There are still times when the heart beating within our protagonist’s breast swells with pleasure. Yesterday evening for example.
I would like to think that in part the satisfaction she experienced from cutting me off like that (not telling me more about the Otamiemi campus) set her up for a good evening but that would be unfair. She was genuinely happy, becoming childishly excited and, finally, unpredictably mellow.
With her hubby and friend they set off on the tram from Runebergin katu and she admired the city of her birth along the street carrying its name: Helsingin katu. They travelled through what was once a working class area, Kallio, up along what was even earlier one of the two roads out of the city to the bizarrely named Arabia area. Back in the 1960s and even into the 1980s Arabia (pronounced the Finnish way of course) was associated with both industry and with beauty, two virtues which grew in our protagonist the way nationalist virtues do, without noticing, disguising self- satisfaction as collective pride.
But then that’s just my view, our protagonist herself was relishing her imagined past as much as her public-transport airless present as the tram glided past the older industrial buildings and turned around in the brand new square named after Kaj Franck. That name, and the others dotted around on the brand new street signs, only made her go more soft on the inside. Which is exactly the point. The town planners who named those streets must have wanted to evoke all that is creative and innovative and high-quality about Finnish design. And they certainly did – Birger Kaipiainen, Gunnel Nyman etc, pairing up with the cairos and arabias in the older landscape.
Our protagonist stopped and started, slightly to her companions’ annoyance, darting around taking photographs. And why not? She saw a solidity in the buildings and the materials that she associates with Helsinki. Arabianranta itself has consistently been the focus of ambitious and forward-thinking plans. The apparently overblown rhetoric was not, it seemed, empty. Still, even if it looked good, it would still be worth finding out from residents what they thought. Not that many of them around, alas. Her photos were of buildings alone and, the one slightly disappointing thing, car parking.
While our protagonist was drinking in the visuals, she was only too aware that the pleasingly right angles silhouetted against the azure sky would never do justice to the thrill of this new, solid and yet human-scale project … an extra frisson of satisfaction on recalling that unlike the granite of her beloved Töölö, Arabianranta is built on marsh so soggy it took years to work out how to build anything on it. She was also pleased to discover that its designers have realised that just as important as looking at a building, is looking out of a building! Here an example by b&m architects of Helsinki.
Heading towards the sea shore and the path around Viikki Bay, our three friends walked around the end of a heavy but light stone wall, held together with a metal cage. It was being built between the housing and the public footpath and left our protagonist to admire the use of what must be the left-overs of all the granite blasting that on other days she has been so busily criticising.
(I might as well let you know that she was actually too busy to let us all know about what she called the gaping wounds that have been cut open in the mother-land between Turku and Helsinki so that Finnish men would no longer need to be ashamed that the country doesn’t have enough real motorways. I’m fully expecting her to expound on it later. Consider yourself warned.)
And there there were people. People walking and cycling along the shore and even sitting in a purpose-built area, with the winos, the family and the amateur-water-colourist apparently happy together. Further down there were people fishing in the river, hanging out, sunbathing. It was idyllic but by then she’d given up on trying to capture it on film. It was etching itself in her memory, there to be drawn on for strength later when the world reverts away from colour to wintry gray.
And then, as if the evening could get no better, she was taken to paradise, known to mortals as Lammas Saari or Lamb island. Smack in the middle of Helsinki according to the map, here are summer cottages for those who cannot afford out-of-town second homes. Here life is quiet, green, sunny, and suitably accompanied by good friends and decent beer.