29 July 2007

Helsinki: Newsprint on my fingers

I hadn't had any "hard" newsprint on my fingers for a long while - no Reader, no Friday Sun-Times, no Sunday Tribune.

Yesterday morning, though, in Helsinki with a 10 euro note burning a hole in my pocket, I walked into to the city's train station and purchased: The Guardian (27.07.07), 40 pages, plus the weekend "g2" section, another 16 pages, each 32x47cm, a little smaller than the Tribune and the Helsinki Times (27.07-02.08.07), 24 pages, each 29x40cm, a little longer than the Sun-Times. I also picked up a free copy of Six Degrees, "Finland's English Magazine", 44 pages.

Like a kid unwrapping a present on Christmas morning - wide-eyed, grinning, and oblivious to everyone around me - I looked through half of the Helsinki Times as Tallink's M/S Star chugged away from Helsinki's Länsiterminaali. "Prime Minister's media policy under attack", "Number of vehicles grows even though car registrations are declining", "Sweden beats Finland in honesty test", and "Income disparities increase prostitution". I was outside on deck nine, overlooking the Star's stern, in the morning sun and cool sea breeze. I would have had a cup of coffee with me, too, but in order to get this prime seat, adequately sheltered from the wind even when the ship is at full throttle in the middle of the Gulf of Finland, I couldn't waste any time in the growing lines of Finns at bars and cafeterias.

Then yesterday afternoon, on an express train from Tallinn to Tapa that felt more like a horse and carriage ride over 100 kilometers of cobblestones, I looked through Six Degrees with the same grin and wide eyes. "Will Finland Take Racism Seriously?" "Television Is Dead?" and "Working It Out without Finnish". By the time I got to the "Out&See" section, my fingers were grey from the newsprint! By the way, according to "Traditions May Change but Sausages Remain", the Finns' favorite food is meatballs. And I guess mahi-mahi doesn't sound so bad compared to sauteed reindeer (poronkäristys), a Finnish speciality fried in oil and spiced with salt and pepper.

This morning, Sunday morning, at about 6.30, with faint smudges of newsprint on my fingers, I delved into The Guardian out on my balcony with a cup of Jacobs instant Espresso (imported from Berlin by yours truly). "Boy shot dead after bike chase is 10th young London victim in six months", "Widow of July 7 ringleader tells of miscarriage on day of bombings", and "Extra cash found for low-paid NHS staff".

I left Tallinn on Friday at 14.00 and got back on Saturday at 12.30. For $142, or about one-fifth of my monthly salary before taxes, I got the round-trip ticket on the Star (which is a big ship doing the Tallinn-Helsinki run in a civil two hours instead of the arduous three or four like the other big ships) and one night at the Sokos Presidentti Hotel in the heart of downtown. I went to Kiasma, Helsinki's museum of contemporary art (free after 17.00 on Fridays), to the men's and housewares departments at Sokos Department Store, to S-Market, a grocery store (it seems the S-Group owns all things Sokos in Finland), and to the Academic bookstore, which I bet has more books in English (and Finnish and Swedish, for that matter) than most Waldenbooks in American malls.

So who is the Asian-Finnish woman in red? Wait....