Two years ago today I moved to Helsinki. Having missed the anniversary last time, I’ve gone out of my way to remember the date this year. I try to compare the duration of my residency to grad school or to the time BB,CS,LB,TE and I spent on DeepLeap. Has this felt half as long as grad school? Twice as long as that time in Austin? Time is a fickle shade.

Some reflections on the city of Helsinki and my life in and around it.

April 2, 2010

Even after two years, Helsinki is still largely inscrutable. In particular, the local habit for covering ground floor windows in shops and various commercial spaces with posters confuses me. You find this walking around the outer fringes of Kamppi or the fuzzy edges of Punavuori. What happens in these protected spaces? In a place with little light and few people, why retreat even more? Opacity is special here in a way I have yet to unlock.

May 7, 2010

My favorite breakfast of 2010 was an ad-hoc assortment of unexpected delights, consumed on a day when the air was crisp with promise. Finland can be amazing at breakfast time. Milk that comes in beer bottles, pea tendrils on bread, a pillow of cheese, and milk chocolate? See also: special opacity. Thanks to Jenna and Anni for this.

June 9, 2010

May and June were a single day. Even looking at (lots of) photos now I have difficulty remembering that period of time in any plural unit. Largely because I was so consumed by the studios that I was organizing with the rest of the team at work. This is a snapshot from one of those studios, on a day when we visited the Aalto house to have a small team dinner. Alberto and I lingered in front of the house taking pictures as everyone else filed inside and I snapped this just as Emily popped her head out to look for Alberto. The simple gesture of looking again is rendered so touchingly here by Emily that this photo is very special to me. These two people had met three days before and yet already they and their collaborators shared a unique amity. It makes me happy to think that our project created moments like this. In its many quiet pockets—the forecourt of a confident house, say—Helsinki can be a city of remarkable hospitality.

July 10, 2010

Petri’s excitement about the fire was only multiplied when I introduced the special delight of smores (with digestive biscuits instead of graham crackers) to our picnic.

August 26, 2010

A tour of the plants at the botanical gardens prophetically ended here. It had been a hectic month of small pieces loosely joined. I was ferrying between desks in Kallio, Ruoholahti, and Punavuori. Working late hours. Working weekends. Pulling things together.

HDL Global 2010: Done
September 3, 2010

This was minutes after we wrapped the event that I moved to Helsinki to put together. Well before this image was taken, even before the event started, I knew that the idea of my moving to Helsinki to produce an event was a conceit. I’m tempted to believe that the reason Marco is smiling because he knew this all along. I was exhausted but proud and all I remember of the dinner that followed this photo is that it was good.

October 17, 2010

Douglas came to visit and we took day trips to Turku and Tallinn, both of which are parallel Helsinkis to a non-native. Geography is surprisingly complicit with the rules of mathematics: (T+T)/2 = H? Fall had settled into the trees by then and the shadows were starting to run long.

November 11, 2010

When a tiny tear of sky rips open during fall it’s a special thing. This morning I was headed to Tel Aviv where the temperature was 20 degrees warmer and the sky 120 degrees around the color wheel.

December 7, 2010

Walking through Plague Park rarely saves any time but it’s hard to ignore during fall, spring, and winter when it’s liable to be beautiful. In summer it smells like a toilet, because it is a toilet. Apparently a significant percentage of Helsinki is not potty trained.

January 25, 2011

Weekend mornings I make a pot of coffee and stretch bits of work out across my long desk. When the sun is low like this is reminds me of Cambridge and the mornings I spent there dull-eyed and unshaven, sipping coffee and listening to Concord avenue wake up. From my apartment in the center of Helsinki I rarely hear any traffic. The soundtrack to this photo is the heavy rumble of the #3 tram lumbering by. To an American that’s what Europe sounds like. Trams.

February 27, 2011

Cities each have their own best scale. San Francisco congeals at the scale of the neighborhood. Manhattan is a place of heroic battles fought within each plot’s zoning envelope. Helsinki is composed street by street.

No one here seems to be able to identify the neighborhoods reliably, and while many of the buildings are interesting few are captivating. Streets here, on the other hand, are artful. Humans are small in a city whose scale is the street. Maybe this is why doorways are often diminutive in Helsinki.

1 Comment so far

  1. 1095+ - etc on March 5th, 2012

    [...] third anniversary of my arrival here has been on my mind for a week or two now thanks to a stalwart reminder in my [...]

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