Saturday, December 30, 2006

Farewell, 2006

And so, the year comes to an end to the sound of rain. This is certainly the oddest weather for the new year's eve's eve. Clearly I remember new year's eves so cold I could not wear enough clothes to keep warm during the midnight fireworks. Also I remember several new year's eves with lots and lots of snow.

And what do we have now? Temperatures around +5 C and pouring rain. Odd, indeed.

But never mind the weather, I've been saying my goodbyes to this year by enjoying culture. Indoors.

Yesterday I went to see a play called Einstein, Weinstein & Wittgenstein performed on the small stage of the city theatre. It was a delightful romp about the two very famous professors, Einstein and Wittgenstein - and a third guy, perhaps less known by name but definitely known by habit to all people.

As the play is written by M.A. Numminen, the Finns should know what to expect of the text. Lots of witty references to popular culture, a whole lot of stuff from the actual theories of Einstein & Wittgenstein and well, lots of lewdness and absurd humour too.

Turns out that Mr. Weinstein is, as anyone who speaks any German can guess from his name, the master of drinking and intoxication. The "genie of the bottle", so to say. He manages to confuse the two serious professors by his antics - especially Wittgenstein is quite baffled at times. When Einstein tries to explain the world with physics, Wittgenstein through language, Weinstein pours them more wine.

The actor playing Wittgenstein was my new favourite, Mika Kujala, who was Death in the musical Elisabeth. (Remember my squees over him as Death? I thought so.) This time his role had less grandeur, but the socially awkward Wittgenstein was very endearing. He was serious, broody, shy and insecure. And funny as heck.

Einstein was played by Petri Rajala, a favourite of mine for many years now. I've seen him in several plays and even performed with him. (He's also a popular troubadour and he was playing in the same event where I and my friends were dancing - so in the end he played us a serenade and we danced to it. One of my fondest memories of performing!) His Einstein was silly and wise at the same time.

But the funniest of them all was the almost child-like Weinstein, played by Stefan Karlsson. He made Weinstein an epitome of the cliched university student / research assistant. Spending most of his time in bars and pubs, having a jolly good time doing what he knows best. Namely, researching the bottle, its contents and the effects of said contents on people. And for some reason he kept changing hats all the time.

After the play I was humming Wittgenstein's words to a tune they sang at the end of the play. "Worüber man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen." And I remembered why Wittgenstein's theories were among my favourites when I studied philosophy in senior high. In other words, if you have a chance, go see the play. It's entertaining on quite many levels.

Today's dose of culture was a movie. Guillermo del Toro's newest fantasy piece, Pan's Labyrinth (or El Laberinto del Fauno). It's a story of a young Spanish girl, who moves with her pregnant mother to live with her new step-father. It's the year 1944 and Ofelia's step-father is a cruel army captain of Franco's army, who coldbloodedly kills rebels and innocent bystanders alike.

To survive the horrors of her new home, Ofelia escapes to a fantasy world, where she is the long lost princess of the Underworld. She meets a faun in a labyrinth near the mill-turned-military-base she has to call home. The ancient faun gives her different tasks to fulfill in order for her to be able to return to her "real father", the King of the Underworld.

The movie is no bright spring picnic. It's cruel, gruesome and dark. It's disturbing, graphic and yet there is comfort to the idea of a little girl finding a way to cope with the bloody real world.
If faeries and fauns give some relief from the constant fear of the captain or the fear for her mother's and unborn baby brother's health, who can blame the girl?

Del Toro's work is impressive. The cuts between reality and fantasy are seamless, the imagery haunting.

The only thing that annoyed me about the film was the translation. I don't know if it was on purpose (it probably was), but there were ridiculous mistakes in the verb forms the faun used. I don't know enough Spanish to be able to tell whether the original words were also slightly misused archaic forms as the Finnish ones were (you know, of the type "olkootte" instead of "olkaatte" and so on). If they were, and the mistakes in the Finnish version were on purpose, my complains have no base, but until someone can confirm that the Spanish the faun spoke was also a bit off the proper grammar, I'm going to be annoyed. It's not like the old Finnish über-polite verb forms are familiar to most people anymore (they'd probably sound equally odd to almost any Finnish teen, whether they were correct or incorrect), but well, I suppose I'm a nit-picker when it comes to such details.

There. It's already half past midnight, so the last day of the year is well on its way. Since I probably won't be blogging later today, this is where I wish you all a very happy and prosperous year 2007! Let it be a year of wishes coming true for all of us.

See you in 2007, folks. :)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bits and pieces of my mind - plus penguins!

I have done myself a huge service. I've scheduled most of my classes this week so that the senior high students have papers to independently do research for (my history class) and little presentations to give (my Finnish classes). Ergo, I find myself blogging on a Monday evening at 6.30 p.m. with all work for tomorrow done. Yay me.

It didn't rain today. I don't think it rained yesterday either. In fact, we've had a few drier days and the temperatures have been falling. There was even a few speckles of snow on the ground this morning. There's still a faint possibility of a white Christmas! Yay winter weather.

On Friday evening I was very tired, and wanted to watch something light and cute for entertainment. What I got from the movie rental place was a French movie called La Marche de l'Empereur or March of the Penguins. It's a nature documentary / family film, which tells the story of the Emperor penguins as they literally march (mostly in single file!) miles to a traditional breeding ground to bring their young ones into the world in the middle of the harshest Antarctic winter.

I found the movie simply stunning. I hadn't known this about the behaviour of the penguins before. They march by the thousands to a particular place, long away from the open waters of the ocean, to find a partner and mate. Finding a partner involves complicate "dancing" and "singing" - and when a partner is found, the pair is monogamous. The female lays one egg and leaves it to the male to guard - for two months without food! While the male penguins keep the eggs warm and protected on top of their feet, the females march back to the sea to feed. In two months time the females, once again, march back to the waiting male and hatching egg. The penguin parents change roles again and the males return to the sea. The females now take care of the little fluffy chicks until they are strong enough to, you guessed it, march to the sea.

May I just say at this point that there is hardly anything cuter than a fluffy emperor penguin chick. The adult penguings are adorable, but the chicks, OMG. I guarantee you that unless you are made of stone and have a heart of ice, you'll go "awww" when you see the little critters fluttering about. My heart was full of warm fuzzy feelings, when the baby penguins explored their world and just plain owned me with their cuteness. I mean, they're round and obviously soft and cuddly, naturally wobbly and when they fall over in the snow to bump on their little penguin bums, I doubt if I could've uttered a sensible word. It was all "awww" for me.

In other words, I warmly recommend the movie for everyone. It's a great family movie, obviously a great movie to watch alone - and honestly, penguins are teh cute. QED. :)

Yay penguins!

Ah, maybe I've now made my point about penguins. :) Time to move on to something completely different...

Often around these last few weeks / days of the year people like to look back on the past year and evaluate it according to whatever criteria they deem appropriate. I decided I'd just list a few "Bests of 2006". I'll add to the list later, as things come to mind.

Best bought CD
Sting's Songs from the Labyrinth. An amazing collection of John Dowland's songs from the 16th century, beautifully interpreted by Sting and Edin Karamazov. If you like historical music, you'll love this. At least I did. I admire Sting for this bold decision to record songs that certainly aren't material for the top10 pop charts.

Best book read
Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl and C.S. Forester's Hornblower novels (Hornblower and the Atropos & Hornblower and the Happy Return) share the top spot for historical fiction, I think. For fantasy, umm, well, Patricia McKillip's Ombria in Shadow was a pleasant enough surprise.

Best new addiction
The Fables, graphic novels by Bill Willingham. Instant love. Quite a few issues missing from my collection yet, but I'm adamant in getting them all into my bookshelf. They'll have a nice place next to my Sandman collection. My meagre collection of graphic novels.

Best purchase
Laptop! Digital camera (bought on Saturday, btw)! But laptop is definitely The One.

Best movie seen
Probably V for Vendetta and Kingdom of Heaven DC.

Best tv-show
Dr. Who takes the top spot here. I have enjoyed also shows like House M.D., Bones, Battlestar Galactica and many more. But Dr. Who offered a refreshing dose of British quirky humour and witty scripting.

Best decision
To start planning on a vacation in Wales next summer! Has kept me going (and saving up money) during the whole rainy, dark autumn.

Well, better think about some more bests and post them later.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Dear deities of the weather

Please make it stop raining! I'm so sick and tired of constant rain and I want snow! Pretty puh-leese?

Yes, the Northern winter wonderland of Finland is experiencing the warmest December in some 200 years... This is bordering ridiculous. If anyone, I repeat anyone, comes and tells me there are no signs of global warming, I'm going to make them crosscountry ski in this weather! Darnit.

If it only wouldn't rain so much. I wouldn't mind not having really cold temperatures, but the rain is driving me nuts. There was a short two-day period in the first days of November, when the scenery looked like this:

The view from my balcony in the beginning of November.

But alas, the snow melted away and ever since the ecosystem has thought it necessary to keep flooding the country with water. Meh. There aren't many things that make you more depressed than waking up to rain and darkness seven days a week. Snow would have the delightful effect of bringing more light to the gloomy Finnish winter even when the sun doesn't shine that many hours a day anyway.

Besides, it doesn't feel like Christmas is coming at all. I'm more than ready for a vacation, but the feeling isn't here. Another meh. I'm afraid there's just no hope for a white Christmas this year, with temperatures closer to +10 C almost on daily basis.

I just hope this doesn't mean spring will come in June next year... Or that February will boast with four weeks of temperatures around -30 C...

I think I'd better go and write my Christmas cards and listen to the raindrops fall.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A mind is a terrible thing to lose

Grandpa didn't recognise me today. He didn't recognise me a few weeks back either, when my brother and I went to rake the leaves from their yard. Back then grandpa did know my brother, but had thought that my brother's brought a new girlfriend with him...

So there we were, raking leaves again. This time with mom and dad. I was already busy with my corner of the yard and grandpa had seen me from a window. He had muttered to mom that "There's some girl out in the yard with a rake. Come, look! Who is it? Do you know her?" Mom had explained to him that "the girl" was in fact his granddaughter. Grandpa had looked puzzled and sad. "My head's not working properly anymore. I get confused."

His Alzheimer's is getting worse fast. He doesn't remember that grandma lives with him (he keeps asking her if she lives there and when will she be leaving), he doesn't always even remember my mom (he had asked grandma where does she know her from) and the list goes on.

It really is heartbreaking to watch how a person's mind crumbles. On better days grandpa seems to understand his condition, but today, for example, he has problems with the most common words and if he tries to tell a story, it very soon becomes incomprehensible, because he confuses times, places and names. Sometimes there is no connection between two consecutive sentences.

The silence around the table when he tries to find words is a sad silence. I'm not sure whether it'd be better to try and help him with his sentences or just wait till he finds his words (or falls silent himself). And in the middle of it all, what makes me most sad at the moment is not the thought of me losing grandpa but of mom losing her dad and grandma losing her beloved husband.

There's no way for me to know what it must feel like to foresee the end of a 60 year marriage, but I do know that the thought of losing a parent is frightening as hell. It's something most of us have to face some day, but I can honestly say that I fear the day terribly. And that's why I feel so sad for mom.

I suppose it might have something to do with my life situation. I don't have a family of my own, except for my parents and my brother. No husband, no kids. I've pondered about this before (and the thought is very difficult to put into words, but I'll try...) - does the fact that I haven't gone through the "transition" from being "only" a daughter to, say, being also a wife, make me cling more to my parents? (Agh, how medieval do I sound? The thought is obviously clearer in my head than it will ever be here...) I mean, since I don't have anyone else in this world that I'd love as much, does the fear of losing my parents become a bigger monster, even now that I'm not dependent on them as such? Or do I just have ridiculously unrealistic ideals about "real love" and how it would make a difference? Or am I just being a selfish idiot, who thinks she's somehow different from everyone else, feeling like this?

Or am I just being ridiculous altogether? Agh.

Be how it may, I can honestly say that no matter how quickly this all ends, Alzheimer's has had its chance to show us how cruel a disease it really is.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Random observations of the day

First observation. If one wakes up in the morning after dreaming about the Russian Revolution of 1917/1918 during the first part of the night and then about one's bank card crumbling into tiny pieces when one wants to pay a dance course (which, oddly enough, was held in a castle somewhere and sadly it didn't make me feel any better) during the second part, one does not feel refreshed. Nope. Somewhat disoriented, yes, but not refreshed.

Second observation. People disgust me sometimes. Like on the bus where a woman was loudly discussing her ugly custody case with someone (most likely a social worker) on the phone. She was getting ruder by the minute and I was feeling bad for the person on the other end of the call. But I guess if the loud lady didn't care about the whole bus hearing how the child's dad has behaved badly or how the social workers had lied to her, I shouldn't care about it either, but for cryin' out loud (literally!)... When I sit in a bus, I do not want to hear about other people's court cases / sicknesses / arguments / whathaveyou. People really should think about the stuff they talk about in public on their cell phones.

Or like the young couple at the bus stop, right after I had survived the first piece of annoying bus behaviour. The girl of the couple (they must've been around 16-17 years of age, I'd say) was dressed in camouflage coloured tight jeans, with a lacing down to the crotch in front. Ewww. The fact that the pants were reeally lowriding doesn't probably even need mentioning. Combined with a winter coat which left her whole lower abdomen bare to the world. Brrr, thought I in the winter weather. But her dresscode was only the first thing that I noticed. I went seriously "eeeewwwww" when she started to squeeze the zits from her boyfriend's face right in the middle of the crowd waiting for the bus. Seriously, how gross can you get? Not much more than that.

Then, a random observation about footwear. Silly, silly fashions. It's now fashionable to have cute boots with an absolutely flat sole. I think most of the boots are nice and I could have a pair myself, but when there's a 4 cm layer of watery slush on the ground - not a good choice. Lots of wet feet squishing about today.

And finally, a random observation about work. I like teaching a lot (especially in senior high), but I hate the junior high "extra stuff", like recess watches and detention duty almost as much. Urgh.

There. Thanks for reading, if you read this. I'm off to do some work.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Silk and Audis for me

I went to a Halloween party last night. Lots of people, lots of costumes and drinks and dancing and fun. I must admit I find the dress up part of Halloween heaps of fun, especially when almost everyone has gone through the trouble of finding some costume for the occasion.

I have fond memories of the Halloween party we had in the States, when us exchange students were housed in a funeral home for the night (I mean for real, spooky!) and ever since (and probably before too) I've liked costume parties. Which probably explains some of my hobbies, like the Fantasy Feast stuff. Escaping from the boring every day life. Heh.

Anyways, my dress for last night was a real Indian sari and I loved it. I want one for myself too, as the sari I was wearing is actually Satu's souvenir from Goa (a million thanks for borrowing it to me, hon!).

It's certainly a very feminine thing to wrap oneself up in several metres of pretty fabric and my goodness, even with my less than perfect skills of wrapping it, it looked elegant. Very beautiful. I've spent quite a lot of time lately surfing the various sites selling saris on the net, and especially some of the bridal saris are stunning. (Well, I'm probably not likely to be wearing a sari on my wedding day, if such will come in the distant future, but I sure love the idea of having such a beautiful piece of clothing in any case.)

All my enthusiasm about saris resulted in an interesting description of me, by a friend (somewhat tipsy friend, that is) of mine. He happens to know I also love big cars, like the Audi Q7 and he pondered how this combination of wanting to have several metres of gloriously embroidered silk around me, preferably while driving a Q7, makes me "a high class woman". You can imagine I giggled at that. (But at the same time the image seems very enticing, heh.)

The Indian version of me. I should've arranged the pallu a bit better for the picture (pallu is the end part of the sari, the part that comes over the shoulder), but you get the idea. Seems that it requires a bit of practice to learn how to keep the folds of fabric in order...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Feels like I'm repeating myself

Another year gone and I got older as it went by. Time flies even though I'm not always having fun. (But to be honest, I do have fun most of the time, heh.)

I've already posted two similar posts during my time of blogging, as for some reason a birthday always brings to mind all the things I perhaps lack in life or on the other hand things I have that I should be happy about.

And once again I could basically just "cut and paste" my post from last October 21st (or around there). It really is funny, how little things can change in a year. You would think that a year is a reasonably long period of time in which all sorts of things could happen, but no. It's a reasonably long period of time in which nothing new happens. I'm sure the universe must have a few action-packed years in store for me somewhere. You know, the type of years when I suddenly find myself a future husband, get engaged, graduate, start planning a wedding, win the lottery and buy a nice car and an apartment or something. But before I get that year, I'm evidently stuck with "no news is (supposedly) good news" -kinda years.

In other words, referring to that description of an action-packed year, I've had none of that this past year. But what is nice is that I've got more money now than last year, despite not having won in the lottery. Even though that means that I have practically no free time and skyrocketing stress levels - but at least I'm able to save up money for a long trip to Wales next summer. Even the mere thought of it keeps me going and never fails to cheer me up. In less than a year I'll hopefully see the nightlife of Cardiff, the castles of Caernarfon and Conwy, the quirky "Italianate" architecture of Portmeirion and wander on Roman ruins and ancient Celtic sites. Ahhh.

And if I continue on the path of ridiculously positive thinking, there's no avoiding the fact that time goes by so fast it's soon going to be Christmas and maybe on Christmas vacation I'll have time to do some research too. And, for goodness sake, rest a bit. (And if Christmas comes soon, it'll also mean that June'll be here fast enough also. Did I mention I'm planning on flying out of Finland in June? :) )

Well, time to move on to other topics. Like dance shows. I've got one coming up next Sunday in Uusikaupunki. It'll most likely be the last dance show our dance group Arais El Bahr is ever going to arrange. I've had no time to practice and even though I only dance in three choreographies (of which one is my own solo), I'm feeling a bit uneasy. Hopefully this slight cold I'm having at the moment will vanish soon and I can rehearse during the week so I don't have to go and make a fool out of myself on stage. Performing on stage is fun, but only if I feel like I know what I'm supposed to do... And I'm afraid my solo is terribly boring and blah and aaaaghh.

Oh well. At least I had the sense to say no to two more group dances I had originally thought I'd like to dance in. No Andalucian or Saudi dances for me this time. (But if I'm completely honest, it breaks my heart every time I hear the Andalucian song - it's one of the most beautiful songs I know and I've performed the dance a couple of times before and now I'm not involved. Curse this wretched being that is me for feeling like this, when the only reasonable choice was to stay out of the dance...)

But our show wasn't the one I was going to write about, actually. I went to see the Irish dance show Rhythm of the Dance last night - mom & dad had given me a ticket for my birthday. I had high hopes for the show, thinking about the exuberant Riverdance show I had seen earlier (actually, my post about the show was my first real post here at the Pool a couple of years back) and well, I do love Irish music and dancing.

Too bad I can't say I was thrilled after the show. I would've wanted to be.

First of all, I felt so embarrassed to be a Finn, once again. The audience seemed to be made out of clay people with ironbars for backbones and no capability to express emotions whatsoever. I am (sadly) not even exaggerating when I say I was the only one in the audience (about a half full hall) who clapped my hands during the performances.

People, you are supposed to clap! The absolute silence of the audience can be such a mood killer. The poor dancers were tapping away on stage the best they could and the response was a deafening silence. There were even a few soloists who left the stage without getting any applaudes (except mine, eh), because the Finnish audience seemed to wait for a complete silence to signal the end of a dance. And it doesn't always come, if the show is designed to flow along without breaks.

And I'm sure the very stiff looking mother (and her poised little girl) next to me gave me long looks, when I clapped and cheered during the dances. I could almost feel the chill radiating from her. Agh. People can be such bores! And I truly felt bad for the dancers and musicians, who were trying to get the audience to participate. It took the bodhran player quite a few minutes to wake up the mute and frozen Finns to clap for rhythm during his solo. I so wanted to go and peek behind the curtains after the show to tell the performers that the Finns most likely did like the show, even though it couldn't be seen (or heard, for that matter) from stage.

But then, perhaps the show could've been a little more impressive, maybe that would've made it easier for the rest of the crowd to react. I'm sure the National Dance Company of Ireland will now and for quite some time, if not always, suffer from comparisons to the Riverdance show. And unfortunately I'm going to add to their misery a bit.

The Rhythm of the Dance promises to be "a whole new concept" in Irish entertainment, "a two-hour dance and music extravaganza", "an inspiring epic" which combines "traditional dance, music and song with the most up to date stage technology".

Well. If one has never seen or heard of the Riverdance show, the concept of last night's show might be new. But I couldn't see what the fuss was about. If the new concept was to project pictures and video clips of contemporary Irish life on screen, I'd say the concept artists need to do some more thinking.

I sat to the side of the stage and the screen was only half visible to my seat, which wasn't a terrible loss. When watching a dance show, I'd prefer the background to be quite neutral and preferably not have any brightly dressed people in it. The main focus should be on the dancers and the background visuals shouldn't steal their moments and the interest of the audience. Landscapes and ornaments are fine, but people on a busy street are not.

I also think the story of the show remained quite unclear. It was in the program I bought, but for the life in me I couldn't make out how the story evolved on stage. An easy way to solve this problem would be either to ignore the fact that the show tries to tell a story (a bad solution, since the show is made into a story) or to have short introductions to the dances. In other words the story would've been stronger, if it would've been told "twice". Once with words and once with dancing. It wouldn't break the rhythm of the performance, but it would help the audience. If I hadn't bought the program, there would've been no way of knowing that the dancers were supposed to be Celtic Warriors fighting against evil spirits and higher Gods. Rii-ight.

The music itself was good. Not thrillingly exciting (as some of the Riverdance songs are), but solid Irish dance pieces. And the somewhat odd "Irish Il Divo" trio of male singers did their jobs well. Their choreography consisted of walking from one side of the stage to the other, which was a bit dull. Also the swinging of the jackets was a bit artificial as a part of a choreography for singers. But the singing was good, and one of the singers was very cute, so who am I to complain?

Dancers of the ensemble are, according to the program booklet, the "cream of Irish and Ballet dancers" and it was obvious that they knew what they were doing. Only small glitches, like one dancer having to fix her bra while dancing and one having to collect a piece of her colleague's dress from the floor in the middle of the dance - nothing that a professional dancer can't handle with style and ease.

I thought the male dancers were a bit stronger as a group. More dynamic, more accurate. The girls were very skillfull, there's no question about that, but I suppose it's partly thanks to the nature of the dance that the men appear to have the upper hand (or foot? ehheh). There were some very nice group formations in the choreographies, excellent movement and precision. Although the typical long rows of dancers weren't very long on the small stage and not quite as militaristically precise as the ones Riverdance boasts with.

I don't know how much the small stage forced the group to restrain themselves (or the sets - judging by the pictures in their gallery they do have a bigger ensemble and different set pieces for some events), but on the other hand the smallish stage made the performance feel more personal in a way. I don't know if it's only me and my experiences as a dancer, but I've always liked to get close to the audience if I'm dancing or to the performers if I'm a member of the audience. And since I had a good seat close to the stage, I enjoyed watching the dancers faces and the details of their dresses and such.

All in all I liked the show, but I didn't go home feeling absolutely in awe of what I had seen, like I did after the Riverdance show. I felt like I had seen a good show (even if a little over-priced) and I had enjoyed the couple of hours.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Went to a Book Fair, got some music

So there. I lost the debate of "to buy or not to buy". I bought. Money has been spent and stuff has been acquired. Curiously enough I spent most of my cash on CD's, not books.

I bought two cd's of medieval music by a Finnish ensemble called Oliphant, the other has songs from the times of the crusades and the other one has spiritual songs from the 13th century. I started to listen to the songs from the crusading years and I think they're beautiful.

In addition to the medieval music I also bought some Celtic music. A very nice and soothing collection - and not the synthetized kind of plingplong stuff at all, but real instruments and acoustic sounds. Good shopping, I'd say.

The books I bought were actually more work-related books than what I had had in mind to buy. I was looking for two specific new books, couldn't find them and ended up buying two essay collections about fantasy as a genre. Tax deductible expenses, whee.

The fair seemed somewhat less crowded than it has been in the previous years, but it could all be just because I left reasonably early and didn't visit on Saturday at all. But nevertheless, it's always fun to stroll around the place, browsing books and chatting with friends.

I even went to the little booth of the city theatre - to get some brochures of the upcoming plays. I noticed that there's going to be another musical next spring, this time about the vikings. In other words, I'm imagining Nordic mythology combined with strong dances and music (preferably with plenty of drums) and, guess what? My favorite Death!

Well, probably not Death this time around, but I did spot the actor from the "teaser poster" of the production. Whee! I did tell the lady at the booth that I had enjoyed their show on Friday and we enthused about the staging and costumes for a while. And I admitted that I had fallen in love with Death. She said she'd tell him he got a new fan. Heheh. But honestly, he does deserve all the praise. And if he's as dashing as a viking - oh my.

The other part of the day's culture was the Bollywood film Parineeta. I thought it was a delightful film. This time around the music wasn't the weakest link at all. Gorgeous clothes, lovely songs and a beautiful love story. I'm definitely glad I went to see it.

And I even got that social studies exam done in between! All this culture and work in one day, I feel accomplished and relaxed. The weekend seemed a little longer with all these activities. And next week, it's all work and no play, so this little break in routines was welcome.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The night I fell in love with Death

No, I'm not crumbling under the pressures of work, nor have I decided to end my miserable single life (hah, as if), but it has been proven to me (once again) that Death in popular culture is often a very enticing character. Whether it be the snarky gothgirl Death of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, the ever so IMPOSING Death of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels or as in yesterday's case, the blonde charmer in the musical Elisabeth played in the city theatre here in Turku.

The musical had it's premiere a year ago and it's been performed to a full house ever since. It's been nearly impossible to get tickets, but mom had luck a few months ago. She bought a ticket as a birthday present to grandma (dad's side) and three to us, so we (me, mom, dad & grandma, that is) could all go together.

So, almost exactly a year after I met the stars of the show in the local Italian restaurant (while in the company of a relative of the empress Elisabeth - I think I blogged about it back then) I finally saw them on stage.

The story is, of course, the story of the empress Elisabeth of Austria (and later also the queen of Hungary), also known as Sissi. This portrait of her is one of my favorites - especially the Swarowski crystals in her hair... OMG.

She used her beauty to her advance - the hairdo alone took 3 hours to make and the dresses were sewn on her so they would fit perfectly!

Anyway, the musical is the story of her life, told by her murderer (an Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni) a hundred years after her death. He tells her story as a tragic love story between her and Death (emperor Franz Joseph is the third wheel of the story, naturally).

The story begins when Sissi is 12 years old. She's been raised a free spirit and one day she performs a circus trick to her relatives. She balances on a rope and falls. This is the first time she meets Death, who in this play is a handsome young man. He falls in love with her.

The events of her life then take her to be the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph's wife. It's a miserable life for her, being caged in by the rules and etiquette of the court. She's also always under the judging eyes of her mother-in-law, who was said to be the only man in Franz Joseph's court...

During her life she meets Death several times and each time he tries to woo her to his side. He wants to be the only love of her life. When he fails, he acts like a jealous lover and first takes Sissi's youngest daughter, then befriends her son, Rudolph, and takes him (the kiss of Death they share - oh shivers! says the little slasher in me!) and once even turns down Sissi's plea to join him. But when the assassin stabs Elisabeth, Death is there to take her finally into his arms and to give her a passionate last kiss.

I had heard in advance that Death was going to be impressive. And I had high expectations of Death's dancers, too. And I wasn't disappointed at all.

The actor playing Death (Mika Kujala) wasn't very tall or handsome in a traditional manner, but my goodness what a stage presence! He had blonde hair to his shoulders (yummy!) and wore long velvet coats (veeeery yummy!) and moved like a (excuse my choice of phrasing here) steamy dream. Compared to his seductive, stalking, energetic performance the lead actor playing emperor Franz Joseph (Tomi Metsäketo) looked like a log of long dead wood (not that his character really had many chances to move around in any way, being emperor and all. It'd be very improper for an emperor to behave like that.). And that's a lot to say, since I really think Metsäketo is very handsome and droolworthy. But he's first and foremost a singer, whereas Kujala is first an actor and then a singer. Which doesn't mean his singing was any worse, not at all. He had an edgier voice and also got some pretty rockish solos. But the movement, oh my god. I've got shivers down my spine even now.

And the dancers! When the two male "Death dancers" came on stage, I couldn't keep my eyes off them. (Only Death himself got my attention over those two, heh.) Imagine two excellent dancers (the other one was actually a international level ballroom dancer, wow!) in Lucius Malfoy -style blonde wigs, floor length burgundy velvet coats and postures to make anyone envious, and you'll understand why my brain went all wobbly in a flash. (Dear lord. What is it with men and blonde wigs? And why aren't those lovely coats fashionable anymore?)

What was disappointing though was that the weakest link of the musical was the music. Not the singing (the lead actress, Théresè Karlsson, had a voice like an angel, Tomi Metsäketo's singing is like soft, creamy chocolate, and Death - well... *grin*), but the music. A bland mix of rock and classical style music, songs that can't be remembered five minutes after the show's over. What a bummer. I wasn't expecting catchy tunes in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber, but something more original for sure. One of the best performances (once again, excellent singing, even though the song wasn't outstanding) was a duet by Death and Elisabeth's son Rudolph. Death lures him into committing a suicide and before the shot is fired, they sing together. The two actors' voices complimented each other perfectly and finally, as I already mentioned, the quite literal kiss of Death was, umm, hotter than anything that was going on between the emperor and the empress during the play. (Yes, I do have a dark side to me, a slasher side... If you don't know what that means, I'm not going to elaborate now. Sorry.)

But if the music was somewhat bland, the staging sure wasn't. Rarely have I seen the stage technics being used so fully. I loved what they did with the screen backgrounds (images of the sea, of the sky etc.) and lighting. The sets were grand, and the grandest of them all was the set with Death's carriage, which I absolutely adored. A huge misshapen carriage, tilted, half sunk in the ground, pulled by two rearing horses - it was magnificent (albeit a tad difficult to describe) and fit Death's character perfectly.

I couldn't help but think that my students should all see this, just so that they could see how a theatre stage can be anything but dull. Especially the students who saw Shakespeare's Collected Works in a small local theatre last year should see it, just to compare the absolute minimalism used in the comical Shakespearean play(s) (only four actors playing all the parts, only one set used to stage all the plays) to the full capability of a bigger stage.

On the other hand, the changing of the sets seemed a little superfluous at times. A couple of sets seemed to be there just for the sake of showing that they could fit a Moulin Rouge -style cabaret/brothel set and an Italian tivoli set in a musical mostly set in the court of Austria. But since the sets were equally beautiful, it didn't bother me that much. I like eye candy.

In any case, this was the first time I ever saw the crew come to take a bow. There was a good dozen or so people who had been moving the sets around during the fast changes and they did deserve their thanks. Very smooth work indeed.

I noticed that the popular buzz surrounding the play had probably encouraged a few non-theatre-enthusiasts to come to see the musical, too. Two of them sat next to me during the first half of the show. During the intermission they had, however, left their seats for good. I cheered silently when I noticed it. The man who had sat right next to me hadn't showered since his last several drinks of something stronger than water and I had to lean towards mom in order to be able to breath through my nose at all.

I do think it's great that theatre interests all kinds of people, but fercrissakes, take a shower before you come! And wash your shirt. And brush your teeth or take a breath mint, if you think there's a possibility that you stink of old booze! But obviously the play wasn't what they had expected, so to my great relief the person sitting next to me for the rest of the play smelled better.

In short, I was entertained by the show, despite its flaws and I'm glad I saw it. I need to go to the theatre more often now that I could actually afford it, too.

Tomorrow it's time for the annual "Buy or not to buy" -debate inside my head. This is the Turku Book Fair weekend, and I'm going to be sitting behind the desk of our SF-booth (dressed properly in Harry Potter gear, this time meaning a Gryffindor tie and my version of a school uniform) in the morning and then - a quick but effective tour around the place, hoping I won't find too much to buy...

And in the evening it's time for some Bollywood fun. The movie Parineeta is being shown in a local movie theatre just this once and I'm going to go.

Somewhere in between I should prepare a social studies exam for the 9th graders for Monday... Yikes. I didn't get it done today, since I spent all my day cleaning up my place. Talking about trying to avoid one's duties, huh? But seriously, this apartment was beginning to look like a hurricane had landed on it, so I'm very happy I got the cleaning done. Now I can concentrate on work. Somewhere along the line, at least. There's a tiny pile of about 360 pages of text to be graded, for example. Yay for that. Uhh.

Gotta go now, it's getting really late and I've got an early wake up call tomorrow.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Remember, remember...

Lately I haven't been doing anything much except working. On an average weekday I go to work to start the first lesson at 8.50 a.m, get home around 4 p.m. and continue working till about 10 p.m. On some days I have nearly fallen asleep on my laptop or lessonplans.

Honestly, I know it's not going to be this difficult for long, because soon I have taught all the courses at least once, but at the moment I sometimes seriously doubt the reasoning behind my career choice. Like the other day, when I had a headache and a bit of temperature thanks to the flu I caught about two weeks into the semester and the students were bouncing off the walls when I tried to teach them whatever it was I had planned for the day. It was literally the first time ever the thought "I can't do this" has entered my mind during a class.

Sure, it was mostly thanks to the fact I wasn't feeling too good physically, but it's really not that nice to doubt one's abilities, not even for a while (and especially not in front of a class - I'm glad I got over it fast). But what it really emphasizes once again, is that I can't let myself become exhausted because of work. I know myself well enough to know that I have a tendency to feel really crappy when I'm really tired. In other words, I'm glad I've been able to get to bed early enough on weeknights and keep the weekends mostly clear of anything mandatory. Reloading batteries is very important.

And besides sleeping, reloading with quality entertainment is what I like to do. Last weekend my choice battery chargers were the movies The Libertine and V for Vendetta and the BBC series North and South.

I went to see The Libertine with mom on Friday evening, after a couple of hours of idle shopping and a pizza for dinner. I was interested in seeing Johnny Depp in yet another impressive role, this time in the role of the notorious Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot. His performance is, once again, admirable. He struts his stuff all over with gusto, making the Earl a character worth hating and loving.

I found the movie fairly good, although the acting was better than the story. I liked the way the movie was lit, all shadier and murkier than your average epoch film. It brought a touch of believability into the movie. For once candlelight looked like candlelight, not like an industrial heavy duty flashlight or something.

But the story itself, well, I thought it could've had something more to it. The life of John Wilmot was certainly a tragic story in itself and for example his last speech to the Parliament, bandages hiding his face, deformed by late stages of syphilis, is a touching one. And whereas the speech is touching, the play that the Earl wrote to the King earlier, is flat out outrageous. Or what do you think about commenting on the current reign (as filled with debauchery as it may have been) with a play that flaunts giant dildos and sexual organs on stage? Might be accepted nowadays, but I can easily imagine how it would've been frowned upon in the 17th century. I think I'd like to read some of the Earl's works some day... ;)

Even though I didn't think The Libertine was a great movie, I did think V for Vendetta was one. Absolutely blew me away. I had heard a lot of praise for it, and had wanted to see it for a while. Last weekend provided the perfect occasion - I wasn't feeling like watching some lighthearted comedy or a fluffy romantic chick flick and rented V instead.

I hadn't read the comic, so I had very little knowledge of the story, what to expect from it. Just a week earlier I was in Finncon and walked around Helsinki accompanied by a friend of mine dressed as V. His wife had painted the mask on his face and it looked great. He and his wife had also recently watched the film and had obviously liked it, too. They told me how the fifth of November is mentioned in the film - and I didn't ask any details, which then resulted in a heartfelt "duh!" when I finally understood what it was all about. And I was really glad I had just watched the miniseries Gunpowder Treason and Plot on tv this summer. I actually knew what the background story was about! How much easier it was to understand where V's ideology came from, knowing Guy Fawkes' story.

First of all, I'm in awe of the acting skills of Hugo Weaving (Natalie Portman was very good, too). It's really amazing how he brought the mask to life and made it very easy to feel for V. It's actually exactly the same as it is with Darth Vader. Despite the character having just one expression moulded on his face, the expressive power is there. Body language, tone of voice - wow. And V, I did fall in love with him a little, I admit it. (And naturally I cried in the end - so technically that makes V the second comicbook/graphic novel character that has made me cry. The first being the Sandman, of course.)

And the message of the movie then? Keeping the current events of the world in mind, the movie is downright scary in its accuracy and the image it paints of the future is chilling. And keeping the past events of the world in mind - I don't think I need to even go any further. I'm actually pretty sure I could use the movie as an educational film on several occasions in senior high. The discussions after seeing it would be interesting. And since most kids don't read books like The Animal Farm or 1984 anymore, maybe the power of the dystopian imagery of the movie would make them think. And most of all see a great example of how popular culture can be a powerful tool for social commentary.

And just as I would like to read some of John Wilmot's texts, I'd love to read the original V for Vendetta comics now. I'm pretty sure someone I know is bound to have the albums and I can borrow them. Right?

Ok, so after crying over V on Saturday evening, I radically changed topics for Sunday, but cried nontheless. The BBC drama series North and South was a wonderful story situated in the fairly newly industrialized England. A perfect Austenesque story of love first rejected and then accepted. Ahh. (And I could use bits of this series in class, too, btw. - See how I don't stop working at all?) Made me feel a bit lonely, though. But that's what romantic stuff does to me nowadays, can't help it. I need to get this series on DVD, too. (Just like the Forsyte Saga. I'm not allowing myself to buy it in September, however, since I already bought the Kingdom of Heaven DC today, whee!)

Oh dear, the time. I'd better get to bed now...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Back to school

Ok, it's time to get into the "back to work" -mood. Tomorrow we have teachers' planning day and on Tuesday school begins for the students also.

Having taken relaxation very seriously last night with Tytti I suppose I'm ready. Sure, it'd be nice to have another two and a half months of peaceful research time, without work related worries, but that'd be called unemployment (or being filthy rich) and as such is not an option at the moment.

So I've spent the day sorting out my papers (should've naturally done that earlier, eh) and doing very light planning work. I guess I'll be ok, once again. And at least I have one thing going for me tomorrow - I still have my brother's cool car (I'm most generously being allowed to borrow it for the time being), because he hasn't been able to sell it yet. So I can drive to work myself! Yay! I feel a bit ashamed to say it, but I hope it takes him a while to sell it, so I can use it for a little while longer...

Ah, better get back to work, then. I have to get most of these papers sorted out by tonight's episode of Bones...

Hmm, when's the next vacation again? :)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Reflections and ramblings

Recently some of my friends have had to do some reflecting on their lives and priorities. How much of personal resources can be used to hobbies, such as being active in various societies, how can one guarantee that there is enough quality time with spouse / family, what kind of requirements does work set, how to manage with limited income and so on. The serious, real life stuff, you know.

These reflections are necessary in life every once and a while, if not for anything else, then for the simple reason that it's not possible to reflect without standing still for a moment. And stillness is a rare luxury in today's world. People dash around looking busy, feeling stressed out and probably achieving less than they could, because they have too many things they're trying to do at one time.

I think I'm very much in the middle of a situation like that. Granted, I don't have a family (meaning a husband and kids of my own) to worry about, but I definitely recognise the feeling of (false) inadequacy, which is the result of having too much to do almost at any given moment. False inadequacy, because I know these things aren't in any way impossible for me to do. But seems they are impossible to do simultaneously, eh. Like reading thesis related books, exam books and planning upcoming lessons at the same time. There's the tiny little limit of not having three sets of eyes, hands and brains to deal with everything at once.

Sure, these are just questions of organising one's time a little better. In this case it may mean I'll skip the exam, because I just haven't had time to study for it (I very nearly broke down in frustrated tears today, trying to understand the damnable economics stuff) and concentrate on doing lesson plans. And since school starts next Monday, the thesis stuff will be limited mostly to weekends from now on, anyway. So, in theory, problem solved - only that if I skip the exam, I'm probably moving the date of my graduation once again further down into the future. Argh. (But if I do go to the exam not having read enough, I won't pass anyway and I end up in the same situation after having "wasted" several hours to trying to scramble through the materials, whereas I could've used the hours for working on the lessons... Sheesh.)

And school then, oh my. It's really quite ridiculous that I'm getting nervous about it again. I should know by now that it's work I'm fully capable of doing (and I'm not too bad at it, either - if I may say so myself), and yet the feelings of doubt and insecurity are back. I wonder how many years of teaching will it take to get rid of this...

I suppose it'll get easier when I've taught all the courses through at least once. Now I have 8th grade history and 9th grade social studies that are completely new to me. I've taught bits and pieces of them, but never the full year. And even the start of the 7th grade history is foreign territory to me, since I didn't teach it last year. In other words, come next Tuesday I'll have three completely new courses beginning, which means quite a lot of work in the evenings for me. Yikes.

Ok, so if I now had to list my current priorities in life, the list could be made very short and simple. (It could also be made a long, rambling list of many things, but I'll keep it simple for now.)
1. Graduating asap, no excuses
2. Doing my best at work, trying to motivate the students and be a good teacher (preferably without sky high stress levels, or 14 hour work days, pretty please?)
3. Maintaining meaningful friendships, because friends keep me sane (and since I don't have a boyfriend to spend quality time with, my friends are my quality time)
4. Family (I have to make time for grandma&grandpa, since grandpa is not going to be around for long anymore)
5. Hobbies (dividing time between rehearsing for one more dance recital to be held in October, editing a fanzine and so on...).

In other words, at this moment my work and my research go before everything. I expect I'll have to seriously cut down my responsibilities elsewhere. For example I'm pretty sure I won't be editing Spin next year anymore. I just don't have the time, sorry to say it.

And that's one heck of an important lesson to learn. To learn to recognise the limits of one's resources. I know I'm having a hard time with it, and some of my friends struggle (or have struggled) with similar problems. The core of the problem is (at least for me) that it's fun to participate and be active, but if there aren't enough people who share that attitude, the workload soon becomes too heavy to handle.

But on the other hand, a simple, stressless life would be awfully boring, right?

After all this seriousness, I'm off to watch Gerard Butler as Attila the Hunn. Heh. That'll keep my thoughts off anything too serious for a while.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Fantastic times

Last weekend was the Fantasy Feast weekend. FF is a tradition of the Turku SF society and this was the seventh time the Feast was organised.

Basically, it's a weekend spent in Sauvo, where the City of Turku has a youth camp center by the sea. People come (dressed in medievalish / fantasy outfits) to relax, participate in different kinds of games and activities, sing, dance, eat and generally have a good time.

This was the second time I was involved in organising the Feast and it was a nice experience, once again - even though the fewer organisers meant a whole lot of working hours per person and ridiculously sore feet for most of us. (I still walk a bit stiffly...) But what's a little pain, if the people who paid to visit the Feast were happy? It seemed that especially the kids who were present had had a brilliant time. I bet they'll have some fun memories.

The most of my Saturday was spent on the beach, under a truly scorching sun. First there was the Tournament and then I supervised a couple of hours of archery practice. No shade anywhere and it must've been closer to 35 Celsius (maybe even more?) , which is a little bit too much for me, too. I generally don't mind heat, but in this weather I'd rather stay in the shade, not under direct sunlight.

Anyway, nobody got hurt while trying out the longbow and the crossbow and I was able to try out my own bow & arrows properly. Seems that I have managed to make arrows that fly pretty swiftly without any wobbling and the bow is beginning to feel, well, mine. Yay me! Too bad I only just realised I should've asked someone to take a few photos of me with my archery gear... Oh well, maybe next time.

For a fantasy fan and a silly romantic like me the FF weekend is a perfect escape from the routines of everyday life. I simply love to see what kind of outfits people have, for example. This time we had as visitors a Shaman, a very impressive Black Wizard with his lady, a group of renaissance style Highwaymen, a few Tudor style noblemen, a Fool, a Wood Nymph, A Barbarian, several beautiful elven and human ladies and so on. It's so nice to see that many people clearly put time and serious effort into their costumes.

On Saturday night, after we had closed the Jumping Dragon Inn at midnight, I wandered to the dark beach wrapped in my cloak, just to watch the stars. If there are moments that are magical, that was certainly one of them. The starry sky (with an occasional shooting star!), the sea, the splashes of fish in the shallow water, the solitary cries of birds... It wasn't all quiet this time, since the Black Wizard was further down the beach playing his tin whistle, which suited the atmosphere just fine. So there I was, wrapped in several metres of purple velvet, under the stars... Very meditative and relaxing - a definite highlight of my weekend. And honestly, if a hobby can offer me moments like these, I can happily remain a romantic and a wannabe elf. :)

Here are a few photos from the Feast. Not very many of them, since I really didn't have time to take that many pics, since I was busy with my duties as an organiser.

This is me wearing the medieval(ish) outfit I made myself. I'm standing in front of the Jumping Dragon Inn.

Wizard Pyroforius was kind enough to perform a spell to light the fire. And a powerful spell it was, too. The blast of flames was huge. This pic, however, is taken a few moments after the biggest burst.

Visitors hanging out at the main square.

A view from the beach, at dusk.

Yours truly, once again. (Did I mention I love that cloak?)

A lady and a courtier.

Like father, like daughter. I was told later that she thought the FF Saturday had been the best day of the summer. How sweet is that?

See how these little wizards are having the time of their lives!

And here are the organisers on Sunday. Tired, but happy.

I don't have any pics from any of the actual events, such as the Tournament, but if you'd like to see more of the Feast, you can visit Tero's Fantasy Feast pic gallery or Pasi's Fantasy Feast pic gallery.

I'm probably completely nutters for saying this, but I'm looking forward to the next time. My thanks go out to everyone who came to the Feast and had a good time and of course to my fellow organisers. I hope to see you all again in, umm, perhaps 2008? ;)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Just me, my laptop and this mellow Sunday

I have achieved nothing today. Absolutely nothing, at least if only stuff that I should be doing is counted. I did finish reading a good book and knitted some (I'm making a poncho for Satu this time). Other than that, I've just slept, eaten, watched television and listened to the construction workers build the scaffolding outside our building. I feel sort of bad for so completely slacking all day, but darned if I can be bothered to do anything anymore. Too late, heh. I'll have to make up for the lost time tomorrow, then. Monday's are good days for getting back to work, right?

Last time I wrote, I was on my way to get me some sea legs on a nice boat trip to the archipelago. And what a wonderful trip it was! Unfortunately I had only my old camera with me, so no pics this time.

Heli's parents boat was very nice. Huge. I'm not exactly sure how long it really was, but I figured it must've been at least some 20 metres long and completely equipped for seafaring also over longer distances, to Denmark and so on (that's where Heli's parents went with the boat earlier this summer). The five of us (me, Satu, Heli and her parents) were quite comfortably accommodated and I'm sure at least another five people would've fit in still reasonably well. We didn't, however, get to try out the in-boat-sauna, since it would've heated up the cabin in the aft, where Satu and I slept.

But a couple days at sea and I felt like I had been away from home for at least a couple of weeks. In a good way, too. There was something unbelievably relaxing in the low growl of the engines, the waves hitting the boat and the shores... We girls spent most of our time basking in the sunlight on deck, reading, talking or napping. (And I've got the sunburns slowly turning into a tan to prove it.) I'm more than willing to say that it was the highlight of my summer. I loved every minute of the trip. I so love to be at sea and it's too bad I don't have the means to do it more often. (Perhaps I have to add a boat to the list of requirements of that Special Someone, hah.)

To make the trip even better, we spent the second night at Heli's family's summer cottage in the archipelago. A truly stunning place. A beautiful (and big) summerhouse (can't really call it a cottage) built high up on a rocky hill, facing the open sea. My god, I could've stared into the distance from the balcony for hours. But the sauna beckoned us, and I finally got rid of my "winter coat" as the saying goes. The water wasn't very warm, but it was still nice to swim in the sea. Relaxation extraordinaire, I tell you!

On Saturday evening I had a garden party to go to. Hobbiton's garden party had been long awaited and turned out it had been worth waiting for. Tytti and her hubby do throw very nice parties. We drank a ridiculous amount of fresh strawberry margaritas, ate well and had a good time. What wonderful friends I have.

A week ago on Monday I got to try something completely new to me. I took a short course on making wire jewelry! Heli has been doing wire jewelry for a while already (and she's advanced into silver wire) and she urged me to come and try it, too. And surely enough, after some five hours of twisting, sawing and fumbling about with tiny loops of wire I had managed to make a nice ankle bracelet out of brass wire and decorated it with glass beads. Go me!

I'm discovering all new handicrafty sides to my life - within a year I've made myself a longbow, a Harry Potter scarf, a poncho (and a half) and an ankle bracelet. In other words I've tried woodworking, knitting and metal work and managed to not mess everything up or get injured myself. Yay.

Well, perhaps I shouldn't consider changing professions quite yet, but new hobbies can be a nice way to break the routines.

One old hobby definitely remains, though. Reading. I just finished reading Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife today. A piece of maintstream literature, which was pure fantasy or science fiction. I suppose Niffenegger didn't intend to write an sf-novel, but that's what it was. Not too bad at it, either.

The story was that of Henry DeTamble and his wife, Clare. He has a strange genetic disorder that makes him travel in time. On these travels he meets Clare, his future wife, and visits her randomly when she grows up. The timeline of the story is, if I'm allowed an understatement, somewhat garbled as Henry travels from his present to his past and future, little by little revealing the whole love story between Clare and himself.

I found the book a reasonably entertaining read. However, I think many readers who haven't read any sf will find it more refreshing and new. For me the idea wasn't anything groundbreaking, to be honest. But as it was a well-written piece of literature, I enjoyed reading it. In other words, it was good literature, but not so good sf. But since it wasn't written as an sf-story, I probably shouldn't judge it as such. But you know, zebras can't get rid of their stripes and I'm pretty stuck with my sf-background when it comes to time travelling stories.

Oh, and another literature related piece of my mind. I just noticed the other day that they're making a movie version of The Other Boleyn Girl! I hadn't known about it before, but now - I can't wait! It'll have Eric Bana (!) as Henry VIII and Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman as Anne and Mary Boleyn. Sounds good to me! Something to look forward to, in addition to the third Pirates movie...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!

I'm so excited! I'll get to go sailing for a couple of days this week (from Thursday to Saturday)! Or technically, not sailing, since it's not a sailboat we'll be on, eh... I don't actually know what kind of a boat it is, exactly, but I do know it's supposed to be quite big. An old wooden motor boat of some sort, with sleeping places for over 10 people and a sauna on board. This is how it has been described to me and I'm already loving it.

It's been ages since I got to go out on sea. If the weather stays like this, we'll have a magnificent trip, I'm sure. The archipelago is beautiful, I love love love the sea and absolutely need to get swimming soon! I can't wait!

And it will all fit my sea-faring mood perfectly. I saw the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie today. I went to the press viewing with Tytti, even though we do both have tickets for tomorrow evening, too. It'll be fun to see it again, though, this time with a bunch of friends. I'll post a longer review later, but I'll say this much. I had a good time, even though I must admit I was slightly disappointed on the whole. But not in the least bit disappointed in the hotness of Orlando. Still there. Very muchly so. ;)

Anyway, I'll get back to all things marine probably on Sunday or something. It'll be all adventures of pirates of the Caribbean and of the Uusikaupunki archipelago then. Arrr!

(But why is the rum always gone? Yo ho, yo ho...)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Jousting the night away

Last weekend saw Turku go back in time to the 15th century, as the medieval market lured some 100 000 people to see what life in town all those centuries ago might've looked like. I spent quite a while browsing through the stalls and enjoying the atmosphere, just like I do every year. It was fun, even though I was recovering from a cold and didn't even dress properly for the occasion (it would've been doubly as hot and uncomfortable wearing a velvet dress), but even dressed in a more modern fashion, I got some money spent...

But what was more interesting this year, was that there was a horse tournament for the first time. You know, knights on handsome horses, sporting against each other with lances and stuff. Well, naturally it was all done in somewhat smaller scale than I imagine tournaments for example in England would be , but nevertheless I had a good time cheering for the knights who were trying to show off their skills. I had mom's digicamera with me, and I took quite a few photos. And here are a few to show what the Finnish knights could do.

The Black Knight shows off his skills before kidnapping the King's daughter.

And so he rides away with the damsel, clearly in distress.

Is there a noble enough knight to save the King's daughter?

Will it be the Blue knight?

Or perhaps the Red one?

Or the Blue and Gold knight?

And in the meanwhile, the Black knight imprisons the lady.

The knights are given tasks to prove their might. Picking up the King's daughter's "petticoat" with a spear is one of them.

Picking up rings with a sword is another.

And one should not forget the slashing of the cabbages...

Mightiest of the knights on his mighty steed.

And they also rode against each other...

The Black knight approaches with no good intentions.

He sets fire around the two knights and they are forced to ride through the flames to safety.

And then there's a terrible skirmish, in which the Black knight is defeated. Or so it seems.

Having made a miraculous recovery, the Black knight returns. And in the end, love wins it all as the Black Knight and the King's daughter aren't too displeased with each other after all...

Not a very original storyframe, but entertaining, sure. Funnily enough the knights seemed to communicate mostly with grunts, growls and arrrr's, but luckily the Fool was articulate enough to elaborate on what they clearly were meaning to say.

The horses were very well trained for the job, they patiently galloped about with their respective knights trashing about with this and that weapon. Very admirable.

I'm hoping I'll get to try some of this "medieval riding" at the Rohan stables where the riders came from. It'd be great to have a try at it before travelling to England (next summer, if everything goes well) and hopefully seeing a tournament in slightly grander surroundings. Like at one of the shows of these people.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

My days in the Tudor court

Thanks to Tigerlily's indirect recommendation, I've just finished reading what is without a doubt the most entertaining and spellbinding book I've read in a while. I stayed up till 3 a.m. last night reading it, and didn't get up from bed in the morning before I had finally finished reading it. (My logic being that once I finished reading it, it wouldn't disturb my work anymore and therefore it'd be better to read the rest of it pretty quickly.)

Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl was a thoroughly enjoyable read. It tells the story of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Mary is the first Boleyn girl to catch the King's eye and she becomes a pawn in her family's game of politics and power in the Tudor court. She is already married to another man, but nevertheless she is ordered into the bed of Henry so that her family of Howards and Boleyns would get the King's favour.

The basic story is sadly familiar from history. Mary is cast aside as Henry's interests turn to the French-court-schooled sister of Mary, the dark and vivacious Anne. She wrappes the King around her little finger and marries him, after he has coldly removed his wife of two decades, Queen Katharine, from court and had his first marriage annulled.

From there on it is all just a question of breeding, really. Will the new Queen provide the nation with a strong male heir? Everything looks reasonably well, when the little princess Elizabeth, the future Queen of unrivalled magnificence, is born. But no son, no prince is born. In the tireless rumour mill that is the court of Henry, the Queen Anne is soon ground to pieces and her destiny is the sharp blade of the executioner's sword.

Although I was familiar with the history, the story still captured me. Gregory writes in a very simple and charming way. Compared to the excellent Lymond Chronichles (by Dorothy Dunnett) I've also been reading lately this was certainly an easier read to a non-native English speaker, if nothing else. I don't mind difficult language at all, it's part of the charm of Dunnett's work (and a challenge!), but Gregory's was the style of storytelling (and use of English language) I'd like to master myself.

In addition to the easy-flowing language, Gregory's choice of telling the story in the first person, in Mary's voice, is very effective. It enables the reader to relate to her, brings her character closer. And that, if anything, is a good sign in a historical novel - in any novel, really. I wouldn't want to read about a character I didn't care the least bit about.

Mary's life is a life of a courtier, and she isn't allowed to decide for herself, not until later in life. She struggles with her conscience as she beds the King while the Queen, whose lady-in-waiting Mary is, turns a blind eye to it all. She struggles to accept and obey her sister's every whim, as Anne replaces her as the favoured Boleyn girl. She cries bitter tears when Anne adopts her and Henry's bastard son, just so Anne could claim young Henry was a legal heir to the throne. But after it all, she is the Boleyn girl who wins it all, as she keeps her life when other Boleyn heads roll - literally. And of course, she also finds True Love. (And that courtship is described so endearingly, that it was nearly impossible to not feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Awww. Nice balance of "fade to black" and telling it all, also. - This is a comment that will probably best open up to the fanfic writers out there...)

All in all, I thought the novel described Mary and her life in the court very believably and entertainingly. Made me want to be able to travel back in time to Henry's court to see the grand masquerades and listen to the courtiers' poems myself. (Not to mention to see some of the gowns described, my gosh.) And besides, after reading a fictional description (even though admittedly quite well researched) of the court life, I'm once again pretty happy that I chose Henry's reign as my thesis topic. What a fascinating period in history it was.

On a tangent line of thought, I do have to say that writing a historical novel is, in a way, also a dream of mine. I've even toyed with an idea for one for a couple of years now. It'll probably never come to anything (I think I need a better idea, first of all), but it really would be a great way for me to express my enthusiasm about history and literature in the same package. I don' t know if I'd want to be a full-time professional researcher, but since I do like doing research and writing and telling stories about history, what better way to combine them than to write historical fiction? (Especially since I will, hopefully, have a steady income from teaching, heh.)

Ah, but I suppose I'd better get off this research break and get back to the non-fictional times of Henry VIII. Today's reading includes some 200 descriptions of different kinds of letters and papers from the year 1540. I've got to browse them through carefully enough to find any and all references to the Order. I've gone through some 800 documents already, and so far I've been able to find less than 20 documents... I hope that the personnel at the Order's archives in London will be able to point out more documents to me, as they said they could probably help me with my research. (And yes, this is just one part of the huge collection of documents from Henry's reign, so I expect I still have some thousands of descriptions to go through, yikes. Help would therefore be more than welcome...)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Feeling cheerful

Ah. A week of summer vacation gone (nine left, yay), various projects coming along fine and some seriously good summer shopping done and summery weather enjoyed muchly.

What else could a girl want? (Ok, I could list a few more things, eh...)

Funnily enough it took me about two days to fall into my daily "schedule" of vacations. Which means that I very rarely get to bed before 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. isn't exactly impossible either. Then I just allow myself to sleep in some. Not the best possible way to get everything done, but seems to work for me. You know, some people are morning people and some people, like me, just aren't. Although I do have to admit it'll be painful in August to try and get back to the work routine again, leaving for work little after 8 a.m. and getting to bed early enough... But I'll worry about that when the time comes closer. Now I can enjoy my quiet hours of the night, by the computer, reading a book or knitting. Isn't vacation fun?

In a completely unrelated matter, I have something to confess. I just love Indiska and I think I'm somewhat addicted to it. Ok, so anyone who knows me around here, knew this already, but I just had to say it out loud. :) You know, "Hi, my name is N.N. and I'm an Indiska-shopaholic." Luckily I don't usually have the money to shop too much anywhere, so my Indiska addiction has been pretty well under control. But sometimes, ah well, the body is weak.

My latest purchases include a surprising item - a lime green piece of clothing. I never, ever thought I could wear anything lime green, but turned out it suits me just fine. I bought a Indian style longer tunic of the colour and I'm already guessing it'll be my favourite piece of summer wear this year. With matching jewelry. :)

How shallow can a person be? I feel utterly ridiculous being so happy about something I bought. But well, I had to buy myself some summer clothes anyway and wouldn't it be awful if I didn't like what I purchased? I suppose it all comes down to the simple joys of life again. I'm easily pleased and not particularly afraid to confess I'm a materialist, at least to some extent. Now if I could only find some nice (and sort of cheap) summer shoes to match... ;)

But so that everyone will see that I haven't become a total airhead, there are also some more serious matters I've been pondering lately. Reading my thesis related books and listing the documents I'll be needing has lead me to wonder whether it'd actually be cheaper for me to fly RyanAir to London for a couple of days to go to the archives myself.

Ordering copies of all the relevant documents is going to be awfully expensive, I'm afraid. First there's a £10 fee for an official estimate of how many copies I will be needing from the National Archives where most of the letters and documents of Henry VIII's reign are kept. Then every batch of copies (I do still have to find out what kind of number of copies is included in a batch, or series) costs another £10 and so on. So let's say I need to order some five or six sets of copies (which to me sounds like an underestimation of huge proportions), the sum would be some £70. Quickly calculated that makes a bit over 100€. Then I can consider the RyanAir flights, around 30€ one way to London. Naturally I would have to spend at least one night in England, if I'm really, really optimistic about the amount of quick copying I can get done in a day (provided everything goes nicely in the archives of the Order and the National Archives), and that will naturally be more than 40€, even in the best case scenario. But still, if I need more copies than six batches, it all suddenly becomes more reasonable to consider going "on location". Besides, if I go to the archives myself, I can avoid copying irrelevant stuff, which isn't the case when ordering copies based on a short description of the document.

This really is bothering me quite a bit. In any case I'm probably going to have to rely on mom&dad's help to pay for the stuff (and I'm not even thinking about the printing costs of the actual thesis later on) and it bugs me that I have to begin to count my cents to finish my studies. And to think that some people get paid to do a thesis... Ah, the injustices of the world. What is a poor historian to do, but to quietly empty her pockets to the altar of research, hoping in vain for some compensation for her troubles... (I just have to keep thinking about the better income from teaching after I graduate. Which helps a lot, in fact.)

And another point to ponder. One of the key studies I'm now almost done reading mentions the Order only once in a footnote and a name of a high ranking official of the Order is mentioned once, as well. Woohoo. A lot of good it does for me. Except for teaching me a valuable lesson in research semantics. The Order is not a religious order by the definition of this particular study, which in every other way is excellent and extensive.

In other words, my research really seems to be falling into a "research void", which of course is what every historian hopes. I just hope it doesn't prove to be too great an obstacle (/challenge) for my puny thesis to overcome. God, that'd be horrible if I couldn't actually write my thesis on this topic. That'd mean I'd have to switch topics basically "in flight" and then put it together in less than two months' time. Keep your fingers crossed that it won't come to that... Yikes.

Anyway, I'm feeling rather optimistic about everything (well, perhaps not about the business economics exam in August, heh) and plan on working accordingly. Hopefully I'll be able to have that graduation party around the 21st of October. Just don't hold your breath quite yet.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Kinda like summer vacation

My first full academic year of teaching comes to an end this Saturday. I'm facing a 2 month unemployment period (aka the summer vacation I don't actually have) during which I'm employing myself by writing my thesis (which, sadly, doesn't pay me a cent).

However, I'm actually looking forward to digging into my research, because it means I don't have to teach anyone for two and a half months... Ah, no students of any age until mid-August! :) Just me and my laptop (got a brand new one last week, yay!) and my research stuff. The thought is very motivating and oddly relaxing, although I know it's going to be a lot of work. Especially since I have to take a few exams during the summer months, too. Keep your fingers crossed that I'll finally pass the accursed business economics exam and the exam on political sciences. I have no worries over the exam in Finnish history, but these other two... Urgh. But I simply have to pass this time, because I won't have time to retake them in the fall.

So, I'm eagerly looking forward to my summer vacation of sorts. At least I can plan my own schedules and don't have to grade any papers! And come next summer, I'll actually get a paycheck during the summer months too. The thought makes me very happy already a year in advance. Small joys of life. :)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

When hell froze over and other entertaining events

Finland is in turmoil. People are seriously questioning their mental health and the number of pinches given and received within the last 12 hours has, without a doubt, at least quadrupled. There are even people who think that it has now been proven that alternate realities do, in fact, exist.

What happened? Well. Finland won the friggin' Eurovision Song Contest with the monster rock number Hard Rock Hallelujah! by the awesome monstergroup Lordi. Yay to the millionth power!

I thought I'd never be able to write an entry like this. Ever. It wasn't supposed to be possible. It was supposed to be more likely for mankind to find life on Mars than Finland to win the ESC. We've participated some 40 times and up til last night, the record was pretty poor. Loads of zero points, awful performances (and I mean some truly dreadful ones) and last places on the score board.

But no more. Lordi rocked the whole continent (and then some) and did what nobody thought they could do. Took the price home and brought the Eurovision Song Contest to Helsinki for 2007.

I couldn't be happier for the band. Their appearance is such that there has been endless debates in the media about whether or not they are some sort of satanists or something. Well, to make things quite clear, they're NOT. And for them to win after having to face so much prejudice and ignorance - awesome!

So now as hell has frozen over (the other thing more likely to happen than Finland winning), it's time for the Finnish national broadcasting company to start thinking about the tiny little business of arranging the contest next year. I wonder what'll become of that. But for the first time in years I'll actually be interested in this carneval of camp humour that the ESC is. Go Lordi! You rrrrraaawwwwkkk!

Other entertaining events include an evening at the movies. Went to see the Da Vinci Code with Tytti and Jani. And I was entertained. Just as I wanted to be, when watching the movie version of the novel.

I think this movie is, once again, a prime example of people taking things too seriously. I can't understand what it is with people and their lack of understanding the concept of fiction. Sure, there are historical factoids (and even some real facts) included in the story, but fercrissakes, it's still mostly fiction and written with the aim to entertain (and obviously earn the writer a few bucks), just like any other lightweight novel.

What never seizes to amaze me, however, is the whole different set of standards people tend to apply to novels that deal with the church and its past. Or perhaps it's envy talking. Here's this mediochre author, who just happens to stumble over an old idea (and yes, that's what the story is) and manages to wrap it up in new covers and make a bazillion dollars out of it. So stop whining - the Templars, the Holy Grail, the Catholic church with its mysteries and the works of Da Vinci have been out there for centuries, up for grabs for any storyteller. If you didn't think of writing the novel yourself, get over it and find another idea.

And the ever powerful Catholic church should get over it, too. I mean, they really should be more worried about how the ban on birth control devices is spreading death and disease and creating misery for thousands and thousands of people around the worlds, instead of waving their fists at some piece of literature, in this case a.k.a. fiction. And if they're really so worried about people getting the wrong ideas about the church and/or abandoning their Catholic faith because of possible misconceptions about the role of Mary of Magdala in Jesus' life or such organisations as Opus Dei - once again, stop whining about it and start a facelift of sorts to attract the "lost lambs" back. And to be frank, if a simple fictional story about the holy grail can make the church feel so vulnerable, isn't there something wrong with the picture in the first place?

Anyhow, back from the land of rant... I thought the movie was a perfect way to spend a Saturday evening after a truly horrible week of work. Relaxing and amusing, with a hint of history and mystery and some action, too. Spot on for me in my state of mental awareness. :)

I actually liked the way they brought the past into the present of the movie by using "ghosts of the past" as a visual aid. And even though the characters had to solve some of the riddles a bit quicker than in the book, they still were awfully slow with the missing orb and Sir Isaac Newton's grave. :) And Paul Bettany's Silas. He was disturbing, just as he was supposed to be. I often quite like Bettany's work and this role was no exception.

Now it's time for me to get back to work. Tomorrow's the last prep course session before the rehearsal exam. Yay! Then it's only the exam and a review session a week from Tuesday. despite the course being loads of fun, I'm going to be so happy to be done with it. At least for a year. Phew.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Living la vida loca

Phew. I'm still alive. A cause for minor celebration, I'd say. Something like allowing myself to go and watch a little bit of Bride and Prejudice or something. Basically just kick back and relax for a short while. I think I've deserved it.

This May seems to be turning into a month of all work and no play, with the prep course going on (we're already two thirds done with it, as far as the materials go), the first week of the month having been a week of triple work (my lessons at school, my mom's lessons at school while she was in Paris and the prep course in the evenings) and now all the essays & 7th grader exams are piling up on my desk, just waiting to be graded. I could use some five extra hours in my days right about now. I'd probably use three of them for sleeping, mind you. But it'd be all for the best anyway, I'm sure. As it is (without the five extra hours), I'm feeling pretty battered. (And hug-deprived, but that's another matter entirely, heh.)

The prep course, no matter how exhausting, is solid good fun. Highly motivating for me, and challenging, too. This year's group is a bit livelier than the one I had last year, possibly at least partly because there are several students that are a bit older than this year's graduates from high school. They seem to have the nerve to interrupt me and ask tough questions, which is such a good sign. Although they do tend to stick to the more irrelevant questions, like the names of people in lower positions in all sorts of committees during the 1840's in Finland - which is so not the point of the book. There is still some historical thinking to be learned there. I keep telling them to think about the questions "why?" and "how?" so that they'd get the required depth to their essays, but it seems to be a tough nut to break, finding the relevant "chains" of cause and effect. But it's great to see how they start getting better results.

What is going to be interesting is to wait for the results of the entrance exam itself. At this point I think there are several students who have a very good chance of getting in, some that have a good chance if they keep working hard and a few who really need to work on their essays. But that's the way it was last year, and most of them got in just fine. I'm just going to be probably almost as nervous as the students will be, waiting for the day when the results come.

Having said all this, I must admit, once again, that I'll be sooo relieved when I'm done with the course. Which'll be on the 30th. I'll be so ready to not have to teach anything for a while. I can just concentrate on my own stuff, according to my own schedules (hmm, I think I may have to spend some time soon just planning that schedule). I'm actually quite looking forward to it. I just hope I'll get my research well on its way soon, meaning that I hope I'll be able to get all the materials I need without too many problems. If that happens, I can just sit down and write, write, write. (And read, read, read.)

But until then, I'll just try to keep my head above the waves, so to say. There are things that need to be done before June 3rd, and there can be no excuses. However, now it's time for some silly Bollywoodish entertainment or something, tomorrow is the day for the next ton of work.