Diagonally across the street from Helsinki’s first indoor hockey rink parking lot, there’s a low, one-storey yellow stone building with a red roof. In the winter, it’s visible from the street, but in the summer, it sits in the shadow of the birches, elms, and maples that line street in front of it.
Behind the small building, there are several bigger and slightly Gothing-looking buildings – designed by Magnus Schjerfbeck, brother of painter Helene Schjerfbeck – and originally built in 1910 as Helsinki’s first epidemic hospital but by the 1970s, they were home to a children’s hospital. Aurora, it was called.
What the one-storey building was built for meant for, I don’t know, but I do know that when I spent about a month in the children’s hospital, a measles epidemic broke out and to spare me, the doctors put me in quarantine.
I was five years old.
While it may seem that we, up here in the northern-most part of the northern hemisphere, spend most of our days between November and March in a haze in which every day is like the one before and that we only come alive when we finally see the sun again, with a little effort, you can see tiny miracles almost every day.
Today was one of those days.
I’m writing this in a dark room, in candlelight. That’s the old joke, isn’t it? “Well, if the power went out, we’d have to watch TV in candlelight.”
Not that funny anymore.
Yes, I was giddy. I knew the radio would be on as soon as I started the car, and I couldn’t wait for Daughter to hear what was on.
Granted, it wasn’t radio per se, it was a podcast, but I knew my phone would connect to the car stereo first so I started the engine and pulled out of the parking spot, my right eye on Daughter so I could see the look on her face when she heard my voice.
It went from delight to disappointment to concealed disappointment to fake cheeriness to neutral to serious as she listened to me talk about my book.
“Well…?” I said.
“You know,” Daughter began, “you know how your voice always sounds a little off on a recording?”
“You mean mine or everyone’s?”
“Everyone’s. Mine, too”
“Yeah. Do you know why?”
“Well, good. Me, too.”
I still have the J. Finnemore book on Robin Hood on my bookshelf. It’s a book I must have read a dozen times when I was around 12. I read the book, ran outside to play Robin Hood, then ran back in to read the book all over again, bracing myself for the emotional ending – spoiler alert – in which Little John finds Robin at a monastery, betrayed by the prioress, who lets out too much blood and lets Robin bleed to death.
John picks him up and carries him to the window so that Robin can shoot one last arrow to mark where he is to be buried.
That is a beautiful, beautiful ending to a book. Try to visualize the last scene with human beings, though, and not with a bear holding a fox (thanks Disney).
But I digress.
Yesterday, as I was at a hockey store, getting some new skates for Daughter, it occurred to me that outside our house, there are two places where I’m fully comfortable and at ease. One of them is a car and the other a hockey rink. Any car and any hockey rink in the world.
One of my earliest memories involves a drive to a hockey rink in Helsinki. My Dad had a game and for some strange reason I got to tag along. In the mental image in my head, it’s the middle of the winter, there’s a lot of snow, we park our car far from the rink, I walk into a wood-paneled dressing room – and smell the stench of hockey gloves for the first time.
And, oddly enough, even the smell is a pleasant memory.
Naturally, I have no way of verifying any of that, except that it probably was the middle of the winter because back then, the hockey season was much shorter and that the gloves probably did stink because they always stank back then.
“Luffe, kom hit,” Wife shouted, and a blonde dog that looked like a golden retriever came running back to her, his ears pulled back by the wind and his mouth open as if in a huge smile.
Wife patted the dog and looked at me.
“Had somebody told me a year ago that i’d be walking here with you and a dog, I wouldn’t have believed him,” she said.
“Walking here with you, maybe. But not the dog,” she added after a pause.
And yet, there we were, walking around the neighborhood, Wife and I – and a dog.
On a recent Friday night, Risto Pakarinen was sitting on a half-empty 3 train going uptown, his legs stretched out and his black-and-yellow hoodie unzipped. He was on his way back to Harlem where he and his friend, Ari Lepisto, a fellow Finn, were spending the night.
They were in town to check a few items off Lepisto’s bucket list, heavily slanted towards sports events. It wasn’t the first time the duo had done it. A few years ago, when Lepisto wanted to cross out “watching a Premier League football game” off the list, Pakarinen joined him on the trip to Craven Cottage in London to see Fulham take on West Bromwich.
“Tanssii kuin perhonen, pistää kuin ampiainen”.
Ensimmäisen kerran kuulin Muhammad Alin kuuluisan kuvauksen itsestään Hockey Sports Shop -urheiluliikkeessä Helsingin Oulunkylässä. Taivaskallion kupeessa ollut liike ei ollut ihan tavallinen urheilukauppa, sillä sen olivat perustaneet HIFK-pelaajat Lauri Mononen ja Reijo Laksola.
Syksyllä 1978 Ali oli kovan paikan edessä, sillä hän oli helmikuussa, heikosti harjoitelleena, hävinnyt raskaan sarjan MM-tittelinsä helpoksi vastustajaksi arvioidulle Leon Spinksille. Koko maailma odotti uusintaottelua ja Hockey Sports Shopissakin oli Ali v Spinks -matsin juliste.
Late matki Alin kevyttä askelta ja sanoi tanssivansa kuin perhonen.
“Ali voittaa,” Late ennusti, koska hän toivoi Alin voittoa.
Laten ennustus toteutui, ja Ali voitti Spinksin. Ali jäi eläkkeelle ainoana nyrkkeilijänä, joka oli voittanut raskaan sarjan tittelin kolmesti – mutta teki sitten paluun ja hävisi Larry Holmesille.
The family legend is that when I was born, Dad looked up “Risto Pakarinen” in the Helsinki phone book, and noting the absence of the name in the mightiest phone book in the country, he decided that it was a good name for a son.
A little special, you see. Not just another John Smith (although, back then, being called John Smith would probably have been even more special in Helsinki).
So Risto it was.
And like most of us, I take my name personally. Every time I’m traveling, and I see signs that have “Risto” in them, I take a photo, and claim ownership. In Gothenburg this week, I saw a restaurant called “Ristoria” and sent the photo to my friends and I used to do that with every single “ristorante” as well, but it got a little tiresome. For years, even decades, I also often made the same joke of my being a secret restauranteur, and that my partner’s name was “Rante”. That, too, got a little tiresome – or so I was told.