The map is not the territory

IMG_5398

From an artwork by Lucy Cash at Dance and Somatic Practices Conference, Coventry 2015

Linnankatu, 9 – Eurohostel – Room 629

After a relatively sleepless night I arrived in Helsinki airport at 3pm. I caught the city service bus to the centre and wandered about the old, railway station looking for tourist information. It was nowhere to be found. I asked a few people if they knew Linnankatu. I told them in advance that I probably wasn’t pronouncing it right however, I’d written it down in my diary and I showed them the address. No one had heard of it. Mistakenly it seems, I had thought from the reviews online that Eurohostel was a mere 10 feet from the station. “Perhaps it doesn’t exist” said one man. This is one of the worst things one human being could say to another, especially when that other has a backpack on her shoulders, a large suitcase attached and has been travelling since 5am. However that very man turned from foe to friend when he magicked a city map from nowhere, and stayed close, as we searched together for Linnankatu, which he eventually sourced. He patiently explained me how to get there what tram to take.

He: It’s the four or the fourtee

Me: Four or the fourteen?

He: Not fourteen, fourtee!

Me: Oh, forty.

He: NO. Not fourteen, not forty but fourtee!!

Me: (helpessly) what is fourtee?

He: FOURTEE!! You know t!! (he makes the sign for the letter t with his body) Like, t for …. terrorist!

Me: Oh, the 4T.

We had a good laugh at t-for-terrorist. Especially when he tried to back track by saying “I meant t for terminal”.

I was amazed at the amount of time he gave me, a man on his way from A to B, just stopping to help a stranger. Different city = different speed. T for traveller. T for today. T for thank-you.

I followed his directions and his map and found myself waiting for tram no: 4 or 4T. I had to remind myself several times that they drive on the other side of the road here. I boarded the tram. I had a ticket in my purse from the bus I’d caught from the airport. I wasn’t entirely sure it was valid, but I did think I could effectively plead a case of not knowing if a t-for-ticket-inspector arrived in our midst.

The day was cloudy and a little humid. I had reduced my things to a suitcase I could actually carry – it wasn’t exactly light, but it also wasn’t the suitcase I’d left Melbourne with a little over a week ago. Yesterday, in London, I gave away two bags of clothes. Lesson #49: there is nothing to match the art of travelling light.

The tram trotted down the street with great speed, along a road it knew. I was following the map in my hand and the street names. After approximately 1 minute they no longer connected. Very soon, roadworks and suburban houses, magnificent churches and the Port of Helsinki. Even before I could read the names fully they flashed by, not that it mattered the names were unreadable, much less pronounceable: Uudenmaaskatu for example. At one stop, two women with suitcases left the tram. Should I follow them? Are they going to the Eurohostel? I looked at a sign: Skatuddskajen. I looked at the map. No correlation. The tram sped off. A family with backpacks. Them? There? Katajanokka. More and more into the the suburbs. Surely, not as far as this? At the end of the tram stop it was just me and the sea. The driver opened the doors and looked at me from the rear view mirror. I shook my head. The doors closed. The tram, the driver nor I moved. When I finally went to him to ask directions, he spoke very good english. Why this surprised me I am not sure. “I wait here for 5 minutes” he said “but you could walk there in two. Down the hill, to your left. Eurohostel? Right?”

In room 629, lying on my bed watching the seagulls swoop and swirl into the cloudy sky I remembered the young man on the airport shuttle bus who said to his friends “this is the furtherest east I’ve ever been.”

“The furtherest east?!” queried his female friend, wearing a lovely bright pink lipstick and a very low cut t-shirt that said wan-der-lust. “Yes” replied the man “one can almost smell the communism”. His group fell about laughing. “Ok, comment no: 1” said his friend with the beard. Come to think of it they all had beards.

In the K Market earlier this evening, I was looking at yoghurts and found one which had a picture of a woman in a red headscarf with long brown plaits, smiling. It looked like a yoghurt from another era and was called Bulgarian Yoghurt. Later, I ate it with a very fine pear.

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