Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Järvenpää, Day Two

Boy oh boy, did we have a full day today!?

After my severe lack of sleep the previous 29 hours, I got a whopping four hours of sleep last night. I woke up once at 3 a.m. and snapped this photo out my hotel window -- it never gets dark!

Woke up again at 4:45, took a walk at 5 a.m. around several blocks in Järvenpää, where it was cool and a bit drizzly, but thoroughly enjoyable.

There were bicycles as far as the eye could see, parked near the light rail station immediately across from the hotel entrance. On closer inspection, I realized that not a single one of them had a lock. There's obviously a lot of trust in this Järvenpää, which is a very safe city.

At first glance it's a little hard to tell from the photo, but if you start at the most obvious point where the bikes are parked, then let your eye go to the left, then around the corner to the right (behind the green metal structure that looks like a bus shelter with the posters on it), the bike parking continues on and on and on and on down the walkway to the light-rail bridge behind the yellow building.

Our Pasadena delegation met at the restaurant in our hotel, the Rivoli. . .

. . .where we all got to know each other a little better and had some breakfast. If you've never had the pleasure of a traditional European breakfast buffet, there's something for everybody, from porridge to pickles to cold cuts to cheeses.

Then we were off for a bus tour of nearby Helsinki, the nation's capital and largest city. The Järvenpää city architect, Mr. Illka Holmila, was our tour guide. We made a few stops along the way.

By the way, we pronounce it Hel-SINK-ee, but they pronounce it HEL-sink-ee, which I'll try to remember for future reference.

Here's Judy Kent walking down a historic cobblestone street with Illka.

Judy had the foresight to bring along a recent edition of the Pasadena Star-News, so here she is with Mayor Bogaard and me in Senate Square, at the base of a monument that is a tribute to Czar Alexander II.

You can't see it from this photograph, but a large statue of Czar Alexander II stands at the top of the monument; what you do see behind us, at the base of the monument, are smaller figures that symbolize various aspects of Finnish life. That's the Lutheran Cathedral in the background.

Alexander's predecessor, Czar Nicholas I, was a hard-liner who gobbled up Finland and made it part of the Russian empire. As I understand it, once Alexander II came into power in the early 19th century, he agreed to let the Finns maintain their largely Lutheran faith and their laws of the land, for which the Finns were grateful (under the circumstances).

We hopped a tour boat that went out into the mouth of the Baltic Sea, passing the archipelago of islands, some with villages, some with private estates, some with military installations and others that are lush in their natural beauty. Reminded me of the Puget Sound.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch on the boat. There were two entree choices. With
sincere apologies to Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph and the rest, I chose reindeer from Lappland, which was delicious!

I don't understand the relevance of pickles with every meal, but they certainly added some color to the dish!

And speaking of color, a few of you know I'm allergic to strawberries. Not the anaphalactic-can't-breathe-gonna-die-get-the-epinephrin-stat kind of allergy, but the severe-rash-with-welts-and-swollen-up-skin variety.

So the waitress brought dessert -- mousse with some kind of red sauce drizzled over it. I asked my obligatory question that I always ask at the sight of any food that's red: Does this have strawberries in it? She went to check, came back and said that no, there were no strawberries -- only "forest berries."

God, God, God, I should have known. Took one teeny, tiny little bite, and then just when I felt the skin on my chest getting hot -- the first sign that this isn't going to be pretty -- the waitress returned to the table in a bit of a panic, saying, "Are you really allergic to strawberries? Because the chef just told me that 'forest berries' are wild strawberries!"

No, really?

By then the boat was pulling up to the dock, and thankfully we were heading back to the hotel. On the ride back the hot, itchy, painful rash was spreading to my arms and around my waist, and just when I thought I couldn't stand it another minute, we arrived at the hotel, I beat it up to my room, applied prescription goo in overdose proportions and then plenty of cold compresses.

It has been about two years since the last time that happened. Just thought I'd share. Poor, poor, pitiful me!

After about an hour and a half of down-time, we all changed clothes and headed out for the rest of our day.

Next stop was Järvenpään Lukio (the local high school), which is relatively new and a model for the nation. The school is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and students learn the basics at their own pace in small classrooms in a setting that is rich in arts and sciences. And get this: Every student has a key to the school! Try that in Pasadena. The center of the three-story school building is a combination study area, concert hall and gathering place. It is surrounded by circular balconies that lead to hallways with lots of classrooms.

Here's our group getting a tour led by the school's principal, Atso Taipale (the gentleman in the gray suit facing Mayor Bogaard).

The young people in the foreground have all visited Pasadena over the years as exchange students.

Look what we found on a bulletin board in one of the classrooms!

To round out the day, we went to the home of the late Finnish composer Joonas Kokkonen, which is quite lovely and was designed by the important architect Alvar Aalto.

We were treated to a piano recital by Janne Mertanen, who performed a piece composed by Kokkonen when he was just a teenager. It was magnificent, and Janne seemed perfectly at home while playing on the composer's personal grand piano. The acoustics were remarkable.

We ate dinner in two connecting dining rooms, and I had the pleasure of sitting across from Janne and learning more about him and his career. He teaches music at the Polytechnic University in Helsinki and is planning a U.S. tour next year. He's also the spitting image of my nephew Mark Elliott.

Others at this dining table were Mayor Bogaard, Judy Kent, Leena Ritala, who is manager of international affairs for the City of Järvenpää, and Kaarina Wilskman, the chairwoman of the City Council.

Järvenpää follows the European tradition of having every local political party represented on the Council. So a certain number are elected from the liberal party, some from the conservative party, others from a more centrist party, still others from the communist party, socialist party, green party and even a "Järvenpää 2000" party. Total number of elected members of the Council: 51. Yep, that's right. Fifty-one.

Kaarina said they meet once a month for several hours, and much of the time is taken up by Council members giving political speeches. The public can sit in the peanut gallery and observe, but there is no public comment allowed. If citizens of Järvenpää have something to say, they have to meet with their respective Council representatives one-on-one.

There's also a subset of the Council, called the Board, that meets more frequently and tackles more pressing issues.

Here's our entire Pasadena delegation, along with our gracious hosts.

Front row, left to right: Donna Heinz, Fred Alcantar, who is the current president of the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee (PSCC); Sheila Lamson; Helena Rummakainen, our Villa Kokkonen guide.

Second row; yours truly; Janne Mertanen; Joanne Stebenne, who is chair of PSCC's Järvenpää Subcommittee; Alan Lamson, who is PSCC's student coordinator; Judy Kent, field representative to Mayor Bill Bogaard; Leena Ritala; and Karin Warner.

Back row: Kaarina Wilskman; Ilkka Holmila, the city architect; Helena's husband, whose name I regret I do not know; Järvenpää Mayor Erkki Kukkonen; Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard; and Michael Warner, who is chair of PSCC's German Subcommittee.

OK, I'm going to bed now. Someday I'll figure out how to do these blog postings and photo uploads more quickly, instead of taking hours. (Should I ask Aaron to be my tutor?)



Aaron Proctor said...

Did Bogaard sing "Finlandia" yet?

- AP

West Coast Grrlie Blather said...

Post take hours, believe me. Especially posts with pictures. You're doing a great job.

West Coast Grrlie Blather said...

I mean "posts." As far as I can tell, there are no shortcuts.