therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the tag “Finland”

#Election2016: Countdown

         img_2763   It has never, ever felt so good to seal and stamp an envelope as it did after I filled out my ballot last week. Sure, I miss the old ritual of going to my local polling place, but sitting down and getting it done at home, good and early, felt great. Especially this year.

Of course, especially this year.

And now I’m going to tell you a few of the people I voted for.

I voted for the third graders I tutor in an afterschool program. One of them told me last week he was “so scared Donald Trump was going to win.” The others all chimed in. “We’re scared too!” “I hate Trump!” All of them are from refugee families; most come from Somalia. I wondered what they’ve been hearing at home. Can you imagine how horrifying it is to watch this election unfold, if you’re a refugee from anywhere—but especially from a Muslim country?

I also voted for another refugee: Henry Grundstrom, my great-grandfather, who, according to his naturalization papers, “foreswore his allegiance to the Czar of Russia” to become a United States citizen in 1898. Henry was from Finland, then under the Czar’s thumb. If he had stayed, he would have faced conscription into the Czar’s army. What would he have thought of allegations that Russian hackers could be trying to influence this election?

I voted for Viktor Warila, my other Finnish great-grandfather, who staked a homestead claim in Montana in 1910 and raised six children on the windswept bench lands between Billings and Yellowstone.

I voted for Lydia Warila, his wife, who traveled west from Ellis Island with her name and destination pinned to her coat, because she spoke not a word of English.

I voted for my Scottish forebears, who built houses in the Carnation Valley and on Queen Anne Hill, and for my Swedish great-grandfather, who left his Minnesota home at 18 and headed to Alaska for the Yukon Gold Rush.

I voted for my elegant grandmother, an orphan, who gave herself a whole new name when she was a teenager, because in this country you can do that. Because do-overs are in our DNA here. Unless you are Native American or your ancestors were brought here against their will, your people, too, came here because they wanted—or needed—to become something new. Just like my Somali students’ parents. And here’s the part that is apparently very hard for some Trump supporters to understand: in this country, we allow do-overs that don’t rob you of your core identity. You’re allowed to keep your religion, customs and language. My grandparents grew up speaking Finnish at home and attended Finnish Lutheran churches. Many of the Somali students in my neighborhood are trilingual: they speak English at school, Somali at home and learn Arabic in their religious classes.

I also cast my ballot in honor of my mother, who would have been SO thrilled to vote for the first woman ever to be a major-party candidate for president.

And I voted for my college: Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater too, which has been educating women since fifty years before we could legally vote for president, and whose founders wanted the college to prepare women for “great conflicts” and “vast reforms in social life.”

For Hillary Clinton, Wellesley was just the beginning of a lifetime of preparation for great conflicts and vast reforms. And for her, and for every woman in America, this election is much, much more than an opportunity for symbolism. It’s our chance to say: the great conflicts we face are real. Vast reform is needed. We need a president who knows these truths, and is ready to get to work.

That’s who I voted for. Let the countdown begin.

 

Imperfection

I’m having an imperfect moment. My coffee’s lukewarm. It’s a cloudy day. My go-to classical station is playing a composer I’ve never heard of.

But wait: this tune is hauntingly beautiful. Balakirev, whoever you are, your Spanish Melody in D Flat is soothing me into seeing this morning differently. I now see that this gray sky is hiding some brightness; look at the way the fifty different greens of the trees are popping against it!

Imperfection: It’s a great way to go.

I just came home from a gloriously imperfect trip to France and Finland. Our budget was middle-brow: a dollhouse-size room in Paris; 3 to a room in Finland. But I love traveling this way. I love knowing that imperfection is going to abound, because it removes all pressure to achieve that nonexistent, vacation-ruining goal of Perfection with a capital P.

We Americans don’t take enough time off. Expedia’s annual survey rates us as one of the most vacation-deprived nations in the developed world. That puts enormous pressure on the time we do take. We want every moment of our trip to be perfect. If we don’t get perfection, we feel let down. If we’ve sprung for a big plane ticket to another continent, the pressure on our precious vacation moments is especially intense.

Nearly 25 years ago, my husband and I started our marriage by quitting our good jobs at a Seattle TV station, pooling our modest stash of cash and buying round-the-world plane tickets. We traveled for ten months and came home flat broke. There were people who thought we’d lost our minds and others who thought we were simply foolish and irresponsible. But it was a deliberate decision. We wanted to seize this brief window before we had children, before we set ourselves to the 20-year task of trying to achieve work-life balance, and instead learn a very different, but no less important, skill: how to partake of the banquet of the world. How to savor the imperfect moment: the picnic on a stalled Spanish train, the cold papaya on a sweltering Bangkok street.

Paris is particularly challenging for perfection-seekers. It offers some of the world’s most stunning cultural treasures, most delightful strolling and people-watching, most renowned food and romantic vistas. But unless you’re in the top oh-one percent, you will likely stay in a room that redefines the word “small.” Unless you’re a celebrity, you will stand in line to see the treasures of the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre. And unless you speak fluent menu-French, you will not always get what you want at the charming bistro or café you were so sure would be perfect.

All of which makes Paris the perfect place to embrace imperfection.

It rained while we were there. Quelle dommage! So we crowded into the nearest café, which happened to be the plastic-tented patio of the historic Florence Kahn Bakery in the Marais district. We sipped our tiny coffees and ate pastries we never would have tried—Parisian versions of samosas and rugelah—had it not rained.

In fact, it rained several times on our trip. And each time, we wound up somewhere we might not have on a sunny day: an arthouse cinema showing old Marlene Dietrich films; a massive museum exhibition devoted to Bob Dylan.

This summer, I’ll be staying closer to home. But I’ll be seeking and reveling in the imperfect moments. Because here’s the good news: they are always right here in front of us, rain or shine, in Paris or Seattle.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

May Day in Helsinki

“Demand less!” shouted a tall, stylish blond into a megaphone, right above my ear. “Love is free!” I spent this May Day in Finland, where there was no vandalism, no mayhem; just several thousand marchers strolling in the sunshine, waving signs and shouting the occasional non-threatening slogan. Occupy your mind. Demand life, not capitalism. Spring comes to everyone!

Spring is a big deal in a country that straddles the Arctic Circle. May Day is as much about celebrating snowmelt and sun as it is about politics. In Helsinki, May Day begins the night before, with a giant celebration of education in this country with one of the most acclaimed public school systems in the world. High school graduates—of all ages, not just this year’s grads—don their traditional white, nautical-style school caps and throng the center of the city. A cap is thrown on the head of everyone’s favorite mermaid statue, champagne bottles start popping, and spring, graduation and May Day are all officially welcomed.  The next morning, the party continues with the all-city May Day march, after which everyone adjourns to lavish picnics in the central Kaivopuisto Park.

I marched and picnicked with my sister, my niece and my Finnish friend Kirsi.  Kirsi and I met 25 years ago, when she was an exchange student in Seattle and an intern at the TV station where I worked. Now, she’s a producer of documentaries and TV programs in Helsinki. She credits that long-ago intern opportunity with launching her career. I credit her with giving me an experience of Finland I never could have had if I’d stumbled into Helsinki on May Day as just another unsuspecting tourist.  (I would also like to thank the inventors of the Internet for helping us keep in touch over the many years in which we both raised children and were busy building careers.)

Before we started marching, Kirsi took us to the tent headquarters of Helsinki’s Occupy movement, where we warmed our hands over a wood stove and talked for a few minutes with two young men who had been living there, off and on, for months.  We stopped into the nearby symphony hall to use the restroom (yes, it was open to marchers!) and ran into a TV director friend of Kirsi’s, who invited us up to his booth for a bird’s eye view of the stunning, brand-new venue, where the symphony would be playing a free Welcome Spring concert that afternoon.

It was all so congenial, so easy-going.  Not all of the protesters agreed with each other and there were bystanders and concert-goers who had no interest in marching at all. But everyone respected each other’s right to have an opinion and to express it out loud.

And yet there are Americans who think “European” is a bad word, as if it connotes—what, exactly?  A place where people spend too much time picnicking and protesting and not enough time working? A place where people are spoiled and pampered by big-government perks like basic health care and high-quality education?

This was my first trip to Europe in ten years. My first ever, to Finland. I am coming home inspired in ways that surprise me. There’s a love of community that I want to bring home to my neighborhood. There’s something to be said for sinking roots in a place about which you care deeply, as opposed to moving on when you get restless, an impulse far more common in newer countries like ours. And something to be said for folding new ideas like free speech into ancient rites like welcoming spring; celebrating in age-old ways, but with new faces in the crowd: immigrants and visitors from far-away places. And new slogans: “Demand Less!”

What an idea: we could make the world better by demanding less. Living in smaller spaces. Driving smaller cars.; walking, biking and using public transportation. Taking pleasure in simple things, like a picnic in the park.

I think there’s a place where that’s happening. It’s called Europe.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Immigrant Nations

By the time you hear this, I’ll be in one of the world’s great immigrant nations: France. One in five people in France were either born in another country, or their parents were.

In the United States, we count differently: “foreign-born” does not include children born here to immigrant parents, who are granted US citizenship at birth.

So it’s hard to make a direct comparison. But the US Census says 12.7% of us are foreign-born, as of 2010, which is close to where we were 100 years ago, when immigration was at its peak.

And yet former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had this to say in a recent speech: “I don’t know when immigrants became the enemy.”  She said one of the greatest disappointments of her career was the Bush administration’s failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.

I know there’s a lot of anti-immigrant backlash in France, too, and I’m sure I’ll hear more about it on my trip. But it makes me sad to think that our country’s self-image of open arms and opportunity, of the Statue of Liberty lighting the way for newcomers to our shores, has slipped so far that effective immigration reform now seems further away than ever.

Condi Rice went on to say our immigrant culture is, quote, “at the core of our strength.” She’s right.  And we forget, at our peril, that nearly all of us have immigrant roots.

After France, I’m headed for the first time in my life to the country my own ancestors came from: Finland.

I’ll be retracing the steps of my great-grandmother, who traveled from Finland to Wyoming in 1899. Her name and destination were pinned to her coat because she didn’t speak a word of English.

When I stumbled across Iceland Air’s unbeatable deal, my first impulse was to close that window, fast. But Finland haunts me.  My great-grandmother haunts  me.

By the time she and her husband staked a homestead claim in Montana in 1910, they were both 40. But they’d bought into the optimism of the West. They were a new generation of settlers, wholly unlike the early Oregon trailers. They were Americans now, though they spoke Finnish at home and taught it to their six children.

I don’t know what I expect to find in Finland, so poor when my ancestors left; now one of the most affluent, progressive countries in the world.  Remember that 2010 Gallup Happiness poll? Finland came in second, after Denmark.  For the record, the US was 14th and France was 44th, but maybe that’s because the French just don’t like to admit to anything as bland as satisfaction.

In Finland, I’ll do what Americans do: hunt up distant relatives; find the towns whose names I’ve heard all my life: Kaustinen, Raavi, Oolu. Call it a pilgrimage; call it a search for the prequel to a story I’m still writing: my own.  Call it a shout out to immigration.  I don’t always find myself agreeing with Condi Rice. But  I’m with her on this one.

Post Navigation