Friday, 16 June 2017

Personal update: moving and a trip to Switzerland

This past month has been very busy for me. I found a new apartment and had to plan my moving in a bit of a haste.

Slowly, the apartment is starting to look like a home. It has taken this long because straight after the moving I caught some nasty virus and spent a week lying in bed with a fever and a sore throat. 

And naturally it has been rather busy at work too, so that too has been a bit stressful, especially since after the fever I got a nasty cough and it is rather disturbing if you are organizing events and so on. Trying not to cough hysterically while another person is giving a speech is awful!

A grown-up playing games

My vacation started two days ago and this weekend I am off to play in a sci-fi LARP. It is great to go to a game like that but I have to say that the way it has been organized and how the information has been given to us players, it has bee rather stressful too. 

My character is a guard in a futuristic prison, so it will be an interesting and quite probably a very intense game!

A vacation in Switzerland

After the LARP I am off to Switzerland. I've wanted to go and see the HR Giger Museum for a long time and now I an finally getting there! This museum is situated in Gruyères, a medieval city an hour and a half's drive from Geneva. This shall be the first time I am going to drive a car in a foreign country so that shall be very exciting!

Another place I and my travel companion would love to visit is Villa Diodati, the villa that was rented by Lord Byron in 1818. During that summer a woman who would be known as Mary Shelley wrote the first draft of Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus and Byron's doctor friend John Polidori was inspired to write the first modern vampire story The Vampyre

In the photo you can see an art book about Giger and my copy of Polidori's short novel. I could not find my copy of Frankenstein for this group photo. Moving sucks!

Health things

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had eye surgery recently. The operation was easy and the recovering has been great so I am very happy and excited. 

Though, due to the operation my eyes are very sensitive for sunlight and at the moment I seem to have misplaced both of my sunglasses. It is rather annoying because I can't go out of my apartment without them. 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Gothic Art in Spotlight: grotesque installations

I haven't posted for a while because this month has been very busy for me. I am going to move to a new apartment by the end of the month and today I am going to get my eyes operated. In the future I shan't be needing glasses to be able to see things around me! Obviously, I am rather excited (and agitated) about it. Hopefully everything goes alright! But now, to art:

A week ago I visited Tampere, my old university city, and spent one afternoon looking art. I encountered the grotesque installations and sculptures at an art gallery called Galleria Saskia. The exhibition is free, open daily and you can see it until the end of this month. 

The exhibition features two Finnish artists, Heli Ryhänen and Anne Meskanen-Barman. These both ladies have made a substantial career and the all the sculptures in the exhibition give the viewer an uncanny feeling.

Regardless of the whole exhibition being intriguing, I shall concentrate on only one installation by Meskanen-Barman: High Tea (2017). The installation consists of a table with food and teacups on it, an armchair and a lamp. When one enters the room, it looks quite harmless. But as one walks nearer, one sees that the high tea is not that delicious-looking.
The interpretation of this work is ambiguous. Therefore, it works as a reflector for the viewer. How do we react when a face is poking out from a sophisticated teacup? 

The faces in the teacups resemble the way one sees one's reflection of a teacup when one is about to have a sip. On the other hand, one seldom looks that agonized when one is enjoying high tea...
And how about those delicious little cakes? If one looks closely, one notices that the surface looks like a human nipple. How to interpret that? Is the installation trying to raise conversation about how in our culture sweet treats and cakes are often used as a metaphor for sexual passion or courting? Or are they there for the sake of shocking people?

What are your interpretations of this work?

Friday, 14 April 2017

Peculiar Easter tradition of witches

In March, Goth Gardener announced a Baskets & Caskets competition. To participate, one needs to make a post according to the theme Goth Easter. Now, I don't believe this post fits the given topic but nevertheless Goth Gardener inspired me to write this post. :)

This post is once again about the odd traits of the Finns. Previously I've featured Nuuttipukki (the creepy Santa Claus) and fortunetelling traditions.

On Easter, we have a tradition that is very similar to the trick-or-treating on Halloween. It's called 'virpominen'. In short, children dress as witches or Easter bunnies and go around the neighborhood in order to get candy. BUT: they are not like evil spirits on Halloween who threat people with tricks.

Instead it is more like a mutually beneficial transaction. The kids collect and decorate sticks of pussy willow and will use them to cast spells of good luck for the neighbors. After the spell the kids will give the decorated willow to the neighbor and as a payment the kids will receive some candy.

Since I was super fascinated by witches as a kid (and still am), I was as excited about Easter as I was about Christmas. I could dress as a witch myself, it was like heaven! To clarify my behavior, I want to point out that during my childhood Halloween was not a big thing (it is still a very minor holiday here in Finland).

Here is a photo from my childhood. Since Finland is so up North, we used to have winter weather on Easter (at least during the 90's, with the climate change it is sort of a spring nowadays). So, us kids used to have to dress our witch garments over our winter coats. Nevertheless, it was always super fun!

In the photo you'll see the most fashionable gear an Easter witch could have: a black paper board hat and a broom. The broom was made by my father and I had tied some scarfs around my waist to get the proper witch look. The witch's familiar is also appearing in the photo (aka my pet dog).

The traditions behind virpominen

This tradition has roots both in the Orthodox traditions and in the old customs Finns had before Christianity arrived. I am not an expert on these traditions and beliefs, but here is how I've understood the historical roots of this tradition.

Pussy willows are not just a Finnish thing, in Eastern European countries many people use pussy willow in their rites on Palm Sunday. Palms do not grow here in the North, so people needed to substitute them with some other plant. I'm not sure if this is something people still do, but in the old days a priest blessed the willow sticks and then children took them home, decorated them, and then used the willows to bless their immediate family.
Willows made by the kids next door.
There is also another Christian belief related to virpominen. In the Nordic countries, people believed that during the days between the Good Friday and Easter Sunday the protecting powers of God were, well, diminished. Therefore people believed that evil witches were roaming around the countryside and causing misfortune to people. To prevent this, people did all sorts of protection spells that resemble the idea behind virpominen.

So, that was the Christian part of the tradition of virpominen. I am guessing that the pagan roots of the Finns twisted it a bit and that is why the kids dress as witches for it. In the old times, witches, witch doctors and shamans were appreciated members of the community. I guess that's why there are also good witches who now cast spells of good luck.

I've not heard that other countries would have this tradition of virpominen. If you have, please comment on this post!

I hope you enjoyed this little piece of information and do check out what people contributed to Goth Gardener's competition!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Creepy Reads Review: Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman

This months Creepy Reads Review presents to you Grimm Tales for Young and Old (2012) by Philip Pullman. Or so it says on the cover.

I saw this book at the Glasgow Airport, my flight was due in a couple of minutes, and I wanted something to read on the flight. The cover of Pullman's book was pretty and the back cover stated following praises:

'Gripping ... A clear and humorous retelling, with added sprinklings of wit ...'  – Sunday Telegraph
'Told with extraordinary toughness and savagery' – Andrew Marr 
'Magical ... This wonderful retelling is set to become a classic in its own right' – Sunday Times

From those quotations I assumed that:
a) Andrew Marr is praising Pullman's way of writing.
b) Retelling is creative work in which Pullman has made new version, his unique versions, of the Grimm's fairy tales. How else could the book 'become a classic in its own right'? The old fairy tales are already classics.

Sadly, my presumptions were wrong. The stories in this book are mostly just a regathering of the old stories. Pullman hasn't altered the Grimm's fairy tales much. In many cases he has merely gathered his favourite versions of the old printed tales. In some stories he has made minor alterations but I have to say they seem irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether an evil stepsister ate cake or chocolate cake, especially since chocolate doesn't become a symbol or motif for anything.

Pullman claims he has altered some text in order to better them but I do not really see it. He hasn't been bold enough with the alterations and therefore they lack significance and individuality. The narrative style is not reaching the 'Pullman way of writing' and hence any writer could claim these texts as his/her work. I expected a little more from a famous writer in the 21st century. There are already so many printed versions of the Grimm's fairy tales, why did we need this one?

One of the most often heard quotes from Pullman (which, of course, is not really his) is that all stories are stolen and all stories have already been told. That is quite true, but to be able to retell a story without slipping into mere plagiarism requires some effort.

Honestly, I was disappointed. I would not have bought this book if I had known that these stories are not really rewritten. I have read several version of Grimm's fairy tales in several languages and the Pullman collection does not bring anything extra to the stories. I assumed this collection would've been more like the My mother she killed me, my father he ate me short story collection or like The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter, in which Carter has really rewritten the old fairy tales, giving them intriguing twists. But no.

The good sides of Pullman's book

I was disappointed, because the back cover praises were misleading. If this is put aside, there is nothing wrong with the collection. Firstly, the cover is pretty. Secondly and more importantly, in the end of each story is a short background report about it. It tells what type of a story it is, and from what year this particular version is (or if it is a mix of two old versions).

I appreciate the background report, and for that the Pullman collection is great. Though I must point out that in some of the background reports there are Pullman's own 'observations' and opinions of the story lines and the morals and those remarks seem often unjustifiable and sometimes even unprofessional.

So, I can recommend the Grimm Tales for Young and Old 'by' Philip Pullman for those who are looking for Grimm's fairy tales in a pretty cover.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Goth Tourist in Glasgow

On my little holiday in Glasgow, I indulged myself by visiting various art museums. But, not all darkly inclined people are such art museum freaks as me, so I am going to feature just four sights that are rather gothy and are available all year around. All of these also happen to be free of charge.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum are an extensive collection of art, natural science, and history. The exhibit space is filled with paintings, statues, taxidermy animals, armors and what not.

My personal favourite of the artworks was this distressed Harpy by Mary Pownall (1902). The title of the work is The Harpy Celaeno. It was almost impossible to take a photo of the statue, for some reason my phone's camera refused to focus on it. Spooky.

The harpy is groping her chest, her claws bite into her own skin, and her face expression implicates sorrow and pain. Harpies are usually depicted without hands and often in groups, so this is an unusual sculpture. It is much more human than is customary.

From 1st of April till 1st of October 2017 they feature an exhibition of superheros and comics. It looks very interesting but unfortunately I did not get to see it.

Glasgow University & the Hunterian Museum

Anatomical samples in jars.Magnificent Gothic architecture of the University is worth checking out, and so is the Hunterian Museum inside it. The museum is named after William Hunter (1718–1783), who was a former student of the University and a keen collector of all things marvelous. His collection was the base for the museum. Collection ranges from the artifacts of Ancient Rome to Physics inventions.

The most macabre part of the collection is the Anatomical and Pathological Collection. Many of the samples are human but some are disfigured animals with more heads and feet than is usual.

The Glasgow Botanical Gardens

Glasgow Botanic Gardens are a marvelous place but for goths and other macabre folk the Botanic Gardens offer a whole room dedicated to killer plants. These plants are carnivores and on my visit I learned that there are 5 different method categories for the plants to trap their pray. One of them being 'lobster pot traps which use inward and downward pointing hairs to force pray to move towards a digestive organ'.
Carnivore plants.

I doubt these particular carnivorous plants in the photo use that method of 'lobster pot traps' but they sure are beautiful. The other rooms of the hothouses were very nice too.

Glasgow Necropolis

Last but not least, the Glasgow Necropolis. It is a Victorian garden cemetery and there are many beautiful and ornamental gravestones and memorials. The Friends of Glasgow Necropolis organize guided tours and it is a good idea to participate one if possible. The Friends of Glasgow guides give depth to your visit, because they can tell about the history of the graves and the cemetery.

If your visit doesn't match with the tour program, another thing I can recommend is to buy a book they've published: The Glasgow Necropolis After lives – Tales of Interments by Ruth Johnston. It costs £ 8 plus delivery but it does make your visit way better. Me and my friend had that book with us when we went on our visit and it was marvelous.
A woman in a cemetery.
We started on the recommended route up the hill and every time we saw an interesting gravestone, we searched its photo from Johnston's book. The book includes 150 most interesting graves and Johnston has collected all sorts of facts about the artwork, the lives of the people who are buried there, and so forth.

I hope these tips will be helpful for another goth tourist in Glasgow!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Goth Tourist in Edinburgh

This is the first post about the goth-y things I experienced on my trip to Scotland. Next week I'll write about goth-y things in Glasgow but now we'll concentrate on the capital.
On a day trip to Edinburgh, I and my friend visited two distinctly goth places. First the Surgeons' Hall Museums and then the pub with Frankenstein theme.

Surgeon's Hall Museums

I can wholeheartedly recommend this place. The Surgeon's Hall Museums is in plural because it consists of two museums and ole collection: Wohl Pathology Museum, the History of Surgery Museum and the Dental Collection. The museums have samples and curiosities beginning from the 18th century all the way to the present day.
Alas, one could not take photos in the museum but I'll just say that the exhibition rooms were amazing. There were thousands of samples in glass jars and also several interactive pieces. In one of them you get to participate to one famous postmortem, in another you get to try how much precision surgeon needs in her/his job.

I would also like to add that the members of the staff were very nice and helpful. Especially that lovely lady who was working in the ticket shop at around 1 pm on Saint Patrick's Day; you made our visit more than perfect, thank you!

Frankenstein Pub

I adore Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus and also most of the movie adaptations of it. So of course I and my friend just had to go to the pub with Frankenstein theme!

This pub is goth, horrifically funny and quite kitschy. They had the movie version from 1931 playing on loop on all the televisions they had in the place and they had all sorts of cutely tacky decorations on the walls.

On the entrance they had this huge statue of the Creature. I tried to hold hands with him but he seemed a bit distracted the whole time.

If you check the pub's Twitter, you'll notice they have among other things Harry Potter themed quizzes.

Other tips for goth tourists

I also want to hint about three goth-y things in Edinburgh. We didn't have time for these this time, but especially the Ghost Bus Tour seemed very interesting. We sighted one bus on our way and it looked very charming. Alas, it was all dark so I didn't get a decent photo of it.

Ghost Bus Tours

The Ghost Bus Tours are not just an Edinburgh thing; they also have tours in London and York. This is a horror comedy show on wheels. They promise to take the travelers to the most grim and famous sites of Edinburgh

The Real Mary King's Close

The Real Mary King's Close is a prize winning tourist attraction. The 'main ingredients' are 17th century streets that were sealed away for some reason and guides in character costumes. On the guided tours people get to see the 17th century life as if it was frozen in time. During that era, life could be rather brutal.

The Edinburgh Dungeon

According to my friend who has been there, the Edinburgh Dungeon is a gothier version of the Real Mary King's Close. History's macabre details made fun and gory entertainment.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Goth Tourist in Glasgow and Edinburgh

Soon, I will hop on a plane and fly to Glasgow. A dear friend of mine lives there and I am going to visit her on my holiday. We plan to visit Edinburgh together and go see something goths will find interesting: Surgeons' Hall Museums.

There are two museums and one collection:
I am just dying to see them all. Lame pun intended.

Me and my friend are also planning to visit the Necropolis in Glasgow. Sarah from Tales From A Geordie Goth visited it quite recently. Sarah was super nice and gave me some more tips on her post about places to see!

Stay tuned for my travel posts!