So a couple of important things have happened in the last 2 weeks. 1) I moved from my field site in Kevo down to Rovaniemi, where I’ll be based for the next few months. It was a little sad, since Kevo was the closest thing I had to ‘home’ here in Finland, but Rovaniemi is more than making up for it. And 2) Brandon moved here! He had a bit of a whirlwind adventure getting here with only a week turnaround from his trip to Nigeria, but he’s here now, and apart from a mild flu that we are ping-ponging between us, it’s been smooth sailing for him so far.
This is our building:
Funny story, but when I was looking for apartments, I was unaware that Finns consider any room not a kitchen or bathroom to be a ‘room’, so a ‘2-room apartment’ has 2 rooms, not 2 bedrooms. When I rented my apartment, I thought it seemed a little decadent to have a 2-room flat, what with not having any furniture to speak of, so when I showed up I was actually relieved to find that there was only one bedroom (defined as such because there’s a door to shut), and one living room. Here’s the bedroom:
The first thing you learn about Rovaniemi is that this is the official home of Santa Claus. Ya heard me! And since R-town is only about 58,000 people, Father Christmas is kinda our close friend and neighbor, as far as I can tell. The Santa Claus Village is located 8km north of the city center, and sits directly on top of the latitudinal boundary for the Arctic Circle at 66° 33′ 44″. Interesting point of fact: the ‘Arctic Circle’ is the latitude above which there is at least one day a year with 24-hours of sunlight, and one day per year of 24-hours of darkness (no sunlight). The Arctic circle is the southernmost extremity of this definition, so in a place like Rovaniemi, which straddles this latitude, there is only one day of each extreme – the summer and winter solstices (June and December). Brandon and I are planning a face-to-face with the Big Man in a few weeks’ time, but the SC-village is located really close to the airport, so we’ve both seen what’s coming, and I don’t want to spoil the ‘Santa’ post…
Speaking of airports, these are the outdoor art installations as seen from the arrivals curb at the Rovaniemi airport:
This is reindeer country, and Santa land, so this one makes sense, but in case you can’t tell from the picture, these are all reflective, so they’re really sparkly in the sunlight, and really shiny otherwise:
Rovaniemi is a modern city, in the structural sense of the word. The entire city was leveled by the Nazis during WWII, and the city was quite famously re-designed after the war by Alvar Aalto, one of Finland’s most prestigious architects. The all-new Rovaniemi was based on the shape of a reindeer head, also known as the ‘Reindeer Antler Plan’. You can see it here in a photo of the original plan I found on the city’s website – the two main river branches to the left are reindeer antlers, and the river branch sort of down and to the right is like a chin strap, with the face outlined by the other sections of city and rivers. The eye is pretty distinctive, once you realize where it is.
Rovaniemi’s other claims to fame (that I have been able to photograph) are the Jätkänkynttilä bridge over the Kemijoki river, also known as the Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge, built to commemorate the old custom of log-floating to move lumber from the northern logging areas. The bridge has a permanently-glowing top built to resemble a lumberjack’s candle (a log cut in two with a flame in between). Rovaniemi is still a major hub of the logging industry in Finland, and wood-fueled heating is not uncommon. It’s actually one of my favorite things about the city – it smells like a wood fire when you walk around the neighborhoods in the evening.
And what’s a Finnish city without a newly-built Angry Birds-themed playground, complete with giant slingshot? In case you weren’t aware, it was a Finnish person who invented Angry Birds, and they take AB marketing very seriously here…. This playground is right next to the police headquarters downtown. Are Finnish kids really so different that the child-sized slingshot area wasn’t an obvious ‘no’ in the safety department? Because I’m pretty sure if you stick a bunch of American kids in there, siblings will start flying.
This is the view of the Kemijoki river from the office space I’ve been given at Metla (The Finnish Forest Research Institute, which is like a research-oriented version of the Department of Natural Resources). Why do I always get given offices with awesome windows? I prefer them to no windows, don’t get me wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’ve already memorized this view (to the detriment of my NSF grant).
And perhaps my favorite story about Rovaniemi that I’ve heard so far is about the city’s main square. Minna, my Metla collaborator here, told me when I first moved to Finland about how the central town square used to be called Sampo Square, but when the Rovaniemi-native black metal band ‘Lordi’ won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006, the city decided to rename Sampo Square to ‘Lordi Square’. Apparently, the Finns have (had?) something of a national joke about Eurovision, which goes something along the lines of ‘that’ll happen when Finland wins Eurovision’ (said in the same way as you would say ‘when pigs fly!’). So when Lordi actually won in 2006, it was pretty major, and called for some geographical modifications as a tribute. In the center area of Lordi Square, there is this commemorative monument, with all 5 band members’ hand pressings mounted onto a marble pillar. Please note that 2 members of the band (which dresses up, Gwar-style), have pretty sensational fingernail impressions: