Saturday, June 29, 2013

tar appeal

A few years ago, while visiting the Finnish city of Fiskars, I came across a tar-scented candle in a candle shop. I thought it was odd that anyone would want to buy something that would smell like road works but apparently the smell of tar is something that is quite nostalgic and comforting to Finns. Earlier, on this trip, we went to the town of Hanko for ice cream and my student was brave enough to try the tar-flavoured ice cream. He thought it wasn't too bad. I could only imagine what a tar ice cream would taste like.

part in Turku

I finally managed to get out of the research station yesterday (albeit for only a day).

I was invited to a colleague's 50th birthday party in the beautiful city of Turku. The birthday girl's husband gave one of the best off the cuff speeches I have ever heard. Who would have though? A romantic Finnish man.

I didn't know most of the guests at the party but it was interesting that several of them raised the recent political changes in Australia when they found out I was Australian. Europeans seem to be quite well informed about Aussie politics. And it seemed that Gillard's misogynist speech had quite an impact.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

causal link?

Hmmm...three years ago, when I was last in Finland doing fieldwork, Julia Gillard took over from Kevin Rudd as PM.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

escargot (part deux)

I'm not sure what the snails have been eating but the longer we've left them in the bucket to clear their digestive tracts, the less I am inclined to eat them myself.

My student managed to get the only french scientist at the research station to cook them for us tonight.

Me (to colleague): Talk about racial stereotyping.
Colleague: Well, you've been cooking fried rice all the time.
Me: Good point.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


We are purging some snails in a bucket. They will be ready for us to eat tomorrow. The research station is full of these large, slightly off-green snails that were brought to Finland by monks several centuries ago as a food source. So, we though, why not give them a try?

sea change

I have friends, a couple, who have given up their regular jobs and, for the last few years, have been travelling on a sail boat with their baby (now a toddler). They started in the US, have gone down to Central America and are currently in French Polynesia. I wonder how their kid is taking all of this? must be an amazing experience for a young child to be immersed in something as routine that most of us will never ever get the chance (or the courage) to experience.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

a dip in the sea

My student fell into the sea today. He is fine (and so are the fish he was trying to offload onto the jetty when he fell). I saw it happen. And so did five others in another boat that was pulling into the jetty. The people in the other boat started to laugh. I felt embarrassed for my student but he took it in his stride.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

changing my sheets

How frequently should one change their bed sheets?

Here at the field station, the answer is once a week.

My colleague's 18yo daughter just started working here as a house cleaner for the summer. Today, she told her mum (who then told me) that they were cleaning my room and apparently the older ladies were curious why I hadn't changed my sheets (despite leaving me a fresh set every week).

I thought I was being considerate. Instead they think I am a pig.

home alone

I've noticed every time I'm away, Nathan takes the opportunity to buy stuff and/or rearrange things in the apartment.

Here is a recent old sellotape container. He proudly showed it off today on skype.

Me: "What is that?"
Nathan: "It's a sellotape box"
Me: "Why is it on the table?"
Nathan: "I bought it from Lost and Found."
Me: "Does it have actual tape in it?"
Nathan: "No, it's just the tin."
Me (???): "Hmm...o.k.a.y."

To be fair, his purchases are generally small and inexpensive. He also tends to support tolerate the things I buy even if he finds them creepy (like the time I bought home a sculpture made out of animal bones covered in red velvet).

Me: "Look what I bought"
Nathan (looking at velvet-coloured bones and clearly hating it): "Ohhh...I like it."
Me (being really good at reading people's true emotions): "I can take it to the office and hang them there."
Nathan: "No, it's ok. Display them at home...just not in the bedroom."


Truffles waiting to skype with me the other night...

Monday, June 17, 2013

poor Nigella

The photos of poor Nigella apparently being choked by her husband are bad enough but an epic FAIL to the Fairfax news websites in how they have categorised the story under the 'entertainment' section. Seriously?

...nor is it something that would warrant placement in the lifestyle section either.

 Daily life?  Hopefully not.

Fail, fail, fail.

animal magnetism

How could I not have known about Les Lalanne? Here is a sample of their crazy animal furniture...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

education for all

I was talking to two Finnish students a breakfast this morning and got very envious of the education system they have set up here. First, university education is free. Second, students get up to 500 euro a month allowance. Third, the lunches are subsidised (students pay less than 3 euro for a decent three course meal and drink). Can you imagine such things in Australia?

cabin fever

Although I enjoy my time at the research station, I think I am also starting to get cabin fever.

It is really quiet here at the moment...a lot of the staff and students depart for the weekend. I really should have done the same and gone to Helsinki (if only for a day trip).

A colleague from another city, Jyvasklya, tried to entice me over for a visit with the promise of cooking me moose and mushrooms. I was tempted. Jyvaskyla is an interesting city. I've visited there only once before. Parts of it reminds me a little of Canberra, with its lake and concrete (brutalist) architecture.

Anyhow...going away is kinda difficult at the moment. We have a tight time schedule for the experiments we are doing. This year the fish are being recalcitrant and are not breeding too well so its pretty slow going. Also, I reckon I'd feel guilty abandoning my student. This is his first trip to Europe and if he is stuck in a research station doing 15 hour days, I should at least be around him to offer support (even if I am in my room watching youtube videos).

At least the mosquitoes have mellowed a little. Even they seem to have left the research station for the weekend.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I saw the following passage in The Australian and got totally confused.

SYDNEY University is set to focus its health and medical research on four priority health and medical priority areas which will attract the lions share of resources and support over the next decade.
The four pillars will be obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental health and neuroscience and infectious diseases.
So, what exactly are the four pillars to which the journalist is referring to? It's quite ambiguous. Let's see...
1. obesity
2. diabetes and cardiovascular disease
3. cancer
4. mental health and neuroscience
5. infectious diseases (hang on, that's five)

Ok. Try again:

1. obesity
2. diabetes and cardiovascular disease
3. cancer
4. mental health 
5. neuroscience and infectious diseases (nope, still five)

1. obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease
2. cancer
3. mental health and neuroscience
4. infectious diseases 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I was on skype with Nathan last night. He took the dog to the country over the long weekend. They stayed at Nathan's mum's new place. Apparently Truffles took a crap on the new carpet and then went to sit on mum's face. Unfortunately for Nathan's mum, there was a dingleberry still attached to the dog's bum. Ooops.

Call me the nag in the relationship but I did ask Nathan to make sure the new house was escape-proof, which he assured me it was. So surprise, surprise when Nathan said that the dog had escaped and he had to spend 20 frantic minutes running up and down the street looking for her. Fortunately Truffs had run up to a couple of kids and were busy playing with them when Nathan found her.

She is naughty (and so is Nathan).

only in Finland

So picture this....It is 11.00pm. I just got into bed. I'm about to doze off and then I hear the distinctive sounds of...a whipper snipper. Soon after, I catch the smell of cut grass wafting into my room. Yes folks, the gardener at the station is still doing the lawn close to midnight (probably because it is light outside). Everything (and everyone) seems to be working on a different time schedule here to take full advantage of the light, from the birds singing late into the night to the gardener intent on keeping the long grass trimmed.  

false idols

Oh dear. What a mess. It seems that the National Gallery of Australia might have been caught up in an art scandal.

There are allegations that the NGA has purchased several indian antiquities from a dodgy dealer based in the US. These items, it is alleged, were looted and smuggled out of the sub continent.

If proven to be true, the NGA will have to repatriate these items, which will represent a huge financial loss – not to mention a loss of reputation.

I do find it amazing that investigative journalists have the capacity to hunt down info that has somehow alluded public collecting institutions despite the importance of making sure that the provenance or history of the pieces check out...especially if you are going to fork out millions of dollars on an item.

It did occur to me the last few times I had been visiting the NGA, just how rapidly it had expanded its collection of indian art since the current director took up his position. Oh well, I guess it might soon contract again when everything has to be sent back to India.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

eye contact

I try to say hello or, at the very least, acknowledge people who are walking towards me with a smile or a gentle nod of recognition, especially here at the field station. I've found that the foreign researchers always greet you back. Most of the locals, on the other hand, tend to avoid eye contact. They either  look away at the last minute or not acknowledge the greeting at all. I think it might be cultural. Perhaps I need to change my brash Australian ways. The locals must think I am creepy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


In April, I flew back from Europe on a Finnair plane painted in the distinctive poppy designs of Finnish-based design company Marimekko.

Recently, Finnair unveiled a second aircraft painted with another one of Marimekko's designs, 'metsanvaki'. Unfortunately for Finnair, the design had actually been plagiarised from the artwork of an Ukranian folk artist. Now Finnair has to repaint the plane. I wonder how much that will cost?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

a Finnish bargain

A few years ago, Nathan and I went to my favourite shop in Surrey Hills in Sydney and I ended up buying a nice-looking flower pot designed by Richard Lindh in the 1960s for Arabia, Finland. I think I paid $90.

Last weekend in Helsinki, I saw the same pot for sale at a flea market. I paid 3 euros.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

field station musings

Its been a few years since I've had the opportunity to work at the research station here in Finland.

I would have to say that I am more of a city person (which, a lot of my biologist friends find perplexing) but nevertheless it's really nice to be able to escape the city from time to time and to work in a place like this for a month or so.

The nearest decent-sized town is only 20 km away – but without a car, it might as well be 200 km away. Periodically, we have to rely on another researcher or student at the station to drive us to town to buy groceries, to go for the occasional meal at a fancy restaurant or to grab an ice cream (like we did yesterday) but otherwise we are pretty much 'stuck' at the station surrounded by forests and the sea.

It's a bit like being in a pleasant wilderness retreat...except for the work. Still, despite the long work hours, there is usually plenty of free time to go for walks or sit outside in the sun (just have to avoid the giant mosquitoes).

We managed to catch some shrimp the other day while out collecting fish for our experiments and decided to incorporate them into our stir fry that night. They were small but otherwise tasty. Word quickly got around about our foraging adventures and a french student turned up to our lab last night with a pan full of shrimp she had caught and fried up in garlic. It was a different species and more tasty than we asked her to bring us more next time.