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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Helsinki New Year

I'd always planned to head to Senate Square for New Year in Helsinki, whatever the weather.  It's supposed to be the Times Square of Finland, and this year was going to be even more over the top as the city celebrated being named the World Design Capital for 2012.  (Just because I don't appreciate modernist design doesn't mean that others can't like it.)  I'd been warned that there'd be lots of drunks (woopie) and folks might get a little wild (double woopie [I'm imagining Mrs. Steele cracking up right now.]), but I figured how often would I be in Helsinki for the New Year.  Besides, if it got too cold or out of control, God made the ole 3T tram.

Then I got bronchitis.

Then Ted hurt his leg.

By now we're both on the mend--I no longer sound tubercular, just annoying, and Ted's fine unless he has to walk for awhile on cement (that is, almost all of downtown Helsinki)--but I decided that I'd opt for the better part of valor and stay at home with a glass of mulled wine and the TV broadcast of Senate Square. (I know; there are all sorts of rude things that can be said about the idea of broadcast fireworks but oh well.)  I was, though, determined to make it to midnight.

What I didn't count on were the Finns.

I have never, ever lived in a place so obsessed with fireworks and
where HUGE ones were readily available.

As soon as the sun went down--and around here that's before 4 pm--the fireworks started.  Thank GOODNESS, Ted isn't too disturbed by them.  At first, he stood up and woofed once or twice--at home he barks at any that he can see over the trees--but then he settled down and began snoring.  Really, from 4 pm to well after midnight, fireworks were going off all around us.

I discovered why when I went outside to take Ted for his final evening walk: the park.  It had stupidly never occurred to me that people would be shooting off HUGE fireworks in a park surrounded by trees and shrubs in the middle of a residential area!  Yes, here we run into one of the real differences in mind-set between a Californian, who sees fire possibilities everywhere, and Finns, who normally do this with snow everywhere.

So we walked outside to find big fireworks, not just spinners and bottle rockets, going off right outside the Towers (must've been a great view for the people in the front of the building).  Then, too, there were people setting off fireworks all around the beach (1-2 blocks to the right) and the lake (3 blocks to the left).  I mean, these were real ones, too: the type that you can see over large chestnut trees.

Well, Ted didn't know quite what to make of it, and since he's never reacted to fireworks before, except for the barking, we stood and watched for a few minutes.  (A training opportunity and entertainment combined.)  He was fine through a big one that exploded right over the park and scattered glistening bits--I think they call them "sparks"!--all over, but he finally decided he'd had enough when someone set off a screamer at the same time as several fountains.  Given that I have VERY rarely ever seen Ted rattled by something, it was kind of a surprise.  He didn't do anything dramatic, just his tail got a little lower, his body slid into that full "alert dog" pose, and when I started back towards home, he led the way, pulling more than he usually does.  Once inside, though, he settled back down; it's as if the walls were his security blanket.  He was even quite happy to watch more fireworks from inside the common room, which has big and low windows, that's down the hall.  Needless to say, this morning the walk in the park was fascinating for him, and there was absolutely no sign of him being bothered by last night.  The smells, though, the smells ...! :-)

After that surprise, I settled in to watch a movie, then around 11:30 I turned to the main, national Finnish television channel to watch the televised Senate Square festivities.  (A brief aside for those of you who aren't familiar with European television.  Most European countries with which I'm familiar have 2-4 "national" TV stations supported by taxpayer dollars.  They aren't like public television at home; rather, it's a carry-over from when the government controlled all media outlets.  Beginning in the late 70s or 80s, depending on the country, media gradually began to privatize throughout Europe, but the national channels are still big-time here.)  After about 10 minutes, I just couldn't take it anymore and had to start a running commentary about what I was watching.  Here it is, with a few changes for coherency.  I've also added some photos that I, admittedly, snagged off the internet to give you a sense of what I was seeing on the screen.

  • The square seems really packed, although I don't know why I should be surprised at that.  Makes me glad that I didn't go down, especially with Ted.  Then again, he relished the "Rally to Restore Sanity," so maybe the crowd thing is more me.
  • Okay, there is a gian rubik's cube on a pole about 20 feet up in the square.  Please explain. (Why can I just imagine some drunk trying to climb up there to "solve" it.)
Here they're just installing the rubik's cube.  At night it was lit up like a real one.  The stage to the left is where the singers and other entertainment were; the fireworks were set up on the steps and right in front of the steps of the cathedral.
  • Okay, pride of place (in other words singing during the last 15 minutes) has gone to this very odd looking guy who's clearly quite popular: middle-aged, a little tubby, with a bad short haircut and wearing a black "hipster" suit with a mongrel red scarf.  Since I can't understand Finnish, I don't know if the lyrics he's singing are any good, but the tune is certainly mundane pop.  (Sorry, I couldn't find any pictures of him.  I wonder why.)
  • The thing I especially don't get are his back-up singers and dancers.  They're wearing these strange red or black and white striped shirts and, believe me, in many cases the guys are prettier than the girls--and have longer hair in nicer buns.  It's a little hard to watch them and the singer sing some song about shaking their booty (Really, the title was something like "Shake your bun-buns." I couldn't make this up if I tried). 
  • Oh boy, now he's got another layer of back-up singers wearing huge, red boas, black velvet caps, and black dresses that look like tents--truly, they're modeled on a mu-mu. (Based on later images, I think two of those singers are actually other Finnish pop stars.  That makes a little more sense because they're about my age and build, not what I usually think of as rock-n-roll back-up dancers and singers.) 
  • Okay, I'm starting to get flashbacks of my time in Switzerland where we went channel surfing to find that the main Swiss channel was showing overweight, elderly women doing aerobics at some folkfest.  (And, yes, that's another one that I just couldn't make up.) 
  • The light show against the cathedral is pretty cool, although I wonder how they chose the images that they'd project.  Some of the 3-D images work really well, but I could live without the techno, house music stuff.

  • Please explain the giant gong with Chinese characters on it on stage.  I mean, I see that they count down and hit it at midnight, but why a CHINESE gong.  Is this some sort of Orientalism run bizarre?
  • Interesting.  They're starting with a smoke, lights, and sparkler show at the base of the cathedral.  I would've expected the fireworks right at midnight, but I don't hear any thumps as if big ones are going off.  (Fireworks would come later, as you can see below.  The top picture actually shows things to the east of Senate Square, while the fireworks at Senate Square are in the second picture.)

  • OMG, they're actually lighting the fireworks from the cathedral steps while people stand in the square just beneath them!  Right overhead, 20 feet away, no water or snow around!!!!  The Californian in me is FREAKING out.
  • If they're going to sing a song in honor of the New Year in English, does it really have to be one that is SOOOOOOOO insipid?!  Please just sing Auld Lang Syne. Banal sentiments about peace on earth, equal opportunity and kindness for all just trivialize important things.
  • They just ended the broadcast with a shot that was clearly taken from the top of one of the taller buildings around, and you could see fireworks all around Helsinki and the suburbs along the waterfront and in the bigger public parks.  Wish I was out there, but after Ted's little startle this evening, I figure I'll just hang out with him.

After such inspiring moments, Ted and I crashed out to the sound of more fireworks and woke up this morning to a fireworks graveyard in the park and a wonderfully calm city!

I hope you all had a lovely New Year! (Will miss having the Rose Parade on at sometime today!)


  1. ha ha ha, this all sounds rather familiar. Although up here in the sticks we had plenty of snow. I think the weird over excitement about fireworks here is that they are only allowed them once a year for 12 hours. It clearly all just gets too much for them ;)

    Happy new year to you!

  2. ..and this is why we pay so much taxes. All this was funded by the taxpayers, naturally.