Monday, May 12, 2008

The Great Bear in the Sky

Here's the mom I wished mun aiti to be when I was little, a mom like I imagined the Kanadalaaset tyttot [the Canadian girls] had. Of course, like the Chippewa bathers postcard, this image, too, is more fiction than fact--most likely painted by a man. This image is barely believable! After all, what woman, Finnish, Canadian, or Finnish Canadian, would equate being Queen for a day with ironing? I bought this card for my mom last Mother's Day. The only thing in common with this mom and mun aiti is the electric mixer in the background. She bought the same Phillips electric mixer, but circa 1977, for me as my wedding gift. Without it, my "famous cakes" would not be possible.

Here's another image painted by a man, but this time, more believable--well, at least for me being Finnish at my roots. However, still romantic. The white cotton nightdress has hints of purity and innocence amid dark woods. This postcard of a Finnish woman sitting looking out towards the setting sun was sent to me years ago by Emily, who lives in England. I met her in Germany, in 2000, at the International Feminist University, which was a 3 month long gathering of women from around the world, including me. Emily's father was Finnish, her mother from Wales. This postcard is a reproduction of Finnish artist Torsten Wasastjerna's (1863-1924) Iltatunnelma kalliola, 1901 [Evening mood on the cliff]. It's tacked up on my office door. I hung my Kalevalan koru [jewelry] Karhu [bear] earring on it.

My daughter, Yasmin, first bought me the bear necklace last year on my birthday, then the bear earrings for last Mother's Day. This year she cleaned the kitchen while I was sleeping. The best present ever!

I am blessed with presents. Sometimes I feel guilty to be given so many gifts. My gifts would fill a room. They would be many colours, many cultures. Many stories lie behind my gifts. This bear in a bone / stone/ Milky Way spiral is a gift I once received. It is from Rita Apuli, a Finnish artist who came to Thunder Bay to hold an exhibit at Finnfling 3 years ago. I organized the art exhibit and seminars; of course, with help. This was the year that we held SuperiorFinn Juhannus Art Festival at Lakehead University, and not at the Finlandia Club. I organized a creative writing session with Rita's art and Tuovi Koivunen's poetry. We all wrote about this black bear in the center. Is it looking in or looking out?

Tuovi writes a lot about the Bear; I translated a few of her poems. She gifted me with a CD of bear poetry and her book Louhen kartanolla [Louhi's home territory], which is a co-creative work with Rita's painting. Together, these women re-imagine the Kalevala. Rita's taulu hangs on my pink painted antiqued hallway that leads to the door with the evening mood on a cliff.

Here is a closeup from Rita's website. [click on the images on her page to enlarge]. Her site is in Finnish but there are many images that you can explore, even if you do not understand Finnish. Her paintings tell stories of the Kalevala but re-imagined her special way. The Kalevala is a book of narrative poetry put together by Elias Lonnrot in his own special way [he selectively picked runes, changed some (e.g. made Louhi only miserable and mean!), added his own writing (Aino), put them in a particular order, and Christianized the whole lot]. Louhi is the vanha akka [old hag] of the North. But she is a powerful woman, not reduced to only cruelty and death. Kaarina Kailo has written about this in Pan Dora Revisited as well as other places.

This golden bear is from the Sateenkaarisanomat [Rainbow News] website. On this page you can see a photo of Tuovi lying against a statue of Elias Lonnrot, and below that, a photo of 1000s of years old rock art on a cliff in Finland, close to a place called Hvitträskissä.

this is a bear created by Harriet Rosenberg of International Falls. She is of Finnish descent. My sisters and I met her in Marquette at the Finnish festival a few years back. She had a booth and was selling all sorts of stuff. Besides some of her images, I bought a second-hand red mini dress dress that she had stamped with a Hannun vaakuna, an ancient Finnish symbol which used to be painted onto houses to protect one's home from bad spirits and to invite good spirits in.

Kati, too, of Luovuuden Kukkia [flowers of creation] blog, has a Kalevalan koru Karhu but she has strung it with red beads. If you don't read Finnish, her story in rough translation reads: A few years ago, her mother of noticing all sorts of things, found a bear pendant in springtime under the melting snow. She gave it to Kati. Kati put it away in her jewelry box. Then, recently, she went rifling through her jewelry to find the perfect necklace to wear with the outfit she had picked out to wear to a party that night. Ah! the bear! Making do with what was lying amongst her jewelry she strung together some red cranberry-like beads and gave new life to the Karhu. I found her cranberry bead bear necklace fascinating because it reminded me of a poem I once wrote about mun paappa. My mother translated it into Finnish.


My grandfather

sang to the bear like a lover

My grandfather

made drums from trees found in the aarniometsä,

a remote grove in the heart of the forest

where a thousand different shadows and shadings

speak the unbroken life under the woods.

My grandfather

painted drums with the blood-red extract

of the alder tree, while musical sounds leaked

from the spiral tattoos he carved on his body

with the jawbone of a pike.

My grandfather’s drum,

bones for decoration,

strips of reindeer hide,

ecstatically beaten for the dancing

of small frogs, for the blue of flax,

for the wings of the duck,

for the noise the Great Bear makes

as she walks across a cranberry sky.


Minun paappani

lauloi lemmen laulun karhulle

Minun paappani

teki rummun aarniometsän mahtavasta puna hongasta,

etäisessä lehtossa metsän sydämessä.

Tuhansissa erilaisessa varjojen hämäryydessä

kuuluu äänetöntä puhelua puiden suojassa.

Minun paappani

maalasi rumpujaan

vanhoista puiden voutavalla punamahlalla

puun sisällön elinvoimasta

kuin musiikki luikuu kehonsa ytimiin

kaivartaen kehonsa tatuloinen

kierteiset jäljet hauen terahampailla

Minun paappani rumpu

koristettu viivoilla ja kuvioita poron-nahkaan

Juhlavasti houjuon pienelle samakkoin tansivalle,

sinipelavalla ja hanhen siivelle

Tömisttellon jalkajaan

matkien mesikämmonen liikuntaa

ja uljaasti kärellon läpi karpalo taivaan.

one of 2007's Best Photo Awards from National Geographic (thanks, Sue!)


ainur said...

Your blog is wonderful. The beautiful poem to your grandfather moved me. Actually, tears started streaming out of my eyes as soon as I saw the pictures of the bears. So much for trying to be a cool academic scholar!

I have to share your poem with my mother and sister so that we can all have a good Finnish cry. (Are we crazy?) Thanks!

marja-leena said...

Wonderful post, like a follow up to the comments we had on my blog, thank you! And that is the exact bear jewelry I have too!

I'm still reading some of the links you put in, and it's amazing how many are familiar to me, yet many are also new. So many new and exciting connections...