Friday, December 09, 2005

kalevala & berbere

It must be because of the season, but I do find myself returning to things that remind me of my roots at this time of year. I admit that my "roots" , as I feel them, may seem bizarre, the Finnish heritage of my parents' lineage, but also a longing to know more about the Africa of my childhood (memories redolent with spice, smells, flavours, colours and noises).

A recent CBC radio interview about a woman who lives part of the year in Tuscany, made me realize that "roots" often has so much more to it than simply one's own blood lines. "Roots" also involves our collective history, which we eat and live and breathe without being aware of it. So, it would be natural for me to enjoy Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany as much as I did.

I want to share these roots and the sensory richness with the Granddaughter, someday. She already has a book or two of beautifully illustrated Finnish folktales. When I get a chance, I'll put them in a future post.

Let's start with Kalevala. At the Finnish Literature Society, we can find a kind of dry, academic description of Kalevala, but from there, I linked to A Europe of Tales. I found the Finnish section there delightful! (kids of all ages will enjoy this one)

Many years ago, when I first read Tolkien, I wondered at how familiar his invented language seemed to me. Here's why.

The Lord of the Rings was filmed mostly in New Zealand. I searched and searched, but I seem to have lost the photos my sister sent of Nephew at site of filming from their trip this past July.

An artist born in Finland, who now resides in New Zealand, creates work like this.

But back to Kalevala. One of the most famous Finnish artists to use Kalevala as his inspiration is Akseli Gallan-Kallela. Here are some images of paintings by Akseli Gallen-Kallela and here is the site of the museum/home at Tarvaspaa. And here is an index/gallery of the whole body of Gallen-Kallela's work.

Of course, Jean Sibelius and others were also inspirired by Kalevala. Examples of Sibelius' work based on Kalevala, could include: Kullervo, a Symphonic Poem for Soprano, Baritone, Male Chorus and Orchestra, Op.7 (reviewed here in a madcap, passionate style by The Flying Inkpot), Luonnotar, op.70, The Swan of Tuonela and Lemminkäinen's Return from Four Legends, op.22 . As far as nationalistic anthems go, Finlandia's hymn (Finlandia, op.26) in the middle, always brings me to tears.

Again, in true story-telling fashion, many years ago: I had to learn Finlandia for a piano recital...the brass and crashing drum-roll bits as interpreted in this piano-arrangment, were incredibly difficult for me, but impressed most of the fond parents in our audience. I still have my well-worn copy of it somewhere, let...me...see....hmmmnn..where could it be? Of course, I have several versions of the hymn...

When I lived in Finland for those few years as a child, I was somewhat "a-cultured"(ok, not in any deep anthropological/sociological sense!), but aware that I had been thrown into the middle of a culture that I did not know, where I often stuck out like a sore thumb. For example, on the day our school made its obligatory Christmas-time trip to Johanneksen Kirkko in Helsinki, it seemed to me that nobody else felt as awed and confused as I did. Maybe all the other kids didn't actually understand the order of the service, maybe all the other kids hadn't seen the stained glass windows before, maybe all the other kids didn't know the hymns and carols, but I was sure I was the only one who didn't. After all, my teachers had expressed shock often enough in the past, about how lacking I was in knowledge of Finnnish folktales and ways!

(And here comes the African segue-way) The last summer we lived in Finland, I often played in the park surrounding Johanneksen Kirkko. Here is where I remember my first encounter with a Disney-esque caricature of other cultures.

There was a cheap plastic black baby doll available in Finland at the time, pretty much naked except for hoop earrings in its ears. The acknowledged playground bully-girl one day was wearing the toy hoop earrings in her own ears, having pulled the maleable metal hoops apart, off the doll, and squeezed them onto her earlobes as if her ears were pierced. When I called her on it (what was my issue, anyway???), she told a fantastic story of an actual African girl staying at her house, right this very minute. Well, we couldn't see her right now, because she had had a long trip, travelling all the way from Africa and all, so she was sleeping. And, in Africa, she slept in a tree with her pet snake wrapped around her to keep her from falling, and her pet lion at her feet...

This sounded an awful lot more like fiction than fact even to me, a child who had to sneak into the local public library to get my hands on fairy tales, etc., having a father who totally disapproved of myths and fairy tales. And then, my memories of actual Africa were very different. And here is where I realized that my reality vs her fiction would not win the playground battles for dominance that day. Fiction can be so much more fun to believe, even though most of the kids that day did walk away saying disbelieving things like "yeah, I'm so-o-o sure" (in Finnish, of course).

Besides hyenas and parasites and flies, my only memory of animals inEthiopia was of donkeys.
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Photo credit: Intertnational Telecommunications Union
Donkeys were then, and still appear to be the universal mode of transport: for men and stuff-- rarely for women, who walk!
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Photo credit: Ethiopian Airlines
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Photo credit: WHO/P. Virot
Not only do women walk, they walk miles to get water or wood. Then they walk miles carrying that wood or water home on their backs.

Ethiopia may be a very poor country that most westerners hear of only in terms of war and famine. However, it is immensely rich in history and culture. Several of its holy sites are on UNESCO's list of world heritage sites. Check it out. Ethiopia also appears on Martin Gray's list of Sacred Sites: Places of Peace and Power.

I see images of Ethiopia and my mouth starts to water as I remember the Food. . I haven't mentioned the food! Edible Tulip talks about spices available in Toronto. Field trip, anyone?

Toronto Life reviews of African restaurants, including the Addis Ababa, Ethiopian House and the Queen of Sheba. I've actually visited 2 out of the 3!

Boujadi, in the African listing of Toronto restaurans, is billed as Toronto's finest Moroccan restaurant. A number of years ago now, my best friend Fiona and I studied traditional Middle Eastern Dance (belly dancing), with the wife of Boujadi's owner/chef.

My favorite meal of the week in the cafeteria, when I spent a year studying in France, was the Thursday night meal of a spicy vegetarian stew over a fluffy mound of couscous. Thursday nights, the cafeteria was always full to capacity. And I've never been to either the Boujadi or Morrocco. Sad.

Weird smattering of memories, wha'?

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