Nov. 3rd, 2010 04:05 pm
perlmonger: (Default)
[personal profile] perlmonger
This time last week, I was burying my mother.

I flew out from Manchester to Helsinki on Monday, at around the same time as my sister Helena (bringing our mother's ashes) from Gatwick, meeting our cousin Timo at the airport. He drove us to town and, after a pintpuol litra of Karhu and a bit of catching up, left us at our hotel.

Timo is organising our mother's estate for us (having a lawyer in the family is useful sometimes!); Finnish inheritance bureaucracy is complex, particularly when there are international issues with a country where records Finland expects simply don't exist. I can't even begin to express my gratitude to him for this; the whole process would've been a total nightmare without his help. He's even refusing to take any cash for his time: a fine chap, and an EFF supporter too!

Tuesday, I finally managed to source a local PAYG SIM: Saunalahti Prepaid, plus a wallet-straining €6.90 for their Viikkopaketti addon for a week of unlimited-if-not-P2P-at-4Mbit/s data, from an Elisa shop. Had to visit their genius bar in Lasipalatsi to get the data going on my HTC Hero though; for some reason the APN didn't get set up automagically. This was all a bit fraught, as I had some urgent fallout from our more-rapid-than-planned switchover to new servers and new hosting in the UK to deal with. I ended up sat in the Elisa shop tappitying away online and ssh'ed into our servers on my tethered netbook as soon as I had connectivity: living on the edge of the communications revolution, me :)

Crises averted, I joined Helena at Timo's offices a bit further up Mannerheimintie for our first inheritance discussions, before meeting with our (remaining) aunt and her husband at the station for a train to Joensuu. There was time first for lunch with Timo and his wife, Teija-Mari, before she flew off on something work-related to Athens, at the Atenium art gallery café (and a bit of cultural wandering around the gallery for Helena and me, after) before departure time.

4½ hours on a Pendolino. Much of it online again, server fettling, thanks to power and free train WiFi. Civilised transport infrastructure. In Joensuu, we walked the ¾ km to the hotel in the cooling night, down to just on freezing, proving the continuing resilience of my ageing relatives (Mirja and Kalle are both in their late 80's). We shared an authentically Finnish ethnic TexMex dinner in the hotel restaurant, then retired to bed.

Outside the flower shop in KontiolahtiMorning: Coffee! Ruispuuro! (well, multigrain actually, but there was plenty of rye in there) Karjalanpiirakat! I've been waiting decades for another of those, and really must see if I can recreate something recognisably similar here in the UK. Timo had hired a car, and drove us up to Kontiolahti to buy some flowers, and for me to have an unexpected welling up of sadness and loss: I thought I'd said goodbye, years ago when she left in spirit, and when she died, but layers unpeel and heal slowly over time.

Outside the cemeteryThe Kettunen family graveMirja & Helena, at the graveside

We continued on a little further North to the cemetery and the Kettunen family grave, hitherto containing only my maternal grandparents and their first daughter (who died in childhood). Helena put the box of ashes (no urn: she opened the box to check!) into the hole in the grave that had been prepared for us; Helena, I and Mirja took turns in shovelling soil back in; together, we sang the hymn that Mirja had brought, and Helena sang a song after. Then we said our silent farewells and continued on.


We visited our aunt's family mökki by the shore of Höytiäinen, where I spent entirely too little time on several occasions in my childhood, and as an adult, then drove on to Varparanta past the site of the old school where my grandparents taught (recently demolished and replaced by a rather unimaginative but no doubt expensive house), and the new school right by the lake.


We had enough spare time before our train back to Helsinki to carry on to Koli for lunch. As we drove north the dusting of snow we'd been seeing got thicker, until as we climbed the hill we were in undeniable thick snow. The sky cleared too, and we ended up in glorious sunlight. We climbed up to the top of the rocks, above the ski lift, and gazed down from the snow to Pielinen far below, and islands not touched by the fall at all, before going inside and eating MOOSE!. Well, Elk, before you get all pedantic on me, but it is pretty much the same thing.

Back to Joensuu, and the train. An ordinary (double-decker) InterCity this time, and no WiFi, but I didn't go anywhere all week I didn't have cell coverage so I barely noticed. Helena and I decamped at our hotel, then went with Timo to his flat for some excellent pea soup (kiitos, Teija-Mari), meeting his three daughters and catching up with family gossip over wine through the evening.

SibeliusReindeer horn kanteleBear with me

On Thursday, we split up. I did a bit of shopping, and walked through Helsinki, up the West side of the centre by the water to Töölö and the Sibelius monument, one of my favourite places in the city. Mirja and Kalle live just next door and I met Helena there to go through forest land ownership records with her and Kalle, who's been looking after such things for years on our behalf. After, he drove us all to Espoo and the Gallen-Kallela Museum, where we had lunch and a wander around the Kalevala exhibition inside, and the sculptures currently residing outside, before going back to Ruusulankatu and then walking back to the hotel. Helena and I walked to cousin Juha's flat in the evening for a big Kettunen-side family reunion (with Timo as a token added Ruikka): four generations there, with Mirja and Kalle, three of their children Juha, Ilkka and Mari (Anu didn't make it), a selection of their children, and Juha's daughter Ruusu's two children too. I got roped in (didn't take much roping :) to help prepare the salad: slicing onions and stoning olives as nephews chopped vegetables before tearing in basil and mixing in olive oil and balsamic with my paws just as various cousins arrived. There was much short term avoidance of hand shaking and hugs, until I finished and cleaned myself up. It was alovely evening, and a real reminder that I do have a family - my father was an only child, so there's virtually nobody here apart from Helena and her family.

It's not going to be another 25 years before I go back (in fact, Mac and I are planning a proper holiday over there for next Spring, if all goes to plan).

Friday morning was more business: signing forms, and meeting up with cousing Eero (another Ruikka) who witnessed some signatures before driving us all with his wife Riitta, who we met under the clock at Stockmann - the standard Helsinki meeting spot - to cousin Seppo's house. There we ate, drank and talked until, for me, it was time to go (Helena was staying another night). Eero and Riitta drove me to the airport on their way home - they live in Vantaa - and so back to England, a late arriving flight and massive queues in UK immigration, and a waiting Mac who had driven across to meet me, and drove us back across the country and through the night.

I'm back home now, here in Hull, on Mac's birthday. This is home, this country, this city, this house; Finland is also home for me: Finland, Helsinki and Pohjois-Karjala. I only wish they weren't so far apart.
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