Helsinki: Day One

The rear hatch of our Finnair Boeing 757 wouldn’t close. Turned out there was a bottle of gin wedged into the mechanism. Our flight was delayed for an hour as they taxied us across Pearson to a special chop shop for airplanes and brought in the Jaws of Life (they could have just smashed the bottle and swept up the bits, but that would have been a waste of good gin). Nobody explained to us how a bottle of gin could have gotten wedged in there in the first place, but the thunderstorms and resulting turbulence over Quebec drove that issue from our minds anyway. Then the overwhelming smell of turpentine that flooded the cabin just prior to descent. No explanation for that either, although Caitlin speculated that the copilot might be finishing an end-table up in the cockpit.

Anyhow, after making it to Helsinki in one piece, we felt strangely compelled to visit the local graveyard. Doctor-Who-reboot fans would love the place; it’s full of stone angels. A disproportionate number of them have affected a curious pose: hands down, palms facing the graves as if the bodies interred within were subject to some kind of ongoing obedience training: Down, corpse. Stay down. Don’t rise, that’s a good body.

Purveyers of Finland's Cemetarial Accessories Always Design With the Zombie Apocalypse In Mind.

Afterwards we made our way to the Temppeliaukio Church, which appeared to have been literally blasted from bedrock: an underground amphitheatre with a copper-domed ceiling, walls of raw bleeding rock, and awesome acoustics. I have raved in the past about religious edifices elsewhere in Europe, at the obsessive-compulsive detail that went into each life-sized lizard and cherub carved across centuries. Next to the fractal geologic simplicity of this place, though, those things are as overwrought (and about as bomb-proof) as Vegas wedding cakes. At some point Caitlin will be serving up, on her own blog, a variety of views and commentary regarding both the church and the (unrelated) cemetery, including a piece of rather odd headstone statuary featuring Jesus sitting on a toilet. So keep your eye on her for more detail; here, I merely serve up a taste.

Lest you get the idea that the Finns are an especially religious lot in the traditional Christian sense, though, let me put your mind at ease with this monstrous ebony idol centrally located in Helsinki’s main town square. I don’t really know what it is, but given its pride of place I can only assume that it is the god of these proud and fierce northern peeps:

Anyone who has been forced to deal with infants of this age can attest to the veracity of this likeness.

Note the mortal human, lower left in the right-hand picture, for scale.  Also the gull was incinerated by a bolt from the blue a few moments after these pictures were taken.

I think I’m going to like it here.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday July 03 2013at 07:07 am , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

17 Responses to “Helsinki: Day One”

  1. The Finns have always been rightly feared by their neighboring tribes due to their unholy mastery and domestication of the reindeer, clear evidence of wizardry at the very least. Furthermore, they alone know the truth about Santa and this is deeply disturbing to the rest of Scandinavia. No, the Finns are to be left alone. After all, who knows what they could do to your Nokia cellphone if you were to make them angry.

    All of this being said in an attempt at humor, the rumor is that however much anyone might think the other Northern peoples know how to party, the people of Finland have a reputation for a really astonishing capacity for consumption of alcohol. And when it’s not available, turpentine. 😉

  2. Seems to me that the statue is from the same series of “Angels-Demons Parade” (half-angel, half-demon) that they have here in Lille, France.
    Artist would be the Russian AES+F group: http://tinyurl.com/pyfcab6

    Have a nice stay in Helsinki!

  3. Oh, you’re here already. I’m sorry to say I can’t come and see you – making the trip would apparently cost a hilarious €300 I haven’t got, and I think it’s a little late to start push-biking from Lapland now.

    Take comfort (for comfort you shall surely need, having just learned you’ll not meet/entertain in the back of the audience unbeknownst to you a taciturn dwarf you never even knew existed – although I’m sure there will be other dwarves present) in knowing that barring my logistic difficulties, your appearance at the coming Finncon would have constituted good enough reason for me to leave my flat during daylight hours for the first time in some five years and willingly wander into a crowded space likely for the first time in my entire life. Enjoy your stay, and stay off the turpentine!

  4. These life-sized carvings of lizards – any good? Where would you find them?

  5. Lars:
    These life-sized carvings of lizards – any good? Where would you find them?

    Well, they’re a couple hundred years old so they’re a bit chipped around the tail, but I ran into them scurrying around the doors of a cathedral in Nantes.

  6. Thanks, Peter.

    Always interested in seeing depictions of the Modal Tetrapod.

  7. I actually visited that same underground church a decade ago in the dead of snow-stormy winter. It was on a stopover from New York to St. Petersburg, Russia, and holy shit, was it cold.

    But the people we met and drank with there were incredibly nice, and the flickering candles along the weirdly winding stairways of Temppeliaukio warmed our inebriated hearts. I remember it well. Or at least I think I do.

    Have fun over there!

  8. @K
    €300 ?
    You can get from Bucharest to London and back… once.. maybe. If you buy tickets way in advance. And it’s something like.. less than a week of pay even for low-skilled labour in Finland, I’d guess, and I’d say people who read the crawl are most likely belong to either students or the skilled workforce..

    Then, there’s hitchiking and car-jacking for the less-moneyed. Exciting also. Once played Master of Orion 2 online with a guy who got both raped and arrested by the FBI while hitchiking. I must get the story out of him one day… of the arrest, not the other thing.

  9. Obligatory Gargoyles reference: http://youtu.be/CjI0TdvVbqI

  10. @Y, who wrote in-part: [o]nce played Master of Orion 2 online with a guy who got both raped and arrested by the FBI while hitchiking.

    Totally apropos of nothing, I read this and thought “must be one hell of a story, lots of people have been arrested by the FBI but how many have ever been raped by them, too?”[1] Shades of R Scott Bakker’s Neuropath! And people wonder why I never ever even exceed the posted speed-limit.

    FWIW, back in the ancient days of yore, I used to hitchhike quite a lot, doubtless I saved a lot of money, and in many cases was able to get to places I couldn’t otherwise have been without having rented a car. Nowadays? “Neither hitchhiker nor ride-giver be, or soon there will be a movie labeled ‘based on a true story’ that’s all about your untimely and horrid demise”.

    Ref: 1. There’s got to be a blockbuster summer movie script in this idea. Or maybe even an HBO mini-series.

  11. I suspect he was raped by the people with whom he later got arrested, I imagine.
    Anyway, he went on to do really well and seems to be one of the best adjusted people I’ve ever known, so maybe getting raped if you’re a man isn’t that big of a deal.


    “Neither hitchhiker nor ride-giver be, or soon there will be a movie labeled ‘based on a true story’ that’s all about your untimely and horrid demise”.

    I’m thinking that once I get around to obtaining my kind of car*.. I’m going to take hitchikers.. but I’ll probably have a mesh screen in there too.

    *a big, V-6 or V-8 SUV that’ll run on fuel that cannot be taxed. I’ll put some railtrack at the rear end to take care of tailgaters..

  12. Mr Non-Entity:
    Totally apropos of nothing, I read this and thought “must be one hell of a story, lots of people have been arrested by the FBI but how many have ever been raped by them, too?”

    well, you can parse it both ways, either he was first raped by someone and later on arrested by the fbi, hopefully not for being raped and thus engaging in sodomy. yeah, i’m a cynical asshole…

    or he was stopped by the fbi, subjected to a body cavity search and then arrested.

    or he was stopped by some sexual predetor of a police officer.

    as for the finns, also remember that as some finn once put it, in ww2, they fought on the wrong side for the right reasons and even won. might explain some local ideosyncracies…

    oh, and subterrean churches that might double as nbc bunkers are strange. there is another one in lourdes,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_St._Pius_X

    though i don’t remember that one much, the french-lebanese supermodel my brother got talked to by was much more salient…


  13. as for the finns, also remember that as some finn once put it, in ww2, they fought on the wrong side for the right reasons and even won

    Funny situation. Three Finnish Jews were even awarded Iron crosses, but they told the Wehrmacht to wipe their arses with those.

    The way I see it everyone fought on the ‘wrong’ side in WWII. USSR and DR were both morally almost indistinguishably black, and USSR style communism went on to kill more people than Hitler ever dreamed of.

    Is wholesale eradication of ethnics morally worse than wholesale slaughter of people in order to keep population terrorized, or deliberately causing mass famines?
    Hard to decide.

  14. @Y who wrote in-part: […] he went on to do really well and seems to be one of the best adjusted people I’ve ever known, so maybe getting raped if you’re a man isn’t that big of a deal.

    Well… the experience might tend to give a man a bit more sympathy/consideration for women who go through the same. Not suggesting that the world would be better off if there were roving squads of well-equipped ahem better not go there, but you know, adjusting the attitudes of those who needed adjustment. Psychopaths only need apply. I shudder to think, etc etc.

    More seriously, and this would speak to Trottelreiner, if you were to look into “Lawrence of Arabia”, you’d see some disputed allegations that when he was captured by the Turks, that he was repeatedly sodomized as part of a psychological torture meant to break him. Whether or not this happened to Lawrence is disputable but that the Turks regularly used sodomy as psychological torture isn’t. They also certainly weren’t the first nor only. Male-on-male rape, in or out of prison, is generally one of the most shattering experiences a man can endure, affecting them in the same way that rape affects women, possibly moreso.

    Back to “Y”… it’s possible that trauma can lead to years of therapy that eventually go far beyond dealing with the original trauma. A “better person” might be the result. Given the original event, though, probably it would have been better to have an unrepentant and unreconstructed non-victim than a well-adjusted and self-actualizing victim. Can’t say otherwise or we’ll provide some sort of justification to boneheads who have a notion that if they torment everyone long enough, society as a whole will be thus improved. Let’s leave the intentional brutalization of our youngsters to the military training departments, please.

    Though I have to admit, for me one of the biggest draws of Peter Watts’s work are the characters who are so often very broken people doing their best to muddle through their rather broken world. Yet sometimes the best SF serves as signposts along various roads to Hell, and we see worlds and lives meant to be understood as things meant to be avoided… just as we’d rather have avoided the Black Death even though it cleared the way for the Renaissance and the modern world.

  15. @Y who wrote in-part, contrasting Axis Power behavior in WWII: Is wholesale eradication of ethnics morally worse than wholesale slaughter of people in order to keep population terrorized, or deliberately causing mass famines?
    Hard to decide.

    (First, apologies since I didn’t see that posting of yours before posting mine.)

    I think this is like one of those “which would you rather” puzzles kids sometimes pose each other. My favorite, from “the Simpsons”, I think, was “would you rather slide down a 30-foot banister studded with razor blades, or suck all of the snot out of a dead dog’s head until its skull caves in?” There’s no right answer other than expressions of revulsion.

    Still, to your question, I think as a leader you could get better mileage out of “internal population reductions” by promoting ethnic hatreds, since (a lot of, perhaps most) people generally seem to be built to respond to that sort of thing. Of course, it’s a positive only to the people not on the target list. On the other hand, if you’re just trying to assert political power to one Party and to the leadership cadre of that Party and in fact solely to the henchmen of The Leader and/or to The Leader within that faction of henchmen, what better way than the random sort of terror that emerges when people know that there’s a List of Enemies of the State, and that they could be on it whether or not they think there’s any reason to be on that list.

    It’s even more compelling as terrorism when you understand that both the list, and the people choosing the criteria with which it is compiled, are potentially variable, and that the variability is by criteria which may be unpredictable or even whimsical, and that the changes in either list or compilers (or aggressiveness of enforcement) may occur in secret, or at least not be widely published. One might be thinking one’s self to be safe one day, and one goes about one’s business as usual until one hears via unofficial rumors that the person keeping you off of the list has returned from an undisclosed location but with an axe buried in their forehead. Until you know who has replaced them, and know something about that person’s history and stated — or inferred — intentions, you can’t know how to proceed.

    At least if they’re all out to get you because of your ethnicity, or faith or whatever, you can proceed without any confusion. They really are all out to get you, and sane decisions are easily possible to you, however disconcerting or wrenching might be those sane decisions. The DR might have been batshit crazy but that was all consistent following from the original mad idea, one of racial supremacy and extermination. With the USSR, it was an ongoing paranoia that could change from day to day, in some ways far less insane at the same time that it was far more deadly, if only because it was functional enough to last for generations.

    There’s also Witch Hunts, as in Salem Village, Massachusetts. As much as echoes the Puritan Ethic down into even modern US culture, so echoes Salem and the executions of so many adults on the accusations of teenage girls who might have been delusional, power-tripping, or both to varying degrees. Yet that was confined mostly to one locality, and I’d hate to see what could happen if some variant became truly widespread here. Personally I am quite convinced that to some degree this does happen here, perennial as the daisies, and I hope that there are people on top of it keeping it from getting out of hand, but “qui custodes ipsos custodietes”?

    I think that the last option for widespread terrorism public atrocity has better potential for good SF stories warning us to not go there. See also that Original Outer Limits episode where an astronaut was surgically altered into an Alien Space Monkey as a secret government ploy to hoax the public into a state of higher alertness and willingness to report to authorities.

    Could Happen Here, you know. Don’t believe me? Be sure to mention “alien space monkey” to at least one unstable associate a day. If pressed for more information, just mutter “they can look just like us, when they want to” and reveal nothing more. If pressed hard for more detail, put on an expression of abject paranoia, and whisper “seriously, it’s a joke, for gods sake don’t mention it to anyone. Nobody can know.” From that point, deny deny deny. Then count the days until someone else says “alien space monkey” to you, then seek from them more enlightenment and detail. Google also for “tituba”. 😉


  16. I think this is like one of those “which would you rather” puzzles kids sometimes pose each other. My favorite, from “the Simpsons”, I think, was “would you rather slide down a 30-foot banister studded with razor blades, or suck all of the snot out of a dead dog’s head until its skull caves in?” There’s no right answer other than expressions of revulsion.

    Bad comparison, I’d say. Ten-meter razor-studded banister is dangerous, sucking out snot is merely disgusting, to some people.


    The DR might have been batshit crazy but that was all consistent following from the original mad idea, one of racial supremacy and extermination.

    Supremacy, yes, but as to extermination, I’m not so sure. Possible that it could’ve gone another way had the DR scored an early victory in the west or east. After all, they did study the option of just putting all Jews on ships headed to Madagascar, but they failed to invade Britain and secure it’s merchant fleet..
    A question for the historians, I’d say.


    I think that the last option for widespread terrorism public atrocity has better potential for good SF stories warning us to not go there.

    Been done to death, in the sense that it’s even been seen in say, superhero comics.


    More seriously, and this would speak to Trottelreiner, if you were to look into “Lawrence of Arabia”, you’d see some disputed allegations that when he was captured by the Turks, that he was repeatedly sodomized as part of a psychological torture meant to break him.

    Well, he tore out his diary pages for the period, and analysis of outlines on the the remaining ones suggest he never went to Deraa, and perhaps wrote the whole account as a wank fantasy.

  17. Y.,

    err, even before ww2, the nazis had begun exterminating some german patients.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_T4

    one can argue when the final solution was decided, but i guess it was sometimes in 41/42. actually, quite a few early sources paint this as revenge for the jews making the germans start another war. eh.

    one can argue that even before that, it seems debatable the nazis’d have treated the jews better than their own ill…