Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Book of Hope 22: Cold Comfort Farm

Kaustinen is a tiny town of about a hundred buildings on a little hill that rises up from the flat, dreary plain nestled inside a bend in an even tinier river. Riita had told me that the festival stage architecture had been inspired by the Greek Parthenon, but in point of fact it looked exactly like the Wolf Trap pavilion outside Washington DC--or basically any other modern open-air theater--built out of huge triangles of reddish wood, in this case covered by a giant yellow-and-white striped umbrella and a ring of rocks. There were several dozen people sprawled on the short yellowish grass in front of the main stage watching a bunch of musicians set up, while a few couples clog-danced on a bandstand behind them, dressed in what I took to be Karelian folk garb. We passed the oddly Santa Fe adobe-looking "Folk Art Centre" and rattled down a tree-lined gravel road to Pauanne, stirring up clouds of dust.

Pauanne turned out to be a collection of stone farmhouses on top of a second steeper, craggier hill--we couldn't climb up to it in the cars, so we parked nearby in an asphalted parking lot inside a chain-link fence. There were three or four large motorhomes, the kind you see on film sets, waiting there for us there, in the middle of a flock of old vans and SUVs. At some point, about the time he stopped talking, I noticed, Dr P had become overcome by the heat and dust and had to be wrapped up in a sort of tarp made of parachute silk and half-dragged and half-carried into his RV by Gailis and a second thuggish-looking goon who was already there guarding the site. When I tried to help, Dr P waved me off. "Later, dear Miss Hope, later," he whimpered tearfully from under his wraps, "We shall talk tonight." So Riita and I just stood there like "WTF" until Alex showed up in Riita's car and helped us unload our stuff.

"You'll be in this 38-footer," he said to us cheerfully. "I'm lumbered sleeping with the driver in the porta-loo over there. Oh, it's not that bad, I'm just taking the piss. I'm really jealous because you two get to share one of the Pace Arrows. You wouldn't believe what I had to go through to locate them in Helsinki--at one point I thought we'd have to airlift a fleet of Honeywagons in from Berlin. That's the great thing about this job," he said unlocking the side door of a gleaming motorhome beneath the triangular awning that jutted out from its roof. "I get to play God with someone else's money. Just about the only good thing, actually." I noticed that it said "Ansel Adams Edition" in red chrome letters across the door, and had white silk curtains drawn closed across every window, including the huge front windshield. We climbed a single steep step up into it and switched on the lights. It was panelled in cherry-colored wood and had brushed stainless-steel appliances and mock-marble countertops. "Look, it even has a satellite dish for the tellies," Alex said.

"If you don't like your job, why do you keep working for him?" I asked him.

He was like, "The money. That transmuting of lead into gold he tells everyone about is an absolute load of wank, of course, but he is rich. Very rich. And he pays very very well. Hence all the slavish arse-licking from the Latties." I totally loved his Scottish burr: 'verrrry verrrry'. I also loved his constant stream of casual obscenities. I wish I could talk like that! And, you know, get away with it, I mean. If I say anything rude people act all shocked.

"So he's not a real magician?" I said innocently, and he laughed.

"Is he, bollocks. [I think that's how you spell it anyway.] Know what he did in life before he decided he was really Gandalf? He was a stage magician for children's parties--he used to make animals out of balloons and pull bunnies out of hats. Ask him sometime what he went to jail for." After Alex showed us how to use the chemical potty, he left us alone to unpack and wash our faces and brush our teeth and whatever. He also left behind alarm bells ringing in my head. Went to jail? Uh oh.

The side door we had entered was sort of like the front door of a house. To the right were a couch and a swiveling recliner chair directly behind the driver and passenger seats, to the left a recessed kitchenette and directly across from it a round four-chair dining table beside the couch. Maybe I'll try to download some promotional material for it, so you can see the layout. OK, done:

As you can see, there was a little hall leading back to the bedroom, and even a small tub/shower-stall in the bathroom. And Dr P had rented at least two of these, plus a pair of smaller ones, just because there were no luxury hotels available in the area for a night or two--you don't get that rich from working children's parties, I thought. While Riita was busy in the bathroom I took out my rent-a-cell and called the Mothership to let her know where I was, then tried Christina.

"What do you know about this Dr Praetorius?" I asked her after we'd chatted about her pregnancy for a few. "I just heard he'd been to jail."

"So? That is typical--great men are always persecuted," she said.

"You really think he's a 'great man'?"

"Yes, I think he is the most remarkable man I've ever met in my life. We were his guests at a weekend party at one of his country houses near Lund, didn't I tell you? This was before I even knew myself that I was pregnant, and he just looked at me and told me so. And a few weeks later, I discovered he was right! He predicted that we will have a very important child, a daughter who will be the future savior of all Sweden. He said that she was the reincarnation of a woman he had loved very much, and that we were to name her 'Freyja', so that is what we will do. Oh Hope, isn't it exciting?" She actually sounded serious.

I was like, "But what if it's a boy?"

"Oh no, it will be a girl. He is never wrong with his predictions, you will see. You should have seen the things he knew about others who were there--some were so shocked to hear their secrets spoken aloud that they began to cry. It was amazing, because we Swedes are not usually so emotional like that. Well, you know how I am, for example. But now I am emotional all the time." Yeah, I was beginning to notice. All this was super-worrying. Because Christina wasn't like this normally. I mean, I was the gullible one--she was supposed to be the rational one!

Next I tried Kerry. who answered on the first ring. "Hey, hope I didn't wake you--I have like totally no idea what time it is in Savannah."

But she was like, "Me either, cuz I'm not in Savannah--I just got off a plane at Newark Airport. I have the procedure scheduled for tomorrow."

"Wow!" I was like. "That is so organized of you, girl. I am majorly impressed. Only..."

"Only what?" It was kinda hard to hear her with all the airport racket going on.

"Only, I don't know...are you absolutely, totally, completely sure you want to go through with it?"

"Well, duh," she said. "Of course I'm sure. Can you seriously see me with a baby? Being a single mother like in some stupid after-school special? Whose number did you think you were dialling, anyway?" Yeah, well, duh. I mean I'm not some crazed Right-to-Lifer or anything, it was just that after hearing Christina being all happy and stuff, I was suddenly sort of reluctant to hear about any final decision in the other direction. Without some thought to it, I mean. Also, and I know this was kind of tweaked of me, I was sort of having visions of a little baby version of Christina--and it seemed like a little baby version of Kerry would be equally lovable and, you know, precious or whatever. But Kerry was right, of course--this was her I was talking to, for crying out loud, the only person I knew who'd impulse-bought her college education. Somebody was tapping on the door--I opened it and Alex was standing just outside. He had changed his shirt, and the new one had purple folk art all over it. Over it he was wearing a camera and had somehow managed to cram three ear-pods into his two ears. Unless he had a third and I'd missed one. Anyway, there were three wires going up to them.

"Time to meet the heathens," he said.

"Where are you, anyway?" Kerry yelled in my ear.

"In Finland, in a place called Pauanne. I think you'd like it here--every third word ends in 'Ma'. But I gotta go now. Best of luck, hon!"

"No more 'Ma' jokes for me after tomorrow, bitch! I'll call you when it's over." How I missed Kerry. Actually, I missed being a bitch, too, I was thinking as Riita and I crossed the parking lot with Alex. Instead of some goggle-eyed grinning tourist, I mean. I was wearing my glasses, my flip-flops (a giant mistake), my only clean(ish) jeans, and a short pink and olive-drab polka-dot print dress and was feeling like a total dork in them. It was time I got back in touch with my inner bitch again, I decided. Only--it wasn't me who was just about to do that. Surprise, surprise, it was Riita.

I guess I should have seen the signs. She'd been really unhappy with Erkki pretty much from the get-go--I mean it was obviously not a healthy relationship for either of them, to be fair. They both had like really different life-goals or whatever--she wanted to play house, he wanted to have sex with porn stars. Plus she was a total control freak and had been forced to sort of give it all up first to Dr P and then to "Mr Alex" in the planning and decision-making departments that day, so I guess it was natural that the girl would go wild once she felt she was sort of on vacation. And, as I was about to find out, when Finnish girls go wild, they don't hit the Esc key.

There was an old white Isuzu Trooper parked between a rust-red VW bus and a Toyota Hi-Ace, and a bunch of guys about my age were unloading musical equipment out of the back of it. One of them spotted us and came over to say hi. "I'm Kimmo," he told us in pretty good English. He had short blonde hair, a really nice tan, and was wearing a bright yellow T-Shirt that had an elaborate 'Edrian Sun Cycle' logo on it. He looked a little like Sting, except younger and a lot more serious. "Those are the other guys in my band, Tri-Logic. We are naming ourselves after the Kingston Wall album, you know it? Over there is Kaari, Timo, and Pol, the Hindu guy." We waved. Kimmo walked with us carrying his keyboard-case and flirting seriously with Riita--who flirted seriously back. Alex, as usual, was on his cell, which left me pretty much alone to listen to the two of them chatter away in Finnish--every now and then one of them would stop and translate. Every time either of them did this, I swear to God, Riita giggled, a noise I had only heard come out of her before at the Madonna Concert (I almost typed 'Cricket' just now--what is happening to me?) Oh well, I was just being like all bitchy because she suddenly had a guy, and I didn't.

"You have never heard Kingston Wall?" Kimmo was saying. "It was the band of Petri Walli, the Finnish Jimi Hendrix, who is dead now. You must hear him, I will give you the CD tonight. He was the greatest guitar-player ever for Finland or even for all of Europe."

And Riita was all like, "Oh, that would be very nice," and giving me liitle pouty wide-eyed looks that I can only describe as 'kittenish'. Ugh. I could tell I was in for a long evening.

The trees in Kaustinen had been pretty much scrub, but Pauanne was in a deep dark wood. There was a trail leading up to the compound that crossed a rickety bridge across a dried-out creek, but Kimmo insisted we go down into the ravine with him first, where "all the cool people" were. Apparently his band and a few others called "Rihmasto", "Ihokas", "Nemesis", and a bunch more whose names I can't remember were stuck playing down here under the bridge, because the main hall in the Pauanne compound (you certainly couldn't call it a 'complex') was being used both for the ceremony and by a more popular band called "Tenhi". Electric lines snaked down from the bridge, and a huge stack of amps and speakers had been set up on a row of folding tables beneath it. "It is good," Kimmo was saying, "Because more people can listen here." But it was bad, at least if you were in flip-flops, because the ground was so rocky and uneven. And because there were mosquitoes everywhere, even in broad daylight, but especially among the trees. Riita had some kind of repellent, but it seemed to only work on Finns. I guess overseas we Yanks just aren't quite repellent enough.

Alex got off his cellphone long enough to help me cross the creek-bed. "Tell me," he said. "This Tuuslar guy--what did he look like?"

"Like a bum," I said crossly. "You know, old. Gray beard, long gray hair. Crazy expression on his face."

So then he was like, "Was he in a wheelchair?"

And I was like, huh? "" What was that about? Just then we were approached by a youngish and not at all bad-looking dark-haired dude carrying a big Canon G2 pro video camera.

"I am Anssi," he said, introducing himself to Alex. "I am making a film of the ceremony." His English was the best I'd heard yet from a Finn.

"Oh right," said Alex. "You're the pagan shaman. This is Hope from America." His cell rang again--a Queen ringtone--and he answered it. Cool. Now I had a guy, too. Well, actually, that sort of depended. On what a "pagan shaman" was, exactly.

"No, I won't be conducting the ritual tonight," Anssi said when I asked him. "That will be done by your Swedish magician friend. But I have translated the words into Finnish for him. I am not really a practicing shaman so much as a recorder. For me, learning about this lore and making films are the interesting part. I am not even sure that magic will work--it is more the traditional heritage for the Finnish people that is important to me. Forgive my English."

"Your English is great. Almost perfect, really." This seemed to cheer him up, and he walked up the hill with the rest of us to Pauanne, telling me more about it. And I gotta say it really is like one of the strangest places I've ever been in my life. For one thing, it wasn't hard to see where the mosquitoes were coming from--there were ponds and pools of standing water everywhere between the rocks as we left the tree-line and crossed the crest of the hill. In the middle of the hilltop was a collection of buildings of loose stone, formerly medieval farmhouses and cottages, some of which had been restored in the last century with Swedish wood-frame and jigsaw shingles. Some were straight, some were rounded, some had been restored traditionally, others whimsically, like there had been a super-clumsy and cheap attempt to create a LOTR theme park. There were round windows with 'elven' wooden frames in the shape of runes, round doors with metal 'serpent hinges', even a replica of a neolithic sauna with a twisting brick chimney. The interior of the great hall looked exactly like a zoo terrarium--the wooden beams were pitched over a miniature landscape of mossy rocks and pools, and a huge worn slab of of stone acted as a stage at one end. I kept expecting to see iguanas. I guess the idea was that Pauanne was supposed to like be growing organically from the rocks and soil around it, like mushrooms or something It was still daytime, and the light streamed in through the huge paneless windows and an enormous vaguely rectangular hole in the roof. So did the mosquitoes.
"Aren't they terrible?" said a loud American voice near me. It belonged to a fat, cheerful-looking black-haired lady in her late forties, who had set up a little camp of folding chairs and drink coolers on the biggest and flattest rock in front of the stage and was slapping at her own shoulders energetically. With her was another woman about ten or fifteen years younger, who had dirty blonde hair and glasses more or less exactly like mine (which was cringingly embarrassing, for some reason--it wouldn't have been so bad if they'd been a different style), and their two "men-folk", who were big, burly, darkly bearded and dressed in medieval Viking garb. Arwen's (the older woman's) husband, who called himself "Eldred Thorsson", but whose real name, she later told me, was "Harvey", was even wearing hand-made chain-mail in spite of the heat. Which, to be fair, was considerably less here in the woods and was actually about to plunge quite a bit during the evening ahead. We introduced ourselves--the younger couple, who turned out to be from quite near me in Columbia, Maryland, were named Jenn and Robb. So now the cast of characters was rapidly expanding like in a Shakespeare play. I'll do my best to keep them straight for you--I even have a few photos, in some cases. We were also joined by Kimmo (remember him? The Finnish rock singer who looked like Sting} who had deserted his bandmates to follow a very pink and smiling Riita up the hill, the dark, intense-looking Finnish Anssi, taking test pictures of us all with his video-cam and complaining about the lighting, and another Swede, a soul-patched, slightly balding journalist named Bo with a long back pig-tail, who was wearing a sort of white pirate-shirt with magical symbols on it and wooden clogs. He and Anssi seemed to be old friends (or maybe enemies, it was hard to tell) and sporadically kept us informed of what was going on.

"That will be our altar," Anssi said, for example, pointing his camera at a rounded, polished plank of wood on the stone stage. "It is called 'Tapio's table'--it is made from flattened pine. We call such surfaces 'elk-eaten'." Meanwhile Arwen pulled cold Lapin Kulta beers out of one of her coolers and handed them around to everyone. Before the four Americans drank theirs they raised the cans and said a prayer together that went, "Hail Aegir! Husband of Ran, ale-brewer. gatherer of sea-gold, father of the nine waves, feast-friend of the Aesir and the drowned, and keeper of the great kettle!", something they did every time they drank another, I kid you not. Being a pagan looked like a lot of hard work to me, kind of like being a nun.

"Harvey--Eldred, I mean--wanted to come here for our summer vacation," Arwen (and I'm guessing that wasn't her given name, either) started telling me, with that instant intimacy fellow-tourists overseas seem to assume with each other. "It's always someplace crazy with him. And of course we have Aasatru meetings all over the Northwest year-round. We live in Seattle. I have a terrible time taking time off from my work. I'm a lawyer--family law and mediation. Where are your kids, Jenn?" Jenn, it turned out, was an online sex chat-room hostess. The pay sucked, she said, but it allowed her to work at home and keep an eye on her kids. We agreed it was much better for them than day-care.

"Oh, we left them in Kaustinen for the night," she told Arwen, "Well, if you can ever call it night here--with Laurel. You met her yesterday, she's here with a few other Deadheads. Mickey Hart was at the big festival there last week. We just wanted to get away and, you know, party."

"Is she one of your Kindred?"

"Oh no, but we've done a 'bloat' together. She's Thelema. Actually, that's how Robb and I met years ago--on an OTO forum."

"Aw, that's such a sweet story. We used to be Thelema, too." Arwen turned to me. "How about you, Hope? Are you a practicing heathen?"

I was like, "No, I'm just here researching my PhD."

Behind me, Anssi and Bo were having a quiet argument in Finnish and Swedish, occasionally using an English word or phrase that I could understand, like "sh-t" or "soul retrieval healing", that kept getting louder and louder until the rest of us just shut up and stared at them. Harvey caught my eye and shrugged ruefully--he was, his wife had told me, a 'vitki' and a 'runester', which meant that he carried around a little pouch full of runes carved into what looked like mah-jong tiles, which he would cast predictively like dice before making any decision, no matter how trivial. Unlike the younger guy, Robb, who just seemed sort of innocently hebephrenic, I thought Harvey's black beard and perpetual scowl gave him a sort of sinister, villainous look. "What are they arguing about?" I finally asked Riita.

Kimmo answered instead. "They are fighting whether the ritual shall be done in the ancient Finnish or else the Bockian tradition." I expected Riita to pipe up with her usual pro-Finnish opinion, but instead she just kept her mouth shut and stared adoringly at Kimmo. Harvey interrupted, offering to settle the dispute with a rune-casting, but Anssi angrily told him that runes were not part of Finnish tradition. Bo erupted with another flurry of Swedish, then stamped off and got on his cell. Alex, still on his, came up to Anssi and tugged him out the main door.

"What does Bockian mean?" I asked, scratching furiously at my arm. I was getting eaten alive.

"I will tell you his history," Kimmo said, "But you must both come back down the hill with me to the music place. I am needed to do a sound-check, I think."

As we left, Arwen called out after me, "Put some toothpaste on those bites, sweetie. Nothing else works." Once outside, we were joined again by Anssi, who fumed all the way back to the ravine, breaking his silence only to disagree loudly with whatever Kimmo was saying. I started to pretty much give up on him at that point--he was reminding me more and more of a really bad date. You know, the intense, seething intellectual type who attacks an ex at a dance when he spots her dancing with another guy (that actually happened to me once. Plus he would ask for other girls' numbers in front of me). Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, here's a quick capsule summary of the life of Ior Bock,who, Kimmo said, was the greatest man in Finland, from the things the two of them said, plus what I learned later from websites. Like, for example, which, however, I think Anssi may have actually helped edit. This guy Bock was a Finlander-Swede who had first trained as an actor and then like a lot of failed would-be actors in Hollywood, ended up being a tour guide. In his case, at a Helsinki fortress and tourist attraction for 12 years, which sort of gave him a chance to refine his rap, I guess, which became a family 'oral history' that was later made into a book called "Bock's Saga". In it, he claimed to be the descendant of an ancient family whose lineage reached back to the time of the Norse Adam and Eve, who he called 'Frej' (the 'first Bock') and 'Freja (the 'first Svan'). He claimed they were born in a kind of Ice Age tropical paradise in southeast Finland created by warm winds of the Gulf Stream and that they and their descendants lived to be hundreds of years old by drinking their own sperm and vaginal fluids through straws (ewwww! I swear I am so not making this up). Anyway, Bock started a sperm-drinking and yoga commune in his ancestral home of Sibbo (or Sippoo or "Gumbostrand"--they all three got into a long argument about this), and convinced his followers to excavate a "family mountain" nearby for buried treasure. There they found a sort of holy chamber inside with a series of tunnels, which he named the "Tomb [or "Temple"] of Lemminkainen" but Bock ran out money before he could excavate further, and the Finnish government (Kimmo claimed) then took the mountain away from him before he could make any more discoveries that would upset the official Finnish view of history. This was in 1991. Then in 1999, Bock was mysteriously attacked in the street and his spine was severed by the knife-thrusts of a "professional assassin", and now he's a paraplegic in a wheelchair.

Duh, I thought. So that's why Alex was asking me about the wheelchair--he obviously thought this Bock guy might be "Tuuslar". I admit the description kind of fit, but the old bum in the park was definitely not a paraplegic. Plus he seemed at least 10 years younger than Bock, who was born in 1942. Of course, in his "Saga", Bock claims all kinds of miracle cures from sperm-drinking, particularly his own (again, totally gross!), which he apparently calls sauna-solmu in Finnish. Anyway, the point of Bo's tirade, according to Kimmo, was that he felt that the ceremony of raising Safe-T-Man from the dead should have been held in Sippoo at Leminkainen's Tomb--Anssi, on the other hand, thought the whole Bock thing was just typically crazy Swedish crap and that the Norse gods had no place in the ritual at all. Which didn't seem very smart politics to me, considering this was supposed to be an Asatru "folkmoot" to begin with. But what did I know?

Not enough to walk and chew gum at the same time, anyway, as things turned out. Down in the dark wooded ravine--or "Music Gulch", as I had now begun to think of it--a smallish crowd had gathered to listen to "Ihokas", which turned out to consist of just a single musician, a guy so shy that he hid behind his synths and speakers while he played what Kimmo informed us was 'drone music'. This was endless loops of what sounded like a shortwave radio being badly tuned in, and was painfully, almost excruciatingly boring. Which was the point, I guess. A number of fires had been lit inside oil-drums--the Finns are sensibly paranoid about forest fires and enforce campfire regulations very thoroughly--but these only seemed to be attracting even more mosquitoes. Most of the crowd appeared to be made up of other musicians and their girlfriends, along with a sprinkling of younger pagans and few kids. There was also the typical old Finnish drunk--at least one always seems to show up at every social event there--in this case wearing only army combat boots and a pair of graphically soiled boxer shorts. Anssi gloweringly wandered off to film all this, while Riita and Kimmo downed two tabs of E and then got to work on a joint, both of which I peevishly declined. By now I was getting really sick of waving and slapping at myself, plus I was getting a headache from all the droning, both musical and mosquitoid, so I decided to walk back to the parking lot. Big mistake. I misjudged a step from one wet rock to another in my flip-flops, slipped, and badly turned my ankle. In fact, at first I thought I'd broken it.
Very sweetly, two of Kimmo's band-mates, Timo and Pol, more or less carried me back to the parking lot, followed by Kimmo himself and the by now extremely giggly Riita, who shoved my butt up the steep step into the Pace Arrow. When I had a look in the bathroom mirror, I almost fainted. I was so badly bitten that I really did look like Safe-T-Man's insulting name for me on his blog: "Strawberry". I looked seriously, embarrassingly blotchy and awful--no wonder Anssi hadn't been more interested. I felt so miserable and desperate, I actually took Arwen's advice and dabbed a little toothpaste on a few of them. And amazingly, it worked! The itching stopped almost straight away. So basically, I went around for the next week covered in Retardex. Which was really pretty appropriate, all things considered.

When I hobbled out of the bathroom and into the little back bedroom to look for some Nikes and socks to put on, I found the two of them already in it with most of their clothes off. They were writhing around on the bed and moaning and groaning just like in a porno flick. Kimmo paused long enough to make a sort of "come join us" motion (that made what, like the third of the day? I just felt so wanted), and Riita panted, "We love life. Oh Hoop, I want to share everything with you." Seriously, she really said , "We love life"--you just can't make that kind of stuff up. I smiled and waved at them and went outside. Incredibly enough, this was not the last proposition like that I was gonna get before the night was over--though, with my luck, it was the most attractive. The waaay most attractive, as it turned out.

Continued here...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice. Finns are fucked. I should know.
I'm a Kaustinen.

1:50 PM  

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