Monday, June 29, 2009

Medieval Weekend

I had a very interesting weekend exploring medieval habits here around my home town. First of all at this time of year we have a Medieval Market in Turku and it lasted from Thursday to Sunday. I went there two times, Thursday with my husband and Sunday with my daughter.

Although archaeological findings in the area date back to the Stone Age, the town of Turku was founded in the 13th century. Its name originated from an Old East Slavic word, tǔrgǔ, meaning "market place". The history of Turku is often started from the letter Pope Gregorius IX wrote, dated January the 23rd 1229. The letter granted a permission to transfer the Diocese of Finland to a better place, probably meaning from Nousiainen to Koroinen.

The Cathedral of Turku was consecrated in 1300, and together with Turku Castle and the Dominican monastery (founded in 1249), established the city as the most important location in medieval Finland.

This event takes place on one of the first market places in Turku and along the banks of the Aura river.

The programme consists of various independent performances, here is some announcement to the citizens of Turku:

Here is a man waiting to be convicted for killing someone:

And here is one of the trolls scaring people:

There are lots of booths selling all kinds of things; You can buy an official certificate that you are insane:

You can buy bones and skins of small animals

Swords and knives


Products made from beeswax

Handicraft and wool

There were two small wild boars

A medieval swing for the kids

Here is a blacksmith working

I work in Turku, but live 8 km east in a smaller town named Kaarina. Friday I went with my husband, sister and her husband to see a play by the Summer Theater of Kaarina. Summer theaters are played outside, somewhere the place is covered to protect from rain, but mostly they are not. The plays on summer are usually humorous, light performances but the one we went to see was based on history of the place.

Kuusisto Castle was a medieval castle on an island of Kuusisto in Kaarina. The castle was probably built in the early 14th century, although the site seems to have been bishop's residence already in the 1290s.

The castle was ordered to be demolished during the Protestant Reformation in 1528 by the king Gustav I of Sweden. Excavation and reconstruction work on the remaining ruins began in 1891.

The Castle of Läckö, located on Kållandsö insel in Lake Vänern, Sweden is considered as a model for the Kuusisto castle and this gives the idea how big the building was.

photo credit: Matthias Alder

The play was about the last catholic bishop (1510-1522) Arvid Kurki in Turku and in Finland. His successors started to reformate the church. Kurki was a supporter of Gustav Vasa of Sweden and he had to flee the Danish who attacked the castle in 1522. He sank with his ship to the Gulf of Bothnia.

Also Pietari Särkilahti was included in the story. He was a Finnish student of Martin Luther and one of the early pioneers of teaching science in Finnish language. He spread the idea of the religious reformation eagerly.

It was not allowed to take pictures of the play, but here are some shots of the stage on the interval.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Bigger Puzzle

I think most of people have heard of or even seen IKEA furniture. Since IKEA is originally Swedish and makes furniture suitable for the Finnish eye, I have used lots of their products. Until last year we had to travel about 150 km to the nearest store but now we have one of our own, just on the other side of Turku.

The interesting part of IKEA furniture is that it is like you had bought a huge wooden puzzle with all these pieces:

What makes the puzzle a lot easier is that it comes with a booklet with the illustrated instructions. If you follow the instructions step by step, you can't mess up with anything.

I have heard these booklets criticised about chauvinism; somebody had noted that all the figures in the pictures are male (as if there were men who read instructions ! ). Who cares, because in my family the absolutely best handyman is my daughter who loves assembling these puzzles.

Here is what I bought this time. One piece is missing above the TV, but it was out of stock for the moment.

The main reason I love IKEA: with a very reasonable price compared to others I can get exactly what I want. Believe me, about 3 years ago I visited every store selling furniture in the Turku area and I found bookshelves which were a) made for something else than books b) were totally unsuitable by their measures to my house c) did not have adjustable shelves which means you can have only standard sized books! d) were too expensive e) too massive (heavy) f) too dark (birch is my choise). Sadly enough the ones I found met approximately two of my six criteria.

From IKEA I got all this; just custom-made gor me, glass doors to prevent dust and lots of space. Assembling it was a lot of work, but also fun!

Now there is a slight colour difference between the old and the new one, but it does not take much time when the sun corrects the situation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer, Food and No Night

Last weekend we celebrated the summer solstice even though the right day was Wednesday. We have changed it to the nearest weekend to get more time for the celebrations. Now that the children are grown-up, they spend the weekend with their friends and travel usually quite far to a festival or some other place crowded with young people.

We don't own a summer cabin but live near the nature and were going to spend the weekend just between the two of us. However my sister called and told that they had lots of extra food to eat and we decided to go to my sister's place. Their son has also left home so there were four "oldies" and Piitu, my dog.

I have blogged about Hannu's exceptional skills in making traditional Finnish food, but this time the menu was really something many people never have the chance to eat.

Hannu had most of the day been preparing something we call a bandit steak (I have no idea how this food is named elsewhere). Actually our name for it originates from a famous Finnish book, but the food itself is very traditional. Probably the method is from Mongolia but the book brought it to common knowledge. The book tells a story of two men who steal lambs and prepare them as bandit steaks.

First one has to have a big hole on the ground. Hannu has built it and put some bricks as walls to keep the hole together for further use. Then Hannu kept a fire in the hole for 3-4 hours. The fire was put out, the hole opened and the food covered with foil and newspapers put in. The hole was covered again and a new fire is built, again for 3-4 hours.

This is where we got in, ready to eat. The fire was put out again:

And here is the satisfied bandit with his very hot steak :)

The package is carefully opened

revealing the delicious steak covered with potatoes and vegetables.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the delicious dish, but I can assure it was fabulous.

And even Piitu got her part of the goodies.

All of this happened Friday and Saturday we went back to eat delicious salmon Tuula and Hannu had caught themselves. I don't even remember when I have got so good food in a restaurant!

After all the eating we came to our house to play some PS2 Singstars, which Tuula and Hannu had never even tried. They found a total favourite among the songs; Deep Purple's Smoke On The Water and that is why I put that song in my previous post. It's really fun to notice that all these years we have been growing up our children have not really changed anything. We can still have fun together with my sister and her husband!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Midsummer and Magic

The midsummer festivals are here again.

From Wikipedia:
Midsummer may simply refer to the period of time centered upon the summer solstice, but more often refers to specific European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice, or that take place around the 24th of June and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between cultures.

The Finnish tradition From Wikipedia:

Before 1316, the summer solstice was called Ukon juhla, after the Finnish god Ukko. In e.g. Karelian tradition, many bonfires were burned side by side, the biggest of which was called Ukko-kokko (the "bonfire of Ukko"). After the celebrations were Christianized, the holiday is known as juhannus after John the Baptist (Finnish: Johannes Kastaja).

Since 1955, the holiday is always on a Saturday (between June 20th and June 26th). Earlier it was always on June 24th.

This is the time when the day is the longest and in Lapland the sun does not go down at all. In the south we have about 3 hours which could be described as dark. It is not so easy do decide where to draw the line because here the dark never comes in an instant.

People burn bonfires all over Finland nowadays, unless it is too dry to do that. Many people spend the weekend in their summer cabins but an increasing amount of young people spend the holiday among friends instead of the family and go to midsummer festivals or even spend the time in the city.

In folk magic, midsummer was a very potent night and the time for many small rituals, mostly for young maidens seeking suitors and fertility. Here are some examples of the rituals you should perform on the magic midsummer night and why.

Image: Wikipedia

According to tradition a fern blooms only on midsummer night. When you see it blooming, you should pick it up and it gives you magic powers.

Image: Wikipedia

If you walk in the midsummer night in the forest, you may see a Will-o'-the-wisp. You can find a tresure under it.

A girl has to listen a Cuckoo singing. As many times as she hears the cuckooing, as many years she has to wait for the fiancée to appear. If she does not hear it at all, she will find him the same year. This is a bit controversial; we also believe like the Russians that a Cuckoo predicts the number of years you have left to live...

The bonfire has predicted future marriages. The top of the big heap falls to the direction of the house which will get their daughter married next (obviously that has been very important at some point). The direction of the smoke shows the person who will be married next.

There are lots of ways to see your future boyfriend (mostly these seem to be targeted for girls).

If you use two mirrors facing each other and look in the other mirror, you will see the future fiancée in the other mirror.

Many of these spells have to be performed naked.

If you check the bottom of a well, pond or spring, preferably naked, you will see your future spouse.

You will be lucky in marriage if you roll around in a dewy meadow during the midsummer night, and of course you have to do it naked.

Image: Juha Silander / YLE Radio Suomi

Here is another option for girls: after the bonfires you should roll over naked in the rye fields of houses which have unmarried boys.

Another magical feature of rye fields: If you run from the sauna naked along the ditches of the rye field, you will run into your fiance in the 9th ditch :) This might be hard nowadays. Most of the fields have covered drains...

If you circle around a triangular field on midsummer night 3 times and on the third round you will meet the future spouse.

You will see your spouse to be when you on the midsummer night go to sit on the rock of a waterfall naked except a straw belt.

And a mysterious thing. If a girl sweeps her bedroom floor on the midsummer night, with only a red ribbon on her waist, her fiancée's ghost will come to see her.

I guess the traditions remained after the Christianity but the rituals had to be cleaned a bit. One of the ritual involves the hymn book: You have to keep it in your hand and run 7 times clockwise around the biggest stone on the yard. When you come back to the stone ion the midsummer night you will see your fiance to be.

The following rituals basically still remain even though I have not heard about all of them. Different parts of Finland had (and partly still have) their own habits and my knowledge covers Finland Proper, Karelia and bits of Uusimaa (the area around Helsinki, not Helsinki itself). These differences explain the different names for the bunch of birch brances used in sauna.

If you put a vihta (or vasta) which is unbound (practically just birch branches) under your pillow, you will dream about your future spouse binding it.

If you throw the vihta on the roof of the sauna after bathing, the direction where the fiancée will come from will be shown by the vihta. The right direction is where the wooden handle is dericted.
The following flower things are probably something my aunt told me when I was a child and spending Juhannus(Finnish) in Loimaa(English) with her and my grandmother and the rest of the family. Finding the flowers is not hard even now but the other things I am not so sure.

If you collect 7 flowers or herbs and cross 7 fences and sleep with the flowers under your pillow, you will dream about your future fiancé.

Another version of the same spell is to collect all the 7 flowers from different meadows.

Or you have to use nine straws of grass to make this wreath of flowers:

There is one usable for the city people: You can dream about your future fiance sleeping with the sock on your left foot upside down!

I am married and don't need any rituals to get a husband. Additionally getting a husband is not an issue any more. I just wonder why you have to get so old before you can respect your inheritance.

Happy Juhannus, midsummer and solstice!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

House Cleaning

When I found the Japanese puzzles and got myself involved with the Conceptis forums as well, people who had been there much longer than I was said: "Remember that you will never have a clean house again!" They were right, until now.

I know I have some serious issues about cleaning. I am the person who checks that all the items are placed straight; carpets on the floor, books on the shelves, magazines on the table... I even do that at work sometimes. When I start cleaning at home I always have to start with arranging all the misplaced items. After I have done that, I am usually so exhausted that I have no energy left to the next stage, washing floors or windows or removing the dust from small items. My husband takes care of the vacuum-cleaning. I find cleaning so useless; before I am finished, the place where I started from is totally messy again. Children leaving home made things a bit easier, but also leaving me with lots of stuff they wanted me to store for them. Their apartments are much smaller than mine.

In the Finnish culture it is not very common that people have cleaners in the house. It is the burden placed usually to the woman of the house and conclusively women who use outside help feel guilty about it. However nowadays our taxation supports giving work to cleaners and we get deduction to the taxes if we employ cleaners or people doing household related work. The deduction is 60% of the work charge if the cleaner is a company listed as collecting the preliminary taxes from their employees. This model is very controversial; some people say that this is not fair but it gives advantage to rich people. I don't regard myself as rich but I am working and pay taxes for that. Why should I not get deduction if I again employ people paying taxes?

Anyway it took me this long to decide that I need my house cleaned. Before Christmas I got an advertisement to my mailbox from a company located in my own town. The ad was actually about giving a Christmas present to somebody but something in the ad caught my attention. That is very rare, mostly I throw all the junk mail away. You can get the idea from this screen shot from their website The link is to the English pages so you can check more.

They have a really cool idea making things for people like me very easy. They clean the house, do all the paper work and I don't have to do anything else than keep away for the day, pay the bill and give their bill to the taxation authorities. The name is also ingenious. Lakaista is the Finnish equivalent to sweep. When we read the 8 in (informal) Finnish, the company name is lakasi. It is not correct Finnish but it is the Finnish we use in our daily speech and means swept.

I called them, made arrangements and last Tuesday they came, with this car :)

The text says: Attention: we are the LA8 Cleaning Police. Emergency: number, website
Well, no chance that the neighbours would not know what was going on...

I spent the day in my daughter's apartment with Piitu and when I came back, I was more than glad to have taken this step. All the places were clean, much cleaner than I would get them, even after working for several hours!

No fingerprints in the kitchen (and there is chocolate candy on the table):

No dust in the study:

All the tiny dolls and collectibles were wiped clean. BTW, the small wooden doll carrier on the floor in mine, from the 1950's :)

Now I am planning on a regular agreement for the cleaning. Why would I bother myself with cleaning anymore? I have enough work going through all the old school papers and books and all the stuff children left behind. Now I can concentrate on them and hope that someday I also will have empty space in some of my closets!