25 May 2006

That day dawns and dawns

One remarkable thing about Finland is the quantity of daylight occurring during Spring and summer. The sky remains light—pink sky on the horizon at sunset even until 11:30 pm, and when I would open my eyes about 3:00 am because I could no longer sleep, the sun would be already up. I heard somewhere that there would not be a sunset (or sunrise) in Finland until July. Thoreau announces “only that day dawns to which we are awake,” but what would he say to that day which never dawns but is perpetually day. I wonder how Thoreau might have responded to days of perpetual daylight.

I was wearied by such days. Aside from the fact that the continental changes and the day changes kept me from much of my rest, and besides the fact that meetings start at 8:30 am and that they end at 5:00pm, and that following these sessions delegates have to sit about drinking and discussing the sessions, I feel as if I haven’t slept in a week. And I haven’t. One morning I actually went out running at 4:30am because I had already been up for two hours lying abed.

I am glad to be home. The sun may be a morning star, but I appreciate comfort of the other stars as well.

19 May 2006


Back in the life of the airports. I’m on my way to Finland. I have to admit that if there were a European country to which I had little urge to journey, well, Finland rests high on the list. But this is where the conference is, and to Finland I head. I knew two things about Finland before booking the flight, and I have learned one thing since. When I was in eighth grade Mr. Schweitzer, my junior high school music teacher, played a recording of “Finlandia,” by Sibelius. I don’t remember much about the experience, but whenever I now hear “Finlandia,” I think of Mr. Schweitzer. I know I learned a great deal from him about music. To him I attribute my attraction to folk music, but that is a long and difficult story which I am not interested in telling. The second thing I knew about Finland was that it was where Lenin stayed awaiting the Revolution to begin. When I was doing my research on the American radical novel, I read Edmund Wilson’s Toward the Finland Station. I was a Marxist then; my roots still reside there. And though I don’t recall the reading at all, I can recall exactly where the book sits on my shelf along side my other Marxist tomes.

The third, and newest thing I know about Finland is that during World War II, the Russians invaded Finland and the country aligned itself with the Nazis in opposition. In 1942, the Nazis sent Himmler to Finland to round up its Jews. Rolf Witting, the Finn Foreign Minister, refused to accede to the Nazis demand. When the Nazis said, “Give us your Jews,” the Finns said, “Absolutely not!” No Finnish Jew went to Auschwitz. (The Danes and the Swedes have also their heroic story of saving Jews. And what can we say about the Western European and North American democracies concerning their concern for the Jews?).

I think this is a good way to end the sabbatical. Far from home, far from the university, far from the diurnal. When I return, I return to syllabi, to classlists, to final exams and summer packings.

Until then: even the newer terminals don’t seem to have taken the 21st century into account. There aren’t enough outlets into which to plug our devices. I’m sitting by the only plug I could find and there is no seat near; I am sitting on the floor. I don’t really mind sitting on the floor, but I am a bit concerned about having to get up off it. I think they should have a regulation that electric outlets be placed every so many feet, and certainly on all of the poles holding up the ceiling (I suspect) and separating the gate areas from the walkways. What were they thinking? Better, of whom were they thinking?

I haven’t been out of the country (except, excuse me, to Canada!) since 1991, and before that since the 1980s. I haven’t been to Northern Europe since 1971. I visited Denmark then, in search of Hamlet, the antic Dane. I found him.

14 May 2006

Bah, Humbug!

When I was a child, I would celebrate Mother’s Day (officially declared a national holiday in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson to be held on the second Sunday in May) by purchasing for my mother a bottle of cheap perfume. For Father’s Day, (officially declared a national holiday in 1972 by President Richard Nixon to be held on the third Sunday in June), I would purchase for my father a bottle of cheap cologne. I would inevitably ask, “When is Children’s Day,” and my parents would inevitably respond, “Every day is Children’s Day.” I always accepted this response without objection.

Now I am a father. My children have a mother. I think that everyday is Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Children’s Day in our house. I wish it were so in every household, and we are far from the model American household. The declaration by Congress or any President setting aside any special day for mothers and fathers and children will not improve the lives of mothers and fathers and children who need substantive economic and social assistance from the government to actually have a better life. These special days are like our days of prayer: empty gestures that take the place of real action. I hate them.

So, we buy our perfumes and colognes, and make our cards and flower pots in schools, purchase prepared missives in the Hallmark stores, and leave our parents’ children in war zones, and deny health care and day care services to our mothers and fathers, and we drink our tea and coffee cast in our indifference like shells upon the shore, lost in our dangling conversation and superficial sighs.