As I was sitting on the ferry returning from Tallinn, the sun setting, a fiery red like the red fire on the tip of the cigarette in my hand and the wind so cold that it made my eyes water, I thought of Helsinki, while the red streaks on the sea, that did not smell like the Mediterranean and therefore didn’t feel as real and the pink sky made me think of all those great sunsets I have seen during my time in the city.
Helsinki is a city with a lot of nature. There are lots of parks, there are lots of forests. The forests have nice roads so you can easily wander inside them, as well as beautiful places to just sit and relax in the seemingly endless green, while lots of animals are co-existing with the humans in a blissful state of peace.
When a city treats you that well, when your city teaches you that you deserve a good life, you get infected and you start as well respecting yourself.
It is a usual sight to see rabbits and squirrels walking around, even in the city. The first time I saw one was when the temperature had risen, from -26 to -7 , and I was walking in the city center with a Fin, when he suddenly said, with absolutely no feeling in his voice, “Oh a city rabbit” and I laughed, thinking it was a joke I didn’t get until I followed the direction his hand was pointing at and I saw a huge rabbit just strolling along in the middle of the city center.
Helsinki has sea. No matter where you are, you never get too far from the water.
Helsinki has peace. There is no adventure here. It is a place where the people that work in the various services are nice and polite and the buses always come on time. Except in Kontula. For some reason they are unusually late in Kontula.
Helsinki has wide spaces where you can walk freely without anyone invading your personal space, without having to stand a slow walker because there is no other space to walk. I guess that is also why Helsinki has also people with moving disabilities. Not that they don’t exist in other countries but well, they exist in the restricted space of their homes or their rooms.
People walk without being annoyed by other people, or problematic infrastructure or orange trees in the middle of the pavement. Walking is relaxing. Living is therapeutic.
As a friend declared, ” Living here makes me want to do stuff for myself. I want to take care of myself suddenly.” And it is a fact. When a city treats you that well, when your city teaches you that you deserve a good life, you get infected and you start as well respecting yourself. You eat cleaner, you take long walks at the woods, you feel calmer, you take care of your hair.
The people are nice, calm and helpful. Finnish people are some of the nicest and most easygoing people I have met. They don’t judge anyone. No one cares about anyone.
Apart from the actual physical manifestation of a lot of free space everywhere, there is also a mental free space, a freedom to be yourself, a place to fit in.
Helsinki is not a pretty place to visit, as a friend pointed out. But it is a great place to live. It is spacious, it is uncrowded and Finnish people are all about personal space. They are so unaccustomed to being in filled spaces, that whenever they end up in a remotely crowded bus, they are so clumsy on their feet and their movements are so awkward that you wonder ‘Have those people ever shared space with any other human being?’
In Helsinki you get spoiled and you realize to what degree, when you end up a 4 o clock in a night bus with a quite a few other passengers, an unusual situation even in the capital and your Canadian friend is asking you “Who do you think will freak out first?” and you look at each other with the sheer horror of the realization that it might as well be you. Or it happens when you go out with your Italian roommate for shopping, on rush hour and you afford to leave two steps between you, on the escalator and you end up asking yourself, “why do I need so much space between me and my friend?”