Midsummer 2006. Tampere, Finland–I almost missed the Moominvalley.
It would have been easy to do; since I was going to be staying with friends, I was traveling without a guidebook, and so I didn’t know that one of the few unique attractions in Tampere was a museum devoted to Tove Jansson’s creations.
Besides, it was Midsummer! A repudiation of the long, dark days of winter, Midsummer is, as my host Jamie Ann explained, “the BIG holiday when Finns go to the countryside to get drunk,” and everything is closed. We ourselves had gone to the birch woods and swam in a lake called Helvetinkolu (“Hell Hole”) where I saw a landscape of such color-saturated loveliness that I understood why Finnish national treasure Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s paintings of the Kalevala, the Finnish saga, looked so otherworldly: he was just painting what he saw.
In my last hour in Tampere, as we meandered through the town center, Jamie Ann grabbed my arm: “The Moomin Museum is open!” (It had been closed for Midsummer, and she had thought I would miss it). She pulled me inside the Metso Library, a bulbous, modern building, and I found myself in a low-lit basement room of fantastical dioramas. Here, again, were the supersaturated colors of the Finnish landscape, but this time, instead of the ancient heroes and villains of the Kalevala, it was Moominmamma, Moominpappa, Moomintroll and Little My acting out the episodes of their own saga. Along the walls, pages from the Moomin books and comic strips showed the Moomintrolls in their natural, inky state. My favorite part of the whole trip, it seemed to me to be the essence of Finnish imagination. And to think: I had almost missed it…