(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…!!

Belfast, Belfast…

Belfast city scene

Photo of Belfast is off the Wikipedia site.

“Belfast from the Irish Béal Feirste meaning “The sandy ford at the river mouth” is the capital of Northern Ireland. It is the largest city in Northern Ireland and the province of Ulster, and the second-largest city on the island of Ireland (after Dublin). In the 2001 census the population within the city limits (the Belfast Urban Area) was 276,459, while 579,554 people lived in the wider Belfast Metropolitan Area.This made it the fifteenth-largest city in the United Kingdom.” Wikipedia

Here is a memory of days long ago: BONEY M video and song BELFAST

“DESTINATION 360” on Belfast:

”Belfast, Northern Ireland has always had a fierce, often bloody history. The Troubles of 1960 to 1994 have not faded from Ireland’s consciousness, but active negotiations and peace efforts have soothed this strong activist region. Unlike many other Irish regions, present-day Northern Ireland is a province under the rule of the United Kingdom. After decades of political turmoil, violence, and activism, Belfast Ireland has at last found some degree of peace, when a cease-fire between the British and the IRA was called in 1994. The cease-fire continues to this day, although the long-seated division between British supporters and IRA supporters still lingers.”


BELFAST PEACE LINES – WALL- to segregate the communties: ”The Peace Lines are a series of separation barriers ranging in length from a few hundred yards to over three miles, separating Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods in Belfast, Derry and elsewhere in Northern Ireland. The stated purpose of the barriers is to minimize intercommunal sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics.

The barriers themselves consist of iron, brick, and steel walls up to 25 feet high, topped with metal netting, or simply a white line painted on the ground similar to a road marking. Some have gates in them occasionally manned by police, which allow passage by day, and which are closed at night.

The first barriers were constructed in the early 1970s, following the outbreak of “The Troubles”. Originally few in number, they have multiplied over the years, from 18 in the early 1990s to 40 today; in total they stretch over 13 miles. Most are located in Belfast. In recent years they have become locations for tourism. Black Taxis now take groups of tourists around Belfast’s Peace Lines, trouble spots and famous murals. (Wikipedia)

Belfast is so very near to Dublin in the Southern Ireland and yet so far. What that? Well, the mentality of the Northerner compared to the Southerner is miles apart, in almost every way. Where the Dubliner and the rest of the population in the south are laid-back, witty, fatalistic and not-so-terribly efficient in whatever they do, the Northerner is uptight, serious, strong willed and highly efficient in his/her basic nature.

The very first time I went to Belfast was just four days after arriving in Ireland. There was a family funeral there. In Ireland it is of utmost importance to be there and to support the people that have had the sadness of death in the family. People go by the hundreds into the funerals and it is normally considered an excusable reason to take time out in the middle of one’s working day to attend a funeral.

Did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast in 1912, on Harland and Wolff which had the largest shipyard in the world? And, have you ever heard of the Belfast Sink?

Tis for now. Riihele xx

Twelfth of July

Bridge in Powerscourt

I put this bridge as a symbol to bridge the two communities in Ireland.*

Today is the day, The Twelfth of July celebrations Northern Ireland, when the memories from long, long times past are stirred up; mostly in hatred and anger. Yes, it is the day to remember the Battle of the Boyne which took place in 1690. The battle was between the Protestant Prince William of Orange and the Catholic King James II; William of Orange took the victory. Here is a link to the official site of the Battle of the Boyne. Much of the hatred that has had an effect to the present times stems from this very event.

When my daughters were still in the primary education in Ireland, we had this school run with some other parents and one time it was our turn to collect the kids from their homes bringing them all to the school. So, there we are in our thoughts – morning sleepy, you see – when this little girl pipes up and says:

“My mum is a Catholic and my dad is a Protestant.”

And then she is waiting for the response from my girls. But nothing came, because my daughters did not know what it meant to be a Catholic or a Protestant! They had never heard about it before this in their short lives and they did not know what it meant. The event passed uncommented by any of us except for an ‘I see’ from me at the time until later on, when the girls wanted to know ‘What did she mean?’

My in-laws and himself were of Anglo-Irish background deeply rooted in the Protestantism and yet very deeply rooted in their Irishness as well. They were and are first and foremost Irish in their own eyes and thinking. (I will get into this deeper another time.) The Northern Irish Protestants see themselves, normally, first and foremost, as British, and that is where there is this vast gulf between them and the Catholics who see themselves as Irish. There is also an abyss of differences between the Protestants of the North and the South because of the fact that the southern Protestants see themselves to be Irish and the northerners to be British.

These parades and commemorations of things long past on both sides add extra fuel to the volatile situation that at times boils over. The Twelfth of July is the prime example of this; every year we became suddenly aware that the date must upon us, when the South started to get filled with northerners wanting to escape the tension and the hatred stirred up.

Tis for now. Rii xx

* I took the photograph in the Japanese Gardens in the Powerscourt Demesne, Enniskerry, Ireland.

Incidents and Such Like ~ DRINKS

Drinks

I had only arrived in Ireland and been just for a few days in Dublin when the uncle living in Belfast died, and we all hurried to the funeral in the north – as in Northern Ireland. The funeral part was over and we were in the hotel for a meal and a chat with the relatives and friends of the uncle, when a group of old ladies, Queen Mum look-a-likes with handbags and outfits to match the QM, were all ordering these fancy drinks of which names I had never ever even heard. My mouth was wide ajar with surprise and wonder of it all so that I could not utter a word, when himself says to me:

“YOU will order orange juice!!” And so I did.

To my absolute amazement the rounds of drinks were many and plentiful. I said to himself that never, never, in the Finnish funerals – though, being a nation of heavy drinkers – would no body but nobody ever dare serve alcoholic drinks. It would be considered most inappropriate.

Another humorous funeral incident with a macabre twist was this true story that happened for a long, long time ago to her family in Ireland as told to me by an Irish-Italian woman, who I got to know while living in County Wicklow. The old custom of mourning in Ireland is to have a wake for the dead that goes on for a number of days with heavy drinking and plentiful singing and story telling around the coffin.

Anyway, this is what happened: the party was in a very merry way after several days of the wake when suddenly there was a knock at the coffin coming from the inside and they opened the lid, and the “deceased” one rises up to a sitting position and says:

“GIMME A DRINK!”

He had only been unconscious for a good few days and not dead. Twas a lucky man and a good thing that the wake was taking place and not an immediate burial.

Tis now for Incidents and Such Like this time. Rii xx.

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.

Travels: Belfast

Gladioli

Belfast is so very near to Dublin in the Southern Ireland and yet so far. What that? Well, the mentality of the Northerner compared to the Southerner is miles apart, in almost every way. Where the Dubliner and the rest of the population in the south are laid-back, witty, fatalistic and not-so-terribly efficient in whatever they do, the Northerner is uptight, serious, strongwilled and highly efficient in his/her basic nature.

We used to be simply awed by the state of the roads as soon as one crossed the border in Newry over to the Northern Ireland. One could really put the boot down from here on the motorway and be in Belfast in a jiffy! Marvellous. The state of the roads in the Republic were – and still are in parts – such that the journey even though not that long in miles or kilometers took a lifetime!

The very first time I went to Belfast was just four days after arriving in Ireland. There was a family funeral there. In Ireland it is of utmost importance to be there and to support the people that have had the sadness of death in the family. People go by the hundreds into the funerals and it is normally considered an excusable reason to take time out in the middle of one’s working day to attend a funeral.

One thing that used be so great to do in Belfast was the shopping. The difference between the Irish Punt and the Sterling was not that big, sometimes they were even on par. Nowadays the Euro has lost the plot to the Sterling and it is far too expensive to go shopping there anymore!

We would go to the north a lot even at the height of the violence, another name for it is the ‘Troubles.’ Rather an odd name for such a traumatic and highly dangerous time. We had both relatives and friends living in there. Some of them still do. Then when the so called ‘Peace Agreement‘ came in 1998 we took the train there from Dublin a good few times. Otherwise previously we would have gone by car to Belfast.

First of all we parked the car at the Europa Hotel and had a cuppa there before walking to the stores. Where would be good to shop? Well, the Castle Court Shopping Centre is big and has plenty of various kinds of stores in it. In those days before many of the British High Street stores such as Argos, Boots, Debenhamns, etc.  came to the south they were only in the north so hence our trekking there.  Also the Queen’s Arcade is a very expensive but beautiful small shopping mall at the heart of Belfast. The city is not big at all. Here is a map of the city centre. To tank up we would go the Cafe Paul Rankin at the Fountain Street. It used to be nearly the only one of its kind ’til quite recently. This cafe served the most delicious food – every time it was a winner.

There were not many cultural things that we did then because of the Troubles. The people did not move about that much then to nightspots or restaurants as they did in the south. Now it is different.

Tis for now. Riihele xx.