Oh yes. It’s back. As they say, no story is complete without being, well, complete. The reason for delay of the final episode, you ask? The author has been on hiatus in search of a muse. That muse has arrived.
Previously on The Espoo Diaries:
“…soothing, sultry manner in which certain young Finnish women speak…”
“…brightened with a smile from Moneypenny…”
“…’Hotel Helka Bathroom Experience’ ™…”
“…the author’s alcohol intake has been rather high of late…”
“…a 3am photo session…” (now infamous)
“…Helsinki Day is just the perfect reason to speak Finnish…”
“…a late night medical ailment that needed to be resolved…”
“…the what appeared to be sprawling metropolis of Stockholm…”
“…Moneypenny’s Swedish Special Forces division…”
“…something like “Rand to Euro, Euro to Krona, Krona back to Euro,
Euro to … oh what the hell, just give me another beer please…”
“…they wanted to deport me back to Africa…”
“…cute yet incomprehensible Finnish girl with beautiful dark blue eyes…”
“…fireplace especially built for those cold summer nights…”
“…south of Vaasa…”
“…the sounds of Radio Nova playing cheesy hits from the 80s…”
“…Espoo, strange little place that it is, was now set to become a
place in a story once told…”
After a week spent missioning to get an extension on my Visa for Finland, under special circumstances I was granted permission to lay my feet on the what-you-would-swear-is-holy soil of Europe. It turned out to be a long uneventful flight on British Airways – no almost-missed planes, no gorgeous air hostesses, just a deadpan flight to London. Arriving at Heathrow early Monday morning, I proceeded to walk in numerous big concentric circles around the airport building, entertainment in the form of “Guess the Nationality”, waiting five hours for a connection to Helsinki. I managed to get a few guesses right, and realised how easy it is to spot Souf Efrikans. There are worse ways to spend a Monday I’m sure, although not many.
My hotel for this leg of my trip was the wonderful Radisson Royal Hotel in the middle of the city, opposite Kamppi Metro Station. A great room, in a great location – the next three weeks were going to be fantastic. So what does one do upon returning to summery Helsinki where the sun just does not set? My answer, of course, would be an evening spent catching up with Moneypenny on the past week’s events, and that’s just what I did. Here an evil plan sprung up which saw me visiting Stockmann, which sells everything (Tourist Tip #5) the next day to purchase a 60€ ticket to see none other than Stevie Wonder who was to perform that weekend at the Pori Jazz festival. Granted, I was not the biggest fan of Stevie, but he is a great artist and I have a great deal of respect for his work, and the chances of him visiting South Africa are so slim that it was worth taking a chance on.
Friday evening swiftly came and laziness and lack of desire to find another restaurant to eat at saw me pulling the laziest of all lazies – and I should know, I’m the King of Lazy ™. I decided to order a room service dinner. C’mon, you have to at least do it once, and I’d never done it before, so there I sat, on my bed, a big meal, a coupla beers, dessert, the TV and the remote control. (Bachelor’s Tip #4 – Be sure to keep remote control, beer and food in close proximity, otherwise sudden stretching movement may be required.)
Jussi was celebrating his birthday Saturday at Kaarle, and so myself and Moneypenny headed off later that evening to the packed and buzzing club for a brief visit to congratulate him and celebrate. Tram time came (Tourist Tip #6 – Last trams run shortly after midnight) and so I escorted Moneypenny to the tram stop. Well, actually she ran, and I ran a bit behind her. Ok, she ran, and I jogged. Ok, ok, she ran and I mostly walked fast. Um, fast-ish I mean. I then made my way back to the hotel for an early Saturday, but it seems someone had tampered with my shoes at some stage in the evening and the next thing I knew I was walking into Sling-In. How peculiar. This was not my hotel. There was no bed here. Ah, this chair looks comfy, hmmm bar fridge. Oh well, I decided best not be rude and at least have a drink now that I was there.
My next truly clear memories found me walking from Robert’s Coffee at the train station towards Hertz car rental on Sunday morning. I was carrying two large coffees – one half empty (a quarter on me, a quarter in me) and a whole bunch of other possessions/refreshments in a bag. I arrived shortly before Moneypenny and we were very, very, very slowly assisted in getting our grubby paws on the keys to a silver Peugot 206. (Automatic… bleh!). So there we were – Driving Miss Moneypenny I guess. Actually she took the first segment to get us out of the city. Don’t ask me what possessed me to put Moneypenny behind the wheel of a car I hold the liability for, but we zoomed out of the city towards Rauma, tunes blaring, cigarettes burning, smiles on our faces. (Theme Tune #9 – Prime Circle – Hello) Ok, well my smile only found its spot on my face once Moneypenny’s rough driving edges had rounded off which fortunately did not take long. I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with women drivers.
We stopped along the road at a small coffee shop about halfway to Rauma and bought Munkki. Munkki is not what you’re thinking. No you can’t spank your Munkki. I wouldn’t want you to spank my Munkki either. Sorry to disappoint, but Munkki is basically just a tasty sugar coated doughnut. Rauma is a very old, mostly wooden town. Moneypenny’s mother grew up around there. We walked the streets for a while, visiting the extremely old church, the roof coated with strong-smelling black pitch. Being lunch time we were fortunate to discover a restaurant serving meals on a sunny rooftop terrace. We basked in the unfamiliar warmth while eating our meals before retrieving the car for the drive to Pori, the venue for the concert.
Pori, annual host to the Pori Jazz Festival, is one of the larger cities in Finland. Every year a multitude of Jazz and R&B artists, the likes of Alicia Keys, Macy Gray, Van Morrison and many more, descend on Pori for a few weeks of Jazz at various venues all over the city. More importantly, Pori is home to the fine brew Karhu, now long time friend of mine.
The concert was staged in an open air park, surrounded by trees and grass and a nearby river, a very pleasant setting. What’s more, the queues to purchase food and drinks were fast moving and efficient, something that is terribly lacking back home in South Africa. By the time we’d had a first beer, Moneypenny, a long-time fan of Stevie Wonder was getting antsy to find a spot as close as possible to the stage, so I sent her off to reserve some place while I finished my beer in the beer garden.
The opening band turned out to be the Dixie Hummingbirds, a gospel Jazz group that was originally started in the 1920’s, and has evolved with replacement members joining as necessary since then. One has to wonder though, what their thoughts were to be playing to a massive crowd of 13000 people who had arrived to see Stevie Wonder. Ok, now I’m wondering about that previous sentence.
After a rousing performance by the Dixie Hummingbirds the wait was on for the headline act. This was the stage at which I saw (and heard) that photography of the artists is punishable with a €5000 fine, forcing me to attempt to at least take a few snaps. I managed to sneak in a handful of shots, an act of defiance to take away from the profit of some poor, struggling record company and its equally poor record executives. Oh, the guilt, the shame at my crime.
The man of the hour arrived on stage. He easily changed that to emblazon himself as the man of the next two and a half hours. Starting off with some of his lesser known tracks, Stevie slowly teased the crowd until they were hungry for the more popular hits. Strangely, during the entire show up until now everyone had been told to remain seated on the wooden benches provided for people closer to the stage, and this had been enforced by the security guards. Personally I viewed this as a direct insult to the artist, but watched in amazement as more people were told to remain seated and complied.
The rising tension had to crack though, and as Stevie swung into a great rendition of Higher Ground (many only recognise this as a Red Hot Chili Peppers song), I chose to tempt consequence and stood to dance, following the lead of a few other defiant groups of people. I was going to enjoy this or at least do my best to try enjoy it. It was just at that moment that I caught a glance at the big screen and saw myself, on screen, jumping up to dance. I would like to take credit for the fact that I got the crowd dancing after the camera followed my movements, but I think everyone would have ended up standing as they did anyway, such a compelling stage performance Stevie was.
After a long afternoon of entertainment in the open air of some of the best Finnish weather I had yet experienced, we slowly wound down, ambling in the twilight to find our car. Hunger attacked like a virus to Microsoft and we quickly found time to dig into a Koti blue cheese and ham pizza to toughen our defences for the long drive ‘home’. We had the surreal experience of driving in the country in the not-too-dark-night. The night sky painted the countryside in a slightly darkened canvas of blue shadow. (Theme Tune #10 : Eppu Normaali – Tahroja paperilla) Eppu Normaali, the name of the band, meaning “Of Course”, apparently.
At this stage of the project work was managing to keep me rather busy, but on Tuesday I found a gap for beers at a terrace across from Storyville with Moneypenny. The conversation stretched itself out and became rather heated with lots of drama, lots of questions, and very few answers, at least from my side anyway. In the end we sat listening to the sounds of silence. To really decimate a common phrase – you could not hear a Moneypenny dropping. (Ok, that was really really bad, I apologise). The evening’s net result – a lot of contemplation and aimless wandering in the streets of the city.
Friday the 23rd I ventured once more into the city, looking to grasp hold of every possible experience that remained exposed to me in my fast dwindling time. I enjoyed dinner for one at Belge, and then wandered up to Kaarle to see what the night had on offer. Apparently I must have just missed Moneypenny, who it turns out decided to go to the exact same club and the same area of the club. It is just by chance that I was not familiar with one more secluded section where she in fact had been with some friends.
Saturday, me now being a regular, I felt compelled to make an appearance at what was now becoming one of my favourite haunts – Sling-In. Yes, Sling-In, Kaarle, Sling-In, Kaarle – is there a pattern developing here? Later I moved across Mannerheimintie to Bakers nightclub, just to savour the experience of interacting with lithe young foreign females for a while. Walking back to the hotel I was tempted to visit Tavastia, THE rock club of Helsinki, but the €12 price tag well after midnight seemed a bit excessive.
Most of Sunday was spent filling orders and picking up final souvenirs for everyone back home. In the CD store, with a far wider selection of CDs and DVDs than most stores here, I bought a copy of “Nightwish – The End Of Innocence”, which Billy had requested. This band turned out to be quite brilliant once I exposed myself to their genre of Finnish Gothic metal with a classical twist. It was at around about this stage that I realised that I was actually doing pretty darn well in Helsinki – I knew where to get good meals, whether it be Kampin Kebab House, Java Cafe or even Hesburger, where to shop (and more importantly where not to shop), where to go out, how to get about, and how to structure one’s clothing usage to optimise your hotel laundry costs and timing through the use of an intricate system of ropes and pulleys. Perhaps it was the foreboding awareness of it being my last Sunday in Helsinki or perhaps I had too much coffee at Java Cafe, but for some reason, for the first time since I had arrived in Espoo many weeks ago, I could not sleep at all that Sunday night.
Monday slipped into oblivion but on Tuesday Colin, Martin and I met for another fantastic dinner at Bakers – makers of the finest creme brulee in Helsinki, and quite possibly the whole of Finland. Later that evening once Moneypenny had finished work I joined her to share a beer or two at an obscure pub which I suspect was somewhere around the ruununhaka suburb.
My last “Little Friday” in Helsinki caught me by surprise. Jari, one of the managers on the project decided to treat myself and Colin to dinner at Zetor. This proved to be a great treat with good traditional Finnish food, a memorable menu tainted with humour, and great posters in the men’s bathroom. (Think retro-Playboy circa 1960). As if dinner wasn’t enough, Jari then suggested we go to a favourite haunt of his when he is in Helsinki – ‘Patta Assa’, the busiest karaoke bar in Helsinki. Karaoke, hell yeah I was on board. Upon our arrival without hesitation Jari, almost before having a sip of his first beer, had the slip filled in with his song request of “Born to be Wild”. When his name was called he belted his number out with passion giving it everything he had, despite his english pronunciation errors and accent, and it turned out very entertaining. Finns may have the reputation of a reserved nation, but when it comes to karaoke they outdo all other nations with their expression.
Not to be outdone, I of course had to find something to holler savagely into an amplification device, and so after many many minutes of deliberation and one false start I eventually settled on Bon Jovi – Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night. I did an awesome job, for a Finn that is. Otherwise as a native English speaker it was terrible, but I still managed to round up some applause at the end. The trick was, of course, to make it as passionate and incoherent as possible. Upon leaving in the early hours of the next morning, our taxi driver kindly provided us with Don Mclean’s American Pie – the full ten or so minute version which lasted the whole taxi ride – for us to continue practising our drunken sing-along with.
The only unusual excitement to occur on Thursday was when I found a CD Moneypenny had introduced me to many weeks ago. The bands name: Phoenix, the album: Alphabetical. There it was, wrapped in plastic and sitting pretty in the corner of Stockmann’s. Without hesitation I bought it. These guys, classified by one reviewer as “Outkast meets the Strokes”, have the most brilliant sound, an offbeat alternative sound, a variety of instruments, and a great lead singer. Get it. (No I don’t get commission for this punt!)
Oscar, Irina and myself arranged to meet late Friday for farewell drinks, a chance to wish each other well after spending nearly four months working together. We met at Kaisla, again, and Moneypenny later turned up to join the little party we were having, so I fed her a few beers and put her onto the last tram home before taking a leisurely stroll for my final evening in Helsinki.
The dreaded Saturday morning arrived. I packed my suitcase and bag to the sounds of Eppu Normaali, a thoughtful gift from Moneypenny, and checked out of my room before going in search of some essentials – Koskenkorva Viina, Koskenkorva Salmiakki, and Lapponia Lakka – you guessed it : alcohol. Once I’d filled my bags with booze I ambled in to Cafe Java to meet Moneypenny – I still had a last gift for her – a bottle of Castle Lager, and one of Klippies & Cola. Time, as always, flew by and before I knew it, coffee was finished and I had to return to fetch my bags at the hotel and order a taxi.
The taxi driver was kind enough to take a final photo of myself and
Moneypenny in front of the hotel after stowing my bags.
Goodbye to Moneypenny was said with a final long hug. As I turned away from Megan this one last time I felt my throat tighten its constricting grip on the lump that had suddenly formed there. A dull ache pulled itself into my vulnerable chest and my cheeks refused to smile. My shoulders drooped and my eyes began to burn at my involuntary blinking to keep them dry. A quiver of the lip and a twitch of the nose flittered by as I raised my unsteady hand to slowly form an outfacing palm, a sad farewall salute to the friend on the other side of the now closed barrier of a door. I choked out an instruction and the taxi driver guided me towards inevitability. My gaze lay transfixed back at the quickly growing distance forcing itself between us.
Slowly, as the sight of the gap became unbearable I turned forward and put on my sunglasses – the sun was shining brightly on Helsinki.