Be the Milk! and Other Traveller's Tales

It's been weeks since I got back from the Great Helsinki-London Trip, but it's only now that I've got a moment to blog about our adventures.

We arrived in Helsinki on August 5, after a gruelling multi-leg trip. We had a few days until the World Science Fiction Convention started, so we did some sightseeing. First up was Ainola, the home of composer Jean Sibelius, his impressive wife Aino (yes, he named the place after her), and their six daughters. She was astonishingly capable in her own right, but saw her role as to help her husband. One can't help wondering what she could have accomplished if their roles had been reversed. There was a haunting portrait of her in the house, but it was difficult to photograph it due to the reflections (no matter where I stood, they were a problem). Still, here she is:

Aino Sibelius

I'm a sucker for churches — I absolutely love them — so I sought out quite a few.

This is the Roman Catholic cathedral. It's tiny. The entire country of Finland is one diocese. What I loved about this church was that it was ABSOLUTELY PACKED for Sunday mass, with people from every possible place on earth. The diversity was exhilarating.

This is the Polish Orthodox church. It was closed on the day we saw it, unfortunately. I find the beauty of Orthodox churches quite overpowering, and would have liked to see what this gorgeous building looked like inside.

This is the odd and compelling outside of the very simple and very moving Kamppi Chapel, or "Silent Chapel". In the midst of the center of Helsinki, it provides a refuge for absolutely anyone. And indeed, on the day we went there, it was giving refuge to a pretty good assortment of tourists, businesspeople, and people who were obviously having a tough time. The Lutheran Church pays for the building and its maintenance, and the government pays to have it staffed full time by trained counselors. I'm not a big fan of state involvement in churches, but this, to me, is how they can work together in a way that benefits and respects everyone.

This is the Lutheran cathedral. It's frickin' massive, and the architecture (inside and out) reminds me a lot of some of the buildings I saw in St. Petersburg (back when it was Leningrad). Unfortunately, because it was August, the choir was not singing during the service. But there was some beautiful music by a soloist. They were very welcoming to us.

This is the beautiful Stone Church (also Lutheran; most Christians in Finland are Lutheran, as far as I can gather).

This is also the Stone Church.

Now, moving from the sacred to the mundane (if not, in fact, the profane), here are some photos of the Steam Hellsinki [sic] steampunk bar:

And then there were our daily encounters with the central train station, which looked to me like the set of Brazil, or actually more like Metropolis.

Like so many tourists to Helsinki, we also took the ferry over to Tallinn, in Estonia (a new country added to my life-list!). I'd wanted to see Tallinn ever since my grandparents had traveled there in the deepest cold of the Cold War; they said it was such a relief to be there after the unrelenting grimness of Brezhnev's Soviet Union. I bet they wouldn't recognize it now! It's the world's biggest Renaissance Festival, except all the sets are real. It gets a bit kitschy at times, but I for one kind of like that sort of thing.

A building that's been stapled together. Stapled. Together.

Here's one of the sort-of tacky things that we ended up loving: Korsaar, the Pirate Restaurant. Not only was it pretty good pirate decor, but — unexpectedly — the food was AMAZING.

The tablecloths were embroidered with this somewhat unpiratical but inspiring motto: "An honorable death is better than a shameful life."

And here, in the Marzipan Museum in the basement of the Marzipan Shop, was the zenith (or perhaps the nadir) of kitsch: a full-sized sculpture of Salvador Dali's head, made entirely from marzipan!!! I can't help thinking he would have loved this.

Soon it was time for the World Science Fiction Convention. I had a busy schedule: I taught a workshop in how to read your work out loud ("Ditch the drone!"), I moderated a panel on "trashy" fiction, I presented an academic paper on "Estrangement: The One True Genre", I had a book signing, and I called a Yonderland fan meetup. I also attended a few excellent panels, met up with quite a few excellent old and new friends, and generally enjoyed wandering around and admiring the rampant geekdom.

Here's where the "be the milk" thing comes in. French fandom is gathering its strength for a bid to host the 2023 WorldCon in Nice; thus, they had a table in the Big Hall at the Helsinki WorldCon. They had badge ribbons that said, in various languages that were not English, "Be the milk!" I asked them what it meant. It seems that at a convention in Canada, a francophone fan was discouraged because why should he go to the con? Everything was going to be in English. Nobody would bother with French-speakers. He voiced his discouragement on a forum, and other francophones urged him to attend anyway, because how would things get better at cons for speakers of other languages if none of those speakers was even visible? One told him, "If you dump a spoonful of water into a jug of milk, it makes no difference at all. But if you dump a spoonful of milk into a jug of water, it changes the water entirely. You are the milk that can change the water! Be the milk!" And it became a rallying cry for representation, inclusivity, and positive change. They wouldn't let me have one until I proved I could speak another language than English. (Luckily, my French, while execrable, is sufficient for clumsy conversations with people compassionate enough to let me struggle.) Here is my collection of badge ribbons for this WorldCon. I don't generally keep them (heresy, I know), but I think I may keep this one; partly for "Be the milk!", partly for the "Program Participant" ribbon, which is always nice, and partly for the "Scavenger Hunt — sankari" ribbon "Sankari" means "hero", and you got it if you fulfilled at least six of the scavenger-hunt requirements. I'm just tickled that I'm a Scavenger Hunt Sankari. (By the way, the red ribbon at the bottom I got when my friend Cathy and I were at Book Expo in New York City earlier in the year; I saved it and added it to the ribbons I got at the con, as a way of tying all my adventures this year together.)

I was sad because for some reason the smoky pine-tar soda I'd sampled at the Helsinki bid table in London a few years ago was not available while we were there. But a new friend, Esko, took great pity on me and got me a liqueur that tastes exactly — exactly — like ham in a glass. Fascinating. Confrontational, even. In his great generosity, he included a bottle of salted-licorice liqueur that we have yet to sample. I tremble.

Ham in a glass.

I made other new friends as well when I fenced as a guest one night at the Helsinki Fencing Club. It was epic! And swashbuckling! And everyone was really nice!

Left to right: me; Anna Heinämaa, who wrote the screenplay to the Finnish film The Fencer; international veterans champion Marja-Liisa Someroja; and fellow WorldCon attendee and American writer Mary Turzillo, who started fencing five years ago at the age of 72.

Eventually the day came when we had to leave Helsinki. The good news is, we left it for London, which I love. There are many fewer photos of London, because I've been several times now and feel less compulsive about taking them, and also because we spent a fair bit of time with friends and family, rather than specifically sightseeing. However, we did have several adventures; among them were tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which, despite its getting very mixed reviews, I personally found very entertaining. We also rashly entered many bookstores, read many blue dots of historical information on many buildings, and drank a few pints. We also queued on our last night for Proms tickets, and heard a very interesting concert: the first half was a sort of theatre piece telling the story of how Dvořak came to write his Symphony from the New World, and the second half was a terrific performance of the symphony itself. Here are a bunch of photos in no real order.

We went to the weekend Acklam Village Market, which had lots of excellent international food and fun music.

Albert Hall. Looks fantabulistic. Sounds AMAZING.

We spent a day in Lincoln to see friends. Objects are very old there. They fall, it seems.

Lincoln Cathedral.

Also Lincoln Cathedral.

We took another day trip to Portsmouth because I was longing, absolutely longing, to see the Mary Rose Museum (which, in case you're not familiar with it, documents, recovers, and restores what's left of Henry VIII's personal warship, which sank in battle in 1545). It did not disappoint.

I saw this place and insisted that we eat here. It is almost overwhelmingly traditional. I asked, "What kinds of pie do you have?" The woman looked at me for a second and said, "Just the one kind." Then she realized that might not be all the information I was looking for, and said, as if I should have known, "Beef." It was served with some very filling mashed potatoes, and over all was poured an odd, translucent sauce full of dried parsley leaves. Houston, being British, knew it immediately as (unsurprisingly) "parsley sauce". I couldn't help wondering if it would be even better made with fresh parsley instead of dried.

We stayed with family in London; our cousin and cousin-in-law are the family minister and the vicar, respectively, of St. Andrew's Church, which is stonkingly old. The vicarage and the church both have bits in them that date back to the 13th century (my cousins put their washer, dryer, second fridge, and microwave in that part, which I find hilarious). We attended services in the church a couple of times, and I know I'm remiss for not taking a photo of the church itself. However, my friend Cathy did take a photo of our adventure having a go of the bells in the bell tower; this is the moment that sparked my current obsession with bellringing.

The really really really old part of the vicarage. The place is probably haunted, actually. It's incomprehensibly old. So, so old.

Me having a go of bellringing. The adventure started here, my friends. Who knows where it will go henceforth? (Photo credit: Cathy Sweeney)

It occurs to me that I didn't do much blogging of my America trip earlier in the year, except to post the address I gave. I'll write about that when I next get a chance. Meanwhile, I hope you've enjoyed my adventures, and I exhort you to be the milk! Be the milk!


At 9:24 PM, Blogger Kelly said...

A wonderful read!
And gives me more tolerance of those camera folks/fiends that seem to be forever fiddling with their device, asking me to step aside so I don't spoil the shot and otherwise just don't seem to be in the moment. You did it - were so in those moments and took pictures and wrote wonderfully..

At 9:52 PM, Blogger Laura E. Goodin said...

Thanks! :-D


Post a Comment

<< Home