© Nada Gambier 2019

The Voice of a City - Southwest Finland

Research residency hosted by Saari Manor, artists residencies, Finland

with support of Kone Foundation

14th-27th of August 2017

A walk in the fields by the Saari residence

Arrival

 

Every time I arrive in Finland I am astonished by the air that embraces me when I get off the plane. It seems cleaner, fresher, more inviting than anywhere else I know.

And as the days go by my body relaxes, as it always does here, into a momentum where time seems to disappear and I forget what day it is and what hour it is. I forget such details as I do what needs or wants doing at any specific moment.

In the archipelago this timelessness becomes even stronger. Day, night, morning clouds and evening stillness all blend into one.

 

This feeling of floating lightly through minutes, hours, days is in stark contrast to the Finns’ demand for order and strict rules. I’ve never understood what that is all about, why such a need in landscapes that precisely offer another kind of being, another sense of time and order?

 

For a second my mind wonders off to Tbilisi, the non-stop 24 hour buzzing city. A buzzing I have grown to love now too. What a difference and yet somehow these two places have a similar effect on me. A calming effect that makes me feel so very alive. I want to smell this place, to feel it, to sense it. And I want to throw all clocks away, bury all mobile phones. I want to stare at a white wall for hours just as much as I want to stare at a landscape of nature for hours.

 

I think I can hear the clouds moving.

A cow in the distance is singing.

A snake at my feet hisses.

The wind caresses my bare feet. A fly lands on my right palm.

Being here now. The best possible thing to do here, without a doubt.

 

Nada 14th of August 2017

From top left to bottom right: the tour van of the heavy metal band we saw on the Papa Joe river boat in Turku/ the yellow facade of the courthouse in Turku/ red currants under our window at Saari Manor/ the ex-public restroom now turned English pub in Turku/ the city with UFO's, Turku/ the old Wärtsilä shipyard crane in the Turku harbor

Our desired destination is close to the city, but the trip still seems long. This is mostly due to the restrictive speed limits imposed here – every crossing one has to slow down to a speed that seems very, very slow. So slow that I ask myself if accidents ever happen in this country. How can one be hit at walking speed? How would anyone manage to drive over a pedestrian driving at this velocity. One could even say that velocity as a word, as a concept should not be used here, but that the right terminology should rather be one of slowness.

I let images of wildly staggering elk pass before me, elk that cross the street much faster than we are allowed to drive, elk that have no speed limits imposed on them.

As we pass another crossing I focus on the details – which is very easy to do as we are going so slow that nothing can escape my eye. I am alert.  I see a car approaching the crossing from the road on the right. There is a woman in it, she is in her 50s, wearing an orange sweater and a brown headscarf that she has tied around her head as if she was on her way to a tennis match. I look into her eyes, resisting the impulse to wave to her and shout some welcoming “Hello” in the language, which I don’t speak. Thank you speed limit for providing me with such a personal experience. My first experience with a local – although from a safe distance.

Still green wheat and barley hide amongst the quilted patchwork of forest where birch and scots pine force each other tall and thin in search of light. 

Thin birches with already too yellow coloured leaves die back as they spring from waterless cracks in granite out crops, the winter water that allowed them to gain a foot hold now gone. A long and dry wait for those roots trying to break stone and get to the earth. A row of red and blue and green post boxes at the very edge of the forest on a track’s end tells me somebody, lives in there, somewhere.

Another clearing, another red painted square windowed barn. A rusted piece of impossible machinery lies outside it with tall grass of last year seeking to turn it to nature by disguise and entanglement, showing scant regard for its metal permanence and intended function at the hands of men.

travelling to the archipelago often demands taking one of the yellow ferries/ the intricate emergency plan on the ferry between Korpo and Houtskär/ the strange no entry sign on the ferry/ the boat houses in Houtskär's guest harbor/ wood, wood and wood everywhere

Another turn on to a graveled road. A satellite navigation device struggling to cope with the Finnish pronunciation. Double k`s are dropped, y`s remain y`s and maybe some o`s become oo`s in a desperate attempt to get the accent right, like Americans doing a bad cockney and a piss poor ITV series doing a Cornish and Devon pastiche.

Nada sits and endures this verbal cultural destruction with the occasional FFS and WTF and a sigh in Finnish.

At last we arrive to a solitary part of the country (one of many), where only few farmhouses dot the landscape. We have arrived to our

station-to-be for the next two weeks, the Saari Manor.

 

Thomas and Mark 14th of August 2017

First excursion

 

On our bikes we cruise on freshly graveled roads through the countryside. One of the bikes has no breaks, the other no gears and on the third one the saddle moves in a circular motion.  But we don’t mind…

We are new here. It is our first excursion into the countryside - the wild and wondrous countryside of this new place.

I notice the way the rocks are colored, the barley field with its specific areas pushed down by the wind, the old man grooming the grass at the edge of the road, which in my mind looks the same after he has groomed it, as wild as before, as rough as before, just like it should look like.

 

As we get off our bikes, trying to pass a part of the path that is hard to pass if you are on a bike, we come into a small forest, quite magical – mossy, lushly green and with many ants using the path as we do, as a way forward, further into the woods. We come out into a clearing where I enjoy my first wild blueberry this summer, realizing that their time must have past already, as it tastes musky and dull on my tongue.

We are standing on a rock formed by glacial activity many years ago, well rounded and overlooking the sea. We talk about our past months and weeks, weeks we did not spend together. I look down and in a puddle I recognize a miniature version of the very area, the very landscape we are standing in – the landscape of islands and sea, the landscape I saw from above when I flew into the capital just some hours ago.

 

Thomas 14th of August 2017

the beach in the evening by the Saari Manor

Habits that shape our days and nights

 

As the week progresses our routines in this remote place start to take shape. A place that offers us other possibilities of (night)life than what we are used to. Most evenings Thomas spends calculating the time it takes to heat the sauna properly.

His phone rings every 20 minutes, a reminder that more logs need to be put into the sauna oven. Once we’re in the sauna his mind is taken by the various rituals he feels should be conducted in here. The icy cold shower between baths, the right amount of swings of water needed for the sauna to reach the desired temperature, the direction of the steam in the small room and how to maximize its effect. It is all a carefully balanced act of throwing, swinging, sighing, aaahs and oohs, of heat and cooling, of sweat and drying. I am half expecting him to drop dead of a heart attack, if not from the heat or the icy water then from the amount of effort he puts into getting it all just right. It seems like such hard work to me.

 

In the meantime Mark is observing all the various birds he finds here. The swifts and the cranes and the geese and other creatures whose names I have now forgotten. Their cries, their wing movements, the direction of the wind and the way the birds land on the beach downhill, their moves and breaks. Some of them never stop flying apparently, they even mate up there in the air.

Mark says he wants to hear the hundreds of them crying tonight. It is like music to his ears.

The stones and the mushrooms also grab his attention and admiration. A true man of nature. The 5th time he tells me about the way of the geese I stop listening to the details but secretly I admire his amazement at things I would hardly notice. He sees them and that is enough for me. His seeing the birds, the stones and the mushrooms gives space for me to turn my attention elsewhere instead.

 

The vast spaces here and the timelessness of this place is what attracts me the most. I forget time, I forget myself, I forget the stress and it feels bloody good to say the least. My body and mind seem to be undergoing a sort of emptying, a cleansing sounds too religious but it is not far from the truth.

While Thomas fills his head with sauna facts and Mark his with the ins and outs of wildlife I empty my mind, get rid of it all and revel in the nothingness that ensues.

In this way, we individually marvel at this place, from our different view-points and interests. We each fill or remove facts and fantasies from our bodies, smiling at each other’s strangeness.

Nada 18th of August 2017

Mynämäki and surroundings: the town grill à la Twin Peaks/ the second-hand shop's sign Yesterday is closed on Sundays and Mondays/ the Friday market by the kylä kauppa (village shop)/ the truck of the volunteer fire service all ready to leap into action

Erik showing us around on his estate in Houtskär. A very special encounter with a special man.

Mark admiring the sea and fishing in the sea on Wattkasta island near Korpo

another successful afternoon, this time with Rauno the fisherman (from top left to bottom right): the remains of a 6.5 kg pike-perch's head/ hanging over the railing at the fisherman's cabin/ Rauno's fishing equipment on the beach

entrance to the old ground cellar at the Saari Manor

Leaving but not forgetting

 

It is our second week here and we are dreading having to leave this paradise in a day or two. We’ve gotten used to this place now, the people, the landscape, the shops, the bars, the ferries. They have all found a place of their own in our brains as we’ve begun to understand and see this place as a place on its own, a real thing.

But the road has been curved by the real and the imaginary meeting. Many times we’ve actually said It looks like... or It reminds me of… or we’ve gotten lost in some weird place in our minds where scenes and places and people have been superimposed. Scenes and places and people from either our memory of elsewhere and here or a dozen movies we’ve seen in the past.

Erik the farmer on the islands became the old guy from The Straight Story by David Lynch, sitting in a swinging chair on his porch as we arrived. Facial and body similarities aside, and his love of tractors, we made him into that guy as soon as we saw him.

Another place, another day. As we drove up to the wrong house in the forest, a track approach through the trees, it was hard not to think of The Deliverance. Our movie had no name but we were the characters who got lost and knocked on the wrong house door.

As we knocked, at first nothing, then an oldish man wearing a pair of dirty underpants, unshaven, came through the fly screen door with a rifle pointing at us asking what we were doing on his property.

view from the south harbor on Iniö island

misty morning at Saari Manor

In the past two weeks we’ve faced some minor challenges but simultaneously it’s been an unusually smooth ride. 

 

Sometimes it’s been hard to know when a conversation is over. A question has been thrown into the air and answered with a shrug or a short explanation. The person in front of us looking at us and expecting something more. Or?  Here you don’t know, you just don’t know. The rhythm of a conversation is different in this neck of the woods. It is filled with pauses at strange moments, and silences that demand some getting used to. Sometimes a conversation has also just been interrupted, left in mid-air, by the other person simply walking away. We’ve started to question our own way of speaking and looking at body language more. Is he speaking to me even when no words come out of his mouth?

We’ve questioned our hearing and our memory.

Sometimes, after a long pause it has been practically impossible to remember if a question was answered or not. If a question was posed or not. If anything was said at all that would require a reply, a comment, a reaction.

We’ve also had conversations when our different languages were not a barrier at all. We’ve simply all understood the grand lines of the conversation, and known silence to be the most relevant way of responding, or a word thrown out there, as provocation, left dangling between us and our interlocutor. In fact, most conversations we’ve had here have included dangling bits. Dangling silences, dangling words and looks.

And pauses that have become entire conversations.

Iniö church

Thomas and Mark on one of the many ferries we've taken these two past weeks

the "saw saloon" deserted and closed for the winter season

We’ve also written a lot. Perhaps more than in the other places we’ve been to so far. Writing about people, their thoughts, the way they have seemed to us when meeting them, describing their way of living, their houses, their environment. We’ve watched their gestures, noted down their words and remarks and have typed them into our computers or on pieces of paper.

 

We’ve been going in circles. We have translated and reformulated. We’ve interpreted and invented. We’ve drawn our own conclusions and appropriated words. We’ve invented and intervened in our own thoughts. We’ve made assumptions and backed them up with, more or less, dubious material found on the internet. We’ve used our memory, intuition and imagination.

We’ve expressed opinions and suppressed thoughts, we’ve made additions and created intermissions. Ordered events into new sequences and cut between moments that happened at the same time. Sometimes we have combined thoughts and counterpointed events.  We’ve filled page after page with ideas, stories and impressions. We’ve transformed gestures into words and made events bigger. We’ve elongated and shortened time and we’ve stretched our feet and arms out to reach deeper, deeper into the moments we have described.

We’ve tried and succeeded, failed and lost. Lost thoughts, memories and observations and found new imaginations and connections.

We’ve made up events, dreamt moments and fabricated situations.

 

But we’ve also done a lot more. We’ve grown accustomed to another way of experiencing time for instance. We’ve had time to prepare, time to receive, time to watch the clouds hanging low, time to give time, time to feel the wind blowing over the fields, time to drink, time to eat, time to listen to the water leaping against the shore with a can of beer in our hands, time to listen to the pauses between sentences, time to watch ourselves do things, time to watch others do things, time to follow our thoughts and come back to them later,

time to digest, time to produce, time to realize the impact of time.

 

When thinking about the way we have met people here, one thing stands out; we’ve met people in their own timeframe, not in ours. And the people we’ve met have given us their time as we have given them ours. Sometimes spending a whole day together. Those moments have been the best. Days during which we’ve been allowed to wholly enter another person’s life. Not always much happening but a lot to discover and share in the emptiness and lack of activity. People have taken time to introduce us into their thinking and generously shared with us the little moments of everyday life.

the stairs leading to the main house of the Saari Manor in the blue evening sunlight

a view of the ceiling of the unique medieval Taivassalon Pyhän Ristin kirkko and its grotesque, decorative and naive paintings, a true find on our journey to Iniö

Countless are the times we’ve had to conclude once again that reality is many times more unreal than that which we can imagine. And sometimes better.

Nada, Thomas and Mark 24th of August 2017

above; one of the many breathtaking views from the Saari Manor estate

to the right; view from the ferry back home from Iniö

Juhani telling us about his time in Lapland, about the famous truck driver in Mynämäki, Mr. Saistola and other tales from his life and the area

above; the thousands of Barnacle geese having a field trip by the Saari Manor

to the left: one of many breathtaking sunsets we've had the pleasure of observing during our stay here