Mr Sorjonen is proud to show us his gorgeous bougainvillea. It is very rare to see this plant in full bloom, and this big, in Central Finland. You'd rather expect to see bougainvilleas like this in the south of Europe.
We thank our kind host for letting us see much more than we expected; after all, we thought we'd just stop to hear some stories about Wivi's house outside the gates and then continue walking. I've never before been inside the building and when I look at the beautifully restored paintwork and artwork in the corridor downstairs I know that is house is indeed a treasure.
Thanks also to Wivi Lönn who created this house and lived here in 1911-1918. So glad Wivi's brother Ville managed to persuade his sister to move to Jyväskylä so she ended up designing many buildings here.
We turn to walk towards the city centre and walk past Juomatehdas, a former brewery. Wivi Lönn's brother worked there as a cashier. Next, we arrive at the south-eastern gate of Lounaispuisto park and enter the stage. The place is currently an open air concert venue but it has long traditions as a venue for choir festivals that started in the late 19th century. Our guide Asta hands the group the lyrics of Central Finland's anthem and says: let's sing. The four young men lounging on the seats politely thank us after the song...
We walk past Cygnaeus park and continue down Cygnaeus street to Toivolan vanha piha, a new attraction that consists of restored wooden buildings that will celebrate its official opening on 30 Sep, 2012. The garden is not quite ready yet, but it soon will be. Toivola is not a museum; a group of entrepreneurs who focus on crafts have moved or are moving their businesses there and aim to make this into a lively place. There is already a wool shop and a clothes designer, among others, and later a café will also open on the premises.
After the little detour to Toivola, we return to Vapaudenkatu street and pass the Old Rectory that belongs to the Lutheran parish of Jyväskylä. The Old Rectory is also a meeting place for the reading club of Women's Bank. The members donate for charity a couple of euros each for each book they read and discuss at the club.
At Kirkkopuisto, or Church Park, we look over the lawn towards the Jyväskylä City Theatre. A women's group called Minnat runs the café / restaurant services at the theatre, raising money for the theatre. The group is named after Minna Canth who came to Jyväskylä to study at the teacher seminary and later became one of the most important women writers and playwrights in the country.
Minna Canth herself is also gazing at the theatre. Minna Johnsson never completed her studies at the seminary because she got married to Mr Canth, a teacher of hers and wasn't allowed to continue at the seminary. Mrs Canth started writing already in Jyväskylä but only after her husband's death, after moving to her old home town Kuopio (widowed with 7 children) did she publish her first play. Canth was also a businesswoman.
After following the trail of important women, we end up at the Jyväskylä Art Museum for some coffee, tea and delicious cakes. This is also one of the last chances to contribute to a work of art by crocheting - if not a full 25x25 cm piece but at least a part of one. There is already an impressive pile of green crocheted squares downstairs but it seems that more are needed for a mystery work of art that will be displayed on 21 September in this very museum.

A walk can be (and do) good in many ways.