Wednesday, January 4, 2017

finland! in words, in images

December was a travel whirlwind, cold and snowy Finland first and then the Rhône Valley for Noël. I offer here a few pictorial impressions. As I considered their captions, I found myself curious about the ways words conjure mental images, how they lead the mind’s eye in a particular direction, especially when accompanied by photos carefully and deliberately cropped. 

One could say for example “the Arctic Circle”, and an idea might begin to take shape. For me, I imagine a dramatic landscape of snow-covered trees and low light, cold and barren but beautiful. One could say, “Santa’s Village in Lapland including sleigh rides with his herd of reindeers” and one would build a mental picture. More snow, trees, glowing lights, animals tended with love, bell-laden bobsled in the background, pot of hot cocoa warming over a crackling fire, perhaps? 

Finnish birdhouse    
But the truth, or my experience of it, was of course different. Santa’s home was encircled by tour buses, cars, souvenir shops, a gas station. Oh, it was magical — Santa himself was attentive and warm, and welcoming. But as soon as we left the enchanting experience of sitting and chatting with him we were forced to decide — right then and there or lose the opportunity — whether to buy souvenir pictures starting at thirty-five euros for oneorifyouwantthemallit’sfortyapieceandthisisyouroneandonlychancethinkaboutthechild!

So all my pictures of Santa’s village are strategically cropped. No sign of the cars, the buses, the sales signs. I pretended the light behind the trees was the glow of a full moon, not the looming crane signifying new construction on the horizon. No sound of the handsaw buzzing away in the background, a new fence going up to protect the reindeer from interfering onlookers.

I’m thinking Prancer?

I literally shivered at the thought of “minus 6 Celsius” as we packed our bags, but it turned out that if you’ve sat in a sauna for twenty minutes you could be barefeet-on-the-snow stark naked in minus 6 and feel nothing but invigorated. Someone mentioned “an evening of Finnish Christmas carols at the town church” and I was like, Choir! Candlelight! Romance! And it was wonderful, but not in the way I expected. In reality I walked in to a big room of bright lights and a woman handing me a booklet and sitting for an hour trying to sound out songs I’d never heard before in a language I haven’t even begun to fathom.

How does an image convey the warmth of people, the buttery taste of that freshly-smoked salmon (personal highlight)? You could say “hot dogs for dinner” and I’d probably dismiss them outright, I’m not that into processed meat, but roast that wiener over a real fire till it squeals and pops, and serve it with a spicy mustard and good company and a box of wine, and I’m sold. 

salmon smoker, how I love thee...
None of the images would sufficiently describe three nights and two full days in the hospital for The Frenchman, the halls empty, every last sign in Finnish, dullish food, his eye red in pain, me awake with worry, trying to explain it to and reassure le petit garçon. Too preoccupied anyway to take any pictures.
keeping occupied: at the hockey game
keeping occupied: at the Oulu airport 
I’m not sure what it’s called, this words-conjuring-images. Or the severe cropping in and editing out, which we do so frequently these days in our various sharing mediums. It’s a little dangerous for me: I build expectations for future experiences, or I imagine yours is more this or more that than mine. I’ll bet the Germans, those cutiepies, have a name for it. I’ll be working on keeping it in check.

Happy new year. I wish for everyone OK-ness. To just be, and for that to be OK. Savorable, even. To not dwell on faults in need of correction. To give that gift to ourselves, and maybe everyone else.

till next time!  

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