Finland is celebrating its freedom away from the yoke of oppression, it’s been doing so all year, but December 6 is special. It’s traditionally the day of Independence, the President’s Ball, wherein “those who have made a significant contribution to Finland,” are invited for a night of ballroom dancing. An event the rest of the population follows by watching the televised event – in Finnish or Swedish. It’s the Finnish oscars, except that – for the Finns at least – it’s much bigger. Fiercely proud of their little corner of the world, the President’s Ball means something personal, these are the artists and business people, and other assorted persons that have not only put Finland on the map, but kept it there, nice and steady, like the Northern Star, always somehow there, whether it’s visible to the naked eye or obscured by clouds.
Finland is so much more than the President’s Ball though, on a global and personal scale. It is something different to everyone, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, I can definitely speak for myself. For me Finland has always been there. Ever since I first heard the tales of the Kalevala, disguised as “tales of the forest,” I knew the country existed. And, of course, we all knew about Santa Claus. Playing the violin, I was of course also familiar with Sibelius, and being half-Hungarian, the deep, haunting, melancholy sounds immediately caught my attention, not to mention my heart. But for the most part that was it. The country would make an appearance in my life in the guise of people I’d meet, but then I’d move onto something else. Back in college, when I did Hungarian Studies, I wanted to add Finnish to the mix, but classes were at the same time, and Hungarian being more important at the time it won out.
Until, in 2006, in December I knew that I’d move there. By January 2007, that became a concrete thought, and in April I bought my ticket for June. Aside from the friends I’d made, some Music and writing, I knew next to nothing about Finland. I knew where it was, of course, and some cultural aspects, because in college I’d managed to take one class on Finland, but that was it. Fascinating but distant, that was Finland to me.
In preparation for the Big Move I needed a bit more than a cultural rehash based on the contemporary music that was coming out of the country. Although it Taught me a lot. Where the Leningrad Cowboys had taught me that music – American and international – was held in the highest esteem (and that wishes could, and in fact would be granted after death, provided you had the right set of relatives / friends), Darude taught me that Finland could definitely hold its own when it came to modern contemporary (this was literally at the turn of the century). HIM taught me that the Finno-Ugric friendship was alive and well, that both succumbed to a melancholy passion, and that cultural fusion worked excellently when you combined old Hungarian torch songs from the ’50s and ’60s with current Finnish metal, while the 69 Eyes taught me that the teen movies of my youth had definitely made it across the pond. Not to forget Nightwish, which taught me that Within Temptation was not the only band of its style in the world, and was not above appreciating fusion. And, of course, Apocalyptica taught me about the deep appreciation Finns have for all music, how they were not afraid to add a new twist to an old game, mixing the classical with what was contemporary. And all these bands I learned about courtesy of a very savvy Hungarian friend. If you gave her a country, she’d give you most of their popular bands.
But, alas, music wasn’t enough, and like I said, I needed a bit more. I did what any self-respecting traveler would have done. I bought myself a book. Not just any book, mind. It was a special book, Popular Music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi, and I never laughed so hard in my life.
Until I moved there, and things became real, too real. Finland was interesting, because in terms of personal growth I met everyone I needed for that particular journey there, those who have my best interests at heart and those who clearly do not. And that was merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There were people who pushed me beyond any limits anyone had ever dared push me in the past. The safety net was there, but it was far and not visible to the naked eye.
It’s been an amazing journey, and the fact that I’m writing all this away from the country that has been responsible (along with a few others) for making me the person I am now, says more about the typical trajectory of my life path than anything else. I am the nomad, the eternal traveler, and so I can only watch from on far and wish Finland the happiest (and booziest) of anniversaries.
Happy 100th, you deserve it!