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Helsinki, part 1
Sep 13th, 2012 by Dr Karma

Alexander and I left our house for the San Francisco airport at 9:30 Tuesday morning. We touched down in Helsinki at 5:30 Wednesday afternoon. Yup; long trip. (The Amsterdam airport has a children’s forest, a museum, a library, and an unhelpful clerk at the electronics store.)

Getting around the city is easy. Finnish has two official languages–Finnish and Swedish (cause the Swedes used to own us). In practice, though, everything is labeled at least thrice, with English underneath the other two languages. Some shops have completely English names, and we have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t speak it. Still, it feels the same level of foreign as Madrid did.

Once we put the stuff down in our rooms, we headed out to a traditional Russian restaurant in search of bear, which the boy wanted to try. They were sold out, so we had reindeer instead. I think we both would have enjoyed it more if we weren’t so exhausted. We got home at nine, and it was time for bed.

Today began with a breakfast buffet filled with interesting choices. Then I headed off to my conference while Alexander went to the zoo. The other participants, at least the ones I saw, were all reading their papers while seated. I stood and spoke with a few lines of notes and a colorful powerpoint. My topic? The Simpsons. People seemed to enjoy my presentation; they were awed at my being allowed to teach The Simpsons. Many said their nations (European ones) were too puritanical to allow the teaching of pop culture.

It was strange. I teach and write about pop culture so often; I’m even an editor of The Journal of Popular Culture. I’m just not used to having to explain or defend its use in the classroom, so it was invigorating to be challenged to do so. While some of my European colleagues were slightly incredulous about what I get to do, others were just clearly envious.

After my talk, I took myself and my growing headache down to the pier to meet the boy. On the way, I saw a diplomatic ceremony with a military band honoring visiting dignitaries. The boy caught up with me in the market, where we had a great lunch from a stall. I had what tied the previous best salmon of my life; it was so perfectly seasoned and fresh that I didn’t reach for the salt (and those who know me know I always reach for the salt). The boy had reindeer sausage. The American couple behind us in line had a loud conversation about how the wife would not be having reindeer, as she was convinced it would taste “weird.”

We then toured the Russian Orthodox cathedral and headed west to a converted church that’s now a disco. It’s supposed to be named after the boy’s namesake (Dante), but the sign wasn’t out front, so we couldn’t get a picture. We stopped in at a British pub and continued our ridiculous quest for souvenirs. Mom wants a long-sleeved t-shirt, which doesn’t seem to exist here. And I’m not buying a sweatshirt (50$!; everything is extremely expensive here). Wish I didn’t have to spend any time shopping.

At last, we ended up at a guidebook-recommended traditional Finnish restaurant. It was beautiful, with traditional dress & carved wood everywhere (even the menu was mounted in thick wood). I had a champagne cocktail with Finnish berry liquor. Then I had a Karelian stew (mashed potatoes, excessively tender meat, and pickled pumpkin/berries). The boy had bear meatballs with root vegetables in an amazing sauce that we couldn’t quite identify. Dessert was a Finnish brandy and “sisu” ice cream over summer berry compote.

Sisu is a word with no translation–it is supposed to be the aspect of Finnish character–it’s our stubbornness, our steadfastness, our loyalty, our perseverance.

In terms of ice cream, it’s a slight anise flavor (apparently).

So. Good.

But the brandy made my eyes water when I smelled it. I got the same shiver from just inhaling that I thought would come from drinking it. Alex said it smelled like apples. It did, if you marinated apples in gasoline–it was very strong.

The boy was so jet lagged and so tired from walking all day that he literally nodded off at the table. So here we are back at the hotel, with him asleep and with me writing this.

Where conditioner should be in the bathroom, there’s lingonberry bubble bath. Am tempted to try it.

(Still can’t upload pics; will make a facebook album at some point, though.)

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Summer Catch-Up
Sep 10th, 2012 by Dr Karma

I’ve been a very naughty blogger. The summer has gotten away from me, and what with all the work and the play, I’ve fallen behind.

Here’s a short catch up:

I haven’t managed to stop teaching at all. I’ve had three classes this summer (including a new one: 20th Century British Literature: Sex and Science), which means hours and hours of lecture, lots of grading, and a total of 26 book length works that I’ve had to read along with the students. This week will give me a bit of a break, but on the condition of trying to be brilliant at a conference.

I’ve managed to catch up with some old friends and to make some new ones. Most of the best stuff this summer was simply being with other people.

I cooked a lot. Had cocktails with Vanessa and Kevin a lot (while watching the HBO summer shows). Went wine tasting with Pat a couple of times. Hit Bodega Bay finally and filled my senses with the glories there. Spent quite a few weekends in San Francisco.

I’ve edited my first edition of Prized Writing–it will be at the bookstore at UC Davis soon.

I got to see Weird Al Yankovic perform twice in the same weekend (and got a picture with him!) His performance was stunning as always!

Got to see Steve Martin perform with the Steep Canyon Rangers at Mondavi–the banter was funny and the music was amazing.

Few movies and few plays, but I did get to see War Horse for my birthday (as part of my outstanding birthday weekend) — it’s difficult to describe the beauty of the horse puppets that make this show come alive. It was three puppeteers for each lead horse, with movements so real that I flinched whenever they were hurt. You could even tell when the horses were upset by the way they were breathing.

Noel Coward’s famous Blythe Spirit was on at Cal Shakes. Coward’s writing is still crisp, clever, and relevant.

The biggest news, however, is that the boy is now driving himself to school. His aunt Melissa basically gave him her old car. I put some money in to fix it up, taught him how to drive without either of us getting hurt, and put him on my insurance. His classes have started, so he’s out on the causeway twice a day. Wish him luck and patience.

He’s off to the conference with me; I’ll let you know how we do in the land of our ancestors.

(Would have included pictures, but the picture uploader is broken again . . .)

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