The Small Joys of Loviisa

Laivasilta Harbor Park, Loviisa

Laivasilta Harbor Park, Loviisa

Loviisa was my sun and joy.
Hämeenlinna was my school town, Loviisa was freedom.
Jean Sibelius

The young woman arrived at our table and exclaimed, “I love the summer.” It seemed to me as if she sang each sound as she spoke it. I thought how lucky we were to be in Finland in July, with its long sunlit days and temperate weather.

Then I recalled the airport security man’s sardonic smile: “To see the real Finland, you need to come in winter.” I recalled, too, the taxi driver who ruefully shook his head: “The summer is so short.” I thought back to our winter just past, how cold and colorless it had been with its never-ending white.

“Winters can be heavy,” the young woman said. “It’s really dark if there’s no snow.” That took me aback at first. “I look forward to the snow’s brightness,” she explained, and I remembered how snow in our patch of forest made the world shapely with patterns, how ice-blue shadows unfurled along the snow’s moonlit glow.

Café Tuhannen Tuskan Kahvila

Café Tuhannen Tuskan Kahvila

“Ah, but summer!” She told us about the path along a nearby ridge where she picked berries and about a small café tucked in a side street, its name, Tuhannen Tuskan Kahvila, too long for us to remember, let alone to grasp. “In English, it’s something like Café of a Thousand Headaches.” She smiled at the thought.

5 Loviisa IMG_4097_edited-2Each evening, we ambled along Loviisa’s quiet lanes, through the old town to the park that opens out onto the Laivasilta Harbor. In the old town, wooden houses sat flush against the street, their windows bedecked in sunlit reflections and small treasures displayed on their sills. I was conscious, as we walked, that we saw only the public face of these homes. We knew nothing of the people who lived in them or how they spent their days.

I thought again of Loviisa’s wooden houses as I read, in Väinö Linna’s novel, about tenant-farmer Jussi Koskela setting about to build his family’s home.

Loviisa Old Town Street (Photograph by J. Holford)

Loviisa Old Town Street (Photograph by J. Holford)

. . . the building would be sixteen meters long and seven meters wide. . . . At one end would be the main room, at the other end the bake-room, and in between the hallway and another room. Thus the house conformed completely to the established pattern. The majority of Finnish people were housed, lived, and died in such homes. [Väinö Linna, Under the North Star, v.1, p. 11]

Did at least some of Loviisa’s houses conform to the same pattern? I suspect so, but it’s hard for me to know.

Sibeliuksenkatu 10, 2014

Sibeliuksenkatu 10, 2014

One wooden building, though not in Loviisa’s old town proper, once belonged to Sibelius’s father’s parents. It’s there that Sibelius’s family spent the childhood summers he remembered so fondly, and there where he composed much of Kullervo under the supportive auspices of his music-loving aunt. To his wife, Aino, he wrote: “Today, just now in fact, I have finished the first movement. I have drunk your health in my imagination and in reality drunk toasts with Aunt Evelina.” [Erik Tawaststjerna, Sibelius Vol 1: 1865-1905, Loc 2187]

Sibeliuksenkatu 10, 19th Century

Sibeliuksenkatu 10, 19th Century

Until you stand right next to Sibeliuksenkatu 10 and see the plaque, there’s nothing that marks the house. The old postcard in the town museum provides a clue, and of course the street name, Sibeliuksenkatu, provides another. The house is now either part of, or next door to, the offices of the Loviisan Sanomat, the town newspaper, though that wasn’t clear to me at the time and isn’t still.

5 Loviisa IMG_3576_edited-1As only makes sense, Loviisa seems to have absorbed the “Great Man” into its midst and continues about its business. A busy street runs in front of the house; the grand edifice of the Church of Loviisa stands across the street. A bust of Sibelius sits on a pedestal in a nearby park and stares stone-faced at the church. I wonder what Sibelius would have thought.

Busts and statues are odd structures; they often hide more than they reveal. I think of the statue of Lajos Kossuth I often see on my way to New York City’s Riverside Park. If Upper West Side denizens know him at all, it’s likely as a 19th century Hungarian reformer and not much else. Simon Winder, in his book Danubia, tells the story from a different slant. After the failure of the 1848 revolution, “Kossuth [became] a celebrated exile and global voice of liberalism, even though his decisions had provoked disaster at every turn.” [Simon Winder, Danubia, p. 336]

Not far from the bust of Sibelius is a memorial stone commemorating Finland’s Civil War. I didn’t see it, and I haven’t been able to discover what it says, but I suspect it’s likely to reflect the perspective of the victorious White Finns, rather than the defeated Reds.

It’s all part of a complicated story. In Linna’s fictional Pentti’s Corners, “a monument to freedom was unveiled . . . . erected in memory of the Whites murdered in the parish.” [Linna, v. 3, pp. 86-87]  The Reds killed in the war got no such treatment.

“For a time,” wrote Glenda Dawn Goss, “it was a crime for the living to honor the fallen Reds.” [Glenda Dawn Goss, Sibelius: A Composer’s Life and the Awakening of Finland, Loc 4813]

Even though officially the government reversed this ruling as early as 1918, in practice people feared to honor their dead; flowers left on graves were destroyed by nightfall; memorial stones were removed. [Goss, Loc 4813]

The somber bust of Sibelius in Loviisa, while perhaps not freighted with ghosts of that Civil War, hardly reflects the Sibelius who visited Loviisa as a child and young man.

Arvo Pärt Statue

Arvo Pärt Statue

On the plane to Helsinki, we sat next to a young woman who was born and raised in Rakvere, Estonia, where Arvo Pärt lived as a boy. She told us about a statue in his honor in Rakvere’s town square. The statue is no dour bust on a pedestal, but rather a boy with his bicycle. When Pärt was a boy, he bicycled to the square to hear concert broadcasts. As he listened, he circled a post to which the loudspeaker was attached. For Sibelius in Loviisa, I imagine a statue of him as a boy, as well. Perhaps depicting a scene like this: As Aunt Evelina “went in search of rare French stones down by the wharf . . . her nephew launched wooden boats that he had made, watching them sail out of sight.” [Tawaststjerna, v. 1, Loc 420]

Laivasilta Harbor

Laivasilta Harbor

But perhaps the best testament of all to Sibelius’s time in Loviisa and what it meant to him is the town itself. Daytimes, after two days of forays to points east (here and here), we wandered the streets of Loviisa, a local guidebook in hand. We had lunch at the Loviisan Kappeli, where a trio of Sibelius family members, including Jean, used to play, and we strolled the verdant grounds. Evenings, after two fine meals in the Café Restaurant Saltbodan, we decided, the next two nights, to sit at a picnic table facing the harbor, where we ate hamburgers and fries and drank white wine.

Café Tuhannen Tuskan Kahvila

Café Tuhannen Tuskan Kahvila

We never did get to the ridge where the young woman said we might find wild berries, but we did, on our very last day, find the “thousand headaches” café. The menu was in Finnish, but the bare-footed proprietress helped us through. “Sweet or salty?” she asked. We thought to share a sandwich, and I ordered mint tea. With the grace of a dancer, the proprietress leaned into a nearby garden border to pick fresh mint. As we ate, we eyed the cakes brought out to other tables—two sorts—and from “salty,” we went directly to “sweet.”

Café Tuhannen Tuskan Kahvila

Café Tuhannen Tuskan Kahvila

The cobble-stoned and flower-strewn courtyard where we sat was bounded on two sides by a wooden building (or perhaps more than one). The feeling was not of entering a public space, but of being welcomed into a private home. The café’s website is all in Finnish, so we have only the primitive Google translate to go by, but this phrase seems right enough: “Despite the name, we offer small joys.”

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Listening List

On Spotify

Kullervo, Op. 7, third movement (1892, Kullervo was composed largely in Loviisa)

David Nice, in responding to a previous post, noted that “The third movement of Kullervo sets the Finnish language so memorably – 5/4, a lot of it, which goes to show that Finnish is like Russian in being ideal for that lovely metre.”

Adagio in D Minor, JS 12 (1890, composed in Loviisa)

String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 4 (1890, composed in Loviisa)

Aunt Evelina “declared that at her death her nephew should inherit the house and land at Lovisa where he had composed her favorite piece, the slow movement of the B flat String Quartet. But this was not to be: the heirs sold the property as had happened three years earlier at Turku when his uncle Pehr had died. In neither case did the property remain within the Sibelius family, for property, like money, ran through their fingers. [Tawaststjerna, v. 1, 2945]

To read a review of the Tempera Quartet CD containing the above three works, click here.

On YouTube

String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 4 (1890, composed in Loviisa)

Voces intimae, in D minor, Op. 56 (string quartet, 1909, composed largely in London)

Credits: The quotations may be found at the links indicated at the post. The image of the statue honoring Arvo Pärt may be found here. The remaining photographs, unless otherwise indicated, are mine.

Laivasilta Harbor

Laivasilta Harbor

27 thoughts on “The Small Joys of Loviisa

  1. Friko

    When you said you were going to Finland I was at a loss to understand your immediate motivation. Now I know.

    All your ‘Finnish’ posts tell of a country and a people of great warmth, colour and creativity. A place I would dearly love to visit, preferably in summer. Not sure that I could survive a dark winter month.

    Sibelius as a companion on the journey, of course.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Friko: Finland was splendid, wonderfully welcoming and full of delightful surprises. Of course, we only saw the barest bit, but I hope we’ll have a chance to return and go further north and out into the countryside proper.

  2. David N

    And a country with the best education system in the world. A musical instrument provided for every child, that’s something: I mean, El sistema is rightly praised as a model, but what poverty, what a hideous regime in Venezuela.

    Days of deep snow and blue skies – ah, I remember Jarvenpaa so well in that climate. Nothing like swimming in a Finnish lake in the summer, I know, but still equally appealing to the imagination. And I’m sure the lights of Helsinki around Christmas are wonderful, too.

    What a wonderful idea, young Arvo on a bike. Our image of him is much the same as that of Brahms – a man with a beard, and in this case balding, too. No need for him now to sigh like Aguecheek ‘I was young once, too’.

    I’m thrilled – just got six Nielsen/Sibelius classes up and running for this coming season, and in addition a cellist in the BBC Symphony Orchestra has promised to get a quartet together to play ‘Voces Intimae’, one of the strangest and most compelling quartets in the rep.

    Welcome back, sure your many fans have missed you. What a lot you still have to catch up on…I hope we’ll get the full chronicle.

    1. Steve Schwartzman


      Click to access secret-finland%E2%80%99s-success-educating-teachers.pdf

      I confirmed the high standards that a prospective teacher must meet in Finland:

      “Among young Finns, teaching is consistently
      the most admired profession in regular opinion
      polls of high school graduates (Helsingin Sano-
      mat, 2004). Becoming a primary school teacher
      in Finland is a very competitive process, and only
      Finland’s best and brightest are able to fulfill those
      professional dreams. Every spring, thousands of
      high school graduates submit their applications
      to the Departments of Teacher Education in eight
      Finnish universities. Normally it’s not enough to
      complete high school and pass a rigorous matricu-
      lation examination, successful candidates must
      have the highest scores and excellent interpersonal
      skills. Annually only about 1 in every 10 appli-
      cants will be accepted to study to become a teacher
      in Finnish primary schools, for example. Among
      all categories of teacher education, about 5,000
      teachers are selected from about 20,000 applicants.”

      In the United States, when it comes to sports, I’ve yet to hear anyone argue against the current system in which only the best young athletes are accepted to play on professional teams. Suggest doing the same thing here in education, though, and you’ll be accused of elitism and every other -ism that certain people reflexively use as labels to vilify anyone with whom they disagree.

      1. David N

        Wonderfu to read, but very depressing for us in the UK, as for you in the US, to compare with. These Nordic societies have some flaws, but are as close to an ideal democracy as we’re going to get in this world.

        And of course I want to go to Loviisa now!

      2. Curt Barnes

        Small wonder that Finland ranks #1 in public education, if memory serves, and the U.S. something like 27th. Anti-intellectualism has been a force in the U.S. long enough for there to be several scholarly books on the subject, and we’re obviously still suffering from it. (You may know all this, Steve, but your comment just brought it to mind.)

      3. Susan Scheid Post author

        Steve: As I note to David, my Edu-Mate (a head of school), often points to the example of Finland as one we ought to learn from in the US. Here’s a good overview article: I was particularly struck by this: “Prospective teachers are competitively selected from the pool of college graduates—only 15 percent of those who apply are admitted—and receive a three-year graduate-level teacher preparation program, entirely free of charge and with a living stipend. Unlike the United States, where teachers either go into debt to prepare for a profession that will pay them poorly or enter with little or no training, Finland made the decision to invest in a uniformly well-prepared teaching force by recruiting top candidates and paying them to go to school.” Well, what do you know? Valuing good teaching and investing in it works!

        1. shoreacres

          I don’t doubt any of what you or Steve or the others say about the value of such radically different teacher preparation, but practically speaking, where would we begin? To put such teachers into American public school classrooms would require — what? More support from administrations? More involvement by parents? More authority given to the teachers themselves? All of the above, I suspect — provided you could get the adminstrators to quit politicking, the parents to actually claim the children that are theirs, and free up the teachers from having to police gang fights.

          I don’t know, but I suspect that Finland has a more cohesive culture than we do. I also suspect the culture as a whole values education, learning, and accomplishment to a degree most teachers in this country hardly could imagine. I mean — broadband connections became a legal right of citizenship in Finland in 2009 or 2010. That’s pretty darned amazing all on its own.

          Well, I don’t mean to spend all my time on this little byway, but we have to do something. I was thinking last night that the obvious disintegration of the Secret Service is a bit canary-in-the-coalmine-ish. Something is going terribly wrong in this country, and it ought to be obvious to everyone.

          1. Susan Scheid Post author

            shoreacres: Well, all of your questions are good ones (no surprise) and demonstrate how far we have to go. In the meantime, I do hope you’ll come back and spend a little time in Loviisa. It’s very relaxing!

    2. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: Brilliant about the Neilsen/Sibelius classes AND with a live performance of Voces Intimae, wow! And isn’t that statue of Part delightful? I love, also, that we learned of it through someone we met by chance who grew up in the very town.

      On the educational system, the Edu-Mate often points to Finland, too, but I wasn’t aware of the instrument for every child aspect. That is marvelous.

      As for Loviisa, I don’t think anyone could fail to be charmed. I think for us, too, the timing of the visit was perfect. In a state of sensory overload from our visits to Helsinki and Tallinn and all the stops along the Kings Road, Loviisa was a place where time really did seem to slow down, allowing us the mental space to reflect on all our experiences and appreciate all the more Loviisa’s own simple–though considerable–pleasures. We were lucky, too, in our lodgings. We’d booked two days at the modest, thoroughly pleasant Hotel Degerby, thinking to move on to somewhere else as we wandered further east. When we arrived and also realized how close everything was, we asked and were able to book two more days. Had we tried that in August, we later learned, we would very likely have been out of luck!

  3. Brian Long

    What great writing, Susan, and beautiful images to boot! I also liked David’s comment on the 5/4 section in Kullervo. It is one of the most memorable bits in the piece and has a certain (purely musical) affinity with the Dies Irae in Britten’s War Requiem.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Brian: Thank you so much for the kind words. I tried awfully hard to do this justice, in word as well as photos, so it’s nice to know I may have succeeded, at least a bit. On Kullervo, I suspect you’ll not be surprised to know that I went running back to listen again for the 5/4–and now I must rush off and listen to the Dies Irae again, too!

  4. Mark Kerstetter

    Love looking at your travel pictures (and they make me hungry). Can’t imagine living in a place with such long dark winters and can easily understand the desire for snow. I remember magical winter midnights in Pennsylvania when I’d go for a walk in newly fallen snow–how bright it was.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Mark: So glad you enjoyed the “photologue.” I did try to restrain myself on the number of food photos, but I have to say it was hard, particularly that piece of cake, nestled in as it was amongst the carefully chosen teapot and cup and water glass. (As you can see, I loved everything about that cafe.) And we would never have known to look for it had it not been for what the young woman told us our first night in Loviisa! Lovely recollection of yours, too, about walking in newly fallen snow at night.

  5. Curt Barnes

    I have to say I love the Arvo Pärt statue, Susan. If only more public art allowed the same latitude of inspiration! Also wondered about the “barefoot proprietress”: making the most of the Finnish summer, or a Finnish hippie? I suspect the former. Always a pleasure to read your entries here.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Curt: Isn’t that statue the best? And the story about Part’s boyhood that goes with it, too. As for the “barefoot proprietress,” I think you have it right–taking in the pleasure of summer from head to toe, quite literally. There’s a magazine article in Finnish I wish I could get my hands on that tells the story of the building of the cafe, and a photograph among those here shows her at work laying the patio’s stones. Everything about the place exudes the personal and lovingly handmade.

      1. David N

        Great to see the exchanges about education. Needless to say, America is gigantic and Finland, population-wise at least, small, but I’m sure such experiments can be carried on in the microcosm. You won’t change the general attitude to teaching in America (and, sadly, Britain – I wonder if Ireland isn’t different) in decades.

        ‘Barefoot waitress’: I think I’m right in saying that violinist Alina Pogostkina, whom I heard last night in Bamberg playing – absolutely stupendously – the non-stop violin role in Widmann’s seemingly meandering Concerto, goes barefoot too. Or it may be another Russian-born violinist. During her five ‘curtain calls’ I kept trying to see under the long dress (so to speak) and think I saw a flash of foot, but not quite sure…

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          David: Who woulda thunk my little post on Loviisa would engender this, eh? But then, you started the ball rolling with your first comment, and off it went. I generally am of the sort who likes to say “never say never,” though, for the US, it would take a complete overturn of current approaches and, perhaps more to the point, values. While Finland is of course much smaller, the basic principles aren’t rocket science and could be adopted state by state. Ironically, as the NEA article notes, while Finland has soared in its standing since the ’70s and the US has sunk, Finland’s approach has been thoughtful decentralization, while our approach has gone just the other way. Here’s the Edu-Mate on what we need to do:, and here’s her fine list of what makes good schools good. They:

          Reward courage
          Do what is right and not what is easy
          Align resources with vision
          Develop people
          Align time with learning outcomes
          Hire people with a growth mind-set (Dweck)
          Give people the tools/skills to do the job
          Build systems and structures that fan change and incubate innovation
          Focus on value
          Find and build bridges of common interest among all constituents
          Are organizationally comfortable with constant change and self evolution

          1. David N

            And I’d forgotten about Headmistress Holford’s blog of wit and wisdom. Glad there’s some optimism there, but the following is so true of the UK and the keynote is the bridge of ‘common interest’ to all: ‘We have tied ourselves to the sea bed with subjects, schedule and space; we have blocked the avenues to change and flat-lined progress especially with, for example, high school testing and AP’s; and walled ourselves off into isolated departments and divisions. And I would add, schools.’ Do you know our nasty ex-Minister of Education Michael Gove, the despair of all teachers? He’s gone now, but not without having wrought countless damage.

            1. Susan Scheid Post author

              David: And you’ve pulled QUITE the quote from the Edu-Mate there! I didn’t know of Gove, but am sure she does. And yes, the problem with these folks is, when they’re gone, they leave a trail of grief behind that takes years to undo.

  6. shoreacres

    Of all the photos in your slide show, I most enjoyed the simple white window, with the trees reflected in the glass. And the descriptions of the winters — both theirs and yours — are lovely and poetic.

    Your last restaurant, with its barefoot proprietress, reminds me of the Lighthouse Café in Sausalito. It was established by two Danes, and has many of the same virtues, although the atmosphere is rather different. Simplicity, friendliness, quality — always marks of the best and most memorable places, I think. And I love the tidiness of the town — is it really as clean as it appears? Are the colored houses a long tradition? I wonder if their long winters and snow led to such vibrant colors for the buildings. They also seem to sing, in their own fashion.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: Your comment on education really deserved more of a comment than I gave. I suspect I didn’t want to leave the world of vacation, hoping you might join in . . . and here you have. (I’m still laughing this morning at your comment, “I’m just having my cake….”)

      The NEA article I cited earlier ( is absolutely packed, I think, with interesting information and insights about why Finland’s education system works and what we in the US could learn from it. (Also see the post from the Edu-Mate I cite in my last response to David. We still have a whole lot to learn from Dewey.) Among other things, I didn’t realize that Finland’s educational system hasn’t always been as it is today: “Finland was not succeeding educationally in the 1970s, when the United States was the unquestioned education leader in the world.” So what an irony to read that “The process of change has been almost the reverse of policies in the United States. Over the past 40 years, Finland has shifted from a highly centralized system emphasizing external testing to a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around the very lean national standards. This new system is implemented through equitable funding and extensive preparation for all teachers. The logic of the system is that investments in the capacity of local teachers and schools to meet the needs of all students, coupled with thoughtful guidance about goals, can unleash the benefits of local creativity in the cause of common, equitable outcomes.

      “Meanwhile, the United States has been imposing more external testing—often exacerbating differential access to curriculum—while creating more inequitable conditions in local schools. Resources for children and schools, in the form of both overall funding and the presence of trained, experienced teachers, have become more disparate in many states, thus undermining the capacity of schools to meet the outcomes that are ostensibly sought.”

      Food for thought, no? And speaking of food, back to having our cake . . .

      That photograph you note is one of my very favorites, too. (In addition to the food photographs, I had to really work to restrain myself from posting more photographs of reflections in windows!) To your question, yes, everywhere we went, Loviisa was the tidiest of towns. I don’t know about the tradition of colored houses, and I’m curious about it, too. I suspect you’re right about color as a means to enliven long and dark winters. I think of San Francisco, for example, often foggy, and the brightly colored houses there. I love thinking of those houses “singing, in their own fashion,” too. Thanks for leaving us that to think about . . . as we have our cake.

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