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Trip 6 -- Scandinavia, the Baltics, and Greenland

Message 3: Savonlinna to Tallinn

Date: 21 Jul 2002 13:36:29 -0000 
From: seth@sethweinstein.com (Seth Weinstein) 
Subject: Scandinavia update #3: Savonlinna to Tallinn 

Finland is known for its castles and, in the summer, for its music festivals. I enjoyed the two simultaneously at Savonlinna's annual month-long opera festival, where I saw the Finnish opera _Juha_ performed in the courtyard of the medieval castle Olavinlinna.

Then, a day at Kaustinen's week-long folk-music festival provided 16 hours of nonstop activity. Traditional folk music was performed on what was usually a combination of accordions, harmoniums, fiddles, and mandolins, though sometimes other instruments, such as clarinets, were added. Also featured was the kantele (Finnish zither), both the traditional acoustic version and an electric version that was part of a modern rock band. Not all the music was uniquely Finnish: There were other European folk musicians and a gospel group from the USA. Sometimes the fusion of cultures took bizarre forms, such as in a rendition of "I Will Survive" performed on acoustic guitar, clarinet, drums, and four accordions!

I spent one day in Jyväskylä, a city probably best known for Alvar Aalto, Finland's most famous architect. (I defy any non-Finn reading these messages to name another Finnish architect!) His style - a combination of functionalism and humanism - is well-respected even outside Finland, though I often found it crossing the border from sleek to austere. While in Jyväskylä, I was able to meet up with a friend whom I met last year in Tanzania and who was kind enough to put me up (and put up with me) for a night.

Back to buildings: Turku's castle and Helsinki's fortress were also stunning, and indeed, I was impressed by the beauty of the buildings all over Helsinki. Yesterday I took the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia, a city whose ancient towers and wall made the ferry approach especially appealing. (The variety of fish on the ferry's breakfast buffet no doubt enhanced the ride's appeal.)

Estonia has evolved over only a decade from a repressed Russian society to a technologically and culturally modern society, and it's fascinating to walk the narrow cobblestone streets of Tallinn's Old Town and see Internet cafes and nightclubs housed in brightly colored buildings dating from the 17th (sometimes 15th) century. Much of the Russian influence still exists: I've heard more Russian spoken than Estonian; there are still old grandmothers selling flowers and fruit near the Old Town's gates; and at the Museum of Theatre and Music (which no longer has any theatre exhibits), the scene seemed typical of old Russia as the two babushkas running the place, overwhelmed when I handed them a 100-kroon note to pay the 15-kroon admission fee, took out their tiny purses and painstakingly counted out my change using 12 notes and three coins, all the while figuring the math with a pen and paper.

Acceptable in Estonian Scrabble, if there is such a thing, is "jäääär," which means "edge of ice" - Estonian is the only language to have a word with the same vowel repeated four times consecutively.


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