Thursday, August 09, 2012

Popular Music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi (Seven Stories Press 2000)




Grandad started scooping water onto the stones again, ignoring his sons' protestations that they were still made of traditional Finnish hardwood. Instead he declared that they had all become idle layabouts, that Tornedalen had been conquered by knapsut and ummikot and that what he regretted most of all was not smacking them more often when they were little. But it was too late now. Nobody understood any more the feeling of sitting in a sauna where you'd been born, where your father had been born and his father before him, where the family's corpses had been washed and shrouded, where kuppari, the medicine men, had bled the sick, where children had been conceived and where generation after generation of the family had cleansed themselves after a week's work.

His voice broke and, with tears in his eyes, he announced that life, my boys, is cold and pain and lies and rubbish. Take just one example: the revolution he'd been waiting for since the Pajala transport workers came out on strike for the first time in 1931, where the hell was it, had anybody seen any sign of it around here lately, well, had they? Only once had a spark of hope been lit, one day when he'd gone to Kolari to buy some provisions, and among the crowd of customers in Valinta Firberg's he'd caught a glimpse of Josef Stalin with a cart full of meat. But Uncle Joe had obviously decided it was a waste of time coming to Pajala.

A bottle was handed to Grandad as a crumb of comfort amidst all the heat, and he splashed a drop on the stones as well. A whiff of fusel oil drifted towards us. Grandad passed on the bottle, wiped his nose on his arm and said that life was a load of shit anyway and death wasn't far away. But he was still a Communist, he wanted to make that clear once and for all, and if on his deathbed he started rambling about seeking forgiveness for his sins and asking for Jesus, it would be no more than confusion and senility and they should stick a plaster over his cakehole. He wanted everybody to promise they'd do that, here and now, in the presence of his family and other witnesses. The fear of death was nothing compared to the fear of going gaga and talking twaddle at Pajala Cottage Hospital for anybody to hear. 


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