Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Helsinki, Friday, 28 August 2009

A café, the University of Helsinki, and beyond

This morning I had an appointment to meet one of those rare creatures: a fellow dedicated scholar of nonsense. When I started this trip, I didn’t realize just how many of us there were (look back through the blog in astonishment at our forces, growing daily in number!), and even though our collective mass would not fill the head of a pin, there is some comfort knowing that we are not alone tilting against the windgills (from which the obscure amphibious plum pudding flea breathes, alternately). About a block from my university accommodation at the coffee shop Entré, I met Sakari Katajamäki, an editor at the Finnish Literature Society and, as I was to find out, not only an expert in nonsense literature, but also a musician, teaching musicians how to read literature (of all the absurd things). If he had only had a mysterious mustache, I would have embraced him like a brother, but as things stood, I shook his hand warmly as we recited the secret Nonsense Semi-Fictitious Felicitations, known to only those who detract this dark art. Sakari has published several articles on nonsense, including something in the brand new Nonsense and Other Senses: Regulated Absurdity in Literature, a volume resulting from a nonsense conference at the University of Warwick in 2006 which, somehow, Kevin and I missed, dagnabbit. I haven’t been able to read the volume yet, but it is very international-minded and sure to be a significant addition to nonsense scholarship. Sakari has worked extensively on Lauri Viita and other figures, and we had a fantastic nonsense conversation for a couple of hours, until he had to go to another appointment. He has offered his continued services for the Anthology, for which he shall find, forever henceforwardly, a hallowed place in the Nostalgic Nether Regions of Nonsense Numenescence.

After the meeting with Sakari, I met up again with Kaisu Rättyä, and after lunch, we went to a different library, one that specializes in books only from Scandinavian countries, where we looked at some more possible material. Kaisu knows Finnish children’s literature inside and out, after having directed the Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature in Tampere for many years, and she was able over these two days to go deep into the many nonsense possibilities of Finland. She also was kind enough to show me around the city a little and make me feel at home in Helsinki. From Scotland to Canada to Finland ten years later, and here we are.

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!