Sometimes I have the craziest ideas which even surprise those who already regard me as eccentric. Like the time I decided to buy a glass table top from Ikea in Lyon and bring it home by public transport. It was so heavy I couldn’t carry it more than 5 metres before various kind and strong Frenchmen took it from me out of pity. I ended up leaving it in a shoe shop on Place Bellecour before returning with my flat mate who took it back in his tiny car with the boot open. I never lived it down.
Then there was my decision to learn Finnish and move to Helsinki. Finland has a lot to recommend it – the Moomins, Iittala, Marimekko, Alvar Aalto, Sibelius, Kaurismäki films, stunning lakes and forests. As an autodidact who speaks French and German, I refused to be intimidated by its reputation as one of the hardest languages in the world. Every morning, I got up at 6, even at weekends, to try and learn all kinds of unpronounceable and unrecognisable words with a seemingly infinite number of case endings. The basics were OK and I loved the sound of this strange and beautiful language. But then once you get on to talking about saunas and Sibelius, likes and dislikes, future, past and subjective possibilities, all the grammar and vocabulary became one big blur. I had to admit defeat.
But I did make it to Helsinki and even managed to successfully buy a bus ticket and later on a coffee in the stunning Cafe Aalto at the Academic bookshop. I can’t deny that I wasn’t relieved to go home after a week because on the second day, I had the worst food poisoning of my life thanks to the hotel breakfast which not only left me weak but unable to have anything other than tonic water and digestive biscuits (bought from the stunning food hall of the wonderful Stockmann’s department store).