Finland’s Future

Someone keeping up with the news in Finland might be forgiven for being a tad miserable. Not much of it is good. Nokia’s shares are going down, support for the far right is going up (I’m referring, of course, to the right-wing populists whose party I translate, as it should be translated, “Basic Finns”).

But in today’s crisp sunshine the future has to look bright for thousands of not-yet-graduating but definitely-already-partying high school kids. Here’s one lot, advertising themselves as Finland’s Future. Sweets for the folks lining the streets, no doubt internal warmer for those on the float (brrrrr!!!!!)

Incidentally, it is remarkably easy to find out what Helsinki’s high schools/gymnasiua/Sixth Forms are offering for lunch, but very bothersome to find out how many kids are expected to graduate this year in Helsinki and its environs. Hard then to guess how many have been out there today, giving themselves colds and getting excited about an old tradition.

Penkinpainajaiset or Penkkarit is an untranslateable carnivalesque event to mark the end of lessons and the descent into revision-hell. That was before flexi-time (yes, even in schools) did away with shared calendars but hey, you have to do this as part of a group if you’re going to do it at all. Perhaps in years to come they’ll do it at some less freezing time of year.

These annual rituals, and especially the ones so torturingly timed for the bitterest winter weeks, are cherished though. Younger kids go around with bags for collecting the sweets the school-leavers throw at the public. Older people line the streets too. And why not line this lovely avenue, Pohjoisesplanadi (or Espa to its friends)? It has some of Helsinki’s all-time most opulent buildings along it, many built at the turn of the twentieth century when money seemed to be rushing into the city. It has many of Helsinki’s most obviously window-shoppable shops. One reason it works as an urban space is simply that it’s in the sun. (Oddly, the City Planning Department has overlooked this fact in a number of schemes put forward to “enliven” the road on the other side of these buildings (in the shade, that is) on Aleksanterinkatu.)

For decades (over a century) Helsinkians have come to Espa to see what’s up. Generations of us have huddled by this building not just to buy office supplies at Wulff or a beer from the cafe [sic] at Stokkers, but just to be with each other, with strangers like us and strangers less like us.

This being Helsinki, we are also quite likely to   bump into people we know around these parts.


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