Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Adventures of a Couch-Hopping Scribbler Part 3: Hail, Helsinki!

So I arrived in Helsinki for... a holiday. That was my cover story, at least, sworn to secrecy as I was, on the awesome news of the Tähtivaeltaja Award -- and thereby sworn to secrecy also on the further awesomeness of Toni Jerrman and Hanna Hakkarainen who'd connived to bring this poverty-stricken writer over and put me up for a week, bless em. I felt more than a tad guilty, in fact, spinning fabrications and misdirections in St. Urhos, on the Thursday evening immediately after my arrival, as I caught up with my friends in Finnish fandom. Yes, I would say, I just came over for a holiday! Cause Helsinki's great!

The thing is it's about as near to the truth as you can get; when Hanna first emailed me about it, it was just a vague enquiry if I fancied a sojourn in Suomi, and my response was kinda in the vein of "YES!!!" As splendid as it was to find out I was getting a prize -- cause prizes are cooooool (and this one's especially coooool, man, being the 25th year of an award that's gone to some pretty damn fine works, like, say, last year's winner, The Road) -- as much as that gave me a great excuse for the trip... man, it's not like I needed an excuse; I was in the moment the chance arose. But, still, it felt a tad furtive to present meself as being there off me own bat.

Not that this had much impact on my pleasure. I was in Helsinki! Crashing with Hanna and Joonas and Miiku and Lohi (the Smartest Cat in the World... *ahem*)! I was in Urhos -- or rather outside it, with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other! And when I got back to Hanna's, there were even presents for me from Moominworld! Presents! From Moominworld! I gots a t-shirt with Moominpapa and Stinky and their illicit still, hurrah! I gots a Snuffkin plushy, huzzay! (If you can say, "hurrah!" and "huzzah!" and "hurray!" clearly you ought to be able to say "huzzay!") The t-shirt did put me in a quandary at first, having sworn to wear my Fagsmoke t-shirt until it was a biohazard, but ultimately I decided that oath was probably best suspended while I was living under someone else's roof cause... yanno... stench is not a good repayment for hospitality.

Anyways, for a week, it went in a whirl, even when I was being laid-back. Like on the Friday, where I met up with my translator, Nina, and we wandered the city centre, had a drink at the top of a really tall building what's name I can't recall but the view from which I most definitely remember. The afternoon flew by and it wasn't long before we were bumping into Juha in a bookstore having gone there to check exactly how Nina had translated The Ballad of Seamus Finnan. There was tapas in that Spanish place what's name I also can't recall, but the food in which I again most definitely remember. Then there was Bruuveri, and a big meet-up with Helsinki fandom, beer, beer and more beer. You may have heard a scurrilous rumour that Hanna drank me under the table after we ended up back at hers. I blame jet-lag! I blame the fact that I started earlier... by at least one glass of red wine! And - and - sitting on a fold-down bed that just demanded to be used as a chaise longue! And - and - I stopped drinking, I say, because other people's glasses were empty and I thought it would be bad form! And - and - stuff! I blame stuff!

Actually, I'm told I was, at one point, bought a non-alcoholic beer in Bruuveri because I seemed awfully drunk. I blame that beer! It broke my stride, god damn it. That clearly dropped my alcohol levels below the optimum point of inebriation where I can just keep going indefinitely, and what with my high metabolism, clearly I slipped into the "have a nice little sleep on this cosy sofa bed" stage. Damn you, Moominhanna! Don't you know that non-alcoholic beverages are poison to my system?

Also, I was pacing myself (excuses? husht!) for Saturday which involved a leisurely afternoon joining Hanna and Joonas as they watched this strange ritual on television -- the World Mug? The Global Cup? something to do with men in shorts being tooted at by people with loud horns -- then Juha's birthday party, where I got to meet some of his mates, who were all lovely. This also got me my requisite drink in a bar in Kallio (cause it's not a trip to Helsinki without a drink in Kallio.) Hell, it was even in a really nice bar in Kallio. I mean, the spit-and-sawdust dive-bar ambience in most bars is kind of a big part of what's cool about Kallio, but it was neat to end up in a pub with some very nice beers and a cosy little snug, hidden away among streets that sort of run: Thai Massage, Thai Massage, Peep Show, Thai Massage, Peep Show, Peep Show, Thai Massage, Thai Massage.

And then on Sunday -- finally, third time lucky in terms of my trips to Finland -- I got to experience a proper sauna. I am deeply deeply jealous of Taimi (I hope that's the right spelling) of having a sauna in her flat. I totally want one now cause, man, you just can't beat getting nekkid and sweaty with beer -- which gives off a lovely bready smell, it was revealed to me, if ye put just the tiniest splash of it on the hot rocks. Of course, I couldn't resist the Kukke beer, with the cockerel on the can, so's I could say I had some tasty cock in the sauna. With Hanna's purportedly scared-of-everything cat Mikku having taken a shine to me, I was after all, getting adept at stroking pussy, as Hanna pointed out, and there's only so far oe can go without losing one's reputation as THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!! Oh, and as well as the yummy barbecue beforehand, there was drunken karaoke afterward too! "Light My Fire" and "Born to be Wild" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart!" And yes, I was really really bad. With gusto! It was awesome!

Monday, Hanna and I had hatched a plan for upon my arrival. Cause she'd told me sadly -- on the Thursday, I think -- that Tero had to send his apologies, not being able to make it through from Turku for the gathering that night or Friday. Why then, says I, we must go to Turku! With Chicago and London now dubbed Halcon 2.1 and Halcon 2.2 respectively (the first Halcon having taken place in the ferry bar, on the way to Åcon) and the Helsinki trip officially Halcon 2.3, it seemed only right to add another stop to this convention-cum-road-trip. Turku for Halcon 2.4 it was then! Did they bid for it? Hell, they didn't get a choice.

So, Hanna and I took the train through, met up with Tero and had a cool hour or so in a local museum where you can walk through the excavated streets of the earliest stone-built settlement. It's a really well put-together museum experience, I gotta say. Some of the signage is a bit strangely done, with grey lettering on beige cloth that's virtually impossible to read, but other than that it's crammed to the gills with rich information, cunningly narrativized and soundscaped by audio artists. Admittedly, some of the pleasure lay in the somewhat eery atmosphere of some of the audio experience, with disembodied children's voices singing, and the occasional, "Anna!" just close enough to "Hanna" to... well, creep her the fuck out, heh. From there it was off to a riverboat for some food (mmmm, snails!) and thence to the Cosmic Comic Cafe for some beers and introductions to a few of the members of Turku fandom who came out to say hi. Twas brill. So brill, in fact, we missed our last train back to Helsinki and had no choice but to bus it.

And then it was Tuesday Tuesday Tuesday! And we were off to the new Like offices, which are really fucking swanky, I gotta say -- in an old printer's, with the floor gorgeously, psychedelically ink-stained. And there was a press conference and a prize ceremony and presents and everything! Man, I gots a prize with an actual certificate! And I gots a bag with awesome artwork of me on it! (What? I'm vain.) And I gots a mug with more awesome artwork of me on it! (Yes, I'm very vain.) And a rose! And there is, I do believe, an actual award thingy winging its way towards me as we speak, the Finnish post having not managed to get it to Toni in time for the actual prizegiving. I did a live radio interview which went pretty well, I thought, with the interviewer coming out with well-researched questions about growing up gay under Thatcher rather than, you know, "So what is this sci-fi stuff?" Did a TV interview too, but curse it, a bestselling Finnish author did have to go and get herself dropped by her publisher that very afternoon, just so she could bump me from the six o'clock news, didn't she? Damn that woman. Or damn her publisher, more to the point. Is it a coincidence that one of the other works shortlisted for the Tåhtivaeltaja was theirs? Is it a coincidence that they, having lost this award, just happened to steal my spotlight by choosing this moment to ditch this major writer? Is it? Is it really?

Well, OK, it is. Hey ho, and so it goes.

Still, if I didn't make the news, the day was still swell -- lunch with Nora and the Like folks an afternoon of... well, recovering from the early morning start mostly (Hanna actually napped, which I say makes up for any purported "drinking under the table" earlier in the week) and then it was off to Teerenpeli for some lovely smokey-flavoured beer and laid back banter in celebration of the award. Got a chance to chat with Jussi Ahlroth properly, which was well cool; and came away with a copy of his appropriately monster-sized book on those Finnish monsters of rock, Lordi. Sure, it's in Finnish, so I can't actually read his words, but the pictures are pure gold. Trolltastic! With a brief stop on the way home for some sauteed reindeer at Manala, sadly it was over all too soon.

And then it was Wednesday, my last full day. Hanna and I grabbed some breakfast then headed into the centre with Nina for lunch -- pizza in a very nice Italian place. Picked up some copies of the papers with my mugshot in it from the press conference. Picked up a Jukka on the way too, heh, and had coffee in the swanky Strindberg's. And then it was off to the picuresque town of Porvoo. Hanna was going through to get her nails done and while I had an offer from Juha to check out a proper wood-fired public sauna, I'd been told a couple of times that Porvoo was a nice place just to wander around, so I figured I'd tag along and do the tourist thing while she was busy getting stars on the ends of her fingers. I had done a sauna after all, and if it wasn't wood-fired, well, that just gives me another excuse to go back to Helsinki. Cause I haven't had a proper wood-fired sauna yet, see. Besides, with Chicago, London, Reading, Helsinki and Turku under my belt, why, the idea of adding yet another town to my Grand Tour tickled my fancy.

I was totally glad I went, as it turned out. The weather was gorgeous and the town even more so. I think somebody said it was used in one of the Bourne movies, and I can quite believe it. Picking up a map from the tourist office, following the walking tour laid out through the tiny winding cobbled streets, among the beautiful old wooden houses, I couldn't help thinking that this old town's tranquility was, like, the perfect setting for a roaring car chase and gunfight to the max! But seriously, with the cathedral, the Devil's Staircase, the river and the architecture, it was really kinda idyllic -- a perfect way to unwind from a hectic fortnight of giddy traveling, and capped by a winding route home through the scenic small towns of the area, home to a bloody steak in plate-lickingly good port wine sauce courtesy of the culnary skills of Joonas. Twas a quiet evening, with but a glass or two of red wine, a pint or two of Guinness and a wee wander to the roof of the Rock Church, to chill out as the sun slowly lowered, for the next day, alas, I was to be up at stupid o'clock and away, with a sad goodbye to Hanna et al., to the airport and home.

And so the Adventures of a Couch-Hopping Scribbler came to an end... for now.

I'm just hoping the sequel comes real soon meself.



Anonymous CassR said...

Ever thought of coming to Australia?

5:57 am  
Anonymous J. Ahlroth said...

It was great to see you again in Helsinki, Hal!

It's heartwarming to read your account of the hospitality of the Finns. Sounds like you had a fantastic time. Whey!

I felt a bit bad about leaving so abruptly. But I had a good excuse. I went to see this:

The vocalist of Kyuss - one of my favorite bands ever, and disbanded in 1997 - was playing the band's tracks with a bunch of other musicians.

Kyuss is psychedelic, heavy, slow and groovy. Unmissable, if you're into that kind of thing.

On the topic of our discussion back here in Helsinki, be the grim realities of the publishing industry whatever they may be, I still think your essays on speculative fiction should be edited and published as a book.

5:55 pm  
Blogger Proxima said...

Aww man, I would've loved to see you, too bad I live at the other end of Finland. I picked up Vellum a good month back now, and I just LOVE the book! Can't wait until Ink is translated.

I hope you'll be visiting Finland again! If good enough info for your visit, I'll try to get to these "Halcons".

12:53 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Tis a bit late to be responding to these -- I been playing catch-up since I got back -- but better gobsmackingly late than never, right?

CassR: I'd love to visit Australia. Alas, I don't have a hope in hell of doing it right now unless some convention or summat were to pay for the travel and put me up.

Jussi: Was a blast! And I've totally been hearing about Kyuss for a while from mates, so I'll have to get them checked out.

Proxima: I hope I'll be visiting Finland again too... the sooner the better. Watch this space.

5:11 pm  

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