It’s cold in Finland. It’s cold like in Russian hell, as the saying goes here. It’s especially cold for a guy who insists on not wearing socks, but as the Swedes say, “there’s no bad weather, just poor clothing.” So I’m not complaining, because only wimps complain, as my Dad says.
Besides, it’s not like I’ve never seen minus-25 degrees before. Listen up, kids. When I was a kid, I walked to school every day: ten kilometers, on barefoot, uphill both ways. After I had milked the cows but before I went to work in the mines.
Actually, my personal record is minus-33 which I recorded standing at the bus stop in downtown Joensuu, waiting for Number 8 to take me home. I was standing there, with a scarf around my face, with each breath of air I inhaled freezing my nostrils shut. I could only move my eyes, but I could move them well enough to see the official city thermometer, a temperature display on the roof of a bank. It said “-33°C”.
Now, not much is the same in the city. The movie theatre is long gone, as is the bus stop. The bank went bankrupt in the early 1990s, after I had left town, the low terminal building got a six-story addition a few years after that, and where the main bus terminal used to be, and specifically where the platform for Number 8 used to be, there is now a small playground.
Every time I’m here, I realize I’ve been away a little longer, and that the city has changed some more. It’s not big enough for me to get confused in traffic, but the changes are big enough to keep me alert, and honest. I don’t know what I used to know about the city anymore.
We used to always make a stop here when I was a kid and spent a couple of weeks at Grandma’s place, then in the countryside, some 30 kilometers from town, but these days, a part of it. At least on paper, if not emotionally. We’d always stop at the main square, and buy something cool, like a cowboy hat, or a skull ring. Or a pocket knife. Or, a lottery ticket so I could try to win that Lada they always had as the main prize.
Joensuu has always been Dad’s city, though, I realize. And these days even more than before. The people that I do know and meet here are not my friends, they’re his. My high school friends are somewhere else, or if they’re still here, they’re not hanging out at the mall in the middle of a Wednesday – like my Dad’s buddies.
I’ve got these waves of nostalgia before, and a couple of years ago, I started to look for a plaque of Maikki Pakarinen, a famous late 19th century opera singer and my Grandpa’s cousin. It was supposed to be somewhere in Joensuu. I found the information on the city’s art museum’s website, but when I drove to the address, there was nothing on the wall.
A few emails later, they told me that they had found in storage somewhere, and then a couple of weeks later, another email arrived to let me know that it had been put back up.
Whenever I’m here these days, I drive by the building, to see that it’s there, and to tell the kids that we’re related to somebody once famous. We’re most likely on our way to the hockey rink, where I hope to meet some old friends.
But my one connection to my past in this city is the big temperature display which is still up there. Standing where the bus stop used to be, or on the main square, I have no idea just how big it is, and I’ve never really thought about it, either. Maybe it’s two meters by three meters, maybe one by two, maybe three by five, but on a cold day like today, the freezing cold isn’t truly cold until that display says so.