Saturday, March 17, 2007

Finnish Line

Although I rarely eat red meat, every time I visit my home country, Finland, I temporarily turn into a carnivore. Perhaps it is the way they raise their livestock (they roam free and are certainly not corn-fed), but whatever the reason the meat is superior to what even the fanciest restaurant in the States serve. Finland was never thought to be a country of culinary delights, but the meals I've had in the past few days have been immaculately tasty and beautifully presented. Who would expect to find a first-rate Spanish restaurant in this small city? 'Olé' has been in business for 25 years and makes the tastiest French fries I've eaten anywhere. Back at home I don't usually look forward to eating out. Part of it has to do with the phony 'Is everything all right?' questions in hopes of larger tips. This culture doesn't believe in them: whatever the bill is what you pay. The same is true with other things as well. Like in Japan, a taxi driver here would probably be insulted if you tried to tip him. That profession is highly regarded in this society and the drivers are proud owners of their usually diesel powered luxury cars, made by Mercedes and Volvo.

It is also refreshing to be able to read totally neutral news and intelligent analysis of world affairs. The story of our government's desire to place missiles in former Iron Curtain countries, now NATO members, is followed by reactions from other NATO countries and of course Russia. It is easy to understand the latter's concerns. After all, we almost started WW III because of the missiles going to Cuba, a similar distance to mainland USA as these would be to mother Russia. If Iran is the threat, why not place such weapons in Greece and Turkey, both NATO countries and far closer to Tehran?

My brother has kindly given me one of his cars to use. I had forgotten how comfortable French cars can be, although I have owned several when they were still available in the States. The Renault's radio has been set to automatically lock into the strongest signal of the Finnish Broadcasting Company's channel 1 which sends only serious programmes of music, other culture and information, with no commercials. Today they've had a lot of music by Aulis Sallinen, plus a lengthy and well done interview of him. Last night there was a live broadcast of a concert of Finnish contemporary music, with the composers interviewed before and during intermission. And much of the country listens to it, not just a few as would be the case across the ocean.

It is sad to see an aging parent lose his short term memory. Two days ago my almost 96-year-old father was very much aware of my presence but tonight he was in his own world, probably some seven decades in the past, and seemed very tired. I will try to go there early in the morning tomorrow, as that is the best time for him. But I'm grateful for the system that takes such good care of him, only charging a set percentage of his pension, as is the case with everyone in a similar situation. Of course the largest cities may have a shortage of available space for the aging population and at times are forced to place them in surrounding communities, but all in all the system is something Americans can only dream of.

Al Gore would agree with the opinion poll here (parlamentary elections are taking place tomorrow) according to which majority of people, by a very large margin, think that global warming is a much greater global threat than terrorism. The proof is in the numbers: statistically winter in Helsinki lasts an average of 120 days but this year it was only 40, one third of normal. Sure enough it was snowing all of today but it wasn't cold enough for the white stuff to stick. I'm hoping for a cold night so that I can enjoy driving in slippery conditions across the country, fun for a Finn, to visit my one remaining uncle plus former students from three decades ago, most of whom have done well indeed in this difficult field.

I shall report back once I return. This wonderful Finnish Nokia N800 internet tablet was not designed for writing lengthy novels, so I'm stuck tapping with a pointer or a finger which it automatically recognises and provides a larger on-screen keyboard. Those Finns are smart; I'm proud to be one of them.

photo: view from hotel window in Kouvola 6:30 AM