A Cultural Reference: Helsinki

The way I travel.

Before I leave for a place I like to read about it; see it in a movie. When I leave, I like to hang on to the memories of a place through music, tastes, pictures. So, I take photographs, fill my bags with food and download tracks by local artists.

I only spent a week in Helsinki and yet, we have this connection, Helsinki and I. My jar of lingonberry jam, bags of Salmiakki and bottles of Lonkero are finished, but I can still imagine myself there through books, films and music.

Film: The Man Without a Past

Whenever someone asks me what film I want to watch I immediately think of The Man Without a Past. I could watch it every day without tiring. In this film by Aki Kaurismäki a man falls asleep in a Helsinki park, is beaten by thugs and declared dead in hospital. He wakes up, with no memory, and leaves the hospital of his own will and is taken in by a complete stranger to start his life from scratch. The man finds an old jukebox, inspires a group of musicians and falls in love with a Salvation Army worker.

I hate to use this word, but it is charming. The main character carves out a simple life, free from history and memory. For a while it seems like life really could be so simple.

Kaurismäki also directed Leningrad Cowboys Go America and pseudo-film noir, Lights in the Dusk.

Books: Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name and Lang: A Novel of Suspense

Most of Vendela Vida’s Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name takes place in, as the title suggests, the far north of Finland. There is a brief section, however, when Clarissa first arrives in Helsinki from America and has an awkward encounter with a young hotel worker that just reeks of loneliness and the sense of feeling out of sorts and lost in a place that you don’t quite know why you came to.

Kjell Westö is a Finnish author who writes in Swedish — it is sometimes quite jarring to remember that there is a large Swedish-speaking Finnish population, and to realise that the street signs in Helsinki are in both languages. Lang is a character study of an arrogant television personality, just past his peak, and his childhood friend that appears out of the past. The book is suspenseful; menacing, and a page turner.

Music: Husky Rescue, Rubik, Manna and Islaja

Islaja sounds glacial; Rubik, melodious; Manna is rock n’ roll sass, and Husky Rescue, cinematic.

Ruoholahti, Helsinki

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