Monday, 26 November 2012

Tampere: A peek at Pispala

An absolutely gorgeous autumn sun shines on Pispala, Tampere and lures me towards the shore of lake Pyhäjärvi. I follow Isolähteenkatu street to the lakeside and pass a weird-looking handmade construction. A children's nature play ground under construction - Do not damage!, says the sign. All the "equipment" seems to be made of natural materials, with a huge spider's web woven of rags.
There is a light breeze blowing from lake Pyhäjärvi. I take a right turn because it will allow me to enjoy the joys of Pispala much longer - I'll probably need to return towards town the same way...
What I see above me on the footpath is no ordinary mess of branches but a work of art. I am glad this wooden "ball" is hanging high enough so no one can reach it without a ladder because it is made of kiehinen which are great when lighting up a fire!
Quite a few of the rowing boats have already been turned upside down for the winter but some are still ready for use. No wonder, the lake seems far from ready to freeze just yet. I'd love to go on the lake! But not without a boat of course, the water is already freezing cold.
I enjoy the afternoon light and take a look at my right, my left, my right, my left. On the left there is the lake, on the right the famous Pispala with its houses, gardens and history. Suddenly I meet a sign that says Kävelytestin kääntöpaikka, or Turning point for walking test. Glad this is no test but an ordinary walk so I can keep going.
A group of rowan trees brightens the side of the footpath. Suddenly I realize there is something odd in this particular tree; the color of the berries is not that of the typical rowan trees in Finland; this is more yellow. My observation is confirmed when I look at its neighbours which are a different colour, the "usual" one.
Autumn is a great time for house-spotting because after the leaves have fallen, you can see all the details of the buildings and gardens so much better. Like the nice downstairs windows that are hidden by the Victoria creeper from early summer to the autumn.
I turn to Uittotunnelinkatu (Timber rafting tunnel street) above which there is a wall made of natural rocks. Two dogs bark at me, to kill the time on this lazy afternoon when I enter the shadow-laden footpath.
The trees are gathered round a ditch-like opening at the end of which there is a tunnel - a timber rafting tunnel that connects lake Näsijärvi on the other side of Pispalanharju ridge to this side and lake Pyhäjärvi. I get even more surprised when I look down towards lake Pyhäjärvi and see a set of rails that lead towards the lake.
I wonder what kind of system has been at the receiving end of the log rafting tunnel, moving the logs that swam through to the open-air vehicle on the rails? The remains of the vehicle are still there.
Next I simply have to visit lake Pyhäjärvi shore just to see where the rails end. In the lake, of course, and the person who owns the white rowing boat - already turned upside down for the winter - is confident that no logs will pass this way anymore.
I follow the footpath by the shore back towards Tahmela. When I have reached the place where I first entered the lakeshore I spot a white ceramic bird nesting on a granite pillar. It is only then that I notice what house the bird is guarding: Kurpitsatalo, or Pumpkin House. The yellow wooden house seems quiet but the notice board outside its entrance reveals that there have been loads of activities here lately, and not just at the children's nature playground next door. 
Kurpitsaliike (Pumpkin Movement) has its headquarters in Kurpitsatalo. The movement defends local Pispala heritage and supports allotments for growing your own vegetables. There are still a couple of the season's last plants and herbs that haven't yet given in to winter.
I keep on walking, via Tahmela beach towards the streets from which I can choose which way to take to the top of Pispalanharju ridge. There are so many houses, ranging from the small and large old ones to modern ones that have been built between the original houses. It is hard to imagine what it must have looked like in here all those decades ago, before huge windows became fashionable.
When I've almost reached Hirvikatu street, I notice a pair of white, happy looking circus horses dancing on the porch. It would be nice to get a closer look!
I walk around the house to find out that Hirvitalo (Moose House) is a real art house, a centre of contemporary art. I boldly step inside the porch to try the door but almost immediately hear that there is no entrance before the next exhibition opens.
In the garden of Hirvitalo there are quite a few letters, made of fabric, hanging from the branches of the apple tree. I wonder if there are messages inside? If so, who are they for? Can or will someone open them sometime? When I spot a traffic sign on the grass - lying down - that states you are not allowed to walk here I begin to wonder...
The Center of Contemporary Art of Pispala showcases quite a few works of art in the garden, ranging from a number of letters (that can be moved about to form words) attached on a garden shed wall - I read "PALJON SYKSYÄ", or much autumn as the translation would be, to different artworks beneath the apple tree. The wooden boat is beautifully carved but it doesn't look like extremely seaworthy. Or even lakeworthy.
I really need to start walking uphill. Should I choose a steep street or the steps? At the last minute, I take a couple of steps aside and almost fall for a different route, along the nice looking Varronkatu...
However, at this point there is no way I could ignore the famous Steps of Pispala. They are a must! And there is a significantly larger number of steps than there is for example at Harju steps in Jyväskylä, but then again, I am not in a hurry.
Step by step I climb higher and lake Pyhäjärvi seems to be even further away, so low. You really get a sense of moving up here!
...Until there are only few more steps left and I'm finally on top of Pispalanharju ridge!
I feel very content now that I've walked up here until I discover the steps continue even further. However, it is not such a bad revelation because they start heading down from the top of the ridge. Another, private set of Steps of Pispala (Pispalan portaat) seems to have been installed by the side of the real thing, but unlike the ones I'm treading towards, the private steps are fiercely guarded. 
On my way down I stop to gaze at the view towards lake Näsijärvi and Särkänniemi with its tall observation tower, Näsinneula. They seem to be so low...
I keep my fingers crossed. There is a museum for a local writer / poet Lauri Viita who lived in the area. However, I am not in luck; the museum is open only in summertime.
It means that I will stick to my role as an external observer. I simply have to go and check out the weird-looking red structure that you can see for miles: The Shot Tower (Haulitorni) which was not used by snipers for shooting people but instead for making shot balls of lead!
I suppose I need to turn and start heading for the centre of Tampere from Pispala - the light will fade soon. There are still a couple of local landmarks left. The local grill Vaakon nakki is more than 50 years old and keeps going strong but I am here too early to get to sample hot sausages (or anything else, for that matter!) in the cosy open-air tables. Covered with frost, of course...
Pauppa (not "kauppa" which means a shop in Finnish) houses the artistic Pau house (no idea when it keeps its doors open) which apparently sells some artful artefacts. I sense a positive vibe towards Pispala here! 
The restaurant Pispalan Pulteri has been here for decades, since 1968. And guess what - the name of the restaurant is derived from Johnny Hart's comic strip B.C. which has been translated as 'Pulteri' in Finnish.  Suddenly I think about my childhood and reading the comic strip in the Apu magazine at my Granny's.
Finally I see the mustard walls of Rajaportin sauna, the most famous sauna of Pispala. This will be a great finish for my walk. Just imagine a walk at Pispala - a touch of nature, a bit of architecture in the form of houses from different periods, art, literary history, a chance to pop in for a snack/meal or a drink, and a relaxing end for it at a proper sauna... However, better check when the sauna is open because I am out of luck and find only a closed door in front of me today. Need to return another time to experience the Rajaportti sauna, aged +100 years!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Espoo: Jaume Plensa in the midst of dreams

Jaume Plensa: Day. Night. (2012).
It is a dark but far from stormy night. I head towards the most interesting light in Tapiola, Espoo, Finland: a colour-changing statue sitting high up in the air that looks exactly like its cousins in Jaume Plensa's artwork called Conversation in Nice that he has created at Place Masséna in Nice, France. However, there doesn't seem to be too much conversation in the air by the main entrance to the exhibition centre Weegee. The statue on top of the pillar in Espoo is all alone whereas in Nice there are seven companions who communicate between themselves in the language of colours.
I enter the exhibition centre and get a warm welcome: there is free entry on Wednesday evenings at 6-8 pm. My target is the Spanish-born artist Jaume Plensa's (1955-) exhibition at EMMA, Espoo Museum of Modern Art on the upper floor.
Jaume Plensa: Nuage IV (2012).
I am captivated by the almost egg-shaped cloud that consists entirely of letters and characters in different languages. Letters join together to create words, words move you, you get carried away by your thoughts and it all becomes a story.
As always, dreams and words cast their shadows that each have their own stories.
Jaume Plensa: In the Midst of Dreams (2009).
The large, silent (but perhaps not mute) heads rest on a bed of white rocks. Despite the outward calm, I can sense anxiety inside them, in the midst of dreams. There are few words on their faces, such as ignorance, wrath, desire. Am I reading the words inside their heads or what someone else is thinking when he or she sees them?

On the other side of the large exhibition hall there are a couple of flat human figures hanging in the air, with thoughts curling above them. Imagination is more important than knowledge. The man sitting on a bench is wondering Enough or too much? The walker states Exuberance is beauty. It is so easy to move very slowly from one work of art to another and let it get to you.
Jaume Plensa: Glückauf? (2004).
There are few visitors at this hour and the atmosphere is that of peace. The curtains that are suspended before the back wall consist of letters but what is their story? What do they say? At first I have no idea but when I get closer to the gently turning strings of letters, I realize that there are indeed words. I walk to the left and start mumbling to my self, hoping that nobody will hear me as I read slowly from top to bottom.  Article 1 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. 

Declaration of Human Rights.  It has taken a lot of work and patience to build this work of art but it will take so much longer to see the declaration become true.

I slip beneath the white figures sitting on the walls, their heads facing down. Hear no evil. The dark rooms invite me, only max 10 people at a time, and the eerie, white heads hanging in the air, lit so beautifully, silence me to study their faces on which few words are written. Day, Night, Moon, Sun. Someone's face spells Air, on another I read Poetry. In the other dark room next door the little heads and torsos have other stories written all over them. Panic. Stress. Mania. Life is not but a dream.

I descend the stairs and leave the quiet of the exhibition hall, to meet the happy noises of children who are just getting ready to leave after a birthday party at the museum café. Dreaming of what?
I turn my eyes off the concrete path towards the lawn and the trees. Some of them are kept warm by knit graffiti. Somebody's fulfilled his or her dream by dressing the tree trunks.
I follow the quiet Ahertajankatu street back towards the center of Tapiola and its maze of shops and buildings that are far less pleasing to the eye than the thoughtful artwork I just met. My thoughts escape these autumn surroundings and fly towards the Mediterranean and another work by Jaume Plensa. Nomade sits on the bastion by the sea in Antibes, France, having stopped on his travels to gaze at the sea, his body formed of large white letters. I remember stepping inside Nomade, sitting down, turning my eyes towards the azure sea and thinking about where I am, where will I go next.

Thanks, EMMA.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Jyväskylä: Kangasvuori nature trail

It is the morning of All Saint's Day in Jyväskylä and I am heading for Kangasvuori nature trail with a slight worry in my mind. I have heard the news that the water tower on top of Kangasvuori hill has collapsed earlier this morning so I can't be certain that it is possible to follow the nature trail. I arrive at the start of the trail by the forest behind Huhtasuo school and study first the mysteriously named HH 2000 (cross country skiing club Huhtasuon Hiihto) which doesn't mention the nature trail. However, the nature trail (luontopolku) sign can be found only a couple of meters away and there is no warning about the area being closed to public.
Kangasvuori nature trail is about three kilometers long and it runs round Kangasvuori hill. It is recommended to follow it anti-clockwise. I expect to meet both dry and wet ground, especially now that it is raining. The nature trail crosses a wide footpath and then continues along the slope.
When the trail crosses a small road there is a new channel where the water has rushed through in the early hours of the morning.
Only few steps away, there is also water flowing down but not as fast. I am sure that this area is wet especially in the springtime but the collapse of the watertower must have changed something here as well.
I tread through a beautiful green spruce wood before arriving at a lichen-covered cliff. From there you can see some houses close by; the trail almost touches the closest back yards. Someone else is walking on the path. A woman is returning home, carrying an armful of juniper branches taken from the woods. Well, well. According to Everyman's right in Finland, you are allowed to pick berries and mushrooms in the forest even if you don't own the land (not from someone else's garden though!) but that right does not include damaging trees.
This rock has travelled with huge blocks of ice during the ice age. However, it isn't big enough to offer shelter from the rain.
There is an unofficial open fireplace by Vuorilampi lake, by a large rock. A friendly soul has been kind enough to bring firewood here but it looks slightly wet. No problem; I wasn't expecting to be able to make a fire here anyway.
Raindrops keep dropping on me and lake Vuorilampi. The worn but steady, tiny jetty serves also those who want to step in for a swim. Not me, not now... 
Standing on the duckboards by lake Vuorilampi, I look carefully around me. What are those little red dots in the grass?
But of course - cranberries (in Finnish: karpalo)! They are actually tiny but it is great to sample some of these late autumn berries, although their taste isn't too sweet.
The ground ahead of me continues wet. The trail is sometimes very worn which may be due to mountain bikes also using it, by the look of things.  No worries though, the duckboards take you safely across the most wet parts. A sign tells about the duckboards; on this trail some of them are made of larch, some of impregnated wood. The pond next to the trail is still partly covered with ice and slush although the first snow has already melted from the forest.
While the trail ascends slowly, the ground gets more dry. Yet it stays green and becomes even more beautiful, beneath the tall spruces.
The mist in the air creates an eerie atmosphere in the woods of Kangasvuori hill.
This must be the most gorgeous area in Kangasvuori nature trail; there is something magical in this place. I breath deeply and simply enjoy the moment, wondering what else this forest has to offer when I hear the sound of tiny twigs breaking under somebody's light steps a bit further. Fast light steps. An orientereer is running happily through the woods.
I am guided to turn to the right to a scenic spot. Need to be careful by the side of the cliff though. This rainy, misty day offers a somewhat limited view.
The nature trail winds slowly upwoards before it arrives close to the now fallen Kangasvuori water tower. There are yellow tapes that prohibit entrance to the damaged area so I have to make a detour by following the tapes.
I soon get to the road that leads to the sad remains of the water tower. There are blocks of concrete and trash everywhere. Where does the nature trail continue? I take a couple of quick steps to the area that is cordoned off, just to check where I should be heading. The small wooden bridge has partly collapsed but at least I know which way to go.
I return immediately to the safe area and continue my walk along the yellow tapes. It is easy to see how furious the huge streams of water - about 2,000 000 liters - were when flowing down in the forest, making angry wounds on the ground. It was lucky that the unforeseen accident of the water tower's collapse took place in the dark, at 6 am. Had it happened later, in the daylight, there would have been people taking a walk or jogging in the flooded area.
The remaining part of the water tower looks like a tower on a chess board. The water was flowing also this way in the morning. I scan the scenery around me for the nature trail but can't see any trail marks. The young birches grow so close together that walking through them would be difficult so I make another detour in the forest to find the rest of the path.
It only takes few minutes to find the nature trail because I'm walking in the right direction. I follow the path upwards for a last look at the now closed area.
I am very close to the end of the (now muddy)trail. The other people who I see on the nature trail are cursing their shoes which are not waterproof...
The last trail guide has attracted some unwanted attention from a passer-by but it is still possible to read most of the text. People used to be gatherers, hunters, shepherds before turning to agriculture and eventually living in large communities. What is our true landscape? Urban surroundings, something else? Do you hear the call of the sounds and smells of nature, the call of the wilderness? Can you resist it? The man-made urban construction proved its weakness but nature keeps going strong.