How is it to live in Finland?

I am back in Finland. I have been in Italy for three weeks. In my hometown, Cremona.

It has been the longest I have been there for many years. A question that I was asked few times has been: how is it to live in Finland?

We came back to Europe, and chose Finland, five years ago. That was June 2017. We chose Tampere over Helsinki because we lived here about 10 years earlier. It si well connected and not too far from Helsinki. It is a growing and dynamic city which is more affordable than Helsinki for the time being.

During the three weeks in Cremona I was asked about Finland. Is there darkness at this time of the year? What do you see when you travel the country? How long and cold is the winter? Is the winter time really hard? How are the people?

Hose is it to live there?

On a walk near Tampere

I answered these questions with brief statements about the length of the day light in June. The brief day light in November and December. The -30C I experienced this year on Christmas Day. The ice that covers the lake until March and April.

Brief answers while chatting over an aperitivo.

On the place from Milano to Helsinki I was looking down at the Alps and thought about those answers. I remembered the question Simone asked me: but how is it to live there? A question I did not answered when he asked it to me because it is not easy to answer and because it requires some more thinking than an aperitivo in a packed bar allows.

I took the photo I have posted in this blog a couple of months ago. It was a Sunday. A warm spring afternoon. I was with our dog, Dante. We took the bus towards Lempäälä. We stopped after 15 minutes near Peltolammi and took the path into the forest.

We walked for about one hour. The sun was shining. A calm breeze was moving the trees. We met only four or five other people walking in the same area.

The green. The breeze. The trees. The path which had been walked by many other people over the years. All of it so close to the city.

I was alone in this forest with Dante. I was not far from houses, but could not see any of them. The spring had brought back the leaves on to the trees and started that explosion of life and nature that takes place every year after the long winter.

So, here is one aspect of living in Finland. Being close to nature and being able to walk in a forest nearby a city after a few minutes bus rides.

This is just one angle to living here and there is is more to explore and reflect upon after the five years living here, but the weekend walks in nearby Tampere are special.


Shoun and His Mother

Pyhäjärvi, Tampere 2022

A wonderful Zen story that I re-discovered this week thanks to a friend and which gave me confort. It is from an old little book I bought in 1989 in Cremona (Italy) which was published by the Italian publisher Adelphi: 101 Storie Zen (101 Zen Stories) by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps.

Shoun and His Mother

Shoun became a teacher of Soto Zen. When he was still a student his father passed away, leaving him to care for his old mother.

Whenever Shoun went to a meditation hall he always took his mother with him. Since she accompanied him, when he visited monasteries he could not live with the monks. So he would build a little house and care for her there. He would copy sutras, Buddhist verses and in this manner receive a few coins for food.

When Shoun bought fish for his mother, the people would scoff at him, for a monk is not supposed to eat fish. But Shoun did not mind. His mother, however, was hurt to see others laugh at her son. Finally she told Shoun: “I think I will become a nun. I can be a vegetarian too.”

She did and they studied together. Shoun was fond of music and was a master of the harp, which his mother also played. On full-moon nights they used to play together.

One night a young lady passed by their house and heard music. Deeply touched, she invited Shoun to visit her the next evening and play. He accepted the invitation. A few days later he met the young lady on the street and thanked her for her hospitality. Others laughed at him. He had visited the home of a woman of the streets.

One day Shoun left a distant temple to deliver a lecture. A few months afterwards he returned home to find his mother dead. Friends had not known where to reach him, so the funeral was then in progress.

Shoun walked up and hit the coffin with his staff. “Mother, your son has returned,” he said. “I am glad to see you have returned son,” he answered for his mother.

“I”m glad too,” Shoun responded. Then he announced to the people about him: The funeral ceremony is over. You may bury the body.”

When Shoun was old he knew his end was approaching. He asked his disciples to gather around him in the morning telling them he was going to pass on at noon. Burning incense before the picture of his mother and his old teacher, he wrote a poem:

For sixty years I lived as best I could,
Making my way in this world.
Now the rain has ended, the clouds are clearing,
The blue sky has a full moon.

His disciples gathered about him, reciting a sutra, and Shoun passed on during the invocation.

Street photography

Maybe it is because of ….

Complexity, Tampere 2022

Maybe it is because I am working with colleagues on the design of a research project that will apply a systems research framework to EdTech and education. Maybe it is because of the book I am reading: Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson. Maybe it is because the days are getting longer here in Finland and when I am out in the early morning to walk our dog I notice the intricate patterns of the snow-covered tree branches. Maybe it is because of all these reasons being interlinked with each other that I notice the complex patter of the trees, their branches, the lakeshore, the snow, the Arboretum park, the frozen lake, etc etc etc. 

This is why I started to carry my camera during these morning walks and take photos of what I was not seeing in the same way until a few weeks ago. 


Bench with a view

Bench with a view, Tampere 2022

There is this bench at the end of this line of trees. It stands there looking out at the frozen lake on the other side of the lake. Day. Night. Snow. Rain. It stands there and looks out. I look at it and think about the people who come here and sit on it. Looking at the landscape and are lost in their thoughts. Week after week. Month after month. Some of them are worrying. Others enjoy the fresh air while looking out for their dog. Some sit here every day. Some take a deep breath and try to focus on it, leaving everything else behind and trying to be in the moment for a few seconds.

Landscapes Street photography

Winter trees

Winter trees, Tampere 2022

The winter is very slowly giving way to spring. Not that the spring temperatures are here, but there is more light in the morning, A few weeks ago I woudl have taken this photo in the dark. There is light. ThThe winter is very slowly giving way to spring. Not that the spring temperatures are here, but there is more light in the morning, A few weeks ago I would have taken this photo in the dark. There is light. There are more birds in the trees. The snow is still here and this year it keeps falling without stopping, but something new is in the air.

Street photography

Signs of change

Lamp post, Tampere 2022

The mornings are still dark, but there are subtle signs of change in the air.

I am walking on the path next to the lake. There is mild wind from the East that runs over the empty space of the frozen lake. It feels colder than it actually is. We are at -8C this morning.
The dog stops in the middle of the path and looks at a person wearing a thick red winter jacket that has stopped 20 meters in front of us. I cannot see if it is a man or a woman. S/he looks up on a tree and is pointing a smartphone up.
It is too dark to take a photo with a smartphone. Strange.

I start walking towards that person and the dog follows me, reassured.
We got closer and I hear a new sound. Something I have not heard for some time during these morning walks. There are birds singing on that tree. They are hidden in the dark but we can clearly hear them.

The woman holding the phone up (I can see now that she is a woman) is not taking photos, but actually recording the sound of the birds. She turns towards me and says: “This is nice, isn’t it?”.
It is. It seems like a sound that I had forgotten for some time.

“Yes, they sound a bit like in early spring”, I reply.
“It is,” she says, “the first sign of spring.”