Archive for December, 2008

Eläintarhantie 14 – Part I

You may recall a little something I wrote last year after receiving a surprise e-mail from South Africa. It’s here if you’d like to look back.

Today I received a package in the mail that allows this story to continue. Before I get to what was in that package, I think it’s important that you read all that has taken place over the past eleven years.

This is will be the first of three posts so check back soon for parts two and three.

Timo’s apartment smelled like coffee
“I just brewed a fresh pot,” he explained.
“I can’t drink coffee at this hour,” I told him.
“But what if we put some Bailey’s Irish Crème in it?”
“Then,” I said, “it would become the perfect winter drink.”

I hadn’t seen Timo for several weeks and catching up with him was a nice way to spend the evening. All things considered I much preferred to spend time away from the bar scene, but living in a hotel didn’t offer the opportunity to entertain there and serving instant coffee with hot tap water wouldn’t have created return guests.
“Do you remember the coffee kiosk that used to be in the entrance to Stockmann?” I asked him. “There was an American woman who worked there and I heard that she’s opened her own coffee shop at a place named Kluuvi.”
“Yes, I’ve heard of her.”
“You have?”
“I have. There may be a half-million people living here, but we tend to know what’s going on around us.”
“So where is Kluuvi?”
“Kluuvi. It’s a little shopping center near the Kaisaniemi metro station. Right behind Senaatintori.”
I had no idea there was a shopping center there. “An indoor shopping center?” I made a mental note and decided I’d try to find it during my next trip.

It was nearly midnight and I needed to get going. In the elevator I wondered if walking through the park was a good idea being that it was so late. I’d never heard of anything happening there and no one ever had ever said that the park was dangerous during the night. I’d never seen a news report about a murder in the park. I’d never heard a news report about any murders in Helsinki and with that in mind, I decided to walk home through the park.

It was silent as I entered. The path was lit in a hue of pale blue from the moonlight and in the extended darkness I could see the stars. From out of the silence I heard a bird begin to sing. I looked up at the surrounding trees and tried to find it because I’d never heard a bird singing at this hour of the night. Of course I’d heard loons on the lakes in Minnesota, but this wasn’t a loon. It was a songbird. I stopped and tried to focus on the treetops. It continued singing. Singing as if it were a summer morning.

I wondered if this was why the area was known as The Bird Song Area. It had been named nearly a century ago and enough had changed during the past 100 years that I would have expected the songbirds to be long gone and if they remained I’d have not expected them to be singing on a February night. The little bird, wherever it was, continued singing. I concluded that it was watching over my safety as I walked home, and I was delighted to have discovered why this area was so aptly named.

Morning came earlier than I’d hoped. I tossed and turned most of the night likely because I’d slept too late the afternoon before. It was six a.m. I opened the curtains to discover that large fluffy snowflakes were falling. I turned on the morning news and the woman who gave the weather forecast said that it was -5C. Knowing I wouldn’t go back to sleep I got dressed and decided to go on a quest to find the coffee shop at Kluuvi. By the time I’d find it I figured it would be open. I took my journal along anticipating time to write while I enjoyed an early morning coffee.

The snow had been falling for a while and the sidewalks were covered with about four centimeters of sparkling fluffy snow. It was the type of snow that billowed out from under my shoes rather than being compacted by my footsteps. Still intrigued by Linnunlaulu Alue and having plenty of time to spare before I could expect the coffee shop to be open, I again made my way around the bay and up to where I’d heard the songbird the night before. The fresh snow made for a nice view from the suspension bridge over the railroad tracks where I watched it being whisked off the top of departing train cars.

As I crossed the bridge and rejoined the gravel path when I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. There was a house sitting just to the left of the path. I looked back thinking I had taken a wrong turn but soon realized that I hadn’t. I’d never seen this house before and I’d been through here dozens of times. I felt like I was dreaming and the quietness bestowed upon the city by the fresh snow added to the sensation.

Atop a foundation made of heavy stone stood an old wood-framed house. Its windows were boarded up and the paint had long since faded from the narrow clapboard siding. It was a large house, large enough that I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t seen it before. Large enough to be one of the original estates at Linnunlaulu – it must have been one of them but unlike the others which had been maintained to some degree over the years, this one sat untouched. Sad. Lonely. As if it were it had emerged from a coma and wondered what had happened. It just sat there quietly.

I continued on the gravel path still perplexed by its presence. “Why had I not seen this before?” I asked myself. I stopped and turned to look at it again. Who ever had built this house had built it in such a way that no one side seemed to be the front and all four sides had, at one time, looked towards the waters of the bay. It was also built on the brow of the hill rather than at the top and this method of placement was not typical at that time.

Barren brush and young leafless trees surrounded the property and I determined that the foliage had hidden the house during the summer months. Having not seen it then, my attention turned towards the water at the base of the hill and that must have remained my focus during my walks. Now however, the house was starring at me under the darkness of winter. I felt as if it wanted to speak.

I continued on my walk into the city enjoying the freshly fallen snow and hoped that I’d find the American owned coffee shop.

It was now 7:30 a.m. and the city was beginning to come alive. I could hear the metallic sounds of steel wheels and the whining hum of the electricity as the trams rounded the curve where Kaisaniemenkatu joined Kaivokatu. Across the street a sidewalk rose around a glass pyramid that fed light into the metro station below. Fashioned out of brushed chrome I saw the word “Kluuvi” hanging above a set of glass doors. Inside I found the coffee shop. A line had already formed at the counter, and behind it was the woman I’d seen years ago.

I ordered coffee and asked for one of the blueberry muffins that were in the glass case. I used English and it didn’t seem to cause any sense of intrigue on her part. I took my coffee and muffin, found a seat near the window and began writing about the lonely boarded up house. Keeping an ear open for what was going on around me I heard the woman answer the phone and carry on a brief conversation in English.
“I can’t believe she didn’t recognize my American English,” I thought. When I finished my breakfast I approached the counter.
“Didn’t you use to work at the little kiosk inside the entrance to Stockmann?”
“I did,” she said. “You remember me?”
“Well of course I do. It’s not common to hear American English coming from someone working at a coffee bar in Helsinki. How did you get here?” I asked.

She explained that she had married a Finnish man several years ago while living in St. Louis. After having spent time in Finland, she’d come to the conclusion that it offered a better standard of living than St. Louis and they made the decision to move.
“I really like it here,” she said.
“Me too,” I replied, introducing myself.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. I told her the reasons. “You should come by again. I’ll introduce you to my husband. When are you coming back?”
“I’ll be back in about a week.”
“Could you do me a favor? I’ve wanted to make some pumpkin muffins but I can’t get canned pumpkin here. Would you bring me a few cans?”
“How many would you like?”
“As many as you care to bring.” She went on. “Would you mind doing me another favor?”
“I don’t mind.”
“Could you bring over some American measuring cups and a set of measuring spoons? I cannot get my recipes to come out correctly when I make the conversions.”
“Consider it a done deal,” I told her. I fully expected her to open the till and give me some money but she didn’t. “I’ll bring the receipt for you,” I said.

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While I didn’t necessarily know what to expect of the Warhol exhibit, I didn’t expect to encounter so much electronic media.  I hadn’t thought of Warhol in those terms.

One of my first jobs was that of a janitor for a slumlord who owned a handful of really shitty commercial properties in downtown Minneapolis.  I also cleaned his office and in it hung four Marilyns, three Maos and two Torsos.  Because I worked on the weekends, I would take my lunch breaks in his office surrounded by these images with which I was fascinated.

Having always associated Warhol with such colorful static images it was interesting to discover how much work he did with black and white film.  I particularly enjoyed listening to the recorded conversations while watching the multiple screens display various “screen tests”.  Audio and visual elements combined offered a peek into the mind of the artist.  A view that wasn’t a product of media that made him into the star that he became.

Despite the size of the collection on display at the Wexner Center I stopped the longest to contemplate a letter and envelope that had been addressed to Andy Warhol.  It was a hand-written stamped envelope mailed from San Francisco by Valerie Solanas, the woman who tried to kill Warhol in 1968.  What I pondered wasn’t the assassination attempt but instead the envelope and letter itself.

Most of today’s media, and specifically personal communication, takes place electronically.  I receive hand written letters only from my friend Jürgen in Germany and I write back because he doesn’t yet own a computer.  My friend Steve in Warkworth, Ontario occasionally sends typed letters.  I used to save the letters that I received in the mail.  I still have a few in a box somewhere in the basement, but these days the communications I receive are held on servers somewhere – a place that I cannot reach without electricity and log-ins.

The words and the thoughts are only available for viewing – they were produced in such a manner, never intended to be touched or held.  These messages are accessible from virtually anywhere, but are seemingly nowhere simultaneously.

It was just two days three days earlier when I commented on Andrew Miller’s post “When to go offline”, stating my feelings about the social aspects of sending and receiving post cards.  There is still something marvelous about holding a communique that has been hand-written.

Forty years later it is possible to see what had once been written to and held and read by Warhol himself.  Had the media he explored forty years ago been as common place as it is today, we may never have known of him, let alone have the ability to view his personal communications.

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The initial plans were to take in a visit to the Toledo Glass Pavilion on Christmas Eve, but my arrival time meant we’d have to pass. The drive by was thrilling none the less, and I asked my host to “go around the block again”.

Across the street, attached to the main building of the Toledo Museum of Art is an addition by Frank Gehry which houses the University of Toledo’s Center for the Visual Arts. In it’s design, one can see the beginning stages of Gehry’s plunge into deconstructivism.

My host, a historic preservationist from Chicago, stated that he had no idea what deconstructivism was and that even after reading multiple definitions, he finds himself left with the feeling that its nothing more than a word used to elevate conversation, or rather the social status of those using the word, and that even those who use it can’t define it. While I understand the deconstructivist concepts, I too had a difficult getting my point across. This lead to a question that permeated the entire weekend:

“If I were a fly on the wall in a room where one of two people were ‘deconstructing’, what actions might I witness?”

Because that question has rendered me (and a couple of my friends) speechless, I’m extending an invitation to whomever may be reading to weigh in on a possible answer.

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Twelve Years in the Making

It’s interesting how connecting life’s dots creates sketches of things one may not have ever imagined.  Not only are there the dots we create, but there are those that form in the background only to reveal themselves later.

Allow me to explain.

It was October of 1996 when I met Maria at a party in Helsinki.  She was one of the hostesses at a private corporate party that I [essentially] crashed in order to hear a pop choir that was performing that evening.  It was either crash the party or leave the country without hearing them live.

In the summer of 1997 I met Ari at the then ultra-popular Helsinki nightclub, Lost and Found.  It was the place to be seen and neither of us were truly qualified to be there.  He was a telephone operator and I was working with Finnair.  Ari and I palled around from time to time.  Later that year Maria got in touch with me after a years absence.

A few years ago I found Ari thanks to the Internet.  He’s no longer a telephone operator but he did get a spot in a commercial for Kabanossi sausages (he’s the short guy wearing the cap). It was about this time that I started working on the manuscript that has become my book, Hakaniemi.  I asked Ari if he knew of any Finnish publishers that might be interested in what I was writing.  He sent me a link to Like Kustannus, a publisher that is willing to entertain unique topics.  I book marked the site for later reference.

Like was my first choice for a publisher, but when the local competition for first-time authors came about in Columbus, I thought it may be a better idea to work locally.  After months of waiting for the winner to be announced I discovered in late September that the prize went to someone else.  I decided then to send the manuscript to Like.

There is a section of Like’s web site that offers readers a place to sign up to receive information about the events that Like hosts in Helsinki, such as readings, signings and sales.   When this page loads a claymation video plays.  Entitled “Don’t Read and Drive” a  car is being driven by a character that is reading a book and crashes between two points on a map – one of which is Salt Lake City and the other which is Helsinki.  Coincidently, my book takes place primarily in these two cities.

When I mailed the manuscript to Like I notified Maria by e-mail.  She’d been asking about it.  Later that day she called.  As it turns out, Like Kustannus’ offices are around the corner her building in the Kruununhaka section of Helsinki.  In January I’ll be visiting Maria – and staying just steps from where someone has read my manuscript.

I find this series of events to be absolutely fascinating.

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It might take years for Ohioans to notice the difference, but state transportation planners are getting ready to use greener, less highway-centric criteria to evaluate which projects should get funding.
Ohio Department of Transportation officials said the new factors will help the state build a more modern transportation system, one that includes more rail and water transportation and is better designed to boost the economy.

This piece of news is one of the best pieces of news I’ve received from the State during my eight years of Ohio residency. Once approved, ODOT will devalue the automobile with regards to transportation planning.

Currently, traffic volume and capacity [of roads] have the ability to account for up to 40 points in determining which projects move their way onto ODOT’s “to do” list. Under the new system, the maximum weight such criteria can carry will be 10 points, on a scale of 0-130.

What this means, essentially, is that movement throughout Ohio will be considered with a greater emphasis on a total solution, rather than a solution that concerns itself with simply making more space for automobiles.

Read the entire article in the Columbus Dispatch.

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The official numbers will be ready shortly after the end of December, but with just four weeks left of the year, I can safely say that the savings have been tremendous.

It started last January with the simple idea of using public transportation to get to and from work, but only when it was convenient.  I spent $45 on a transit pass and $30 on gas and set out to determine if I could make the combination work.  Well, it worked and at the end of January, I still had gas in the tank.  When I ran the numbers, I determined that I also had money in the bank.  Not a lot, but a little.

I decided to take the challenge further in the following months to see how much more I could save by using the car only to get to and from when my schedule was outside of  COTA’s operating hours.  This meant that I would often be on the first bus of the morning or the last bus at night.  It also meant that all of my weekly tasks would be carried out using public transit.  If it couldn’t be accomplished using public transit, I wouldn’t participate.

Using those guidelines as the general rules for living throughout 2008, I have found myself, now in December, with more available money than ever before.  There is more money in the bank and the remaining debt is being decimated month after month.  Because I’ve been so fortunate, it’s time to pay it forward to someone else.

At the end of December I will buy a January COTA transit pass for someone willing to give it a try.  Ideally, I’d like to see the recipient use it for commuting to and from work a couple times per week, but I’ll place no limits on its use.  Use it for whatever purpose you’d like, just use it.  As an added perk, I will help the recipient plan their public transit travel.

To be considered as the recipient, please use the comments section of this blog post to tell us how you would use unlimited access to COTA’s existing route structure during the month of January.   It is not the easiest month to make the switch, but if you can do it in January, you can do it any month.  Additionally, COTA has plans to expand service on many of its routes starting January 5th, making it that much easier.

The January COTA pass will go to the individual who puts forth the best claim.  Please be over eighteen years of age and have your “comment” posted by December 25th.

Please do not put your contact information into the body of your text.  Your registration to post comments contains that information but it is not shown publicly.

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