Saunas and Songs

We wanted to sing karaoke tonight, but since coming to Finland our ability to stay up past eight in the evening has been severely compromised. Strategically, we opted to not walk a billion miles in the morning, wrapped ourselves in hotel towels, and tried out the Finnish sauna instead. You guys, saunas are hot hot hot hot hot. I was worried about breathing, but equally worried about, you know, not breathing. "Oh my god," said Charles, "feel my hair. My hair is hot. I can feel my hair getting hot. We've only been in here thirty seconds." I felt his hair. He was right.

"There's an hourglass here on the wall," I said. "We can time our stay. I give us five minutes, tops."

"You're on." Another thirty seconds went by. "Does that hourglass actually work?" asked Charles.

I tapped the glass. Nothing happened. I tapped harder. A little blob of sand went plop from the top into the bottom. "Doesn't appear to," I said.

"Hand me that dipper of water," said Charles.

"You're going to make it hotter?"


"I'm worried we're going to die."


"I want to throw water on the rocks too."

"Here." He handed me the dipper.

Three or so minutes later, we had had enough. It felt like we had been swimming, or shoveling coal in the belly of the Titanic, or some such. Our hotel-issue slippers were going squish from humidity and floor condensation. That said, we felt pretty amazing -- to me, it seemed as though I had been given a thorough massage, but on my bones rather than my muscles. As though I had been turned into a limp plate of spaghetti and then rebuilt in human form. It was very intense, but ultimately pleasurable. I only wish there had been the traditional birch twigs as well as the dipper.

Refreshed, we went to the Design Museum and saw the amazing, weird, hilarious, highly technically skilled work of Oiva Toikka. Our favorite were the owls:

The rest of the afternoon was spent writing blog posts on revised Bechdel tests (me) and the implications of misunderstood ethnic food (Charles). For dinner, we wandered into a likely-looking place that turned out to be weirdly posh, like a gourmet diner from a Ray Bradbury carnival as directed by Tim Burton. I snuck a photo of the creepy chandeliers. Like evil jellyfish.

And then -- it was time for karaoke. Or rather, it was past time: they were supposed to start at six, and it was already nearing seven. We hopped on the tram, hopped off, didn't see the place, circled around, found it, and went in.

The bar was called Satumaa, which translates to fairyland and is also the title of a famous Finnish tango from a famous Kaurismäki film. If there is a better name for a Finnish karaoke bar than Satumaa, I cannot possibly imagine what that name could be.

We were the first singers there.

The internets had led us to believe that Satumaa was an upscale karaoke joint, with some serious talent. The latter was becoming obvious by the time we left, 1.5 hours and 5 songs later, but as fo the rest it must be stated honestly that the place was a dive. A lovely, perfect, cozy, wonderful dive. We were instantly at home. The English language selections were plentiful, and many of the tracks had the old karaoke videos from the laserdisc days, which I have sorely missed in this era of the CDG. Like the part of "Take My Breath Away," where the chick in the video begins to sing along while looking right back at the karaoke singer? Weird! Hilarious!

And the sound! Oh, the sound. Somehow, the microphone gods made this tiny thirty-foot space sound like a stadium. Like you were using your full voice but not losing any of the little, subtle touches either. By the time we left, exhausted and happy, the following things had happened:

  • a Finnish woman with a rough voice and thick accent had done "Kashmir" and "Hit the Road, Jack," both of which were actually really fun even though her voice wasn't the greatest
  • a Finnish dude who nervously rocked back and forth from one front foot to one back foot had done the best Robbie Williams I've ever heard.
  • the assistant host and a girl who was clearly a regular had performed a close-harmony duet by Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand. Dion! Streisand!

I can't decide whether it's a shame that Satumaa is halfway around the world from home, or a relief to know that a measly half the globe is as far away from good karaoke as I can possibly get.