11.07.2009 - 12.07.2009
Remember the days back in your teenage years when a really beautiful bunch of trendy girls and boys ruled the school? They were impossibly fashionable; they had highlights when you still wore scruntchies and they co-ordinated their pens to match their nailpolish. The boys were athletic and popular, the girls giggly but grown-up. I spent most of my school years in the art classroom, elbow-deep in oil colours, sometimes squinting as I came out of the dark room after developing "artistic" photos of leaves and other interesting things. Then, after school, you say your good-byes and never see them again, right? Wrong. I met the whole posse on Saturday. For the first time in eleven years.
I went to Lahti, the ugliest city in Finland and possibly in the world (and I have, after all, visited Coventry and Leicester) for a friends' wedding. Lovely as the day was, the city was drab and forbidding. Every second person carried around a dirty plastic bag of cheap beer, the buildings reminded me of the charming soviet style which was so popular in Finland some decades ago. Everyone looked as if doomsday was just around the corner. I met some of the other wedding guests in the tiny hostel (ran by a russian woman whose face seemed somehow distorted- like it was put together by Picasso) and decided to go for a walk before getting ready for the ceremony. Everyone at the hostel (staff as well as the guests) seemed horrified by this. For a walk? In Lahti? Surely not.
There is indeed something seedy about the city. It has all the same coffee shops, pub chains and shops as most large cities in Finland, but they seem almost fake- like they are not really expecting to sell anything. I wouldn't be surprised if all the fancy bits were simply card-board cut-outs, planted by the city commission to make Lahti more appealing to tourists. And, when the beautiful, popular girls arrived, the dark city offered a magnificient backdrop for them; they are still, very much so, beautiful. And the same. Now, everyone has the latest little mobile and more professional highlights, but they are, essentially, the same. I felt like an awkward adolescent all over again. At thirty, that's not good.
The wedding took place slightly outside the city, luckily, in a small island-type setting on a lake. The happy couple got married under birch trees, and the whole ceremony was short and sweet and informal. Just my kind of wedding. In a true Finnish style, instead of a car, they had a rowing boat awaiting which took them to the restaurant at the tip of the island.
At one point there was cheesecake involved, but I won't get into it now as it's hardly the point of this blog entry.
The beautiful people have done well in life. All but one, they are married, and we are expecting the last remaining one to get married any day now. They all have mortgages, few have kids, all have careers. Not jobs. Careers. And unlike most beautiful, successful people, they are actually nice.
Dancing, eating and (quite a bit of) drinking later, and one of them told me how she had always expected I would be a bit different to the rest of them (elbow-deep in paint at school wasn't enough of a hint?) and how, compared to me, they were all so middle-class. I haven't yet figured out if she meant this as a bad thing. I didn't take it as such.
We got drenched in the pouring rain walking back (me to the hostel, they to an all-inclusive hotel) at 3am, and the next morning, although the sun shone, it did little to improve my outlook on the city. I wouldn't want to come back. I put my nice dress in my backpack, said bye to my gorgeous school friends, and headed back home from what was a very surreal weekend.
(and yes. I know. I'm no longer travelling, so I shouldn't really write a blog anymore. But i'm hoping domestic travel does count, at least a little?)