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Archive for December 30th, 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.”
“Precisely.”

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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