Today, a delightful parcel of goodies arrived from my dear friend Heidi, all the way from Pori, Finland. Within the box was to be found a small cornucopia of various Finnish sweets, mostly differing brands of liquorice, which for those who have been reared on either Bertie Basset's Liquorice All Sorts and the only alternative has been the liquorice stick in your Sherbert Fountain, well, you simply don't know what you have been missing out on. When not making Mars bars or jelly babies, the English confectionary houses tend to have a tendency to attempt to make English renditions of continental sweets and generally, not always to do it especially well. A good analogy in this instance might be when one hears the English tourist in Paris or Rome, armed with their trusty Lonely Planet phrase book, endevouring to ask directions. No attempt being made to disguise one's thick English accent nor nuance and every word, be they French or Italian or otherwise, pronounced and enunciated in that uniquely English way, and generally not terribly well. After all, to pronounce French with a French accent would sound either pretentious or contrived, surely...(?!) Never mind that the accent tends to play an essential part in the pronounciation of the various words. Therefore English variants of foreign foods have been created. Some are honest copies (such as the terribly sweet Greek dessert Baklava), others are actually better than the originals (such as Bombay mix, which when compared to the bland Indian original is far more spicy and tasty), and others simply fall flat on their face. For example, take nougat. I love the stuff, especially that made in Motelimar. Rather sweet, rich and with chopped almonds, cherries, or pistachio nuts. Although Greek in origin, and with the French version (probably) dating from the 1600's, one gets a real taste of something earlier, almost able to imagine bars of this being brought along the trading routes into France and Italy in mediaeval times by the exotic Greek traders together with spices, olives and fabrics. The English have created in the wisdom their own version of nougat, which is, in a word, revolting !! A travesty of the original. The English version is pink and white, soggy, soft, gloppy and inedible. Best avoided completely.
I don't know where the English tradition for liquorice came from, but it is certainly nothing like that of the Scandinavian variety. I suppose that most of the English, when tasting some of the Scandinavian liquorice would probably find it unpleasant and distasteful. The worst denounciation I have yet to hear for the much loved, iconic, Ga-Jol was the disclaimer that "they sort of taste like cough sweets". In Scandinavia you get so many different sorts of liquorice, yet somehow very few of them seem to appease or appeal to the English palette. It seems so strange as the nations are not that geographically distant and I am sure most English would find somewhere in their geneological pasts some sort of Viking blood. That said, the French and English are such opposites "the old enemy" and have made a subconscious decision not to embrace each other's cultures too strongly. Anyway, the parcel itself contained wonderfully named sweets such as Pantterri ("Panthers"), Salmiakki Mix (proclaimed as "The Original Finnish Salt Liquorice"), Bis Bis Bis Bis, and two different varieties of Tyrkisk Peber ("Original" and "Volcano").
Shunted to the side of these sweets was a copy, in translation, of the Finnish epic poem The Kalevala, which I must confess that, until I had spoken to Heidi, I had never heard of. The translation is over 600 pages long, and though the printed version was first published in the mid nineteenth century, it harks back to the oral tradition as far back as prehistoric times. The translation appears to be more literal in nature than poetic, which, in certain cases, as a matter of preference, I do tend to prefer. I am not especially fond of such poetic translations (such as Dryden's of The Aenead, which, although masterful, tends to jar). I feel they are, as I described above, mere renditions that, yes, conserve the original idea, some of the flavour, but lack the panache and mood. This is not always the case as I say, I can revel in and find entertainment a-plenty in reading out loud (to myself) Simon Armitage's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; yet, even in the original Middle or Early Modern English, prefer the choice of words of Donne, of Spenser, of Chaucer, of Wyatt, etc - over a modern translation.
I have so far, admittedly briefly, leafed through some of the various cantos therein. I can't wait to start to read through this. Sibelius playing in the background, nibbling on some salt liquorice, with rain pattering outside and wrapped in a snug blanket. Sounds idyllic and delightfully escapist. So, to Heidi, in conclusion to my ramblings above, I want to say a heartfelt thank you for this wonderful, and unexpected, heartfelt and uniquely Scandinavian gift !!
And so, in "Kris Finnish", I will conclude...
Kiitos siitä sydämeni pohjasta tästä ihanin lahja!