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ConFusion schedule

Hurrah, the schedule is available! Here’s your closer look at where you can find me:

An Author’s Guide to Newsletters. Friday, 2:00, Erie. Angus Watson (M), Lawrence M. Schoen, Marissa Lingen, Patrick S. Tomlinson, Natalie Luhrs. Keeping up with the shifting landscape of social media can be a tall order for busy writers. E-mail newsletters are a simple, effective way to let your most engaged fans know where to find you and your work. Our panelists have tips on how to set up and maintain an effective newsletter.

The Trouble With Susan (and Donna and…). Saturday, 10:00, Ontario. Marissa Lingen (M), Navah Wolfe, Karen Osborne, K. Lynne O’Connor, Cat Rambo. Many beloved genre stories don’t treat their female characters well. Our genre is full of stories that punish female heroes with debasement and tragedy and unhappy endings, either implying or stating outright that the heroines with whom we identify were too ambitious for their own good. How do we reconcile our love for these stories and characters with the poison pills that come with them? Can we keep loving stories that don’t love us back?

Reading. Saturday, 11:00, Rotunda. A. Merc Rustad, Marissa Lingen, Annalee Flower Horne. I will probably be reading from the story that will have just come out in BCS that week, but who knows. There is no way to find out but to be there. (Or to ask me nicely. That…is often a way actually.)

New Trends in Post-Collapse Fiction. Saturday, 5:00, Dearborn. Marissa Lingen (M), Andrea Johnson, Michael J. DeLuca, Petra Kuppers, Anaea Lay. The prospect of a world where the march of social and technological progress has drastically reversed course seems a lot closer than it used to be. What has changed in the way we imagine post-collapse futures? How do post-collapse futures of the past and present exist in conversation with the social and political worlds in which they were written?

Writing Humor in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Saturday, 4:00, Southfield. Steve Buchheit (M), Tim Boerger, Marissa Lingen, Clif Flynt, Joe R. Lansdale. The Princess Bride is a classic of fantasy humor. What makes humor in speculative fiction work? What “funny books” really aren’t? Let’s look at American vs. British humor, which topics have aged well (or not so well!), short form vs. novels, and all the other things that make speculative humor more than pies in the face for elves.

Murder, Meanness, and Other Solutions from Deep in the Edit Mines: How to Help Fix Each Other’s Work Without Taking Over. Saturday, 8:00, Allen Park. Marissa Lingen (M), Jennifer Mace, K.A. Doore. How can we best use creative teamwork in solo projects? When your writing friends are stuck, where’s the line between helpful and pushy? Is murder really the answer to every problem–and is it sometimes helpful to have a friend come through the door of your manuscript with a gun in hand when you don’t know what to do next? (Spoiler: yes.) (Spoiler: that friend is Kai.) (This is an Armada extravaganza and by my fifth programming item of the day I expect to be at least a little goofy. Which of course Macey and Kai and I would never be otherwise….)

This has been edited since I first posted it because of times changing. I have no idea whether they will change again. If there’s something you want to see particularly, please check the schedule when you get there to make sure it’s all where and when you thought.

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Broadens the mind, I hear

I recently sold my 150th story, which was a very nice feeling indeed and one I’ll explore more in my next newsletter. (I am trying to have somewhat non-overlapping content between my monthly newsletter and this blog. We’ll see how that goes.) But it was also a type of story I wanted to talk about more specifically here.

That is: it’s a story that was inspired by my trip to Finland and Sweden in 2016. It’s the fourth story in that category I’ve written and the fourth I’ve sold, and while it’s two years in the past, I’m pretty sure there are more coming. None of them are related to each other in any other way. Different speculative elements–different genres–different characters and settings. But I couldn’t have gotten to any of them from the same angle without traveling.

I didn’t plan any of them before we went. I just went and looked and listened and smelled and tasted and felt and thought and felt and thought and came home and read and felt and thought some more, and lo, there were some stories there.

I haven’t started on the stories inspired by the trip to Denmark and Iceland yet, but I know they’re there. (I even know the shape of at least two….)

People who don’t write, who are not frequently around writers except when I bring them around–people like my grandma–often think of travel for writing purposes as linear and planned. If I’m doing this trip for writing purposes, it must mean that I intend to set a book in one of the locations and am going to go give it a good hard squint and see what I get out of it. But…a few months ago I outlined a book inspired by these experiences, and it was just as unanticipated as the stories. And while I’m going to use the experience to revise an old book set in various parts of Finland, that’s not what I was there for–I didn’t know I’d ever get the right ideas to revise that book into something coherent.

It’s culturally much harder to say, “I’m going to write what I’m inspired to write.” We’re taught to look down on that kind of vague approach even within creative fields. Have a plan, be able to justify yourself, don’t just…be one of those irresponsible artists who flits around hoping for inspiration, ugh, what is that even. Well, I don’t hope for inspiration, I work for inspiration. I open doors and windows to inspiration, I leave out honey traps for inspiration, I sew gossamer nets to catch the very finest particles and smallest species of inspiration. And this only works if you’re not already convinced of where it isn’t.

Obviously this doesn’t mean that everyone has to travel to be open to new external input. Not everyone has the resources in whatever direction; sometimes I don’t have the resources. But I actually feel that making room for frivolity is essential. For books where you don’t know what chapter will help with your current project–or whether any chapters will help with any projects at all. For other people’s art, primarily as its own thing and only as a jumping-off point later if ever. For finding the road nearest your house that you’ve never been on and taking it and finding out whether there’s a bespoke foam merchant there, an antique shop, a greasy spoon, a park. For going to the free museum night to see an exhibit that has done the traveling for you. Not because you know how it’ll inspire you, but because you don’t.

I went to Montreal two weeks ago. I’ve been to Montreal many times. I love Montreal and have opinions about gelato available near different Metro stops. Vive Montreal. And even on this short trip, mostly full of conventions, I still discovered places I’ve never been, and I still looked at the places I have been and thought of them differently. Not in the “I must look into the Viau Metro and make sure I can put a story thing there” way. Just as: here I am, what else is here, who else. It makes me more able to do more of the same when I get home. I have no idea where it’ll end. And that’s an extremely good thing.

Next time I have a major trip–who knows when that will be–I will get asked whether I’m setting a book there, what book, why. I’m really happy that I don’t know.

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Watch me scintillate!

In ten days I leave for Montreal, for the new convention Scintillation. Here’s where you can find me there if you’re a member! (Memberships have been sold out for the year, but I’m almost certainly going next year too.)

Friday 20:00 Time Travel and Teens
Why do these things go together so well?
Jo Walton (M), Kari Maaren, Marissa Lingen, Suzanna Hersey

Saturday 10:00 Good and Evil
Ada Palmer has offered the thought experiment of a universe where the morally worst act ever was that somebody bought a flavour of ice cream they knew their friend didn’t like. Conversely, the Vikings ask the theodicy question backwards: why is there good? Let’s consider the space of good and evil and what interesting things we can do with them.
Yves Meynard (M), Ada Palmer, Maria Farrell, Jo Walton, Marissa Lingen

Saturday 11:00 Reading from selected works. With Tim Boerger.

Saturday 14:00 Why you should be reading John M. Ford
World Fantasy award winning author of The Dragon Waiting, Growing Up Weightless, and many other stories and poems and gaming material.
Marissa Lingen (M), Emmet O’Brien, Andrew Plotkin, Lila Garrott, Sarah Emrys

Sunday 17:00 Imagining the Future
How can we write science fiction when it’s so difficult to imagine the future?
Yves Meynard, Dennis Clark, Ada Palmer, Maria Farrell, Marissa Lingen (M), Jim Cambias

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I’ve got a little list

I always return from travel–especially long travel–with an extensive to-do list. It’s not just the inspiration, although there’s been a lot of that. It’s not just the stuff that didn’t get done while I was gone. It’s also the shifted perspective that makes me notice little things–like the hole in the pocket of my fall coat, now mended before fall arrives in Minnesota but glaringly apparent when I wandered around Icelandic canyons. Catching up is a matter of using the new perspective travel brought me in tiny, mundane ways as well as large, magical ones.

(This novella idea I got in Borgarnes: it is perfect for me. So excited. You will be excited too, when I get there. But there’s a long road between here and there.)

One of the things that my to-do lists do for me is to give me a little breathing room, to let me know that I don’t actually have to do everything I want to do right now today. Marking something as “THURS” or putting it on the list for two weeks from now is a clear mental barrier: yes, I want to accomplish this, I don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle, but not this minute. If I finish all the stuff on my list for today, I can sit down and rest. Rest is good.

But THURS and two weeks from now eventually become real, and one of the things I was supposed to do in the Grand Scheme of After I Return was set up a newsletter. Well, it’s After I Return, so I’ve managed to set up that newsletter. It’s at, and it will require confirmation once you’ve signed up for it. I expect to send something out roughly monthly, with publication news, recipes, thoughts and chatter, nothing frequent or lengthy. Please feel welcome.

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In and out and around

So I have finished another year’s Readercon, and the adjacent small writing retreat I did with it, and both were good and now I am doing all the things that have to be done when you get back from a trip. And also all the things that have to be done before you leave on a trip, because it’s just over two weeks before I leave for Copenhagen.

It’s weird, because I am feeling less and less like posting an “I’ll be away for these days” message than I used to, on my blog or on social media of various kinds. Partly it’s that some of the social media will be coming with me in ways that didn’t used to be true. When I went to London in 2005 for my grandparents’ anniversary, I Got On The Internet I think exactly once. In Finland and Sweden two years ago, I did it every day, because Getting On The Internet is…not really a thing. You just are, you’re on the internet in the same way that you’re on the power grid, it’s as notable to be off the one as the other. It’s been several years now that I’ve noticed some surveys have old-fashioned usage questions: how many hours a day do you spend logged on to the internet, that sort of thing, and my answer is: huh? what does that even mean?

But there are things that I don’t do when I’m traveling, and one of them is blogging. There will be single book posts for both July and August, because the midmonth book post for each would have fallen when I was traveling, and nope. Another thing I don’t do is Facebook–I haven’t deleted my Facebook because a small number of people I care about use it for things I care about, but I use it minimally even when I’m at home, and if I’m going to choose between getting a lovely pastry somewhere in Nyhavn or using Facebook, you can bet which one I’ll pick.

And it’s interesting to me that in the two years since I went to Finland and Sweden, my feeling about Twitter has completely shifted. I now feel like I can tweet a photo of a beautiful pastry as a “hey, friend, thinking of you” to some specific people–that the rest of the world is allowed to see if they care–and have it be part of my day, not interrupting my day. That’s…insidious, but also awesome. I’m willing to live with the balance. But I do notice it’s there.

Anyway! Two weeks and two days! With a lot of revision and a lot of new stuff to write between now and then, and also house chores, and also a major birthday, and….

Juggling scarves and clubs and a flaming chainsaw, is what. But in a mostly good way.

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Over the surface

The sky above a frozen lake is the same color as it is above a road, a soccer field, a housing development, on the same day. I know that, but I don’t feel it. There is that clouded over slate blue-grey that has the feel of reaching perfection from the middle of a frozen lake, on a windy day, alone.

The winter I was twelve cooperated in my liminal state. It was cold enough for the lakes to freeze solidly and stay that way, no worries of open water or even thin ice, but not cold enough that anyone would worry about a newly-grown girl-child bundling herself into scarf, mittens, boots, coat, and heading off on her own for hours.

Twelve is big enough–at least, it was for me–that you can watch smaller kids, that no one needs to be deputized to watch you. Twelve is small enough–again, at least it was for me–that no one needs to worry that you’re sneaking off to do something worrying on an adult scale. I was adult sized at twelve, this height, very nearly this body shape that I have twenty-seven years later. I was very recognizably myself. I had been street harassed already, at twelve. I had started to grasp the edges of what so worried my mother about me growing up. But while I’ve been harassed in parkas that come down to my knees and hoods up over my head, winter is safer: fewer people on the street means less street harassment.

And I wasn’t going on the street.

My mother and I had been spending the last year and a half in what I then thought was a companionable understanding, which I now recognize as a productive misunderstanding. I thought that we mutually understood that I was too big for playgrounds (although I have never lost my fondness for swings), that I would stay safe and not do anything stupid but of course would not be going to a playground for hours. What would I do at a playground for hours? I was twelve, for heaven’s sake. I was big.

(Now that my goddaughter is eleven, now that her mother and I repeat to each other, “she’s so big now!” on at least a weekly basis, I understand how it was that my mother could have missed the fact of my bigness.)

So I thought that we understood that I was going to hike and not do anything worrying. My mother, on the other hand, thought that being away from the main road and out of shouting distance of the rest of humanity was something worrying and naturally I would not be doing that. This misunderstanding between us turned out to be formative for me, and I stand by it. I was immensely safer–I am safer now–in the woods than on the road. Twenty-seven years of experience tells me over and over again that the rest of humanity is the problem.

But I was speaking of the year I was twelve. In the summer, this had meant hours in the woods, sometimes up a tree, sometimes with my sneakers tied to each other hanging around my neck so I could walk down the rocks in a shallow brook. It was green and quiet and peaceful, and I was competent there. One of my best friends got a rampaging case of poison ivy to start the seventh grade. I had told her not to touch it, it most certainly was not Virginia creeper. I was the one who knew the difference.

My new longer legs were useful in the woods, and my new curves were…not absent, exactly. But they had room to just be part of me, just present, neutral. Nobody told me to do anything like a lady. Nobody shouted that I was a cunt. If I set off at a fast lope through the trees, I bounced a little more, and it didn’t have to matter.

In the winter, the bare trees didn’t provide as much cover. But my clothes did, and the cold. When it’s cold enough, you can escape a crowded, smoky house full of relatives and no one will wander out after you. The outdoors will be quiet and still and empty. The ice is its own protection.

There are only a handful of other walkers on frozen lakes. You are almost guaranteed you will not run into them. If you are very careful, you can avoid all human companionship. If you’re not feeling that antisocial, you will walk past the ice fishers. The ice fishers will not make you talk. The protocol with ice fishers is simple: you can nod, or you can say, “Ayeh.” And they will do one of those two things back.

They will not say, “Awfully cold for you to be out, isn’t it?” They will not ask if you aren’t very young to be on your own. The ice fishers do not want to talk. They want to fish. And you want to walk. This works out well for everyone. The ice fishers may well be escaping a loud, smoky house full of relatives as well. Fishing is the thing that they are allowed to say they are doing, not “getting away from you all.” I had an aunt who would say she was doing both, but she was widely regarded as eccentric.

I loved her for it.

She was not in the house I was walking away from.

You pass the ice fishers, then, and you keep walking. You fall into a rhythm. If there’s a good crust of snow, or if there was wind when the lake was freezing, you can walk like you can on any land. The wind matters because it pebbles the ice, gives it a texture, your feet can find purchase. If it was a still day, you shuffle along like a purposeful penguin, not lifting your feet too far, moving straight from the hips.

(What about skating? they will ask. Well, no. Skating ice takes maintenance. It has to be a really still day, or more likely water that is carefully sprayed and smoothed, to get really good skating ice. You can’t skate on just random ice, mostly it’s far too rough for quality skating. Random lake ice is much better for just walking.)

The cold seeps into your legs. Your coat comes down over your upper thighs, your socks up over your calves, so it’s the middle, your lower thighs, where you really start to feel the cold first. Everything else is too well bundled, but the wind will hit your knees and start to numb them. But you keep walking. You’re going to go all the way across the lake to the trees on the other side. No one can take this from you. The cold can’t. So you walk, and the blood flows back into you with exercise, and gradually you get warm again, the warmth of exertion.

With the rhythm of walking, you regain the ability to notice things. Clouds. Cars on the distant road, the noises they make. Your own crunchy footfalls, whether there’s a difference in their sound. That difference is important.

In the present day, as an adult, I had gone on the assumption that everyone knows how to gauge ice thickness visually, that while you hear stories of people falling through, you also hear stories of people setting their microwaves on fire. Sensible people, ordinary people–certainly everyone you would socialize with–know you need at least two inches of ice to bear human weight. Sensible people know what that looks like.

But when I went to talk to my friends about it now, as a grown-up, other perfectly competent grown-ups had no idea. They worried about this. How would you know. That doesn’t sound safe. What are you doing. This is not sensible, stop it, come inside, surely this is not something you do.

It is. It’s something I do. Every chance I get.

And even as a twelve-year-old, I knew what good ice sounded like, even if it was snow-covered and I couldn’t look at it. I knew what it felt like to have a run of days cold enough to freeze the lake solid enough to hold me. I knew what patches to avoid until it had been good and cold long enough–rushes and ducks would be near open water, don’t go poking at the rushes and ducks, just keep walking.

These things were so intuitive that more than twenty-five years later, when my friends, my southern friends, my coastal friends, my city friends, balked at the notion of walking out on frozen things, I had to interrogate my own mind: I know this, but how do I know this. What does good ice look like. Good ice is milky, good ice shuts you out from the waters below. Clear ice that holds you up and lets you watch the fish below is a cinematic dream. Good ice, firm ice, is opaque enough that you know that it is doing some serious ice business below your feet. It does not creak or crack. Some parts of it might crunch, but that’s different.

And yet you know you are not walking on the ground. You know that you are walking on ice. How do you know? You know. The sky is not a different color, the air does not taste different…rationally. Notionally, liminally? It might. It does.

Twenty-five years later, walking out on Lake Superior was not the same as a small lake. It is full of many jagged points and miniature cliffs–its limnology has structure and nearly seismic activity in a way that a smaller lake never could. And of course, walking all the way across, walking the whole lake, is impossible for any human. There is always the wall of spiky mist at the horizon where the giant body of water is subliming even when the temperatures are below zero Fahrenheit.

And yet. And yet the crunch and slide of ice, the penguin slip beneath my feet was the same. The feel of walking away from shore, out on the ice, squaring my shoulders and knowing that everything beneath me was water, everything above me was steely sky, and around was…nothing. No one and nothing. The perfect silence and wind is the same, exactly the same, always the same.

And getting warm after is the same, the excessive feeling of blood rushing into cheeks and fingers and thighs, burning and tingling, gulping hot tea too fast and burning my tongue. Not wanting to talk. Not wanting to speak a word. Wanting to keep the frozen lake wind in my ears.

I have never let myself collapse to my knees in the snow, upon attaining land again. Someday perhaps I will. I have always made myself keep moving, onward to warmth and the rest of humanity and its noise and hum and frustrations. I have never let myself kneel and feel the difference between snow on ice and snow on dirt in my hands, not just through my boots.

Someday I will. For now, I let myself be quiet when I come off a frozen lake. I don’t have to go into the hubbub of a family gathering. I can reenter the world of humans gradually, warmth first, light second, then tea and noise. And so I do.

Because of how geology works, frozen things are lower than their surroundings. Water, down in a hollow. So you find yourself looking up, up at the trees, up at the buildings, even up at the roads. Up at the clouds, and suddenly up at the clouds isn’t as different from looking at the manmade things as it usually is. Everything is at least a little up, and you are down, set apart, set aside, protected.

My friends who are not from the frozen north will find that feeling of protection strange, I think, but ice is like the poison ivy/Virginia creeper problem in the summer woods: safety comes from knowledge. You know how to walk, you know where and when to go, you’re fine, you’re much safer than you are on the street. And the quality of silence alone on the ice is impossible to replicate any other way.

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Umeå, Sweden: A Darn Good Place for Lunch

We had no particular plan to stop in Umeå. It was like Vaasa on the Finland side: we needed to stop somewhere, and Umeå was there. But when we got there, it was a beautiful, an utterly gorgeous, northern city: large, fast-moving river as so many of them have*, buildings that were charming and interesting wherever you looked. Very walkable. The people were outstandingly friendly and helpful even for the far north.

(I have no idea where this idea that northerners are taciturn comes from. They talk my ear off. They did not appear to talk to Tim in the same way. But to me? Chatterboxes. You cannot get them to shut up. It’s as though they’ve met their long-lost cousin and…oh. Oh. Well. Never mind, that explains that. Seriously, in Umeå alone I saw three people who looked like specific Lingens I know.)

We didn’t have a great chance to explore Umeå; we did not, for example, stay in the hotel in the same building as the library. (See? SEE? Umeå is great.) But one of the reasons I am writing these blog posts is because there are not always English language restaurant reviews of things, and while one visit is not enough to do a proper review, an improper review is better than nothing if you’re searching your phone frantically for “restaurants Umeå.”

So: Rex Umeå. Rex is in a charming brick building–we poked our heads in because the brickwork was lovely and I could read that they had squid for supper that looked like it would be amazing, so it seemed worth finding out what lunch was. The waitress helped me finish puzzling out the lunch menu, and it all sounded great. And it was. It was so great. Transcendently awesome.

At this point in the trip it had been something like a week and a half since I had eaten meat, and something in my little anemic brain said: BEEF RYDBERG. If you have never had beef Rydberg: it is a classic Swedish dish. Here is what you do. You sauté up some onions and put them on a plate. Separately, you fine dice some potatoes and fry them crispy. Put them on the plate also. Separately, you chop up your beef and cook it in a lovely red wine sauce. Put this on the plate also. Fine. This is well enough and I thought it was grand. And then the waitress also brought me an egg yolk, freshly grated horseradish, and some Dijon mustard to mix into the hot red wine sauce to my personal taste, to make it all zippy and creamy and perfectly grand. And at Rex in Umeå, everything was utterly top quality, the horseradish absolutely fresh, perfect, perfect. They also had a little buffet of salad things and bread to go to with this, with plenty of gluten-free options if you needed that, all clearly marked, very meticulous.

Tim had some steak dish in a lovely gravy also. His would have been very nice if I had not been wallowing in beef Rydberg. Then he ate the end of my beef Rydberg because when do I finish anything in a restaurant I mean really. But if I did! This would have been a candidate! Because the polite, friendly people of Umeå are also people who can cook, there at Rex restaurant. So go throw money at them.

There is a ferry that goes from Vaasa to Umeå. I can’t think why you would want that, because the Arctic is so lovely, so very lovely. And this is not quite the Arctic. On the other hand, Vaasa and Umeå are both so great. So I can imagine wanting to bounce back and forth between them. It’s just that the stuff between them is lovely too. I would like more time in Umeå. Next time. Next time. If I’m not firmly installed in the Norwegian Arctic or something.

*This is what the -å means in Swedish cities.

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Vaasa, Finland: its ruins, its pizza, its gelato

We continue the series that is mostly here to do English language restaurant commentary on things that don’t have a lot of English language reviews/commentary. Proper restaurant reviews require multiple visits, which we could not do for obvious reasons. But we could have benefited by having something in English that said something about where to get lunch in a given city, at least what kind of food a restaurant had.

Vasa/Vaasa (depending on whether you use the Swedish or the Finnish spelling–and it’s a bilingual city in a bilingual country, so the answer is not obvious) was not a planned stop on our trip. It was a lunch stop. We needed to stop somewhere between Turku and Oulu for lunch, and Vasa was timed perfectly. I saw a sign reading, “Gamla Vasa/Vanha Vaasa.” I said to Tim, “Gamla means old. Gamla Stan in Stockholm is full of little boutiques and restaurants and things. Turn here, maybe we can get lunch here.” (You can learn bits of Finnish by knowing bits of Swedish: Vanha also means old. Useful in the less overtly bilingual parts of Finland.)

Gamla Vasa was nothing like Gamla Stan. Gamla Vasa is the 19th century burnt out ruin of a 17th century city. It’s almost completely unprotected, so you can wander right up to the ruins and look at them intently. Finnish people were out walking their dogs among the ruins of their previous city. It burned under Russian rule. Vasa was a thorn in the Russians’ side during the wars, so when it burned, they weren’t the least bit upset; they attempted to name the rebuilt city after the tsar. That didn’t stick for five minutes after independence, and the Finns went back to calling their city Vasa. Even apart from being able to wander gorgeous ruins, it’s a lovely place, with attention to detail even on the water tower. The harbor building, the new church, the statues, everything. I would so happily go back to Vasa for more time. Vasa! Why not? Vasa! We didn’t know you’d be great, and there you were, Vasa!

But I was going to tell you where to eat. Right. Pizzeria Marco Polo is at Hovioikeudenpuistikko 11, and it is lovely. Just lovely. It appears to be run by a family from Naples. The vegetable toppings and the sausages for the pizzas and calzones are all incredibly fresh and beautifully handled–the charred eggplant and the artichokes and the mushrooms were beautiful. The cheese and the sauce were sublime. And the crust! Quite often if you get this type of pizza crust in the US, it is incomprehensible to me, because the outside is burnt and the inside is soggy. Who wants it? Why? But this. The outside was crispy, the inside was tender. Oh. Oh. That’s why. Also, the chef was sensible enough not to make the pizza crust and the calzone crust from the same dough. The calzone wanted a completely different dough, flaky, tender, but much thicker than the pizza. It was one of those meals where most of the conversation is, “This is so good. Here, taste mine, it’s so good.”

We looked at each other after eating these lovely lunches, and we said, “We have to try the gelato this person makes.” It was May when we were there, berry season, and the strawberry was lovely, utterly fresh strawberries. But the blueberry was the real perfection: the slightly gritty-bitter-sour peel flavor that comes from real blueberries, that is the utter opposite of artificial blueberry flavoring. So great, so great.

Probably there are other good places to eat in Vasa, and if this was your only chance at real Finnish food, you should go find it somewhere, for sure, because Finnish food is worth eating. But how would you get to Vasa without going somewhere else in Finland first? (Well. On the ferry from Umeå maybe. But probably not just for lunch.) So unless there’s some reason this needs to be a genuine Finnish meal, get your real Finnish food somewhere else and do what real Finns do and let the Neapolitans make you beautiful, beautiful pizza and gelato.

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Spanish food and other solace in Turku

I love Finland, but one of the hard things is that once you leave Helsinki, it gets hard to find restaurant reviews in English–even at the level of “what kind of food does this restaurant serve.” So I have been thinking I should do a bit of that as I have the time and inclination, for other travelers in that direction–and frankly to encourage other travelers in that direction, because Finland is great. Everyone spoke English, but no one expected American travelers. Basically we didn’t hear other American voices between the Reykjavik airport and Stockholm. But we heard a lot of English, because English is what a German speaks to a Finn.

Or in this case, what a Spanish restaurateur speaks to two very hungry Americans who have stumbled into his restaurant on Ascension Day.

When I looked at the list of Finnish holidays before we left, for some reason Ascension Day was not listed, even though many things are either closed or close early and many (most) Finns get the day off. (This is true throughout the rest of the Norden also. Look out for Ascension Day.) The thing that was not intuitive to my American mores was that some restaurants stay open all afternoon and then close at what I would consider the beginning of supper hour: 5 or 6 p.m. (1700 or 1800 hours). So when we were wandering around Turku in the late afternoon, plenty of things looked open and we didn’t worry about it. In the US a restaurant that is open at 4 p.m. will likely be open at 7 p.m.; a restaurant that is closing for supper will close right after lunch. So when an earlyish suppertime rolled around and we were peckish from lunching on just gelato (Cafe Harmonia, go do that, it’s got salads and pita and a play area for children as well as quite creditable gelato), we kept going into restaurant after restaurant that said, “Oh, so sorry, we’re about to close.”

And then there was Torre, which is a lovely, lovely Spanish restaurant, and the lovely, lovely Spanish man who was running it was appalled at the very idea that he might shut down at 6 p.m. And appalled that we were so hungry. There was a little bar filled with olives and salads and bread! We must have this immediately! And wine! And a couple of kinds of gazpacho! Before we had our real food, even!

So we did. Friends, we did. And then our real food, which was full of all manner of seafood and saffron and I don’t even remember what else, it was beautiful Spanish food of all manner of flavors, there were all sorts of things on the menu we couldn’t order because we were only there once. We seriously considered not even trying another restaurant in Turku because all the saffron and seafood and gazpachos and goodness. They had a tapas tasting menu that required at least four people. Go to Turku with at least three friends, my dears. Accost two random Finns on the street if you must, and promise not to talk to them through dinner, because that tasting menu looked sublime. Unless there is some reason why you absolutely must eat traditional Finnish food for every meal when you are in Turku, Torre is where you want to eat, scallops and little perfect peppers, or lack of peppers if you need that, and they will leave you alone to enjoy your meal at leisure into the evening as the sun doesn’t go down on the river, because May in Turku, the sun isn’t going down for awhile, and you can walk along the river and it will be grand, just grand.

I love Turku. I love the fact that they built a modern art museum on top of their medieval history museum. I love that they let you play the harpsichord in the Sibelius Museum. I love that there is someone in Turku who leaves a wreath of white and blue flowers for Mikael Agricola and another for Anne Brahe. I love the street fair down along the river filled with all manners of excess except for excess of pushiness, never that. I love the sun on the river and the benches in the middle of the pedestrian bridges. I love the different eras all piled on each other willy-nilly in Turku Castle, because history came late to the north, we had quite a lot to do, so there is the crude labyrinth pattern scratched in the wall next to the large window to confuse evil spirits in the room next to the most blue-painted and ship-hung Reformation chapel you could wish. I love climbing up the riverbank to Turku Cathedral looming. I love the giant daisy and the glistening fishtail sculpture in the water and all of it, all of it. When I wrote about Helsinki, I was saying a thing that I knew many of you would do. I have no confidence that more than one or two of my readers will go to Turku, if any but oh, my Åbo, yes, of course yes.

But Finland was all made of yes for me.

If you’re just passing through to eat, eat at Torre, though. It’s nice.

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Helsinki for the con going nerd

I know that a great many nerds will be heading to Helsinki for the WorldCon next year, so I wanted to say some things about my experiences there that might be helpful.

So many things are in English. So many. Sooooo many. I did not encounter anyone in a service role in Helsinki (and only one in Turku) who did not speak English. They didn’t seem to expect Americans in early May, but people from everywhere else were using English as the lingua franca, so: really you will be fine.

A great many things, including hotel breakfasts, had gluten-free and dairy-free options clearly marked, so if those are concerns for you, it should be quite possible for you to travel well with some attention and forethought. This was not an issue for me, but I have friends for whom it is, and I was very pleased to see how well things would be handled for them.

I am a morning person. Apparently so is much of the Norden. Specifically: do not expect to go sit in a little cafe or bakery or coffee shop in the evening in Helsinki. That is not a thing I could find that they do. A few restaurants are open late–not very late by my standards. In the summer you can sit in a park and it will be still fairly light and gorgeous. Otherwise, what is open late is bars. If you want to do something that is not sitting in a bar drinking, you will need to plan a room party, or you will need to go out to a park. It is very easy to misjudge how late it is because of how light it is. You can walk around looking at architecture and statues, and this will be great fun. You can hang out in the lovely parks, how wonderful, highly recommended. But what you cannot do is sit in a cafe with your friends and eat the lovely pastries or drink the lovely non-alcoholic beverages in the evening. You had better get that out of your system in the morning or the afternoon. Dessert comes with supper or not at all; stash some Fazer in your bag if you get peckish in the evening.

Speaking of which: go to the Fazer Cafe. Seriously, go. It is…look, it probably won’t be the intensely emotional experience for you that it was for me (I nearly cried, for historical political reasons), but it’ll still be lovely. The windows are full of glass globes of flowers and chocolates. It’s not just a chocolate shop, it’s an elegant sensory experience from the early 20th century. Basically from the time when Karl Fazer’s politics triumphed and the Russians were out of Helsinki for good. It is gracious. Go. You may think that the Finland 2017 bid parties were just being eccentric with all the Fazer chocolates. No. This is the chocolate shop where people gathered to conspire against the tsar. (A lot of people don’t know that even in Finland.) It is so fiercely Finnish it brings a tear to your eyes. Well, to my eyes. And this thing full of grace and beauty and good taste and opposed to the authoritarians won GO GIVE THEM MONEY FOR CHOCOLATE OR A BISCUIT OR SOMETHING I AM NOT JOKING. There is a buffet. They serve actual food. If I had known that we might have eaten it, but the hotel breakfast was so lavish I was full of mustard herring and blueberry soup and Karelian pastry.

(Just eat it, it’s good. It’s got rye flour on the outside and rice in the middle. I don’t know, I’m not Finnish, much less Karelian. That’s all much further east than me. But they’re little pancakey football things. You can get them in Finnish supermarkets and museum cafes and everything. They’re better fresh, though, like in the buffet of a nice hotel breakfast. You can eat them with egg butter or strawberry jam or what you like.)

There is a restaurant called Zetor in downtown Helsinki that is very kitschy in its decor. There is an actual tractor in this restaurant, in keeping with its Finnish country food theme. However. You can get Finnish comfort cooking. Its menu is in many languages, it marks dietary needs clearly, and you are in Finland. You should try some Finnish food. It is not dreadfully expensive, and they will serve you cloudberry wine with your pyttipanna. They will serve you reindeer or blinis, or mushroom barley risotto. They will serve you boar sausages or salmon soup. Go, eat the Finnish food.

You will see a lot of restaurants labeled Nepalese. In my experience with their menus, this is mostly what would get called Indian food in North America, very little of what I think of as specifically Nepalese dishes. It is, however, a really great idea to put Indian sauces on Finnish pike perch. If you eat fish at all and you eat Indian food at all: yes. Do that.

I hear that public transit in Helsinki is quite good. I didn’t take any. I walked and walked and walked. I went to museums and also many architectural sites, churches and modern things and 19th century building after 19th century building. (With jet lag, my American sense of “hey, that must be an important building!” misled me for…um…miles, actually. I kept seeing the something a block or two down and thinking, “That’s about 150, 200 years old, it must be important!” And no. Just that I had not adjusted to the continent I was on, architecturally. Then when we stumbled upon the President’s house, it looked…just like all the other unprepossessing 19th century Finnish buildings. Oh Finland.)

And we went up to the Sibelius Monument, which Tim has lovely pictures of over at his Patreon so you can see for yourself why it’s worth going there by some means or another. The Helsinki Art Museum was not really worth it except for the Tove Jansson murals, and is also hard to find how to get in. The National Museum is lovely, and Kiasma is alarming and great if you like really modern art. (I had to flee the terrifying art.) But my favorite Helsinki thing is honestly just Helsinki. Just walking and walking and looking at Helsinki.

People keep asking me if I’m going for the Helsinki WorldCon. My dears: I have no idea. The vertigo is not kind enough to let me plan things more than a year in advance with travel of that magnitude. So: while I would love to make some kind of plan that involves striding around Helsinki with some of my favorite nerds in tow going, “Look! It’s a statue of this writer! and here’s why that’s important! and here’s who built this church!”, I honestly don’t know. I wish that you would all stop asking. I will say when I know. But in the meantime: the Sibelius Monument! The Fazer Cafe! Zetor! I am telling you the things as best I can.