May 20th: Welcome to HEL

I’ve wanted to use that title for months.


England looked so beautiful from the air. Possibly an unremarkable observation if you live there, but for me it's pure Tolkien. Even the man-made rises fringing the runway, dotted with trees, was intensely and indulgently verdant. I first, properly, had a chance to be inside a forest when I was sixteen. I saw it from a distance at a school camp to Lake Tinaroo on the Atherton Tablelands north of Cairns. It was on the other side of the lake (that itself was manmade, the product of damming up the river and flooding the valley - submerging the Chinese goldmining community that had made the place their home. You can still dive what's left of the ruins.)

The buildings were on one side, the pine forest (again, a manmade plantation) was on the other. I had arranged to skive off something and attempt to walk around the lake. Figured it'd take hours but worth it if I could spend even five minutes vanished inside it. On that day I walked for hours, and never made it, though a stray dog kept me company the entire way. I'd seriously underestimated the distance and so headed back. Felt bad having to leave the dog, at the end.
A year or so later I arranged a camping trip with Eric and Drew. Got dropped off at the township and hiked around the lake. Finally go to sleep inside that forest.

Lifting off from Gatwick and looking out the window showed a countryside deeply emerald and carved into floppy squares by rounded, fluffy treelines. And, man, did I just want to get out and walk.

It wasn't until that moment, actually, lifting higher, that I properly realised just how long it would be before I was back in the UK. August at the earliest, possibly longer. Until then it had felt like I was just stepping out for a bit. And then, abruptly, it vanished beneath the clouds, green submerged beneath white, a flash of riverwater and that was that.

DK went back to Istanbul and walked the streets where his mother grew up, visited a few landmarks. It was quite a significant experience for him. I'd like to have the same. I think I'd like to feel some kind of connection to history, even if I can't sensibly claim any kind of role in it. I've had Russian cabbies assume I was Russian from my look, I've had Americans and English people assume wonder if I was French. It leaves me feeling a little insubstantial, not really knowing. Like I was built and installed, cold and abrupt and stand-alone, rather than concieved as part of a genetic continuity.

Captain just announced we're on approach. Holy crap, I can see the archipelago. It's beautiful.


Landed at 9:20pm Helsinki-time last night. Sun about twenty degrees from the horizon, a smeared molten ball behind the clouds throwing out cold shadows in hot light.

May 19th 2010 - Enroute to Helsinki 008

Called J, let her know I was in, grabbed my pack from the turnstile and found the 615 Keskuseen bus. Had the stop name, but counted it as the 18th from the airport just to be safe. Proud of myself that I spotted it nine actual stops in and got off.

J met me, we went upstairs, I met Trond, Aano and Outi, witnessed a boot crisis, packed for Leipzig, we got three hours sleep with the sky still light at 1:30am and were on a bus at 5. At the airport by 5:30, and noticed a bunch of other people in black, with challenging haircuts, obviously traveling on a similiar itinerary. By 6:30 we were airborne. 9:30 we were in Berlin. Klaus picked us up at the airport. J considers he and his wife her German parents. He struggles with English, but then I struggle with German, so with J in the middle we make do okay. Been here a day and I'm already conversing semi-okay with people in stores and the like. German is much easier than French.

So Klaus takes us back to his place. Honestly, I couldn't lie about this and keep a straight face. Klaus is an artist working in reclaimed ivory, Chinese antiques, jewels, coral, and sundry other things and sells his works to Hermes and the like in Rome, Paris, Shanghai and elsewhere. His place is by the river, his front room is loaded with art and artefacts like a chair he made from antlers, swordfish snouts mounted on jade plinths, barracuda skulls projecting golden jeweled lances from their mouths, 100-year-old ivory horses from China... the list goes on. We get the place to ourselves for a week once we get back from WGT. I'll snap a few shots.
Klaus served us really good coffee in Moroccan china, pieces of rough-snapped chocolate, Blanc & Noir chocolates, and cookies. So sleep was out.


J and I went for a walk after while Klaus retreated downstairs to his workshop. Walked by the river, through the gardens, saw camels through a gap in the fence, visited a cathedral that was blasted to ruin in WW2 (and I got 2 Grand Marnier crepes that were so goddamned delicious and sensual to eat it was almost criminal)...

May 19th 2010 - Enroute to Helsinki 079

... and now we're in a bookstore drinking more coffee and doing netstuff before heading out to look for clothes. And tonight we're in an Italian restaurant, which is apparently very good.
And tomorrow we hitch a lift to Leipzig.

When we get back I want to check out a bar in a hotel on the Alexanderplatz that Matt recommended. World's largest fuckoff aquarium. 4-storeys tall. Barracuda and the like.
And finally: we passed this on the way to the Cathedral. The plan is to find someplace on the night that has people, a widescreen TV, and is serving booze.