Wednesday, February 18, 2015


However much darkness there may be, literal as well as metaphorical, in the many countries of the world, none can compete with Finland, where the sun never rises at all for eight weeks every winter, or when it does it rises flat on the horizon, and then sinks straight back down again, like someone suffering from hypersomnia. Compensation, if that is what it is, comes with the fact that for the same time-period in the summer it never sets, and the result is a manic case of seasonal affective disorder that is catchable by foreigners who listen to the music of Sibelius. Finland is also a land that has never known freedom or independence. Ruled by Sweden for centuries, it became part of the Russian empire and, though technically independent after 1917, you try living that close to the Soviet Union and think you can do or think as you please. At last came 1995, the year in which Finland was free, and so it went and shackled itself to the great myth of European Unity, and even adopted that failed currency the Euro by choice.

One fascinating exercise for Internet nerds is to call up a list of famous people from any given nation. Try England, for example, and you will have pages of kings and queens, politicians, military figures, writers, artists, composers, painters, philosophers, scientists, dating back well over a thousand years. Call up Finland and you will find contemporary actors and pop-singers of whom even most Finns have never heard, followed by equally anonymous sports-players, mostly of sports not played anywhere else in the world; and then, because they have to put some names on the list, some architects who only ever built in Finland, some business people (yes, Nokia, we've heard of Nokia), and a few folks who have made minor contributions in the field of computers; after which the list collapses into names of folk-singers and members of metal jazz bands - an act of desperation by the cataloguers. Nothing, that is to say, earlier than about 1975, with the exception, of course, of Jean Sibelius. How is it possible for a European country to have been populated, and part of Europe, for a thousand years, and to have produced literally and absolutely no culture of any sort, let alone merit, whatsoever? Except Sibelius, and even he went silent for the last thirty years of his life, writing nothing after "Tapiola", his last orchestral work, in 1926; that piece has been described as "a relentlessly brutal depiction of frozen, savage nature". I guess that, once you've captured the nature of Finland that perfectly, all you can do is what the sun does in the winter: wake up, think about getting up, take a look at the darkness, and sink back into sleep.

Marks For: 7 (the total number of symphonies by Jean Sibelius)

Marks Against: 24 (the number of hours of total darkness on a typical winter's day)

Copyright © 2014 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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