2016-10-29, 13:55:49#1

Join Date: 2010-02-05
Location: Peterborough
Posts: 652

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Readers have come with me through four Russian articles over the past month. Thank you. Spasiba.

Now here's an afterword from Finland, which shows my true, down-to-earth colours.

We started out for home from Russia via Helsinki, Finland, taking a speedy three-hour train trip from St Petersburg and going through border formalities on the train, half way.

Finland is a society to be greatly admired: 5 million people, a very high standard of living, a welfare state, and the best educational results in the world. With a high degree of friendliness. Plus, it shrewdly negotiates its foreign affairs by having a non-aggression pact with Russia since 1948, and declining to join NATO, though it is a member of the EU.

But I digress. This is all about meeting a Finnish celebrity.

My family admits I do have an eye for faces. In the hotel lobby, I see a fine-looking young Finn. I say to myself: "Hockey player! Now, which one: Jari Kurri? No, he's retired. Teemu Selanne? No, he's bigger. Aha, I remember now, Saku Koivu!"


The captain of the Habs for 10 full years, the first European in this role, Koivu became a well-loved figure in Montreal. He suffered and recovered from cancer, and then returned to a nine-minute standing ovation in the Forum, where we went on to play at a high level. He won the NHL Masterston Trophy for courage and dedication in 2002.

Now, I, being past the age of selfies, nonetheless approached him for an autograph. He seemed pleased, in his own country, to be recognized by a Canadian fan. His teammates all around were vastly amused. They were preparing for the World Cup of Hockey with an exhibition game against the rival Swedes that night

My hand is still smarting from his firm handshake, but my sons, all beer-league players here in Canada, are delighted. One says on FB: "My mother goes to great lengths to see one of the world's great civilizations, and comes home with a hockey story."

Oh well, it all goes with a full life.

To Finland, attention should be paid. It has had two women prime ministers and it manages to get along with Russia next door. Before the Russian revolution, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin spent some time in Finland, and when he became supreme leader, as a gesture of thanks, he granted Finland independence That's only 100 years ago.

As I stroll Helsinki, I see a sign promoting a noon-hour concert, the music of composer Jean Sibelius, performed by young musicians. I wander in, to be greeted by a general manager enthusiastic at a Canadian arriving, and mentioning that the Toronto Symphony had Finn Jukka-Pekka Saraste as conductor for ten years. Saraste had been given the keys to the city. I'm happy about that.

The Finns are environmentally advanced. A new Lutheran church has been dug into a rock, not built skyward. Energy-wise, they are at 24 per cent renewables, and heading to 31 per cent by 2020. They are, as an aside, the world's heaviest coffee drinkers.

And, Canadian teachers, here is a rundown of Finnish principles of education: start at age 7, and have 75 minutes of recess a day. No evaluations at all the first six years, and one mandatory test at age 16. All children in the same class, and science classes limited to 16 students to enable experiments to take place. Teachers are highly regarded and are required to have a master's degree.

Finns have a worldwide reputation for great design (i.e. the Toronto City Hall by Viljo Revell ). To prove the point, I bought myself a Marimekko blouse.

All hail to Saku and to Suomi.