Friday, 6 January 2017

Behind the scenes

With this tiny post I'd like to advertise that I made three new pages to my blog. In one of them I share some endearing (or just sad) details of my childhood. Do check those pages out and if you want to comment them, write a reply on this post! :)

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

A Finnish New Year's Eve Tradition

In the end of last year, I entertained you with a post about a rather grim tradition that the Nordic countries used to have close to Christmas time: Nuuttipukki. Now I am going to write about a tradition that is still alive and kicking, and is performed on the New Year's Eve.

The tradition is called a New Year's Tin and it is a way to try to predict the future. Finns have been doing this since the 18th century at least, but this form of fortunetelling was already known in the Ancient Rome. Nowadays it is harmless fun that people in the Nordic countries do. This custom is also known in Germany and in Austria.

What you need

  • Tins shaped like a tiny horse shoe (it's actually a concoction of tin and lead to get a lower melting point, and the horse shoe signifies good luck). The diameter of a horse shoe is about 4 cm (1,6 inches) long.
  • A scoop designed for this thing
  • A stove or a fireplace
  • A bucket filled with cool water
  • A candle or a flashlight (optional, any good source of light will do)
Notice: Some induction stoves do not recognise such a small scoop and for that reason I am going to demonstrate this tradition with a fireplace. Remember always to be extra careful when you are close to an open fire!

How to do it

Put the tin into a small scoop. Then put the scoop on a hot stove or to the hot fireplace until the tin is melted.

Then, you flip the melted tin into the water bucket. The water level needs to be deep enough so that the tin has time to freeze into a shape before it hits the bottom of the bucket! Otherwise you all get a pancake shaped future.
Every participant has her/his own tin. The one whose future is about to be told must be the one who flips the melted tin into the water.

Pick the tin from the water and now you are ready to find out what the coming year will bring to you!
You examine both the tin and the shadow it casts. This is what you might need the candle or a flashlight for: you hold your tin close to a wall and point a flashlight to it. Then you can examine the shadow more easily.
That's not my hand, btw. It's my lovely assistant (read: a close relative).
We photographed these when I was visiting my family on Christmas.
This is a bit like trying to understand one's dreams: things symbolise different stuff for different people. Still, here are some traditional interpretations:
  • A ship or a plane means a travel.
  • A bird is a sign of good luck.
  • A crown or a key means success in your work.
  • A ring will mean a wedding (not yours, necessarily).
  • If the tin broke down into several small pieces, you'll be having a troublesome year.
  • If there are blackened parts on the tin, it means bad luck and/or sorrows.
  • If there is a lot of "scruffiness" in it, it means you'll get a lot of money.
The "scruffiness" is that not so shiny part on the upper part of the tin. I do not know what to call it. :) As you can see from the previous photo, this tin's shadow looks a bit like a wolf. I have no idea how to interpret that. But that doesn't really matter, because this tin was not made on a New Year's Eve, so it's not valid for predicting the future.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Happy holidays!

We are having a lovely and warm family Christmas this year.
Christmas decorations that reminded me of the Alien movies.
An Advent Calendar is a very imprortant part of the Nordic Christmas traditions.
More rather modern decorations. 
Some fluffy decorations. In the middle is a sort of a Santa's elf and those other two are reindeer.
Finally: a genuine Christmas tree.

Happy Yule & Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Creepy Reads Review: Flavia de Luce Murder Mystery Novels

In the last Creepy Reads Review of this year I would like to feature murder mystery novels by Alan Bradley. Just like Agatha Christie had her Poirot novels, Bradley has Flavia de Luce novels.

As usual, I am not going into the details of the plot nor am I going to reveal who the murderer is. ;)

The intended audience of the novels 

The main character Flavia de Luce is 11 years old and she loves chemistry, poisons, and solving murders. She lives with her eccentric father and two older sisters in the (almost ruins of a) mansion in the countryside of England, in the 1950's. This produces an intriguing mix for various audiences:

  • retro fans
  • Agatha Christie fans
  • other murder mystery fans too
  • people interested in historical depictions of the years just after the Second World War
  • the age of the reader can be anything from about 8 years to 100 years because the main character is a precocious girl with a witty sense of humor
  • last but not least: gothically inclined readers, because the main character Flavia and her family has some similarity with the Addams family and the Munsters. They are not vampires or anything, but their family relations and Flavia's interest to chemistry and poisons and murder do bring some very goth-y undertones to these novels

Witty and funny narrator

The language of these novels is very enjoyable. The narration of Flavia is smooth, her jokes are funny, and sometimes she has a very cynical and mature way of reflecting the world. Sometimes it's so mature that some readers might think her as an implausible character. One might doubt an 11 years old girl could make such analytical notions of the people around her.

But, she does come from a different world than we, the readers. She has lived and is still living some very hard times, just after the Second World War. It is also noted that she is not your average child but has a passion for science and a very analytical mind.
The first Flavia de Luce novel.

Not really a series

Each of the Flavia de Luce novels can be read as an individual, even though they do form a not so tight continuum. I actually do not recommend you to read them one straight after another, because of that. Since each is an individual, they have some repetition: in each novel the narrator must explain her family situation (and some other things too) again and again. It can be rather boring. But, if you read these books with enough time between them (at least a couple of months), they are very entertaining.

Final conclusions

I enjoyed reading the Flavia de Luce novels very much. Though maybe the first two (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie & The Weed that strings the Hangman's Bag) were a tad better than the rest of them. Partly because in the later novels the family relations of Flavia get more space. I do not find her family relations interesting mainly because of one reason.

Flavia's sisters are quite horrible to her and hence she as the narrator doesn't depict the sisters (nor other members of the family) in an emphatic way. Thus the reader gets a rather resentful picture of them. For me this resentment results in the way that I do not care for the characters, and I am not interested of what happens to them. So, I find those parts that depict Flavia's family and their problems a bit dull.

Luckily there are other characters, not just sisters and aunts and fathers. The character of the local inspector Hewitt is very interesting and has multiple layers. The dialogues between him and Flavia are superb.

A list of the Flavia de Luce novels can be found via Goodreads, for example.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Personal update and a review of Demeter's perfumes

The "How are you?" -part 

This Autumn was awfully busy for me. I had 4 posts planned but did not have time or energy to actually write them. Is it just me, or do people in general have very hectic lives in October and in November? I feel like every year my Autumn is so busy I do not really have time to enjoy it.

Partly the reason for the recent silence in this blog is that about every Autumn I get an awful flu and one or more sinus infections. It's hard to try to write witty posts if your head is full of snot. :)
The Autumn leaves just before the first snow.
I had a birthday a week ago but did not have time to plan a party to celebrate it. I have this feeling that for the past 7 years I've been so busy in November that I haven't really had time to celebrate my birthday properly. Year 2014 being an exception, because that year I managed to have the werewolf themed party.

Even though I have not written this blog for a while, I did manage to participate into a couple of projects that involved writing. I wrote a scientific article about a French short story L'insecte by Claire CastillonIt was published in a web magazine Metalepsis by the Literature students from University of Tampere. The magazine is in Finnish. I also started to write more fiction myself and I noticed I enjoy it very much.

Demeter Fragrance Review

A couple of months ago I ordered some perfumes and colognes from the Demeter Fragrance Library. I was intrigued by their product called The Funeral Home and the scent series inspired by Elvira. Of the Elviras I decided to order Zombie. They also had Vampire but the description suggested it would be much sweeter than the Zombie, and I do not like to wear very sweet scents myself.
A photo of me without any real reason. 
Demeter has a vast scent library and the idea is that the user will make their own cocktail of two or more scents. The scents are layered on the skin and thus one can create a unique personal cologne/perfume. Unlike most of the products, the Elvira perfumes are ready-made and they include several ingredients.

I did not order just two products. I also got several ingredients from the scent library. They were: mahogany, licorice, snow, thunderstorm, sunshine and riding crop. I also got another ready-made cologne that was inspired by New Zealand.
Testing perfumes and l'eau de toilettes is tricky because
a) a scent will smell a bit different on different people and
b) one gets used to the smell of perfume on their skin and will not necessarily notice it after a couple of hours. Hence it is not easy to actually know, what the final scent will be.

For me another problem was that I've had a common cold for almost two months now, and that effects the way I can smell things.

My first impressions of the Elvira's Zombie

It smells nice but not as earthy as I thought it would be. I imagined a zombie fragrance to be a bit more edgy. It is sweeter than I imagined but not too sweet for me. It has lovely, slightly spicy undertones and I use it on casual events and at work.

My first impression of the Funeral Home

It smells exactly like the name suggests: white flowers like lilies and a hint of mahogany and oriental carpet. In that sense, it is a great product. Unfortunately it is a tad too floral for me on its own so I have to try to mix some heavier undertones to it. It already has some mahogany in it, so I just add some more when I use it.

Final conclusions

In general, the scents are lovely and/or intriguing and none of them were a disappointment to me. I feel that the scents do not change radically nor disappear after an hour, which is great.

What I really like is that when one sprays the perfume, it gives just a small doze. This way it is easier to use the correct amount. It's awful when people have huge clouds of smell surrounding them. You are not supposed to smell another persons perfume from the distance of 2 meters!

All in all, I can happily recommend the products of Demeter Fragrance Library. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Gothic Art in Spotlight: Monsters of Niki de Saint Phalle

In the end of August I went to see the exhibition of Niki de Saint Phalle (1930 - 2002), that had just been opened in the art exhibition space called Taidehalli. It took me this long to write about it because September was a tremendously busy month for me.
A detail of a work by Niki de Saint Phalle
If you google Niki de Saint Phalle, the first images you'll get are photos of big, colorful, energetic and positive sculptures of female figures. And that was my narrow perception of her works before I went to the exhibition in August. In there I learned that a Monster is a reoccurring theme in Saint Phalle's works and many of her sculptures are dealing with negative experiences and trauma. Seeing this exhibition made me want to read Saint Phalle's autobiography.

Saint Phalle was a controversial and a brave woman, who had the courage to question narrow structures of the society and of the ways of making art. Instead of becoming an obedient housewife in the 50's, she started to create art and in the 60's she invented the "Shooting Paintings". They were large 3D structures with bags of paint inside them. Then the artist Saint Phalle and often the person who commissioned the work would shoot at the painting with a gun and thus break the bags of paint, which would create colorful areas on the painting. They would stop shooting when the work looked ready for them.

Even though Saint Phalle's working techniques are intriguing, the works produced by shooting were not the ones that interested me the most. For me some collages of found objects and paint and other materials were the ones that somehow reeked of grim and sinister aesthetics. One of them was a work with various names: Tyrannosaurus Rex/The Monster/Tir Dragon (Study for King Kong).
Saint Phalle has a distinguishable naïve style and this huge lizard is in a way quite cute. The details make it more sinister. The creature is constructed of crocodile figures, skulls, toy guns, and dismantled baby dolls. Unfortunately the close-up is blurred, the exhibition was very crowded and it was not easy to take photos. I hope you can still see there are crocodiles, a skull, and some toy guns.
As mentioned, monsters are a reoccurring figure in Saint Phalle's works and many of them deal with a childhood trauma. Saint Phalle has revealed that her father sexually abused her when she was 11 years old.

Occasionally Saint Phalle also depicted herself as a sort of a monster in her art, but that was about her own life choices and how they affected her family. After all, she pursued a career that in the 50's and the 60's was not for women and during that time period some people (many people!) thought she was a bad wife and a bad mother.

The work I liked the most in the art exhibition was named Le Château de Gilles de Rais (The Castle of Gilles de Rais). Gilles de Rais was a French nobleman from the 15th century. He fought in wars and was honored as a brave and righteous man. He retired from his duties as a young man and almost twenty years later he was sentenced to death as the first serial killer. According to the history books, after his heroic career he had abused and killed at least 200 children.

Saint Phalle herself is a distant relative of Gilles de Rais through her fathers side of the family. She was fascinated by how a man who was almost a saint could also be or become a satanic creature who enjoyed the suffering of children. The photo in the beginning of this post is a detail of this Castle. If you look closely to it, it features molested baby dolls and lizard-like creatures. The sculpture is much more grim if one knows the story of Gilles de Rais.

It would be highly inappropriate to say that "I hope you enjoyed this post!" but I do hope you found it at least interesting and maybe it will encourage you to explore the not-so-well known works of artists you know. There might be fascinating surprises!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Identity crisis of a former literature student

Warning: This is going to be more of a personal post.

I graduated last June (I'm a Master of Arts, baby!) and have been super lucky to find a job matching  my education, at least for the end of the year.

This whole thing is rather odd because for the past six years, a big and important part of my identity has been 'a literature student' and now I no longer am a literature student. I still read a lot of literature and scientific research on literature but I no longer live in the city of my former University and no longer participate to any courses.
Me on a very physical wooden elephant, symbolically looking to the future.
In a way I am excited and happy of my new life and all the things that have filled it but in a way I really miss the academic life. The courses and the intense discussions among staff and students, the sensation when I understood something vital or groundbreaking, the butterflies in the stomach when I handed in my Thesis. But I also miss the small and often quite physical things, like the stairs at the University's Main Library. The smell in the corridors of our Department. The voice of my French teacher.

I guess writing this is a sort of a rite of moving on.

Goth Gardener recently wrote a post about how she is going back to graduate school in order to get another degree. When I read it my heart filled with excitement for my friend but also with longing for the academic atmosphere. Goth Gardener's description of the campus area is great, by the way! My University was not that goth-y or romantic. Goth Gardener's post made me think, how much I really miss being a student. I pondered about it and came to the conclusion that I do not yearn to be a student again but I yearn to learn new things and to have intellectual discussions about literature. I'm pretty confident those things can be arranged even in my current life situation.
Me and my Uni friends in a mirror hall.
Even though student life is now part of the past, the friends from those times will stay. Just last weekend me and some of my closest friends from the Uni went to the amusement park Linnanmäki (name means roughly 'a hill with a castle on top of it'). No-one knows where all of us end up in the future but it does feel like we shall remain good friends for the rest of our lives.