It was a sunny Friday in September and I had arrived in Helsinki two days before. The first day there I had gone for a walk in Suomenlinna. A trip I had made many times before, seeing as it is one of Helsinki’s most beautiful sights, especially on a sunny and warm afternoon. In many ways the artisans and cafes of Suomenlinna reminds me of Christiania, a favorite taunt of mine in my home of Copenhagen – minus the marijuana of course.
This particular sunny Friday I had gone with a friend on a day trip to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. There we had walked around for a bit and partaken in a bit of beer drinking in an establishment called Hell Hunt, translating to the Gentle Wolf. If you ever get to Hell Hunt in Pikk Street I suggest you try the beer Tume, a dark yet fresh and fruity beer – probably the best dark beer I’ve ever tasted. The trip there and back took 2½ hours each way, and the “coffee” drinking continued onboard the ferry on the way back and we were both in good spirits, when we returned to Helsinki’s west harbor, carrying a small trolley with 3 cases of Lapin Kulta and a bottle of Estonian vodka.
Once having unloaded the beer and vodka at my friends place in Haaga, more specifically North Haaga, I insisted on visiting one or more of the local pubs, seeing as we were in an uplifted mood.
We went for an about 20-25 minute walk and ended up at a small shopping center off the street of Näyttelijäntie. Here we found two pubs. The first one we went into, the larger one, was almost empty when we came. The pub was owned by a guy from the Punjab Province in northern India. I think he was the first Indian bar owner in the western world I have ever met. I talked to him, but didn’t quite get why he had decided on being a bar owner and not, just to be a bit stereotypical, running an Indian restaurant, been a green grocer or driving a taxi. The only people there when we came in, was a bunch of people in their 50’s who were all more or less drunk – and by that I mean really drunk. One sang karaoke, heavily off key, while a couple tried to dance to the music. The woman, of the dancing couple, fell down while dancing, after what I assume could have been one too many koskenkorva. But they do love their dancing in Finland and even have their own version of the Tango. A passionate dance for a passionate people – and yes, I just used the word passionate about the people from the cold north. Let me take this chance to deviate from the tale of my evening out in North Haaga for a second.
In a quote from Wikipedia it is stated that “The central themes of Finnish tango lyrics are love, sorrow, nature and the countryside”… so passionate in a very Country & Western like fashion. And although, Finns rarely express feelings openly and can seem a bit reserved, as indeed goes for most people in the Nordic countries, however, meet them on their own turf, and perhaps indulge in a bit of vodka drinking, and they open up to reveal a warm and friendly people with a passionate twinkle in their eyes. What I really love about my Finnish brethren, is the fact that they don’t sling polite phrases around, or phrases of emotions for that matter. To say “I love you” you really, really, really have to mean it. That to me is real passion, a respect for the power of feelings that prevents them from throwing them carelessly around until they lose all meaning.
Back in the pubs in Haaga, a group of young people now start to show up. My friend tells me, that they are the “up to no good” kind of people, but they never seem threatening to me at any point. In fact, the type of person I normally find scary, is a buffed, tattoo wearing, speeded up (in a drug kind of way) bundle of anger, like the ones you find in parts of Copenhagen. And these young lads seemed nowhere near that. In fact they became very friendly once they find out I’m was from Denmark, and we start talking football, especially about the evening’s game between Finland and Spain. A somewhat hyped match seeing as it’s against the world champions from Spain, and the fact, that Finland managed a draw in the first leg against the unbeatable toreadors in their home capital of Madrid. And why start talking football with a Dane? Well, there are two questions to that answer: World Cup in 92 and Michael Laudrup.
After a couple of pints of Karhu we decide to move on to the next pub. This pub was smaller and more intimate. Another two pints were ordered, and we immediately started talking to a lady in her late 40’s. If memory serves me right, she used to play football on the woman’s national team in Finland, and even though she was talkative enough, she constantly had one eye on the match on TV. Alas it went as I had predicted, Spain won 2-0, and the football lady went out for a while.
During the whole night I frequented the evening air for a drag on my cigarette. As in many other parts of the world nowadays, smoking is prohibited inside, even in the pubs. During these outings, I started talking to some of the other people frequenting the pub. I remember one very large and heavy set fellow, who was ever so friendly, and had a great passion for handball, which he had played in his younger days. The football lady also returned, and joined the talking crowd. It seemed like my finish friend and I now had become engaged in a number of pleasant conversations with various people in the pub, about handball, football, Denmark and Finland and a whole variety of other subjects. I only remember bits and pieces of the different conversations, seeing as I was now getting more and more intoxicated from Karhu. And then Laura joined the conversation. She had worked for 10 years or so in France and had now returned to Haaga, she was in her mid-30’s and had a beautiful smile and a pair of eyes to match. Her boyfriend was around, but for some reason that didn’t prevent her from flirting with me, and her boyfriend didn’t notice for some reason, or simply didn’t get it. Perhaps his English was too poor or his perception too hampered by alcohol and drugs. When the bar closed, he invited us for whisky with cannabis, but although I wouldn’t have minded looking some more into Lauras eyes, and also my Finnish friend were ready to party on, I had to get up early the next morning and go to my friend Ville’s cottage on Pujo Island… But that’s another story.
Written October 2013