A memorable junket, Part IV: my 2003 journey with the GG

As the days went on, some delegates on Governor General Adrienne Clarkson’s 2003 state visit to Finland and Iceland, started to worry about their weight. Not me: I ate little, drank nothing and concentrated on collecting a stash of the organic chocolate bars that were handed around the airplane after meals so I could take these home as gifts.

Polar Gambit, published Oct. 27, 2003 in Maclean's

Polar Gambit, published Oct. 27, 2003 in Maclean’s

I patched up things with Sheila Watt-Cloutier, then the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (now Council), who was worried I’d somehow portray the presence of Inuit on the trip badly in my stories.

But because I was the only journalist on board, my presence also sparked a perceptible unease amongst Canada’s royal envoys — with John Ralston Saul, Clarkson’s husband, coming back to chat me up on the airplane, to quietly sound me out on how I had found the state visit.

While I toiled to finish my Maclean’s piece (due while I was in Iceland) and to meet my relentless Nunatsiaq News deadlines, I managed to fend off all other pressures — after all, I had experienced much worse in Nunavik.

But I also missed out on many opportunities during the state visit: for example, a lunch in Iceland where my table companions included noted photographer Ed Burtynsky and author Jane Urquhart. However, instead of talking to them about his art or her writing, we were obliged to make small talk with the other person at the table, the local mayor’s wife.

I attended only one or two of the many concerts or art exhibits which were included on the agenda as I tried to meet my deadlines.

And, much to my regret now, I don’t even remember meeting author and fellow delegate Wayne Johnston, whose books I continue to read.

However, while travelling on the airplane from point A to B, I did talk to the wild salmon marketers from B.C., Ontario wine producers and an architect from Toronto. Most of them weren’t even sure why they were asked to be on the trip.

And I also passed the time with many of the academics who had with an interest in the North, among them, François Trudel from Université Laval, Peter Johnson, then chair of the Polar Commission, and Shelagh Grant, author of many northern histories.

However, in my professional coverage of the trip, I managed to leave out its many high points for me (as a person, not a journalist) — which I still recall today:

  • talking on many occasions with Gen. Romeo Dallaire and his wife, Elizabeth Dallaire, (who were on the Finnish portion of the junket) about his experiences in Rwanda and post-traumatic stress;
  • returning to Helsinki again in the autumn, where the damp smell of wet yellow birch leaves reminded me of studying in Helsinki;
  • privately interviewing Finnish president Tarja Halonen and visiting the palace, which I used to walk by every day where I lived in Katajanokka;
  • catching a glimpse a Saami friend from Tromsø, Norway in Rovaniemi, Finland, from our bus (hei, Marit!) and talking briefly to her;
  • taking in the site of Iceland’s first parliament,Thingvelir, with its towering natural forum of rock; and, last, but not least,

    Governor General Adrienne Clarkson holds an algae bar near Lake Myvatn, Iceland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

    Governor General Adrienne Clarkson holds an algae bar near Lake Myvatn, Iceland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

  • stopping in Myvatn in northern Iceland where I held an algae ball (priceless) and also encouraged Clarkson to do the same.

You might wonder why a glass jar with a silly algae ball somehow still sums up that 2003 state visit for me.

But you just had to love those “lake balls,” the strange, ball-shaped algae called “kúluskítur,” or “balls of shit” in Icelandic, or “Cladophora aegagropila” in Latin, which only exist in two lakes in the world: Lake Akan on Hokkaido Island in Japan, and in Myvatn.

Seeing those algae balls made up for all the frustrations and fatigue of the 2003 junket and made me smile— who could ask for more?

I hold a jar with an algae ball from Myvatn, Iceland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

I hold a jar with an algae ball from Lake Myvatn, Iceland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

You can read earlier instalments of A memorable junket here:

Remembering a memorable junket: Siku girl’s 2003 travels with the GG

Remembering a memorable junket, Part II: Siku girl’s 2003 travels with the GG

Remembering a memorable junket, Part III: Siku girl travels with the GG in 2003

Did you miss A Date with Siku girl’s Like an iceberg? You can read it all here:

Like an iceberg: on being a journalist in the Arctic

Like an iceberg, 1991…cont.

Like an iceberg, 1991…more

Like an iceberg, 1992, “Shots in the dark” 

Like an iceberg, 1992, “Sad stories”

Like an iceberg, 1993, “Learning the language of the snows”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., “Spring”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., “Chesterfield Inlet”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., more “Chesterfield Inlet”

Like an iceberg, 1994: “Seals and more”

Like an iceberg, 1994, cont., “No news is good news”

Like an iceberg, 1994 cont., more “No news is good news”

Like an iceberg, 1994 cont., “A place with four names”

Like an iceberg, 1995, “More sad stories”

Like an iceberg, 1995 cont., “No place like Nome”

Like an iceberg, 1995 cont., “Greenland”

Like an iceberg, 1995, cont. “Secrets”

Like an iceberg, 1996, “Hard Lessons”

Like an iceberg, 1996 cont., “Working together”

Like an iceberg, 1996 cont., “At the edge of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1996, more “At the edge of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1996, cont. “Choices” 

Like an iceberg, 1997, “Qaggiq”

Like an iceberg, 1997, more “Qaggiq”

Like an iceberg, 1997, “Qaggiq” cont.

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Qaggiq and hockey”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Brain surgery in POV”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont.: “Masks on an island”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Abusers on the pulpit”

Like an iceberg, 1998, “Bearing gifts”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “At the top of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “A bad week” 

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont.: more from “A bad week”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “Memories”

Like an iceberg, 1999, “The avalanche”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “An exorcism, followed by a penis cutting”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., more on “the Avalanche”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Robins in the Arctic”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Fossil hunting”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Where forests grew” 

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont.,”And then there was Nunavut”

Like an iceberg … the end

Advertisements

A memorable junket, Part II: my 2003 journey with the GG

Here was the real treat for me as I tagged along on the 2003 state visit with Governor General Adrienne Clarkson to Finland and Iceland. This state visit took me back to Inari, a Saami centre of in northern Finland with a population of about 2,200. The stop there offered a chance for Saami, Inuit — three on that leg of the trip — and the other Canadian visitors to learn more about Saami culture, and share.

The discussions in Inari stuck closely to the issues such as people, culture, the land and animals, in contrast to the previous stops in Finland. In Helsinki, Clarkson’s husband, author-philosopher John Ralston Saul, presided over a noon-ish wine tasting — of Canadian wines — at the downtown Sipuli restaurant that left me dizzy. And, in the city of Oulu, Finland’s northern high-tech centre, officials seemed puzzled about why the Canadians, who mispronounced the city’s name (oh-loo) as oooo-looo or ow-loo, were there at all… although the Oululaiset knew what to serve for lunch: wild mushroom soup, moose steak and berry mousse.

From the Kaleva, Oct. 9, 2003

From the Kaleva, Oct. 9, 2003

Oulu’s daily newspaper, the Kaleva, took pains to describe Clarkson’s visit as well as her role in Canada. A journalist from that newspaper had even visited Iqaluit before the GG’s visit as a way of informing readers in Oulu about Canada’s North, and also interviewed me in Finnish — which I had learned as a young girl.

But Oulu’s vision of what a state visit should look like appeared to be an event designed around trade-deal signings rather than talk, as was the case in 2003: at a discussion at the University of Oulu on “Change and Development in the Changing World,” presentations and comments came largely from Canadians or non-Finns, and few students attended the open session.

A Canadian government official on the state visit maintained that it was important, despite the lukewarm connection, to show Finland that Canada isn’t simply about hockey and snow. Instead, I thought, it would be perceived as a land of wine, haute cuisine and academic talk?

As for Clarkson, at the next stop further north in Inari, the focus on good food continued as she asked what reindeer usually eat. That question came as a Saami herder fed a plump animal.

“They like birch leaves and mushrooms. This summer, there were plenty of mushrooms so they’re well-prepared for winter he said.

Governor General Adrienne Clarkson (at right) learns about reindeer near Inari in October, 2003. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Governor General Adrienne Clarkson (at right) learns about reindeer near Inari in October, 2003. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

At the reindeer farm outside Inari, inside a fire-lit tent called a lavvu, Into and Marit Ann Paadar accompanied their traditional drummer, the romppu, and performed Saami songs or joiks. Into and Marit explained that Saami in Finland have three very different ways to say thank-you, depending on which Saami group they come from — giittu, takk or spasi. When the couple married 30 years earlier, they said couldn’t understand each others’ dialects, so they adopted Finnish as their common language.

We also visited Inari’s Saami museum, called the Siida or “village,” where young Saami singers provided the entertainment and Saul and Clarkson received gifts of Saami capes.

“Clarkson gushed over the thrill of finally meeting people dressed like the colourfully dressed ‘Lapps’ she’d read about in history books as a child,” I finally wrote in Maclean’s. “Woops,” I thought at the time — that was like calling Canadian Inuit “Eskimos” — but the polite Saami smiles only froze at Clarkson’s gaffe.

Finland's Saami leader Pekka Aikio gives John Ralson Saul and his wife, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, a  luhkka, a traditional article of clothing, which can be worn outside a fur coat or by itself in warmer weather. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Finland’s Saami leader Pekka Aikio gives John Ralston Saul and his wife, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, a luhkka, a traditional article of clothing, which can be worn outside a fur coat or by itself in warmer weather. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Later in Inari, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, then the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (now Council), Piita Irniq, who was the Nunavut commissioner, Mary May Simon, Canada’s first Arctic Ambassador, and Clarkson joined the president of Finnish Saami parliament, Pekka Aikio, someone I’d first met 10 years earlier, at the Saami radio station for a discussion that aired on Saami radio and television.

Finnish Saami parliament, Pekka Aikio  and Mary May Simon, Canada's first Arctic Ambassador, participate in an October 2003 round-table discussion for the Saami radio network in Inari, Finland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Finnish Saami parliament, Pekka Aikio and Mary May Simon, Canada’s first Arctic Ambassador, participate in an October 2003 round-table discussion for the Saami radio network in Inari, Finland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

The importance of the reindeer, said Irniq, reminded him of the importance of the seals in Inuit culture.

But unlike Inuit in Canada, Finnish Saami, whose parliament has only advisory powers, have no rights over their land, Aikio said.

“We would like to have the situation of Canadians,” Aikio said. “It’s fantastic what you have in Nunavut.”

But there wasn’t much time to think about that as we rushed from Inari to the Ivalo airport and back to Rovaniemi for the night and then, the next morning, to Iceland.

Read more about Siku girl’s 2003 state visit to Finland and Iceland on A Date with Siku girl.

You can read the first instalment here.