English Breakfast, Chinese Tea and Russian Dessert

Trip Start Sep 07, 2006
Trip End Sep 17, 2006

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Saturday, September 9, 2006

Today, I thought I'd start the day off with a hearty breakfast, followed by a quick trip to the post office and then spend the remainder of the morning at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. We would have an exotic lunch (maybe Russian food, or more Finnish food) and then a whole afternoon of leisurely shopping before watching the ballet The Seagull at 7pm. However, like most well-planned days, it was not to be.

First of all, breakfast somehow became a leisurely affair, with multiple pointless trips to the coffee section, first for Organic Loose Leaf Earl Grey, then for English Breakfast (Twinnings in teabag, getting lazy), followed by Hot Chocolate (this one was really unnecessary, but I was yearning for Milo which is strange since I never drink it at home), all seasoned with tiny pill-like Hermesetas (sweetener) that resembled a potential hallucinogen but will more likely give me cancer 20 yrs down the line. By the time I left the buffet it was 11am.

Next stop: the post office. Stepping into its hushed, cool interior, I immediately recognized this place for what it really was: a shopping trap from which I would never escape, well, not within the intended 15 minutes anyway. For, horror of horrors, row upon row of minimalist-chic souvenirs (some were even on SALE, I sinkingly realized), painstakingly panoramic postcards and packaging paraphernalia that looked as if they had been designed by Monet were on display before my eyes. Yeah, we were looking at at least 1 hour in this mecca. At the VERY least.

30 Euro and 90 minutes later, I stepped, slightly dazed, back into the sunlight. Having managed to resist the adorable "message-in-a-bottle" letters and oh-so-beautifully-illustrated padded envelopes, I was feeling quite proud of myself. Now it was time to immerse myself in some real art. Unfortunately, the Kiasma was closed for refurbishing. What the h-!!!, I thought. Oh well, looks like the museum shop is open!

Before you roll your eyes at the level of consumerism I've sunk to, let me say that I spent the next 40 minutes reading about Aalvo Aalto, the great Finnish architect and designer. He was (one of) the first to suggest the importance of unifying the indoor and outdoor space, such that your home is built to "let in" the garden and Nature and the lines between artificial concrete and external greenery are blurred. One of his early? buildings, a TB sanatorium, was really impressive, combining practical design (place for patients to sun themselves, wards, nurses' area) with aesthetics. The museum shop was a heaven for graphic artists/photographers, with entire (very expensive) volumes dedicated to font design and graffiti art. For the more simple-minded and vulgar, such as myself, there were fridge magnets for 3 Euro bearing pearls of wisdom such as "Do Not Try to Out-Bitch This Bitch. You Will Fail" and "I Have Cats, Cable and a Vibrator - What Makes You Think You Can Compete?". Had a few minutes of fun figuring out who I'd have given various magnets to, had I bought the whole set.

The remainder of the afternoon (it was now past 2pm) was spent in Stockmann, the department store with Dad, where we bought something for x Euro, only to realize it was too huge to pack in the luggage and would have to be shipped to London for 3/4x Euro. At least my cousin William is not here, I thought, or our toxic spheres of my shopping-compulsive and his interior-scandinavian-chic-obsessive would surely collide and result in a cargo container of homeware arriving at our little flat, followed by months of attempting to lower the electric bills we can never afford, failing which, I engage in London Energy bitching sessions with similarly-cursed friends. Oh, whats not to love about living in London?

Anyway, back to Helsinki, Dad insisted on lunch (it was now teatime) at a Chinese restaurant that he'd been to several months back. This is forgivable because all old people would sooner drink poison than try something new. Well by the time we scooped up every trembling morsel of ma po tofu and ran back to the hotel room, it was LATE. So after a taxi ride through rush-hour Helsinki traffic (I've realized that traffic jams are not merely confined to KL and Penang), we ran breathlessly into the Oopera House (yes, Oopera!) 10 minutes late.

The Seagull is a comedy written by the Russian author Anton Chekov. It tells the story of, according to Wikipedia (yes, 3 semesters of Russian literature and I've to resort to Wikipedia), "romantic and artistic conflicts between four theatrical characters" who "tend to speak in ways that skirt around issues rather than addressing them directly". If this sounds like a nightmare to follow, try following it adapted to ballet, i.e. sans dialogue. The only thing I could be sure of come interval time was that there were 3 women and 2 men involved and lots of partner swopping going on between the 5. If it had been set in modern times, they'd all be on Valtrex (herpes meds).

Much more enlightening was our sociological observation of Finnish high society come interval time. THe minute the black curtain came down, the audience rose, almost as one body and walked purposefully toward the reception area. Little numbered tables that were not there before, had been set up complete with coffee/tea and little cakes. Evidently some sort of pre-booking and ordering system was in place. Entire families sat down at larger tables. There was an air of solemnity as pastries/cakes were leisurely consumed. I had never seen anything like this.

THe saving grace of The Seagull came in Act II, when the lead male dancer (who bore a pleasing resemblance to David Duchovny, as noted by even my unquestionably heterosexual father) removed his clothing and proceeded to dance the remainder of the ballet clad only in black boxer briefs. Much of the rest of the male ensemble followed suit, the only difference being that their briefs were blue. Yes, you may check out the picture in the photo album, one of the few occasions which I felt merited the use of all 5 million pixels of my little camera. Sweet dreams!
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