Archive for January 1st, 2009

I pulled into the driveway, opened the trunk and pulled my suitcase up the four stairs to the front door. Inside the mail had piled up on the floor beneath the slot in the wall but everything else looked just as I’d left it. There was a note on the refrigerator left by Leesa informing me that she’d stopped in on her way to Hawaii. She’d taken the dry clothes from the basement upstairs, scrubbed the kitchen and dusted the floors.
“PS. Welcome home Mr. Helsinki”.

In the office downstairs a fax had come in and fallen to the floor. It was from Kai. “Welcome home Jeffrey” it started and then went on to details about the ferry ride to Estonia, telling me that everyone at the office got drunk and how he ended up dancing with one of his female colleagues most of the night. It was no surprise. Drunkenness and ferry rides were synonymous in the lexicon of Finland. The ferries made hoards of money selling liquor and the Finns boarded by the hundreds, daily, to buy it at tax-free prices. Tickets for the ferries were sold as loss leaders.

I left my suitcase downstairs, took a shower and went straight into my bed. I was never so happy to see home. I fell fast asleep and awoke twelve hours later in exactly the same position. It was too late to meet the guys at Café’ Med so I decided to carry on with my tasks as I adjusted to the local time zone. I penned a note and faxed it to Kai, telling him briefly about the house I had encountered at Linnunlaulu.

The radio was on in the car as I drove around town to accomplish three weeks worth of back logged tasks. I was on 7th South when a song came on that I’d never heard before. Deep melodic sounds drifted into my ears and the lyrics caught my attention.

When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priests of pride say there is no other way
I tilled the sorrows of stone

I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars

Cast your eyes on the ocean. Cast your soul to the sea. When the dark night seems endless, please remember me.

Then the mountain rose before me
By the deep well of desire
From the fountain of forgiveness
Beyond the ice and the fire

Cast your eyes to the ocean. Cast your soul to the sea. When the dark night seems endless, please remember me.

Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars

Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We’ll rise above these earthly fears.

Cast your eyes to the ocean. Cast your soul to the sea. When the dark night seems endless, please remember me…please remember me…please remember me…

Tears came to my eyes and I had to pull over. My breathing grew deep and my head hung, slightly turned as I listened to the lyrics. “What’s happening? Why am I sobbing?” Then it hit me. “This is what the house wanted to say”.

I remained at the curb waiting to hear the name of the song. It was Loreena McKennitt singing Dante’s Prayer. There was a music store a few blocks east and I drove there immediately. I walked in bought the CD and went straight home. I listened over and over so that I could write down the lyrics and by the time I’d written them completely I was emotionally exhausted. As I pondered the effects of what had just happened I fell asleep on the sofa as the rest of the CD played on.

Originally excited to have some time at home I was now counting the hours until I returned to Helsinki. I planned to take the music with me, visit the house and allow it to give voice to the forgotten estate. I faxed Kai informing him that I had special plans for us when I returned to Helsinki, assuring him that it would be something unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. Even I was impressed with the plan. I would have never imagined that I’d be preparing to stand in a dark forest in the middle of a winter night listening to a CD and pretending that the lyrics were the words of an abandoned house. The more I thought about this the more I realized it would be best not to tell anyone else.

When asked the next morning by friends at Café’ Med what I’d been doing during my three week absence I told them that I’d been stuck in New York and left it at that.
“Send us a postcard next time” the owner said. “We’d thought you’d up and moved”.

My suitcase weighed more than ever with four 12oz cans of pumpkin wedged in between the layers of clean clothing I took to replenish the winter wardrobe that I kept at the hotel. The measuring utensils took up little space. I passed through customs in Helsinki and then to the Red Line.

There was the Red Line and the Green Line. The process was based upon the honor system. Green Line meant that you had nothing to declare. Red Line meant that you had something that needed further inspection before leaving the customs hall. Most people took the Green Line but occasionally customs officers who watched from behind two-way mirrors would emerge, pull aside random individuals and go through their bags. It happened, but very seldom. The Finns were simply not good at diplomatic intimidation.

I stopped at the stainless steel counter and looked into the mirror. A man with thick blonde hair came out from behind.
“Do I need to declare two kilos of canned pumpkin?”
“Will you be selling it?” he asked with his thick accent.
“It’s a gift. I also have measuring cups.”
“Are those gifts as well?”
“Yes. They’re for the woman who owns the coffee shop at Kluuvi. Have you been there?”
“No,” he responded. I had pulled him into a conversation and he startled himself by answering.
“You should go. She’s going to make pumpkin muffins and I can ask her to set a couple aside for you if you’d like.”
“Okay.” We stood there looking at each other for an odd moment.
“Can I enter?” I asked.
“Go ahead,” he replied.

My driver lifted my bag into the back of the Yellow Line van, stopping momentarily because of the weight. “What have you got in here?”
“Canned pumpkin.” I’m sure he’d never heard anyone say that.

The sun was shinning when I arrived. Daylight increased by fifteen minutes each day and in the course of my absence another hour and a half of it had become available. At the hotel I retrieved my suitcase and took the elevator up to my junior suite granted as part of the Six Continents membership.
“Let us know how you like the room,” the receptionist asked. “It’s an experimental décor and we want to determine our guests’ reactions.”

I called Kai and reminded him about the plans I’d put forth. He asked about what I had planned and I said that if I told him it would ruin the surprise.
“Meet me in front of the City Theater at eight o’clock tonight.”
“On Eläintarhantie?”
“I’m not sure what the street name is. But you know the City Theater across the bay from your apartment, right?”
“Good. Eight o’clock. See you there.”

My junior suite wasn’t much of a suite. It was still just one room though it had two big terrycloth robes, larger bars of soap, upgraded shampoos and lotions, a marble bathroom and at last, an electric teapot. I didn’t care about earning free limousine rides. An electric teapot meant an end to lukewarm coffee.

As for the décor, I wasn’t impressed. The hotel was long overdue for a renovation and the room I’d been given wasn’t modern or streamlined like the newer hotels. It was “puffy”. Big puffy curtains, big puffy pillows (and lots of them) and a puffy lime green chair and ottoman. The room looked like it had been renovated ten years ago and forgotten about until I walked in on it but I could overlook puffy for the sake of an electric teapot.

I pulled the room-darkening curtains, turned back the puffy duvet and crawled into bed. Muffled sounds came from the low volume of the television. As I lay there I thought that this must be what was like to be inside of a marshmallow.

When the alarm went off at four o’clock I rushed to fill my electric teapot. Instant coffee had never tasted better. I sipped it carefully so as not to burn my tongue. My phone rang and I realized that I left it on while I slept. It was Veikko.
“You’re back,” he said, sounding elated.
“I am.”
“Can you meet us for a beer? Janne and Kalle are stopping into town after work.”
“I can, but only for a short while.” I was to meet them at Mann Street at six, which would give me about an hour and a half before I’d have to leave to meet up with Kai. “But just for one beer,” I told him.

I didn’t know that when I turned on the bathroom lights that I also activated the heated floor until I stepped out of the shower and noticed that I wasn’t standing on cold marble. “THIS is fantastic,” I thought to myself.

My portable CD player barely fit into the exterior pocket of my down jacket. I had to put the CD in the other pocket and I brought along extra batteries in case the current ones died. When I finally snapped the pockets and zipped the jacket, I too was puffy. There was still light in the sky but the sun had sunk below the horizon. A strong wind blew from the north as I walked along Mannerheimintie.

I ordered a beer and sat with the guys, excited about the time I’d be spending at the boarded up house. I now referred to it simply as The House. Veikko asked about my flights and I told him about Vesa who’d worked the flight from Dubai in drag and about the problem of getting into the US when Finnair misspelled my name.
“Imagine,” he said while tossing his scarf to one side, “not being able to enter your own country.”
“And all I do here is wave to the customs guys and walk in,” I replied.
Janne listened but didn’t understand. Veikko retold the story entirely in Finnish so that Janne got ever word of it. He listened to Veikko but looked at me while nodding his head.
“So what are you doing tonight that you can’t stay?” Veikko asked.
“I’m going to a concert,” I told him.
“Oh, lovely. A concert. Who’s performing?”
“It’s a private concert.”
“In the forest,” I said. I took the last drink of my beer and told him I had to be on my way. “I have to meet someone at the City Theater first.” I left no time for further questions, as I wasn’t prepared to talk about The House publically. “I’ll call you next week.”

Being in the center of town there was no direct route to the City Theater. I took the main streets, crossing the Pitkäsilta bridge into Hakaniemi and turned left at the Säästöpanki building. It was the same route to Ravintola Marco Polo where Maria and I liked to dine and a route that was now quite familiar. Most everything I did in Helsinki now revolved around Hakaniemi.

Kai stood on the street at the entrance to the parking lot for the City Theater.
“Come on. Let’s go.”
“Where are we going Jeffrey?”
“Just up the street. I told you about the house I discovered at Linnunlaulu, remember?”
“Okay, so here’s what happened. Don’t talk and don’t ask any questions until I’m finished.” He agreed and as we walked I told him the story and how in Salt Lake I’d heard the song on the radio and realized that these were the words that the house wanted to have heard. He looked at me quizzically. “I know this sounds odd and I agree that it is completely out of the ordinary. I’ve never before felt as if a house needed to speak to me, but please just trust me on this.”
“I will,” he replied.

As we arrived at The House the winds had stopped.
“This is it,” I said.
“So this is your house?”
“Now what shall we do Jeffrey?”
“I want to feel the stone foundation.” The ground slopped away from the foundation along the western side, exposing nearly all the courses of stone.
“Jeffrey,” he said. “The stones are warm.” I took off my glove and touched them as well, looking at him. “How can that be?” he asked.
“This house is magical I told you. Now listen to this.” We stepped back enough to be able to see the entire west side of The House and I pulled the CD player out of my pocket, plugged in an adapter that allowed two sets of earphones to be used and gave a set to Kai. “Put these on.”

I queued up Dante’s Prayer and pushed play. “Just listen.” As the song played on his eyes filled with tears. Mine welled up too. Our senses were enveloped by the energy. The deep voices of the stones and the whispering voices of the treetops became the background to the message that The House had been waiting to express.
“Please remember me…”

“This is the amazing,” Kai said while wiping the tears from his face. “I wish we could capture this on film.”
“Film couldn’t possibly capture this.”
“I know Jeffrey, but there has to be away to record this.”
“There isn’t Kai. There’s just isn’t a way.”
We listened to the song again.

* * *

When morning arrived I hauled the pumpkin to Shelly’s coffee shop. She wasn’t there but a man that I’d presumed to be her husband was. He watched as I unloaded the cans onto the counter and must have thought it strange because his face went blank except for a tiny wince in his eyes.
“These are for Shelly,” I said while realizing that I’d forgotten the measuring cups at the hotel. “Tell her that I forgot the measuring cups but I’ll bring them next week.”

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