Some of you may remember my previous accounts of my dream car, a 1960s Toyota Crown that has been unaccountably parked outside the Prisma hypermarket across the street from our house in Linnala, Imatra, E-K, since that temple to Satan and lucre opened its doors to Russian cross-border shoppers a couple of years ago.
The condition of the dream car isn’t improving. Now it has at least two flat tires and what appears to be a bad paint scratch on one side.
It also seems that a rival for the dream car’s affections has emerged, a certain Petter, who left a hand-scrawled note, pinned down to the windshield with the wiper blade, in which he pathetically asks, “Is it for sale? If you’re selling call 044 524 7719.”
Since the note is still there, I gather no one has called poor Petter, making me wonder whether the dream car’s owner is still among the living or the mentally competent.
Be that as it may, I have to have the car. What I will do I with it? I will give people free rides in it, especially the refugees living in an ex-hotel on the other side of the river. As it is, many of them make the trip to the stores (all of them are on our side of the river, and they’re way more than we need) by foot, which must take them a couple of hours at least.
Why do I deserve the car? Because I fought the law and the law won. Many times. And because I lent your sister that dress that made her the belle of the ball at the prom in 1991, even though she’s a pretty average looking gal.
So you send me your email address, and I’ll send you a bill for whatever contribution you’re willing to make via PayPal, and I’ll be one step close to sweeping the dream car from out under the nose of that pesky Petter.
If you think I’m kidding, you don’t know me very well.
The alternative is to buy the car with the Kekkonen sticker on the back window. But that car seems to have a mentally competent owner who drives it all the time, except she or he thinks it’s “a laugh” Urho Kekkonen was president of Finland for like six hundred years, even though the country is celebrating its 100th year of independence only this year.
My dream car was still there in September 2019, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still there now. || LIF, Vappu 2021 (1 May 2021)
The urban planning geniuses who run Imatra, South Karelia, have re-purposed the former Prisma supermarket in the town’s Linnala (Mansikkala) neighborhood. They have given it over to the mysterious tribe of sub-artists known as taggers. Soon, I expect, the building will be entirely blanketed with these cryptic spray-painted runes, signifying nothing except the onset of urban decay and the collapse of public order.
Unless I am terribly mistaken, neither the building’s owners nor city officials have plans for doing anything more ambitious with the ex-store, yet another huge slab of empty commercial space. Imatra is now chockablock with such vacated stores and offices.
Currently being tagged into oblivion by young people who fancy themselves rebels but are among the dullest conformists on earth, the old Prisma store is smack dab across the street from the new Prisma hypermarket, which was built for Russian shopping tourists, not for local residents, whose peace of mind and quality of life dropped through the floorboards during the two or three years it took to build the gigantic consumerist palazzo, the city’s largest chunk of commercial real estate.
But it was all worth it. Anything giant construction companies, urban planners, and semi-monopolies (e.g., the S Group, which owns the Prisma chain and approximately fifty percent of all other chain stores, restaurants, and hotels in Finland) wants to do, wherever it wants to do it, and whatever its impact on the people living in the vicinity, it is always worth it.
And you should see the improvements to the neighborhood occasioned by the S Group’s flat-roofed ziggurat!
Do you know the expression “adding insult to injury”?
That seems to have been the principle guiding the hackwork done by subcontractors and the City of Imatra when they beautified, so to speak, the wave of mutilation that had just rolled over the neighborhood.
First, they made it triply difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate their old haunts by constructing an impossible maze of new roads, footpaths, and roundabouts in the emerging shopping mecca. (Since the new Prisma opened, chain stores Tokmanni and Jysk got in on the act, closing their old stores in other parts of town and building new outlets in the once spacious but now crowded neighborhood, thus joining the nonstop shopping party started eight or so years ago by K City Market, Lidl, Raja Market, and Prisma).
To put it crudely, they made life easier for motorists at the expense of non-motorists. Or they forgot about non-motorists altogether, which is more likely.
Planners also dotted the environs with sickly little trees, some of them resembling nothing so much as unattractive sticks, stuck maliciously into the dirt by angry taggers or other vandals, or the pathetic Christmas tree that Charlie Brown and Snoopy buy in the cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas, which immediately sheds all its needles when they bring it home.
This so-called greenery will never grow into anything verdant and flourishing, because that might block the view of the stunning big box the S Group plopped down in the middle of what used to be a grassy meadow and grove of tall trees where old folks and children would ski in the winters. That is, before the City of Imatra decided that attracting Russian shoppers was its only real mission and it could safely turn its back on its own pedestrians, cyclists, children, old people, and poor people.
I scooped up the material for the first lesson in my new series, “Easy Finnish,” from the lawn as I was walking my trilingual dog Cholmondeley amid the famous tower blocks of Linnala, in ancient Imatra’s stuck-in-the-seventies Mansikkala neighorhood.
Apparently, the local smokers not only want to kill themselves. They also want to kill us with their trash, at least in the formerly picturesque Linnala.
I say “formerly,” because Linnala/Mansikkala will soon have more commercial retail space in terms of square meters per capita than any other similar neighborhood in Finland, for sure. More about that, below and later. Now we have to try and learn some Finnish.
The Finnish speakers are told that smoking (tupakointi) is life-threatening (hengenvaarallinen; the word is in the partitive case here). It sounds all very official and thus not to be taken too seriously.
Swedish speakers, on the contrary, are starkly told, “Smoking can kill.”
The language pulls no punches. Even a foreigner like me, whose grandfather’s native tongue was Swedish, but who has never had a single Swedish lesson in his life, gets the message.
All Finlanders, Fennophones and Swedophones alike, study both languages at school. In reality, the eastern part of the country, where Cholmondeley and I dwell part of the year, is utterly devoid of actual Swedophones.
A friend of mine once told me he tried to read a few Swedish-language novels a year to keep his school Swedish up. A couple of years ago, however, some of his neighbors launched a so-called people’s initiative to make the teaching of Swedish non-obligatory in Eastern Finnish schools. Fortunately, in March 2015, the Eduskunta, the country’s parliamentary, had the wisdom to smack down that stab at destroying the country’s identity.
Unfortunately, at the same time, they voted up an initiative that would permit kids living in the east of the country to study Russian instead of Swedish at school.
This nice-sounding but ultimately empty gesture was part and parcel of the same consumerist-driven Russophilia that, fueled by the relative prosperity of Petersburgers and Muscovites a few years ago (before Putin’s desire to become Master of the Universe and a big drop in the oil price tanked the Russian economy), caused the big towns of South Karelia, Lappeenranta and Imatra, to start reshaping themselves, often in stupid and destructive ways, to accommodate the Russian tourist-shopping boom. Now, just a few years later, the boom has almost completely dried up.
In any case, judging by what I have read in the press, none of this commercial frenzy has had any effect whatsoever on what foreign languages Finnish kids want to study, whether they live in the allegedly Russophilic east or the Russo-indifferent west. They still want to study languages that will have some utility for them as citizens of a European Union country and a globalizing world—German, French, and, above all, English.
Finnish legislators, on the contrary, apparently think the brightest dream the young people of South and North Karelia harbor for their lives is working in the tax-free checkout line at K Market, S Market or Lidl, where they can employ their high-school Russian to best effect.
Until recently, at least, you would see lots of empty Russian cigarette packs littering the yards, byways, beaches, and woods of Imatra, which is situated smack on the Russian-Finnish frontier, and is home to one of the country’s busiest border crossings.
These packs were probably not tossed on the ground by environmentally unfriendly Russian tourists and shoppers (although they would think nothing of doing just that in their own heavily polluted homeland), but by Imatrans themselves, unbelievably, especially since ten or so years ago you would have look hard to find any litter on the ground in this now-tarnished little gem of a town.
For the past several years, however, the locals have been taking advantage of the relative cheapness, in neighboring Russia, of certain vital goods like petrol, fags, and booze to dash across the border to Svetogorsk (the former Finnish town of Enso) to fill up their tanks and load up on cigarettes and hard alcohol.
But a new rule has come into effect (I forget which side instituted it) that obliges Finns to spend at least 24 hours on the Russian side of the frontier to be able to bring back three cartons of cigarettes.
That might put the kibosh on the once-routine petrol-and-cigarettes runs to Svetogorsk, but it might also ramp up the clandestine cross-border trade in some of those goods, which has been booming in parallel with legal commerce these past ten years.
In any case, the Swedophones have it right: smoking can kill.