|Supermarket and Sauna|
|Videogames - Geek Adventure|
|Written by Pixelsmith|
Saturday April 19 2008
Quick witted readers of the previous installment will have spotted a discrepancy between the size of Iscaria and the size of Iscaria’s front door. Well done! The picture did not, in fact, depict his house, but rather the tiny entrance to a Dwarven mine located in his back garden.
Little is known outside of Finland of the country’s sizeable Dwarf population. These diminutive people live in a network of underground caves spanning the entire breadth of the nation. Their relationship with the human natives is peaceful and, to some degree, interdependent. Like the birds that pick scraps of food from the mouths of hippopotami, the Dwarves extract valuable materials from beneath the crust of Finland - like iron ore, truffles and rats’ eggs - and trade them with their larger, surface-dwelling neighbours in exchange for canned goods and pornography. The door in Iscaria’s garden is one of only three in Kuopio, but we were unable to meet its inhabitants as the naturally shy Dwarves emerge just twice a year. Fortunately, there was much to occupy Brodos and me in Iscaria's actual house.
It’s crucial to make a good impression when staying in a tidy family home, so we resolved to wake ourselves up at a civilised time on our first morning. Iscaria reminded us of this at roughly 12.30pm when he knocked on our door. Breakfast had been varying levels of warm for several hours - something we would discover to be a recurrent theme during our stay. We arose and shuffled into the kitchen, looking as weird as we possibly couldn’t.
It was at roughly this point that the holiday became brilliant. For all the dangers that the ill-informed traveller fears he might face - gunfire in Serbia, abduction and dismemberment in Bulgaria or, ideally, some kind of prolonged sex attack by the beach volleyball team of Sweden - meeting the uncertain parents of an internet friend ranks extremely high. There was every chance we would be received as co-conspirators in their son’s enslavement to his computer - which in truth we were - and roundly despised for the part we had played in turning their traditional Finnish home into a sun-fearing house of nerd.
But there was none of that. In fact, Iscaria’s mum seemed very happy to meet us, visibly relieved to discover we were not grizzled, elderly, heavily bearded or in some other way indicative of predatory online groomers. Her exceptionally friendly welcome, bolstered by a large spread of food and tea, pivoted our trip from awkward voyage into the unknown to sheer enjoyment of the hospitality of people who, in the traditional sense at least, were largely strangers. We ate, drank and talked, starting to feel very welcome in this snowy, northern province of the Internet.
Then we went to the supermarket.
Foreign shops are exciting. I’d learned this on school trips, marvelling at live lobsters in French hypermarkets and 900 varieties of pickled cabbage on the shelves of Germany. Our first Internet supermarket trip was no less exciting.
They’re not short of land in Finland - Kuopio’s so spacious you need a packed lunch just to walk to the shop - so this food store was free to distribute its bulk across the equivalent of five football pitches. Like a Tesco Extra but with funny writing on all the packaging.
We bumped into Iscaria’s older sister, Mirva, and her husband Jimmy, by the tomatoes, and exchanged pleasantries about what in god’s name Brodos and I were doing travelling around half of Europe with someone we barely knew to meet a gaggle of strangers who, for all we could tell, might actually dress up in wizard hats when playing World of Warcraft. They seemed to quite like the idea, and we certainly liked them, chatting away to us like friends as if English was their native tongue. Jimmy’s mastery of the language was especially convincing, even down to his use of a proper London accent. It emerged that he was English.
The supermarket was also home to an incredible recycling device. Like a reverse vending machine, this magical unit ate empty cans and bottles, conveyor-belted them off to some mysterious environmentally friendly dimension, then spat out tickets that could be exchanged for actual money. Well, Finnish money. Actual money is pounds. A school in my town has just introduced one of these machines. Here, it is so exciting that we put it in the newspaper. In Finland, you couldn’t even impress a Dwarf with one.
Back at the house, we whiled away the afternoon cack-handedly creating the most hideous pizza in Northern Europe, a kind of cheese-topped wheat pillow. Meanwhile, Seija (Iscaria’s mum) and Mirva were attending the funeral of a close family friend. We’d been told about this at the airport, and had feared our presence would be a terrible imposition. Yet when Seija returned to find the three of us merrily geeking away the evening with videogames, the reality couldn’t have been more different, and she talked to us about it as if she’d known us for years.
“I told him he’d never make friends, playing on the computer all day,” she said, as Iscaria tapped away on the keyboard. “Yet here you are” It was lovely. Ever so slightly, I think we helped take her mind off the sadness of the day.
She even said the pizza was nice. We’d been trying to forget it for hours.
Later that evening, I had the first sauna of my life. To understand the importance of the steam room to the Finnish lifestyle, it’s helpful to know that this chamber was built first, and the rest of Iscaria's house moulded around it. As he chopped wood for the stove, Brodos and I prepared ourselves to be cooked by marinating our innards with beer.
There was one problem. Saunas involve nudity, but we were British. British people don’t do nudity. We pop out into this world pre-dressed in a full dinner suit and continue through life without ever taking our clothes off, not even in the bath. It just wouldn’t be proper.
You may also recall an earlier mention of the large amount of metal attached to Brodos. For some reason which eludes most right-thinking members of society, the piercing does not stop above the waist. He did it for a dare, decided on the spur of the moment, during a chat with a now ex-girlfriend, to voluntarily have a metal spike rammed through his bits. In itself, this is madness; combined with steam, the idea of this highly conductive material being anywhere near your privates, let alone in them, becomes truly horrifying. And so Brodos insisted everyone kept their pants on. This was utterly out of the ordinary for Iscaria, but a great relief to me, as it meant I could simultaneously avoid accusations of prudishness and the sight of other people’s cocks.
It turned out that saunas are very hot. The English contingent rotated between sitting down, standing under a cold shower and exiting the room in a desperate attempt not to die. Then we’d go back inside and repeat the sequence.
Afterwards, once I got over the loss of all the hairs in my nostrils and the top three layers of my skin, I discovered I felt great. We headed to the kitchen, finally met Iscaria’s dad Hannu, and spent the end of the night chatting to everyone and eating chocolate.