Monday, July 12, 2010


I promised to post a few pictures from our vacation in Scandinavia, so here they are...

This is me with my parents at the Helsinki Cathedral, explaining to them my theory about the church's iconography.

Göran and me on the train.  We resorted to train travel in southern Finland, but rented a car the last half of our vacation while visiting family in North Karelia and driving to Lapland.

One of my favorite drinks is piimä, a kind of Finnish buttermilk.

In Stockholm, I found this interesting steeple on the Engelska Kyrkan (English Church).  No, not the Angel Moroni.

The reason we went to Skansen, a big open-air museum in southern Stockholm, was so I could see the summer house of Swedish scientist and visionary Emmanuel Swedenborg.  It was in this simple, one-room cottage he had many of his visions and held many of his interviews with angels.

This is how I attended the royal wedding celebration of Princess Victoria of Sweden.  If you know anything about what it means to be a Finn, you will understand what a magnanimous gesture this was.

I waited for four hours to get this picture of Prince Daniel's hand in front of Princess Victoria's face.

There was a lot of schlocky romantic stuff all over Stockholm, as part of the general wedding festivities.
This photo was taken at midnight, behind the cabin where we were staying in Varislahti, Finland (where some of my mother's family are living).  This is what it looked like from about 11 p.m. until 2 a.m.  Then the sun would rise again.

Here are the menfolk, all watching football.  (This match was England vs. Slovenia.)  In Finland, the men were all watching the World Cup, and the women were all talking about the Swedish royal wedding.  Göran and I were comfortable in both worlds.

Göran and our nephew Christian, who specialized in making goofy faces for the camera.  We called it "the face."

We timed our visits with my cousins, uncles and aunts in eastern Finland with the big midsummer's celebration known in Finland as "Juhannus."  The religious significance of "St. John's Day" has to do with the fact that midsummer comes exactly six months before Christmas, and John the Baptist, the prophet who prepared the way for Christ, was born six months before Christ.  The pancake-like "lettuja" are a special Juhannus food.  On Juhannusaatto or St. John's Eve, Finns light a big bonfire and celebrate late into the night.

It's been twenty-three years since I've had a chance to visit my family in Finland.  Growing up, we would go every two or three years and I would spend the whole summer.  It was very emotional for me to see beloved aunts and uncles and cousins again, and to meet cousins' kids for the first time.  See that big smile on my face?  I'm very happy in this picture.

My cousin Mika is one or two years older than I am.  He was the cousin I probably spent the most time with on those long summer visits.  It was so good to see him again!  (And meet his wife and kids!)

On our drive through Lapland, we had to be careful to watch for reindeer.  They don't seem to pay much attention to cars, and routinely meandered down the middle the road, stopping traffic and attracting photos!

This photo was taken at midnight in Kilpisjärvi, Finland.

I had this brilliant idea that I was going to go for a swim in the Arctic Ocean.  I changed my mind after wading into it and realizing how freezing cold it was.  (I would have done it if there had been a sauna...)

On our way back from Lapland, we stopped in North Karelia again to spend more time with family.  Here I'm holding music for two of my cousins, Pekka and Kari.  They were playing from the top of the old mine tower in Outokumpu, as part of the city's summer music program.

Our last night in Finland, Göran and I went for a walk in a part of Helsinki we hadn't explored yet, and we ran across this advertisement.  I'm not sure how I feel about Helsinki promoting itself as a destination for gay tourists.  Maybe I would feel better about it if Finland would grant equal marriage rights to same-sex couples, like its neighbors Sweden and Norway.

We loved the restaurant Zetor.  The desert we had there -- fried cheese melted in cream and topped with cloudberry jam -- was worth the price of the plane ticket to Helsinki.

So this was the gay bar we checked out.  It seemed to me like there were a lot more lesbians than I usually see in American gay bars.  When Göran and I were dancing, we (or I should say he) had a lesbian cheering section.  This woman who had really had about six too many was kind of hitting on Göran.  She seemed really offended when I interposed myself between them, and took him by the hand and introduced myself as his husband.  (Göran, on the other hand, was really relieved.)

OK, so here's a perfect example of what left me feeling kind of ambivalent about gay pride in Finland.  Why is it advertised in English?  Why call it "Pride" instead of something more logical and native, like "Homo Sisu"?  Maybe it's just me, but it almost makes it seem as if gay pride is put on for the benefit of English-speaking tourists.

This stained glass window in the Tromsø Cathedral (in Northern Norway) sort of perfectly captures some of my theological ruminations during our trip.  Finland was converted to Christianity by Swedish ristiretkeläisiä, by "crusaders" whose main method of persuasion was the sword, and who used Christianity as an arm of the state, to undergird the authority of the Swedish monarchy.  I found it fascinating that this Norwegian Church, instead of portraying a crucified Christ like most other European churches portrays a triumphant Christ at his Second Coming.  At the top of the window, the hand of God is portrayed, with light streaming down to represent God's interventions in human history.  Below the Christ (not visible in this photograph) lies the carnage of human war and genocide, and Adam and Eve, as representatives of humanity, reach upwards to receive Christ again as the restorer of peace and love.  I'm not a fan of the way Christ is physically portrayed here.  He seems too abstract and ghost-like to me in this portrait; I want a Christ who is concrete and physical; I want the reality of the eternal realm breaking into the ephemeral mortal...  But I still like the basic idea behind this image.  If I were an artist designing a church window, it is almost certainly the theme I would choose.


sara said...

I'm really glad you posted these! Gave me some desires to see Europe and that part of the world. That sun at night is so cool!

And my first thought on seeing the train picture, before reading the caption: Boy, that looks like the most spacious airplane I've ever seen!

(And for some reason, they use "pride" sometimes here, but usually the Hebrew word, Ge'ava. Tel Aviv is also promoted for gay tourism.)

Travel is great.

J G-W said...

Travel can in some ways feel like an escape from the "real world" of work and routine. But it also gives you rare opportunities to reflect on all the things you take for granted, to see them from a different perspective. And the more you get to know the language and the ways of the country you are visiting, the more they become a permanent part of you, and of your way of seeing the world. So I can see why in Islam, for instance, the hajj (pilgrimage) is expected of all faithful.

J G-W said...

There's something about gays being targeted as tourists that I find unsettling. I suppose it's better than being explicitly told gay tourists are unwelcome...

Maybe its because I'm uncomfortable with the idea of tourism per se. When I visit a foreign country, I don't want my interactions in that country to be merely commercial. I make some effort to learn their language and learn something about their culture and history, and I want to be appreciated by those I meet there as a whole human being with a culture and language and history of my own, not just as a bag full of dollars waiting to be dispensed at shops and resorts...

Sara said...

Yeah. When I was younger and freer, I made a point of not "traveling" but trying to live in a country for at least six months and learn the language and meet people over a longer term. I always wonder how you can know a place without knowing the language.

Beck said...

When we travel we try to stay with the locals and eat in their homes where at all possible, staying away from the big cities and standard tourist destinations. It really makes a huge difference. I'm glad you were able to do this - the insights and perspective gained are magnified 10 fold.

Beautiful photos! Beautiful family!