Helsingista #1


I went to Finland in search of magic. The old kind, the magic of blood and bone and birch. Kalevala-magic, the magic of Kullervo son of Kalervo, of Vänämöinen and Ukko, of words like sisu.

The problem with any such search is that you can't help but fail, in the Year of Our Lord Twenty-Nineteen; and not only that, but you're like to miss the magic of a tiny brown child on the train chattering away in suomikieli while you roam the streets of Helsinki with increasing desperation at each successive reminder that it is in fact 2019, and the language that you have for so long associated with legends is merely the way 5 million people communicate with each other on a daily basis. "Exoticizing" is not limited to cultures of warmer climes. I couldn't help but feel a certain crushing disappointment when the passport agent, who looked like a gaoler on Game of Thrones, asked me why I was there and my response of "Hauska" ("fun, pleasure") elicited a "What? Why are you here?"

I couldn't check into my hotel until 3 p.m.; I got into Helsinki proper around 11:30 a.m. Google Maps had for some reason not kept the offline map of Helsinki I'd made sure to download before leaving New York and my cell carrier behind. I desperately needed coffee and sustenance that wasn't still frozen from being at altitude. I vaguely recalled reading about a bakery in the area that sold Karelian pies and stumbled around until I found it—Hopia. There was warmth and coffee and a cinnamon-y pastry called korvapulla (ear sweet bun) that I will dream about for the rest of my life.

And there, on the walls, murals of Kalevala, flowing Finnish scripts from the songs of Kullervo son of Kalervo.