I’ve been in the same place too long and it was beginning to feel stale. Fact is, I needed to feed the muse, so, I went to Helsinki.
I expected a withdrawn group of people: The warnings in the travel books said the Finns were dour, not communicable, and quite distant. Instead they were cheerful, eager to talk, initiating conversations without effort on my part, and very willing to share their feelings. Even better, they had an easy sense of humor and quick non-threatening laughter, which created a sense of security and commonality. A street cleaner I ran across told us jokes, bits and pieces of his family life, and his discoveries as a street cleaner, joking about the things that people discard, how they discard them, and how if affected his home life. After one or two conversations like that you know you are in the right spot. If you can see people in a their own environment, instead of the preconceptions you have, and they see you, then you can know where and why you have come.
Another person I made contact with was in what seemed, at first, to be inauspicious circumstances. We met in a crypt underneath a church. A collective of artists had turned the crypt into an art gallery, decorating it, hanging their art work on the walls, generating life in what would have otherwise been a very cold, lifeless place. I enjoyoyed the paintings and sculpture, admired a number of the pieces, and eventually came to a small counter that had been set up to serve tea, coffee and homemade Finnish pastry. Leena was serving.
Leena is a woman my age, cheerful, inquiring, and she joined me at my table. We talked, laughed, took each others’ photographs, and when we returned to Paris, continued our conversations on e-mail. Leena turned out to be a novelist, and we shared information about writing, publishing, Finland, America, Scandinavia in general, and people, both specific and general. It made the day, and a number of days afterward. Why? My eyes were freshened by having that contact…which every writer needs.
Maybe, in fact, its what every writer wants to do with his/her writing. We explore our perceptions, see other people, and hope they see us. If we’re good enough wordsmiths perhaps those people who page through our books will connect with us. Even as the artists whose works are hung on crypt walls. It makes the walls look a hell of a lot better:
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