~Ilta on aamua viisaampi.~
~The evening is wiser than the morning.~
Flipping off my scarecrow hat and hitching up Mom’s drooping slacks, I hasten to the house where a young man stands at my front door. There, in the flesh: my second- or third-cousin twice removed, Jukka. There’s no mistaking the smiling Viking, his Swedish side evident in his lanky blondness, yet despite his height he somehow looks smaller than that online picture.
Grinning broadly, he shakes my hand with both of his upon my approach, vigorously not letting go, repeating, “Hyvää päivää, hyvää päivää!” His teeth are not so white after all, but stained brown with nicotine or coffee or both; I wonder if he doctored his digital photo. He’s dressed in the tight leather pants from his picture and appears over-heated, his face flushed the red of his tucked-in Stanford t-shirt. It smells of starch, crisp and new.
“The traffic,” he rolls his r’s like Mom, “is really something. So. Finally we are meeting, Ah-lina.” I feel a grin break through as I greet him and open the front door, inviting him in. He strides inside ahead of me, slips off his high-tech zippered mesh shoes and places them by the door, Japanese style.
“It’s nice to have you here, I say,” thinking perhaps his eyes have my mother’s impish twinkle. “Really, it is nice,” My mouth won’t stop smiling.
Looking at me, he cocks his head, folds one arm across his waist, and rests the other elbow on it. I yank up Mom’s trousers. As if evaluating a painting, Jukka says, “Your hair is not the color I was thinking.” It’s not what I’d been thinking, either. I push my red bangs aside. My earlier self-description as a brunette is not so accurate at the moment. “You should learn to send the pictures,” he says.
“I know how to email pictures,” I say. “I just don’t have any.” No one to take photographs of me. Blushing under his gaze, I mumble something about wearing “work clothes.” Jukka looks around with an appraising eye, “Your apartment is very dark.” OK, I understand why Finns have to take seminars on how to finesse business with foreigners. I switch on a lamp to brighten the perpetual dusk of the low-ceilinged rooms. “It is better if you paint the valls vhite,” he tells me. The walls are white, but I don’t argue. This talk of my hair, my house—perhaps instead of a biker gang, an SUV full of gay men is outside waiting to rush in, eager to make over my life, a band of boys who would roll their eyes at my mother’s traditional wall weavings and advise me how to keep my oily skin under control. Who’d whoop with derisive laughter at the polyester pants sagging from my waist.
I look around him toward the door. Wonder about Paavo. The Hell’s Angels “duds.” “You said something about others?”
“Well, yes, there are. There is. I am afraid that Paavo is sleeping now that it is taking so long to get here and the trocks.”
By “trucks,” I know he means the Explorers and Yukons. “Yes, we have too many large cars here,” I say. I feel the need to apologize for global warming. For the war and the Kyoto treaty.
“Ei, no, it’s not the SUVs. Drocks.” He says, “You know, the medicines.”
“Oh, drugs.” Drugs? “Is Paavo the only one?” On drugs?
He sucks air as he says, “Yo, yo,” as Mom used to, that Finnish habit of inhaling a sigh. “Yes, yes. It is yust him and me coming. Now it was not supposed to be Paavo today but I’m afraid that something has gone wrong which I need to tell about. But the surgery has gone fine.”
As he does not immediately pursue the subject, I peer out at the small white rental parked in front. Through its half-open window, I discern a human form leaned back in the passenger seat. He appears to have a shield of some sort over his eyes, perhaps to keep out the sun, to sleep.
“Do you think we should we leave him out there?”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Jukka waves dismissively. “The surgery has gone fine but if that is OK, she’s going to be here now as well.” If I hadn’t been raised by a mother who habitually reversed her “he’s” and “she’s,” I’d think that Paavo had just gotten a sex change operation. But weren’t the Swedes experts at that?
I clasp my hands. “Well! Would you like some coffee?”
Jukka shakes his head with a sigh, “I was thinking you were never going to ask that.” He leads the way into the kitchen.
Coffee: the Finnish ritual. Growing up I drank it only in the morning, but as time passed I joined my parents on weekends with the drink at mid-morning, after lunch, in mid-afternoon, and after dinner. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, we capped the day with coffee after sauna. Now as Jukka and I finish ours, after he’s devoured two of my store-bought blueberry muffins, no need to say much in a comfortable Finnish way, I’m startled by a dark-haired man in goggles peering through the kitchen window. Ski goggles in the summer heat. I glance at Jukka, who rises. I follow him to the door.
“It’s time you are awake,” Jukka says, pulling him inside. The man’s clear plastic goggles have a million little holes poked in them. I wonder if he sees a kaleidoscope of a million little me’s, like those bugs with the weird, multi-faceted eyes. By way of introduction, Jukka says, “Here now is Paavo.”
“Welcome!” I say too loudly, somehow intuiting that his eyewear makes him hard of hearing.
“He’s had the LASIK today,” Jukka informs me, pointing at the curious glasses.
Paavo and I shake hands. He’s brunette, not as tall as Jukka, with more of a farmer’s build, and thick Slavic forearms. His nose has that squared off look as if unfinished, but he has sensuous, full lips. His eyes, well, it’s hard to see them through the holy plastic.
“Thank you for letting me come to visit with you,” he says. “This is most kind.”
“I’m happy to have you here.” Again the smile. “Come, have some coffee.” With them settled at the table, I fill mugs.
“You found the place all right, it seems. I’m a little surprised.” The Ford Taurus doesn’t look like it has a GPS.
“Of course. We have maps,” Jukka says, not knowing that there are area residents who wouldn’t be able to find my house with or without a GPS. “I’m loving this country. It’s my first time, but not so for Paavo.” He points his cup toward his friend, who, fumbles for the sugar spoon.
“I have never before have the Valium,” Paavo says. “Funny I’m the doctor, but myself I never try this medicine.”
“You’re a doctor?” I try to sound neutral, not wanting to divulge my prejudice. Shrugging, he says he works at a health center, what we would call a general practitioner.
“Surely they perform eye surgery in Finland?” I address them both, not sure how ‘with it’ this drugged Dr. Paavo is.
“Oh, yes, on every part. But he’s coming with me because his friend is the best doctor in the world. For the eyes.” Jukka makes a V with his fingers and pokes them at his own eyes, talking about Paavo as if he isn’t here. Paavo remains silent. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he’s coming. But Finland has plenty good doctors.”
Paavo speaks up in his defense “But these are my eyes.”
“Did it—” I was going to say, “hurt?” as I know I should get something done about my vision.
Jukka continues, “John is the guy,” pronouncing his name as ‘Yann.’ Here Paavo’s traveling thousand miles for this. John says ‘leave your eyeglasses here, you’re not needing them no more’ but Paavo says ‘no’.”
Looking down at his plate, Paavo mutters, “They are my only pair over here.”
“But you come because he’s best doctor in the world and then you don’t believe him. That’s crazy.” Jukka shakes his head and smiles his stained smile.
“You said that something has gone wrong…” I say.
Jukka explains that Paavo was to spend the night down on the Peninsula with his eye surgeon friend, but his wife just miscarried. The men thought it best that Paavo stay here. I express condolences and insist that both are most welcome here, although this Paavo is not living up to my fantasies. I also learn that Jukka’s twenty-eight and single, while Paavo is thirty-four, also single, and they both live in Espoo, a suburb of Helsinki. Jukka says the two met “avantouinti,” or ice swimming. “This is good for many health problems,” Jukka assures me, though I have no intention of ever finding out.
“Do you like to swim?” Paavo joins the conversation.
“Yes, yes I love to swim,” I say, though generally in warmer waters. “I just don’t seem to do it much anymore…” I trail off, dismayed by all of the pleasures I’ve given up since my mother died—swimming, hiking, bopping around the house to my favorite music. Sex. “Um, I’d like to know how we’re related, Jukka.”
“Our grandmothers is sisters.” That verb is problematic on more than one count. “You will not believe how many of us—Virtonens and I’m sure the Eskalas too—there is in Finland. Virtonen is my mother’s family. You come and you will see.”
“You answered my letter by email—that was a surprise.”
“My mummi has given me the letter. You are on the web.”
At my astonished face, he says, “You have written some kind of paper and it’s from the company you work for, so I’m just typing AEskala at DRP.com and it is working.” After a moment I recall a paper on test case scenarios from some obligatory conference, co-authored with Ravi when I first started at DRIP. “It is easy,” Jukka says.
“It’s not magic,” Paavo says.
After calling for a take-out pizza, I suggest a quick walk along the golf course before it arrives.
“This is killing me,” Jukka says, admiring the expanse of green, the ponds of sand. “So beautiful.” Me, I’ve never found tamed nature so great—golf greens, baseball fields—just so much man-made prettiness. I like my outdoor scenery more wild. “And I have brought with me my clubs,” he says.
I’m taken aback. “But you didn’t know there was a course here?”
“No, but I don’t travel without them. There is very nice courses here, one not far I’m thinking. Bubble Peach.” Pebble Beach. They came to golf?
About the Mercury country club I say, “I think it might be private.”
“Yes, yes, so I think. That is why it is killing me,” Jukka says as we walk on. An older couple walking their dog passes us, says hello.
“Can you see?” I look back at the phlegmatic Paavo, dragging behind.
“Yes, I’m looking but feel funny being out here with these on. And I’m thinking John said not to use my eyes too much yet. Maybe it’s better if I go back to house.”
Jukka sighs, “Yo, yo, we all go back.”
For those of you who’ve bought the print or e-book of From Finland with Love, A Novel, please read the following missing chapter–with my deepest, embarrassed apologies.
My next step will be removing the book from Amazon to fix the problem! You can vent or ask for your money back by writing me at email@example.com.
“There is something very odd about this war of words between successful authors on different sides of a tectonic shift in the publishing world: it doesn’t exist in many similar industries facing the same sort of technological upheaval. You don’t hear Christina Aguilera or Adam Levine knocking indie bands. Instead they joined a show called “The Voice” which aims to capitalize on the credibility of indie artists by finding journeyman artists and giving them a shot at major label contracts. Indie filmmakers are revered, not reviled, partly because they eschew the studio system and its constraints on artistic expression. And the art world seems keenly attuned to the idea that the next Georgia O’Keeffe might be producing revolutionary work somewhere out of their sight until she turns 30.
Publishing is different from other creative industries because the machinery has not yet adapted to the profound technological shift it is undergoing. “
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
“From Finland with Love swept me away. I was on board and fully engaged from the very first scene to its satisfying ending. Ellie Alanko writes with humor and grace, deftly weaving moments of poignancy and longing with madcap antics and sparkling dialogue. Alina is an unforgettable character and the supporting cast of characters is rich, varied and utterly original. I highly recommend this book.”
No, Mom did not write that ~
“Thirty-three-year-old Alina Eskala’s life is on the skids. She is mired in grief for her lost parents, her uber passionate lover has moved on to her best friend, and her last refuge—a high tech job she loves and excels at—is about to be cut. Even her determined attempt to make over her mousy hairstyle is a full-on disaster. What’s the upside? Hilarity. No matter what Alina does, it is funny, engaging and memorable. Her savior? A loose cannon cousin from Finland who barges into her quiet world with his hot Finnish buddy. Soon her life has steamed up like a Finnish sauna with love triangles and quadrangles. Full of unforgettable characters, always engaging, and laugh-out-loud funny, From Finland with Love is a book you will read greedily and be eager to pass on to a friend.”
Would you read it??