Orient Express From Eastern Helsinki (and Eastern Europe) with LOVE

BYZANTINE MAYHEM IN PORI

  • The Palace of Junnelius by Hayao Miya... no, sorry, August Krook!
    The Palace of Junnelius by Hayao Miya... no, sorry, August Krook!

 

Pori is a small town on the Finnish west coast. I visited it on Tuesday as I have the privilege to sit on the advisory board for an upcoming research project on Pori Jazz. Established 1966, this festival has grown to become one of the biggest jazz events in Europe. Benny Goodman, Miles Davis and Cab Calloway have all performed on its main stage, and later the festival has hosted modern classics like Chick Corea, Dave Weckl and Stanley Clarke.

 

Today Pori Jazz is more about R&B, which of course, in the broader sense of the word, is (applied) jazz. I have myself seen James Brown and Erykah Badu perform there. It is incredible how Afro-American music has become central for the identity of a small Finnish town. This is one of the key issues of the forthcoming project.

 

Duke John of Sweden established Pori in 1558 when Finland was under Swedish rule. His wife, the Polish princess Catherine Jagiellon (Katarzyna Jagiellonka), who then became the Duchess of Finland and later the Queen of Sweden (as Duke John became the King), introduced the fork to Finland. She might have been quite radical in doing this. The fork was still quite late considered to be a dangerous and rude tool to have around.

 

At the same time as Catherine, who lived in Turku but spent a lot of time in Pori, forced the local Finns to use a fork when they dined with her – some clumsy ones ended up bleeding – the Venetians were outraged, because Doge Giovanni I Cornaro’s wife Chiara Dolfin insisted that her food was cut into pieces, which she then ate with a fork.

 

The Venetians would have been even more astonished to hear about another connection to Pori. In the late 19th century, the town was a flourishing center for commerce. Two rich crackpots, Robert Junnelius and Hugo Rosenlew ordered architect August Krook to build a palace for them. As they wanted to show off their wealth and taste, they sent him to Florence and Venice. Krook came back and built a Miyazakiesque version of a Venetian Rennaissance palace.

 

The Palace of Junnelius is a freak of status anxiety. As Venetian architecture was already during the Gothic period (Doge’s palace, Ca’ d’Oro) a melting pot of the Byzantine, Moorish and Italian cultures dominating La Serenissima, its Rennaissance still bears traces of Arabic influence, starting from the geometric patterns dominating the walls.

 

Now echoes of this mayhem function as a shell for a modern office building where Pori City Council has its meetings. The building is a weird mix of Eurocentric ideology and Orientalism. If Pori one day will be wise enough to present it this way, its historical capacity will boom. The mix of east, west and the cultural ideologies appropriating them is at least for me maybe the most interesting phenomenon in Finnish culture.

 

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