In Search of Vappu

Somehow, he kept raking in the chips. I thought his apparent drunken state was either a ruse to fool his fellow poker players, or that he held his liquor well.

His pink face set off his extremely blonde hair in exquisite fashion. “Yep” I thought,”I think he’s inebriated”. Good poker player, though.

“I can’t believe I’m drinking this much,” he said,”I was going to wait until Vappu.”

My friend was referring to the Finnish holiday celebrated on the night of April 30 and May 1. Traditionally, it is a drinking holiday on the par with New Year’s Eve and Juhannus (midsummer celebration) in this country.

Presumably, the celebrants drink their head off on Vappu eve and recover from their hangovers on the actual day. I wouldn’t know because I have very little experience with the day.

For one, even though I have lived here for years, my family tended to batten down the hatches and wait out the drinking. We are teetotalers. Now my family is back in the States while I work here alone.

I feel somewhat conspicuous on these Finnish drinking holidays, so I also tend to hide out for that reason. I don’t care to be abused by some drunk. I definitely don’t look like a Finn.

Second, there is no real tradition behind May 1 in the United States, my home country. We call it “May Day” and might associate it if we’re older and newshounds with big Soviet military parades in Moscow.

In any case, my friend got his Vappu weekend started off right. He didn’t intend to get soused, but when the spirits were offered, he wasn’t going to turn them down.

As Vappu was on Tuesday and our game was taking place on a Friday night, I thought he had gotten the long weekend off well. I expected more drunken behavior around me as the weekend progressed.

Well, it’s Vappu eve now, in mid afternoon, and I have to say it’s been a quiet weekend on the shores of Lake Saimaa. Oh, I say a couple students holding beers today, but that could have occurred any other time of year as well.

Saturday and today have provided evidence that to the Finns this is basically a student holiday. I was in the harbor both days and both times there were student events.

On Saturday some of the technical students were displaying their electric powered vehicles down there. It was kind of like a high tech Soap Box Derby, with  a little NASCAR thrown in.

At Vappu students wear there guild uniforms, which represent their major field of study. They resemble NASCAR coveralls.

In addition, students wear their student caps. They look like something a yachtsman would wear, white in color with a black bill.

With this going on in the harbor Saturday, I didn’t see one flask or beer bottle.

Although it was a beautiful day, I didn’t move a muscle all day Sunday. If there was any drinking going on in my apartment building, it sure wasn’t evident.

As usual my neighbors were quiet as churchmouses. It is an amazing place because it is a student building and it is always peaceful.

With this being the day before Vappu and all, I decided I would go out in search of some evidence of cultural symbols of the day. I took a walk through the forest by the lake into town, about a 75 minute walk. I really expected I might run into some drinkers in the forest just getting started.

However, about 9 am I ended up with the old-age pensioners. The only thing they were  sipping was coffee in the market square.Things haven’t quite got swinging in the market yet as we are still coming into springtime here in Finland, though.

After about an hour there I spent some time at the public library. Now I definitely didn’t expect any booze there. Then, I went back to the harbor.

There were some students milling around in guild outfits and student caps, but not a lot was going on and it was after noon. I pretty much had thrown in the towel when I met a work colleague who said she was waiting to watch the first year local university students get dunked in the harbor.

Now that interested me, so I hung around. A few minutes after we met scores of students in coveralls and caps began marching down the hill from town into the harbor. Many of them were chanting what was obviously some student marching song.

My colleague and I got in step with them and followed them down the boardwalk in the harbor out to an area of boat docks. There, the students lined up like lemmings to go int the water.

Two burly looking guys stood in the water between some boats in front of two slides. The students would climb the ladders, hop on short little slides, no bigger than ones you would see in a toddler playground, and slip into the water.

There Burly 1 and Burly 2 did their work. They scooped water into plastic buckets and doused the students.

A couple of the students preparing to slide began to yell,”It isn’t cold. It isn’t cold.” We all knew they were lying because the entire lake district still has ice covering. Only the harbor has finally come out from under, and the melt might have come as late as this morning.

Still, the only liquid I saw in the harbor was that in the lake. Everyone was quite behaved.

I went to the grocery and hopped the bus to the university. Passing my flat, I noticed no special activity there either. Somehow when I get home tonight, I expect a lot. We’ll see.

I saw in the news over the weekend that in the USA the Occupy Movement is intending to make a ruckus of some sort on May Day, but not the boozey kind.  Now that has been my traditional view of the day, one in which the Reds show their stuff, not so much a student day as it is here in Finland.

I don’t know what to think of the Occupy people. Depending on whose propaganda you listen to, they are either highly idealistic revolutionaries wanting to overcome social injustice, or they are smelly, degenerate  hippies who need a bath.

You can’t blame them too much for showing some spunk given that society today is dominated by capitalism run amok. We are being left to the whims of people like Dickens’ Mr. Lorry, a banker whose task it was to see to the affairs of a 17-year old supposed orphan named Miss Madgette.

When he met her in London and told of his intention to introduce her to her father in Paris, he insisted that to him this was business, although the girl had no real parents and was a ward of Lorry’s bank. . As the girl in terror comes to meet her father in a slummy Paris apartment, Mr. Lorry holds her and attempts to comfort her with words that were surely only a peacemaker for him,”Business. Business.”

Garrison Keillor, from whom I borrowed the above-referenced  mention of quiet in a lake district, has a story  called “A Liberal Reaches for Her Whip.” In it, the “mother” of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush , a kindly soul, is kicked down the stairs by her boys.

She reveals underneath her matronly clothing a black spandex bodysuit and boots. She pulls out a whip and says before she springs at them,”I’m going to liberate you boys from ignorance or die in the attempt”.

Perhaps this is what the Occupy folks are trying to do, and as I said above, you can’t blame them. A lot of us today could use some liberation.

Keillor has another story in which he alludes to what capitalism has done to us. In this story, called “A Little Help”, famous actors phone private people and try to inspire, rebuke, admonish and exhort them to good deeds. Writes Keillor,”Clint Eastwood is on the phone every night with men in corporations who have lost their individuality.”

So good luck Occupy. I wish you well in your attempt to knock some sense into Wall Street or whomever. And Hauskaa Vapuaa!

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1 Comment

Filed under Finland

One response to “In Search of Vappu

  1. Eddie Boylan

    MayDay, MayDay !!!

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