Monthly Archives: February 2013

Finnish Tango

I couldn’t help but look at the tango during this month of trying to figure out what love is, in a Finnish sense.  My first response when I was told that the tango was the favourite dance of this country, I think I laughed out loud. But then I looked further and discovered that since the 1930s, Finns have been dancing tango in community halls, barns and taverns, and owning it – having carved out their own official variation, the Finnish tango. There is also a tango festival that takes place each year in a town near where my family is from that draws over 100,000 dancers each year.

What is this about? My experience of the Finns is of a reserved, outwardly serious people. It’s the kind of country that offers a collective shake of the head at laugh-tracks used in North American sit-coms and where you might be considered a little “off” for getting on a city bus and smiling at everyone. It’s not that they are unfriendly (quite the opposite!), it’s just that it’s not necessary to force niceties on one another all the time.


So, I am pretty sure the Finnish Tango has something to do with love, Finnish-style. The songs focus on love, longing, nature and nostalgia – typical folk stuff. But you can get that from just about any folk dance. Why the tango?

The Finnish Music Information Center (FIMIC) describes the Finnish tango as expressing “the longing for love and the beloved …without any trace of the sentimentality or escapism typical of other European tangos. Whereas the Argentinean tango is clearly an element of urban culture and the setting for the events is a shady waterside drinking house, the Finnish tango is often set in the countryside, in the bosom of nature.” The subject of the tango, usually a man, “has lost his beloved, is suffering from loneliness and is overcome by melancholy. He is desolate and longs to be back in the time when all was well.”

While travelling in Finland, I took an overnight ferry to Tallin; this ferry was a mini-cruise ship complete with buffet dinner, floor show, casino and at one end of the ship, the tango bar. I spent the better part of an evening sitting off to the side watching the Finnish passengers dance. The dance floor was always full; the accordion music reminded me of episodes of Polka Time that I would sometimes find one of my parents watching when I was kid; only this music had that serious tango vibe. I remember thinking about the stories my mom would tell about the dances she and her friends would go to when she was young. Riding their bikes to the community hall in the summer, the sun never setting while they danced and danced.  On the ship the dancers were older; dance postures were precise and pressed close, and faces were serious.  I did not catch a lot of coy looks, eyelash batting, or cheeky smiles but let me tell you, those bodies moved around the dance floor and around each other in perfect rhythm. They laid that tango down and it stayed there.

To me, all this tango points to a passion deep under the skin. The kind of passion that doesn’t need to be teased out; it will show itself when the time is right, and the accordion plays that song calling out to young love, green fields and pine forests in the light of a midnight sun. Trust me.



From the Sonata Pathetique

there is love
beyond all the biblical and the social
beyond all restricting conventionality
love that bursts into the veins giving muscles new blood
love that feeds and nourishes without asking what form it should take
realizing its own primordial, haunted, eternal will
love that crushes ruthlessly like a strong current
obstacles in its way, even a weaker love,
that lacks the strength to defend its position or to thrive
love that experiences divinity in its own being
love that tolerates no tyranny,
that is its own omnipotent ruler, its strength and honour
all-powerful, the ten commandments
each of which reads: live, experience love, experience death
love that speaks with the lips of eternity and whose jurisdiction
is infinity; the one it captures feels freedom without dimensions
love that has only one expression and manifestation: the beloved
love that has only one word, melody, and phrase: the beloved
love that has only one path and possibility: the beloved
love that only one who dares may receive: the beloved.

– Lasse Heikkila (translated by Borje Vahamaki)

Love Is Not Cleansed

Love is not cleansed by fire
nor by needless sacrifices
Love is tried on gray ordinary days,
moments of weariness, in deadening work.

The imaginary bride in poetry
twists her gold ring
in her infinite, idle loneliness —
but true love is near
where a man praises his wife’s worn, wrinkled
hands in the dim light of a night lamp
as sleep approaches.

Viljo Kajava (translated by Aili Jarvenpa)

Song of Love

And one day
we bend forward and reach around each other
and with a click get linked together, never again to come loose,
your ailing limbs interlocked with my gout,
my stomach ulcer beside your hear condition
and my arthritis against your sciatica,
we will never, ever part.

And, my dear, you forget your arhythmia, your shortness of breath
and the gangrene
which already resides in your heart
and I forget my catarrh, my restless legs
and the nagging pain in my left side
and may frost and troubles and sorrow come too.

Take my breasts, empty and flat
into your hands, my dear
for one day as you look at them they will hang low,
will you love me then
My bumble bee, my humble-bumble boy?

Lord, teach us to accept the love of the aged,
the love of the young, the love of the middle-aged,
the love of the ugly, the love of the poor,
the love of the ragged
and the love of the lonely.
Teach us to accept love,
for we fear it so.

-Eeva Kilpi-

A month for love, the Finnish kind

So I have been on hiatus – losing the 10 lbs I gained eating pulla, laatikko and all the other goodies over December. No special Finnish recipe for weight loss  except maybe don’t eat pulla, laatikko or other goodies.

I have been thinking about this blog for the past week or so, wondering if I would pick up again and if so, what would I want to focus on for one month. It came to me last night, after spending the day trying write for a class I am in. I spent quite a bit of time trying to put together a short piece, in the style of Finnish poet Eeva Kilpi. She is a beautiful poet, whose short, quick-witted poems capture so much of the ordinary mystery of love and loneliness. After coming up short yet again on my own attempts, it occurred to me that I needed to study love, the Finnish kind, in order to get what it is that Eeva is clearly and concisely capturing.

So it is February, and I will be studying love. Not the love that involves cards, candy, and jewelry that seems to dominate this month (although I like all three just fine). I want to explore ordinary love, a wake-up-in-the-morning-to-the-same-pillow-marked- cheeks-and-bleary-eyed-face with joy kind of love, the kind that has saggy boobs, and knarled toes. Or what about the love that is silent, determined and unmoved, even a bit foolish. Sad, lonely love. Love without the frills. Practical love.

What is this Finnish love I am speaking about?

I don’t know, but I like what I read and see in film so I want to explore it.

To start me off, here is a little Eeva Kilpi for a Tuesday in February:

Tell Me Immediately if I am Disturbing You

Tell me immediately if I’m disturbing you,
He said, coming in the door,
And I will leave right away.

You not only disturb,
I answered,
You shake my whole being.
– Eeva Kilpi –