Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

K-Chit? Not On My Watch

Vogue interviewed Jony Ive back in October, hot on the heels of the Apple Watch announcement. Here’s Sir Jony waxing poetic on, of all things, the sound the wristband makes:

“But listen as it closes,” he said. “It makes this fantastic k-chit.” He was nearly whispering. And when he said the word fantastic, he said it softly and slowly—“fan-tas-tic!”—as if he never wanted it to end.

Ive is definitely onto something here. Exhibit A:

The KA-CHIK! does have an atavistic appeal, doesn’t it? Of course, it doesn’t hurt that one of the most ultimate male symbols of days gone by, the only lighter that Marlboro Man would even consider worthy of using in his cancer-courting ritual – the Zippo – is all about the sound it makes:

Opening the top lid produces an easily recognizable “clink” sound for which Zippo lighters are known, and a different but similar “clunk” when the lighter is closed.

The Apple Watch is coming out in just a few weeks, and I’m sure there’ll be no shortage of unboxing videos on YouTube featuring that k-chit of Jony Ive’s dreams.

However…

Apple’s MacBook line has featured a power connector called MagSafe since 2006. A very good invention it is too: the connector attaches itself to the laptop with a magnet, so that when (not if) someone trips on the cord, it detaches and the laptop doesn’t come crashing on the floor. Also, when connecting, one only has to bring the connector to the vicinity of the laptop’s (female) power port, at which time the magnet will take care of business and make the connection – complete with a resounding TCHAK! This is surely not a coincidence.

So: how come if, for the past decade, Apple has had this “fan-tas-tic!” power connector on its laptops… the newly unveiled new-generation MacBook, made of nothing but pixie dust and gilded helium, does not have a MagSafe connector? Jony, Jony, Jony. Where’s the TCHAK? Where’s the k-chit?

Does the new connector make an even more “fan-tas-tic!” sound? NO! The new USB-C connector just plugs in, and that’s it! The least Apple could do is make a k-chit sound come out of the speakers at an appropriate moment, and in fact I would not be surprised if that was indeed the case. After all, we live in a world where even electric cars must make noise to fill the noise pollution quota to which we’ve all become accustomed. And speaking of fake car noises, the 2015 Ford Mustang has a 4-cylinder engine, yet tries hard to sound like a V8.

Getting back to the Apple Watch, I’m afraid a “fan-tas-tic!” k-chit may not be quite enough to persuade me to part with my dearly beloved money, especially since I don’t have an iPhone and therefore would need to get one of those as well. Of course, this may all change once I get to experience the k-chit in the wild. Maybe I, too, will join the millions of people whose life will be made complete by k-chit. Complete, that is, until next year’s fantastic model. And an even more fan-tas-tic k-chit.

Kallio Travel Guide

Somewhere over the rainbow: Alppila to the left, Kallio to the right.

Somewhere over the rainbow: Alppila to the left, Kallio to the right.

Joanne O’Connor’s Travel Tips column in Sunday’s The Observer about Helsinki and in particular the suburb of Kallio rang a bell somewhere in the sub-cockle area of my heart. Now, I don’t claim to be a fixie-riding true Kallio boy, but I do live next door, so perhaps I can offer a bit of a local’s perspective on Ms O’Connor’s views.

Why go?

Helsinki (is) a breezy Baltic port with a strong tradition of design, an alternative nightlife and an edgier feel than some of its Scandinavian cousins. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Kallio, just north of the city centre. Once a no-go area for tourists, it’s now home to cool bars, cafés and boutiques.

“No-go area for tourists” sounds indeed edgy, if a bit hyperbolic. Suffice it to say Kallio is no favela, and never was. There are, however, a number of bars, some cooler than others. Read on.

What to do

At the heart of the area is the Hakaniemi market, where you can pick up everything from artisan cheese to local handicrafts (Hameentie 1a).

Agreed. The market square is open for business sporadically, but the charming red brick market hall is open daily. Inside you’ll find quality butchers and fishmongers, which is great if you’re preparing your own food, maybe less so if you’re in town for a weekend getaway. Anyway, it’s the place to go to for horse steaks, which apparently aren’t a hot item where The Guardian is published, and local delicacies such as false morel (please ask for cooking instructions or you’ll die – not a joke), lamprey, reindeer, cloudberries and so on (depending on season).

By the way, you know how all strange animals (such as crocodile) taste like chicken? Reindeer doesn’t; it tastes like kangaroo. Mm-mm.

Continue the spree in the secondhand shops and chichi boutiques of Fleminginkatu Street (…) and the attractive Torkkelinmäki district before stopping for coffee and cake at the charming Villipuutarha Café (Karlsgaten 13).

Coffee and cake? Did I hear you right? You came to Kallio, and want to have coffee and cake? Well, if you insist. Villipuutarha may well be charming, I’ve never been there. (Karlsgaten = Kaarlenkatu, by the way.) Only a block or so away, however, you’ll find the definitely charming (bordering on quaint) Taikalamppu (Torkkelinkatu 21).

If you’re already on Kaarlenkatu and can’t be bothered to venture further, there’s always Roskapankki (corner of Kaarlenkatu and Helsinginkatu) – not so much known for its great coffee as for its cheap beer. Plus, you’re guaranteed to meet interesting natives.

Helsinginkatu, by the way, is the place to go if you want to see professional beer drinkers doing what they do best. The north side of the street is littered with bars competing for the attention of price-conscious patrons and their (welfare) money.

No trip to Helsinki is complete without a visit to a sauna. The city’s hippest place to sweat it out is the Japanese-inspired Kulttuurisauna, which opened last year in a slick white building on the waterfront near Kallio (kulttuurisauna.fi). Cool off afterwards with a dip in the Baltic if you’re feeling brave – or Finnish.

Again, I haven’t been to Kulttuurisauna – but just take a look at that description. “Japanese-inspired”? “Slick white building”? And most importantly, “near Kallio” – in other words, not in Kallio at all.

Instead, head to Kotiharjun sauna (Harjutorinkatu 1), take off your kit, head to the sauna (it will be hotter than +100C inside) and sit stark naked next to a sweating naked Finn. If you’re lucky, he may offer to beat you with a bunch of birch twigs. This actually happened to an Australian friend of mine. We were already getting dressed when Some Dude heard us talking in English, then proceeded to ask whether my friend had ever done this thing called vihtominen. He hadn’t (in fact it was his first sauna experience all up) – long story short, they disrobed, went back to the sauna and my friend got to enjoy yet another facet of famous Finnish hospitality. According to him, this sort of thing would have been unlikely to take place in Brisbane.

Don’t be surprised if there are people dressed in nothing but a towel chilling out outside when you get there – it’s is the done thing, even in January when there is snow on the ground.

Where to eat

The bouillabaisse served at Soppakeittiö, a no-frills soup kitchen in the Hakaniemi market, is a big hit with the locals. New kid on the block Bar Sandro is the current top spot for Sunday brunch: a Moroccan-inspired feast with a side order of live music (sandro.fi).

The bouillabaisse is indeed very popular, and not a bad choice at lunchtime. Nearby you’ll also find Line Café – the lunch buffet has an abundance of vegetarian, meat and fish dishes. Edit 29.9.2014: Looks like Line Café has gone the way of the dodo. The nearby Sävel (Hämeentie 2) does buffet lunch, sadly not as varied as Line Café used to.

I’ve never done Sandro’s brunch (in part because I can never be bothered to book a table). Lately it seems that most bars in the area are getting on the brunch bandwagon, so there are several options. Pretty much the only one I can vouch for is Pacifico (Helsinginkatu 15), although a friend lamented the lack of fried bacon.

If you’d rather have pizza instead, your wish can be fulfilled at Salpimienta (Fleminginkatu 7) – the reviews are a mixed lot, but I’ve never been disappointed. Then again, my expectations are quite low when it comes to pizza. Another joint always good for a pizza is the aforementioned Juttutupa, but you might be waiting for a long time if the place is busy (it will be on weekend nights).

For something a bit more upscale (ie. food), there’s the local institution Cella (Fleminginkatu 15), which has been serving locals since 1969. Mash and fried liver with lingonberry sauce, how can you go wrong?

What to Really do

I’d skip the vintage shops for starters.

The answer is Beer

No trip to Kallio is complete without a beer at Pub Sirdie (Kolmas linja 21). Put a coin in the jukebox and pick a record – any record.

If you’re particularly thirsty, go for a false start (since it’s not in Kallio, strictly speaking) at Juttutupa (Säästöpankinranta 6). Try to get a seat at the Revolutionary Table, where according to legend Lenin and his homies sat and drank while planning the Russian Revolution (Lenin was a regular when he was in exile in Finland, the legend part is they’re not sure which table it was).

Other bars always good for a beer – including but not limited to local craft beers – are (in no particular order) Sivukirjasto (Fleminginkatu 5), Kuikka (Helsinginkatu 32), and Hilpeä hauki (Vaasankatu 7) – these won’t be the cheapest bars around, but who comes to Finland for cheap beer anyway?

Guggenheim, Mannerheim, What’s the Difference?

The Guggenheim Foundation seems to think it would be just mahvelous to put another museum bearing the Guggenheim brand in Helsinki. The soon-to-be-ex US ambassador Bruce J. Oreck reckons getting a Guggenheim branch would be a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Helsinki“. I wonder what the German ambassador would have to say about the one in Berlin, which closed its doors earlier this year.

Anyway, the Foundation wants to put yet another Guggenheim in a prime location on the waterfront in downtown Helsinki. Somewhat unsurprisingly, they are keen to get local support for their project, which means they want the locals to chip in. A lot. And why shouldn’t they? After all, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity seeing as there are no art museums whatsoever in Helsinki just yet.

I am happy to announce that I have figured out a solution that should please everybody.

Guggenheim Helsinki (formerly the Presidential Palace)

Let’s indeed put a Guggenheim Museum in downtown Helsinki. There’s already a prime location on the waterfront that is not being used for anything (except renovations) at the moment: the Presidential Palace. The office of the President is already a ceremonial one, so s/he doesn’t really need a downtown spot. Even the traditional Independence Day celebrations are held in Tampere this year – why not move the office there permanently? The President could, for instance, take over the revolving top floor of Näsinneula. Keeping an eye on the tax-paying peasants down below was never easier.

Now we’ve figured out where to put Guggenheim Helsinki, we of course have to fill it with suitable artwork. But where would one find works of art worthy to be blessed with the Guggenheim stamp of approval? The answer is obvious. Let’s pack up all the works from the New York branch and ship them to Helsinki. Easy as, and this brings me to what I consider the best selling point of this cunning plan.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Public Sauna on 5th Avenue

Let’s turn the (now empty) Guggenheim museum building on Fifth Avenue, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, into the world’s biggest sauna. The heater could be a classic design: a pile of rocks on the bottom floor. This would join the renowned Finnish sauna tradition with the native American sweat lodge tradition, symbolizing the cross-Atlantic reach of the Guggenheim Foundation. The famous spiraling corridor sprawling on the walls of the building is already pretty much made for installing pews for sauna visitors. A cool, refreshing swim is also available no further than across the street in any of the artificial lakes in Central Park.

So there we have it, a plan that should please Finnish tax payers, the Guggenheim Foundation, sauna-loving New Yorkers, and quite probably everyone else in the Northern hemisphere who cares about this one way or the other. As the father of the idea, I am available to throw the first ceremonial scoop of water on the heater in the newly renovated Solomon R. Guggenheim Public Sauna. Looking forward to it!