(Revised) MEMORIES of CHILDHOOD in LAPLAND


'Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us.'
Oscar Wilde "The Importance of Being Earnest"

You might think that I come from the sticks or that I was born and grew up in the middle of nowhere but that is not the case at all, as there was quite an influx of travellers to Tornio Valley, Lapland, already in the 17th and 18th centuries of the Common Era. In 1736-1737, for example, came an expedition to Tornio Valley to determine the shape of the earth. The result of these measurements was that for the first time the maps of that time included the Arctic Circle! I have truly enjoyed being and interacting with persons of foreign extraction and generally with all things international all my life and no wonder as my family roots go to several nations as well. It came sort of naturally by the way the life was there in Tornio Valley being the border and frontier country. The Finnish television did not reach that far north that time, so all we could watch with clear reception was the Swedish television so that I am well used to watching television without the subtitles into Finnish and ‘hearing’ words in a language which has been an excellent aid in learning a whole lot of other foreign languages that I have done ever since.

Ylitornio, the place where I was born and where I grew up is also where The Arctic Circle goes right through the villages of Ylitornio, on the Finnish side of the Tornio River* and Övertorneå, on the Swedish side in Lapland. It is said to be the most peaceful border on the globe. This latitude also marks the southernmost parallel at which one can experience the Polar Day – when the sun does not set – another name for it is the Midnight Sun between the 15.6-7.7. In fact, the sun does not go-to-bed there for several weeks over the summer months. It is also hard for the humans to hit the sack, as it is simply too sunny right through the night to even feel tired. We had the perfect excuse for not having to go to bed early as we could say: ‘it is not dark yet!!’ The opposite time is The Polar Night that begins on September 23, at the autumnal equinox culminating on December 21, when the sun does not rise above the horizon for 24 hours – and it is dark all day. Talk about the TWILIGHT ZONE. During the Kaamos -the dark period- everything is in these fabulous shades of blues, pinks and lilacs. It is terribly picturesque altogether. I am quite certain, that you would have seen photographs of Lapland in these gorgeously soft pastel colours, even though it did not cross your mind at all, that they were taken during the Kaamos. It could be that the talent, for sleeping anywhere, anytime for me, comes from having lived in Lapland. Finland also is very bright all-over in the summer – not just Lapland. The only difference is that the sun does not set but stays above the horizon in Lapland and in Finland it eventually sets – maybe 2-3 am and then rises up nearly immediately back!!

Another astonishing thing were the Nordic Lights, the Aurora Borealis, which were very common and at their most stunning at this latitude; and, especially, when there were no street lighting to hinder the prime seat viewing of the same. These lights would be in massive thick sheets that covered the whole sky in all the rainbow colours and more or less 360 degrees – all around one. I think that is where my deep love for colours comes from, actually. Did you know that Aurora Borealis has a sound that is majestically loud and absolutely, thoroughly awesome, though not scaring? Is it not true that light is sound, and sound is light?!

In this border country where I grew up, as anywhere in a situation alike, a special, local culture, both Swedish and Finnish has emerged; yet it is somehow distinct from both. A majority of the residents speak Tornio Valley Finnish – Meänkieli – the native language and the bearer of the culture which is also my own first language. Culture, that is distinctive in religion, in the local cuisine with its eastern influences – spices used for example – even though it is on the western border to Sweden. The local population uses several languages, Swedish, Finnish, Saami and Meänkieli, ’Our Language’ – that is what the name means in English – is a language spoken in both Swedish and Finnish Tornio Valley. Living in the border region has given the people of the valley a characteristic mentality and a genuine pride – a deep awareness of who they are, rather than the ‘nose-up- in the air’ -variety. The local population is meant to be even more fanatical about hot-hot sauna baths than the rest of the Finns. Well, one must try, in any which way, to keep warm – somehow! The temperature difference between summer and winter is roughly 60ºC. Whopping or what?!!

The coldest temperature in Ylitornio that I have experienced in my entire life was all of -44ºC!! The first snow, in my childhood in Lapland, came in September and the snow was all gone by mid May! Each year there was a bet with great prizes for the person, who guessed the day and the hour when the ice would break in the Tornio River. I remember that the breaking ice made a terribly loud and powerful noise or sound that lasted for days and days until all the ice was driven by the strong currents to the sea. Just think about the length of the winter – my reaction to that was that it was insane and that I wanted to live in warmer climes. I was crying, because I was so frozen as I did not have any extra insulation on me, i.e. I did not have the layers of fat to pad me up. The siblings and those around me at the time thought, that it was rather invigorating with all that chill ‘n snow. Not me! To think of it, the snow was on the ground for best part of the year aka Sept/Oct – mid May!! INSANE.

I remember that the summers in Lapland were so cool that it did not get over 20 C degrees hardly ever at that time, yet we did so much swimming in there year after year and all other outdoor things. It must have been in order to keep from being chilly! We just kept moving and running like anything!! Then when finished with the playing, went indoors and we were drinking copious amounts of hot chocolate. Internal central-heating, eh? My childhood memories of the summers are full of fun, activities and playing games of all kinds.

There was a boy in my class, that I think am, almost 100 per cent sure was a Saami. He looked like one very clearly. Anyhow, he did mention me how many reindeer his family owned. (Years later somebody ‘offered’ a million camels for me; this Lapland chap did not name the number of reindeer he was ready to part for me hand!! I do kind of wonder that how many beasts he would have been ready to part with, actually. lol) That would be the same as saying publicly what one’s bank balance is. Later on in my life, as I pondered that boy and his tormenting of me with tacks and stuff on my seat and generally harassing me, was that he fancied me. It did not hit me at the time, for the eleven-year-old boy’s tokens for love are rather painful, so that one would not put them into the category of love in a hurry! Would you?! He would sit behind me every other month, a month, that is still in my memory as sore; that is, my behind was tender with those sharp objects he’d leave on my chair as I would plunk myself down without looking over and over again, and OUCH…!! Sore. He sure got me attention: I was ready to trounce ‘im every other month to pulp!!! Ladylike**, I know to say that. Heehe That must be where we get the saying ‘Love Hurts’. Sure! If you think that after all these years my first memory of him is still PAIN, SORE etc., – you can be sure that it was VERY PAINFUL. Why the lads just cannot say their affections to one with nice words instead of pulling one’s hair, causing pain with all sorts of imaginative ways and so on is beyond us girls? Any theories/explanations gratefully received.

When we moved down to the Southern Finland, our life in Lapland and in Tornio Valley came to a very sudden end: it is by far the most dramatic move of my life. It was HORRID to have to move away from there. Southern Finland at the time was very strange and more ‘closed’ as introverted than Lapland, where masses of tourist from all over the world came all the time, and also living by the border made people more interesting and whatnot. And I sure have moved a lot in my life; from country to country and from a place to another, at times, at break neck speed! This is the most dreadful change, the hardest breaking away and the most costly move in my entire life. No other move has come even close to what this one was.

What are Your Memories? Tis for now. Riihele xx.

* The Tornio River is 520 kilometres long – that is 324 miles – and in certain places 3 kilometres wide – that is 1.87 miles – one of the few rivers in Europe that is not harnessed for electricity.

**I looked like a small doll, but I hadn’t got the dolly way about me for I just loved climbing roofs/trees, playing football et cetera more than the girley stuff. I do have four siblings, so I wasn’t the only daughter. That photo is Ikkle Rii. Cute,eh?!!

Tourists always complain about the mosquitoes, but the thing with the mozzies is that they do not bother the locals as they will only tuck into the strangers. I never remember once being that much bothered by them in my childhood. They know the blood of a Finn in the south and the even more exotic blood of a foreigner is so much more juicy & tender than the Lapland people’s, I reckon…!!

Clan Gathers & Gatherings

RIVER TORNIO

”The lack of emotional security of our American* young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit.
No two people – no mere father and mother – as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born.”

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973)
Pulitzer Prize for the Novel (1932)
Nobel Prize in Literature (1938)

It has been both fashionable and popular to have these meetings of people related to one another in Finland, and our clan, for example, has been having these gatherings for over twenty years, but for me the Clan Gathering of summer 2004 was my first ever. It was amazing to be together with about 100 plus of one’s own flesh and blood! Our clan is much, much larger than that and spread all over the globe. This number – 100 of those present – is really only chicken feed compared to ALL the relatives that belong to our clan, although for whatever reason they did not come to the gathering in Lapland, nor to the latest gathering we had last weekend in the Northern Finland. The Clan Gathering of 2004 was in our home village of Ylitornio, Lapland, and this year it was not as far north.

The photo was taken in the middle of the night and I think it was about or after midnight. It was so bright with the sun still not gone to bed. The sun does not go-to-bed there for several weeks over the summer months. It is also hard for the humans to hit the sack, as it is simply too sunny right through the night to even feel tired. It was so exiting to be back in our home territory, where we were born and where we grew up. You might be aware of this, that Lapland is called the Land of the Midnight Sun. Yes, all of Finland is claiming that title, as a matter of fact, though not quite so! SORRY, Suomi !! That is Finland in Finnish.

I have posted this photograph as my very first photograph in my very first blog, because this is where my story began all those years ago. My younger sister took it in Ylitornio, the place where I was born and where I grew up ’til I was eleven years old. Or should I say, as it says, in my passport, though in fact, I was born in a town nearby called, Tornio. The area in Lapland , where these places are situated, is right at the Swedish border. It is said to be the most peaceful border on the globe. There is great action happening across the Väylä – the Tornio River- that separates the villages of Finnish Ylitornio and the Swedish side of the village called – Övertorneå .

I have been back since the move from Lapland in Ylitornio a good few times and one of the times we stayed in a cottage of a resort there for a spring holiday. I had thought that I had forgotten how to ski with no chance to ski in other countries I had lived in – but on that break, I realized that what one learns while young, stays in the noggin well! I did enjoy the skiing at that time, for I used to dislike the skiing at school because it was terrible to nearly kill oneself with all that exercise and then after showering, having to go into the class! Phew. I would have loved to be able to just chill and do après ski…

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family:
Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
Jane Howard

The following visit there was not until this Clan Gathering our clan had there in the summer of 2004. It was the most interesting time to meet so many of the cousins and the other relatives that I had even never seen before. The emphasis of that gathering was on our branch of the clan – that is my maternal granddad. Our locally living cousins had prepared a most detailed and varied programme to take in as much as possible of the life and happenings of his life into it.

It was brilliant, ooh so marvellous, to hear my first language and old dialect – Meän kieli – again after all these years! We did not call that dialect with that name while living in there, it was only known then as “to speak with the letter H” or something like that. Only recently have I heard that new name for the language. Our cousins used it with relish in their guiding the party all around Ylitornio and Tornio, – on the Finnish side of the river, and Haparanda and Övertorneå – on the Swedish side of the River Tornio. We had a delicious dinner in Aavasaksa and a tour of the site and plenty of photographs were taken there. It is a most wonderful feeling to be part of a family, a clan and people that have common roots and common blood. Yes, it does give one a marvellous sense of security of belonging and not being an alien in an alien land nor a stranger in a strange country!

I was told by one of my slightly older cousins that I used to speak, as he put it – a colourful language – when I was small!! That means that I was effing and blinding** as the Irish say, like a twenty-stone dock worker. This cousin reminded me of an incident that happened when I was six-years old: our Granny had given us cousins, about ten to fifteen of us, just a few pence to buy sweets. All the other grandchildren of hers were overwhelmed with thankfulness, except me.***

In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past,
bridge to our future.

Alex Haley
Tis for now – Riihele xx.

* I would say: The whole Western world, and not just America!

** = cursing and swearing
*** What I did state after receiving that morsel of a pocket money from poor Granny was:

“One cannot even buy s**t with this!!” We, as in my siblings and I, were used to receiving much bigger pocket monies. So, knowing what one could get with money …. My, my what a brat!! I remember that our usually so patient and kind to me Granny went ballistic and just screamed for help to the other grown-ups.

My HOME Is Where My HEART Is

WALLED GARDEN

Sometimes it does feel like this picture*
that we are looking from the outside in…

‘My Home is where My Heart is.’ Tis for me, for after living in many countries and cultures, it really has been the only way to survive to an extent. Lapland is the country and place where I always say that I am from, more so than from Finland, actually.

It is easy-peasy to move from A to B geographically ‘in body’ with our suitcases of clothes and whatnot, but it takes a long long time for our mind, attitude, emotions, thinking and heart to follow!! It applies to within one’s own land as well moving from one part of the land to another, of course.

Tis my own experience moving from country to country and culture to culture, and also moving from Lapland where I was born and where I grew up to other parts of Finland; so I have learned to give myself time, space and place to adjust in peace to the new or as is now the case, back to the ‘old’ for as you know, I am back in Finland presently – for how long do not know, yet.

It all takes its time. Period.

Happiest, as in the most fulfilled personally, is the immigrant/emigrant who has learned to take the best of both – or all as the case may be – countries and cultures one left and combine them with the new, so that this becomes such an added richness into one’s life in every way possible which is priceless, methinks.

It is perfectly normal and ‘within the norm’ to feel like the way you do at present over there as an alien in an alien land.

To be ‘processed’ into the new and to personally process the new strange land: its language, its culture, its landscape, its people, its media, its sense of humour, et cetera; Yes, it is a process and rather painful at times, I think.

BUT SO MUCH WORTH IT!

The crux of the matter will be again when and if you change back to where you came from or to another culture and country – the same process will be repeated… Not a bad thing at all, at all, for it makes us take stock of our own values, life & living and ‘the very being of our person’ that is you and that is me.

Now when I am back here in Finland – well – it has not been easy to settle back in here. The hardest thing to me is the weather. It being more on the freezer style than anything else! But I am determined to make the best of this situation, this clime, and all the things that it is now to a strength. It is not Finland per se that makes it difficult to settle in; it is life. Life, in every country and culture has things that take their time to get into the gear, to get used to and to be familiar.

That is why I am patient, I am giving myself time to adjust, to ingest all that is here and now. It is the only way, I have learned. It can take years to become somewhat ‘in’ in the things in the new culture and life. It is not usually an instant happening; though, one can feel that instance nearly immediately arriving in some place. That is the way I felt in Israel, I had absolutely no culture shock, no feeling of being an alien, not a thing. I just jumped in and ‘BINGO’ – I was at home! 

It is one’s own attitude to everything – even to oneself that matters.

Tis for now. Rii xx

PS.
You know what the greatest shock was in Ireland for me and the next one to it?!

That it was SOOO C-O-L-D in Ireland INSIDE the houses and that the coffee was soooo BAD! Real bad as in AWFUL then when I arrived there in 1980! Now it has improved.

* The photo is by me taken in Ireland summer 2006.

Memories: Outdoor Games

OUTDOOR games

‘Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.’ (Oscar Wilde)


I want to write down some of my memories of the lasting sort and of the past things on the memory lane about my life and things in general in Lapland, in the Southern Finland, in Ireland and in the other places I have lived in.

I remember that the summers in Lapland were so cool that it did not get over 20 C degrees hardly ever at that time, yet we did so much swimming in there year after year and all other outdoor things. It must have been in order to keep from being chilly! My childhood memories of the summers are full of fun, activities and playing games of all kinds. The kids in the large village, where we lived, loved coming over to us to play so there were always crowds taking part in these games. Also, our cousins and relatives used to gather in the homestead, so we were never short of full teams for various team sports.

One of the games that we called the ‘Tin’ that was especially tricky if one was the one to having to name each player and this was the game that we all played much. The game was where the ‘sitter’ ie., the namer, had to be a very fast runner in order to get to the ‘tin’ after spotting the players in their hiding places and having named them one by one he/she had to run like a lighting to the tin. The sitter and the named player(s) both/all run to get to the tin, that is the marking post, to mark their point; sitter to get the named player out of the game and the player to kick the tin into the high heavens and free the crowd!


Oh, that I used to hate that particular game! For whatever reason I was the one – seemed to be like – always, the sitter with me fast legs and sprinting ability. After a good while into the game – like hours, I’m telling you – I would yell: ‘I am quits with this thing! I hate it and I don’t even know the names of the half the people here! I am not playing.’ And off I trotted. The funny thing is that nobody but nobody would want to be the sitter after I left and the whole game came to a stand still.

The rounders and the Finnish Baseball, a variant of the US version, were and still are my absolute favourites in team sports with the football. They were the games that I could have played ad infinitum without complaints or boredom ever coming from me lips!
What kind of outdoor games did you guys play when you were small? Do you know this game, that I absolutely hated?

Tis for now. Riihele xx

 

de Maupertuis, Science and Tornio Valley

MAP OF LAPLAND

There was quite an influx of travellers to Tornio Valley in the 17th and 18th centuries of the common era. Several very famous or should I say, some who became, even more famous after their journey to this part of the globe. In 1736-1737 came an expedition to Tornio Valley to determine the shape of the earth. An argument between the scientists had arisen as to whether the earth was flattened at the poles or whether it was extended – prolate – at these points. There was also under discussion as what kind of shape the earth would be – whether it was an orange or a lemon as I would put these scientific terms: oblate and prolate in layman’s terms of everyday language! Such a droll to be a scientist, methinks…*

The French Cartesians claimed that the latter of the above was the case, whereas Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) held the view, that the earth was flattened – oblate – at the poles. Newton’s claim was set forth in his Principia (Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, 1687). There developed a scientific dispute between London and Paris over the issue. To resolve the dilemma and to find out the facts, Academie Francaise – the French Academy of Science – commissioned two expeditions; one to Peru and the other to Tornio Valley.

A gentleman named, Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698-1759) was the leader of the expedition sent by the French King Louis XV, to Tornio Valley in 1736-1737. Maupertuis was a supporter of Newton’s theory. Anders Celsius – the one where the Centigrade comes from – was one who strongly influenced the French Expedition to take place in Tornio Valley while visiting Paris.

To enable to get the triangulation – the meridian points – measured, a north and south line one degree long was needed. The River Tornio and the mountains surrounding it were just the ticket – were perfectly suited for these measurements. Aavasaksa mountain was the central point for the whole business of getting these triangulation points. Other meridian points that were locally used include the Tornio Church steeple and Pello further north. The party of the expedition had quite an adventure in their task as long treks and dramatic boat journeys were required to do the job.


And the results to the crux – to the puzzle? Sir Isaac won the argument, as the earth is FLATTENED at the poles. The expedition was concluded in Tornio where a map with the finalised calculations was drawn up. Further research was carried out by other scientists. This scientific journey had a major impact in Europe making de Maupertuis to an even more notable scientist and an expert on Lapland.

The other result of these measurements was that for the first time the maps of that time included the Arctic Circle! In the end it was found that de Maupertuis’s measurements did not tally exactly and so later measurements found the shortfall and corrected his findings. Nowadays, the satellites have replaced the men on foot in these matters!

An earlier expedition by an Italian called Francesco Negri took place in 1663. Negri travelled from Danzig in Preussia via Stockholm to Tornio Valley. He wrote about his experiences and about the life in the north of which he became very knowledgeable. He wrote about the Finns and of animals such as reindeer, as well.

Then came the visit of Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778). He is known in Sweden as Carl von Linne. He is still today, a very well-known scientist and a writer. He was a famous botanist and also a notable physician, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of taxonomy – the Systema Naturae. Linnaeus is also considered to be one of the fathers of the modern ecology. The Academy of Science at Uppsala commissioned Linnaeus to explore Northern Lapland with its exotic life style of the natives and their state of health.

Yet another two exploration parties came to Tornio Valley in the form of Guiseppe Acerbi, (1773-1846) the Italian, and Edward D. Clarke, (1769-1822) the Englishman. Both of these men wrote about their scientific expeditions to this part of the globe. The year was 1798 – the year of the major upheavals in France, and the following year in 1799, Napoleon (1769-1821) came in to power. Signor Acerbi – the Italian – was accompanied by a Swedish officer called A.F. Sjöldebrand, who is renown for his illustrations of the Tornio Valley landscape.

Tis for now – until the next time, Riihele xx.

* If you take a look at the link on oblate – you will see a picture that to me definitely looks like an ORANGE!! So not a lemon but more of an orange. Hmmm… Must tink about it, now.

Lapland, Tornio Valley and Childhood – Part3

PIKKURII

Riihele at the age of around 4 in Ylitornio, Lapland.

Now I will say a few things of the war called the Finnish War between Russia and Sweden, and other wars and also, other things about the life and culture in the Tornio Valley – as seen through my eyes.

So – that war of 1808-1809 was the very last war that Sweden as a country has suffered while Finland, on the other hand, has been forced to go through several wars such as the Civil War of 1918 and the Russian-Finnish Wars, because there were two wars during the WW II. The first one is called The Winter War, which began in November 1939. It lasted until March 1940, when both of the countries signed a peace treaty where Finland agreed to cede 10 per cent of its territory and 20 per cent of her industrial production to the Soviet Union. This is a compiled account in English about the events of that war.

The amazing thing about that war was that even though the Russians outnumbered the Finns by three to one, the battle was not a walk-over for the Russians looking at the statistics of the casualties and other details. Stalin and his cohorts had thought that it would be just that. The arrogance and attitude of superiority of the Soviets, was such that they started the war with the marching bands and soldiers arm in arm singing stirring Soviet anthems while advancing towards the Finnish lines!! What they had planned, was a short and sharp victory. But God had decided otherwise. My future would have been very, very different to what it has been, IF, Finland had been a state within the USSR. A state like Estonia, our ‘relatives’. There would have been NO freedom to travel to begin with, so I would have been ‘stuck’ and not being able to go anywhere at all!
The Continuation War is the war that was fought between the years 1941-1944. The Lapland War against the former German allies was battled from September 1944 until April 1945. The reason for this war, was the Soviet demand that all German troops were to be expelled from Finland. The task of expelling was made particularly hard because of the other simultaneous Soviet demand of demobilizing the major part of the Finnish armed forces.

The withdrawing Germans used the scorched earth tactics, so that more than one third of the dwellings were destroyed in Lapland. The provincial capital, Rovaniemi, was burned to the ground. This is the town where my mother was born and where she spent her first few years before the family moved to the Tornio Valley in the 1930’s. Rovaniemi was rebuilt after war and the world famous Finnish architect called, Alvar Aalto was very much at forefront of the same. All of mother’s eldest (five) brothers were in the war. And ALL came back – alive. The horrors of the trauma of war and gore, live on the psyche of the Finnish male – passed from generation to generation. My own ‘concrete’ evidence of the Lapland War, were the bullet holes on the flagpole, in the centre of the yard of the houses, where we lived in Ylitornio.

There are a few books on this subject of the Lapland War: the first one is by a colonel called Wolf H. Halsti. His book is in Finnish called – LAPIN SODASSA. That translated into English is like this: IN THE WAR OF LAPLAND. I do not know if it has been publiced in English or any other language. He writes very honestly and pointedly about the whole sad affair. There is a lady who wrote a book about her life in Lapland during these times of hardship, called, Laila Kanon and the book of hers is called – STADIN friidu ja metsien mies, jatkosodan rakkaustarina”. (WSOY 1997) The title in English would translate into something like: “Town Chick and a Man of the forest, a Love Story during the Continuation War.”

The property losses, at the time, were calculated to be at the 1945 US$ as 300 million dollars. HUGE amount! In addition to the financial losses, was the human distress and suffering. The number of the refugees within Lapland was 100,000. My mother with her parents and siblings, that were still at home, fled across the Tornio River over to the Swedish Övertorneå. Karelian refugees were numbered as over 425,000.

I don’t obviously have any personal memories of any of the above, but indirect ones, I do. What do I mean? Well, of that Civil War, I have my grandparents memories and view points that I still quite clearly do remember. In that war there were the Whites against the Reds. It is fairly simple as to figure out what these colours mean. Yes, they mean the hues of one’s political standing. My grandparents, on the father’s side that come from Karelia, were on the White side. I do remember Grandma Helena saying still in her old age, that when she was in an old people’s home, she was made to share a room for a time with one that had been on the Red side. Apparently, the poisonous verbal darts between them were still flying like missiles…
I found that rather amusing but had I lived through the horrors of it, I am sure, my reaction would have been different. It is so very tragic that that should have happened after about sixty years of that civil war. The sadness that there was no forgiveness and forgetting in the depths of the people’s hearts and minds!

Of all the kinds of wars, the civil war between brothers, is the most horrendous of all. No doubt. It really is the most un-civil thing imaginable. Deep, deep wounds are left in the nations that have had to go through it.

The Russian-Sweden War of 1808-1809 over Finland, also known as, the Finnish War, became “familiar” to me through the history lessions at school and also through the Finnish literature. We read Vänriikki Stoolin Tarinat The Tales of Ensign Ståhl – year in, year out, so that, even today, I can give direct quotes of the same! I used to love reading those stories in rhyme about that war.
This is the war (February 1808 ’til September 1809) – that resulted the Valley being cut in two parts with the Tornio River as the border. The choices for the actual border included the River Kalix on the Swedish side – the Russian request – the River Kemi on the Finnish side, to the south of Tornio – the Swedish request. The Tornio River was the agreed joined compromise. From that time on in 1809, Finland became part of the Russian Empire until her independence in December 1917.

Finland was under the Swedish rule from 1352 – 1808, and under the Russian rule from 1809 – 1917. We have, as a nation, learned how to live as a “filling in-a-sandwich” to the bigger and more powerful nations than ourselves that are on either side of us! It takes skill.

Tis for now. Riihele xx

Lapland, Tornio Valley and Childhood – Part2

MAP

The Tornio River unites Sweden and Finland – Övertorneå and the neighbouring Finnish town of Ylitornio lie on opposite sides of the river, which also makes the border. This mighty river provides countless opportunities for fishing and recreation. It presents the amazing spectacle of the spring ice break-up, that I mentioned in the Part 1.

Breathtaking scenery can be viewed from the peaks of mountains on either side of the border, from Luppioberget, on the Swedish side and from Aavasaksa, on the Finnish side. Aavasaksa is a very popular place for the tourists to come at the Midsummer time to view the spectacle of the Midnight Sun.

The landscape in the Tornio Valley features varied countryside of both mountainous and flat landscapes. Tornio and Haparanda are situated on the coastal plain by the Gulf of Bothnia. Further north, from Övertorneå and the northern part of Ylitornio Municipality, the mountains become more prominent. The Arctic Circle is at the latitude of 66.55° N. It goes right through the villages of Ylitornio, on the Finnish side of the river, and Övertorneå, on the Swedish side. This latitude also marks the southernmost parallel at which one can experience the Polar Day, another name is the Midnight Sun and Polar Night, which is also called – Kaamos in the Saami language.

The Polar Day culminates on June 21, when the sun remains above the horizon for 24 hours – and it is light all day. On Aavasaksa mountain – situated on the Finnish side of the river in Ylitornio – one can admire The Midnight Sun between the 15.6-7.7. The Polar Night begins on September 23, at the autumnal equinox, which culminates on December 21, when the sun does not rise above the horizon for 24 hours – and it is dark all day.

Talk about the TWILIGHT ZONE. During the Kaamos – the dark period – everything is in these fabulous shades of blues, pinks and lilacs. It is terribly picturesque altogether. I am quite certain, that you would have seen photographs of Lapland in these gorgeously soft pastel colours, even though it did not cross your mind at all, that they were taken during the Kaamos.

The inclination of the earth’s axis, at an angle of 23.4 degrees, due to the influence of the moon, the location of the Arctic Circle is also changing. Currently it is at the rate of 14.4 metres annually. The Arctic Circle is moving northwards. This process will continue for a further period, after which the process will be reversed and the Arctic Circle will start moving south.

In this border country, as anywhere in a situation alike, a special, local culture, both Swedish and Finnish has emerged. Yet it is somehow distinct from both. A majority of the residents speak Tornio Valley Finnish – Meänkieli – the native language and the bearer of the culture. Culture, that is distinctive in religion, in the local cuisine with its eastern influences. Here is the list of spices: saffron, sugar, lemon, ginger and orange-peel that were used. Also cumin was used in all the bread making in the 18th century as described by a Frenchman. Living in the border region has given the people of the valley a characteristic mentality and a genuine pride – a deep awareness of who they are, rather than the ‘nose-up- in the air’ -variety. The local population is meant to be even more fanatical about hot-hot sauna baths than the rest of the Finns.

Well, one must try, in any which way, to keep warm – somehow! The temperature difference between summer and winter is roughly 60ºC. In winter the temperature creeps down at times to -35ºC or even more. It’s cold, but the air is dry and with the right clothing you can still spend time outdoors. When summer comes, the nature awakens from the slumber, gets over its shock because of the long, long freeze and begins to work 24/7, as it will be light and bright daylight round the clock!! Temperatures of around +30ºC and sometimes even higher are not uncommon.

These temperatures are the norm nowadays. I don’t remember – EVER – in my childhood that the temperature in the summer would have reached much above the 15-20ºC mark! We swam no matter what the weather was like during those short, but, bright summer months. It really was a bit of ‘it’s now or never’ – because the summer was so very short, that, if one blinked, twas over!

The coldest temperature in Ylitornio that I have experienced in my entire life was all of -44ºC!! Do ponder that. Insane, I say.

In this valley, the life revolves around the Tornio River, as I stated already earlier on – this 520 kilometres long river of tranquil pools, foaming rapids and swirling waters that winds its way towards the sea. The people, who used be one nation under the Swedish rule for several centuries. It should be of no real surprise that there is such unity and conformability with the populations on both sides of the river here, as historically, culturally and geographically they were ONE NATION for a time period of six to seven hundred years. That is an awfully long time. It is not going be wiped of by any artificial ‘border’ – however hard the politics of the day may try.

Two peoples, and if the Saami is counted as they should be, that would make three people, four languages and a majestic river make Tornio Valley unique . The local population use several languages, Swedish, Finnish, Saami and Meänkieli. Meänkieli – Our Language – that is what the name means in English – is a language spoken in both Swedish and Finnish Tornio Valley. Meänkieli is a language derived from Finnish. Newspapers and books are written in Meänkieli. Even films have been made in this language. In 1999, a new Minorities Act in Sweden recognised Meänkieli as an indigenous minority language. In Finland it does not have such a recognized status.

Unfortunately, I think, because it is very different from the Finnish in many ways.

When we moved to the Southern Finland, the people there did not understand what we were saying for most of the time and so we had to learn the ordinary Finnish. The southerners thought that we were speaking in Saami. They also thought that we had lived in a Kota – the Saami dwelling special to them.

It must have been the only few weeks that I have ever been silent in my entire life while learning the ‘other’ language!! (Finnish Finnish)

This area belonged to Sweden for several centuries, as already mentioned above, until 1809, actually, when Sweden ceded Finnish Tornio Valley to Russia which I will go into more detail in the next posting in Part 3. That war of 1808-1809 is the last war that Sweden has fought. Finland has not been as spared from wars, but we do have a Big Bear of a neighbour on our eastern side. They do not.

Tis for now. Riihele xx