There's Paul Auster's New York, Woody Allen's Manhattan, Hemingway's
Paris - and Aki Kaurismäki's Paris. When he was making La
Vie bohème (1992), the Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki
found sufficiently 'authentic' and shabby surroundings in the Malakoff
district of Paris. He filmed The Man without a Past (2002)
on Helsinki's unkempt shoreline. It will soon perhaps be history.
The city's decision-makers have ambitious construction plans.
Signe Brander's century-old photographs
of Helsinki (see pages 131-139), now collected together in a book,
show a city that has not completely disappeared, but the profundity
of change is pondered by both the Helsinki journalist Hannu Marttila
and the urban sociologist Pasi Mäenpää. The city is
many cities historically, architecturally and socially, but above
all a place for living and a seat of experience.
I myself am a native of Helsinki; over
the decades, the city of my childhood has changed radically. I dare
not even think about buildings that have been demolished and on whose
site new ones have been built. As I child, I lived in southern Helsinki,
by the sea. In one city block there used to be four dairies, a bakery,
two groceries, a chemist's, a stationer and cobbler's, and round the
corner three butchers. They no longer exist. They have been replaced
by interior design stores, advertising agencies, antique shops and
a beauty salon. My aged parents, who still live in my childhood home,
have to walk a long way to buy bread and milk.
The desirability of the area and the
rise in prices of flats have changed the nature of the district. No
workers live even in the side streets any more; they have been replaced
by wealthy, youngish white-collar people. I do not know where they
buy their food.
Social change can been traced through
both property prices and the services on offer. When the old-fashioned
'bar' - in Finland this means a place that sells not alcohol but stale
coffee, withered Danish pastries and perhaps mild beer - disappears,
it is replaced by a café specialising in different coffee varieties,
and fashion is making the area ready for take-off.
Pitkäsilta - the Long Bridge -
which leads from south to north, once divided the patrician areas,
the city's monumental and commercial centre, from the workers' homes
and work-places. The length of the bridge was symbolic; now it has
shortened. Workers' flats and fine old residential buildings interest
young, academic small families. I have 'proletarianised' myself there,
far from my childhood home, but even my current neighbourhood is changing
rapidly. When the scrap dealer was evicted from downstairs, the space
was renovated for a design office.
In new residential areas, attempts are
made to cultivate social diversity by building municipal rental apartments,
homes for old people, flats for students and properties for sale.
In old areas, the market dictates. It is saddening. Iris's stationer's
has disappeared from my block. The old cobbler and the ancient clock-
and goldsmith are struggling. Many students live in my building, but
there are still old people, too. The block has a life of its own,
conversation and mutual aid, but for how long?
The city is a nest of cities, because
one thinks of one's immediate surroundings as home. In Paris an old
woman was interviewed who had never left her own district. Why should
she? She had around her her shops, her post office, her bank, her
friends and her acquaintances.