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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Trip to Turku

Well, I finally got out into somewhere else in Finland: Turku.  Turku was the capital of Finland until the early nineteenth century, and now is one of the larger towns in the country.  I'd wanted to go for quite awhile because it does still have some of the medieval buildings, but I kept feeling obligated to sit and write, especially after the St. Petersburg trip.  Then one of my colleagues here introduced me to one of the members of the medieval and early modern research group they have at the main university there, and he was kind enough to invite me to come to present my research on ghosts to their research group.


Unfortunately the day rained pretty solidly, but I was still able to wander around the town pretty extensively: 1 hour wandering, 1 hour in a cafe drying off, 1 hour wandering, 1 hour having lunch ... you get the idea.  Made for a pretty good excuse to get to stroll around for a day.

One of the things I'd been told about Turku is that, if I got off the main drag, the city itself was much more of a mix of old and new architecture than Helsinki.  I saw that within five minutes of getting off the train when, surrounded by all these modern cement-and-glass buildings was this much more appealing, at least to me, older, lower building.


Then I hit one of the main squares in the modern side of town, and I learned all about the process of what the Finns call (roughly translated) Turkuization: destroying the old buildings in the town center and replacing them with "modern" cement and glass monstrosities.  You know, how they modernized things in the 60s and 70s in the name of progress.  In the middle of all this 20th-century ugly--and I do mean ugly--were a few of the lovely Russian imperial-style buildings, miniature ones of those around Senate Square in Helsinki.  Unfortunately the square itself was just a big mish-mash of styles, and the biggest color came from the signs of fast food restaurants.  About this stage I started having a flashback to some of the smaller provincial French towns I'd been in, and those of you who've known me longer know that isn't a compliment.


About 15 minutes from the train station is the river that gave Turku all its medieval prosperity.  Nowadays it's supposed to provide some of the prettiest vistas in the city.  While I didn't think it was that spectacular, I kept telling myself it was raining and that it would be much prettier in the summer.



This picture was taken looking down river towards one of Turku's best known sights: the castle.  Unfortunately the day I was there it was closed, and to be honest I wasn't going to walk 3 miles in the rain to walk around its outside.  What I did find right near where I took this picture was a fabulous city museum.  It's a combination museum of medieval and early modern Turku history and of modern art.  It even had a fantastic cafe for lunch!  One of the great things they did was excavate the old city from the ruins of the great fire in 1819, build the museum around it, and set it up as a walking tour of the old city.  I love those type of museums, because you actually get a sense of how narrow the roads were, how closely interspersed buildings belonging to the rich and poor were ... that sort of thing.  Definitely worth spending a few hours.


About five minutes from the museum was the square where the cathedral is.  You could definitely tell this was the old administrative heart of the city: lots of telltale neoclassical yellow buildings. 
There I met Marku who took me out for another cup of coffee--lovely but I was well-caffinated by the time I staggered up the hill to the university.  Yes, the university in Turku really is a "city on a hill."  Unfortunately, the city was designed by the same folks who designed the high schools built in the late 40s, 50s, and early 60s in California, and they're having the same problems with "sick buildings" that we are with those structures, too.


This is the view from the front of the cathedral where I waiting for Marku, the colleague who'd invited me to present.


See what I mean about the mix of yellow neoclassical buildings.


Just for the hoot, here's the first slide for my presentation and the outline, which came next.  I kept myself from playing the "Night on Bald Mountain" music while we were setting up, although I do use it when I present to my students.  I figured I should act more serious here.  :-)



I was actually really pleased and surprised at how many people showed up: I'd guess there were about 100 in the lecture hall.  I found out later that it was advertised on both the research group's listserv and generally around the university.  I was also chuffed that I managed to gauge the length and tone of the presentation right.  Well, length I knew for sure, and tone I figure since I got about 45 minutes of questions from the audience--so much for the proverbial reserve of Finnish audiences!

I did, however, have one of the weirder presentation experiences once the the talk was over.  This lady about my age came up to me to speak privately.  She'd already asked me a couple of questions during the Q&A, and it often happens that someone comes up to me after a public lecture to tell me about some personal ghost experience, so I wasn't too phased by her coming up.  In any case, she starts to ask me another version of the question she'd asked before about how people in my period got rid of ghosts, with this hint that she was hoping that their techniques might work now, too.  I guess I looked confused enough that she felt like she had to explain why she was so persistent about it.  Language really was not an issue here; her English was quite clear and I made a point of telling her that.  Well, over a period of a few minutes, it comes out that she lives in the Finnish equivalent of a halfway house with several other women who've been released from prison on parole, and all of the women had originally been convicted for killing their husbands or some other man who had been mistreating them!  Now she didn't state this anywhere as matter of factly as I just did; she was quiet and somewhat embarrassed and spoke with lots of pauses.  She just calmly told me she had murdered a man.

Well, I tried not to show I was as shocked as I was, although believe me, I made sure I had a sense of where people were and the layout of the room!  That being said, she really seemed quite calm--peacefully, albeit obliquely, assuring me that it was in response to violence, that this type of thing unfortunately happens, and that all the women she lived with were haunted by the ghosts of the men they had killed.  She came to the talk in the hope of learning something she could use to exorcise the ghosts.

Sad to say, I couldn't help her, although I did give her some places she could go to look for modern cases.  She thanked me profusely and left.

Definitely not my usual "ghosts in my life" story.

After that, the rest of the evening was much calmer.  Two lovely colleagues at Turku took me to a microbrewery that also had a great restaurant--microbreweries here in Finland seem to have real and good restaurants attached, not just places for appetizers and hamburgers--and we walked up to the train station.  I took the last train back and, boy, could you tell it was the last train.  Welcome to my private car!


My day in Turku went from 7 am to midnight.  As you might imagine, I crashed the next day!

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