Impressions of Finland by Clara Engelen – 1906

A while ago I bought myself a little Kobo e-reader. I’m very satisfied with that purchase since I’ve been reading five books in less than a month already. Ok, some of them weren’t that huge. I started off with ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl. Besides this beloved story I read his classic ‘The Witches’ for the first time. I was very touched by its ending, but I guess you’d better read it yourself during a cold afternoon, accompanied by a warm blanket, a cup of tea and some cookies.
Another pearl in my e-reader’s library list is a non-fictive story called ‘Indrukken van Finland – De Aarde en haar Volken, 1906’, which means ‘Impressions of Finland – The Earth and her People’. It’s written by Clara Engelen and luckily I managed to find some information about this adventurous Dutch woman who was born in Leeuwarden in the year 1879. She enjoyed some valuable creative education and eventually lived in Zutphen for almost fifty years. She was highly interested in art history and became one of the first females working in this field, being academically educated. She ended up being the museum director of the ‘Stedelijk Museum’ in Zutphen. She furthermore loved to write about the novelties within the world of musea. 
 Clara Engelen in the middle
There were so many issues I recognized in her travel report concerning Finland. It’s about a one hour visit to Reval (Tallinn now), the boat ride towards Helsinki (Helsingfors) with all the little islands you pass by then, the Finnish countryside and the Finnish people and their habits. A really interesting matter is the Russian presence in Finland at the time the story was written, 1906. I’ve always had some slight difficulties to visualize how it would feel when one’s own country would be occupied by an unwanted force. Luckily, because it means I’ve lived in peace for my entire live, for which I’m very thankful. I was surprised that Clara managed to tell a real Finnish-like story and that the Russians only seemed to interfere during passport and baggage checks at the border control. 
I adore her way of describing the exploration of an exciting new country. It’s obviously written more than a century ago. The Dutch langague she used has some slight hints which reminds me of the German language (so when reading the below quotes don’t think I made tons of spelling mistakes).
When you’re able to read Dutch and have an interest in Finland, I highly recommend this rather short travel story written by Clara. I picked out some sentences which fascinated me the most and I did my best to translate some quotes into English. Some of the sparks from the Dutch usage might have lost their strength though. 
‘Ook ons reukorgaan werd in ’t begin onaangenaam geprikkeld door de lucht van juchtleeren vetlaarzen, die alle Russen dragen, en waarmee de boot als ’t ware doortrokken was’.
‘In the beginning our olfactory organ was unpleasantly touched by the aroma of fatty Russia(n) leather boots, which all Russians wear, and which smell was present within the entire boat’. 
‘Nog eens, Finland is geen land voor toeristen, maar een land om op een plaats stil te blijven, het is een land om te rusten en te droomen’.
‘Once again, Finland is not a country for tourists, but a country to stay put, it’s a country where to rest and to dream’.
‘Bij een veer kwam de eerste moeilijkheid: we moesten betalen. Gelukkig is de gebarentaal overal dezelfde en hebben de Finnen nog niet geleerd vreemdelingen te exploiteren; ze gaven ons dus netjes ons geld terug, toen het bleek dat we te veel betalen wilden’.
‘At a ferry the first difficulty arose: we had to pay. Luckily sign language is the same everywhere and the Finns didn’t learn yet how to exploit strangers; thus, they kindly gave back our money when we almost were about to pay too much’.
‘De kwestie van russificatie, zeggen zij (de Finnen), berust op jaloezie van den kant der Russen’.
‘The matter of ‘Russification’, they say (the Finns), is founded on jealousy from the side of the Russians’.

‘De Finnen zijn geneigd tot droomen en dichten, zooals ik reeds schreef. Waarschijnlijk brengt de natuur die hen omgeeft, hier veel toe bij, want voor natuurschoon zijn zij zeer gevoelig’.
‘The Finns tend to dream and write poetry, like I wrote before. Probably the nature that surrounds them highly effects this, because they’re so sensitive to the beauty of nature’.
View during my 2012 midsummer night tooth brushing session, too good!
‘In Reval hadden we een uur de tijd om de stad te bezichtigen. De alle overheerschende indruk, dien ik kreeg, was, dat de huizen, straten en menschen onbeschrijflijk vuil zijn. De bevolking heeft het bizondere type, dat aan den russischen moeilijk herrinert: een goedige, domme, slaperige uitdrukking van het gezicht…’.
‘In Reval we had one hour to visit the city. The dominating impression I got was that the houses, streets and people are incredibly filthy. The population has the special type of face that hardly reminds of a Russian: a kind, stupid-like, sleepy expression’.
Wow, such an old story but yet so many similarities with our modern times! Curious for the entire, yet still rather short, story? It can easily be found on the Project Gutenberg website. Enjoy! I did for sure :).
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