The 31 letters can be read like short stories.
Some tell of fatal incidents, like the "Faisan of Malmi" ending up as
a delicious French dish in the casserole of the writer's mother. Or about a
cheese sent from France, arriving weeks late, due to a public strike. In a
correct and pitiless attitude the postman delivers the stinking package, where
a cribbling "spite from Satan" is left, beside a rotten postcard
"with the best wishes from your parents".
The nature is really beautiful and muurahainen
sounds so erotic
In one letter Guicheteau prepares his friend
for the first visit to a mökki (wooden summerhouse) and provides instruction on
how to obtain the sympathy of the Finnish landlord: "You take a long hot
bath accompanied by a white wine or a bottle of Finlandia. Then, with a towel
around your hips, sit outside on the balcony. Take your photo album from
Finland and have it open at the most beautiful page. Look at the lakes and
forests. Listen to them. Be patient. Surrender to the wind and air. Let it seize
your body. Wait for this sublime moment, when you feel neither cold nor hot.
Finally, in a faithful voice, sigh out slowly: "Kyllä luonto on todella
kaunis". ("The nature is really beautiful")
There is a poetic description of the mökki: We
can smell the wood and moisture, see the old magazines from the seventies that
nobody reads, the mugs in different sizes and colours, the pot with the sugar
hardened during the winter, hear the conversation about trees to be cut, feel
the comfortable old clothes and the time passing by slowly.
The peculiar Finnish family names are
meditated: Koivujärvi ("Birch-Lake"), Haapapuro (Trembling-Stream),
Jokimaa (River-Earth) and Haukka (Falcon) – don t they remind you of names from
the North American Indians? And the sound of the language – how sensual in
"muurahainen" (ant), as moving slowly with your mouth over a naked
body. Or howling like a wolf in the forest with "kuu" (moon), dancing
a Brasilian music rhythm in "katokatokukatuli" (See, who comes!) and crashing
solidly in "minä rakastan sinua" (I love you).
Finns are strange
Of course the "typical" Finnish melancholy
is a subject. The experience of a joyful
birthday party that turns into a burial atmosphere, when in late hours the saddest
tangos are played and people sink into silence, think deep thoughts, or even
start to cry. Is it moral hangover, heritage from their Slavic roots, or a need
Some themes and questions may arise especially
from the contrast of Protestant north and Catholic, Latin south. Hence the
straight way of northern talking whereb the author feels sometimes "like a
baroque artist overcharging his painting with angels or superfluous
To the question of why the lights in a bar
flash in the end of the evening, comes the short answer "They close"
and not "because it is late and this is the way to…blah blah". No
explanation from a doorman of the disco, regarding why you can't get in. Only
One chapter is about the hopeless effort to
teach students the sense and art of lying. How can they honestly tell the
teacher that they have not done their homework? It's like offending a person.
Could they not excuse themselves by telling they have forgotten it at home or
were busy with an important exam?
Also, why are some people so rudely knocking
against you in the tram or supermarket without any "anteeksi"? Or why
do your neighbours hide behind their doors until you have disappeared into the
lift? And if by accident the common journey takes place – why don't they say a
word? How can Finns be so worried when you come some minutes late for an
appointment? And why do they meet in the windy corner under the Stockmann clock
and not in a cosy café enjoying the lecture of a newspaper?
Each of the questions appears in its own
chapter. Exaggerated and presented in a pointed manner the stories have also
their own dramatic turns that lead to a surprising end or conclusion.
Guicheteau's style is made of French delicatesse, of self-irony and might
sometimes sound slightly presumptuous. Therefore the citation of La Fontaine at
the beginning of the book: "No-one is prophet in his home country. Let's
search for our adventures elsewhere".
Finns are wonderful
Reading in some American guide: "Be aware
that since the Ostrogoths the human being has not seen a more rude and impolite
civilisation than the one of the Parisians", the author concludes that the
numerous pardons and demands in conditional form in French ("Excuse me, would
it be possible to order a coffee" instead of "Yksi kahvi" – one
coffee) cannot compete with the Finnish "kohteliaisuus (politeness)".
Because Finns act politely. And we can only admire their flexibility of switching
from their own language to a foreign one, opening the space to share
"From love and iron" tells a story of
two iron finger-rings found in a fleamarket. They belonged to a couple at the time
of the Continuation War and replaced the golden wedding rings given away to
finance the fight for independence. Trying on the small rings, the writer feels
the blood beat in his cold fingers and imagines it as the hearts of the old
lovers made of iron courage and their love for their country.
"You see," Samuel, ends one letter,
"all this is Finland, a mobile ringing on a deserted island, a country
house without running water but with television, a campfire that is lighted
with methylated spirits".
Many foreigners come to live in Finland. They
grow into Finish culture. It can happen to be an astonishing experience.
"The Finns have not only one traditional
vodka, they have two of them. They pretend that "kossu" and
Koskenkorva are the same thing. I disagree. The "kossu" is an alcohol
designed to make you drunk, to forget or to destroy yourself. But
"Koskenkorva" is something completely different. Usually I keep a
bottle of it in an iceholder in the fridge. It happens, on certain evenings in
the cold of the winter, in the warmth of my apartment, between calm and
solitude, that I allow myself a little glass of this brew. The effects, Samuel,
exceed capacity of human comprehension.
All alone on the scenery of the livingroom
table, the glass, filled to the rim, is executing a strange performance. Covered
with icy frost and foam as if it wants to recreate (I ignore the reason) the
clattering cold of winter in this cozy home. I approach with the reverence of a
noble, bowing and take the glass delicately with two fingers. Carefully, not to
spill a drop (because here is also the difference between the drinker of kossu and
the drinker of Koskenkorva), I slowly lead the elixir to my lips, which ignore
until now the torture they are going to receive.
In the moment where the glass is close to the
mouth and where the scent of alcohol rises to the nose, it is good to
concentrate, like a sprinter on the starting line.
One does not drink the Koskenkorva, you must
fling it into your body!
It is divine and terrible!
First the lips, then the mouth, the throat and
the chest are set to fire and blood, as an eagle drawing in his talons. The
belly then begins to glow like a forge. You have to retain your respiration to
get the fire down. It feels good like a hit of the axe, or something of this
kind and you can't be sure if you are the victim or the murderer.
Once the pain has disappeared I heave a sigh.
And here, Samuel, at this precise moment when
it steams out of me like a liberation, I am the most independent, the most
proud, and the most heroic of all the Finns."