Call of the North (22): Gimme that rug, Desdemona!

July 31

I dont know exactly why i expected this trip with so much excitement. Maybe because it’s “off the beaten path”, maybe because everything is “on the edge” and has to work perfectly within narrow margins for it to happen, donno, but i was bursting with excitement.

Train was at 7:15am. Well, yeah, had to cross half of Finland. Half awake, managed to catch it. Plan was to see Lapland from the train, so naturally I fell asleep instantly and woke up in Oulu, where Lapland…ends.

From Oulu to Pieksämäki I was at least planning to see lakeland Finland. So I slept 4 hours out of 5 like a log, managing to catch very few glimpses at some lakeish landscapes.

At 15:10, 3 minutes before the expected descent in Pieksämäki, ticket control passes. I ask the guy, just to be safe – Pieksämäki? Joo, joo. I take my backpack, prepare to descende – somebody taps me on the shoulder – the controller. Tells me something I don’t understand, seems stressed. Asks around if anyone speaks english. A nice lady offers to translate, says – “we are late, this is Suonenjoki, not Pieksämäki.” My jaw drops. I have a connection at 15:20. “You won’t catch it”, she says. Damn. “But the company helps you with a taxi to Savonlinna.” Oh. Another young fella was listening with interest – was going in the same direction. So he helped me once we arrived in Pieksämäki half an hour late, where after a few kiitos-es (thank you) to the lady, i went with the curly guy and found the bus, which was waiting for us. Had to pay the ticket though – 25 euros. Oh well.

The driver managed to cut some of the slack, so we entered Savonlinna at 17:45. My hostel was far away from the centre, I was worried I don’t have enough time. So I asked the driver if he knows the place, and – leaves me 20m away from the hostel! Kiitos!

I quickly check in, change into the best clothes i have with me (i.e. the old jeans unused yet, so at least clean, and the only shirt with a collar i have, bought from Greenland because it was the only model available). No other shoes available but the dusty sneakers – oh well. Small backpack ready, asked at the reception how I can get to the centre FAST. By cab. How much? 10 EUR. That’s all I have left cash… Ok, call one.

Where should I leave you? asks the cabby. At the castle gate, or, maybe no, at the tourist office. It’s closer, 8 EUR. Where do you get tickets from? i ask. No idea. It’s late anyway, he says, you have to get in at quarter to 7. It’s 25 past 6 when I get to the tourist office.

“Do you still have tickets?”

“Yees, plenty.”

YES!! so it worked out!!

Please give me the cheapest one.

Sure. 78 EUR.

Ouch. the ones costing 29 or 33 EUR are sold out… Dang… Well, since I got here anyway, whatta hell… I’ll sacrifice something else. E.g. the boat trip to Kuopio tomorrow, let’s see. Gimme one ticket please!

Where do you wanna sit?

No idea. wherever.

We have one spot in front, very lateral, and some very at the back.

So…? I can’t make up my mind. Where would you sit?

In front.


I take the ticket, hurry through the town centre

Towards the “objective”.

As i was getting closer I realized that there still were quite a few people on streets obviously going to the same event I was, since they looked fairly smartly dressed.

And here we are.

The Savonlinna castle is home of the biggest festival in Finland, an opera festival.

It lasts for one month and it is held here:

I had found out in Rovaniemi that the festival is not over, and tonight they play Verdi’s “Othello”, which is the closing show as well two days from now. So I thought that is a good enough reason to get down from teh Arctic Circle. Just making it in time was a problem, so I didnt’ buy tickets in advance, to leave it up to the destiny. Somebody Up There arranget things so I get in time, and therefore – Opera night tonight!

I mingled with the spiffy crowd

and joined the atmosphere.

The 2 EUR from my pocket were not enough to buy a libretto, or a bottle of water, or a minusculous cookie for that matter. You can do NOTHING with 2 EUR in Finland.

My place was in row 5, and I was seeing this

and i was NOT seeing the translation screen on top of the stage.

Music starts. And all of the sudden, a whole bunch of Chinese people invade the stage. Othello’s Chinese Army!

Because it is a production of the Shanghai Opera. Everyone is Chinese, from the Moor to Desdemona. Rodrigo looks a bit like Jackie Chan, I have this surreal expectation that would initiate some pretty cool fighting schemes in the opening scene.

But no. Everybody is serious about business. They sing in Italian, and eventually I manage to read some of the subtitles.

At the break though I went to the back looking for a place, which I found, only to observe that… some structure was obtruding the view to the subtitling board! Damn. After a while I noticed that the structure itself had a subtitle screen on it, so i watched the second part with a “big picture” view.

Waz nais. In spite of the fact that I understood almost nothing of what they were singing, I didnt get bored almost at all, except at Desdemona’s song during the 3rd act (neverending!). Music was so-so. Ok, but nothing memorable. At least, not for me. No Nabucco choir, no Aida march. Just the Moor’s drrrama and the handkerchief crisis.

And, of course, the sentimental value Othello has for me, since i had to play the bastard at the Shakespeare festival, ages ago. God was that tough.

I also remembered mom saying she saw or heard of Othello in Russian, and he was saying “davai zdreantza, Desdemona!” ”Kakaia zdreanţa, Atielo?”.
These people should have said something like “tígōng shoupà, Des De Mo Na!” “nǎxiē shoupà, O Te Lo?”
Or they could have started to sing Othello’s song:

At the end of the day, everything went according to plan. The rug was a trap, and everything fell apart. Grand applause at the end:

Spiffy people streamed out of the castle

(speaking of spiffy, during the second part I sat next to a guy in a black suit and flipflops. I felt overshoed with my sneakers.

It was not dark yet, so I quickly took some more pictures of the castle.

Looking for a good spot, asking myself if it is ok to step on the grass, i saw these young people

doin a picnic, so i relaxed and stepped on the grass.

Then I hear “hey, guy”. Hmmm… I ignore it. “Hey, guy!”. I turn around – they were talking to me. If i want to take a picture of them drinking, eating and playing poker. Seemed tipsy too. Another one says – “no worries, dont listen to him. where are you from?”
“Oh, we’re almost neighbors, I’m from Ukraine”.

“We are neighbors.”

At first, I was cautious – being raised to avoid talking to strangers, especially tipsy ones seeking conversations. But he stood up, came closer and started chatting away. Told me about the castle, about the opera festival, made a download of his point of view about Finland (it’s very nice, but people are cold), about his life as a peacekeeper… At the end, he invited me to join them for the poker and drinks, but when i politely declined he just said – “well, good luck then, enjoy Finland!” and returned to his comrads.

I left, a bit ashamed of my early suspicions. I have not found one unfriendly person in the entire Northern trip (except Yul, but he’s not nordic). I walked along the lake shore – L.Planet was saying that the evening view of the castle is “dramatic”. Let’s see how dramatic:

I made dozens of pictures, donno which one to put here. Let’s finish with this one:

On the way home, dark clouds were gathering above the horizon. Hmmm… tomorrow, weather will be a key element. Hope no storm.

Back at the hostel, I fell asleep on a thunder-lightning-rainfalling background. Good night.


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