My Way

A bust of Augustus.

‘If I have played my part well, clap your hands, and dismiss me with applause from the stage.’

Joshua Abraham Norton was born circa 1814. His birth took place in England, but afterwards Norton spent some thirty years of his life in South Africa, then a part of the British Empire. In 1849, after his parents had died, Norton left South Africa, heading towards the United States in order to try his hand at entrepreneurship in the New World. Following China’s ban on the export of rice due to an internal famine, Norton invested heavily in what he saw as a lucrative business opportunity: Peruvian rice. For a number of reasons, the endeavour proved disastrous and left Norton penniless.

Sadly, much information of Norton’s early life, including that regarding his ventures in South Africa, has been lost to time. What we do know of his life is due to the considerable media attention that followed his proclaiming himself the Emperor of the United States in 1859, mere ten years after his arrival on the continent. We cannot state with certainty why he wanted to be Emperor – your guess is as good as mine – but maybe he was simply upset; upset at being poor and powerless. Such feelings, I find, are not altogether uncommon among the race of man.

Anyhow, our Norton, who now fancied himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States, began his regal reign by writing up not only imperial orders – mostly denouncing the U.S. Congress and ordering the institution to be abolished – but also love letters to Queen Victoria of the British Empire. Although Victoria has been hailed by many as one of the greatest monarchs in British history in addition to being a fine lady, we observe an uncharacteristic lack of grace in her failure to respond to Norton.

Well, both the Congress and the Queen ignored poor Norton. But not everyone did, for the citizens of San Francisco took a curious liking to him, gladly accepting the man as their Emperor. Restaurants provided nourishment for the Emperor free of charge (although Norton always paid with mock Imperial notes issued under his name) and theatres reserved seats for him. Why is it that they went out of their way to care for Norton? It’s difficult to say, but the establishments Norton took a liking to reportedly saw an increase in both business and fame, so the arrangements could be described as being mutually beneficial.

Admittedly, the Emperor was a strange fellow. He had no job (other than being Emperor), which resulted in an abundance of spare time at his command (as well as a chronic state of poverty). Furthermore, according to contemporary reports, one of Norton’s favourite pastimes was examining the condition of public property. He’d spend hours a day just walking about the streets of San Francisco, gazing at buildings and delivering lengthy speeches on matters philosophical and practical to those subjects unwise enough to lend the man their ears. Mingling with the commoners, as one can understand, is an effective way for a sovereign to improve their reputation. However, since Norton’s influence – his power – was derived from a singular understanding with his subjects, it is perhaps best to think of Norton’s hobbies as him keeping his end of the sort-of-Faustian bargain he had stricken with the San Franciscans.

To put it bluntly, Norton came to be seen as a village fool. But since his fiercely anti-establishment Imperial Decrees that were printed in local newspapers – presumably for humorous effect – resonated with the common man, there were few who saw it necessary to put an end to his folly. And why should’ve they done so? Norton’s actions harmed no one; on the contrary, he provided the citizens with much-needed entertainment, attracted tourists, and he even broke up a racially motivated riot by placing himself between the brawlers and praying fervently. It was the people who entertained his delusions, were they now to drag him down and reduce him to nothing, after enabling him for years already? What was there to gain in doing so?

In spite of the general public’s favourable opinion of their Emperor, an officer of the San Francisco police force arrested Norton in order to confine him in a sanatorium. Following public outcry, he was released and a formal apology was issued by the police department. Perhaps owing to his good nature, the Emperor in turn granted the police officer with an Imperial pardon for his vile act of treason. However, this little mishap, I think, illustrates a fundamental problem when it comes to the legitimacy of Norton’s reign. The police force represent, of course, the already established Federal Government of the United States, which is not made non-existent even by the people’s blinding love for Norton.

The Emperor died on January the 8th, in the year 1880. He suddenly collapsed on the streets he had ruled over and perished before medical aid could be administrated. Norton’s reign lasted for twenty-one years and remains largely forgotten by the general public. From earliest infancy he experienced the hazards of fortune. He saw dawn break on multiple continents, acquired notable wealth, and ultimately lost everything through tragic trade. The impoverished Norton left no heir to succeed him, nor was his claim for emperorship ever formally recognised by those holding the reins. It was his death that was, for the streets of San Francisco were filled with 30,000 mourners; his subjects showed a golden state of morality and respect to the emperor in the forms of a lavish funeral and a final parting gift: a decorative casket.

Now, I’ve not studied enough Law or Political science to accurately comment on the details of why Norton was not really an emperor. Neither can I say why he could not become one by means of simple proclamation, as he himself had thought. Even so, it is quite evident to me that he was not the ‘Emperor of the United States’; and I doubt anyone in their right mind thinks so either. Still, the idea and some of the underlying issues that present themselves here are fascinating, and perhaps eternal, as suggested by their recurrence in art. From where does power originate? Via a mandate from the masses? Can we not simply lay claim to a position of power, like Norton had? And how legitimate are military juntas, or tyrants? Should the people fight to topple them, or should they be embraced? Who can tell if power should be hereditary, and can it be reallocated after it has been invested in a single individual?

The questions above will, for better or worse, remain forever unanswered. They’ll be subjects of discussion, debates, as well as art, surely, but it is naïve to think that humans will ever agree completely on political matters. This dissension paradoxically produces a need for the concept of ‘power’ itself, I feel, with power being the capability, the ability to exert influence upon others. Obviously, whilst the fledgling Emperor Norton possessed clout to the capacity of transgressing social codes, it does not a proper monarch make. Still, it doesn’t lessen my admiration of the man; he decided to turn his life around and managed to do so. Weird as it may sound, the ability to influence his own life to such a degree, and in such a way – and those of some others as well – is in fact a rather impressive feat. Don’t we all love a good underdog story?

The Emperor Norton was no emperor. Yet, we remember him as one. So positive was his influence on others that the title was granted to him. Norton wasn’t Emperor by his own proclamation, but by the people’s. Ultimately, his story is the same as that of any good man and reminds us of the following: it is only through exercising nobility of character that we live august lives.

My Mind & The Serein

BTSB My Mind and Serein Cover

 

in clear skies

i walk under my umbrella

and where my cover cannot reach

the streets are bombed by the mind’s raindrops

 

as i watch the cement under attack

i can hear the seagull’s call,

the seas of mothers strolling through the market,

the whining toddlers asking for ice cream,

 

i scream

and open my eyes to a serene summer’s day

 

BTSB My mind and serein 01Serein is a meteorological phenomenon where there is rain even though the sky is clear. My mind has been serein since I was 14.

I have been forgetting myself in deep waters during a thunderstorm; but I have never been struck by lightning, I have never physically felt the storm that drags down my mood. I have grown internal rainforests out of all the nourishment my raining mind has been giving away through the years of feeling nothing but pain; or more like floating in the pain, not feeling anything but emptiness, and raindrops.

Only this spring, my rainforest cut itself down out of sheer impossibility: it could not live merely off melancholy, it needed a little sun in order to grow ingredients for the average forest. So, my forest tumbled down with drama, and one specific evening, I found myself walking in the middle of a busy street in a specific neighbourhood in Northern Helsinki. After that, I have been trying to heal the wounds the overflow of rain caused to my roots, with different experts of the field. Now, I am finally in the middle of the process of getting a diagnosis.

My rainforest’s probable bipolarity has put me in a number of difficult situations this year. How to tell my boss why I could not handle being all alone at work; how to tell my parents I, a straight A student who is always so calm and collected and full of potential, was seeing a psychiatrist; how to tell my friends why I was acting a little differently than usual. How to tell myself that I had not failed as a student, as a young adult, as a daughter, as a friend, as a human being, even though I had a mental illness?

Mental health is widely and commonly recognized in the western world as a vital part of our overall well-being. Many services are offered to employees, students, parents, anyone; getting help has been made seemingly easy. Today, there is quite a lot of public discussion on mental illnesses, and even public personas are coming out with depression, anxiety, and so on. So why is it still so hard to accept that you yourself are one of the people with a mental health problem?

First of all, getting help is not as simple and quick as it might seem to be. When you are severely challenged by a mental problem, it just might be that your sense of reality is not as clear as it used to be, and that it feels extremely effortful to take even the tiniest step towards helping yourself out of the bad situation. For me, it took a handful of good friends and both of my parents to support me and guide me towards the right path for help; and when the nurses and doctors and health centres and hospitals kept on changing, it took, again, all of my support network to keep my rainforest from sinking to hopelessness. Even then, even when having caring people around me through the numerous appointments, the help did not merely appear and cure me. I, even if lost in a thick fog of roots and leaves and mud and puddles, had to seek for it all by myself, get up in the morning, take the bus to the hospital, take the stairs to the waiting room and sit down in the clichéd psychologist’s armchair, and talk about my childhood, my relationship with my mother, and my mood shifts. These visits would leave me empty and tired and dark, and then I would have to go on with my day as if all was fine.

BTSB My mind and serein 02

Second of all, even though mental health is a popular subject nowadays and certainly not quieted down about, it is still easy to associate mental illness with a certain sense of weakness or failure. It has been estimated that even as many as every fourth person encounters mental health problems throughout their life, but there are no statistics available on how these people deal with going through these difficult times. How do they know when a certain sadness is beyond normal melancholy, how exactly do they reach out for help, to whom is it appropriate to talk about the viruses of the mind?

Why can we still not bring up a mental illness in a discussion without most participants of the conversation being uncomfortable with the topic? Why can we not tell our bosses that the reason we cannot do more than two shifts a week is that our depression takes up all our energy? Why is it acceptable to talk to anyone about injured legs and heart surgeries but not about our bipolar minds?

For almost ten years, and more actively for five months now, I have been in a rainy battle with whatever one would call what I have; depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, or all that, or perhaps just the effects from being a Highly Sensitive Person; there is no knowing for sure. I cannot even say whether I want to have an exact label for what causes my rainforest to keep flooding, but what I now know is that I want help with gaining control over the rainfall, and that getting that help and staying helped is possible – well, only after surviving that tiring initial fight to make someone listen and take you seriously.

So, briefly, my plans for the summer are being put in different boxes to see if I fit the symptoms, having my psychiatrist’s phone number near in case a crisis happens, taking my new mood stabilizers that play with my brain-forest chemistry, and trying my best to get comfortable with having mental health problems and still being an accepted and able person, and still being me. I also hope that one day, when I open my eyes to a rainy day, I could feel rainy, and when I open my eyes to a sunny day, I could feel sunny; and that my rainforest would not be flooded anymore; and that I could tell my boss and friends the real reasons behind my eccentric behaviour and meandering excuses for skipping social activities; and that panic attacks would be equal to asthma attacks in conversation.

The Final Frontier’s Fishy Festival

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

For many, Alaska is synonymous with rough conditions and impenetrable nature, and when thinking about Alaska, our mind wanders to the guy from Into the Wild falling into a gushing river and Don Rosa’s Scrooge McDuck staring at the white topped Yukon Mountains during the Klondike Gold Rush. People who travel to Alaska are often thought to be crazy athletes, and/or passionate fly fishers. It comes as a surprise for many that during the summer time, the Kenai Peninsula is pretty easily accessible from Finland and it offers one-of-a-kind cultural experiences, full of that Alaskan craziness and humor that is exclusive to this great state.

One unique Alaskan happening is definitely Salmonfest, an annual festival dedicated to protecting the wild sockeye salmon. Describing the festival’s atmosphere is difficult with just adjectives – a tiny narrative from when I visited the festival works better.

Picture this, it’s a warm Saturday – well, Alaskan warm, so not too hot. On a low stage painted with huge pictures of red and green salmons, there’s an artist with shoulder length locks, steel guitar, and a melancholy yet hopeful rock sound. There are women with Janis Joplin hair hula hooping in front of the stage accompanied by dancing kids whose hair is colored with spray-on blue and purple.

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

The festival area is full of both exotic food trucks, with spreads that would make Flow festival jealous, and little booths of local people making you cheese toasts and lemonade. From the merch booths, you can find the raddest tie-dyed t-shirts, but also a lot of crafts made by the local artists. The area is full of young people in groups, families, and old couples who’re enjoying the music on folding chairs. In between American and Alaskan artists, there’re talks about the importance of protecting the wild salmon.

Salmonfest, in addition to being a fun event for everybody, is one of the most upfront adversary parties of the famous Pebble mine discussion. Most cars, coffee houses, restaurants, hotels, and shops I saw during my trips to Alaska had a red and white sticker opposing the Pebble mine. Salmonfest takes it a step further with their t-shirts, beer koozies, and tents that offer information about the mine and its ecological effects.

If you do decide to take on the Kenai Peninsula and Salmonfest, it’s easiest to fly to Anchorage, rent a car from the airport, and drive to Ninilchik. The drive takes approximately four hours, but since the roads are tiny and there’s plenty to see, and places to sleep during the drive, you might want to take your time. Salmonfest is an annual event, so if your travel plans and budget is set for this summer, it’ll be there next year as well. From Salmonfest, you can continue your road trip to gorgeous Homer, the cultural hometown of Kenai full of restaurants and galleries. Another great Kenai road trip destination after Salmonfest is the town of Seward. Seward is home to Alaska SeaLife Center, a combination of research facility and aquarium, and the port of call for many day cruise ships that can take you killer whale and glacier watching.

While traveling from Europe to the US has become pretty common vacation option, Alaska is still, in many ways, the Final Frontier for tourists. This might be due to the fact that there are no direct flights to Anchorage from many countries, and Alaska’s tourism industry is mainly focused in getting American people to the giant cruise ships that sail to Alaska. In spite of this, Kenai Peninsula is very welcoming for visitors, since the hard winters mean that businesses must meet their annual financial goals during the summer months. Alaska is a wonderful option for travelers who wish to experience local things, not spoiled by the tourist industry.

Alaska and its people remind me of Finland in many ways – they’re quiet, love nature, and go a little crazy during the summer time. Salmonfest lies in the heart of wilderness on the Kenai Peninsula, ready to surprise even the most experienced travelers.

Maple Leafs and Media

568px-Canada_flag_map.svg

 

When talking about Canadian politics, it might come as a big shock that MP does, in fact, not stand for ‘maple syrup’ but for ‘member of the parliament’ and that the prime minister of Canada is actually not the head of state –No, that would be the Queen of England; makes perfect sense, right.  In fact, who talks about Canadian politics? Besides Canadians, I’m not sure. Until recently, I haven’t been to many parties where Canadian politics was the hot topic of the night. You just didn’t hear people saying things like “Oh wow, look at what the government of Canada has done now” or “I really think the governor general is doing a bang up job.” The focus was more often on the politics of Canada’s southern neighbor, The United States of America. This seemed to be a part of a general pattern of USA upstaging Canada in just about everything save for ice hockey and poutine. This, of course, might not reflect the true state of things, but for foreigners news from USA just tends to get ranked higher than the happenings in Canada. In consequence, people tend to associate Canada with snow, moose, maple leaves and the syllable ‘eh’ instead of delving deep into the political wonderland of the Great White North.

However, ever since Justin Trudeau was elected as Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister, a spotlight appeared over Canadian politics. Suddenly international media was jumping at the chance to write about him, social media certainly went nuts, and before you knew it, Canadian politics were being discussed around the globe. So, did people rave about the Prime Minister of Canada being able to appoint ministers, senators, lieutenant governors of the provinces, and Supreme Court judges? Did they discuss political choices, party differences or major conflicts within the country? No, I believe most of the interest revolved around the Prime Minister’s face. It’s pretty you see. And people like pretty things. Oh, yes, we shan’t forget, there was avid discussion about his body as well. People seemed to like that too. And I’m not denying that he’s not hard on the eyes, even our very own BTSB staff agreed that he looks lovely. But an interesting point was brought up, and that was how Prime Minister Trudeau tends to get treated like most female politicians do in the media.

Most news out there, news that reaches Finland anyway, revolves around how handsome Justin Trudeau is, how even Ivanka Trump and Duchess Catherine can’t help swooning over him. Long story short, the main focus is on his looks, not his accomplishments or shortcomings. This is the kind of media representation that is usually associated with female politicians –Or scratch that, actually females in general. The press being more interested in what or who is being worn or how their hair is styled. The media tends to represent women through their looks, not their accomplishments. Let it be said, the focus is misplaced. There are clear double standards in the representation of men and women in the media. But as for Justin Trudeau, a male politician, the Prime Minister of the geographically second largest country in the world, to be more famous for his dazzling eyes, than his work as a world leader, feels kind of dumbfounding.

Just a quick google search of his name shows that after the obligatory Wikipedia articles and official websites, rows and rows of links leading to various online magazines across the world appear with titles such as “Is Justin Trudeau the Sexiest Politician in the World?” and “Pictures of ‘swooning’ Ivanka Trump and Justin Trudeau go viral.” Sure, you can find articles on his election campaign, gender equal cabinet and his meetings with Donald Trump, but let’s face it, they get overshadowed by news focusing on his boxing career and tweets to Matthew Perry.

justin-trudeauNow this is not to say that news on Justin Trudeau should focus solely on political aspects, after all we all love hearing things about politicians that make them seem relatable, more human so to speak. But there’s something to be said when the question “Do you know who Canada’s Prime Minister is?” Is most often answered with “Yeah, he’s the hot one, right?”

There has never been a group more scrutinized for their looks than women. And women in politics get the brunt of it. To say that Justin Trudeau gets treated like female politicians in the media is not an entirely correct statement, because there are nuances in the articles written that differ from positivity to negativity between male and female. But for example, if we were to draw some comparisons, we could say that the media just loves Trudeau’s hair. Trust me; memes have been made over his hair. Hilary Clinton’s hair, more specifically her highlights, also got media attention. Actually her hair has been analyzed in quite detail. Seems a bit redundant politically speaking. Even if appearances are everything in the political world, it’s hardly likely that her hair is pulling the strings. Moreover, it seems silly that a politician’s haircut is considered worldwide news in the first place, as it is very unlikely to affect their qualifications for the job.

Speaking of silly things, women politicians also get media attention regarding their bodies and weight. Off the top of my head I think of Michelle Obama and know that she is an insanely inspiring woman, but I also remember that she has amazing arms. That is because I’ve seen numerous articles talking about her arms, specifically focusing on one body part, emphasising that she is indeed a very fit woman. Some present this as a positive attribute, some as negative. Trudeau has also been praised for his fit appearance and more specifically his backside. Not too long ago social media went bananas over a photo of the Prime Minister in a pair of particularly formfitting pants. And with this aspect we see the nuances of how Trudeau still gets to keep some of his, I don’t know, I guess we could call it ‘male privilege’ when it comes to media attention regarding his appearance. For all the articles I’ve seen talking about his looks, I have yet to run into a negative one. Whereas articles commenting on the appearance of female politicians more often exhibit negative thoughts of their attire, hair styles and body.

So why does the news coverage on Trudeau feel so odd? Why is it strange that talking about a man’s appearance feels silly? It isn’t as if Trudeau has been completely reduced to his looks. Granted, most of the articles can’t help but mention trivial things, but he still gets noted as the Prime Minister who opened up Canada for refugees and the Prime Minister who appointed a gender balanced cabinet “because it’s 2015”. Still, the overpowering flood of news focusing on his looks or charm kind of makes you blind to the other stuff. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to this kind of coverage for women that we insert the same kind of model in action when we read articles about him. It’s like we have been conditioned to think that because women politicians are so often reduced to their looks by the media, there is nothing more to them. The most important thing we need to know is what they’re wearing and whether they’ve dyed their hair. So when we see similar news about a male politician, the model kicks in and we at least temporarily get caught in the frenzy of oohing and aahing over his appearance. Yet it does feel strange, because in society we are told that men are more than just their looks, they’re important, and above silly things like highlights and designer shoes. So when we see another article about Justin Trudeau’s hot bod we’re getting mixed messages. As horrible and sexist as it is, after riding the initial train of giddiness over fluffy news, we recognize that something is out of place here.  And that’s when we realize that we’re not really talking about Canadian politics at all.

Is it an issue then? Is it a problem? If women in politics are reduced to their looks shouldn’t male politicians be treated the same in the name of equality. Why should we care if Justin Trudeau is the shining star of gossip magazines and trashy headlines? Well, we should care because in an ideal world appearance shouldn’t be what people in such important positions are recognized for. And I’m inclined to believe that many people who recognize this kind of messed up media representation when it comes to women politicians fall into the trap of thinking that the fluffy adoring articles on Trudeau are harmless, since they are praising his looks instead of bashing them. But when you think about it, it’s just the flip side of the coin; positive or negative. It’s still one sided, distracting media coverage of a person who is much more than a pretty face and we should be able to recognize that.

Le Papillon

BTSB - Le Papillon Cover

 

Autumn leaves waltz on the melancholic floor while I straighten Veronique’s hat. I give her a kiss on the forehead and tighten my grip on her tiny fingers that always radiate intense heat for the whole world to feel. She responds with a content smile; and off we go, losing ourselves into the crowd of busy eyes that are quietly searching for something unpronounced.

We get through the stamping of the shoes and sit on a grey-painted bench, next to a grey stone wall. The red letters scream, 7 minutes. Just enough time for Veronique to get bored, so I start to gently rock her on my lap, humming a song from my childhood — kilometres of sundried grass, serpentine streams of clear water, and never-ending sunflower fields.

C’était un’ petit’ fille

Qui s’appellait Suzon

Qui allait à l’école

Tout près de sa maison

sol la si do do

do si la sol ré ré ré

ré mi ré do si la si do.

My voice suddenly turns cold, out of some strange, unknown longing. I let Veronique sing louder when we get to the second verse. It’s her favourite song, and has been since she learnt to speak. How has it already been four years…

Qui allait à l’école

Tout près de sa maison;

Dans son chemin rencontre

Un joli papillon

”Maman, I want to see a butterfly, too!” she cries interrupting our singing. Smiling, I tell her that it’s not possible to see one before the spring arrives.

”How long will it take, maman?”

I pause briefly and then go on about how soon it’ll all be green and happy. ”Close your eyes and you’ll see. Let’s go!”

We imagine a cloud of colourful butterflies flying above a verdant meadow; we imagine the first flowers of the spring peeking from the trenches of promesse; we imagine dance steps here and there, bright lipsticks, first touches of the spring sun, final exams, moving ceremonies, excitement on school girls’ faces.

”But maman, when can I see it myself?!”

I force a smile and make empty promises once again. It’s only October, but I’m too afraid myself to admit that it takes about half a year until she can see those oh, so important butterflies.

”Vero, we’ve got to go now, take my hand.”

I’m already rushing toward the metro that would be arriving soon when I realize that the extension of my arm isn’t following me. When I turn around, I see my little girl standing still, weakly pulling my hand toward herself.

”Stop.”

”Vero, what’s wrong now? We’re in a hurry!”

”Non, non, maman, look, on the floor… you could’ve tripped on that paper and hit your head. You’ve said it yourself, you’ve said that we always have to watch where we step.”

I feel guilty, culpable of all these everyday injustices I let happen to my only child, blaming lack of time, tiredness, or hastiness. In the middle of endless quotidian responsibilities and tasks to carry out, I sometimes come to question my motherly abilities.

”My little life guard, you’re right. Thank you.”

She throws a mesmerizing smile and off we hurry, escaping the darkness that’s chasing me and my girl who is loyally following her infallible guardian.

Dans son chemin rencontre

Un joli papillon

Ell’ le prit par la patte

Et lui dit : mon mignon

sol la si do do

do si la sol ré ré ré

ré mi ré do si la si do.

 

Ell’ le prit par la patte

Et lui dit : mon mignon

Que tu es donc heureux !

Tu n’as pas de leçons.

Someone knocks on my shoulder and I turn around telling Veronique to wait a moment. A ragged stranger grabs my arm and pulls me aside. I become aware of the arriving metro; it’s already shaking the grey ground. I have just the time to open my mouth intending to complain about our hurry, when the man starts to proclaim in a thick Parisian accent:

”Madame, you must listen to me for just a moment! I am sure you have time for this, because my announcement is very important!”

He doesn’t even breathe before he goes on for a few more words, until I interrupt him, rudely, in a way so very unusual of me. When rushing toward the metro that is now slowing down only about a hundred metres away from the platform, I keep thinking about my nature that I’m sure has changed into identical with the busy city people, who don’t care about anyone else surrounding them. They know how to dispirit a childishly enthusiastic tourist, the likes of whom I once served in the countryside. In my past life, I would happily bake them cakes and pies, pour perfectly steamed milk into espresso, and decorate chocolates, with a wide smile complementing my features; but when they would return to the melancholy tango of car lights on buzzing yet depressingly grey streets, they would forget all about the texture of my divine dark chocolate truffles.

There’s the crowd again, swirling and moving toward the metro. I fake a smile once more, preparing to take Veronique on her first metro trip to a whole new part of Paris. ”Vero, are you ready for an adventure?”

Que tu es donc heureux !

Tu n’as pas de leçons

Tous deux de compagnie

Nous nous envolerons.

Suddenly, there is no answer.

Everything is fine, I must be overreacting, I tell myself — the girl stood next to me a second ago, I’m being paranoid, surely she just wandered a few feet away from me, and now all these people are just covering her tiny figure; she’s so easy to lose if you let her hand go for a single second… It really is about seconds.

The seconds I wandered around the metro station felt like hours. When it finally struck my mind, the one thing no one should ever have to experience, which eventually ended up being the truth, everything went silent.

Like in a movie, people start to scream here and there, pointing toward the metro tunnel, staring and marvelling. It felt like a disgrace — as if there wasn’t enough pain to get through in the accident itself. From that day on, I started to dislike people.

Tous deux de compagnie

Nous nous envolerons

La clochette m’appelle

Adieu, cher papillon.

I make my way through the crowd of faceless Parisians now in disarray, to see what is going on.

There lies an angel on the rails, and she is smiling; her smile is cruel and beautiful. A left foot’s shoe has flown metres away and a right arm bent unnaturally. I stare at this sight without any understanding, thinking that the angel looks relieved, happy even.

But it’s not spring yet.

I jump down not noticing the tears falling down my cheeks. ”Oh my God, she’s breathing, what are you all looking at, the angel is breathing and she’s happy, she’s enjoying the spring sun, she’s smiling, can’t you see…”

La clochette m’appelle

Adieu, cher papillon.

Slowly, my senses begin to work again, and a clear comprehension strikes my mind. My bones start to ache, my lungs shut down. I can’t hear any noise of breathing, the body next to me is ice-cold, the smile is gone.

Suddenly, I am being dragged away from the last scene of her I ever get to witness again. I lift my head and notice a painted butterfly on the concrete wall behind her.

It’s smiling.

I Was Wrong About…Early Mornings

Photo by Inka Vappula

My friends and family know that early mornings and I have never been in cahoots. In some circles it’s even my unfortunate claim to fame: “Oh, you’re that Inka, the one who threw a punch at someone for trying to wake you up. Yeah, I’ve heard about you”. For the record, it’s been 10 years, it only happened once, and I missed. So put down the sticks people, that horse is mulch by now.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

Grossly exaggerated stories aside, I truly have always hated early mornings. I don’t feel grumpy per se, although I have been told I look like I’m ready to murder, I’m just slow to start—like an old PC. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up naturally with the sunrise. And I’ve always had a strong distaste for those inspirational morning quotes: “the morning is full of possibilities” and all that crap.  The whole day is full of possibilities if you ask me. Silly morning-person propaganda, I thought.

University is a paradise for slow starters, such as myself. During my first semester, I made the mistake of enrolling in a linguistics course, which ran at 8:30 am on Fridays. Mostly I remember having a stiff neck all spring from sleeping sitting up. I rectified the situation by planning my schedule so that I never had to be up and about before noon. Ah, bliss!

However, during the past year, my optimal, late-riser schedule went topsy-turvy. I began a teacher-training program, which meant that most weekdays I had to either be attending classes or teaching them by 8 o’clock. It was my Everest.

In the beginning it was a twisted form of torture, I’m not going to lie. Even with a dangerously high coffee dosage, I felt—and probably looked like—the living dead, dragging my cumbrous feet from point A to point B, dazed and unaware of my surroundings. And I was constantly finding myself in the toilet, due to the unlawful amounts of coffee I was consuming. Torture, I tell you! I was miserable and much more adamant in my hatred of early mornings than I’d ever been.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

As the year has progressed, however, strange things have begun to happen. First, my body stopped resisting the new rhythm of life, and then my attitude began to shift as well. I’ve come to relish the way my senses are attuned to the morning and the routines I’ve adopted: the softness of woolen socks as I slip them on and tiptoe downstairs to make coffee; the familiar drip and gurgle accompanied by the rich aroma of a fresh brew as it falls in the pot; dark winter mornings, eating breakfast in the candlelight; or in the spring, watching the sun put on a splendid color display as it climbs lazily across the horizon.

The stillness, the serenity.

I’m a long way from becoming the person who jumps straight out of bed into running shoes. I doubt I’ll ever be that person. But I will admit: I was wrong about early mornings. They are okay–dare I say–even enjoyable, as long as they contain coffee and solitude.

Meet Modern Primitive

Modern Primitive--The Kin

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to an entire album. It’s a shame, because an album creates a whole; a collection of songs that together tell a story much wider and complex than they would alone. It feels like nowadays I just tend to listen to individual songs and kind of miss the big picture that an artist or a band is creating with the whole of an album. But every now and then I’m lucky enough to stop, take a moment, and listen to the whole story instead of just hearing the beginning.

The Kin is a band formed in New York in 2001 originally comprised of two brothers, Thorald and Isaac Koren, performing as an acoustic duo and later joined by a talented ‘stickless’ drummer, Mark ‘Shakerleg’ Nicosia. As far as genres go, they can be described as an alternative rock band with the mentality of a partners-in-crime collaboration. From the first album to their last, their music has been filled with intricate rhythm, raw emotion and undeniably beautiful melodies. Combining the talents of the Koren brothers in vocals, guitar and keyboard with Nicosia’s unique mastering of percussions has earned the band loyal fans and followers from around the world. There’s a kind of honesty, explosiveness, liveliness and humble pride in the music they play and preform. It’s no wonder their music has touched so many hearts and been embedded in so many souls considering that when listening to it you can practically feel all the hard work, joy, sweat, tears, pain and creativity that has gone into creating it. All this talent and passion seems to culminate in their latest and last album –Modern Primitive.

Modern Primitive--The Kin

Modern Primitive–The Kin

What is it exactly that makes Modern Primitive so spectacular? Well first off, you can’t deny that the Koren brothers sing like angels, it’s just a fact. The music is what it is in its purest essence. It’s a strange thing to try and put in words, but there’s nothing sloppy about any one track on Modern Primitive nor is there a track that is too polished or meant to fit into a cookie cutter copy machine mold. Every song is unique and each time you listen there’s something new to be found. Then another fact, Mark Nicosia, as a barehanded drummer, is undoubtedly a genius. To someone like me, who can’t figure out coordination and could barely play a basic beat if my life depended on it, a drummer with such precision and innovative ways of playing seems like a higher being. I mean playing without sticks and sounding that amazing in the process, talk about literally bleeding into your work. So we’ve got the voices, we’ve got the beats, and we’ve got the explosiveness of what The Kin is. There’s energy, there’s emotion, there’s something that makes you press play for the fiftieth time today, but in addition, we’ve got something that tops it all off – The lyrics.

I personally think I should be featured on BuzzFeed’s weirdest misheard lyrics, because my track record on hearing them correctly is quite honestly horrendous. However, having listened to The Kin since elementary school, I’d like to believe I hear at least 98, 6% of their lyrics correctly. And boy do I like what I hear. There’s a lot that can be said by just instrumental music, it carries meanings in itself. But combining solid instrumental tracks with mind blowing lyrics is what makes me smile like a kid in a candy shop. From tracks like Mary, Never be the Same, Together, and Nowhere to Now here to Modern Primitive, The Kin continues to put out lyrics that create the most astonishing pictures and elicit emotions with their straightforward style. I explicitly remember sitting on my bedroom floor waking up early in the morning to a new album by one of my favorite bands. I remember being nervous to press play, don’t ask me why but I was terrified of being disappointed. Luckily I was hooked from the first lines. Relying on the shuffle option the first track from Modern Primitive I happened to hear was called Week of the Disaster and the first two lines were immediately burned in my mind as something that went a bit like this; Could have been an early morning/We were like a child inside a dream. Instantly the song caught me in its delicate web and had me under its spell. It was the kind of song that had me remember all the ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’ and the myriads of ‘whys’ attached to all those moments I was so eager to hold on to only to watch them slip through my fingers. All those happy endings sailing away rather brutally, the things I didn’t see coming for the sake of being content in living in a happy bubble of my own, all those “fairy tales hanging on a string”. But it wasn’t a sensation of defeat that the track had me feeling, it was more of a recognition of ignoring the ‘whys’ and ‘should haves’ for the sake of maybe even defiantly accepting the disaster, striving to do better next time.

Just like that I knew I would not be disappointed. The tracks kept coming, each one…not better than the next, but complimenting each other. And what I realized was that each track was relatable and they carried messages across a broad lane of emotions: love, obsession, overcoming hardship, and maybe fittingly for a last album, a sense of centering oneself. Whether these emotions came across in flourished metaphors or plain and straight words they latched on to me as a listener and forced me to think about what this music was making me feel. For instance, Ashes, possibly one of my favorites from this album, to me is a song about overcoming hardship. It’s about enduring and fighting through what seems impossible to overcome. And it’s not just about surviving but it’s about pleading for someone else to keep fighting. The track, being very powerful itself, ever so amusingly reminded me of how powerless and helpless you feel at times when you want desperately to do something to help the ones you love, but all you can do is ask them to persevere and not give up. I think we can all relate to moments when it feels like darkness takes over light or when fire burns in paradise and you think you’ve definitely lost the fight. This song makes me feel thankful to those who have pushed me to “walk through the ashes”. It definitely takes you on an emotional rollercoaster from feeling helpless to empowered and back again in the best way possible.

However, interestingly enough, a curiosity for this album was figuring out that even with the importance and brilliance of the lyrics, it was just as important to notice where they were missing. On Modern Primitive there are tracks such as Week of the Disaster and Anchor, that in the end acting as a sort of outro, have a snippet of music that taps into the primitive side I guess, a counterpart to the heavily structured base of what ‘a song’ has turned into. And I guess it’s there to keep a balance, between the Modern and the Primitive. And for me I think that’s ultimately what makes me so happy to listen to this album. I interpret it as an album that taps into something primal, and primitive in innovative modern ways.

As sad as I am to say farewell, I can’t help but do it with a smile on my face because Modern Primitive truly is a last hurrah that deserves a round of applause. As The Kin have announced that they will be waving goodbye to the music business at least for the time being, Modern Primitive seems like the perfect album to bring them full circle, a closing chapter for a story richer than most fairy tales.

 

 

 

 

From Benin, With Love

Beach at Grand-Popo
Photo by Caitlin Barán

Plenty of students experience internships and living abroad during their studies. Most of them just don’t experience these two simultaneously and in as an exotic and different environment as does Caitlin Barán, who is currently doing her a five-month internship at Villa Karo in Benin, West Africa. Villa Karo is a Finnish-African cultural center and artist residence located in the picturesque little seaside village of Grand-Popo. Barán ended up interning there by applying for traineeship through the CIMO traineeship program last fall. Talking with her, it is evident that her time in Benin has been a profound experience for her.

Marketplace at Comé Photo by Caitlin Barán

Marketplace at Comé
Photo by Caitlin Barán

“The culture here is very different, but it’s not too difficult to adjust to. Obviously, I’m always a bit of an outsider here, but I’ve gotten somewhat used to it. “

For Barán, the biggest cultural difference has been how much people care about others. She feels that the people in Benin are so much more interested in each other, and so much kinder than what she is used to in Finland, where, she admits, it often feels like people simply don’t care about others’ daily concerns such as flus, stressful life situations or funny everyday occurrences.

“Here, it’s just really different. Strangers greet each other on the street and always stop to ask how you are doing or how your day went. Every morning my neighbor asks me if I slept well and every day when I return from work she will ask me how my day went. One day, she was offended, because I had gone out of the house to do something without sharing my plans with her first, and she was worried about me. It’s just a whole another level of caring and it has also changed me as a person.”

When it comes down to it, however, Barán says that people are interested in the same things in everyday life as at back home, even though so many things in Benin are different. Beninese people want to read, eat a good meal, follow a football cup on TV, travel, attend concerts, and get time off work to go visit their families, just like in Finland.

“They just often have another kind of attitude towards life, and while there are so many people who have practically nothing, it seems to me that they are so much happier here than us in Finland who have everything, and still want more and more all the time.”

Baràn’s work days at Villa Karo vary quite a lot, sometimes involving staying in the library for the entire day, organizing books and talking to people – mainly children from the village, who come by to look at the books – while sometimes doing tours around the cultural center and its museums for all of the tourists that come to visit the place. She does other things too, and says it really depends so much on so many different factors.

“My most important task, however, is translating and interpreting back and forth from French to Finnish, and sometimes also English.”

French is an official language in Benin, and the locals in Grand-Popo speak it, though it is not their first language as they also speak the local language of Mina.

“The French is slightly different at times, as there are some words and idioms that I am not used to, having learnt my French in France. At first I was really confused when returning from work people would ask me: “Tu as fait un peu?”, meaning: “Have you done a bit?”. I was like, “a bit of what?”, until I finally googled it and found out that it’s just a way of saying “were you at work?”. It’s just a direct translation into French from an idiom in the local language.”

Barán spends her free time mostly with her friends, either driving out to nearby villages or cities to explore, or just hanging out in Grand-Popo.

“Last weekend we drove out to a village called Comé and had lunch in a little restaurant. Then we drove to a city called Possotomé to go swimming. It was a really hot day, so it was just wonderful to float in the pool and have a cold drink afterwards!”

Barán also does her laundry by hand and finds that it is such a pleasure to help the kids in her house by doing all the laundry with them on Sunday mornings. She is surprised at how well and quickly she was accepted into the community. In her house next door to her apartment there lives two sisters, the 2- and 5-year-old children of the younger one of them, and the teenage daughters of two of their other sisters. In addition, there is also her landlord who normally lives in the city of Cotonou, but stays with them during the weekends. Along with the people, inhabitants of the house also include three cats, the youngest one of which, Pekka, is only 2,5 months old.

Barán in front of her neighbor's restaurant La Légende Photo: Caitlin Barán

Barán in front of her neighbor’s restaurant La Légende
Photo: Caitlin Barán

“I’m so happy with my little community here, our house is simply the best place to live and my neighbors are the funniest and kindest people ever. And they just took me in, like that! They have a little boutique and a restaurant, and we always have so much fun there, listening to music and talking about stuff.”

She shares a little anecdote about the local people and their love of Lipton tea, which demonstrates the relaxed Beninese way of life.

“People drink a lot of Lipton tea here, and you can buy it pretty much anywhere. I went to buy some from a little store, because I wanted to drink it at work. The lady at the shop gave me a tiny box of Lipton teabags that had been opened and over half of them were missing. I am obviously getting used to the Grand-Popo way of life, because instead of complaining and wanting an unopened box, I just asked if I could get the opened box for half the price. I got my tea and everyone was happy!”

Despite enjoying her time in Benin, Barán misses her family and her cats back at home in Finland. In addition, she confesses to missing some of the normal, everyday things, such as going to a grocery store to buy things to eat and cooking them at home.

“Here there are no grocery stores like in Finland, and cooking is a lot of work and takes a lot of time.”

She also misses certain foods. In Benin, she tells, her diet consists of mainly bread, rice, couscous, spaghetti, canned food and the occasional fruit, because fresh vegetables, for example, are harder to come by. Additionally, she misses doing a lot of sports easily, as in Finland she is accustomed to doing something everyday, for example going to the gym, going jogging, or attending a dance class.

“Here the easiest option is waking up practically in the middle of the night when it’s not too hot to go jogging, and it’s sometimes a bit tiring.”

When Barán returns home, she says she will miss above all the great friends she has made in Benin, as well as the way people interact with each other, greeting, smiling, and shaking each others’ hands. According to her, people are also a lot more outspoken in Benin, and will not hesitate to tell others how they feel. She says she will miss the children as well, and how they are not told to be quiet in situations where they could just as well enjoy themselves and be kids.

“I love children! Here, they are around wherever you go, and if a child cries, people will not scowl and sigh in annoyance, but instead they will help and try to comfort the child.”

Benin has changed Barán. She has learnt to be more patient, as sometimes the Internet connection, for example, will be down for a week. Calling the repair man is an option, but he will possibly come that day, or the next week, or maybe not at all. Sometimes there will be no electricity for three days, and it just has to be dealt with. She also cites being forced to relax as another important lesson Benin has taught.

“In Finland for years and years I have been working constantly, often two jobs at a time, while simultaneously completing as many study credits as possible. I always need to be doing something. Here, sometimes there is simply nothing to do, and it has been a valuable lesson to learn. I have been forced to sit down, grab a good book, and relax, relax, relax.”

Beach at Grand-Popo Photo by Caitlin Barán

Beach at Grand-Popo
Photo by Caitlin Barán