Sunday, January 29, 2006

Mrs. President, congratulations!

The results are in, Tarja Halonen will continue as the president of Finland for the next six years. Yay!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Love in the Brokeback Mountain

I have just seen the movie I would give all my votes to, if I had any to cast when the Oscar winners of the year are chosen.

Brokeback Mountain. Worth every good word I ever heard of it. Beautiful, touching, heartbreaking, breathtaking - simply an incredibly good movie.

If you are scared of plot spoilers, I warn you at this point. There will most likely be some in this post. If you don't want to be spoiled, go and see the movie first and come back to this post later. I want to get this out of my system right away, or at least the first impressions.

I heard about this movie quite some time ago. I think my first thought was "Heath Ledger? Jake Gyllenhaal? Gay cowboys? How's that ever going to work?", not because I would've doubted the story (I was in fact extremely interested of the story right from the beginning), but because I couldn't see those two actors in the roles. (Of which I knew basically nothing at that point, to be honest.) But as I saw teasers and finally a long trailer of the movie, I began to think I might have been wrong in my suspicions.

And so I was. I've never had anything against Jake Gyllenhaal as an actor and Heath Ledger - well, I just hadn't seen him in that many movies at all, but I didn't quite picture him as an actor to be taken seriously, for whatever reason. But in Brokeback Mountain they both did an amazing job. Subtle, yet complex, quiet but very expressive.

The story, naturally, is based on a short story by Annie Proulx. (I have to find it now and read it, that's for sure!) It tells the story of two young men, who are hired to look after a few hundred sheep during a summer pasture season in Brokeback Mountain. The other, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), is a quiet and reserved fellow, who is going to be married come November. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) on the other hand is a rodeo rider, and the more outgoing of the two.

As the summer passes, the two men find themselves in a relationship that would never be understood, let alone accepted, in the society of 1963. They have fallen in love, maybe a bit reluctantly at first, but the end result is clear. They are in love. I suppose the song title "Truly, madly, deeply" would describe the situation pretty well.

The summer, however, doesn't last forever. Any possible plans of a future together don't stand a chance. Ennis is going to get married to his Alma and Jack is going to return to his odd jobs of being a ranch hand and a rodeo rider.

Four years later Ennis receives a card from Jack, who is going to come and visit Ennis. The reunion is like a rekindled flame, burning with a force of its own. Unfortunately Alma happens to witness the first passionate kisses between the long separated lovers. It's the beginning of a slow end for their marriage.

In between the "fishing trips" Ennis and Jack take in the mountains, the men have to fight to keep their "normal" lives within the accepted framework - in this case meaning supposedly happy marriages, with children, for both. It tears especially Jack apart, piece by piece. He suggests they start a farm of their own, but Ennis won't budge. He's bound up with his responsibilities and the struggle of getting money to pay the bills and eventually, after divorcing Alma, also the child support.

The situation frustrates both men and towards the end of the movie director Ang Lee has chosen to show more of the bitterness that shadows the relationship of the men. We know that Ennis and Jack have been in the mountains for a week, but only when they are packing their pick-up trucks, the desperate emotions surface. Each separation hurts them more and more, until both of them are very close to a breaking point.

How I wished the story of Ennis and Jack could've had a happy ending. How I wished, even though I knew it wouldn't be possible. In the end true love, wide open mountain views and a possible future together have diminished into a blood stained shirt, a postcard view of Brokeback Mountain and a tiny slice of a grassy plain seen out of the window of a lonely trailer home. The sheer sadness of it, of all the lost moments of gosh. I sat with tears in my eyes while the end credits were rolling.

One of the best things about this movie was the fact that it was very easy to feel for all the characters of the movie, not just for Ennis and Jack. Ennis' wife Alma sees how her husband lies to her about his fishing trips, which are really just lovers' getaways; Ennis' daughter grows to have a close relationship with her father despite everything; Jack's mother's short appearance is enough to create a sense of a forgiving and understanding mother... Actually the only character that remains somewhat shallow is Jack's wife, who is basically portrayed as a number-crunching heiress who has a bossy father. Not that her character really would make much of a difference in the story, since she is always left behind when Jack drives from Texas to Wyoming to meet Ennis.

In short, combine all these concealed emotions and suppressed passion to excellent acting and characterisation, plus magnificent sceneries, you've got a movie I recommend you don't miss out on. Go see it. Honestly.

And an un-related note here at the end (I must go and ponder the movie more before I continue on that topic). I have to squee a bit. The new Battlestar Galactica seems to be getting very addictive and interesting. The second part of the prologue-type miniseries was on tonight and I'm captivated. Very exciting. (And woohoo for Jamie Bamber, aka Lee "Apollo" Adama! He's done some growing up since the Hornblower series, for sure. Mmm-mmm.)

This coming spring is probably going to be see me getting addicted to a number of tv shows. I've already fallen for the Italian Elisa di Rivombrosa, yesterday's first episode of Lost made me want to see more of that story, BSG will be a show to stay tuned to and I'll even give Deadwood the benefit of a doubt for at least a few more episodes. I'm not yet sure I like that one after seeing two episodes. I love quality tv entertainment!

But what I probably love even more is quality dreaming, some of which needs to be done asap. Tomorrow's going to be a fun & busy day, with the science fiction society's grand dinner and all - I need loads of beauty sleeping before that. :)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Alchemist, finally

I've been meaning to read Paulo Coelho's Alchemist for years now. I've fiddled with the different editions in bookstores, trying to decide whether I should buy it or not. Last Wednesday I finally did and I finished reading it last night.

What a touching, elegant, warm and comforting story it was. The text flowed and ebbed in a very natural rhythm, just like life usually does. The decisions and (mis)fortunes the boy has to face were easy to relate to, because I think all of us know what it feels like to not be able to follow one's life's path (I don't know how it's translated in English, as I read the Finnish version), because of whatever reason or excuse.

I for one can say my life reminds the life of the man selling crystalware. He had a dream of a pilgrimage to Mecca, but had decided to earn some money before he would go to the holy city. He would see the poor pass by his store, on their way to fulfil their duty as moslems should, but he would not go, because he had an excuse. Eventually, when the boy helped him earn plenty of money, he understood that he'd never go to Mecca. The time for that had passed.

In my life I quite often feel like I'm living a "I'll do it when..." -life. I'll travel when I have money. I'll do this and that when I have achieved this and that. For the most part my excuses for not doing what I've dreamed of are, unfortunately, money related. And I don't have any sheep to sell to get money for tickets. So the story continues, as it ever has: I'll go to London or to New Zealand when I have graduated and have a steady income. I hope I won't wake up one morning and realise that I'm the crystal guy and that my time to follow some of my dreams has passed me by.

What also makes me wonder is the courage needed to follow one's dreams. Have I become so attached to my current life, a life that just plods safely along with no big news year in and year out, that I wouldn't have the guts to do something different? The thought is somewhat worrying. I think I'd like to at least think I would be able to do even radical changes, if needed.

One such radical thing would be moving out of Finland. I have been, occasionally, thinking about moving to England to study & work for a while after I graduate. There's this program for studies in international publishing that sort of interests me. Granted, I haven't graduated yet, but when I do, will I have the guts to take the more difficult road (instead of, say, a secure teaching job somewhere around here) to find out if that would actually be the career & life I'd like to pursue? I'm not much of a risk-taker, that's for sure, and yet even the mere thought, a mere speculation of a situation where I end up following my countless excuses why I shouldn't do something a part of me would really like to do, is terrifying. I'm so glad I got to go to the States as a teenager - I might not have the guts now! Back then it really didn't seem like "any big deal", living in a foreign country for a year. Sheesh. I'm getting old, aren't I?

Well, in any case the book will be given a comfortable home in my bookshelf. I think it's a story I should return to every once and a while, just to remind me that life can be magical and that some dreams really should be followed (or just to check how close I am of turning into the crystal guy...). Listen to your hearts, people. And if you haven't read the book yet, go already! You shouldn't miss out on this one. If nothing else, it's a beautifully written story about a boy and a treasure. Make of it what you want.

(On a slightly lighter and less philosophical note, go visit Wired Temples this weekend. I'm a guest blogger on the Malta blog of my friend Robert. Lots of stuff about the Knights in my life and so on.)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Winter wonderland

Do sane people drive altogether 1800 km just to be able to ski about 50 km? Yes they do. We did. And the trip was worth every single bum numbing moment sitting in the car.

It took us about 13 hours to drive up North. Dad insisted on driving the whole way himself, so I spent my day watching the sceneries and drowsing off every once and a while. Quite relaxing, actually.

It's nice to travel to Lapland (I'll just use that name, even though I know most people don't consider Kuusamo as being in Lapland - it's too far South, funnily enough) with mom and dad. They've been up there many times and are beginning to be quite familiar with the route already. They know which gas stations have nice restrooms (something you do appreciate when you travel through Finland via route 8) and which roadside restaurants are worth stopping by for lunch or what have you. Very convenient.

The further up North we got, the more beautiful the sceneries became - at least when judging by the amount of snow on the ground. The final 300 km or so was truly amazing. It was sometimes hard to tell the sky apart from the ground in the dusk. The sky was constantly grey (we didn't see a glimpse of the sun during our trip - which should come as no surprise to those who know what the Finnish winter is like in Lapland) and when the darkness began to creep in, the snow would look darker too. In the middle of these two, there were the trees. With tons of snow on them. And I'm not kidding either. There was plenty of "tykkylumi" in the trees, or in other words heavy snow, which has settled down on the trees with no intention of falling down (not before the temperature rises above zero, that is). The snow can literally weigh tons and it bends down the trees, some all the way to the ground. So in fact the whole world seemed to be made out of different shades of white and grey, with only tiny specs of black in between.

The surroundings were very nearly eerie, when it really got dark and the headlights of the car were lighting the woods by the road. I wish I could've captured it on film somehow. (My camera was in the trunk of the car in my bag, so I couldn't even try to use it.)

When we finally arrived in Ruka, I was quite surprised to see that the place was quite like any central European skiing resort I could imagine. I've been to a couple of Finnish skiing resorts before, but Ruka was the first one that is clearly more centered around downhill skiing, right down to the general feeling of the place. Lots of young people, lots of Russian tourists and not too many people on the cross country ski tracks. I suppose Ruka is still one of the "coolest" resorts in Lapland, where one should be snowboarding to actually be "in".

Oh well, we weren't there to impress anyone, just to relax and ski. Our cabin was very nice. Four bedrooms (for 8 people altogether), two livingrooms, a tiny kitchen and a sauna. The cabin belongs to two families my parents know and we got it for a very reasonable price for the few days. It was just perfect, as it was also quite close to everything, but in the same time in a very peaceful area. Or maybe the peacefulness of the place was due to the fact that this past week isn't exactly high season.

During the three days time we managed to ski about 50 km. Not too bad, I'd say. It'd been a couple of years since I last had been cross country skiing, but it's a skill exactly like biking. Once you learn it, you can't forget it. I'm not saying my technique is worth mentioning (because it most certainly is not), but I don't fall down, I can cover fairly long distances in an easy pace and I don't have to walk down any downhill tracks. Which is already enough to make the whole experience very enjoyable.

And besides, how could you not love those long ski trips, when the surrounding nature looks something like this? (I'll post my own pics later when I get them, but until then these links will have to do.) Just wonderful. Although the heavy snow on the trees isn't just breathtakingly beautiful, it was also causing all sorts of problems. There were power failures all over Northern parts of Finland, as trees and branches were falling on powerlines. For us the problems weren't that acute, since the Ruka maintenance people did clear out the few trees that had fallen on ski tracks and we weren't living in an area that was really suffering from power failures. Sure the lights blinked a bit, but we didn't end up sitting in candlelight, huddling in our sleeping bags in front of the fireplace during nighttime. Lucky for us, I suppose.

Yesterday morning we got up around 7 a.m., packed our bags, cleaned the cabin and left for home. Exactly 11 hours and 54 minutes later dad drove the car up our driveway in Nousiainen. During the day I felt a bit like Tolkien's Treebeard the Ent, since he said he always enjoyed going South, because it felt like going downhill. That's how it felt, if for no other reason, then because we made the trip South in less than 12 hours and it took us a bit over 13 hrs to drive up. (The difference can easily be explained by one more stop on the way and one longer stop for shopping some groceries for the cabin. But that's the boring version, heh.)

If you're ever in need of a month's vacation in just two weeks' time, I recommend this sort of thing. One week of holidays with family and friends and then an ex tempore -trip for a few days. Made the week seem very long and on Monday, when I go back to work, I'll feel doubly refreshed. A good deal, this was.