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Helsinki

27 October 2019

Tomorrow, I am going to Helsinki (a business trip). I know Finland’s capital reasonably well. Back in the 1990s I worked for a company that had some of the biggest Finnish companies as customers, and I travelled to Helsinki for meetings on many occasions. I like the city, even though visiting there in the winter can be quite bracing, to put it mildly. But that is not what this post is about.

My maternal grandmother was Finnish. As a very young girl, just before the Russian revolution, she married a Russian officer and settled with him in St. Petersburg, which was soon to become Leningrad, where my mother was born in 1923. I remember my mother telling me of cross-country ski trips to Finland when she was a teenager, but then World War II put an end to all that, and since then, my mother never visited Finland. My grandmother died in the 1980s, also without ever setting foot in her native country.

During the period in the 1990s when I was making all those business trips to Finland, I got the idea of taking my mother on a trip there so that she could see the country of her mother’s birth. We talked about it on numerous occasions, but it was not until early 2001 that we finally fixed a date, in June of that year, and I booked the flight and the hotel. But then, that winter my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer with no prospect of effective treatment. She died in late April 2001.

In dealing with the sorrow and the many practical issues following my mother’s death, the planned trip to Finland was one of the items. The whole purpose was to show my mother the place, something which had obviously been rendered moot by her death. But I decided to go anyway, with my father, in a way to honour the memory of my mother. And so we did, and we spent a couple of interesting days in Helsinki, and also drove to the town of Kotka where my grandmother was born (that, and her maiden name Eklund, are the only things I know about her Finnish origins). We had lunch in Kotka, and I remember looking in a phone book at a payphone to see if I could find some people with the surname Eklund, but no luck.

So that was the last time I was in Finland, now more than 18 years ago. Tomorrow evening I will be in Helsinki again, and despite the forecast of freezing weather, I look forward to it. Very much.

 

 

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