White and cold and blue

apologies to Joe Brainard

I remember going to the lake and seeing all the upturned boats, almost invisible under the snow. I avoid the tidied-up trail and try to trudge through the thick layer of snow. I manage a few meters until I feel the dampness through my boots, my jeans, my thermals, the snow so deep it comes up to my knees.

I remember waking up at 4:30 am. Pia and Ben usually come down from the 2nd floor at around 10:30 or 11 am. We’re all respectful of each other’s space, so some days I’d only bump into them in the kitchen whenever they’re making tea. We ask each other what we’re working on, offer some commiseration when one admits how unproductive their day has been. I remember going to bed at 8 pm.

I remember how the solitude of being in Sysmä in winter heightens everything. It helps, I think, that I’ve spent most of my life in warmer regions, so my body responds to the cold as one would an intriguing stranger. When snow falls in the early morning, I feel as if I were in the middle of some sacred ceremony. Cold evenings are much colder. A random conversation becomes more purposeful, more necessary. A drink is a sign of warmth. 

I remember slipping on the ice. Thursday, 7 pm, it happens right in the middle of an intersection, as I walk home from the supermarket. I sit right on the street, my right arm beginning to throb from the pain, grocery items scattered on the ground, and I think: This is how the rest of my life will be. And then I walk back to the house.

I remember being mistaken for a girl at the local bar by a woman, a former fellow. It’s a little weird, but I don’t mind it. I find it pretty amusing. Her name is (also) Pia, and I remember how when she’s talking about her family history, I can only nod politely because the whole time I’m distracted by how gorgeous her face looks.

I remember listening to nothing else but Nico’s “These Days” for three straight days.

I remember reading about the heat wave in Adelaide, where I had come from immediately prior to Finland. For 12 straight days, the temperature in Adelaide would get so hot that bats have to be driven toward the nearest river so they don’t fry from their own body fat. At Villa Sarkia, I prop my feet up on the radiator whenever the temperature plummets below -10 degrees.

I remember spending an hour each day in the sauna. I do most of my thinking within that hour, texting myself possible lines for poems or concepts or words that sound nice, while Rihanna or Maggie Rogers or Shawn Colvin whenever I’m feeling nostalgic blasts through my phone.

I remember using Pia’s mango-scented lotion because I assume it had been left behind by a previous resident. There are lots of bottles inside the bathroom, there are bottles on the foyer table too. When I think of the unknown residents who came before us, I think of them in relation to the books they might have left behind, their messages on the guest book, various spices in the kitchen, and their bottles of toiletries. 

I remember catching a glimpse of Ben’s notebook, which seems to have a lot of doodles, which I suppose he draws while thinking of something to write. I remember thinking I should make better, definitely more artistic, use of my in-between-writing time than gossiping with friends online.

I remember being ecstatic that the kitchen has a drip coffee maker, a French press, and a moka pot. I am not exaggerating. I remember being the only coffee drinker among the three of us.

I remember wandering semi-aimlessly in the middle of the night. We reach a gas station—I think it’s a gas station—before deciding to turn back. I’d hold on to Ben’s arm whenever the road gets too slippery, and at some point snow starts falling. It isn’t a bad night—pretty exciting, actually, as far as my month in Sysmä goes.   

I remember walking with Ben to the gym in the afternoons. Sometimes it gets so cold that the snot inside my nose would freeze. It’s funny until it isn’t. Eventually it becomes ordinary. Most days, the short trip to the gym is the only time I’d get out of the house. I stick to using the stationary bike and the treadmill, and sometimes I increase the speed to the point that I’d get leg cramps later in the night. I remember liking the fact that I can still sweat. 

I remember thinking I’ve never seen so much white, the kind of white that’s so real—my legs move through it, I feel flakes of it on my face, I scoop it with my hand and hold it until my fingers go numb—that if I think hard enough, it might feel present even now, 22 days after I’ve left Sysmä. 

I remember going online to find out the names of the trees I see in Sysmä, most of them spindly, all of them beautiful. 

I remember the blue curtains of my room, which make the inside of my room blue, and, when viewed through the windows, the outside blue. I remember the blue of early morning, just before sunrise, the kind of blue that seems sad in a sexy kind of way. In the afternoons, I do yoga and witness my room gradually turn a darker and deeper blue as the sun slowly sets.

I remember letting two Jehovah’s Witnesses inside the house, on my last Saturday at Villa Sarkia. They hand me a pamphlet, tell me to check out their website. They ask where I come from.   

I remember deciding to build a snowman before I leave Sysmä. I never get around to it, but in the story in my mind, I do and he has a lovely carrot nose and he gets to stick around until April.

I remember walking through the aisles of the supermarket on my first evening and wondering why there are so many boxes of frozen pizza. And because I’m trying to avoid carbs, I feel an almost unhealthy amount of indignation rise up in me. I end up buying a dozen eggs, a packet of sausages, some cauliflower, and nuts for snacking. It’s a sad couple of weeks until I quit trying to lose weight.   

I remember seeing bottles of Shiraz from South Australia at the supermarket and feeling a sense of pride. I laugh over my foolishness. 

I remember the kind of quiet Sysmä offers. I’m now in the Philippines, and Manila offers me its version of quiet: tricycles running in the distance, someone half-drunkenly singing a song, the incessant humming of midnight moving through the window of my room. I part my curtains to meet the city, and I wish to see a blinding white outside.     

Mark Anthony Cayanan


M(ight)y January 2019

everchanging frost view of the west

I’ve been pondering for the past few days, how to “put words clothes down on” – as we approximately say it in our Finnish language in particular, if not quite metaphorical way –, let alone how to crystallize the passing, overwhelmingly multifaceted month in Villa Sarkia. I never could have believed these experiences to happen, not even if I have spent two fascinating Mays and almost two Junes (t)here before, not even if Jan is my month of rebirth.

I had no idea, who’s going to write (t)here with me, nor from where. I knew I had more writing tasks than before in the residence, maybe (im-), possible to carry out together, neither had I been able to leave any of them behind me but took the latest versions with me as well as some books and dictionaries connected.

So, two essays, one to be edited one more, hopefully last time, for the poetry quarterly, about garden-experiences, circles of time, nature, human, letter-writing and reading concerning a gardening-theme letter-exchange-essay-book published in Finnish almost a year ago, an essay-treatise on the form less known of Japanese poetry called renga, i. e. chain(ed) poetry, as well as compiling a full 36 stanza renga myself, continuing translating poems from the second collection of Polish prosaist and poet Beata Kępińska and, last but not least, evolving and writing my long, telling poem, a fantasy-experience both experimental, visual and audial (to be[come]). These all also partly concern the final, seminar year of my creative writing extensional studies, so not purely an artist’s own right and vocation, but assignments from the institution via writer-me.

a book object almost too pretty

I’ve developed a divided schedule during my freelance writer years for a weekly program, so a couple of days for a project, a couple for another, a Sat for one, a Sun for another, e.g. This was the trick in Villa S, too: every third day I would dive into the world of my long poem, whereas writing the newest study about renga demanded more time and concentration and so, every second or two days together I wrote and investigated as much more as needed and offered from the exciting, old and fragile books of the hall in Villa S. What a treasure and joy to find nearly the very first translations in Finnish of Japanese tanka and haiku and other types by Marta Keravuori, amongst the heritage of our Finnish poet Eila Kivikk’aho, who wrote tanka- and haiku-formed poems in her (& my) own language in the first place, too! Translator’s Preface, merely an Introduction, of Japanese poetry traditions in Kirsikankukkia – “Cherryblossoms”, worked very helpful and deepening a view. I was enthralled – still am, never to forget the Ever Understanding Eyes of the Poetka (as they beautifully meaningfully call a woman writer in Polish) in a photo preserved from the ‘90s.

early Jan sunset painting

So, trusting the schedule well experienced, even if more chopped this month, I concentrated an a.m, a p.m, an evening, a night, writing or re-writing the most demanding bits first after waking up routines, occasionally taking a brisk walk around the beautiful and calm landscape, which welcomed more and more snowflakes and layers at any hour of almost all 24 hours, not hesitating, not forgiving more than a few milder minus degrees frost days with more powerful wind from the lake back (as we call the wide open of a larger lake in somewhat picturesque Finnish). No, no concessions did the Weather Spirit of Winter admit, no thaws – nor did I give allowances except for exhilarations towards evening by returning to reading, to stretching exercises and relaxation, to an uplifting walk, wind and frost allowing, except for some secret singing and playing a recorder to open up my voice channels, if only the young writer men visiting Villa S were not indoors keen on working at the mome. Fridays I dedicated to re-editing the former essay, all Sundays I wanted and needed to continue the translations of Polish poems, to keep touch on the demanding language and hold of the entirety of the collection themes.

Majutwater seeping timidly

My prayers were heard magically as I happened to find the first translation of Rilke’s Duineser Elegien by Finnish poet Aila Meriluoto in the hall shelves, which, to my disappointment, doesn’t belong to my home city library collection (anymore?). “Descending layered” and meditative a long poem as it is, this translation opened to my apprehension more perceptible than the intricate, fresher one by a talented translator I had read in the fall. I couldn’t help but re-read the original German poem stanza after stanza, too, as it’s offered on the parallel page, even though my school German is appallingly rusty.

Winter in the village-town of Sysmä would need another post to be duly described, and even though I did go outdoors almost every day or evening, I hardly believe having a right to try as yet. So much snow, my love element, so many ice sticks growing down from the roof eaves of both the Villa and the Theatre House like massive, freezy organ pipes! The Supersized Grand Mum Moon would grow and shine for the whole Earth not forgetting tiniest village end but empowering each little creature by her mirror face beaming the hiding sun. Clouds gave their respect by absence those fulfilled days of pure heart of winter magic (another Finnish metaphor, for mid-wintertime).

But so did the Sun show his burning, if winter paler face, especially on two Sundays, when I was seduced outdoors first thing after waking up. “Off you go, along the lakeside, around the island!” I heard the call and answered by scrambling out. Rewarded for good.

harmony of windless lakeweeds *

OH, I was supposed to crystallize the experience of the month – but haven’t really succeeded. Where did the intricate and multi-pointed symbol of a snowflake I just had floating along in my mind’s view run away?! One of the root-points was my second part set of poems and photos relating to nature experiences of both a person and the dog accompanied, “Poem Pics with a Dog – fall, winter”, which I finally had the chance to put up on the library walls and window sills – after an interval of two years since expositing the first part in April ‘16. Hopeful, that as many of the customers, visitors and villagers would notice the small-scale exhibition and have time to stop and stay for some moments at each poem with a picture or two aside..! It’s been both a joy, excitement and privilege to share; especially to show and try to open up the contents of the texts to the foreign colleagues of Villa S for the month.

shared i-n-s-p-i-r-a-t-i-o-n-s ;->

What a HOLLOW feeling I was left with after the dear colleague-writers quite suddenly left the second last early morning already! Fortunately we did have some chats way about literature, our readings and writings earlier, a couple of late night fun joking in the kitchen and the hall about musical preferences as well.

Alas, I feel my words ruin the overwhelming experiences I’ve had in Villa S, my <3, the new-born symbolic flake of experiences escaping the view.

Truths is, I cannot – maybe even will not describe it all, but let the following tanka-poem to summarize.

The very truth is: my attachment to Villa Sarkia has grown ever deeper each time I’ve visited, lived and worked (t)here. Passing January proved, that I’m helplessly involved (engaged?!).

Must all have been a dream, which bursted before the last sequences – the last 48 hours which I had to, needed to and wanted to lead through on my own again.

To my amazement I re-wrote the essay on renga as well as compiled a re-renga of the tanka- and renga-stanzas of past writers, made a whole kasen of 36. I was given new poems for my dear long poem (from the creative power of who-knows-who) and trust to recite the so far whole through for a few but important times in the hall, added another chapter as the rhythm goes. Re-editing of the garden-letter-essay calmed down into more replenished and polished form. There was even and just enough time to translate the last poems of the 2nd collection of B. K.  and to print the versions out of these all. Time to go around the lakeside and the island wilderness once more during the last blue sunset hour before collecting the exhibition with the most valuable comments and signatures by the visitors, to tie some more talking threads together with the librarians.

amaryllis fainting and blooming – like creativity

Time to wish Good Byes after sharing varied, immemorial moments both with colleagues and those dear acquaintances, who have become friends each at their own pace – even new ones. Time to play some consolation music, minor and major, melodies of rhyme and rock.

Missing every seemingly little nib and nibble.


Lumen hiutaleet

laskeutuvat hiljalleen

valkealle vaipalle.

Syvään lämpöön peittyy

yksinäisen kylläisyys.


Snowflakes settle gently

down on the pale duvet.

Deep in the warmth

covers up the repletion

of a loner.


Płatki śniegu

na białej pieluszcie

cicho położą.

Głęboko w ciepłość

pokrywa się sytość



Pia Johanna Krook

woodmousie – from the tale of Thumbelina – or Issa’s haiku


By Alejandro Radawski



The air here is like your breath in my neck,
the rain your tears and the sound of the wind your tantrums,
your huffs, your crazy laughs, your moans.

The people here walk just like you,
smile without showing teeth like you.
The people here have your eyes,
They ask me why you aren’t on my hand.
The people here ask me,
why? why…

The “why” fall like arrows,
and I’m here without can nothing,
They make me feel a little closer to you.



Moi, they come and go,
Moi, smiles that pass,
Moi, traveling on their bicycles.

They ask me things in Finnish that I don’t understand,
Happy and friendly face slow me down and they speak to me in Finnish,
their mouths open like a bird in summer
when they realize that I am not Finnish
since I answer in English,
they flee from me as the fish flees from the hook,
they run, they disappear.

But tomorrow they will already know
And when they see me again
They will only say Moi,
and I will say Moi.



Raimo, whiskers, pores and rosacea,
crafty fisherman,
ruthless butcher of trout,
three steps quarterer,
zrak zrak zrak,
and already pack your steaks.

Moi too,
but my English doesn’t scare him away
and gives me a super hook,
teaches me how to fish trout,
to throw, where, how and when.

Raimo is Rambo:
The fish killer.
As I like to call him
Raimo is Rambo:
An Eskimo



A scandalously silent place,
Sauna, books, and park,
Windows through which I always see
the same people pass at the same time.

Villa Sarkia, surrounded by frozen lakes,
A perfect paradise for any writer.




Ihka ensimmäinen podcast

Klikkaamalla kuvasta pääset kuulemaan Villa Sarkialle omistetun podcastin.

ruutcast 15.11

Lämmin kiitos muille residenssikollegoille, Kuurina Teatterille, Sysmän kunnan kirjaston väelle ja jokaiselle kohtaamalleni sysmäläisille. Sydän-Hämeessä on toden totta sydän.

Ruut Luoto

Four Stories of Sysmä


Three weeks ago, I had never been to Finland before. I have a dear friend, a Finn-turned-American and writer. When I read her stories about her homeland, I imagined a place full of ancient smells —gingerbread, berries, also dark corners, old places, history. But it was still elusive (as she was, too). What better way to get to know a new place, I thought, than trying to understand more about a mysterious friend. 

My three weeks here have been quiet, productive, dreamy, cosy, and wonderful. I’d like to thank the city of Sysmä, the wonderful women of the library, Nuoren Voiman Liitto, and especially my fellow writers — Maria, Ruut, Ola, and Alejandro — for all this lovely time. 

Here are my field notes:


One version of the story of Finland is all about light. 

When the snow arrives, the sky lifts to make room. A gift — the snow gives light to the town just when the days are shortening.  

When the snow leaves — sun burning off the stripes on the roof opposite my window — it reveals the earth again, but brighter, burnished green and brown, as if lit from within.

Finns must be finely attuned to light, I think. You can see it in the colours they choose. Our garden gate is old peach brown. The roof over there is pale, marshmallow green. The houses are lavender, paper yellow, purple — the window ledges dark as damson jam. They’re familiar, pestled out of nature’s colours.

When the misty days arrive, Sysmä is grey but glowing. 

Lately, the days have been drizzly and clouded-over. Now the sun sets behind the mist at ten minutes to four. The streetlamps blink on and glow wetly through the night, turning the lake festive. 

A neighbour hangs candles in the vestibule. The light bounces generously. 

On All Saints night, people light candles and fill the graveyard, giving their flickering loves to the dark.

On the night of the new moon, Ola and I light a candle and write down our intentions. We feast on soup and stew. I like the idea of us seen from the town, just another glowing window. 


The plots of Sysmä sprawl and weave around the houses. The boundaries marked — barely or not at all — by autumn shrubs that have grown to purple gum. We foreigners accidently stride through our neighbours’ gardens to reach the supermarket. The gardens are different to the ones at home. Here, objects are placed like scenes in a story. A miniature house, a chair, a stuffed bear, a bush with white berries I think might be mistletoe.  

With each other, the neighbours are familial. A lady grabs the elbow of her neighbour in the S-Market and tells her a tale. There’s no word for “please” here, my housemate tells me, beaming, which tells you a lot. It’s true, the rhythm of neighbours here is different. They don’t excuse themselves — either they talk or they don’t. But the lack of ceremony doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate each other. The word “thank you” becomes more important. You can see it as they walk away, moved by one another, grateful. 

To us, as foreigners, the people are secretive. Walking in their private scenes with quiet, watching faces. It makes me ache for drama. A declaration, a kiss, a fight. But these are always happening offstage. 

The high school kids, who are also neighbours, find each other across the street and go off towards one of their houses. I watch after them. The boys’ newly-broken voices are like bells in the mist.


While the villagers light candles in the graveyard, the women of Villa Sarkia take their saturday sauna.

My first ever sauna. It’s been heating up all evening. Now Ruut has taken hers, Ola has taken hers, each emerging calm, skin baby-plump. I take my turn. 

At first, it’s just hot. Baking. Breathing up into the steam tastes like salt. Hot sand on a beach. Then, without any exertion, a single bead of sweat plinks to the surface of my skin, rolls over my ribs, to the wooden bench. 

The thing about the sauna is that it happens to you. All you have to do is decide to go in, heat the stones, lay down… and if you just stay there, the heat will happen to you, your skin will bounce like rubber, the sweat will come pouring. This feels like a lesson, and I close my eyes to try and learn it.

Afterwards, padding back to my room, I feel sleepy in a way I haven’t for years. Pure sleepy. We stay up a while, quietly drinking Christmas beer and eating our roasted vegetables. I decide to take as many saunas as I possibly can before I leave. 


When I looked at Sysmä on the map while completing my application for the residency, I imagined a land like lace. Porous and movable.

On the bus from Lahti, we cross the lake Paijanne in the dark. At first the thin trunks of the silver birches hide the water, but then two horizons of blue appear beside us. Our journey becomes mystical. We are half bus, half boat, half asleep, half awake. 

In my first few days at Villa Sarkia, I realise the role the lake plays here. In summer, it is a livelihood. A pleasure boat parked up beside a grill restaurant, picnic benches. In winter, the lake is a constant friend. Multiplying the light, trying to spread it wider. 

The lake is not like the sea. When you come upon it, it doesn’t knock your breath away, or remind you suddenly of the size of the world. The lake appears quietly at your feet. But the more you look, the more it shifts and grows and deepens, source of myths, ghosts, hallucinations. 

As I take my last walk around the island Ohraseerie and back along the lake, I try to take something of it back with me— some daydream stuff I can use later. 

When I get to the house, something’s cooking. In the kitchen, I find Alejandro dressing a fish. He’s been fishing the last few days, but hasn’t caught anything till tonight. The fish is large, upside-down, splayed in two, its grey lip curling like a blade. Alejandro has gutted and cleaned it. Its flesh is shocking white — strange treasure, gift from the lake.

–Georgina Parfitt

Days and Nights in the Villa Sarkia

by Maria Rybakova

My stay in the Villa Sarkia was also my very first time in Finland. I always imagined it as a land of snow. But when I arrived it was late August. It was, instead, a land of skies reflected in a lake.SysmaWhen I walked past it, it made me think about the nature of art. Art is imitation, said the ancients. One could say that art is a reflection of reality, or its shadow. Does this sky create art when it looks down into the lake? Does the lake create art when it reflects the sky? Or is all art just in the eye of the beholder – and when I see the sky reflected in the water, I see and therefore create a water-painting of the sky?

There is the stillness of happiness and there is the stillness of death. The stillness of happiness always has an underlying movement ready to break through: a wave that can arise, a boat that can become unmoored and glide away from the shore, a petal that is about to tremble. The stillness of happiness is a man sleeping, a man who can be awakened. In the stillness of death no change is possible.Sysma2.jpgOn my way to the Villa Sarkia I read an article about the woman who, jilted at the altar, decided to marry herself and go on a honeymoon by herself. I imagine this woman traveling to the most beautiful place possible – for example, a village in Finland with its lake, its blue sky, its long walks in the forest – and suddenly catching a glimpse of her double who followed (she had married herself, after all). From the bedroom window, she sees herself walking on the street, stepping on the rustling autumn leaves. When, in the evening, she goes to eat something at the grill, she recognizes herself in a customer who quickly steps out. In the house – her holiday home – she hears somebody’s steps in the hall, and goes down there, half-expecting to meet herself. (Maybe she should have gone easy on that brandy, she thinks; or maybe this symbolic marriage was a very, very bad idea). Yet, a part of her hopes that she will be loved by that stranger – her own self, her doppelganger, her soul – in this territory of yellow leaves, of the bluest sky and of the stillest water.Sysma3.jpg

Syksyinen Sysmä ja ensimmäisen version arvoitus


Päivää ennen residenssiä näin elokuvan nimeltä Tyhjiö (Aleksi Salmenperä, 2018), jossa kirjailija Eero Kaila (Tommi Korpela) potee writer’s blockia eikä saa romaaniaan kirjoitettua. Ei varsin ihanteelliset saateajatukset residenssiajalle, jolloin tarkoitukseni oli saada käsikirjoitukseni ensimmäinen versio valmiiksi.

Syksyinen Sysmä vastaanotti minut valollaan ja väreillään. Miellyttävä hiljaisuus ja rauhallisuus ympäröi kylää sekä sen ihmisiä. Kiireettömyys katosi Koiviston Auton kaartaessa matkahuollon pihalta.

Huoli aivojumista osottautui kuitenkin turhaksi. Kailan sijaan oma käsikirjoitukseni sai residenssiaikana lihaa luiden ympärille ja oma kertojaääneni vahvistui. Tarina alkoi muotoutua ja löytää uomansa niin kerronnalisesti kuin temaattisestikin.

Villa Sarkian kirjahyllyistä löytyi ajatuksia muilta upeilta kirjoittajilta. Mm. Aila Meriluoto, Heli Laaksonen ja Mirkka Rekola tarjosivat säkeisiin puettuja ajatuksia ja mielikuvia, joista ammentaa omaan tekstiini.


Vaikka Villa Sarkia sijaitsee Sysmän keskustassa, luonto on jatkuvasti läsnä. Aamuisilla kävelyillä sumu verhosi kuulaana metsäteitä, illalla pimeys laskeutui niin hienovaraisesti, että silmät ehtivät tottua valon puutteeseen.

Tutustuin residenssiaikana myös moniin lahjakkaisiin kirjoittajiin monelta eri alalta. Keskustelimme taiteesta, työstä ja elämästä yleensä. Hedelmälliset keskustelut saivat minut miettimään omaa ammatillista identiteettiäni uudella tavalla sekä pohtimaan enemmän taiteen ja viihteen rajapintaa.

Kliseisesti urheilutermein voisi sanoa, että sain sen, minkä tulin Villa Sarkiaan hakemaankin. Tarkoitukseni oli kirjoittaa ensimmäinen versio, ja myös sellaisen kanssa palaan Helsinkiin. Ensimmäinen versio on tässä ottelussa kultaa.

Teksti ja kuvat: Mariia Kukkakorpi

Golden time

I have never been to Finland before. Few hours in the airport don’t count, right? Before coming to Sysma I would locate it in the map and stare into s trange country dotted with large bodies of water and even larger forests. It looks remote in the most romantic sense – small town surrounded by lakes and vast expanses of forest with red and yellow leaves.

After an exhausting early flight, I land to Helsinki and grab a direct bus from a Kamppi station. It is a sunny warm day and sitting in front of the bus I am overwhelmed by the beauty of landscape slowly unfolding before me as we move north leaving behind Helsinki suburbs.

Nowhere have I seen a fall more intense and beautiful than here. Illuminated by sun and blue water trees sparkle like little golden bonfires. Each of Villa Sarkia windows open into a autumn wonderland that changes as the weeks go by. The Villa is has an air of a solid heritage house, but comfortable nonetheless.

2018-10-07 16.37.14

I do not bring a lot of luggage – few clothes, a laptop and gym shoes. Before coming, I have googled that there is a gym and a swimming pool few minutes walk. Miracle. There are no distractions here – most restaurants are closed once the season ends, no bars or shopping malls. Write in a morning, go for a swim, write some more after lunch and enjoy sauna after dinner. That would be ideal, I think, but what will I do if nothing comes? How do I deal with a dry spell when where is nothing much else to do except to write?

First day go by ticking off my long to do list of things I need to take care off before starting to write. I do grocery shopping. Once everything is done, I switch of wifi on my laptop and stare into a blank page. I came here to advance my third novel after an intense year of publishing my second novel, selling the rights for English translation, being shortlisted for a Book of the Year. It was a good year, but overwhelming and leaving no time to unwind and write down ideas for a next story.

So far I have three main characters that start to take shape, but quite a few things are yet unclear.

Frustrated I put on my coat and go out for a long walk. I explore the woods kicking piles of yellow leaves and suddenly remember that there has been one more reason I really wanted to come to Sysma. I have heard that Finland is a perfect place for mushroom picking and that Finns are obsessed with this activity.

I look around in the oak grove and yes, here it is! Few porcini mushrooms sticking their cute little heads out of the ground. I collect them and go back to Villa Sarkia really happy, google porcini mushroom recipes and enjoy a really luxurious dinner.

I became interested in mushroom picking as I was inspired to incorporate food and forest foraging into my novel. One of the characters becomes a chef and creates a menu based on Nordic local ingredients.

The story starts to come together while going for long walks.

2018-10-15 16.10.03

Afternoons I go mushroom picking and after a week or so I become really good at cooking elaborate dishes like tagliatele with porcini or wild mushroom shepard’s pie.

Autumn leaves are falling down and now some trees I see daily through the window stand naked. Mid-month I no longer find mushrooms on my daily outings to the forest and it has become, but I feel I have done a lot. Not something measured in thousands of words, but rather a direction. Sysma is a good place to wander and suddently find yourself again.

2018-10-07 15.27.14





Sysmän mielentilatutkimus


Elokuu vaihtuu pian syyskuuksi, mutta sillä ei oikeastaan ole väliä. Ajalla ei ole nyt merkitystä. Jo Sysmään saapuminen johdattaa erilaiseen tilaan. Kun auto kaartelee läpi aavojen järvimaisemien ja ihminen istuu bussinpenkissä ja ajattelee, että olenpa onnekas.

Hiljaiset aamut, kaste pihanurmella, omenoiden tuoksu kävelyretkillä peltoaukeille, metsään ja kylänraiteille, auringonlaskut työpöydän yllä ja lempeät illat. Sysmä houkuttelee syventymään, keskittymään, ajattelemaan, kirjoittamaan.

Luovun pian niin sanotusta päivärytmistä, sillä kaikki rytmit toimivat täällä. Joinain päivinä herään aikaisin ja ryhdyn heti kirjoittamaan, toisina herään laiskana, käyn pitkällä kävelyllä, juttelen kämppisten kanssa ja ryhdyn työhön vasta iltapäivällä ja jatkan pitkälle iltaan. Olohuoneen kirjahyllyt houkuttelevat pysähtymään ohikulkumatkalla, poimimaan käteen kirjoja, joita ei ole koskaan nähnyt ja kirjoja jotka on halunnut lukea jo kauan.

Luen Sysmässä uudelleen Virginia Woolfin Orlandoa (1984 [1928], suom. Kirsti Simonsuuri) ja silmiini osuu pätkä, joka kuvaa hauskasti kirjoittamisen esiin houkuttelemia, välillä melko sekopäisiä mielentiloja: “Kenellekään, joka kohtuullisessa määrin tuntee kirjoitustyön vaatimukset, ei tarvitse kertoa tätä tarinaa yksityiskohdittain; kuinka hän kirjoitti ja tulos näytti hyvältä; luki sen ja se näytti kauhealta; korjasi ja repi; leikkasi; siirsi väliin; oli hurmostilassa; oli epätoivoinen; eli hyvät yönsä ja huonot aamunsa; tarttui ideoihin ja kadotti ne; näki kirjansa selkeästi edessään ja se hävisi; näytteli henkilöittensä osia syödessään; laususkeli niitä kävellessään; toisinaan itki; toisinaan nauroi; horjui milloin tämän, milloin tuon tyylin välillä; yhdessä hetkessä suosi eeppistä ja juhlavaa tyyliä; seuraavassa eleetöntä ja yksinkertaista; hetken Tempen laaksoja; sitten taas Kentin ja Cornwallin kenttiä; eikä hän pystynyt päättämään, oliko hän maailman jumalaisin nero vai maailman suurin tyhmyri.”

Onhan tämä kirjoittaminen hullun hommaa, mutta samalla niin koukuttavaa, vapauttavaa, joskus hurmoksellistakin. Päädyn työstämään aivan toista projektia, mitä olin suunnitellut, se johtuu tästä mielentilasta. Jostain syystä Sysmä houkuttelee esiin 1700-luvun Uppsalan ja annan sen tulla.

Nämä ovat omapäisiä päiviä.

Niiden luonne muistuttaa Sysmän kissoja, jotka hengailevat reteesti kaduilla ilman aikomustakaan tehdä tietä. Silitettäväksi ne eivät antaudu, niillä on muita suunnitelmia.

Niina Oisalo

Floating memories

By Sahar Delijani

As I sat there watching Hardy smoke a cigarette, which she held mischievously between her middle and ring finger, and tell me about her first memory as a child, I thought maybe writing was never supposed to be a difficult task. Maybe it will all just flow, maybe we are doing the right thing after all, shutting ourselves in an old sunny villa, the windows looking out at treetops lit by the late afternoon glow, which in Sysmä’s summer could mean anything from 5 in the afternoon to 9 at night, and hoping that every step we take, we are closer to what we have come to accomplish here.


Never before had I been to a place only to write. I had been writing for more than 10 years when I arrived in Villa Sarkia, and I had always written in the solitude of my room or in libraries, cafes, and I thought that was perfectly legitimate. I could not understand why a writer would want to go to a secluded place and write. Why couldn’t she just do it home? Sysmä made me realize why. Surrounded by greenery, a shimmering lake just a few hundred meters away and the only sound the carol of birds, the wind swishing through tree leaves and an occasional car passing by, I understood why. It was all a matter of peace and concentration. Peaceful concentration, concentrated peace; it was a matter of nothing coming into your way. In my few weeks of stay in Sysmä I got more work done than I had ever been able to do in the same amount time. It was like there was a magical hand at work, inside me, pushing words out, making them flow.

Once I swam in the lake. The feeling was heavenly. The sky impeccable blue, the clouds surreally white, all reflected on the glistening skin of the water where once in a while a yellow lily would peak its head like it mean to greet you with a coquettish smile, it was truly hard to take in where I was, how I had ended up here, how easy it all was. Fortunate, I felt, and wise to have applied for something that felt far enough to be intimidating.


When I was first packing to come to Finland, I was agitated. I thought maybe it was all a mistake, that I would feel alone and anxious, regretting every moment of my stay once I got to Villa Sarkia and all I would do would be counting days until I went back home. Not only I did not feel lonely and anxious, but I felt that after a long time, it was the best thing that I had done for myself.

Back to the room with Hardy who sits with her back to the windows, I tell her that when I was a child and would be asked to make a drawing of a house, I would always draw a house with slanted wooden roof, a couple of trees next to it and a sky decorated with pearl white clouds. Only a bench was missing apparently, as I showed her the photo of Villa Sarkia that I had taken one day coming back home from the lake. Villa Sarkia was not of course home. But something about the beautiful dreamlike Finnish landscape made an Iranian girl think of the images that floated in her young mind of what and how should a home look like.