Monday, June 22, 2009

Midnight sun

At some point while the sky morphed from sunset to sunrise on Midsummer night, I realized why this night is so celebrated: the sky never stopped varying in shades of pink of orange, with the sun just dipping below the horizon for an hour or two. It's a view worth its own weekend of traditions...

I was invited to a friend's cottage for the weekend: this is what everyone in Finland does for the weekend: head to a cottage on a lake and hang out in the sauna. And by everyone, I mean EVERYONE: the cities are apparently turned into ghost towns with almost every store, restaurant and hotel emptied. There are standard cottage pleasures: we cooked frequently and ate massive quantities of crepes (cooked them on what I can only describe as an outdoor pan over a cauldron of fire) and potatoes and porridge, went hiking around the lake, and sat on the old rocking chairs and watched the birds. But there are additional Midsummer traditions: in the sauna, we had a vihta: a bunch of birch branches bound together with new twigs with which you thwack yourself. It may sound odd, but it enhances the tingling sensation you get as your skin adjusts from the 15C lake water to the 83C sauna. It also smells heavenly.

More than all that, though, the highlight of the weekend was the dancing. On Friday and Saturday night, we drove about ten or fifteen minutes to the local Dance Hall - a large ballroom on the lake with windows for walls and a wooden patio extending to the water's edge. The bands were excellent and played the whole gamut from foxtrot and waltz to traditional yenka and humppa (which I at least managed to follow, and am quite proud of the fact) - punctuated with a little jive and lindy hop for good measure. The dances started at 9pm, and ended around 2 to 3am. Which meant a new version of jetlag in which waking up at 7am (what? before noon?) seemed rather dreadful this morning.

Fortunately, my hosts warned me about the protocol: you dance two songs (always in the same style) with one partner, and then get taken to the lines. If you want to dance, the women line up along a wall - roughly by age, as do the men. The men then ask the ladies to dance, unless it's the hour of Naisen haku and the ladies do the asking. I had, of course, the additional awkwardness of not speaking Finnish. I was the only foreigner at the dance hall - potentially the only one ever? I found that my line of "Sorry, I don't speak Finnish" in response to my partner's first comment was either a great conversation starter or ender. A few blithely ignored me and continued to speak in Finnish, others in English (with the inevitable question of 'are there dance halls like this in America?'), and one notable one in Spanish (we were both equally amused about our one common language).

Despite my lack of dancing shoes, I managed to dance most of the evening. By about 1am, the floor cleared a little and the bands played a little more of the 50s rock n' roll. There's something particularly endearing about Rock Around the Clock in Finnish - especially when the band has their guitar movements coordinated and choreographed...

1 comment:

bingo said...

Great scans! All the sunset pics are awesome.