By Lasse O. Hiltunen
It only took five months of living in Finland for Mike Loovis to declare that he is now to be known as an “adopted Finn.”
As a Fulbright Scholar, Loovis traveled to Finland and to the Lake District’s Jyväskylä to study and teach. Mike is a semi-retired Cleveland State University professor whose specialized area of study is the disabled and their disabilities. However, as attested by many who heard his presentation, Mike’s focus is more on the abilities of people rather than the other way around. He even told of a Finnish girl in her twenties who desperately wanted to sailboard. Through work, and many adaptations the quadrapalegic was able to experience sailboarding, with an aide of course, but she was out there, in the water, as shown in the pictures below.
Loovis told his Finnish experiences using a slide show of pictures he had taken along the way. ”The Finns are wonderful people who treated me so well,” said Loovis. ”I want to tell this story but I don’t want it to sound like a travelogue, but more like an adventure in Finnish history, its culture, and its people, ” he said with joyous and excited laugh.
Arriving in Helsinki January 1, 2010, Loovis experienced Senate Square on New Year’s Eve where all of the action was. ”All the top performers of Finland were there and it had the potential to get crazy!” remarked Mike. He opted for his hotel and began his five month experience.
A 160 mile train ride to Jyväskylä put Loovis into the center of the city which is divided by the ”Harju,” or the Jyväskylä ridge.
Harju above is obviously Winter, while the picture on the right is during the Spring. The spectacular picture below is of the Harju during Summer.
It is not really a ridge, but part of the marginal deposits of the Ice Age. It became an important feature of the city, dividing as Mike says, two different sides of the city. Mike showed three slides which show Harju in three different seasons, making spectacular images.
Loovis also mentioned Alvar Alto and the wonderful museum in the city that shows many pieces of his work. ”Everyone in town has a piece of the ”ware” that Alto designed, ”it’s a tribute to the artist.”
Working with friends, Loovis determined that he had two things that he had to accomplish while in Finland this trip. He wanted to visit the St. Petersburg Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and he wanted to learn how to play the guitar. ”The visit was more successful than the guitar,” laughed Mike. He also described his trip to St. Petersburg via ferry boat, which required no visa. The land trip would have required visa applications and sending his passport to Russia for clearance. ”Somehow, that did not seem like a good option,” said Mike with a wry look.
He also described the voyage as a member of deck six, below the waterline, where every crack of the frozen Gulf of Finland was multiplied by the steel hull of the mini-icebreaker. ”Even the Neva River was completely frozen over, ” said Loovis.
Mike especially wanted to visit Catharine the Great’s Palace in Pushkin, which is 15 miles southeast of St. Pete and is the summer home of the Russian Tsars.
Pesäpallo, or Finnish baseball, according to Mike is the national sport. He did his best to describe this “nest ball” which has similarities to American baseball but also incredible differences. “No pitcher?” And “four bases in a crazy route totally unlike the diamond we have.” The diagram of the field caused some curious looks from the audience.
Mike also introduced Bandy to the group. The game is played on a frozen rink three times the size of an NHL rink and uses no puck. Using a red ball, roughly the size of a tennis ball that is then directed by players on skates to the opposing goal—like hockey. Players use bowed sticks and a small bat. Loovis witnessed this at the Vierumäki Sports Center near Lahti.
Karonkka is an academic tradition which marks the end of the dissertation defense with a party thrown by the person who is trying to achieve his doctorate. Mike had the “honor” of being “on offense” and took part in a two hour, open to everyone, doctoral dissertation challenge, which was followed by the party, and the “sauna” of course. “It’s nothing like the doctoral thesis process here where candidates present in a closed room to five or six professors. It’s much more lively and honest,” remarked Loovis. The presenter has to present his thesis with answers to questions from anyone, and has to bear all costs, including the rental of the hall and the party afterwards. Shown here are left to right, Mike Loovis, Pauli Rintala, and Ewin Borremans, the presenter.
“The Arktikum in Rovaniemi is just fabulous,” said Loovis. “I especially enjoyed the section which traces the history of the Sami or Lapland people.”
“I also saw a real Santa Claus bigger than I am, and I’m over six feet, when I visited Santa Claus Village, and stepped over the Artic circle demarcation.
Mike is a history and military history fan and got a dose of both with his visit to Mannerheim’s home in Helsinki. “It helped in my understanding of the Winter War.” He got to tour Mannerheim's home.
Mike also showed the bronze monument dedicated to Mina Canth, a writer and social activist (1844-1897). Canth was a famous Finnish writer who addressed women's rights. Her best known book is The Worker's Wife.
Mike spent time explaining the idea that nature belongs to everyone in Finland. “People talk to going to nature, not to the woods, and that is demonstrated when folks can pitch a tent on someone’s property without fear of being run off. Of course you don’t put your tent right outside someone’s back door, but smartly, in deference to the owner. And you can go pick blueberries outdoors if you so desire.”
Mike has visited many parts of Finland and presented once before at FHM, discussing spectrolite, the unique stone mined near Ylämaa.
While three visits to Finland are good, the adopted Finn plans a return to Finland.
While everyone enjoyed the presentation, Mike and his wife Cindy also provided all of the refreshments on a colorful table full of excellent food.
Pictures © Loovis, 2014 (in Finland), Pictures © Bill Lukshaw 2014 (in the museum), Text © Lasse Hiltunen, FHM 2014.