Maybe what cold is, is the time
for our own bones, the hard knife-edged love
for the warm river of the I, beyond all else; maybe
of the blue shark cruising toward the tumbling seals.
in the immeasurable cold,
we grow cruel but honest; we keep
if we can, taking one after another
the necessary bodies of others, the many
crushed red flowers.
-Mary Oliver (“Cold Poem“)
Amazingly, things are going well here. Not only is this the picturesque view from the room I’m working in, but I’ve also already found a ton of material–material that reinforces many of the claims I’ve made (phew; very relieved it’s not the other way around!)–and keep finding more everyday. And this is just by having pulled several turn-of-the-century journals from the shelves in the open stacks; I can’t imagine how much more voluminous my findings will be once I actually force myself to go to the dreaded microfiche room and get down to business. While I certainly didn’t fancy touching crumbling, yellowing newspapers (my hands, thanks to the cold, are in bad enough shape as it is), I would prefer almost anything to microfiche. One positive is that Helsinki, unlike Berkeley, is keeping up with advances in technology and a flash drive can be used to store valuable discoveries. No smudged and barely readable print outs will be in my future.
Stuffed in between the pages of a journal I found an old note and, because Russian handwriting, particularly that of the older generation, is so lovely, I couldn’t resist taking a picture. It’s not all about the archives, after all!
My non-archival findings have been a bit varied–some have certainly been more successful than others. As I mentioned in my last post, Finland is a “candy country.” What this means at a place like the movies is that you can get a bag and, moving from drawer to drawer of different sweets, fill it up to your heart’s content (no, we could not have such a thing in America; we’re just not as trustworthy and law abiding. Seriously, I can’t even get over the fact that people leave their computers unattended in the library and nobody steals them. As an American, in fact, my paranoia runs so deep that I lock it in one of the lockers and carry my camera with me wherever I go). The one catch here is that, although the offerings in the drawers look like a variety of treats, from cookies to spider-shaped gummy candy, at least 95% of it all is masquerading; in reality, it’s licorice. Although I know I don’t like licorice, I decided to be game and to give it another go; this led, however, to my giving the majority of my candy to my friend. After biting into it, I just couldn’t finish it. The taste is too strong. Now I’m being more careful. I’m going for all things chocolate (to my delight, there’s a brand called “Geisha”): corn puffs covered in chocolate (suffeli puffi), chocolate-covered biscuits and chocolate milk. You may be wondering what in the world is going on with my sudden sweet tooth, but it’s cold here. My body is working hard to stay warm…and, if need be, I have no problem gaining a few pounds for a good cause. It’s either that or kill and skin any animal I can catch.
I should mention, however, that the cold, despite being quite biting at times, has not really kept me inside. Because the library cafe is fairly expensive and the quality is not so good, I’ve been going out for the past few days and getting lunch in the neighborhood around the university. I really wanted to try this vegetarian restaurant, Zucchini, that I found online, but it was closed. Even with my more than rudimentary Finnish I could tell that the sign on the door meant they were closed until March 9. Oh well, I’ll just have to make my way back there next week! Things to look forward to!
While in search of another restaurant yesterday, I decided to stop in Esplanade Square and take a few photos; the sun was shining and I had taken my camera with me, so it would have been a wasted opportunity for me to have done any differently. I was quite amused when I saw this rather cute looking cafe in the center of the square with all kinds of French-style checked tablecloths dotting the cafe’s porch. Mind you, my amusement had nothing to do with the decor–it was lovely–but I couldn’t help but think it was better suited for May in Paris, next to the Seine…I couldn’t imagine sitting out there in my winter best, sipping a cappuccino and eating a pastry. But I’m just a wimp; plenty of people were enjoying the perch.
No, I was meant for the pleasures of the Great Indoors. I saw an ad for a halloumi salad and, although Fratello Torrefazione looked to be a bit out of my price range, I thought that I might as well check it out. I was hungry; I was cold. I was willing to pay for a place to sit and take a rest, pull out my Kindle, catch up on Julia’s and Avis’ letters (they’re in the thick of McCarthyism, as well as a recipe for Bouillabaisse) and leave all things Slavic behind for a few minutes. After I shyly asked for an English menu, the guy behind the counter said that they didn’t have one, but that he would be more than happy to translate for me. Oddly enough, they even had bouillabaisse; it was the most expensive thing on the menu. Instead of splurging outright, I asked for a recommendation (obviously, if he had recommended the bouillabaisse, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it). He said the best thing on the menu was the pork neck cassoulet with celeriac in a dijon-mustard sauce. My path seemed clear; pork it would be! I even got a dining companion in the bargain and, although it wasn’t quite what I had had in mind (remember, I had been heading to a vegetarian restaurant!), it ended up being a lovely lunch. It turns out that archives make you not only hungry for good quality food and vegetables (oh, the vegetables!), but also for human company. And isn’t travel all about random encounters with strangers over delicious food?
Truly, my research aside, some of my nicest moments these past few days have been food related. You can never go wrong with cassoulet (a favorite of mine) on a cold day; today’s adventure involved a chocolate-covered macaron at lovely little dessert shop, where I chatted with the lady about baking and she gave me free samples and showed me some special things in the dessert case. Everything was so good that, as soon as I left the shop, I set about devouring the macaron. It was so good I didn’t even regret taking off my right glove to eat it. Some things are worth the sacrifice.