The road to their house was at first long and straight and covered in hard packed snow until we turned off onto a minor road that skirted the Baltic Sea. This one was soft-covered from a fresh fall and fewer cars. We live down here they told me pulling up under a carport and ushering me into the house through the kitchen entrance at the back of a typically Scandic house.
kicking snow from boots
waft of warm air and a smell
of slow roasting meat
Jari built the house himself Niina told me. It’s a Finnish tradition. She showed me around while Jari busied himself with drinks, and tended to the food. The house was more spacious than I was used to at home. The kitchen, lounge and dining areas were open to each other but separated by a few steps between levels. A set of bookshelves was arranged as a divider. Spaces were set at angles to each other so creating little private nooks or larger family areas around the log burner at the back. The front was floor to ceiling glass and faced the sea. “But let me show you first the private spaces,” Niina said.
Through a door off the kitchen area was the mud room, a drain in the centre of the floor, a shower head above, around the walls laundry equipment, drying racks, boot racks, an ironing table, washer and drier. Clean, efficient. This is where we deal with our mess she told me. At the opposite end of the living area was another door. She led me through to the bedrooms. High horizontal windows, warm private spaces. Then, their shared home office. Towards the front another room, still half built, bricks and wood and bags of plaster. “This will be the sauna and the changing area,” Niina said. Planking stood against one wall, a place for a door chalked at the end of the passage. “Once finished this will open onto the outside.”
pink flesh flank to flank
a rush of steam from hot coals
a roll in the snow
Back in the main room some music played quietly. A variation on jazz, a bit of R&B. This is a local band, Jari told me. It was mellow. I looked around at the blond people, blond wood, light-painted walls and floors, relieved with sudden flashes of startling colour from bright rugs or abstract tapestries. Their home was lovely, it was lovely to be there.
“Come.” Niina touched my arm lightly and led me to the vast glass doors, they folded back with the touch of a switch and we stepped out onto the veranda. Jari followed with three tall mojitos. “We can sit out here until the sun goes down, despite the snow, it is warm in the sun.”
The living area opened out onto a long and deep area of decking that led down to the garden. “The garden ends by that post you can see way down there,” they said, pointing to a red post some way off in a blindingly white landscape. “That’s where we tether the boat. Beyond that is the sea. You can just make out the curve of the bay from the faint shadow at the base of the rushes. Of course the water is still frozen at this time of year so it’s hard to make out.”
“And this. This is the hot tub.”
They walked me round the beautifully crafted cedar tub, demonstrated the steps leading up to it, showed me the bar alongside, the shelf surrounding the tub where you would place your drinks. I did not see any hooks or chairs on which you might hang towels or changing robes. Behind was the still bricked-up door leading to the sauna and changing area. “I’ll start it filling now,” Jari said. “By the time we have finished dinner it will be full, it takes some time.”
We had dinner inside. Jari was a fantastic cook. Niina entertained me with her non-stop chatter, her soft Finnish voice purring like a cat as Finnish women do. Talking from deep down in their throats as though not to breathe the cold air, controlling the warmth, gently, soothingly. Outside the tub began to steam, the night sky darkened over the Baltic and ambient lights lit the veranda. The food smelled delicious.
a bowl of hot soup
three fat little carrots steam
a spoon slowly stirs
MVJ (20 March 2021 version)
With thanks to Niina and Jari for their wonderful hospitality, and enduring friendship.