Saturday 30 September 2017

Tentatively hopeful

Finns always happen in threes. If 'they' don't say that, they should. Just two weeks ago, I was watching Finnish subteens winning trophies by pretending to be horses. That was refreshingly weird. This coming week, we have a delegation of pharmacists from Finland coming to visit The Institute to see how we teach our Pharmacy Technicians. It's a day when I am light on classes, so I volunteered to  help show them around. Actually, apart from having an affection for Finns and memories of being uncomfortably hot in saunas, my main motivation in getting involved was saanko ilmaisen lounaan?

I'll tell you two woody things about sauna.
  • You want to be careful about the wood you use for the seats. On no account recycle floorboards or use pine Pinus sylvestris boards. These will have some residual resin which will leak out of the wood when the temperature gets up to and beyond 80oC. Sit on a gobbet of boiling resin and a) it will stock to your skin and b) raise a blister. My contacts recommend alder Alnus glutinosa boards. This tree, whose roots are considered a delicacy by badgers Meles meles, grows along the margin of our property where the river forms the county border. The tissue of the tree is so soggy, from the environment it thrives in, that there is no rooms for resin. It lasts for a long time in a damp environment with radical temperature changes.
  • The other piece of advice is the optimum species for use as a vihta - a sauna whisk. Irish saunas don't offer this but in traditional Finland you go out into the forest and cut some small branches of Betula pubescens the downy birch and Betule pendula the regular silver birch, make them into a bouquet  - a vihta -with the leaves fanning out and baste yourself up as you roast. One species is flexible and robust, while the other produces a frothy mix of saponins which helps clean and stimulate the skin. Science does not confirm this theory.
Sandwiched by these two Finnish experiences, the Blackstairs Film Society [multiprev] launched last night with Aki Kaurismäki's The Other Side of Hope [trailer]. Kaurismäki gave us Leningrad Cowboys Go America in 1989 which was a seriously peculiar film altogether tracking the experiences of a Russian rock band on the road in the USA. A bit like Spinal Tap. The Other Side of Hope tracks the experience of a Syrian refugee who has been formally deported from Finland after arriving as a stow-away in a coal-freighter, Making the refugee blacker than he really is becomes a metaphor. The bureaucracy is unforgiving but many of the bureaucrats do their best to subvert the system. Khaled the Syrian is adopted by a group of misfits running a small restaurant-bar in a bleak industrial suburb, somewhere in Finland. The bureaucracy give no credit to the stress of having home destroyed and family killed and operates a utilitarian algebra that has no kindness. Ordinary people, citizens and refugees alike, give what they can to the yet poorer. If they cannot give money they can lend a cell-phone, if they haven't a cell-phone they can share a cigarette. I think the film's title indicates that hope, however fragile, depends upon small acts of compassion from strangers who become friends. The film wraps up in a somewhat ambiguous, to-be-continued, manner but Khaled's situation is no longer so hopeless in Finland as it was when he was digging the bodies of his family out of the rubble in Aleppo.
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing 
because he could do only a little. 

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