I'm writing in English, which is strange in itself since I really love my own language, Finnish, and since I detest the power position that the English language has in global communucation... but I'd get way too many complaints from American friends if I didn't write in a language comprehensible to them.

Apr 30, 2010

Theory of the day

Today we went to the Mormon temple and I tried to think spiritual thoughts on the way. Here's the theory that I figured out on the way.

Listening to Sibelius and others I realized how just maybe, if the world didn't have sorrow and pain, there might be no music in minor key. Just maybe all music would be in major... and if there was no minor, major wouldn't have much meaning either.

Went on from there to think about our existence before being born here - Mormons believe that all humans lived as spirits with God before coming on earth. I thought, since there really was hardly any opposition there - hardly any sorrow or pain (yes yes, I say hardly because we also believe that some rebelled against God and that should have caused some sorrow and pain) - maybe all the music was in major. And how beauty is actually only understood if opposition to it exists. So, I thought, we must have been excited to experience these things. Even if we didn't really know what it means. Discussion must have gone something like this:

God: I could send you to earth, where you can have aesthetic experiences of different sorts!

We: Yay! (Wait, what's aesthetic experiences? But wants it!)

Hieronymus Bosch: Garden of Earthly Delights.

Apr 27, 2010

Xenophobia... the worst disease...

I remember the song from the end of the 90's: Homophobia, the worst disease, you can't love anyone you like in times like these... I was at a writing course and all my friends there were singing it. Not that many of them actually were gay, just wanted to show their support. Or maybe the song just stayed easily in your head.

These days I'm more worried about xenophobia. I belong to the "white" part of humanity, and in practice that means that there are few places in the world where I'd meet with blatant racism. My features are also fairly hard to place, so even if there was a country where Finns were hated or despised (I doubt it), I could just pretend to be something else. Not so for everyone...

Xenophobia means fear of the stranger and it has existed forever. Seems to be a very human trait. One of the ugly ones, I think. We humans can mostly deal with the stranger who comes and blends in, thereby becoming "one of us". What is really difficult to deal with is the stranger who comes to our area but keeps his own language and culture. At times this has been the problem with Jews (always keeping their own culture and religion even in the middle of severe persecution) and the Roma (gypsies, also staying separate with their own culture and sometimes language). These days there are new groups. Americans are worried about the Latino that might not speak English - the worry seems to be that then the grand children of the English speakers will speak Spanish. Europeans are worried about different ethnic groups, mostly from Africa, and Australians want to make sure their boundaries stay closed enough so that not everyone from Indonesia and other areas in Southeast Asia can come in.

Maybe xenophobia stems from real worries? The history of mankind shows how peoples and languages move and push away what used to be somewhere. The Finns came from somewhere and pushed the Same living in the area to the inhospitable north - and even there the Same could not keep their language and culture in peace.

So do Finns think that the Somali will eventually do the same to them? Is this the under conscious fear? Do the Americans worry that the English language culture and white skin colour will become a despised scarcity?

I'm not sure, but what I am sure about - as an idealist - is, that we need to face our phobia and deal with it. We need to face the Stranger in his own culture and on his terms and understand before we can deal with the fear. Maybe then we will see what part is the Stranger and what part we have in common, as humans... Once we see clearly, maybe we can talk about immigration with actual sense.

Apr 15, 2010

"Contemporary Art"

When Kiasma, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, was built, reactions varied from outrage to enthusiasm, but most prevalent was the outrage. I've understood that this is the case almost every time a new museum is built for contemporary art. Reasons vary: people don't like to architecture, people are upset that money is used to house contemporary art, people like more old style... All of this proves in my mind that contemporary art is still doing its job - making people think.

My sister refuses to visit Kiasma, because according to her, she doesn't like "contemporary art". I'm using quotation marks because I think the concept is in itself interesting and definitely not very clear. Does she hate it all? Does she have an idea of what all "contemporary art" is like?

There is some "contemporary art" that I don't like. We visited an international art exhibition in Kassel - Documenta - in 2007 with my husband (art historian with specialisation in contemporary art)and there was one painter who I really hated, Juan Davila. I won't torture you by posting photos here. Interesting is that the format was very traditional - oil on canvas. The paintings seemed to radiate hatred and violence, sexual violence and just blood and gore. Don't take your children to an exhibition of his works.

On the beautiful side, we were in New York in 2008 and visited MoMA and PS1 with an exhibition of my current absolute favourite artist, Olafur Eliasson. Where sometimes "contemporary art" makes people frown and look serious, entering the room with the mirror on the roof, or the round room with lighted wall seemed to make people smile and be happy. Most of the work had to do with light, but he had also intricate little things (husband decided to call them polygonic sculptures) that delighted me, and a wall full of photos from the rugged shores of Iceland (one might be cliche, a whole wall full made it really interesting).

Of course, Eliasson manages also to cause distress in a true artistic tradition. He built (well, not alone) several waterfalls in the East River in NYC, which made people worry about the salt water's impact on plants... I didn't see the big waterfalls, but I saw a small upside-down waterfall in his exhibition. The sound of water and the strange direction it was flowing in made me happy.

Recommended for adults, children and teenagers: Olafur Eliasson.

Apr 13, 2010


... where does it come from?

A friend of mine has lived nearly 15 years in America and just recently posted a status on facebook saying that she's homesick. Homesick for what? Finland.

I just got a horrible bout of homesickness - I'm extremely happy and excited for my husband who got a tenure track in upstate New York, but I'm wondering if that means we won't ever move back to Finland. Or at least not before getting retired. That would mean that I should somehow get used to the idea that I'm not living in the US only for a couple of years, but that this is my home. As I noticed in my friend's status, it's not easy to do for all of us.

Some enjoy it in a different country. I think it might be a question about embracing versus resistance. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as to say "OK, I won't resist, I'll embrace in stead" - if you're in the resistance mode your mind will resist that though!

My strategy so far has been (hate to admit this) to think that it's temporary - that maybe in some years we could move back to Europe at least. That would be closer and more familiar. And I don't only mean closer to family and old friends, although of course I miss them. I miss the familiar culture even more, strange to say. And the familiar geography and all that.

Most Finns wouldn't even consider moving to another country. We love ours. Some love to move and adopt a new culture, but I'd say they are in a minority. Once I got a fantastic glimpse into another culture's love for the country. I was in Minneapolis, talking with a really nice Somalian man (co-worker) about homesickness. I thought he'd understand and so I asked: Do you miss Somalia? He said: Yes. I think about it every day. But I can't go back.

We all know why Somalians can't go back: death and destruction, no functioning government. Imagine if scores and scores of Finland-loving people had to move out because we had a civil war or some other disaster. Imagine if you couldn't go back.

Apr 10, 2010

Good policemen

I'll wait to write the eagerly anticipated blogs about beautiful art and other things until voting is over... Today just a small blog about a beautiful sentence in some sad news.

Apparently the protests in Bangkok are worse. Earlier today people died, both policemen and protesters and a Japanese cameraman. The police has decided to pull back from the areas where the protesters dominate. Violence, violence.

However, Helsingin Sanomat included this sentence: "Thaimaan puolustusministerin mukaan mitään ei ole tehtävissä, koska sotilaat eivät halua ampua mielenosoittajia." In English, according to the Defence Minister of Thailand there is nothing to be done, since the policemen don't want to shoot the protesters.

If the police and the army refused to take weapons against citizens... What a wonderful world this could be...

Apr 5, 2010

Healthcare rant goes on and on...

Apparently, according to some friends of mine, the health care debate should be renamed to health care rant. True enough. Many people have good opinions in one direction or another, and many have explained and discussed these opinions with great intelligence. That could be called health care debate. However, most people who talk, write or rage about the reform are doing so with no logic, with no reason and with scary threats...

I listened to the Mormon General Conference (or at least a little part of it) and made especially note about the talk by one of the authorities, elder Cook. I could have sworn he spoke about politics, emphasizing how we should stay courteous even if we have strong opinions. "It is OK to disagree, but it's not OK to be disagreeable", he said. And he mentioned how violence and vandalism aren't the answer to anything.

So what has this to do with the health care "debate"? Elder Cook would most likely be on the opposite side from me politically (most Mormons are republican), but this "debate" has caused the FBI to have to take steps to protect seriously threatened congressmen - some of them not even very active with the whole reform.

I recently read an interesting op-ed column (NY Times) about the whole mess, "The Rage Is Not About Health Care". I tend to agree. The changes to current practice aren't all that radical... and they certainly shouldn't cause make "a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat" or allow "a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri." (Quotes from above article.)

The writer feels that the issue, since it's not the bill, is president Obama, or more widely, the changing face of the US. It's becoming more and more multi-cultural, or indeed, multi-colored and multilingual, and this feels like a threat to the average tea-partyist. I don't know if I agree. Yes, the issue certainly is Obama, but I'd like to think that it's the old fear of communism poking from the soul of the Americans. Obama isn't a communist - nobody knows this better than me - but he's been sold to the right-wing public as a socialist (he isn't a true socialist either!) which amounts to the same thing here in the Land of the Free. Just dig a bit and the old McCarthyism will spring out...