Wednesday, September 28, 2005

How I found out that the world is indeed a small place

Hosting international people in Finland is always interesting. It gives perspective on one's own culture as well as the culture of the non-Finnish visitor. And in these days of incredibly fast communications and the general feel of a "global village" (obviously including the "blogosphere") it's always good to have perspective, because otherwise one could lose the sense of appreciation for one's own background and surroundings in general.

It's quite natural that we tend to become somewhat blind to our own life, and especially things like sceneries in it, because they're always there. The memories attached to different places aren't exactly something you can erase from your mind. Once you've lived in certain surroundings for all your life, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to get a fresh view of all of it. This was demonstrated to me once more as I hosted my Maltese friend this past week.

The different seasons are about the only other way to see the surrounding view freshly. Not a day has gone by this week when I haven't admired the beautiful colors (red, orange, yellow) of the trees - the trees that have been familiarly green for a few months now. The last time I really paid any attention to the trees was, naturally, in the spring, when the barrenness of the winter was cast aside by the light green of the new foliage. But still, even though the colors of the nature change, it's still the same old trees and fields and such that I see daily. I don't think about them that much at all. Until there's someone who voices an opinion that the scenery is something special. My response is most likely something along the lines of "Oh, you think so? Oh, wow, I haven't thought about it that way..." It's very refreshing.

Makes me want to travel so badly, though. I'm seriously lacking fresh sceneries to experience for the first time.

However, experiencing my surroundings in a new way wasn't exactly the only thing I was left pondering about when my friend's flight departed from the Turku airport. One other observation I had been amused to make was that the world is so small it's unreal.

Or what would you say about a coincidence like this. There's a Finnish person blogging about random silly things. She knows some people. Like a certain Italian professor, who shares her interest in all things chivalric. Then there's a person on the other side of the continent, who just happens to bump into this silly Finnish blog and for some reason begins to read the posts somewhat regularly. The person happens to live on an island, that once was the home for the chivalric order of knights that the Finnish blogger is doing research on (we're talking about Malta here, of course). So far, nothing too amazing, right? Such coincidences probably aren't that rare in the cosmic scale of things.

But then, let's get all these three above mentioned people together. Let's have them attend a seminar about Kosovo in Turku, of all places. They meet for the first time and very soon find out that the Italian professor knows one of the Maltese person's closest friends very well. Of all the people in Italy, Malta and Finland there are these three people (four, if you count the other Maltese fellow, who wasn't in the seminar, heh) who are connected by a very odd coincidence.

Needless to say, I was baffled. In case anyone needs to prove that the theory about all the people in the world being connected by what is it, less than six steps(?), actually works, could maybe start here. I never imagined I'd be connected to a Maltese author by such a few steps. A funny, exciting and mindboggling thought, that. But then again, I think we once figured out that some of us girls are actually connected to Orlando Bloom by less than six steps, thanks to Sarin's relations. Which, naturally, is even more entertaining a thought. ;)

Anyhow, that's not the end of funny coincidences of last week, actually. We were having a very nice dinner in a local Italian restaurant (Sergio's, in case you're interested) after the seminar on Thursday evening. There were about 15 or so of us (the conversations were carried on in at least five different languages at almost all times; English, Finnish, Swedish, Italian and German), and with us was also the Archduchess Walburga von Habsburg-Douglas (she had been a guest speaker at the seminar). She, just so you know, is very closely related to the last emperor of the Habsburg dynasty of the Austrian-Hungarian empire.

Anyhow, this makes her also a relative of the empress Elizabeth, or Sissi, as she also was called. (You may (or may not) remember the old movies about her life with Romy Schneider playing the name role.) As it happened, the musical about Sissi's life was to have its premiere in Turku city theatre last Friday. The organisers of the seminar had tried to get tickets for the Archduchess to see the premiere, but had unfortunately failed miserably and made other plans for Friday.

But what happened was that later that Thursday evening, a small group of people came in the restaurant, sort of at the last moment. I noticed one of them looked familiar, and pretty soon recognised the (very handsome) actor who plays Franz Joseph (the male lead) in the musical. It didn't take too long for the rest of our group to recognise also the actress, who plays Sissi herself. The third person we didn't know, but just to notice these two actors was enough to get a buzz going on. Mrs von Habsburg-Douglas was informed of the situation too, and so were the people from the theatre.

Which then lead to a very surreal conversation between the third person from the next table and the Archduchess. ("So, what's the story? How are you related to Sissi? Why are you here? Please explain once more how you're related to the late emperor?" and so on.) We were all, I'm sure, equally amused by the coincidence and since Mrs vH-D was very kind and polite, she didn't seem to mind the fact that the people didn't really introduce themselves and that she was asked to write a short note for the actors for the next evening's premiere. All the three people from the play did, btw, very eagerly state that they could arrange tickets for her to see the premiere. Just to smooth out the indeniably odd response from the head of the theatre, who had refused to arrange tickets earlier.

But think of this coincidence from the point of view of the actors of the play. Here they are, preparing for their premiere, coming to have late dinner in a local restaurant and who do they meet? A person who is related to their protagonist in real life. I'm thinking they probably had a few incredulous laughs when they told about their encounter with the duchess.

I'm thinking I need to reserve some tickets for myself to go and see the production. I had thought about it before, but now it seems I really do need to see it. :) If for no other reason but to ogle the handsome actor, eh. Unfortunately the show's all sold out till February, so I need to wait for my turn a while yet.

So, to wrap all this up: it's a small world after all...

ETA: No matter how little time I have to read anything, I did end up dragging three new preciouses home from the booksale. A book about the crusades (ergo, thesis related), an encyclopedia of the Third Reich (ergo, work related) and Neil Gaiman's latest novel, Anansi Boys, which I was absolutely thrilled to find in the shelf. Can't wait to dig into it in the very near future...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Too much to read, not enough time

Aaarrggghhhh! Hear me groan in frustration and despair. I've got a serious problem of not having enough hours in a day to read all the interesting books and other texts I've got piled up around my place. (Literally!)

It's not at all unusual that I have two, three or even four books that I'm reading at the same time, any given time. Take today's situation, for example. I'm in the middle of four novels (among them one book of the Lymond Chronicles that I'm trying to read very slowly so that it'd last as long as possible and one novel that I'm reading actually because of work - but it's a very good novel, nevertheless) and about as many history books. And I have zero time units to concentrate on them.

And here's a list of things that make my situation even worse:

* I know that a friend of mine has several books she's recommended to me and I'd love to get to them asap. The temptation, the temptation...

* I borrowed yet another book today, after hearing a presentation in which the novel was mentioned. The book seems to be my future favorite, at least based on the description I heard. (I'm talking about Keith Roberts' Pavane which is an alternative history in which queen Elisabeth I is murdered in 1588 and the Catholic church reigns supreme till the 20th century - sounds absolutely fascinating! I can't believe I've missed out on this one before.)

* I got a bag full of short stories from this year's Nova writing competition to go through, as the results were announced today and I'm supposed to be picking the stories that I want to publish in Spin later on. This means that I've got to be sort of quick about this, too. I don't want to keep the authors waiting.

* I've got to work! Today I've been grading even more book reports by my students. Luckily I was quite a hard worker today and I've only got a few more to grade. I'll get those done tomorrow morning and then I can give them back on Monday. Which then means that I'll be collecting the notebooks of the students to go through before their exams. Which means I've got plenty of work to do at home, too. Plenty of work that takes lots and lots of time.

* I don't have too much time to work at home this week. I've got a visitor coming on Wednesday and I need to get all of this weeks work (lesson plans and so on) done before that. Phew.

* You should see the pile of other books I've borrowed / bought and that I'm dying to read, like, right away! Extremely high pile. Many books. Shiny preciouses.

Thus, a very frustrated aaaarrrgggghhh. Goshdarnit.

On the other hand, if this is as serious a problem I can think of right now, I probably shouldn't worry too much. :) For just this once, time really will make it better.

Or will it? More time, even more books to read? And come to think of it, I've got two book fairs to visit in October and the bookstores will have their sales soon... Oh world of literature, have pity on me (and my budget and my schedules)!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A very first anniversary!

Or maybe I should say "bloggiversary" or something. Exactly a year ago I posted my first ever blog post, yay!

In my first post I wondered whether or not I'll have the energy to keep posting. Well, as this is my 138th post, I'd say I've had at least some energy to keep posting. Lately a bit less, thanks to work, but I'm still very positively surprised. And I plan to go on for quite some time, too. You're more than welcome to stay with me and continue this adventure which, unfortunately, isn't always such a thriller...

Lots going on at the moment, though. Lots of social activities, for example. Last Saturday I went to Helsinki with a few friends. We went to see the author M. John Harrison, who was a guest of honor at the Tähtivaeltaja Day (a mini sf-con). I participated in a panel discussion about current events, politics and science fiction and felt like a complete dummy. Probably mostly because I'm not an active party politician, and the discussion veered into the direction of "what color is sf" pretty fast. Oh well, it was just one panel and I survived it, so I shouldn't complain. Actually I'm pretty pleased that I was asked in the first place, so I really am not complaining either.

The day was a lot of fun. It's been a while since I went to one of these fandom events, and especially since I totally missed out on this year's Worldcon in Glasgow, this compact con was just what the doctor described.

I get a huge kick out of the general energy and atmosphere of these events. Tähtivaeltaja Day was no exception. The enthusiasm, in fact, seemed to be very contagious and we ended up making all sorts of plans about the (possible) next Finncon in Turku. Only time will tell if we get enough crazy people to join the project so that we'll actually be able to begin serious planning.

Sf-fandom is such a fun bunch of people. Really. A bit predictable, for sure, but fun nevertheless. Predictable, for example, in their fashions. :) When you walk into the con room (in this case the Dubrovnik Lounge in Helsinki) you'll immediately notice the various shades of black present in the area. I sometimes try to be a rebel and wear a white shirt or a red one, but this time I did end up wearing my black jeans and dark purple shirt for the occasion. My version of sf-black.

Next weekend will include yet another sf-event. On Saturday the SF-society will present the Atorox Award to the best Finnish sf-short story published in 2004 and the Nova writing competition's results will be revealed too. Should be a nice afternoon, if I don't get any sicker than I already am (a bit of fever and a very sore throat at the moment). I'll also be able to do some editor's work there. I need to talk to some of the writers about publishing their work in Spin. Things are looking good but busy now. :)

And because I have a pile of book reports to grade, I'll leave it at that now. From here begins the second year of the Pool. Scary how fast the time goes... Aikakärpäset pitävät nuolesta, eikö vaan?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Thoughts on the big T

Thesis, that is. Duh.

I just found out that one of the first English sisters of the Order was named Sister Johanna. :) Isn't that funny? However, I don't think she had to answer the question "Did you join the Order of St. John because your name is Johanna?" a lot. I've had to answer that more than once, explaining that I'm not researching the Order because my name is the female equivalent of John. Sorry to disappoint.

The reasons why I chose to research this Order instead of, say, the Templars, are simple. The Templars don't exist anymore, whereas the Order of St. John does (which then brings the wonderful aspect of a milennia of continuity into the research); the Templars have been studied in plenty, whereas the Order of St. John isn't as well known and finally, I know a person who actually is a Knight of the Order and can help me with my research. Funnily enough this little project of mine has even resulted in me getting a new friend from Malta, too. *waves to Rob*

So I'd say I made a fairly good pick when I decided I wouldn't want to dig into the history of the Templars, or the Teutonic knights, for that matter. Granted, both those topics would probably have been easier to research in Turku, but what the heck, I'm not well known for my lack of determination... :)

Nearly finished the background chapter today. Only nearly, because I had serious difficulties concentrating, with a million things on my mind demanding my attention (but then again, what's new?). Like for example the very exciting piece of news I heard from my professor. He told me there is indeed going to be a visiting lecturer from Malta University later this fall and that he'll make sure I get to meet him. I'm hoping meeting him will give me some insights into the topic of my thesis. Maybe I should write an English summary on what I've got so far, so I could show him... Hmm. Could be worth the effort.

At the same time my professor told me that the visit had been confirmed, he also suggested that I should apply for the Erasmus exchange program for next spring. They still have one place available in Malta University. Sigh. I'd love to go. I've been dreaming about some of the courses they teach there. But I have my priorities set for this year and I won't be able to quit my job to go to Malta for 5 months.

However, it's not in any way sure that I'll have anything to teach in Nousiainen come next fall, so maybe I can apply for the place then. There'd be the added bonus of probably being able to begin a licenciate thesis while in Malta, which is a tempting thought. But honestly, I shoudn't be getting ahead of myself. There's still about 80 pages to write for my master's thesis, so I should just concentrate really hard on that one and getting all the rest of my studies finished as soon as possible. (Which is a goal I'm a huge step closer to now, because I've gotten the results of most of my summer exams. Didn't pass the f***ing business econ exam, but passed all my history ones with flying colours. Yay for that, at least.)

Oh well. Better to go read a research. Had to skip the first dance class of the fall today, because I'm feeling a bit feverish, so I might as well use the time to study. Right? :)