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Category Archives: travel journals

journaling while on the road

Gosh, a year’s gone by…

DSC01076Ancient statue of Buddha at maha-chaitya stupa,  Nagarjuna Sagar, India

It’s February, a weird unusually mild winter month in Canada. Makes me nervous. Because there’s usually a revenge that Mother Nature has in mind in the form of a blinding blizzard up here in Canada. It’s past Whiarton Willie time or the Groundhog Day.  He/she did see its shadow on February 2, so that means another 6 weeks of winter.  Or, shitty weather at least.

Have been reading a lot about the meaning of soul, especially how it is understood in Buddhism these past few months. Telltale sign I’m getting older? Maybe. Winter months kind of make me look inward I’ve always found. Curl up with a good book or search for documentaries on UnoTelly or Netflix with more depth and meaning. Not sure any depth or much meaning are these days to be found on prime time TV, which I was more than happy to abandon a while ago. Colossal waste of money to pay for the cable service and not find much of interest in the hundreds of commercial channels available…

I’m probably not “normal” (by North American standards) to leave TV behind, but why do I think those channels are mostly about conformity? The trouble is I’ve now raised the bar of intelligence much higher and, well, just can’t go back even if I got free cable TV for the rest of my life. Hmm. A snob? Maybe, but I now value my free time more and like spending it wisely. This has got to do with getting older.

Have been ruminating about acceptance a lot. It’s a concept that I knew so very little about until I started to lose people I love to illnesses. Some to premature deaths, others just because their time had come. Accepting the inevitable was what hit me hard, and then I started learning to accept a whole bunch of other limitations. Not yet clear what it all means, but I’ll pursue the quest. P Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on February 5, 2016 in travel journals

 

The smells of childhood memories

Photo courtesy of Putikonhovi

How many of us can travel back 50+ years to childhood summers and still find grandma’s house? Perhaps a few still have theirs, but a whole estate more or less intact? Not likely.I can’t believe that the B & W photos in my family album with the buildings behind us grinning kids are still standing today. Now known as Putikonhovi, a tourist travel lodge, tucked away in a corner of unspoilt nature in the middle of nowhere in the south-eastern corner of Finland. Close to the most beautiful lake Pihlajavesi, just a mile downhill from the estate. This was my childhood summer paradise.

The porch in the photo fronted an apartment where the Kosonen family lived.They had 5 kids, and I had a crush on Jaakko, their wild brown-eyed second youngest son. Their place was flanked with two other families who must have had at least 5 more kids between them, and then on the other side is where grandma lived in a place that had a kitchen and one large room, known as tupa. Hers was no ordinary kitchen but one that had a wood burning old-fashioned floor to ceiling stone hearth where she baked bread, cakes and pulla on the hot coles. I remember the smell of sweetbread and cinnamon rolls – those mouth-watering memories of childhood all from her kitchen. How on earth did she know how to bake to perfection on hot cinders? Without timers or turn-on/off knobs?

What the travel lodge website won’t tell of course is the history we lived on this estate. In the late 1940’s, my grandma and her own father then at 80 moved to their rooms. She was the widow of the estate’s miller and was given her rented rooms to live in when granddad died prematurely, his lungs compromised by decades of exposure to wheat flour dust. Workers then wore no protection nor were paid any compensation for illnesses caused by dangerous working conditions. Granddad passed away at 57.

The Kosonen family rented their rooms because the parents both worked in the local sawmill owned by the Auvinen family.The one bourgeois clan that owned just about everything else in the village of Putikko those days – the general store, the community hall, and most of the rental houses. The owner of the estate Mr. Koskinen of course rubbed shoulders with the Auvinen dynasty; rental rooms and apartments were hard to come by in the post WWII Finland. His sprawling main building had plenty of space to spare. And the men returning from the war front needed jobs and a place to start families.

I and my siblings were sent here by our parents from Helsinki during school summer holidays in the late 1950’s to join my aunt and her family who lived in the rooms after grandma passed away. Staying in this place was pure magic! Roaming around with a pack of other kids free without adult supervision. We checked out the horse barns, hid in the hay storage, played hide & seek in the cattle stalls and spent the hottest days swimming in the pond on the property. Mostly we slept in the aitta, the old log outbuilding that had rooms assigned to each family for storage. The room was big enough to hold a bed on which my sister and I slept many a lovely summer night. Another smell from childhood I recall is the fragrance of dried-up hey and oat stalks which were used to fill the mattress we slept on. Curious how all those smells is what I recall from the place. And the tall, very tall spruce and red pine trees that reached out to the heavens.

Our families had no real money, but having money was not what mattered then, at least not to us kids. What mattered were camping trips to the islands in row boats, later equipped with outboard motors, fishing and frying freshly caught lake perch in butter on an open fire and picking blueberries in the forest for dessert.

If you read this and travel in south-eastern Finland, stay a night or two on this estate. You might still catch some of the magic.

http://www.putikonhovi.fi/features.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Mu_xiHpG88  – a video in Finnish that shows the old heritage railway station in Putikko built in 1906. and the work that the local community activists do to maintain the waterfront beauty of the village. In 1992, Putikko was appointed as the Village of the Year in Europe to honour its history and the conservation of its ancient wooden buildings.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2015 in travel journals

 

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Divine Dining in Fenelon Falls

Blue bites of heaven

Blue bites of heaven

Ever been invited to a dinner that just beats all the other dinners you’ve ever had before? I was recently.

At Dianne’s and Wayne’s table in Fenelon Falls, Ontario.  A lovely small town nestled in the Kawarthas region, just a few hundred km northeast of Toronto. They also run the town’s delightful coffee house Sweet Bottoms Coffee – on the main street https://www.facebook.com/SweetBottomsCoffee.

Remember to check it out on your travels through Fenelon Falls.

The amazing feature about this dinner was that all the ingredients were “foraged” from the surrounding woods, marshlands and meadows. Including the wild leaks in the pesto spread on the appetizers, adorned with the flowers of wild blue violets. Edible, yes, and delicious!

The main course morel ragout literally exploded in my mouth with flavours I had last tasted in my childhood in Finland where I recall going mushroom picking in the early spring with my aunt to forage morels – those funny rather ugly looking dark brown mushrooms that look a bit like the brain’s grey matter. But looks are deceiving. Wait ’til you experience the taste – so rich and pungent, melting in the mouth!  Dianne had ingeniously worked the morels into a polenta-based ragout that enhanced their flavour – yummy!

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And the crowning touch were the greens – the fiddle heads and natural greens of the spring meadows, including dandelion leaves Dianne had mixed with others into a sumptuous salad. Even the mashed potatoes tasted as if the spuds had just been collected from the first harvest of the season. Magical was the only word I kept thinking of as our dinner conversation flowed effortlessly with our taste buds savouring the delights. Even the spruce tree buds got to play a part in this symphony of flavours! Dianne had infused a handful of them in extra virgin olive oil she served as a dip for the fresh bread on the table. Honestly!  Who would have ever thought of picking them young buds as something edible?

The sumac meringue pie that arrived on the table took my breath away, literally. My taste buds had already gone to heaven! Sumac flowers, Dianne told us, have great healing qualities and vitamins – why not make a pie with them as an ingredient! All I can say is that eating the pie was rather orgasmic like. I, for one, was speechless by the end of that dessert, sipping the lovely latte Wayne prepared for us in the coffee house.

Obviously, Dianne is not only a fabulous cook but also an expert in knowing how to find, prepare, and use locally grown natural ingredients – foraged food, if you like. I’m anxiously waiting for her cook book – please Dianne, you’ve got to write it! Not to mention watching her cooking show in the local TV networks.

Thank you so much for inviting me with friends to experience what REAL food tastes like.

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Posted by on May 24, 2015 in travel journals

 

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Farewell to 2014

Farewell to 2014

This is the one year I’m glad to kick to the curb. Glad it’s almost over and done with and one I’d like not to remember too much. And yet, 2014 is probably the year that has challenged me the most personally and professionally. Hmm….is it that I now know myself better than I did in my early 20’s when I emigrated from Europe to North America? Granted, that was definitely a tough year. But maybe because I was so young then, the big move seemed like an adventure, a journey full of promise and excitement.

We build stories as we narrate our experiences, if for no other purpose than to make sense of lived lives. This past year for me still begs to be told even to myself as it’s not yet all that clear. The dust from the upheavals is still settling. Curiously, we seem to find the relevant writers when we search for narratives that open up to us differently at different times in our lives. Recently found a quote by a writer Robert McKee who said that “stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.” So insightful and so true.

India will change you and in ways you won’t always recognize. That’s in a nutshell the message I’ve read in travelogues and books, such as Edward Luce’s In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India. I’m still learning. Living and working in the south of India and traveling on the subcontinent, including a visit to Nepal, shifted my personal platelets and reorganized my consciousness. Still figuring out how I changed, but changed I have. The only thing that’s become clearer to me is that I need to write about the “shifts” and what they mean after coming back.

A few people I’ve met since my return in late 2013 have asked me if I went to look for spiritual meaning in India. I laugh a little because so many westerners still consider India the exotic, other-worldly place, so distant and different and yes, vexing. Or, perhaps the legacy of the 1960’s celebrities flocking to India in search of meaning in life is wearing thin very slowly. No. I went there to work. To take a great full time, well paid job to get away from the insecure Canadian economy struggling to pull itself out of the post 2007 crisis. I lived in and experienced the “new” or “modern” India people can’t stop talking about even today. The new economy that is in rivalry with China to become the new Asian power engine for creating wealth and prosperity. And yes, I witnessed that emerging power as it unfolded around me in the Indian corporate world. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was to be as profoundly affected as I was by the ancient traditional India that is very much alive in one of the most populous and regionally diverse countries on this planet.

I actually think the major challenge – rather daunting in fact in its scale – for India as well as for China seems to be how to integrate capitalism into their ancient societies and cultures that are thousands of years rich in traditions, knowledge and wisdom. It is not so surprising then that I, too, am changing as a result of having been a witness to a far more colossal shifting that is unfolding globally.

I welcome the new year because I’m feeling more re-settled now. I can’t imagine though a more exciting time to be alive!
Buddhas in Nepal

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in travel journals

 

Remembering our dads in WW II

Red on Remembrance Day

Red on Remembrance Day

A week ago I went for a walk with Nadia, a lovely neighbour of mine. She and I met in a singing class this fall and like to take walks in the nearby park. Nadia is Russian and was born and grew up in St. Petersburg. Not far from my place of birth, Helsinki, Finland.

There was a peculiar historic context to Nadia’s and my first walk. We talked about our fathers – mine who was conscripted at 18 to fight hers, as most Russian soldiers were roughly the same age back in 1941. We both knew that our fathers – the armies they were in – fought each other, in the Continuation War 1941-44, also known in our respective countries as the bloody battle following the Winter War. When Stalin declared a war against the Finnish government that had allowed the German army into Finland earlier in the war. The then Soviet Union declared a war against all countries it considered allies of the Nazis.

Here Nadia and I were 73 years later on a walk in the park on a beautiful late fall day on another continent far away from our homelands. Our fathers had survived the war. Perhaps it was only now that Nadia and I could share a talk about any of the memories that have clearly haunted both her and my families for decades. The losses of dear sons, uncles, brothers, husbands, and boyfriends of so many people. It was the first time I had met a Russian who could share with me the painful memories from her family that I knew were similar to what had happened to mine.

I didn’t feel comfortable – not yet – in the new friendship with Nadia to share with her the less than positive post WW II memories from my childhood of the hatred I recall expressed by the Finns toward Russians. It was only as I grew up and read more about the WW II history that I understood this to be the inevitable fallout from a brutal confrontation that killed hundreds of thousands of young men. On both sides of the conflict.

Perhaps in here somewhere lie the lessons that we as humanity fail to learn repeatedly. All wars do kill and destroy so much and leave so many open wounds that take decades to heal. When will we ever learn? Will we ever stop this madness?

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in travel journals

 

Heart of Toronto

images[1]That to me would be Kensington Market. The place where I bought my first pound of authentic Italian cheese, home made sausages and eggs sold in the open air. In 1974, there were Portuguese shopkeepers who butchered a live chicken if you wanted it freshly killed for dinner. They’re long gone but the market has survived.

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Kensington Avenue, south of College and west of Spadina, is where most immigrants to Toronto went as soon as they found out about it. The meat, fish, veggies, nuts, fruit, spices and breads were sold fresh, cheap and in ethnic varieties not found in supermarkets. Over the years as I was lucky enough to live close by as a student, it was the stews made of the market veggies – a few days too old and cheap – that I could afford living on a loan. Kensington was simply “there”! Authentic, benignly chaotic, totally bustling, real and the home of buskers, counter-culturists, shopkeepers and a few daring restaurateurs alike. In the beating heart of the most multicultural city in the world. Kensington Market worked because it had always been the place of and for the people.
Kensington then
....and now

The other day I walked through the market once again. Found a new used fall coat in Bungalow, a rather chic boutique by Kensington standards. Ran into a few places like Flash Back still open and as daring as ever! Comforted is what I felt, and yet so much has changed, of course. Like all places of and for people, Kensington Market has kept up with the changes and is still beating with the energy of the city. I felt at home – just like I had back four decades ago. The very fact that Kensington Market is still there and vibrant shows how proud my beloved city of Toronto is of its immigrant history and heritage.
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To honour the passing of time and the change of immigrant faces, here is a wall mural that captured my attention.

Not in China but in Kensington Market Not in China but in Kensington Market

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2014 in travel journals

 

Life post TV

Classic TV

Classic TV

Our first TV

Our first TV


It was 1957 when dad bought our very first TV. Black & white, tube with a 17″screen, wow! All I remember is that at 4 p.m. weekdays all the neighbourhood kids squeezed into our small living room to watch some kids show. Come to think of it…didn’t need any parental controls on the TV programs those days!

I remember being so proud of my dad buying the first TV on our block. How cool it was…I also remember tricking our parents to believing we weren’t watching the late night movie with nudity they watched. That’s cuz they thought we were asleep in the next room, only 3 of us were taking turns to peep through the key hole of the closed door. Snippets of risqué love scenes were better than none at the grand age of 6!

Now 50+ years later when I could get a state-of-the-art plasma TV with the bells&whistles that were unthinkable back in the 50’s, I’ve given up on watching TV. Yup. Don’t have a TV nor the monthly cable or satellite service, either. And guess what? I don’t miss it at all, honestly. Thought first I’d be watching TV dramas on my laptop, but I actually do it once in a blue moon. I’ve replaced the mindless hours of lying on the couch, muting and unmuting the skull-numbing commercials to get the show with…yes…with TIME. OK, I watch Netflix. But the difference is that I enjoy watching great films and hot docs, even some past best due date TV shows with full control of when and where. Now I control my time.

What I love the most about not having a TV is that I’m doing something else with my time. I read more, write more, I spend more quality time with people and outdoors…wish I could say I exercise more, but not yet. At least I’m not couch potatoing as much, and I’d like to think my brain’s more alive and doing better than registering TV trivia. Life post TV addiction is actually really cool. So, what about watching news, or late night talk shows, or Downton Abbey on PBS? How can I live without them? Easily. Reading Flipboard on my smart phone – thanks to Huffington Post and others gives me what I need. Never really watched late night shows regularly. And, why get hooked on yet another early 20th century costume parade Britcom albeit superbly acted? Besides, all the episodes end up on Netflix anyway.

No, life post TV is actually a choice I’m happy to say is here to stay. Haven’t really felt this alive for a long time. Think about what you did BEFORE you got your first TV in your household? Hmm…

Chique TV decor

Chique TV decor

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2014 in travel journals

 

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