A one hour wonder

It’s time to stick my spoon in the soup, which is a Finnish saying for adding one more stirrer in the pot or finger in the pie. I am taking a moment to contemplate Finland, with some politics and hurricanes thrown into the mix.

Finland enjoyed an hour in the spotlight when our president, Mr. Niinistö (Nii-Nutchou in Trump speak), met Donald Trump in the White House a while ago.

Our president is available for short chats with all kinds of people. Following his meeting with Trump, he sat down to chat with the renowned writer Paul Auster in a Finnish bookshop.

It just goes to show how versatile we are. We jump easily from short sentences and visual aids to intelligent conversation with world-renowned authors.

I could comment on the meeting between the two presidents – but what is there to say? As a Finn I am supposed to be happy that the meeting took place; it’s a feather in our hat I am told. As a human being, I thought that the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey should have taken precedence at the time.

As a nastyoldlady I expect it’s a case of “whatever”. The meeting – and its timing – will probably not matter a whit in the long run. Hopefully. Because if it does, there are bigger things going on, and none of the major political players can be expected to be up to anything good.

As I am writing this, Finland’s one hour of fame has already been forgotten. First the North Koreans started acting up again, then hurricane Irma began to wreak havoc.

It’s a tugging war between politics and nature.

Just a moment ago I felt unsafe, squashed in between East and West. Now I feel guilty here in the safety of my Finnish home, while my friends are experiencing such devastation in Florida.

Life does go on, but many of my favourite spots were hit badly, including Brickell in Miami (below in better times), Key West, Marco Island and Naples.

Which goes to show that safety is always a relative matter. There is perceived danger, and there is immediate danger.

While waiting for updates on the damage wrought by Irma, I decided to take an hour off to consider Finland, just to take my mind off things. Finland deserves an hour of contemplation. We are, after all, celebrating 100 years of independence this year.

Let me start with the most unique features of Finland. That would be space and quiet, and clean air. You can find them almost everywhere.  Irma reminded me once again that nothing should be taken for granted. This is a precious gift we have been given. We have to treasure it.

In Finland you can breathe freely, and hear yourself think, whether you are by the sea, on the lakes, or walking in the woods. I prefer the sea and the seaside. Space (as well as peace) and quiet can be found even in  major cities such as Helsinki.

The Finnish nature grounds us, it gives our lives a bigger meaning. Finnish composer Jean Sibelius catches the feeling well in his symphonies .

Despite this, bigger meanings are not our forte. We are the odd man (or lady) out in so many ways. I come back to the themes of my earlier blogs.

Finland has become Finland because of its uniqueness, which stems from our geography, our genes, our language, and the fact that no one really cared that much about holding on to us; be it the Swedes or the Russians.

In a rush of nostalgia I visited Sweden’s oldest town, Sigtuna, last week. Sigtuna dates back to around 1000 AD, and styles itself as the city where Sweden begins.

It’s not equally clear where Finland begins, but Sweden has had a big influence on our history from the beginning.

Yet Finland is very much its own story. Even in smallish Sigtuna, the cultures represented at the local bus stop varied wildly. The same can not be said for Finland.

We’re alone, not only in the genetic pool, but also in terms of history and present politics. We have learned to trust no one, to fight our own battles.

You would think that this gives us confidence as a country, but we act much like the B-movie geek turned success story who returns back home only to feel inferior again.

Nevertheless we keep getting great reviews. Canadian journalist Allen Abel just summed it all up in one sentence following the Nii-Nutchou-Trump meeting. As he tells it,  “The president of the world’s most stable, successful, honest, livable, incorrupt, well-educated, library-book-borrowing, heavy-metal-loving, gender-equal, milk-drinking country spoke in the East Room of the White House on Monday, and so did Donald Trump.”

Any Finn worth his or her salt would be quick to point out the exaggerations in this description of Finland – before humbly acknowledging that there is truth in it too. We do humble and modest to perfection.

I just met up with some researchers, and found myself asking one of them how he ended up in Finland. As if it was surprising that someone from India would choose Finland over Canada (which happened to be said researcher’s alternative).

No Canadian would have dreamed of asking the same question, should the choice have been Canada instead.

Yet there is a method to our collective madness. We are not so easily corrupted by power, or lulled into complacency.

Geography and genes withstanding, the world has arrived at Finland’s doorstep both virtually and in real life.

In 2016 almost every Finn in the age group under 50 used the Internet; on average it was used by 88% of the Finns.  We also hold the world record in mobile data transfer, followed by South Korea and Sweden.

Travel opportunities abound, as do international study and job opportunities. Immigrants have found us in rising numbers. Unfortunately terrorists have found us too.

Adapting to the world around us is a daunting task. We don’t do crowded and unknown well. We need space and quiet. A full bus, room, or elevator can be too much for us.

It was a stressful time, when we found ourselves in the limelight of the political world for an hour.

Then world politics were set aside for a while as more fundamental concerns arose with the arrival of hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katia in the wake of Harvey. Are these the effects of climate change that we are witnessing, many wondered.

This tug of war between politics and nature continues.

The meeting of US Undersecretary of State Shannon and Russian deputy foreign minister Rjabkov here in Helsinki has been portrayed as proof of how high the political tensions between East and West are at the moment.

At the same time the news are overflowing with horror stories of damage caused by hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, and other natural disasters in different corners of the world.

I am all for the efforts to mitigate negative climate change. One should not be stupid; this is a matter that has to be discussed. Climate change can not be reduced to a one hour wonder.

But there is a time for compassion and aid, and a time for making points. When whole islands are decimated, our first response should be the former, not the latter.

There is also optimism, and then there is total denial. I can’t help but wonder which category my blog photos fall into amidst all this craziness.

I just felt that we could all do with a piece of Finnish space and quiet, a  touch of Swedish old town charm, and a reminder of Miami at its best.

Denial can be healthy in smaller doses.

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