Mustikka month

March 22, 2015 at 11:27 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

The last time I was in Finland, I stayed in a castle.

Well, it was a hotel decorated to look like a castle…I’m a writer, you have to expect me to embellish. I ate breakfast each morning in the cellar dining room, smearing black bread with sour cherries. I tied on my ballet flats and walked all over Helsinki, past the markets with their pyramids of shiny fruit, past the houseboats whose windows I wanted to peek into, far north towards an elusive flea market.

I got lost, more than once, but I didn’t care.

I stopped to buy a drink. When the shopkeeper asked about Australia, he was amazed to hear that it was winter there. I was perplexed, assuming everyone knew the seasons were reversed in the opposite hemisphere. He stood with one raised eyebrow, clearly suspicious. ‘If that was true, wouldn’t I have heard about it by now?’ he asked. Satisfied with that logic, he waved me out of his shop. I drank an iced coffee on the footpath and retied my ballet flats.

I kept walking.


When it was clear that I was again lost, I stopped an older man in a black leather jacket, walking a tiny sausage dog. He gestured at his throat and made chopping motions with his hands. I wondered if this were a strange Finnish custom. He pulled a small cracked notebook out of his pocket and wrote ‘Throat surgery. Keep talking.’ I walked alongside him, the sausage dog prancing around us, as I tried to pronounce the name of the flea market. He nodded, pointed at his chest, and then raised a hand over the other and made walking movements on one palm. ‘Me too,’ I thought he was saying. ‘Let’s walk together.’

We spoke for fifteen minutes, without him saying a single word. He gestured with ringed hands, mouthed some words, and scribbled with a blunt pencil whenever I needed clarification. When I tried out my Finnish pronunciation he laughed silently, chest heaving. I didn’t mind at all. His presence made me smile, right down to the tiny dog.


The flea market was in an old building down by the river: I would never have found it by myself. He shook my hand goodbye, gave me a thumbs up, and turned away. Half an hour later he tapped me on the shoulder and handed me an old black and white photograph from the 40s. It showed a woman with wide legged pants, sitting on the ground with her back against a door. She held a glass in one hand and a book in the other, just like me at dinner the previous evening. I loved her immediately.

The silent man was swallowed by the crowd before I could say kiitos, thank you. I bought an old t-shirt of a Russian punk band, a pair of red high heels, and a punnet of fruit. I held a blueberry up as I walked back to the main road, practising the Finnish. Mustikka. I wondered if the silent man would have laughed, had he heard me.

I ate dinner that evening in a rockabilly bar, surrounded by chicken wire. I wore gingham and ordered reindeer, washed down by cloudberry liqueur. When I looked up I saw a middle-aged Finn in nothing but denim hot pants, literally skiing down the footpath, his poles jammed between the cracks. And I grinned, took another sip of cloudberries, and kept reading my book.


Today I booked my ticket back to this wonderful, quirky, beautiful country. I’ve been awarded another writing residency, this time in the woods of rural Finland for October. As in Iceland, I’ll have a month with a house and a studio, and I will write every day.

I got dressed up for the travel agent in my red heels, pencil skirt, and sheer blouse with a bow. I even curled a little victory roll into my hair. It seemed like a day for it, somehow.

Then I had a glass of merlot in the late afternoon sunshine to celebrate the wondrous places my ink takes me to, when I have the faith to close my eyes, and leap.


1 Comment

  1. Rebecca said,


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