Friday, September 15, 2006

Don Juan in Helsinki: 25

Bjorn and I first met during a playground fist-fight. It was my first day at Middle School, and I knew no one there. But someone there already knew me--and was lying in wait to give me a beating. Typical for Vaino, of course, he did not attack me himself but instead incited a group of other boys to do so on a dusty part of the playground where dozens of us were kicking battered old footballs around during the lunch recess. I was not a complete fool and knew straightway I was in for trouble as soon as these morons marched up to harrass me; in fact, being a true Finn and rather fond of a fight myself, I welcomed the distraction. However, as soon as I had settled comfortably into a punching match with one rather chubby lad, I was grabbed from behind by two of his mates and tackled to the ground. Having grown up in the wealthy, sheltered neighbourhood of Etu-Töölö, I was taken by surprise by this tactic and protested loudly over it until I was winded by being kicked in the stomach. Through a gap in their legs, I could see Vaino standing some distance apart from the action, watching and laughing at the sight. We had never formally met, but he had several times been pointed out to me and was easily recognizable from his good looks and bright mop of corn-silk hair. This was my first experience of his flair for the dramatic, and it was an instructive one--though, sadly, I cannot say I properly learned my lesson at the time. Perhaps I should have, had not Bjorn waded in at that moment.

'This is not very sporting, three against one!' he loudly declared, taking off his glasses and putting them in his breast pocket. His thick hair stood up like a badger's brush, so that he appeared a full head taller than any of the rest of us.

'What's it to you, homo?' one of my attackers wittily replied. Bjorni lowered his head and, butting him in the chest, bowled him over, then turned to deal with the second. Meanwhile, cheered by this diversion, I got up and resumed my punching of the fat one, though he proved largely indifferent to my blows. Seeing the fate of his two friends over my shoulder, however, he decided it most prudent to retreat, and so Bjorn and I soon found ourselves left alone.

'I'm Donho Likkanen,' I said, shaking his hand as if we were adults. 'Thanks.'

'Bjorn Wahlroos,' he said, giving a little imperial German snap of his head in salute. His face was flushed bright red, and he seemed to suddenly have a frog in his throat from embarrassment. And so we became true friends. After all, at that time we were both new at the school, and nobody else liked us. Naturally, we both assumed that this would be the case in boot camp, as well.

What neither of us could have foreseen was that Bjorni would take to army life like a duck to water. You see, Bjorn Wahlroos was a big Communist in those days. Yes, it is true. He was a "Taistolainen", which was some sort of radical 'pure Marxist' movement that was attractive to rich hippie youths, though not to those like me who hated Russians ( However, like Joschka Fischer in Germany, many of our Finnish politicians, such as the president lady who looks like Conan O'Brian and her foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, were also members of these Red cells, like Baader-Mainhof or Rote Fraktion. This was why Bjorn was going to the School of Economics at the university--to learn about money and thus destroy capitalism from within. Well, it seemed a harmless hobby to me. And besides, Bjorn had always had trouble getting girls. Though the sort of girls one met at Communist rallies in those days tended to look like, well, Conan O'Brian. No, the trouble was that Bjorni was serious. The Finnish army was entirely made up of conscripts; already there were many stories of protests, of mass slacking, even desertions. Well, it was 1973, after all--the Americans were protesting, why shouldn't we? Even though, of course, we lived in the peaceful socialist paradise of Finland and thus had nothing to actually protest about. That didn't matter to Bjorn; his plan was to organize Army cells from the ranks, like on the Battleship Potemkin, I suppose, and I was afraid he would get into big trouble. He was particularly depressed that autumn over the military coup in Chile.

'This is exactly why we workers need to be learning weapons training,' he would say angrily. 'To take the revolution to these Fascist bastards.' Myself, I thought Allende was a KGB stooge and deserved exactly what he got, but I held my tongue. Tongues, penises, these are what you keep to yourself in a military barracks; it is the opposite of sex. And of course, I needn't have worried about Bjorni getting into trouble. Within a few weeks, he had become a pet of the 'Skeba', which is what we called drill sergeants, and was already being offered a chance to go to the AUK, the reserve officers' training school.

'He's just the sort of motivated idealist we need,' the captain told me during his background interview. 'He reminds me of myself at that age. I was always saying everything was unfair, as well. Well, this is the sensible way to view things--after all, the army isn't fair. Life isn't fair!'

Life isn't fair? Hearing this officer in Mannerheim's army talking like a spoiled child in this way suddenly and unaccountably filled me with shame. I detested boot camp and was anxious to be done with my intti as quickly as possible, yet after hearing this I resolved not to do any any more slacking. In fact, if I had not met Maarit I think I might have applied to AUK myself and perhaps even have become a career soldier. In may ways, it is a life that would have suited my temperament very well. However, that didn't seriously occur to me at the time. All I knew was that now Bjorn would stay in for a year, while I, as a mere civilian conscript, would only have to put in 6 months. But things didn't work out for me exactly according to plan, either.

For the first eight weeks of camp, there was no leave, so I couldn't possibly see Maarit. Sometimes on the weekend, I would stand in the long line for the pay telephones in the 'Sode', or base canteen, and try to telephone her, but only rarely was I able to find her at home. I felt like I was dying inside from this, so much so that I scarcely even noticed the training itself, all the many things that the other 'mortti' constantly complained about. Not that we were given much time to complain. We were kept constantly busy running, marching, standing still, learning to salute, learning to polish and fire our 'rynki' (rifle), even how to clean the toilets or our teeth according to regulation. This part was good, because I didn't have to think. The part I hated came much later, when we had to ride bicycles for a hundred kilometres a day. You see, the basic tactic of the Finnish armed forces is to ride bicycles around. This is not a joke. Small squads of bicyclists are meant to retreat through forest roads and trails, constantly sniping at the flanks of the oncoming Soviet army in order to funnel them into the path of our big guns. In winter, we train to do this on skis. This is how we fought both our wars against them, and of course our military never trains to fight any other enemy (or any other war), no matter what they pretend. Who else would invade us? Norway?

No, no, here is the joke. Finland was so short of ordnance and materiel that when it came to be my time to learn to fire these big howitzer guns, I would endlessly train to carry the shells through the rain and mud, to load, to aim, to clean the firing chambers--but we never actually fired the gun! I suppose this is a proper metaphor for all those months I spent in uniform. Here is another: just outside the main gates stood a lone telephone box that someone in communications had rigged to call anywhere in Finland for just 25 penniä. So whenever a company was out in the fields training, we would try to manoeuvre our sergeant close to this call-box in order to sneak off one by one into it. Just before my first eight weeks were up, I managed to get through to Maarit this way.

'What is that noise? It sounds like a real war!'

'It's just the gas attack siren,' I said. 'We're having drills.' I was lying flat on the ground dressed in a waterproof poncho against the 'nerve-gas', but had slipped my big rubber mask off in order to talk to her into the dangling receiver. From time to time there was the rattle of machine-gun fire to keep my squad pinned down, but because no real bullets could be wasted, even the 'training' ones for recruits with wooden tips, these were usually just blanks.

'Are they using real gas?' she asked. Her voice was sweet and warm in my ear.

'No, no, just blue smoke. If they were using real gas, I'd be already dead. Then I wouldn't get to come see you next weekend. Will you keep it free for me?' There was another sudden loud racket; I had to ask her again twice before I could hear her answer.

That night in the barracks I told Bjorn I was going to see her. His was the bunk below mine.

'Well, don't eat any of the nöde from the canteen then,' said Paavo from the next bunk over. 'You won't be able to get it up if you do.' It was a common myth that the army put saltpetre ('jarru') in the Spam in order to render all us new recruits ('mortti') impotent.

'You really should think about asking her to marry you,' Bjorn told me, very seriously. 'Maarit is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of girl.'

'I have thought of it,' I said. Which was true enough, even though in Finland men and women do not normally marry until they are nearly thirty. If ever. What I did not tell Bjorni was that if I asked her, Maarit would certainly say no. He needed no more encouragement, I decided, to become a rival. But Bjorn, of course, was never the one I needed to worry about. Alone of everyone I would ever know in my life, he had old-fashioned ideas of honour. In fact, nowadays the word itself, once typed, resembles the name of a dinosaur.

'Well, let's shut up and get some sleep then. You don't want some bastard sergeant wrecking your leave with detention duty just for talking after lights-out.'

'Who needs a sergeant with you around, Nalle?' Paavo replied. ''Nalle'--Teddy-Bear--was what Bjorni told everyone was his nickname back home, though in fact only his mother had ever called him that. 'Let the man dream.'

'Let us all dream,' called out someone else in the near-dark.

But when I finally was with Maarit again the following weekend, I was impotent, after all. Paavo had been right! It was like a curse from a fairy-tale. Because as soon as I had swaggered off the bus in my combat boots and fatigues, wearing the green beret that all Finnish soldiers wore, and we had checked into a cheap hotel and ripped off all our clothes, I could not have a healthful erection.

'What's the matter?' asked Maarit, laughing. 'Gone homo? Too many cute guys in the showers?'

I shook my head. The hotel room seemed unreal to me after so many weeks in the barracks; it seemed so very strange to be alone with her and not surrounded by dozens of others. But of course we were not quite alone, were we? We were having a threesome in the bed now with my jealousy, who crouched in the corner like a shadow.

'Have you stopped wanting me, then?' she asked. I shook my head again.

'No, no, of course not. I've thought of nothing else but you every night.'

'Then what?'

'Have you been seeing anyone else?' You see, I couldn't help myself. It was just like an illness. And that is exactly how Maarit treated me, half-pitying, half-annoyed, as if I was sick with some disease to which she was immune.

'Lemo, don't ask. Seriously, never ever ask any woman a question you don't want to hear the answer to. Even if it's just whether she likes your friends or not. Or how good you are in bed. Now don't spoil our time together by sulking--we only have a few more hours. Do you really want to spend them like this?' I said nothing. She stroked my arms, then my thigh. 'You've gotten hard everywhere else,' she said. 'It must be all that exercise--it's very sexy. OK, Ok, I'll tell you a secret, then...I've missed you. And when I'm missing someone, I'm not so interested in anyone else. That will have to answer your question.'

It took another hour or two and several more tries, but finally the 'jarru' wore off. That was the last time that such an embarrassing thing has ever happened to me, until a few years ago in New York, when it happened again with my doctor. Well, I suppose, it's always a mistake to bonk your doctor, isn't it? That would make most men impotent, I think, especially after a colonoscopy.

'What's a "colonoscopy"?' Esa-Pekka interrupts me to ask. When I explain he nods, as if he has heard of some clever trick to cheat them, while Stig merely glowers incredulously, as if I'm making the whole nasty business up.

'In America, they make you have one when you turn 50,' I tell them. It seems a pretty poor birthday present indeed, now that I come to think of it. We are sitting in a new bar now, the 'William K'. which advertises itself as a 'Dutch whiskey bar'. So Esa-Pekka and Stig have switched to whiskey and begun to drink seriously, but I cannot. I do not have their body weight.

'Why didn't you just get Viagra from the doctor, so that you could bonk her?' asks Esa-Pekka. 'I've tried that stuff, and it's a wonderful invention. Say what you like about the vitun Amerikkalaiset, but they are clever at inventing useful things.'

'Jaap, but their film industry is straight from the arse-hole these days,' mutters Stig.

'I didn't like to ask her,' I tell them. 'Besides, being impotent was really just an excuse to break things off with her.' They nod sympathetically; this is a common Finnish act of male consideration when one loses interest. After all, one doesn't want to say anything unflattering to a woman, but she cannot argue with a limp penis. And with Dr. Astarte, one could not often get a word in edgeways in any case. Whatever caused me to bonk with her in the first place, I suddenly wonder? I cannot remember. That is always a very bad sign with a woman. But she was an excellent diagnostician, in spite of all her New Age nonsense--and I have always found lab smocks and uniforms attractive on chicks, like those of nurses and airline hostesses. Perhaps that was it. Or perhaps it was that i first went to see her with a urinary infection, and that created a sort of instant bond of erotic intimacy between us.

'But have you tried it?'

'Tried what?'

'Viagra!' says Esa-Pekka loudly. Several other people turn to stare at us.

'Well,' I say cautiously, 'I have experimented with it a bit, yes.' Well, quite a bit, actually, but no one really needs to know this.

'Esa-Pekka is quite the ladies' man,' observes Stig with something like envy. 'He has been married three times. I, on the other hand, haven't even bonked with a woman in many years. Finnish women are all lost to materialism these days and cannot be saved.' Saved? Saved from what? Is he some sort of religious fanatic? He glances over at a group of them now; they are in early middle age, and already have the widening waists, sausage-like upper arms, and too-bright lip gloss that signal desperation. But they do not return his wistful stare; evidently they are not yet that desperate. Of course, the night is young. As if he, too, has had this thought, Stig adds, 'But I would like to try it sometime. The problem is meeting anyone. All the older ones care about is what money and security a man has. The young ones, of course, are all little sluts and tarts these days--they are just begging for it.' The rest of his thought hangs unspoken in the air: begging for it, perhaps. But not from us any more. Not from us.

Next: "The Viagra Monologues"

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Friday, September 8, 2006

Don Juan in Helsinki: 24

But when she took the ferry to Estonia the next weekend, Maarit didn't take me with her.

Now, there is something you must know about me--I hate detective shows on television. Or detective novels. They are all nonsense; any policeman will tell you that. Most of the time when there is a murder, like those two gangsters we found dead in Gatchina, for instance, the police may have a good idea of who did it, but only once in every ten times or in some countries, almost never, is the right person ever caught. Or convicted. And even when they are, well, the victim is often so much like his killer that it's hard for the cops to care. The cops who haven't been paid to forget all about it anyway, that is. Yet all over the world, people right at this very instant are watching TV shows about detectives, some of them gay-blade Hollywood actors, some of them little old English ladies, who solve such crimes.

But why? What is the appeal? No one cares about the victims, they are just pieces of meat. I never even found out the names of the two dead Russians in the X-ray shop. Perhaps they were brothers. Perhaps they were named Boris and Arkady. Had they drifted into crime just to support their mother? Were they Zenit Leningrad football fans? Did they enjoy reading the novels of Bulgakov? Or going to the theatre to see 'White Guard' or 'The Ascent of Mt. Fuji'? What did they think of 'Solyaris'? You see? Who cares? You don't; they are just dead meat. The story is over for them, and they are already forgotten. No, no, mystery is about something else altogether. For women, I think it has more to do with the riddle of birth; for men, perhaps, that of death (and, after all, the two are really the same thing; one is a point of origin, the other a final destination, but both are the same dark hole). The police procedures are merely a ritual, the same that people used to hear every Sunday in church. After all, until a few hundred years ago, there were no police detectives at all--and the word 'mystery' was used only in religion, as in the Medieval 'mystery plays'. Their central mystery was that of the 'Saviour', Jesus Christ, and before that, divine figures like Orpheus. The 'Crime Scene Investigation' is like a Neolithic burial rite for the soul's final journey; the autopsy like the Christian Communion. That is why such television shows are now so popular--the modern, secular human still misses this in his life.

So, if this were a detective novel, here is what would happen. I would 'tail' Maarit to Tartu and discover the identities of the gangsters who had 'framed' her cousin Märkko for the 'hit'. I would be clubbed over the head breaking into Peko's villa looking for evidence, perhaps, I would be questioned by the police, get into a fist-fight, and there would be a shootout at the end. Or a car-chase. Or both. And, of course, I would get the girl. All these pictures, I admit it, were in my head at the time. Because I am just as stupid as everyone else. Of course, if I had tried to play detective, it would have been even stupider for me; today Tiu Silves is the most famous female gangster in the world. She is the biggest crimelord in Estonia and travels everywhere with twenty armed bodyguards, more even than George Bush has. I have learned the hard way that life is not a detective novel. It reveals its mysteries very slowly over time, and by the time you learn them, mostly they no longer matter--or you no longer care. And you never get the girl, or if you do, you never keep her for very long. Because, OK, OK, I will be totally honest with you; after Maarit and I had a big fight over my coming with her to Estonia--after she said no--I decided to follow her on the ferry anyway. Just to keep her in sight and make sure she was safe. The reason for this was that after seeing those two dead bodies, for the first time in my life, I was feeling a new and very strange emotion: I was worrying about somebody besides myself. I didn't like it very much, and later, after Maarit left me, I never did it again. Because, actually it is not any fun at all to feel this way. In fact, it hurts. That is why I stopped; I may enjoy many kinky sexual turn-ons, but masochism is not one of them. In this, I think I am a true Finn.

In addition, none of this will make very good sense to a modern person, this following another person on the ferry, for example. But this was in the age before the invention of the cell-phone or the Internet. It's hard to understand, I know, but another person could walk away from you on a city street or a ferry pier and you might never hear a word from them again for the rest of your life. Truly, we lived like savages in those days.

So there I was on the ferry from Länsisatama, Helsinki's western port terminal, wearing a grey trilby hat and a bone-white 'Imper' trench-coat I had borrowed from my father's closet for a bit of a disguise. I had considered taking one of his pipes as well, but decided that would have looked too ridiculous for someone my age. Even more ridiculous than I already looked, I should say. I stood at the rail in the sea-spray feeling like Orpheus following Eurydice into Hades, ignoring the stares of the other passengers, smoking, and staring down into the urine-dark sea. Naturally, it took Maarit less than 15 minutes to spot me standing there (just as she had on that first evening just six weeks before), and so naturally, we had another big fight, much to their amusement. At the end of it, however, she was giggling again at the sight of me. 'I don't think they'll even let you into Talinn looking like that,' she said. 'Certainly you don't have a visa to go anywhere else. I have to take to take the train to Tartu, in the south. What were you thinking?'

'I was worried about you,' I said miserably.

'There's no need, these people are my family. If you had any, you would understand. I'll be perfectly safe--this is just about business.' But it was she who didn't understand. I was in love--I couldn't bear to let her out of my sight. She was the foundation stone on which all my happiness rested. And it was a very flimsy one, indeed, so not very much happiness was fated in the future for poor Likkanen. On this occasion, however, she took pity on me, invited me into the ship's lounge, bought us both coffees, and told me a bit more about her business. Women fancy themselves much smarter than men, and it's no wonder, because we are so easy for them to manipulate when they are young. However, most women are actually quite stupid and ignorant of the real world. Not Maarit, though. She was born knowing everything. Perhaps I have given you the false impression that she was talkative. Nothing could be further from the truth; for a woman, she was actually very quiet. So when she spoke, I was always careful to listen. That is why I have faithfully recorded so many of her words. 'It's about metal,' she said.

The USSR, she explained to me, was not only rotting apart, it was tipping over onto its side, so that all the pieces were falling out, like loose change being shaken from trouser pockets. And a lot of it was falling into Estonia. At the beginning, most of the metal was discarded or rusting junk from factories, but nowadays it was obsolete machinery, old cars and lorries, sometimes even whole ships. Estonians smashed them up and resmelted them, then sold the metals back again or else smuggled them out. And increasingly, it wasn't just junk being sold--it was arms, tanks, sometimes airplanes. All the military bases were being plundered, nearby Kaliningrad most of all. 'My family doesn't have much to do with any of this part of the business,' Maarit told me. 'My Finnish family, I mean. Coffee for me, spirits and cigarettes for the others, never narcotics. But Communism makes it impossible not to cheat, because it is based on unsound economics. For example, take sugar.'

'Sugar?' I thought she meant in my coffee.

'Yes, because of politics, the Russians subsidize the Cuban sugar cane industry. But the main product of Byelorussia is beet sugar, so importing it is impossible; instead it is distilled by the Cubans into cheap rum, which anyone can buy up for a few rubles all over the Eastern Bloc. So my family brings that in from Russia by the truckload, then ships it to Sweden and West Germany, where it's resold at high prices.'

'But how can you do that?' I asked her. The bus had been searched thoroughly at the border post at Nuijamaa; several of the Finnish farmers had openly wept as their contraband vodka bottles were poured out onto the road in front of them.

'What is the main legal export of the Soviet Union to Finland, aside from ore?' said Maarit.


'Jaap. The Russians hollow out the logs and stuff liquor bottles inside them, then glue the logs back together. Probably two per cent of all lumber shipments are false ones. No one notices so long as they get paid off. Or so long as nobody gets killed. My grandfather was very upset about Gatchina--that's why I'm here.' She was right about my papers. When we docked, I wasn't even allowed off the ship. I spent a lousy night sleeping on a deck chair, then was returned to Helsinki the next morning. Maarit had smiled nastily at me in farewell, then tied on her canary yellow scarf and swaggered down the gangplank, her secret roll of dollars no doubt snug inside her vagina. I forced myself not to look after her. If I do, I thought, it will be like it was with Eurydice: she will never come back to me. This was the last time in my life, I think, that I have ever allowed myself to be superstitious. I do not believe in religion--or in magic. Maarit cured me of that.

Because, of course, she did return from Tartarus. On Monday night she telephoned. 'I'm home,' she said. 'But I can't talk. I'll see you on Friday.' But when she did, things were not quite the same between us. And I didn't know why. This feeling went on for many months, then changed and became better again--but too late to save us, as you will see. And the mystery? Oh yes, Cousin Märkko was quite honest about the killings; he had shot them. He said that he had good reasons--but would only tell them to Tiu, who afterwards agreed that, yes, his reasons were perfectly sound indeed and reflected well on the family. But that's all either of them would say on the subject, even to Peko, and it would have to be enough. Eventually, I suppose, word got back to the Russian gangs from the 'chicken-farmers' that Märkko had done it, then perhaps to the Police Militia of the Leningrad Oblast. Maybe a warrant was even put out for Märkko, who can say? But I doubt it. This is how mysteries are solved in the real world. But if you want to believe in the little old English ladies, go ahead. Maybe for you they are like the Norns.

Ok, now I have left the Angleterre pub. Outside on Frederikinkatu, feeling a bit dizzy from being inside drinking all day, I make a strange discovery: a very scary weather condition has fallen over the city, like a spell from an evil sorcerer. It is as though I have walked through a door into Mordor. The sky has darkened to the colour of a bruise, and a thick, choking haze has descended over the streets. Overhead, the dark clouds boil and churn as if in a cauldron; the sun bleeds through them like the red eye of Sauron. And on the sidewalks, bathed in this eerie half-light, everyone looks like characters from the 'Lord of the Rings'. I have noticed this more and more lately, anyway, that strangers increasingly resemble to me cartoons or figures from action films or TV commercials. I had assumed that this was a feature of travel--or perhaps of age on my part. But now, suddenly I am not so sure. Maybe it's the way they dress. The other day, for example, in Hawaii, I passed a five-foot tall young Mexican body-builder dressed exactly like a Star Trek Klingon, complete with body armour, who clanked as he walked. The world has gone quite mad, IMHO--so it's no surprise that the weather has, as well.

Two Finnish guys are standing there staring at me like they know me. They are strong fellows badly run to fat, both are about my height and age and look like they've been sleeping rough, as so many Finnish drunks do in the summer months in parks and dumpsters and lean-tos beside lakes. They are dressed like biker gang members in torn jeans and vests bearing faded regalia with the word 'Bandidos' sewn on them. The 'leader', the more talkative one, has a merry, open face stitched with laugh lines like an old football boot, and resembles Frodo's companion, the hobbit Sam Gamgee. He is missing a few teeth and is unshaven; unlike my designer stubble, his just looks like white toothbrush bristles all over his face and scalp. The other, the silent one, who has a long grey beard and shoulder-length hair, reminds me of Gimli the dwarf, with dark, scowling brows and a big nose. 'What's going on with the sky?' I ask them on an impulse in Finnish. They glance at each other.

'Don't you know?' Sam Gamgee replies after a minute. 'It's the Russians.'

'They've blown themselves up at last?'

'No, no, it's their forest fires. The smoke blows over here, straight from their arse-holes. They can't afford to pay fire-fighters to put them out, so this has been going on all summer, on and off.'

'I've been out of the country,' I tell them.

'You know, I could swear I've seen you somewhere before,' says the silent one unexpectedly. 'Didn't we do our "intti" together? In '71 maybe?' There is something just a little bit shifty in the way his eyes focus slightly to the side of me. Well, he is an alcoholic, obviously. They are always shifty. What can one expect???

'I did mine in '72,' I say, and they nod. Their names, they tell me, are Esa-Pekka and Stig. I tell them to call me Lemo, and they nod again and look at each other in bafflement. What's going on with these guys? Then, Esa-Pekka, the friendly hobbity one, asks me if I want to go drinking with them. He's had a bit of luck and is buying, he says. This is most curious of all. Friendly Finns? Willing to pay for drinks? Perhaps they are on some new government-approved anti-depressant pill, LOL.

'I have a little drinking problem,' I tell them. 'My problem is that I plan to drink continuously for the next 18 hours or so, but it's important that i don't fall asleep at any point. So I will stick to little drinks with lots of coffee. Keep me awake, and I'll pay for everything.' After a moment's consideration, this strikes both of them as a very admirable and worthy plan, and they are willing to fully commit themselves to it. But there is a secret reason for my sudden generosity; behind a crowd of Orc-like teenagers, I have just spotted the blue beret of the Gollum again. Now I have a Fellowship to protect me from his mad Master.

Besides, I will confess this to you--I like them. They are the first people I have met in many years I have felt immediately comfortable with. They remind me of 'Hietanen' and 'Koskela' in Vaino Linna's classic Finnish novel, 'The Unknown Soldier'. They are like a pair of old slippers; they get along with me very companionably. You think they are stupid and boring simply because they are a couple of old Finnish drunks? How wrong you would be. I will prove this to you. But we will have to wait until we are inside the next bar.

Left to their own devices, Esa-Pekka and Stig would no doubt stop at an Alko and buy cheap viina by the bag. But that does not suit me. Of course, I would save a great deal of money this way, but that would be a false economy. It is important as a health precaution that I drink the purest-proof viina along with a good class of coffee, and perhaps even a bit of food as well in order that I do not pass out puking again. So we must only drink at the best bars. This is based on sound scientific principles, I explain to them as we walk north on Frederikinkatu, and I can see at once that they are struck by my genius. Well, I must be modest; I apply my natural gift for introspective thinking to drinking as well as bonking. In my opinion, it is only a fool who does not learn important lessons from his actions, after repeating them over and over again for forty years.

'Why don't you want to fall asleep?' Esa-Pekka asks me, rather humbly.

'So that I don't lose control of myself and become some kind of crazy cannibal,' I tell him, and they both have a good laugh. But silently, of course, Finnish-style. It's good to be with my own kind again.

We turn on Eerinkatu to the Corona bar, which is also a billiards hall, and go inside. Now I am right back where I started, near the Torni again. It is a much hipper place than the other bars, judging from the music; they are playing the Pinker Tones' 'Million Colour Revolution'. 'This place is full of juppis,' complains Esa-Pekka. 'Yuppies', that is in English.

'Well, just do your best to fit in,' I tell him. I notice that while he's ordering at the bar, he makes a call on his Nokia cell-phone. From this distance, I can't hear what he's saying. Then he sets to work to woo the bar-girl with a shy, gap-toothed smile that makes his battered old face look surprisingly boyish.

'Typical of him,' the silent Stig suddenly tells me. 'Esa-Pekka and I have been pals since we were in nursery school together. He can charm the birds off the trees. Mind you, he has a very dark side to him--I live with my elderly mother, you see; she's disabled and has a heart condition, but I won't let him sleep on the couch.' He lowers his voice to a whisper, his sad, tired bloodhound eyes shifting from side to side. 'He's a hard man to live with, sometimes. It's the scorn, you see--the scorn...'

Esa-Pekka arrives with our first round, and while we wait for a table, we discuss science-fiction novels. Apparently he is a terrific reader of these, though his tastes appear to be in no way highbrow; he is a fan of Robert Heinlein and Philip Jose Farmer's 'Riverworld' series, which I've never read. He hates 'cyber-punk'. 'I can't make any sense of William Gibson,' he says, as we thread our way through a maze of pool tables to our booth. 'But hey, I'm a moron--I can't even turn on a computer, not even to read webmail, or whatever you call it.' He used to be a union electrician, but no longer works, probably because of habitual drunkenness. 'I kept electrocuting myself. Know what the most voltage I ever survived was? Easily 500 volts. H. R. Giger, the artist who created "Alien", used to fry himself just for fun.'

'"Alien" was the definitive science-fiction film,' adds Stig, who is apparently a great film buff. Yes, this fellow drowning like a troll in a foam of grey hair, his great beer belly hanging out of his tattered biker vest, collects film criticism magazines. He used to be a roofer, he has told me, but no longer works because of a bad back. Neither of them knows me well enough yet to tell me anything but the same sort of lies they tell social workers. Esa-Pekka has just begun to heap scorn on Stig's assertion about 'Alien' when suddenly I come face to face with Dr. Pretorius, who is wedged into a dark booth in the corner from which the central table has somehow been removed. A full meal is spread across a row of white linen napkins on the bench beside him.

'I must speak to you at once!' he hisses at me in French. 'Alone, if you please!'

'Perkele,' I say in Stadi, rolling my eyes. 'Mind if I talk to this guy for a few minutes? He's a harmless nutcase.'

'Hyee, he's a remarkable fatty,' Esa-Pekka replies ( 'jokinorsu'), and they find a table nearby where they can keep an eye on us.

'You took your time getting here,' Pretorius says, waving me to the seat across from him. 'Your life is in very great danger, Herr Likkanen. Those two are planning to kill you.'

I sigh and look at the ceiling. To watch this man eat is too disgusting. 'Come on, those two aren't killers. They couldn't scare a hen into laying an egg.'

'I'm afraid I see your death very clearly, as long as you remain in their company. The Invisibles have told me this very specifically. Listen, I know what you think of me. You think I am a madman, a figure of fun. You don't believe a word I say to you. But consider this, just for a moment or two--what if I am right, and you are wrong? What if magic really, truly exists? What if it actually works? This afternoon, when you went inside the English pub, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out, yes? Yet, by the time you left it, the skies were dark and filled with smoke. I summoned this darkness as a shield for my occultation.'

'For what?' I say. 'Occultation' is too much for my French. Why were we speaking it anyway?

'To make myself hidden on the astral plane to the warlock who rules over Finland; before, he could see everywhere here. "Tuuslar" is our name for him in the Chantry. But you know him far better than we do, I think.' He leans forward. 'He is the demon who seduced your wife, Likki, or "Linda" as we call her.'

I find that I, who thought myself free from any embarrassment on this subject, have flushed bright red. But perhaps it is merely from anger, I decide with relief. Yes, I have definitely lost my temper. A tantrum is very much in order here. 'I've had enough of this,' I hear myself saying, as if from a very great distance. 'Goodbye, Pretorius.'

'Six million. I will pay you six million Euros if you drop everything and come back to Stockholm with me right now. Please. Herr Likkanen, I am begging you,' says the fat man, starting to sweat. His pink forehead is shining with it. He appears to mean every single insane word he is saying. 'I'll be perfectly honest with you--whether you live or die matters not so much to me, though of course, personally, I wish to see the line of Frederik Wilander continue to the ultimate greatness that is destined for it. According to the Invisibles, your own son will usher in a new age on Earth in 2012. But my principal wish is to preserve the book inside your safe deposit box. If you die, that will be lost to us forever.'

'"A new age on Earth"?' I ask him, so distracted by his words that i actually forget to be angry. 'You mean the Age of Aquarius?'

'Well, actually, yes. The Sixth Sun prophesied by the Mayas, in fact. Do you know anything about the precession of the planets?' This I ignore.

'What's in this book, exactly?'

'I'm afraid it would be dangerous for me to tell you that. In fact, one of the stipulations I must insist on is that you hand it over to me without looking at it. It is the most dangerous document in existence. And I can tell you this much--when you die, it will more than likely end up in the hands of Tuuslar.'

'I'm sorry,' I tell him. 'This conversation, it is finished.'

Dr. Pretorius rises to his feet heavily, and extricates himself from the booth, his feet careful not to touch any of the cracks on the flooring. He takes his cape from a wooden coat-hook on the post beside him, and swings it around his shoulders like a conjurer about to perform a trick. I notice they are speckled with dandruff.

'Who is your next of kin, Herr Likkanen? Who stands to gain the most from your death? Think about it. I'll talk to you again later tonight.' And he turns to lumber off like a dancing hippo past the pool players and out into the occultated night. I stand staring at the remains of his meal; he has obviously been sitting here eating it for at least an hour; he has even had dessert. How did he know I was coming here in the first place? How does he know I even speak French? And what was all that he said about Likki--'or "Linda", as we call her'? Since when has my marital life been common knowledge in Sweden--and since when has Likki had her very own Swedish name? For the first time, I am beginning to have that feeling of the Japanese poet again, that vague feeling of trepidation. I shake my head angrily to try to clear it and then rejoin Esa-Pekka and Stig, who now seem to me now to be my best friends on this earth--and very, very sane, as well. Well, stands to reason, doesn't it? They are sensible Finns, not crazy Swedes. I feel a surge of affection toward them. I am dying anyway, so if these two stout lads decide to kill me, well, perhaps they are really just doing me a big favour. Doing the whole world a favour, in fact. Who better to row me across the dark waters of Tuonela into the underground Land of the Dead than a pair of my own Finnish brothers? Besides, I think, having a good swallow of viina, Dr. Pretorius was quite wrong about one thing: I have no next of kin. These Invisibles of his apparently don't know everything.

'French fellow, eh,' says Esa-Pekka, when I sit down beside him. 'My favourite French film is the "Fifth Element".'

'That's not really French, it just has a French director,' Stig says. 'I prefer that guy Godard, who made--what was it called--"Alphaville"? And "La Jetee". I've read they're part of some film movement called "Nuvoo Vaaku" or something. What's that mean in Finnish?"

'"Uusi Aika",' I reply. This is a joke--I have translated this as 'New Age'. OK, OK, it's hard to be funny in two languages. Or even one. IMHO, it is always a bad idea to learn a second language at all, really. Perhaps it is OK for women, they are natural actresses, but consider how you appear to others as a man when you are trying to speak a foreign tongue: French, let us say. You stand there with a stupid grin on your face like a baboon, bowing and pretending to understand what the other person is saying, looking like some moronic servile bell-boy waiting for a tip. It is no wonder that Parisians have nothing but contempt for the African and American students, for example, who behave in this fashion; by now the French have become used to such obsequiousness, which explains the madness of Chirac and de Villepin. Far better to act as the English, who expect everyone else to learn their language. This earns the respect of all. Of course, that is not possible for a Finn, so when we are abroad we are forced to act like mimes or clowns. It stands to reason, therefore, that we are mostly silent fellows. But not when we are drinking in bars.

'I can't believe you refuse to admit that "Twelve Monkeys" is a better remake!' Esa-Pekka is saying combatively to Stig. At first I think this is an act they are putting on for my benefit, but later I am to learn that, no, this is really how the two of them spend all their time together--arguing about anything they've ever seen on TV. Films, sports, game-shows, even commercials; it doesn't matter. It is a kind of Biblical interpretation, a bickering over arcane lore ever since day-care, I guess. They are like an old married couple. Yet they are true Finns, so they are not gay-blades. Sometimes they even seem ready to come to blows over some obscure point of this lore. 'Stig gets everything wrong anyway,' he is saying to me now. 'He's an even bigger moron than me. We didn't do our military service in '71, it was '72. So maybe we were all together at Porkkalan niemi for boot camp.'

'Maybe,' I said. But, strangely, I don't remember them at all. Of course, I was there with Bjorn. Like the true friend, he had taken off a year from his studies to volunteer for his service at the same time I was forced to have mine. In fact, all that summer he was determined to get us both into the proper physical shape for boot camp; making me wake up early to go running every morning and even give up cigarettes to improve our wind, though of course I cheated like mad whenever I was with Maarit. Naturally, I had dreaded their meeting at all after the disaster with my parents, and so kept them apart as long as I could, but when they did meet at last, he was had nothing but compliments to say about her after, though they argued constantly over politics.

'She's not like your other girls,' he told me. 'Especially that bitch Stina. Maarit's got a fine head on her shoulders. What's more, she really understands Capitalism.' From Bjorni, the devout neo-Marxist, this was the highest praise possible. Nonetheless, I felt a sting of jealousy hearing it. I had no proof of course, and she had never admitted to even kissing another guy on any of her weekends away, but I still couldn't really trust her, not even with Bjorni. Who obviously was 'smitten' by her. Well, luckily, I thought to myself, he would be stuck with me inside a military barracks for the next six weeks. He was even more worried than I at the prospect. Bjorni was convinced that we, being effeminate Helsinki Finland-Swedes, would be humiliated and beaten up by tough drill sergeants or a gang of Savo farm-boys, so he constantly practiced his boxing on me and every few days would produce some new trick for self-defense. 'Did you know you can splinter a man's nose with the heel of your palm--' (here he would demonstrate) '--and drive the jagged splinters into his brain?' Or, 'Did you know the best way to disable an opponent is to suddenly clap him over both ears at once--like this?'

I would not want you to think from this, however, that I was some sort of shy, sensitive, poetic weakling, like the heroes of so many modern novels. Not at all. Likkanen hates poetry. Likkanen despises sensitivity--except, of course, for his cosmical, almost supernatural, awareness of the many emotional and sexual moods of chicks. I often feel that I am rather like a human 'mood-ring' where women are concerned. But any other kind of sensitivity is strictly for the gay blades, though of course one cannot say that out loud these days, especially in New York. So I have found it wise to stay au courant with all the latest sensitive metrosexual language by occasionally reading womens' magazines; such jargon changes so often, you see, that it is hard to keep abreast. And, naturally, I often eavesdrop on conversations at Starbucks.

After all, I rarely have anything better to do these days.

Next time: In the Army.

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Saturday, September 2, 2006

Don Juan in Helsinki: 23

The next morning after we saw the first part of 'Solyaris', Maarit and I caught the train from Leningrad to the suburb of Gatchina, which lies south of Pulkovo Aeroport. Maarit had an appointment there with someone at an illegal trading market, where she would also meet her cousin Märkko from Estonia, which was less than 100 kilometres away. On the train I read a description of the town and its famous lake and palace from the only Finnish guidebook to Leningrad I had been able to find before we left. Gatchina sounded to me a bit like Haga Park in Stockholm, near to where my grandfather lived: ''Its marble walls were built to reflect the colour of the surroundings. In the summer sun they appear to be a warm gold, in the rains of winter a steely blue."'

'Well forget it, because we aren't going anywhere near the palace,' she said, as we left the railway station huddled under her red umbrella, ' This is just a business trip, so it's OK to buy cheap rubbish, but nothing else. We aren't here to take any stupid risks.'

'Then what are we here for?' I was not complaining, you understand; I was well content to share her umbrella. Jammed up beside mine beneath it, her body smelled of coffee, coal-tar soap, warm wet wool, and sex. This far from the sea, the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle. It was, according to the clerk at the front desk, 8 C on this day in late July. We could see our breaths.

'To fix shipment prices and dates with the Russian gangs. If this were a normal country, we could arrange it all by postcard or personal newspaper ads, but because it is still always Stalingrad here, deals have to be made with a handshake and drink of vodka. These are very backward, primitive people. It is important to them that they meet you in person, so that they can kill you later, if they have to. Of course, that doesn't make for good business.'

'But is it safe for you?' I asked, suddenly worried.

'Oh yes. My family is very old and well-connected, you see. Besides, I am just the little messenger girl. Nothing bad can happen to me here.' I was not so sure. We were walking northwest on Chekhov Street, a wide boulevard lined with eucalyptus trees and large white buildings that had, even in this weather, an oddly tropical French look, like a shabby old neighborhood of Nice or Cannes. Its mansions, streaked with soot and grime, were all schools now, or police stations, a local party headquarters, or Red Army training posts; once it had been a summer retreat for millionaires, an artists' colony, and, according to my guidebook, Imperial Russia's most 'cosmopolitan small city', filled with Germans, Swedes, and even Finns. Likely we were the only Finns who had seen it in some years--and we were certainly attracting many hard stares as we approached the apartment towers of the workers' housing estate. We turned left onto a street marked 'Radischeva'. On an abandoned muddy lot on the corner a group of young street toughs were listlessly kicking about a football so sodden it had burst apart and from a distance resembled a human head. One of these thugs spotted us and ran over to us, saying something in Russian. His hair was carefully greased back like Elvis Presley. He ogled my clothes as if they were a woman.

'He says he'll guide us there,' said Maarit. 'This part of the city is called "Zagvozdka"--that means "Big Trouble".'

'Wonderful,' I said.

'Well, literally, "Tough-As-Nails-Town".' The foot-traffic was picking up around us, the streets full of hurrying middle-aged men in translucent black nylon raincoats and women in bright scarves who might have been the cleaning ladies from the hotel. Everyone was smoking. There were a few younger girls, too, in day-glo pancake make-up and mini-skirts. Up close, it could be seen that the tenement blocks were quite new, perhaps built in the '60s, but already they looked as if they'd been shelled during the war. There was graffiti painted everywhere. The black market, or 'rynok', was in a paved arcade between two blocks of towers, and was packed with people of many different ethnic appearances, all of them dressed very badly. It was like a miniature USSR, I thought. Originally it had been created to house real shops, it seemed, but since there were none, the fronts were either boarded up or plastered over with party propaganda posters. In front of them were makeshift stalls and tables selling vegetables or dead chickens, but most activity was apparently being conducted by word of mouth. A man with no legs sat sleeping like a Hindu ascetic on a mat covered with toilet paper rolls and turnips. Next to him were strung clotheslines from which rows of spark-plugs dangled like clothespins. Maarit stopped at a folding table and bought a canary-yellow scarf from an old woman with no teeth. "Like it?' she asked me, tying it over her short black hair.

'You look like a real babuschka now,' I said.

'Well, I love it. I think it might even be real silk. You can get anything here if the traders have it in stock. Today it's Western make-up and underwear, I think--Russians hate Soviet underwear because it's made for one sex and one size.' This image was not deeply erotic to me. 'So you can see, if we can smuggle it here, we can sell anything. The problem is finding something to exchange, because the ruble is worthless. But you'd be surprised.' And so I was. So were we both, in fact. Our guide turned the corner into a covered concrete passage and gestured at a side door to one of the papered-over shops.

'Tuda,' he said, and Maarit gave him a handful of cigarettes. The door was unlocked. We went inside; there was no one there.

'What do we do now?' I said.

'We wait,' she said, looking at her watch. 'I'm a bit late. That's your fault, for keeping me awake all night.' The big room was in twilight, lit only by the gloomy daylight leaking in from the covered show-windows in front. By it I could see stacks and stacks of folded string shopping bags, some waist-high. The walls were covered from counter-top to ceiling with square medical X-rays with dark circles in the middle: skulls, chest cavities, crania, pelvic girdles, other anatomical parts I could not identify, and so I moved nearer toward them to stare.

'We used to bring those in, too,' Maarit said. 'We'd buy them from hospitals and clinics.'

'X-ray plates? Whatever for? They're useless once they're exposed.'

'Not here,' she said. 'Ten years ago, the "roentgenizdat" used to turn them into jazz phonograph records by pressing grooves on them. Nothing goes to waste in this country. This place might have been an underground music shop.' Something on the floor behind a counter caught my eye. A boot. Beside it was another boot. Both were attached to a body lying on the floor. I walked around the counter and saw there were two bodies lying there side by side with the slightly disjointed look of discarded dolls. Both were men in their forties with dark moustaches like Freddy Mercury of 'Queen', and both appeared snappily dressed. One had half-curled up on his side, but the other lay sprawled on his back with his face lolling toward me, his open mouth full of gold teeth, a blossom of dark blood staining his groin, and a single black bullet-hole between his eyes. Both corpses had defecated in dying, and up close, stank of shit.

I heard a sharp gasp behind me. 'Märkko!' Maarit said. 'Oh God, I feel sick.'

'This is your cousin Märkko?'

'No, no, Märkko did this. The lying prick set me up to finger these two for him.' Her face had drained completely of all colour, and she swayed on her feet. I caught her arm.

'It might not have been Märkko. It might have been...anybody. The KGB. Or, I don't know, Uzbeks.'

'No, it's Estonian-style. Right ball, left ball, then bang between the eyes.'

From outside I heard the distant, unmistakable sound of police sirens; a moment later, someone pounded on the front door and shouted, 'Blya, menty!' Maarit didn't move. She closed her eyes; she was shivering, and her face was bathed in sweat.

'Come on,' I said, 'We have to get out of here.' I dragged her out the way we'd come in and was almost bowled over by a group of fleeing housewives. We followed them down the passageway and out into an alley behind the apartment block. Maarit seemed about to faint, but revived a bit in the rain--somehow, we had managed to leave our umbrella behind. We had walked about two blocks away when she suddenly stopped and leaned over, breathing shallowly. 'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I'm acting like a complete girl, aren't I? The thing is, you see, I've never seen anything like that before.'

'It's OK,' I told her. 'It's very upsetting.'

'Look at you, though, you're being really brave.' She sounded almost resentful. Just then, Elvis peddled up to us on a bike. He braked and spoke in Russian to Maarit, his eyes flicking back and forth between us.

'He wants our money,' she said. 'Give him whatever you have.' I had a pocketful of rubles and a few Finnish markkas, which I handed to him in silence. He said something more.

'Now he says he wants our clothes.'


'Just give him your jacket, that's what he's really after,' Maarit told me, taking hers off. It was a 'blue-jean' jacket, real American Levis. I gave it to him reluctantly. 'Don't worry, I'll buy you a new one.' Elvis carefully put it in a shopping bag, then insisted on taking her watch as well before he pedaled off.

'He's going to turn us in anyway,' I said miserably, cold rain beginning to trickle down the small of my back.

'No, he won't--he'd have to give our stuff up to the militia if he did. That watch of mine is crap, but he can buy himself a motorbike with your jacket.' We turned the corner into the next street, and suddenly there he was again.

'Saatana!' I exclaimed, losing my temper. 'What, has he come back for my pants? This is straight from the arse-hole!' Beside me, Maarit gave a weak giggle. Elvis stood there for a moment or two, legs astride his bicycle, looking at us with a slightly shamefaced expression, then handed us each a crisply folded black nylon raincoat. I put mine on after he had disappeared for good. I had cut off most of my long hair before meeting Maarit's family (it was going to have to go anyway when I reported for military service in a month); now she pushed a damp lock of it off my forehead.

'You're starting to look almost Russian,' she said. 'I've never heard you curse before. It's cute.'

'What do we do now?' I asked her. 'He took all our money.' Our passports were back at the hotel; we had been given grimy photocopies. My guidebook had fallen into a rain-gutter, and I felt an irrational panic at the sight, as if I were somehow saying goodbye to the last of my Finnishness.

'Oh God,' she said, starting to tremble again. 'This is so embarrassing, Lemo. Don't look at me.' Her teeth began to chatter, clacking loudly against each other, and she retreated into a little alley behind a mound of rusting containers. I watched her pull off her panties and squat down. When, after a time, she came back looking very little better, she sat down heavily against a low brick wall. A passerby stared at her curiously.

'I always carry a roll of dollars around with me inside a certain place.' She peeled out a few five-dollar bills from a little plastic sandwich bag and handed them to me. 'A certain place you have visited many times. I'm sorry, I'm feeling too sick to move right now. There's a "Vinnyj' on the corner, see it? Go inside and buy me a bottle of vodka, just say "Stoli, Stoli", OK? Don't accept anything else. Make sure the seal is unbroken and on very tight, we don't want to poison ourselves with "samogon". Oh,' she added as I began to walk away, 'See if you can buy yourself something to eat in there. It's going to be a long walk back.'

When I returned with the Stolichnaya, she opened the bottle at once and began sipping from it. 'It's the shock. This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me. Always before it was just like a game, you know?' I nodded. She staggered to her feet, and we walked slowly north and east to the 25th of October Avenue. A police Zhiguli with flashing lights roared past us down the middle of the road, followed by two black vans; we turned and continued on in the direction they'd come from, trying our best to walk like Russians. The rain was beginning to come down harder, so this was easy enough--we were hunched against the downpour like a pair of half-drowned rats (BTW, I have noticed that this 'look' is now quite fashionable these days in Manhattan for both men and women--they appear to comb their hair with stinky cologne to achieve it. Sometimes I think no one bonks from real attraction any more but just as part of some sort of hazing ritual.) Inside the liquor store I had stuffed my pockets full of a candy bar called 'Kaka-o'; these claimed to be chocolate but tasted fairly much like their name.

'What exactly happened back there?' I asked her, trying to choke one of the Kakas down. The vodka helped a bit with this.

'I'm not sure exactly. Märkko is in a gang called the "Saha-Loo'--that means the "chicken farmers"--maybe they took a contract from the Kambov gang here in Leningrad, to kill those guys we saw back there. Or maybe not. Maybe something just went wrong. Or perhaps it was a hit ordered by the Estonian Defense League; they are very closely connected. One thing is for sure,' she said, taking the bottle back. 'Nothing Märkko does is his own idea. He's really conceited and stupid. He takes all his orders from his sister Tiu, who is the toughest girl I know. These are my real cousins, you understand, not just business cousins--they are the children of my mother's older sister. She married an Estonian named Peko Silves, a friend of my grandfather.'

'This Estonian Defense League,' I said. 'Aren't they like...?"

''Japp, they're like Nazis.' She took the bottle from me, put it to her lips, and swallowed hard. 'Next weekend I'll have to go to Tartu and talk to them.' We kept walking for about an hour up to Leningradskaya before catching a local bus that, after a long whimsical detour through a labyrinth of roads around the aeroport, finally got us back to the city. The next day we returned to Finland; at the border the sun finally came out.

Next time: Eurydice in Tartarus

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