Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Midsummer Madness

Days in the Northern Hemisphere are getting shorter again. Another Summer Solstice Parade with its nude bikers took place this past weekend in Fremont, an easy walking distance from home. No, I didn't go and watch as I was busy teaching. We Finns, at least us baby boomers, grew up with a healthy attitude toward the human body. In a hot sauna it wouldn't cross anyone's mind to wear anything but our birth suits. People would go and cool off in the cold lake in the nude: nobody raised an eyebrow. Seeing a hundred naked bicyclists would have struck us as totally silly, thus such stunts never took place.

My parents' birthdays are very close to Midsummer. Of course, I get to celebrate my mother's day tomorrow in memory only as she has been in another reality for over eleven years. But my father stubbornly lives on and turned 99 yesterday. I would have made a point of being there if it mattered to him. He lives in the past most of the time, visiting family members and friends who have been gone a long time but who are very real to him. I envy him: today's serious global problems don't bother him. Yet my dad can be very much present, too, and has an eye for beauty. He gives compliments to the caregivers and visitors, commenting on their good looks. His appetite remains good and he loves his desserts that are part of every meal. Yes, he has cheated the Grim Reaper many times and surprised us all with his will to live. He has had prostate cancer for over forty years but it has responded well to hormone treatment all this time.

Our Father's Day this year was just a day before my dad's birthday and it made me think of him a lot. The Finnish version takes place the second Sunday in November but this way I get to remember my father twice as often. Since he has visited us so many times, I can almost sense his presence here. What an interesting man: a prolific writer and historian who never knew how to tell a lie. Sometimes his honesty was painful, especially when it came to music. Even at his advanced age his hearing is excellent and he always trusted his ears more than concert reviews or falsely praising press releases. Already in Los Angeles when I brought him to concerts, he would say that the conductor obviously "liked himself too much" and therefore wasn't much of a true musician. Seattle didn't get any better rap and I couldn't really argue with my dad as I knew he was right. My wife was responsible for a chamber music series and one time when her father-in-law was here, a newcomer violinist who was well-liked by local critics was playing. Dad wasn't very impressed as he remarked "It played like a good student". The Finnish language makes no difference with gender and "he/she" can easily be replaced with "it". Naturally, I was happy that my old man loved the way my wife played. He would have no doubt told me if he felt differently.

Almost a year and a half ago I was in my home country performing and teaching. We in America had just suffered our financial meltdown and people back there were shaking their heads and talking about an American crisis with bad mortgages. When I tried to warn my countrymen that all problems will eventually affect everyone in the new global economic order, they just shook their heads and insisted that life in Europe was going to continue as before. Iceland was seen as an exception: the tiny country had no business playing ball with the big boys. Well, today they know better. The situation in various EU countries is very serious indeed. Just today we learned about tough measures the United Kingdom's new Conservative government has taken to cope with the worst depression since 1930s. Even Finland has taken a hit but at least real estate prices haven't slumped like here. Our stock market has tried to stage a comeback but at least this individual doesn't believe our problems are over. Here in Seattle there have been some hurtful cuts in social services, education and even the way parks and libraries are run.

Although the local arts organizations have been unusually tight-lipped about their finances, the picture cannot be rosy. I can foresee the death of a number of such institutions nationwide or at least near-death experiences. There is no reason why Seattle wouldn't be affected as well. An elderly opera lover recently told me that a Ring cycle last summer must have made a fortune to the company behind it! Wagner hardly is Tchaikovsky; the Ring, a bottomless money pit, is the total opposite of ballet's cash cow, the Nutcracker. Since there is very little in music making that would interest us here, I ordered tickets to hear Verdi's Requiem in Portland this coming Sunday. Not that we expect to hear fabulous playing from Oregon Bach Festival's orchestra, but at least the singers should be good and the Maestro, Helmuth Rilling, first class. One of us will write about the concert, I'm sure. We shouldn't have rushed with the ticket order, though, as in today's email there was an offer for a 15% discount. If such an unusually attractive concert fails to sell out, the situation with your ordinary program must look far grimmer. The manual laborers, in this case the orchestra musicians, like to think of themselves as "artists" and feel a strange sacred entitlement to their high salaries. It is not that much different from the Greek people who think that everything in their system is just fine and life can continue in its corrupt but merry way just as before. Only a fool would report his income correctly and pay taxes accordingly. But the well-to-do don't like to be taxed here either and do anything in their power to avoid it. A much admired philanthropist never gives away money without benefiting from the transaction, after all, yet our society admires such people to no end.

The Fremont bikers, the sauna-loving Finns and an emperor in his new clothes all show true transparency, the latter out of his own stupidity. We should expect to see the name fiscal nudity from all non-profits and also from those who like to be thought of as benefactors.

For those interested in the Finnish midsummer, may I recommend a fabulous children's book, equally fit to be read by grown-ups, Tove Jansson's Moominsummer Madness, also known as Moomin and the Dangerous Midsummer Night.
picture from the original "Farlig midsommar"