Monday, April 23, 2007

The Book of Hope 24: All Done With Mirrors

"As we pile now the things we used to feel before we
Get close to his presence who tells where to go.
It's that first sound you get before you think about it at all.
After that comes the one that's reduced and it's gone..."

-Petri Walli of Kingston Wall, "Welcome to the Mirrorland".

Well, be fair. Could you write song lyrics in another language? I couldn't, not even in German. When I got back to our motorhome, Riita and Kimmo were lounging around in a sort of post-coital stupor, smoking spliffs and, except for matching Tri-Logic T-shirts, pretty much totally commando. I jonesed once or twice with them just to be sociable--and it actually made my ankle feel way better (and the lyrics more, you know, comprehensible)--while Kimmo explained about the music we were listening to, which you can hear some of here: . He was playing Kingston Wall's third CD, Tri-Logy, which he had told us had inspired the name of his own band. Well, band of the moment, anyway. Finnish bands change their names--and personnel--a lot, apparently.

But where had they gotten the idea of "Mirrorland" from in the first place, I wondered. I mean, it's not likely they'd heard about it from reading Adolf Hitler--or Dr Praetorius, for that matter. "Alice in Underland?" answered Kimmo, shrugging. "I dunno, a lots of bands are tuned onto that word, especially Russian ones. But the big idea for all the mystic concepts, all of of them came from Petri Walli. He was born from a famous Finnish musicals family, his older brother is a jazz guitarist, so Petri was very competed with him always. One day when he was just 18 he went in a bar club where was drinking beers Jukka Jylli, who was a bass player, and he spoke to him enthusiasted and demanded them to start a band. Then later they telephoned to America where Finland's greatest drummer, Sami Kuoppamaki, there was studied, and he agree to come back to Finland to join with them. So that is how 'Kingston' Wall became started. Soon, Walli reveal himself to be the next Finnish Jimi Hendrix."

I'm no expert, but actually his guitar playing did sound pretty amazing to me. "Shame about his voice, though."

"Many people say that, that is why he is never got a foreign gig. That is why also I have in my own music learned his lesson and teach voice training and so forth perfect English. It is not enough to be genius in America or the UK if you wish to sell yourself music--you gotta sound totally authenticated."

Too true, dude. Kimmo's English was not the greatest when he was straight, but when he was stoned he seemed to sincerely think it was. Listening to him, after awhile I started to feel pretty wasted myself just trying to keep track of all of his odd twisted phrases. I doubt I've done them justice here. Unfortunately for Petri Walli, however, there are a lot of websites that reprint all the lyrics to his songs, which provides a casual detective with a pretty good place to start when it comes to his relationship with Ior Bock. For example on Tri-Logy, there's a long song called "Alt-Land-Is", which retells the Bock Saga in mini-me form, though for some reason the 'Aesir' are referred to as the 'Arsers'. So, was Petri Walli mocking gays like Bock, who he spent all those winters in Goa with? Or was he gay himself? Kimmo greeted this question with fury. Terms like "gay" and "straight", he told me, were just Western inventions from our Judeo-Christian prejudice. Our human ancestors, the types Bock was talking about I guess, had no such prejudices and shared their love (for this I read "semen") equally with both men and women, and even themselves. In Vedic medicine it was considered healthy to drink one's own urine and semen. And his hero, Petri Walli, was not gay, he said. Walli, who had killed himself in 1995 at exactly the same age as me (then)--26--had checked out early partly because his relationship with a woman named "Tanja" had ended, and supposedly, the song we had just listened to, "For All Mankind", was his suicide note. This idea, by the way, seemed to be based on the two lines:

"Look out world it's time to die
No more crying with my mind".

"Look out" was right--he had killed himself by jumping from a church roof or tower a few blocks from where Likkanen had grown up. But that was pretty much it for suicidal lyrics, and the last few lines seemed to be about Bock again:

"Balanced heart needs no disguise
But shamen seeds for all mankind"

"Shaman seeds", of course is what Bock calls his own sperm. Unexpectedly, Kimmo agreed. He thought it likely that Walli had dedicated his death to his friend Bock, in the same manner as Hephaiston sacrificed himself for Alexander the Great, or the slave Antinous for the Emperor Hadrian, in the final Mithraic Rite of conferred immortality--though of course Kimmo didn't know about all that (oddly, however, it is mentioned on Dr Praetorius' website). Whatever, Bock was crippled in 1999, so if the poor old guy really is immortal, it's not likely gonna be much fun for him.

OK, I've just reread everything I just wrote, and it sounds totally dazed and confused. So I'm gonna delete it and start over.

Nope, the second version doesn't really read any better--I guess when you write about something that happened when you were high, you always type like you're on crack. That and my inferior writing skills. You should see Jo or Kerry's writing sometime--they are so effortlessly natural and talented. For me every single sentence feels like it's being squeezed out of a toothpaste tube--and I never seem to know what flavor it's actually gonna be until it's all out there. Anyway, Kimmo really had only one other insight to offer, that seemed excellent at the time, but now I'm kinda wishing we'd ignored it: he said that Walli was obsessed with mirrors, to the point that he would carry a small square one around with him and constantly look over his shoulder with it, sometimes even at his audience during concerts. This idea excited Riita, who produced her makeup compact and started peering out the window behind her. Our view, across the top of the chain-link fence, crossed a few dusty meadows and bogs and dirt roads in the direction of Kaustinen in the distance, visible only as a jumble of building-blocks and short trees, like a small child's toy-set.

"Oh look, Hoop," she said. "The town looks so different this way. I see balloons." Balloons??? "Oh no, not balloons." Suddenly she screamed. "No no, they are flying monsters!" She threw the compact onto the carpeted floor, then ran into the bathroom and slammed the door shut.

"What is she on, for Chrissake?" I asked Kimmo as I retrieved her little plastic compact case and wiped it clean with the hem of my skirt.

He looked apologetic. "We did a little acid together." Oh great. He went over to the bathroom door to remonstrate with her, and without really thinking, I plopped down on the couch and tried looking over my shoulder with the mirror in the same spot where Ritta had just been sitting.

Now before I get into this, let me just mention that I've done this thing with the mirror--"mirror-gazing", my husband calls it--dozens of times since then, and there really is a noticeable and consistent distortion effect, especially with objects that are super-far away. If you don't believe me, I suggest you try it yourself, and you'll see I'm right. I've turned on lots of friends and colleagues to this at parties, and they've made two points about the phenomenon which I think are totally valid. The first is that all mirrors, especially small cheap ones, are ground very badly and suffer from scratches and dead spots and surface tension curvature, so that over distances, they produce some really bizarre visual effects. The second is that we don't really see anything anyway--the human brain just interprets signals from the optic nerve in a way that we're comfortable with. So when things are totally reversed, like in the mirror, no matter how quickly we turn around to verify what we've just seen (or thought we've seen), it takes the brain a few milliseconds to reverse the data and return to "normal" itself. Do this enough times in a row, and your brain gets really confused, especially about left versus right. OK, OK, mine gets pretty confused anyway. Like Adolf Hitler's.

However a friend of mine here in the computer department at GW got so into the whole subject that he actually set up a series of quick and dirty experiments to see if the phenomenon was real or just psychogenetic. What he did was, he set up two identical cameras--first a pair of high quality digital still cameras, then video camcorders--side by side, facing out an upper floor window, one normally, the other into a mirror reflecting exactly the same view over the Foggy Bottom campus. In both cases, the cameras were time-coded identically, and the images displayed together on a computer screen. In the first experiment with the still cameras, except for scratches and blemishes on the mirror surface, there were no measurable differences between the two scenes, except in terms of picture quality. But in the second case, the moving images showed several anamolies--slightly different rates of speed for cars crossing the same path, lights on or off in matching apartments, and in several cases what appeared to be distant pedestrians appearing in the mirror that were invisible in the 'real' camera's view. So I'm just mentioning it to let you know I'm not just being all hippie and "woo-woo, scary" about it. Seriously, try it yourself. But take my advice and don't do it alone.

Anyway, when I looked for Riita's "balloon monsters", what I thoughe I saw was a couple of large dark plastic trash bags slowly floating and tumbling across a distant field. But when I turned around and looked through the window without the mirror I couldn't see them any more.

"She wants you," Kimmo said, returning to the living area, In honor of the seriousness of the situation, he had put his sporty red Euro-briefs back on, I couldn't help but notice. "I gotta go play some excellent music for the people now." I was getting more used to him by now, and he didn't look so much like Sting to me any more. His jaw seemed weaker, and there was something sort of foxy and shifty about his eyes, I thought. After he left, I went in the bathroom and held Riita's head on the toilet (she wasn't Ctrl-Z'ing or even crying, just sort of whimpering with her eyes wildly dilated like a cat's) for about half an hour while I patiently explained over and over again that the monsters she'd seen in the mirror were just trash-bags. Finally it seemed to get through to her, and she cheered up again.

"I love you," she said. The E talking again. Poor Riita, I thought, she'd really been on a strange trip these last few days.

"Um, me too," I said. Whatever.

"We do not say these words in Finland like you Americans do. I would sacrifice myself to give you life forever, Hoop," she said earnestly.

What can you say to that? I was like, "Uh, thanks." But no thanks. Chill.

"You will stay with me tonight? You will protect me from the mirrors? We will be wearing the white gowns together for the ceremony, you know."

I didn't. "What white gowns?"

And she was like, "The ones that Anssi brought for us while you were away. They are on the bed, we must not fold them or make them dirty. We are going to be brides, he said."

"Brides"??? Brides of what? Frankenstein? The Devil? I felt like I was stuck in a high school production of "Rosemary's Baby; the Musical" while were trying them on in the bedroom later. Oh well, I guess if I had any aspirations to be a serious Mythologist, I needed to suck it up like Margaret Mead or somebody and just go along with all this New Agey Wiccan cr-p and quit my belly-aching for awhile. Because soon enough, I'd be back in Washington DC teaching morons from Long Island that Brad Pitt's version of the Illiad was the incorrect one and Achilles didn't 'get away' at the end, in the country's worst private university in its most boring city with its dreariest climate, and Pauanne would seem like Heaven to look back on. Or something. At least I might actually get a dissertation out of it.

Because from a distance, this incredible hodgepodge of Finnish hocus-pocus was gonna look really impressive, at least to Stateside academics. The Kalevala had become a cottage industry here in Finland: in addition to the obvious branding, like folk-art mugs and blankets, theme parks, music festivals and the Society for Creative Anachronism-style re-enactments for TV, it had also spawned a permanent self-generating culture of new translations, album lyrics, comparative literature and sociological studies, and in recent years, its own magical belief systems--even Kalevala Tarot interpretation! Of course, it was all pretty much just hype--except for a few serious types like Anssi and con-men like Bock. Most Finnish Satanists, for instance, were teenaged boys in death-metal groups and most Wiccans and heathens were young working women inspired by the TV series Charmed, which was a huge hit here. But nobody in my department needed to know that. At this rate, I'd be the only "occult Kalevala studies" expert in America--and this without even speaking a word of Finnish. I know, I know, what a pathetic ambition, right? But I had to do something to make a living, and nowadays it was no longer enough just to be a conscientious college professor and scholar or whatever. If it ever had been, I mean. After all, I had just turned town down many many millions of dollars in marriage in favor of a working life. Though obviously, if I intended to get serious about all this stuff professionally as a future career path, I would need to bite the bullet and just go ahead and learn the stinking language. And how better to do that than in bed? Obviously, I needed a Finnish husband. Speaking of which, I noticed that both our long rather simple Karelian-style bridal gowns were split all the way up nearly to the crotch--so remembering the mosquitoes, I went ahead and put a faded pink long-sleeved Old Navy jersey, which was as close as I could get to flesh-tone, and my jeans back on underneath it. Which somewhat marred the fashion effect. But Margaret Mead obviously had taken along way better insect spray than me to Samoa.

Riita, on the other hand, looked pretty good (for her). I spent half an hour putting makeup on her , because she refused to look in the bathroom mirror, and we found her a pair of silver lame slippers in her suitcase to wear. I felt like the ugly step-sister in Cinderella. But actually it was just as well that I was way over-dressed, because when we got outside about 10 pm or so, I noticed that it was starting to cool off outside in spite of the bright sunshine. In fact it still looked and felt like a lazy autumn afternoon in Tuscany, but you could definitely feel a bite in the air. By now my ankle was killing me again, so it took us forever to retrace our steps back across the parking lot to the Music Gulch. Halfway down, Riita suddenly said, "Hoop, what if we are really trapped in the Mirrorland now? What if we have gone through the mirror without realizing it? Perhaps we will suddenly see monsters everywhere now, and nothing will ever be same for us ever again in our lives."

I was like, "Damn, girl, you are so never allowed to take drugs again!" But she was right about one thing: nothing would ever be quite the same again after that night, for me at least. Of course, that's true for every night of our lives anyway, pretty much--we just don't notice it very often.

Down in the gulch, more oil-drum fires had been lit and loud music was blasting and echoing through the trees. All evening more and more cars had trickled into the parking lot, and now a crowd of maybe 40 or 50 people was camped out down there. As we got closer we saw it was "Tri-Logic" playing on the little improvised stage under the bridge--and surprise, surprise, they actually weren't bad. At least as long as they kept playing instrumentals. According to their CD cover, they played "happy music, with a blend of Nordic Rock and Eastern Hindu traditions." The Hindu part, was apparently the guy named Pol (who had lived in the Bock commune in Gumbostrand and had even taken part in the "Temple of Lemminkainen" excavations, Kimmo had told us), who played tablas and other Indian-looking stuff. But by Finnish standards, it did sound happy pretty much, I guess. On the other hand, by Finnish standards Petri Walli's suicide song was actually pretty upbeat. It was a country E had been invented for, if you ask me. Alex and Anssi spotted us and found us a big rock of our own to sit on, between a pair of lesbians with "Huggy Heathen" T-shirts and a deeply tanned married Boomer couple, the guy of which had the strangest hair I've ever seen. It was sort of balding from the front, but enclosed his head like a giant frizzy gray ear-muff on the sides and back--that erupted underneath in a sort of huge horse-tail of long straight very coarse black hair that he must have spent like two decades growing out. The lesbians turned out to be a married pair of Lutheran priests--the younger one, Gunilla,who had a dark 'stache, was Swedish and the older fatter one, Siirkka-Liisa, was a Finn--and both had been suspended by the church, they told us during a break in the music, after they'd been arrested by the police for performing a naked woodland heathen rite in a national forest.

The Swedish one, Gunilla, was like, "The Church is responsible for all the evil in the world today." In addition to a mustache, she had short corn-rowed plaited dreadlocks with little plastic toy cars and animals woven into them.

"Um, what about the good things it did, like literacy?" I said. "And the law?" There was a general murmur of disagreement around me.

"The ancient Finns and Vikings had their own Runic alphabet. And they had many good laws," Anssi told me. "If a man killed another, for example, then he would compensate the family."

"You mean like O.J.?" I said, but then the next set started up. This time Kimmo sang. He didn't have a bad voice exactly--and at least he didn't try sing in English. Instead he sang in a language that I like totally couldn't recognize--it sounded sort of made up, like rhymes you sing when you're playing jump-rope. When I asked Riita what language it was, she just shook her head. Her eyes were still wildly dilated, I noticed, and she seemed twitchy and restless.

"He's singing in the Bockian 'Finnish alphabet' language or 'ROT'-system, as it is also known," said my neighbor on the other side, the tanned aging Boomer guy with the weird hair. He was obviously another American--it's a good thing I hadn't come to Finland to escape my fellow-countrymen, because us tourists seemed to be outnumbering the Finns, here in Pauanne at least. "I helped Ior develop and translate this root human language from the ancient Runic sources." His voice had the weird sing-song sound of Beavis and Butthead's hippie teacher on MTV. His name was Dundrero Adonizedek and his wife was named Charlotte. The reason I know this (and can even spell it) is because he handed me his business card, which had a little sunburst native American logo on it above both their names and said "The Adonizedek Foundation--Lectures on Shamanism and Kabbalism".

"We'll be conducting workshops here all day tomorrow," he said. "I hope you'll attend, OK? Our meme will be the amazing synergy between the Kalevala and the Kabbala." See? My thesis was writing itself. All I had to do was just relax and get fed info. His wife Charlotte, who seemed to be both younger than him and another nationality (French Canadian--and a former psychiatric hospital administrator, I later found out), didn't seem nearly as friendly--she just glowered at me. "No pre-registration necessary," he added quickly. Meanwhile, Riita suddenly took off to dance frenziedly in front of the band with the dark skinny Swedish lesbian, Gunilla. They looked exactly like something out of The Golden Bough, after the priestesses chew laurel leaves or whatever and start foaming at the mouth. I was just hoping everybody kept their clothes on.

"Would you like perhaps a tarot reading from the Kalevala?" her Finnish friend Siirkka-Liisa, asked me shyly. Her big bovine face bore a strange resemblance to Wheezy's, but she was way too old to be her reincarnation (Dundrero would have said she was her 'Preincarnation'). Alex was back on his cell, Anssi was sulking again, and I wasn't going anywhere on my ankle, so I was like, OK, why not? First of all, she explained to me in her heavily accented English (I'd noticed that older Finns tended to speak better grammatical English but with much thicker accents, while the opposite was true of the younger ones), I needed to understand that the Kalevala tarot deck was not an exact match, that many of the heroes and heroines and gods in the deck were only partially equivalent to the traditional Major Arcana. Anssi, with many interruptions and arguments, helped her translate this.

The first "stave" she laid down, "Fehu", advised me not to take anything in life for granted. Wow, brilliant. The card she placed there was that of Death or Tuonela, where Lemminkainen was depicted lying in pieces. But I was not to be afraid of death literally, she said--this conjunction merely meant a great change or transformation in my life was coming. The second stave was "Uraz", which she said symbolized a strong protective strength. The effect of this was apparently doubled by the card she drew for it, which was Kylikki, the wife of Lemminkainen. "But in this place she wishes you well, so don't be afraid of her either," said Siirkka-Liisa. "She will join her strength and sexuality to yours." For some reason this made me think of the naked porn actress I'd seen having sex with Erkki and Eetu at Moominworld that morning, and suddenly I felt a teeny bit sick. I looked over at Riita, her mouth open and her bridal dress falling off, dancing with Gunilla right in front of the grinning Kimmo and remembered how anxious I'd been to make sure she didn't see anything. God, what a dope I was, trying to protect her! Maybe she wouldn't of even cared. Maybe it would of just gotten her hot or whatever--what did I know?

Had that actually happened just that morning? It felt more like a year ago. It was like time just stood still during these super-long Finnish summer days. Maybe if you divided your year between Pauanne and Patagonia you'd never get old. They have summer during our winter down under, right?

On the seventh stave, "Gebu", Siirkka-Liisa placed the Lovers card and on the eighth, "Wuhoz", The Hanged Man. "This key is about willing self-sacrifice, and often it can be compared to Odin hanging himself on the tree to gain the knowledge of the Sacred Runes. This is what must happen tonight to bring your friend back from Tuonela." She and Anssi bickered in Finnish after that, them she laid down beside "Jera", which she said was the passing of the seasons or time, the Wheel of Fortune card. This caused more argument, because it said "Taro" on it it, which Anssi insisted wasn't even a proper Finnish concept.

"Our word for fate is 'kohtalo'," he said, "Not this stupid card with a circle of animals painted on it. This isn't even Sami."

"It is just a symbolize," she said placatingly. She really did have a sweet temper, which is pretty much what it took to live with her friend Gunilla, I guess. I only remember two more staves after that: "Mannaz" and "Inguz". The first of these represented the Adamic "first man" or male principle, she said--beside it she placed the Fool, in this case the card depicting Lemminkainen. The second symbolized the female principle, and it drew the Star card, or Marjatta. You remember Marjatta, right? The chick that gets pregnant from a whortleberry tree? So then, now that all the staves were filled, Siirkka-Liisa next interpreted their meaning, using the rest of the deck. This went on like forever, and I pretty much tuned most of it out. "The suits for this deck match in this way: Swords/Swords, Wands/Stakes, Cups/Dishes, and Pentacles/Loaves. I am going to work key by key through this layout instead than stay with the normal sequence. This is because I want each card to be a 'key' to the position I place it...this works for me. And, please believe, this is very important--this must work for the Inner Self! Now that is explained, we are starting off with the first card being for the God, Himself..."

She laid it face down in the center of her layout, then turned it over. The card was Judgement, or Ukko. "Oh, this is very powerful," she said. She then launched into a long, rambling explanation full of vague stuff that had Anssi shaking his head, you know, the usual fortune-teller stuff about change and daring to take chances, etc etc. But at the end of this, she added, "I don't understand this layout too well, really. The cards seem to say that Lemminkainen will come back to life again if the right offering is made to the God. So that is correct for the ceremony and is a very good thing. But it must be his bride who brings him back, Kylikki, by sacrificing her own life for him--instead it is the Star card, Marjatta who is sitting in her throne here instead. It makes no sense."

So I was like, "So what is the symbolic meaning of this Star card?" She and Ansssi conferred briefly over the right English word.

"Hope," she said finally.

Maybe it was because of all the smoke or because we were in the forest, but it seemed to get darker a lot sooner that night than on any other other since I'd been in Finland. By the time Tri-Logic played their final number just before 11 or so to a round of polite applause, it actually felt sort of like a real honest-to-goodness dusk outside. Riita came back looking all flushed and sweaty, but elated again. I was really hoping Gunilla wasn't giving her more E. While we stood around slapping at mosquitoes and waiting for Kimmo to finish packing up his equipment and join us, I heard Dundrero getting into a loud argument behind me with Harvey, the "vitki" from Seattle, on the subject of runes.

"The Runes are not Jewish or Christian," Harvey was insisting in a loud, over-bearing tone. "They are part of our pure Nordic heritage, not part of the Judeo-Christian Conspiracy. So all this Kabbala equivalency bullsh-t is nidh!"

"Many leading eriloz now accept that the Sephiroth is symbolic of Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, OK?" squeaked Dundrero back in his passive-aggressive sing-song.

"There's nothing Zionist about the sacred Aesir symbols, blood-sucker! You're nothing but a spiritual leech!"

"Oh yeah? Well, Heil Hitler, man!" It was obvious that Dundrero was both furious but totally physically scared of the other guy at the same time. Still, something was causing him to stand up to him. I fully expected both men to make a sudden rush at each other like a pair of enraged gorillas and really get into it or whatever--in which case Harvey could have snapped the other man, who was taller but way older and thinner than him, like a twig. But instead of staging a smackdown, both of them started making odd passes at each other with their arms and striking weird poses, while screeching weird cawing noises.

"Oh, don't pay them any mind, darlin'," said Arwen, who had popped up beside me. "They're just showing off for the young wenches. It's typical male behavior."

Maybe it was typical in Seattle, but I'd never seen anything like it before. So I was all like, "WTF are they doing???"

"Ha ha, it's called staghagalder--they're miming runic postures and chanting galders at each other, old Norse spells. They'll get bored with it in a minute as soon as everybody stops paying them attention. Men start acting like big babies the minute they reach middle age. It's a harmless way of letting off a little steam. Cheaper than a red sports car, anyway." She took my arm and propelled me off a little way from the others. "Harvey--I mean Eldred--really likes you," she said, looking at me all expectantly. Uh oh.


"He's really into you. We both are. Why don't you hook up with us, sweetie? We can take you back to our B & B with us after the ceremony." I stared at her for a few secs, just to make double-sure she meant what I thought she meant. Yep. She was pimping for her husband!

"No offense--but that is just so gross. Ewwwww!" I said, twisting out of her grasp. Well, I told you before there was worse to come, didn't I? I actually didn't even enjoy typing about it--now I'm gonna have to go watch some TV or something to get that picture out of my head again. I guess you had to see them to understand what I'm all about here. Maybe I can find a photo of them at their website, so you can. Meanwhile 'Ugly Betty' is on, yay! Which is my fave show now. 'House' used to be, as you know if you've been reading this, because of my super-sized crush on the totally awesome Hugh Laurie, but if I'm honest, it got pretty dark and grim right about the time I got married. Or maybe getting married had something to do with it, I dunno. Whatever. Oh, and I also love 'Dirt', 'the Unit', 'Friday Night Lights', 'Deadwood', and 'Desperate Housewives' (so now you know). Everything else on TV pretty much sux, though. Especially the news.

And 'Wife-Swap'.

Continued here...


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