Image of the Finland archipelago from the shoreline outside our cabin. Photo: Carnie.
Whirly Birds And Magic Water
By Dave Carnie
Some trips end before they’re finished while others continue long after you return home. The latter was the case after Tania and I visited Finland a few years ago. It was surprisingly one of the best adventures we’d ever been on—surprising because we went with the expectation that we were visiting a dark, tundra-like environment where drunk people stab each other with knives on frozen streets. Quite the opposite. Finland proved to be one of the most beautiful, nicest, and most efficient countries we’ve ever visited. We enjoyed it so much that when we came home we had difficulty abandoning our newly adopted Finnish culture.
For a couple months after our return, for instance, Tania and I would drink rather heavily on the weekends. At times I would even get a little surly. Tania called me “a snap case.” It was all very strange as I’m generally a quiet and happy drunk, bemused at worst. Then one day it dawned on me what the cause of my strange behavior was: Magic Water.
“Magic Water” is what a now sober friend calls vodka. It’s a funny term, if only slightly disingenuous because there’s nothing magical about drinking a pint of vodka and turning into a complete shit bag. I’m sure from his perspective the world took on a certain “magic” glow as he drifted off to Never-Never Land, but to the rest of us he was a total pain in the ass. It got to the point where his wife forbade him from drinking Magic Water, but he would still sneak a pint in when he could. I always knew when he did because he would appear to begin drinking at the hour that everyone else did, yet the lights would go out in his house long before anybody else. “How’d he get so fucked up so fast?” someone would inevitably ask.
My taste for Magic Water began in Finland. I remember the precise moment when I decided vodka would become a regular part of my alcohol program. We were staying at a cottage in Finland’s archipelago region. The Finnish holiday season had recently ended. All the other cottages were empty. There was no sound other than the Baltic Sea lapping quietly upon the stones in front of us. The clouds crawled slowly across the sky and the light breeze gently rustled the needles in the pines on the craggy shore. I could see the ferry crossing from Pargas to Nagu off in the distance. It was a beautiful day. We were poking around the neighbor’s cottage, trying to find some oars so we could steal their boat, when the silence was broken by a peculiar low rumbling sound.
“What is that?” Tania asked.
We went out to the porch to scan the air for a helicopter, but there was nothing. The waters were empty as well. Still, the rumbling got louder. We had grown accustomed to the silence of the abandoned vacation cottages, so the noise was very strange. Maybe it was a sleuth of bears farting? And then suddenly the source of the noise appeared: Finland’s Navy.
Off in the distance, a large military boat, painted in dark camouflage with mounted guns, emerged from behind the island to our north. It moved slowly through the soft waters, nearly invisible before the dark forest backdrops. It was followed by an even bigger ship. Which was, in turn, followed by an even bigger ship. They weren’t aircraft carriers, or anything, but they were formidable vessels.
My first thought was, “Finland has a military?” As an American, when I look at another country’s military it’s kind of like watching a children’s hockey game: “Oh, they look so cute in their little uniforms! Maybe if you eat all your vegetables and practice real hard you’ll be a real army some day!” Because while we Americans may not enjoy the benefits of health care, or education, or art, or public transportation, or anything that would make life more pleasant, we do have the important stuff: guns. We’ve got lots and lots of guns. So the little boy in me sat there at the railing on our porch enthralled by the choo-choo train of battleships chugging through the narrow channels in front of us, the dull roar of their engines filling the air that was now slightly tainted with the smell of exhaust.
“This calls for a drink,” I said excited. I ran back into the cottage and busted out the bottle of Finlandia vodka in the freezer, mixed up a couple of glasses, and returned to the porch.
“Thank you,” Tania said taking her glass.
I proposed a toast. “To the Finnish—shit, what do you call that? The army?” I asked.
“It’s probably the Navy,” Tania said.
“Oh yeah, Navy. To the Finnish Navy!” I said raising my glass to the Finnish Navy.
“Kippis,” Tania said.
“Kippis” (pronounced key-pees) is “cheers” in Finnish. It’s fun to say.
As I stood there at the railing with the sun on my face and feeling safe and protected with so much military might about, I looked at my drink and I said, “You know, I’m kinda into vodka now.” We had been in the country over a week and we had been drinking a lot of vodka. Vodka is Tania’s cocktail of choice, but I had never really acquired the taste.
“Yeah, because it’s awesome,” Tania replied. “That’s like saying, ‘I’m kind of into birthday cake now.’ Fuck yeah you’re into vodka.”
Fuck yeah I was into vodka, and I ended up being into vodka a little too long. Vodka was pretty much all we subsisted on in Finland because when we went to the grocery store we couldn’t figure out what anything was due to the language barrier.
“Is this butter or margarine?” I said at one store showing Tania a box that could have been either. It said “voi” on it, which we later learned is butter.
“Voi?” she said. “I have no idea.” And then we’d stand there blocking the butter and/or margarine section debating the packaging while annoying native Finns with our stupid American accents. We couldn’t figure out the food, but we did figure out the vodka and, as I said, our relationship with the spirit continued well after we returned home.
After the Finnish Navy parade was over, I thought it time to visit the sauna. Much like vodka, I fell in love with the Finnish custom of sauna. Saunas are everywhere in Finland and our tiny cottage was outfitted with one. Our Finnish friend, Hessu, explained sauna to us when we first arrived.
“We, Finnish people—especially male—do not speak out if not asked direct question, let alone express our feelings,” Hessu said in his adorable lil accent. “However there is one special place where we all open up like flower: sauna. Bunch of naked men in a small steamy room. I know it sounds gay, but get used to it, as saunas are everywhere. We have two in our office.”
Once I got comfortable with sauna nudity, I would sauna at least twice a day in Finland. I was actually a little worried about this as Hessu had sent me video of “competition sauna” (it’s a thing) and the results were not pretty. One competitor even died playing this “sport.”
“You can go to sauna multiple times a day,” Hessu reassured me, “but usually people go max twice a day. Also long, two to three hour sauna sessions with small breaks are common. Normal rules are: go naked, close the door well, don't fart, and leave it in the same condition as you arrived.”
Naturally, I farted in our sauna as much as I could. I also began timing my sauna sessions with the stopwatch on my phone. I really liked sauna and I wanted to get good at it. I considered myself an amateur sauna enthusiast. It’s difficult to describe the attraction, but there’s something magical about sauna, something ethereal. Frankly I’m surprised I like it as much as I do because on paper it sounds so stupid: “bunch of naked men in a small steamy room.” Mmmm.
On this particular sauna session, I thought I performed well. The Finnish Navy had inspired me. My pores exploded and great torrents of sweat formed rivers that coursed through the folds and the flabs, the hills and the dales, of my fat naked body. I peered through the glass in the sauna door to check the stopwatch outside. I knew it hadn’t been an hour, but I was drenched and I felt like I was getting better at sauna.
“Nine minutes?” I said flabbergasted. “What the fuck?”
I couldn’t handle the heat anymore. So I showered off and, foregoing a towel, headed straight back outside to the cottage porch to let the brisk archipelago air dry my naked body while I drank more vodka and waved at sailors.
“What the hell?” Tania said laughing as I walked outside nude. “Put some clothes on!”
“There’s no one around,” I growled.
“What if the Navy comes back?” she asked.
“Well, then I guess they’ll be treated to some sophisticated American weaponry,” I said. “They may have created Angry Birds, but I’ve got the Whirly Bird.” And by way of demonstration, I grabbed my tiny wiener and swung it around in a circle, as best I could manage, in the direction of the sea. As I was trying to perfect the art of whirling my bird, a small boat did in fact appear down shore.
“Daaave!” Tania whisper/yelled. “Get inside!”
But it was too late. The four people on board were zooming by at a fast clip, but I could tell from their expressions that they saw me: a fat, glistening, nude American standing on a porch swinging his penis around.
“VOI!” I yelled, while swinging my dick at them and waving with my free hand. “VOI! VOI! VOI!”
“Butter?” they must have wondered.
It’s been difficult adjusting to life back in America since I’ve been reborn as a Nordic alcoholic nudist, but my inner Finn manages to find ways to express himself until he can return to the land of Magic Water and sauna—mostly by just getting drunk and naked. But oh how I long to return to the archipelago, to drink the magic waters, rip off my clothes, and be drunk and stupid like a naked newborn baby—to begin again as a Finn again.