Just when our protagonist reads something stupid about Helsinki and becomes convinced that some people’s greed combined with most people’s lack of historicity will most certainly take it down the road to ruin, she goes on a walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon to melt even the most hardened cynic’s heart. OK, it may not have started brilliantly. She had a bit of a wobble about the car parking in the road where she used to play as a child. Even then, in the 1960s and 1970s she knew it was a privileged part of town, but at least people didn’t feel the need to drive in quasi-military vehicles and then leave them clogging up the pavement. On this strip of road, after all, her mother and nannies would have pushed her bulky tram many a time.
En route they enjoyed the elegant and less elegant architecture, the flea market, some streets they’d barely ever visited, lush parks and rugged rocks and ice creams on the way to Seurasaari outdoor museum and its always thought-provoking vernacular architecture. Here, to fit with the theme of the week-end (arriving late), they saw surprising numbers of people, possibly returning from the end-of-season party at the museum.
To end it all, with her man she got off the tram ready to go home via the shop (Alepa, by local standards a not-too-distressingly poor purveyor of foodstuffs), but was waylaid by the unmistakable sounds of partying. Haha! Ahead, in the middle of the road she spotted just another Helsinki eccentric, a thin man in shades and a hat playing something that looked like a lute, posing for a group of older photographers and laughing. Well, as it turned out, it was quite a party. Sea Horse, the local watering hole and “traditional Finnish restaurant” (address now known to the masses through “all kinds of guide books” as the guy on the door bemoaned the other night), were marking the end of the summer season with a combination of live music and free booze. Our protagonist bumped into some friends and heard that apart from beer, all drinks were free, until the kiosk’s stores were emptied out until next year. Alas, it turned out it was all free. She received a glass of beer (for free) and a rosé wine – a whole bottle – accompanied by the question: “how many glasses?”
Then middle-aged singer Kojo and indeterminately aged Andy McCoy, he of Hanoi Rocks fame and, latterly, poser for the photographers in the middle of the road, also sang for everyone’s entertainment. Among those spotted in the gathered little crowd was the eldest inhabitant of the building that houses Sea Horse, a 94-year old whose piano-tuner father had the house built, the son of the man who had been caretaker in the next building for decades, and many more. Who, especially among those whose earliest memories arose in these very streets, could feel anything but affection for the place and the people.