Saturday, 5 June 2010

Back soon...

A note short and sweet -- I have returned safely to my Southern home in Helsinki, and the travelogue to the Varangerfjord will come someday soon, as well as the pictures of the last days in Kautokeino. But! Some urgent things call for my attention first. Writing soon - J

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Midnight Sky

An update: Following the previous pictures of the sunset (at around 11.15 pm) here are some shots of the sunrise (at around 1.35 am).


Two days to go and the Sun at midnight. Our house is situated slightly down the hill's top, and the Sun vanishes behind it in the middle of the night; I wanted to know, I wanted to see the midnight Sun, so I walked up the hill.

Somewhere down the hill, engines were roaring on the road; anywhere else, deep, deep silence, barely disturbed by the sound of my steps on the mossy ground. I barely remember anything, knowing only that I was there. The vegetation was otherworldly in the ethereal light, minty white lichens and dark berries preserved in snow since the the past summer.

The fireplaces have not been used yet this spring.

I walked up the hill, then down from the top onto the next, in an attempt to find the perfect spot. The path seemed to continue forever to the mountain's top in the distance; although cars could be heard not far, this place could have been in the middle of nowhere -- another world.
I could have walked this path forever towards the Sun.

The cloud appeared just at the wrong place, just at the right time. So much for the midnight Sun. As soon as it was hidden, the temperature fell from mild to icy cold, in a heartbeat.


Back to the suitcases and bags. I am leaving tomorrow, not unhappy to see Helsinki again but somewhat heavy-hearted to abandon such promises.

I wish I was born here.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Instant shot, and a visitor

The Sun lowering on the hill, around 11.15 pm.

The sun has stopped setting in Kautokeino since yesterday, or so I have read, since the moody spring weather did not let us see much of the phenomenon so far.

We had a visitor today:

Right down my window.

And, running away at the sound of a car on the nearby road...

Monday, 24 May 2010

The most confusing night language-wise ever

(A short anecdote before I retell the journey to the fjord)

I will ever remember my astonishment upon realizing how close Scandinavian languages were to each other -- close enough to carry a discussion in all of these languages at once. Months ago, I was still assuming that the Danish and Norwegian friends of the Swedes studying in my school in Lille had had to learn Swedish from their early schooldays to be able to discuss på svenska. How strange, I thought, without yet realizing the paradoxical nature of my interrogation, that all of them had taken lessons at school to understand the very similar language of their closest neighbours... Despite the geographical proximity, a Frenchman does not understand much of what a Flemish would say, and it takes skill to understand Italian or Spanish or German or any of the languages of France's neighbouring countries. Neither does a Frenchman undertake the long process of learning most or all of the geographically close languages, generally. But be it as it may, languages have to be studied and learnt. That was a fact to me.

I witnessed more of such conversations while studying in the Swedish-speaking faculty of the university of Helsinki, and doubt crept in. Our Swedish-speaking coordinator, discussing with a Norwegian fellow; a Danish and another Norwegian chatting together, and there was no way I could guess which of their respective languages they were using in such circumstances. I had to ask, and the answer came as a shock. "Well, I am speaking Norwegian and he is speaking Danish!" "But... You do understand each other?" It challenged the very way I had ever conceived of language: a specific interface of communication, a code one could not guess but had first to decipher on one's own side in order to translate oneself into the other, the primary vessel for identity and essential tool to draw borders between countries -- and this idea, as I understand a little more every day, was nothing but the reflection of a French education on nationality and identity.

It is not so.

The bar of Kautokeino's only hotel is also the meeting point for the students and staff of the Sámi College, and it has become a surprisingly familiar place in the last few weeks, one of these obvious places you barely ever mention the name of -- at Hotel, of course! (Where else? The scarcity of bars in town certainly has something to do with it.) As I walked in last Saturday, literally all the clients were around our table, and the combination of languages spoken among the five-six of them was brain-wrenching, as there was none we were all fluent in albeit each of us could spoke two, three or four. While the three Sámi College students, Viivi, Jonne and Marina, interacted in sámegiella, the Swedish parents of Marina would not understand a word; however, they would reply in Swedish when spoken to in Norwegian. Coming from Finland, Viivi would understand Swedish much better than myself, although the few lessons I had allowed me to grasp something from the Swedish-Norwegian discussions; we'd sometimes beg for a translation and get it in sámegiella or English. Marina's father's funny explanations in broken English and Viivi throwing Finnish sentences at me without warning came only to top if off.

In such circumstances, there is little one can do to distinguish a language from the other. It is better not to try at all. After a day spent writing letters in Finnish, the relentless switching between languages swamped my brain, and it is perhaps a good thing not to think at which one is used and go instead with the flow, grasping the meaning of a sentence or a word without identifying with certainty the code beforehand. This is the kind of click one yearns for when learning a foreign language, a lift from theory to practical knowledge; it feels good, it feels free, in a way.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


One week, a national day, three interviews and a spell of summer.

Sunsets and dawn suspended in time...

around 11pm

around 1:30am

Balloons and ball games...

Strollers and toddlers...

And skies.

The snow is almost gone now, after a weekend at +23 degrees and a few spring storms.

This is the same view as in the dusk pictures posted previously, three weeks ago perhaps.

We are leaving in a few hours for Karasjok and Varangerbotn, a road trip over two days. Out of the six remaining students four will depart to in Kirkenes to take the boat to the South, two will return to Kautokeino. Then, from there, I will leave in exactly one week.

Friday, 14 May 2010


Our handicraft was finished on the third day, a bit in a rush, and now everyone is debating on whose pouch is the nicest. I am quite happy with mine, and its design earned praise even from duodji students. We witnessed the first downpour of the season while sewing the last stitches in the panoramic atelier of the College; the sky is tormented these days, so I haven't had any good light to take pictures of the final product.


The church bells in the distance woke me up this morning. The first sign of activity in the landmark red church ever since we arrived; I had climbed up the hill before only to find locked doors and little if any information about service days and times. This was the chance, then; as I came in sight of the edifice, walking hastily along the main road, I was slightly anxious to see the attendees already pouring out. Instead, the usually empty yard was full of parked cars.

I am not so keen on bursting into the service of a tiny church in a foreign country, and fashionably late, so there was plenty of time to hang around while waiting for someone to enter or exit the building and sneak in after. Strange moments: the vast sky and radiant Sun, silence and loneliness.

The graveyard was easier to access without the knee-deep layer of snow.

Signs and Symbols


Finally, a man left the church, followed by an old woman who got back soon thereafter. I followed her in, a bit awkwardly.

The red church of Kautokeino, albeit the most distinctive building of the town, seems to be hardly ever used. The smaller chapels are preferred to that of the national congregation, which remains for many a symbol of the aggressive assimilation policy conducted by the Norwegian state in the Sámi areas until the eighties. The two flags flown in front of the church, Norwegian and Sámi, could be the symbol of a difficult reconciliation tinged with defiance; as for the atmosphere that emanates from the vivid traditional blues, reds and yellows of the furniture, from the ritual itself, performed in Norwegian and translated in sámegiella, and from the eerie children's paintings displayed in the hall altogether, it would be hard to define or describe.

It took me just enough time to take a few very discreet pictures to figure the Interdiction to take pictures during the service signs, displayed in nine languages, four of which I speak. Oh well...

Just a glimpse.

Among the attendees, perhaps one hundred or less, only five or six were not wearing the gákti, the traditional Sámi costume, including the famous bright red hat. In this colourful setting, the white vestment of the priest looked oddly out of place.

The priest said the last words, and the bells rang three times.

Scenes from the exit of the mass, though, seemed amusingly familiar -- universal?




Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Duodji, continued

Three hours later...

Taking shape

Sunsets are barely sunsets anymore.

The assignement is (hopefully) taking shape. I shall meet tomorrow the person behind this astonishing voice (and, hopefully, subsequently interview her) at the pizza evening organized by the student board of the College. Sápmi is a small world.

Adjágas - Unná nieiddas, from Mánu rávdnji (2009)