|A Swedish take on Finncon 2016
||[Jul. 7th, 2016|10:27 pm]
I have long thought about going to a Finncon, but various factors have always been in the way. At Swecon last year in Linköping, Marianna Leikomaa sat beside me in the bar lobby on Saturday evening, and said that if I got to Finncon next year (ie this year), I'd need to get in touch with programming. "They're sitting right there", pointing to the couple in the chairs beside me. You can hardly make the hint any broader.
The Finncons run on entirely different lines than Swedish or British cons. Admittance is free, and the con is largely financed by grants and sponsorships. They also include an impressive array of vendors. Visitors numbers in the thousands, even since the Finncon were split off from the Finnish AnimeCon. Cosplaying is very popular, if not as common as at the anime or media cons I've seen. Programming usually ends early evening, and then those who wants to decamps to a nearby bar or restaurant for drinks and socialising.
So our con plans for this year explicitly included Finncon. Due to the way Therese's summer vacation was scheduled, she had no opportunity to go, but Hulda and me made plans for Finncon and then staying a few days in Stockholm afterwards.
We travelled to Tampere by taking the train to Stockholm, then the ferry to Turku, and last the train to Tampere. It took a while, but we had included plenty of slack in our scheduling, so never had to hurry anywhere. We arrived in Turku just before 11 Finnish time, after almost exactly 24 hours of travel.
Päivi Itäpuro (a Finnish fan and filker, mainly of choral pieces) met us at the station. We placed most of our luggage in the nearby hotel, and then received a quick tour (with ice cream stop!) in the central parts of Tampere with the (very much developed) rapids, old factories, and some nice parks and squares. We ended at the main building of Tampere University, where the con was to be held. There were lots of busy Finns there finishing the preparations, and Päivi joined them (I think she got the job of punching holes in badges). Hulda and I waved to those we knew that we saw (not that many), and went back towards the hotel to get lunch and check in properly.
Lunch was had in an unimpressive pizza place, where I think I impressed the cashier by understanding the Finnish menu (many Finnish words for foodstuff are borrowed from Swedish, and then the spelling changes are quite regular). Our room and the hotel itself was very nice, of a classic modern (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) Scandinavian design. Back in the lobby, we met Saija Kyllönen and Mårten Svantesson who were about to check in. Most of the Swedes had chosen to stay at the same hotel as us, despite no prior organising.
We didn't go to any programming on Friday, instead I mostly walked around in the con venue, locating the various rooms, chatting with various people, and taking a first look at what the vendors offered. Many of them were not present yet, and the whole Artist's Alley was empty. Finncons have traditionally run Saturday and Sunday, and have just recently started to have Friday programming, and the transition is still very much ongoing. We did buy Finncon t-shirts and a Fluffle Puff-pillow for Hulda. At six we met up with Päivi and went to the sky bar at Sokos Hotel Torni Tampere, at the 25th floor with a wonderful view over all of Tampere. Dave Weingart and girlfriend (Stevie? I'm terrible with names) were already there. Päivi and the other Finnish fen pointed out all the sights, especially recommending the Tampere Cathedral.
(The Swedish fans, as opposed to Swedish-speaking fans, at Finncon included Carolina and Anna Gómez Lagerlöf, Tommy Persson, Michael Pargman, Johan Jönsson, jophan, Ahrvid Engholm, Fia Karlsson, Camilla Svedén, Suzanne van Rooyen, and Mårten Svantesson. I might have missed one or two.)
After the drinks both Hulda (lemonade for her) and I were hungry, so we went to look for food. Our main criteria was neither pizza, kebab, sausages, nor hamburgers (the staples of Swedish fast/cheap food), and came by a Nepalese restaurant. We gladly shared a table with the only other two customers there: Carolina and Anna. Later on, most of the fen (including Päivi and Dave) from the Sokos hotel came to the restaurant too, but decided on a table of their own.
The food was good. Hulda was tucked into bed, and I was free (after asking her about it) to go to the traditional Friday pre-con party at O'Connells. I missed the traditional tabletop hockey tournament since I arrived late, but it wasn't any big deal. I talked with Jukka Halme, Dave, Anna, Fia, Hanna, Päivi, Mårten, Johan A, Johanna Vainikainen-Uusitalo, and quite a few more people during the evening. I made grandiose plans for Filkkifriikit's traditional concert, smoffed with Jukka, heard about making solar systems ambulatory, discussed fan history and future cons, and still managed to get home reasonably early. The bar and pavement outside were packed with people, especially since we only had access to half of the bar.
Saturday was the first major day of the con. Hulda, Anna, and Carolina had decided on using the hotel sauna the first thing in the morning, so we were up by seven, and they knocked on the door a little later to collect a bleary Hulda. Meanwhile I showered, dressed, and had breakfast. When I got back Hulda was in the room, so we went back to the hotel restaurant and had breakfast (only tea and a cookie for me this time) with Anna and Carolina.
Back at the con venue we picked up our Friends of Finncon goodie bags; I had received my badge for being in programming the day before. Since Finncon doesn't charge any membership fees most people go badge-less, which felt a little unusual. Committee members, GoHs, vendors, programme participants, and gophers however have badges, and the friends of Finncon receive a custom handmade badge, a goodie bag, and some minor perks during the con.
The opening ceremony was nice. Marianna and one of the other committee members told the tale of Finncon, since the con had a fairy tale theme, showing off t-shirts from some earlier Finncons. Then they said that the entire set of adult responsible committee members had been carried off to Fairyland, to be returned as fairies, babies, pirates, and other irresponsible beings. The GoHs were introduced, and we understood that Jasper Fforde was really upset (in a very British way) about Brexit. The other GoHs were Eeva-Liisa Tenhunen (fan GoH), Anne Leinonen (Finnish GoH), Cat Valente, and Raffaella Baccolini (academic GoH).
I listened to Cat Valente being interviewed by Johan Anglemark, and even did a recording of it, since Therese had been very disappointed to not get to meet Cat. Johan is an excellent interviewer, and Cat was a good interview subject, including the story of how a lot of her training to write came from working as a seeress doing tarot readings, and how a lot of the events in Radiance came from her own childhood. I think she managed to capture a lot of fandom with her advice that we should "read strange books, wear strange clothes and stay up to strange hours of the night with strange people". Then we had lunch in the university restaurant, with a decidedly run-of-the-mill but inexpensive buffet.
Hulda and I took a quick round of the con area taking pictures of the cosplayers, but Hulda was quite shy about asking when she couldn't speak Finnish, and the iPad was far from an ideal camera. But we got a few nice pictures of very nice costumes.
In a way, the venue reminded me of Fantastika 2013, in that the communal areas were dominated by vendors and similar stuff. The programme rooms were excellent, but getting between them could require quite a bit of walking. Sadly, the venue lacked a good social hub. The restaurant and the café in the building were simply too far away and not nice enough to serve as that.
Next came preparations for the panel and singalong session "Filk of Three Nations", a shorter version of the same panel from Archipelacon. Panelists were Päivi, Dave, and myself. We talked a bit about how filk looked in our respective countries, but mostly we sang. We sang Dave's "The River", "Muinaisten Valssi" (a Finnish filk, I think about cultists sacrificing seals in danger of extinction to Cthulhu), "Nazgûl'n vingad syns vid Gondor" (my Swedish filk retelling the battle of the Pelennor fields), Leslie Fish's "Hope Eyrie", and "Jag vill bo i rymden" (in Swedish about a kid wanting to have adventures in space). Ahrvid contributed with his "Ghod Save the Spleen", and we had time for a last song, where I sang "Nikolajevs längtan" (in Swedish, about a kosmonaut without a toilet in his spacecraft). It's a Swedish student song that fits very well into filk.
We had about fifteen people listening and singing, and since the room was rather small, we got interesting acoustics going when nearly everyone joined in during some of the songs. It seems to have been very well received by at least some of the audience.
The following masquerade was quite nice, with more than a dozen entrants (of which I think three were kids). I especially liked the Skeletor suit (with red glowing eyes), the little hobbit girl, and the Dean (since he wore jeans). Hulda liked the young steampunk general.
Dinner was had with Anna and Carolina at the hotel restaurant. Hulda was tucked into bed a bit before nine, and I could go the evening party at Telakka, which was in full swing when I arrived, covering both the restaurant floors and their entire outdoors area. Due to the general sound level I had more trouble than usual with socialising, but I did get to sing my dill crisp song to Fia, and Linn Gröndahl found my song "Knob on the End" far too lewd. (It doesn't contain any dirty words at all! It's all in your head!) I also got a chance to chat a bit with Liisa Rantalaiho, a wonderful little old lady and the grand old lady of Finnish filk.
During the party the winners of the masquerade (at least the adults, the kids received their prizes earlier) were announced. Since there were plenty of prizes available, every contestant received something, including a beautiful diploma with their name and special category win (like "Best Archery Target") hand-written by Cat Valente. The Filkkifriikit sang to the guests of honour. Afterwards, the choir called up Carolina, since Saturday was her 50th birthday. We sang "Happy Birthday" (since my ambitious plans were lost in a puff of lack of time and self-confidence), and Carolina was given a gift certificate, a Tardis/tentacle-pillow, and a signed card from many fannish well-wishers.
We took a later morning on Sunday, but Hulda still had time for a morning sauna with Carolina and Anna. The weather turned cooler and cloudier than the previous two days, but still quite nice. I had toyed with the idea of the morning Tolkien picnic, but there were hardly any people there when Hulda and I arrived.
Instead I listened to Marianne interviewing Jasper Fforde, who was quite witty, but I felt that he had many unassumed and unquestioned areas of privilege showing through at times. By the end of the interview, free associations led to ideas of rogue gangs of moomins living on the edges of society, and then to undead and zombie moomins.
Lunch was again had at the university restaurant, though Hulda found the pizza with salami pieces far too spicy, and took some of my meatballs instead, after I had de-sauced them.
The only Swedish-language item I went to was "Samhälle och zombier", especially because I realised that "Fias zombievisa" by Fia Karlsson and John-Henri Holmberg would make a great start or end for the panel. I asked the panelists, and they chose to put it by the end. Despite being Swedish-language, I didn't recognise most faces, since the audience was primarily made up of Finno-Swedes. There were relatively few Swedish panels or items during the con, and I wish I had been able to go to an earlier one, if only to find the Swedish-speakers within Finnish fandom. It will be easier next time, though.
(Note to self: try to find ways for mainland Swedish and Finno-Swedish fan communities to mingle and meet each other during Worldcon 75.)
The discussion went decently, though it was somewhat incoherent. It covered how zombies have gone from expressing fear of slavery to fear of slaves to the fear of the middle-class of uncontrolled masses, and how they have moved from being controlled by a witch doctor to being mindless brain-eaters more akin to ghouls. We also discussed the way that zombies are used politically, for selling guns in the USA or as a way to conduct civil defense and disaster preparation in Sweden. Hulda sat beside me and tried her hand at drawing zombies. We ended with singing "Fias zombievisa" to mixed groans, laughter, and revulsion.
Then I hurried to the main auditorium, where the Pixel Sisters nerd choir would sing and Juha Jyrkäs would play electric heavy metal kantele. The item was presented in Finnish, but this should really have been presented as an international (English) item in the programme guide. It was dead luck I found out about it, and also could tell Dave.
The Pixel Sisters proved an excellent all-women's choir. I didn't like the arrangement they had for "The Parting Glass", but that doesn't reflect on their abilities of a choir. Their closing piece with an a capella rendition of the Game of Thrones theme was just excellent. Dave pretty much immediately offered them a spot on the filk and music programming at Worldcon 75.
Juha Jyrkäs playing variations of a classic kantele piece about Väinämöinen was more of a mixed bag. Main issue was that he really needed a much better amplifier and a proper sound system. I had started sitting right ahead of him, but had to move to the side during the sound check, and then up into the back where Dave and Stevie sat. But he was definitely a skilled singer and musician, and I don't regret going to it one bit.
After my ears had recovered I picked up Hulda from the family room where she had spent a lot of the time at the con. Apart from when I took her with me to a photo tour or to see the vendors, she spent most of her time there. The only other kid at close to her age that she met was Sakku (the fantastic little pirate kid from Archipelacon), and they bonded over Minecraft. Otherwise, the family room was mostly used by babies and toddlers. Note to self: we definitely need to use programming to make the kids discover and meet each other at larger cons.
The closing ceremony was short and to the point.
Last but certainly not least was the dead dog party. As a foreigner and programme participant I was included in two classes of invitees; the Finncon dead dog party is invitation-only for the people working the con, and not a general party. After a (very light) dinner and tucking Hulda to bed at half past eight (and after asking her permission) I took a cab to the address I had been given. It was a fair bit out, in a very forested and secluded spot (but that's a given for the Finnish countryside). The party was in full swing and the sauna hot when I arrived.
The dead dog party was easily the best part of the con. We had plenty of space, no mundanes to contend with, the weather was nice, the venue was beautiful, and the fen and bheer were plentiful. I did get to sing my fannish celebration song to Carolina (who had birthday on the Saturday) and Liisa of the committee (who had it on the Sunday).
A lot of time was spent in the sauna, including discussing the plans for kids programming and activities at Worldcon 75 with the woman in charge of family outreach while in the sauna. We also skinnydipped in the lake next by, playing with the Death Star beach ball that one of the masquerade contestants had used as a prop.
Best line during the night was probably "what a nice cool butt", while we were forced to stack ourselves two deep at places in the sauna. At times it was Thunderdome style: "two persons enter, one persons leaves".
Sometime during the night, a naked Finno-swede ran from the sauna to the lake while singing "Jag vill bo i rymden". Right before I and a couple other fen (mostly Swedes) took a cab back to the hotel, I also got to sing the beginning line of my filk "Fandom är mycket större än oss själva" with Cat Valente nearby, and she demanded that I sing all of it. It was a fitting way to end a great con.