Friday, December 31, 2010

the stuff that Finnish women make

Earlier this month, I was invited to a Christmas party planned by my friend, Satu, for some of her Finnish-speaking female friends. With her daughter, Shanthi, Satu has recently opened a new dance and yoga studio, Academy Afrah and Shanthi Om Studio, and the party was held at their studio on a Saturday night before Christmas. Satu and Shanthi had thought up a beautiful table setting for the middle of the floor, with comfy yoga cushions for seats.
The rules of the evening were that guests could only speak Finnish the entire night. I loved this challenge! Also, we each had to bring some typical Finnish food to share for the potluck. It didn't take me too long to decide what to bring: I brought the bottle above filled with my home-made likööri made from my deep purple garden grapes, some sugar, and a bottle of Finlandia vodka. Everyone tried a tippa (drop), even those who normally don't drink alcohol. Who could pass up this organic, full of anti-oxidants delicious elixir? that every Finnish woman should know how to make? ...using her own berries, of course. I followed the directions my aunt Aulikki gave me. She made hers from tyyrni marjat (sea buckthorn berries). The northern concord grapes that grow in my garden are my special northern Ontario touch to this traditional Finnish liquid.
I also brought a tȁyte kakku, a whipped cream cake filled with strawberry cream and topped with fruit. Of course, neither kiwis and peaches are grown in Finland, but that's my multicultural touch to this traditional cake. Some of the other food included turnip casserole, beet and carrot salad, piirakka, meatballs, piparit (cookies) and Christmas tarts (joulu tortut).
Satu had set up a Finnish-style Christmas tree, which for us Finnish-Canadians means sparse branches and simple, natural decorations. It is the opposite of the traditional Canadian Christmas tree that is often colour-coded, laden with matching elaborate (and expensive) decorations, and often artificial. Later in the evening, some of the women hopped around the tree with their index fingers pointing to the sky, singing "tip tap tip tap tippi tippi tip tap tip tip taaap..."
One of the guests brought an old poster of a nostalgic Finnish Christmas that she pinned on the wall above the food. I'm sure many Finnish Christmases have been nothing at all like this idealized picture. I know I could tell quite a few stories about Christmas-time drama. But it's nice imagining such innocent perfection.
The mood of the night was fun-filled, festive, relaxing, joyful, and warm. I thank Satu and Shanthi for making this magic possible.
Now, one of the mirrors had its own way of reflecting back the world....or was that the koti likööri tonttu playing games with me?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

channel surfing

What's Christmas without some drama? I've never been much of a Steven Tyler or Aerosmith fan, but as part of my Christmas holiday TV watching and other media focused pastimes like movie watching, brushing up on my Finnish with Nalle Puhin Joulu on YouTube, and dancing with an avatar on Kinect, in my channel surfing I watched the last part of the Kennedy Center Honors gala. I must say I was impressed with Tyler's contribution to the tribute to Paul McCartney's songs! I thought it was funny, too, that a former bad-boy of rock known for outrageous drama (Tyler) finds himself in his older years rocking a rather conservative crowd at a bastion of elitism. Recently, I had watched Paul McCartney on SNL and was disappointed with his performance as, to me, he seems to be just a shadow of his former stage-presence self. As my teen years (and earlier!) were spent rocking out to The Beatles and Wings, when I watched McCartney on stage today, he does not compare with his earlier years at all. The Kennedy Center tribute to him as a songwriter, however, was nothing short of amazing and reminded me of what a great songwriter he is.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

a white reindeer

The white reindeer. Valkoinen peura, 1952 Finnish movie

Last night, I helped my sister, Katja, and her son, Elijah, decorate their Christmas tree, a beautiful white spruce that my son and Elijah found in the back bush of my mother's land. After we thought the tree was finished being decorated -- which entailed the requisite dropping and splintering into bits of a Christmas bauble -- Katja pulled out one last ornament: a beautiful white reindeer. Oh, my! We hung it at the top of the white spruce. It appeared to be leaping off the branches in a graceful bound.

The movie clip above is of a woman, Pirita, who transforms into a white reindeer and gets special witchmagic at each full moon. The story is part Finnish or Saami folktale and myth. A woman falls in love with a reindeer herder, who spends extended periods of time following the herd. She feels lonely and goes to the shaman to get some help with her lovelife; he chants some magic and tells her she has to give a sacrifice to the Great Seida, after which all men will be charmed by her. Unfortunate events happen and she turns into a white reindeer vampire at each full moon. There is very little language in the clip above, so even if you don't know Finnish you can follow along on this excerpt of a woman/reindeer spirit/vampire. It is classified as a Horror film


Valkoinen Peura (The White Reindeer) was Finland's entry in the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. Written, photographed and directed by Erik Blomberg, the film stars Blomberg's wife Mirijami Kuosmanen. She plays a neglected young wife who responds to her husband's coldness by venturing into the snowy wastes and transforming into a reindeer. Symbolically, every man who hunts this deer comes to a bad end. And then the husband goes a-hunting . . . . On paper, Valkoinen Peura seems ludicrous; on film, everything works beautifully.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shopping local

Shopping then and now, part ten. THE END

BMW bubble car

Today, you take your car –your private bubble -- and drive to the Mall, a privately owned space that has replaced public space. Rather than being a public activity occurring by walking on sidewalks and visiting different independently and locally owned shops and a few national chains, shopping today is reduced to entering corporate brand name spaces. The Mall and box stores do not create community; they are global corporations masquerading as local industry.

Red Indian Motor Oil

My talk about shopping is not to be confused with a romantic idea of "let’s go back to how it used to be” because there were problems back then, too. For example, Steve on Bay told me that in the 1930s the intercity area, which is not full of stores, box stores, parking lots and busy streets, was a farmer’s field. He knows because he used to tend his neighbour’s cows where Sears and the Mall are now. Back then, this section of Memorial Ave. was basically empty. At the bend where Pennington’s is now, there were three gas stations in a row: The North Star (Pohjan tähti), The White Rose (Valkoinen Ruusu), and a third gas station, Texaco, (which bought out the Canadian company McColl-Frontenac Oil Co. Ltd) that had large signs advertising Red Indian (Punainen Inti) motor oil for sale.

Steve also told me that there used to be a bakery on Bay Street across from the Hoito, a few storefronts down from Secord St., that was owned by Jewish people. However, they left town because they were unhappy here. They had a daughter but she had only one friend, Steve’s sister; no one else would play with her. According to Steve, the Jewish couple couldn’t stand it here and just before the war when anti-Jewish sentiment was strong, they sold their bakery and left town. The new owners re-christened the bakery Aunt Martha’s Bakery.

Making choices in shopping can be confusing. So how can we contribute to shopping that is ethical? Shopping "back in the day"and shopping today are both activities that are part of our social and economic worlds. Surely we can’t escape shopping as we all need to buy things to survive, and goodness knows small local businesses need our support. One step in the right direction is to think about the kind of shopping we do and what is its impact beyond our own personal beautification, savings, or need.

Now, why didn't I think of this before I threw out my turntable? recycled turntable

Reduce, reuse, recycle – hey, Finns did this before it was popular. But today is a different world, a Walmart world, and we as women and as Finnish-Canadians need to think about what it really means to shop in places where every dollar of profit leaves Thunder Bay, where women and girls in other countries are sewing our clothes for less wages than our mothers and other Finnish-Canadian women made as cleaning ladies or waitresses in Port Arthur and Fort William.

at the bottom of the Finnish Labour Temple stairs, outside the Hoito. photo, Thunder Bay Finnish Canadian Historical Society

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Limbo the Stocking Shop and the Gotham Style Shoppe

Shopping then and now, part 9
1969 Brill bus on Bay St, just up from Cumberland St.
(to see what this area looks like now, visit Hot Rods and Jalopies)

Before, we either took the bus or walked to downtown Port Arthur. Then, we walked along sidewalks, which are open air public spaces. We would shop in a mix of locally owned shops and department stores. Some of these stores included:

The Joy Shop, Delmars, Maxine’s, Eatons, Zellers, Woolworth, the Metropolitan, Kresges, McNulty’s, Matthews Dry Goods, Macleod’s, Bryan’s, Bonnie’s, Barbara’s Hat & Dress Shop, Belgium Glove & Hosiery, Teen’s Dream Shop, Limbo the Stocking Shop, Joanne’s Dress Shop, Mrs. Bloom’s Dress Shop, Ellen’s Dress Shop, Helena’s Dress Shop, Hollingsworth Ladies Wear, Arcade Mode Shop, Gotham Style Shoppe, Normandie Shop, Kay’s Ladies Wear, or Metamorphosis.

Hammond organ

The main bus stop downtown was right in front of the front doors of Eaton's. You could go to Eaton’s groceteria and pick up a loaf of bread delivered fresh that morning by Three Star Bakery. Also at Eaton’s, you could listen to Nonna Cooper, an elderly, elegantly dressed woman in full makeup, who played the organ on the landing of the stairs leading downstairs to the lunch bar. As Nonna's fingers ran skillfully along the piano keys, her two white poodles sat obediently on the stool beside her. You would see her Cadillac parked out back behind Eaton's, by Kiddies Korner.

1960 Cadillac

You might also walk down to Cumberland Street to the Lorna Doone Candy Shop or down to Bay Street to Coronet Café or up to Rupert Street to the Little Mrs Queenie of Star Café. And if it was morning when the street car dropped you off on your way to work at Woolworth’s, you would see the shop owners out sweeping the street in front of their shops, like Mr. Perkamon (sp?) cleaning the sidewalk in front of the Joy Shop on Court St.

photo Thunder Bay Finnish Canadian Historical Society

Or if you were walking to your job at the Algoma Steam Bath you would see Mr. Spovieri, shoemaker and inventor of the famous Spovieri’s shoe heel, sweeping in front of his shoe store.

In those days, people thought, what could I do? But now they say, it’s not my job. Ennen, ihmiset kysyy Mitä mä voin tehdä? Mutta nyt ne sanoo, Se ei oo mun työ.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Mall: Trail of Destruction

Shopping then and now, part 8
Intercity Shopping Centre Thunder Bay, Ontario

Unlike the shops of the past or the few independently owned local businesses that are struggling to stay alive today, the corporate stores in the Intercity shopping centre area are less places to mingle, to talk to the owner or other shoppers, and to pick up what you need, but places to go and look. You don’t need anything, but you go shopping to look and see what you can find. With so few public places left, the mall becomes our destination.

Eaton's Centre, downtown Toronto.

The mall is a destination in itself. Shopping has become entertainment. Something to do to fill time. Consumerism replaces civic engagement.

The Mall is someplace to see and be seen – it’s about looking. You go to look at “stuff” and to look at others and to be looked at, which means you have to dress up to go to The Mall [since we have only one major mall in Thunder Bay, that is what we call it: "The Mall."]

Ennen lähdetiin kauppaan ostamaan ussi talvi takki tai kesä laukku, ja jutella omistajan kans tai kukka näit kaupassa tai kadulla, mutta nyt vain lahdetään “Maalille” [Finglish]. Shoppinki [Finglish] on kerta kaikkiaan jotain tekemistä. Se on paika missä mennän kattomaan mitä näkyy. Tänään naiset lähde ostoksille aikaavietamään.

Your closet is already full of clothes, komero on täynä vaateita ja kaappi kengiä, mutta siltikiin ostoksille lähdedän vaikka ei olis mitään mielessä ostaa. You can hardly close your underwear drawer, you have low-heeled shoes and high heels and open toes and slip-ons and runners and sandals and strappy shoes and dress shoes in black, in brown, in grey and white, and yesterday you saw a really cute pair of pink shoes in the new Sears catalogue. Even though you have more than one of everything and you don’t need anything, you go shopping.

Today, you don't walk around downtown; the place you most likely head off to is either the shopping mall or a box store like Winners or Walmart.You go and look and see what you will find. Mä meen katomaan mitä mä löydän.