Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Kuopio: Follow Me

I leave my ID card in a closed envelope behind the counter of Kuopio Art Museum - in exchange of a headset and an MP3 player. Testing - play. I step outside to face the traffic: the sound level is alright and I can hear the instructions clearly. The gentle voice promises that it will be easy to follow the route so I don't have to worry about getting lost. Anyway, I was given a small folded map, just in case, but it is sealed... To be opened only if I really manage to get lost.
Seuraa minua - or Follow Me as its name translates to English - is an audio walk for one in Finnish that will take me for a walk in the centre of Kuopio, Finland. To start with, I am told to cross the street, then follow Kauppakatu street towards the market place. No idea where I will be taken; I just know that I will hear a story or many stories that most likely will relate to the places that I will be passing.
The voice in my head asks me to turn left at the corner of Kauppakatu and Käsityökatu streets. The granite statue at the corner building is grinning. I suppose you know more about this than I do....
A man's voice recounts glimpses from his youth - girls, boys, an Opel car. His Grandad and the two-storey building that I pass when going down. It feels so different to listen to his story while walking, trying to spot the places that he is referring to (with my scarce local knowledge), compared to if I were sitting in an armchair at home and trying to imagine places. Am I walking at the same pace as he is?
When I reach Brahenpuisto park, I naturally expect to be guided through the lovely entrance to the park itself, but that is not the plan. I am told to take the straight footpath towards Piispankatu street, past the playground where children are playing and enjoying the sun. I can't even stop to linger because I was told not to use pause button but focus on walking and listening for the duration of the audio walk, about one hour.
This is so different compared to my usual walks when I change my pace every now and then, stop here and there. I am now moving to voice control, from one memory lane to another. I wonder which way I'll be told to turn next?
Take a left. The simply decorated iron fence brings me a woman's story about a visit inside it, with a little boy. I am sure there was no construction site when they first visited the area - I have to navigate through piles of building material in the large yard.
Finally, I manage to find my way to the old wooden gazebo that stands on a little mound at the side of the garden (or it used to be a garden before becoming a temporary building site). I smile secretly - although the gazebo is well hidden, I have managed to find it on an earlier visit to Kuopio, purely by accident, when I decided to do a bit of drifting. However, I can well relate to the story I'm hearing - it felt great to find this beautiful spot. 
The view from the lovely gazebo towards the Kuopio provincial government building isn't too good, thanks to the tall trees and the construction site between us, so for a while I simply listen to the woman's voice telling about the old days and some of the building's former, well-known inhabitants, the district governor Järnefelt's family. However, the voice tells me to continue so I have to find a way to move on...
I slip through the construction site fences and return to the area where there is free entry. Much better! I can finally see the stone building - and now it is much easier to imagine that this used to be the residence of the Järnefelt family whose children both became and were connected to important cultural personas, such as the a friend of a family, writer Juhani Aho.  The family's daughter Aino Järnefelt married composer Jean Sibelius. Next, I am guided to the other side and to the main entrance to imagine how impressive it must have been at the time to enter the house from the park.
Once again, the narrator changes. The man who shared some of his memories already earlier returns to tell about  a particular girl and the tall red brick building in front of me. Unfortunately, the story revolves around nylon stockings murders!
As I approach the passenger harbour, I start to focus on nicer things: the lovely view to lake Kallavesi, the old boats. However, there are exciting memories to share also from this place: the sawmill on the opposite shore sometimes caught fire in the winter and although it must have been an impressive sight from here, it was another horror story to people on the spot.
Around the corner, I am by an old flour mill. A young woman speaks, it is another busy day, no time to return a call, or another one. Until she gets a phone call that stops the clock. I can't help looking up. Will this place keep on bringing back the sad memories for her forever? Do I have such places with such memories?
The audio walk makes me think of what kind of memories would I have to share of different places if I were walking in my home town. Some places may make you regret things you did or didn't do, or acts of caring, or not caring. The former home of Finnish statesman Johan Vilhelm Snellman  was almost demolished some decades ago but luckily there were people who cared enough to save it and it now houses a museum.
At Snellman park, there is a chance for a bit of rest: I am instructed to sit down on this bench. I hear a story about a chance meeting of a woman and a man that lead to something more. Serendipity. They opted for an unusual method of getting to know each other which left something for chance. When I hear the story's end at the library a little while later, I wonder if someone decided to intervene... And now all that's left is a romantic mystery.  However, I see a notice above the hole through which you can return books to the library. You remain responsible for borrowed items even when they are lost. (Jos aineisto katoaa, olet edelleen vastuussa siitä.) Perhaps someone somewhere feels just a little bit guilty for intervening?
Each of the narrators of the audio walk have their own rhythm. Sometimes you can hear a woman's heels clicking or birdsong in the background. The story is moving and doesn't often let you stop in your tracks.When I reach this stone circle at Museokatu street, I look forward to a memory, but have none here myself nor is there one from the tape. It must be someone else's magic circle.
Although I keep a lookout on other things as well during the walk, the main focus remains on what I hear: human voice telling its story. My companions make me follow their voice straight ahead, turn at street corners, stop, take a look at this and that. It is as if I am walking a breadcrumb trail that only exists as a sound.
Where would I attach my own memories? The audio walk over, I hand back the headphones. The hour was spent with very different memories from different people's lives - joy, sorrow, romance, crime, mystery, life, death, as put together by Johanna Tuukkanen and Rebecca French. This was such a great way to experience a bit of Kuopio: more personal. Sadly, Seuraa minua audio walk was only available until 2 Sep, 2012 and it was a close call for me to be able to follow it, having heard about it pretty late in August.
Back at the Kuopio Art Museum, I enter the workshop room and attach a personal memory to Kuopio city map on the wall. Rakkauden polku (Path of Love) invites visitors to remember beautiful memories. I think: why not make a personal map of your home town, Path of Life, and attach any memories on it...
P.S. Thanks to hietzu for sharing her experience in Hurmioitunut blog (in Finnish only) a while back. Without her, I wouldn't have experienced this audio walk!


  1. Replies
    1. I agree. Hope to find something like this somewhere else also!