Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Helsinki, Thursday, 27 August 2009

University of Helsinki lecture

Sadly, I parted company with Björn in Malmö and flew from Copenhagen to Helsinki, Finland. For many years I had been anticipating a visit to Finland, whether because of my deep connection to Tove Jansson from childhood (up to the present, teaching her in my Multicultural Children’s Lit. class at Berklee), the Finnish friends I met in 1999 at ChLA/IRSCL in Calgary (whom I would meet again, on this trip), or my newest Finnish friend, Mika Pohjola the talented musician and composer of Moomin music who has been kind enough to visit my classes in recent years. The lecture at the University of Helsinki was facilitated by Liisa Taino, the head of the department, but was initially set up by Sirke Happonen, with the help of Kaisu Rättyä, the latter two, as I mentioned, I met in 1999. We bonded back then when we all decided that, rather than go shopping during our brief outing in Banff, we would go for a swim in a glacial lake (little did I know at the time the fanatical swimming proclivities of the Swedes and Finns). The fateful party included Sirke, Kaisu, Björn, Sumanyu, and myself. We all got into a cab and asked to be taken to a lake, but the driver thought us crazy—he asked where our bathing suits were, our towels. We had nothing, and he just shook his head, dropped us off, and agreed to come back in a little while to return us to the city. After I averted an international incident by stopping my Scandinavian friends from striping down to nothing, we took a dip in our skivvies. The lake was cold. Cold. COLD. We survived, however, and the cab returned, but not empty. Our driver had gone to his home and loaded the cab with towels for us! Needless to say, we were bowled over by his kindness…

Little did I know that ten years later I’d have further professional (not to mention ablutionary) dealings with these fine Scandinavians. And so I found myself in Helsinki, with old friends, giving a lecture to a group of enthusiastic scholars who received me graciously. Afterwards, I was treated to a tea, where we proceeded to fill ourselves with Finnish treats and continued discussions of nonsense. One particular treat was the attendance of Jyri Komulainen, a lecturer in religion and an expert on Indian spirituality. Considering that a fair part of my talk deals with the spiritual aspect of nonsense in India, his input was most welcome. After tea, I went to a library with Kaisu and a new nonsense contact, Marja Suojala, who was also most helpful. We went through many books, talked even more about definitions and boundaries of the Anthology, and made selections and photocopies. Finland, of course, is full of nonsense, and some of the figures who might make it into the book are Kirsi Kunnas, Ilpo Tiihonen, Jukka Itkonen, Laura Ruohonen, Reetta Niemelä, and Mari Mörö. After so much of muchness, I went back to my university accommodations, noting the day to be a jab with a pointed stick in the eye of Sense!

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