MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF DOING THINGS FINNISH STYLE
I was visiting my son’s new in-laws getting to know the family who lived in the small town of Rantesalmi in Karelia, Eastern Finland in May 2008. Sirkka (Phillip’s mother-in-law had previously visited me in South Africa to learn our culture, now it was my turn to experience theirs.
The day started with a breakfast of oats porridge with berries, rye bread and cheese/ham with cucumber and tomato and a cup of coffee after which we set off for the summer cottage. This cottage is built on the edge of Lake Haarpaselkä in a lovely forest setting with birch trees and various pine or fir trees growing right down to the side of the lake. Upstairs the wooden cabin had space for two single beds and two sets of double beds under the eaves. Downstairs the living room was equipped with sleeper couch, a sink, a gas and wood stove. The entrance hall led into the anteroom of the sauna where buckets of water from the lake were stored. There was no running water at that time, but the cottage has since been renovated and now has a kitchen with running water. Through the anteroom was the sauna which consisted of wooden seating racks and a wood fired stove, with stones on top and a water cylinder to the side. (This is used for hot water purposes in the household as well). The sauna has also been replaced with the upgrade to the cabin and is now in a separate building about thirty meters away. There was a front porch running along the length of the house with steps leading into the garden.
The outhouse some 10 meters away from the main cabin consisted of a bio-toilet and storerooms. There was no running water in the toilet either and it had a container at the back filled with ‘forest floor’ material and a scoop, so after using the toilet you just put a scoop of the biodegradable material on the top and eventually it turns into compost.
The other structure near to the cabin was a wigwam-like building which was the outdoor cooking area used in bad weather. It had a fireplace in the middle of the floor with a chimney that went up through the middle of the structure to let out the smoke. There was seating around the perimeter of the fire and a table at the side for working on. There was an open hearth (braai) area near the lake for better weather. This too has been replaced with a more modern but similar structure.
After settling in and looking around we had coffee/tea on the front porch served with delicious Karjalanpiirakka, a rye pastry filled with baked rice porridge, which is a traditional Karelian snack. Such a beautiful environment enticed to do some exploring and sketching.
We ate a cold lunch of smoked bream and salad as well as a baked potato, onion, cheese and asparagus dish which was cooked in foil over the coals in the wigwam. Later we went into the wigwam whilst the coals were still hot to cook pancakes on the open fire. The pan is on the end of a long handle and the pancakes are made individually by each person. We then ate them with homemade raspberry jam. Delicious!
MY INITIATION INTO THE SAUNA..
After the meal we rested and I did some drawing and painting in Sirkka and Osmo’s visitor’s book. Later, Osmo cut some vaasti (leafy birch twigs) for the sauna. He then had his sauna after which we ate rye bread, salads, cheese/ham and a cup of tea before Osmo went home. After he had gone home it was Sirkka’s and my turn to sauna. The water had been carried up from the lake and the fires lit. First we had to strip in the anteroom and take a plastic sheet to sit on. We entered the sauna room and sat on the top wooden rack. The procedure was to wet ourselves all over with cold water. Sirkka just went and jumped in the lake, I wasn’t that brave so used water in a basin that was there for that purpose. Sirkka then threw water on the hot stones which sent a wave of steam through the room. She held the vaasti over the stones and again threw water over them. This had the effect of wilting the leaves and sending a up a lovely aroma of green tree into the closed room. We then sat and slapped ourselves all over with the vaasti (not hard) which was quite nice as it was reasonably soft and stimulated the circulation. After a few more scoops of water onto the rocks the room was VERY hot and Sirkka said it was now time to jump into the lake. I went down to the lake, but it was very cold, so I only went in ankle deep. I have since got braver and enjoy swimming in the cold water! We went back to the sauna where we steamed some more. She went back to the lake a few more times, but said I should get washed and dressed as I was not yet used to this!
After enjoying the sauna and getting dressed we then lit the outside braai fire and had a glass of wine (it was Sirkka’s birthday) and toasted sausages over the fire. We sat and watched the sun setting over the lake with its rays turning the lake to gold – it was magnificent. God sent a special birthday gift, a rainbow appeared and was reflected in the lake, this was really a remarkable occurrence and we commented on the fact that it was God’s promise to us. The sun set around 11.00pm (but the sky was still light as it does not move far off the horizon at this time of the year. We went to bed and I was woken at 4.30 am with the sun shining brightly in my window, ready for another day of learning Finnish culture.