MANNA FROM HEAVEN
When the Israelites were wandering around with their brah Moses (as they would say in Orange County) during their forty bitchin’ years in the desert, there came a point when food was not plentiful. As you probably know, sand does not usually yield fruit or grains or cows or anything like that. As luck would have it, one morning when the food prob was getting particularly bad, the Israelites rolled out of the rack to find sticky white stuff all over the desert floor. No, not that kind of stuff you sillies. It was Manna, a sugary edible fluff. Kind of like cotton candy. Bitchin’, they probably said, Manna. There’s a good deal of debate among biblical scholars about what exactly this Manna was. It was either a grain kind of like coriander seed and bdellium or it was the dried juice that came from Tamarix Gallica after being penetrated by friendly insects. It doesn’t matter a whole lot because any way you slice it, the Israelites were totally stoked.
More stoked, if this is even possible, than Pauly Shore in Encino Man.
The Israelites were so stoked that this Manna fell from heaven (or so they thought), that they are said to have placed a container of Manna next to the Ark of the Covenant.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in my apartment when something similar happened to me. Unfortunately, I did not wake up one morning to find my apartment covered with sticky, white, edible sugar dust. No, this was something even better. A PR guy with Brown-Forman, the company that markets Jack Daniels among other fine beverages, called me to see if I was interested in flying to Finland for a week to learn more about Finlandia vodka and go to the Arctic circle.
Almost all mythologies, while they stem from vastly diverse regions of the planet, feature a unicorn-like creature.
I said yes of course and visions of vodka-fueled black metal warriors and burning churches danced in my head. It was at that moment that I knew that all of the work I’d put in dragging logs up a mountain near my house before dawn for months on end (while shirtless and wearing a head band—for safety, friends, for safety) would finally pay off.
I sniffed the air deeply in my apartment, thought of the Norman McLean story Young Men and Fire then realized the story I meant to be thinking of was the one about the dog outlasting the guy, the Jack London story To Build A Fire.
And dreamed of the Arctic and all that it held for me.
LIKE LAVERNE AND SHIRLY, BUT FINNISH. AND HOTTER.
Most Finnish women are beautiful, even those who have jobs working industrial gigs like watching bottles and machines at Finlandia’s bottling plant. This was the piece of information that really stuck with me after my three-hour tour of the plant. That and that Finlandia is really pure vodka filtered hundreds of times and made with spring water and that the plant once manufactured Molotov cocktails during WW II but made the mistake of printing its address on the bottle caps thus leading to the factory being bombed. Oops. And I learned that when Finnish people speak English, they sound strikingly similar to Sesame Street’s The Count and Count Chocula.
These people, though. I did not imagine them being very chocolatey people.
In the bottling plant’s museum, they had an antiaircraft gun that they let me set in. They even let me play with the handles, which raised, lowered, and turned the cannon which I found to be stunningly smooth and clean—like Finlandia vodka itself. I imagined myself single-handedly warding off the Russian air force. Die you red scum, I thought, arching my brow and squinting.
During lunch at the guesthouse on the factory’s grounds, I realized the magnitude of the drinking mission that lay ahead of me during the course of the week. Before the hour-long meal was over, I’d drank a vodka tonic, a vodka cranberry, a before dinner cocktail thingy (as I’m sure you will note, my drinking sensibility is exquisitely refined and my knowledge of fine wines and spirits is indomitable. I will not be stopped, not by anything), three shots of smooth and clear Finlandia vodka, red wine, white whine, and brandy. Or something. I was shitfaced and became hungover on the ride back to the Jacuzzi tub.
I drink roughly a half-gallon of milk every day.
Dinner that night was the same deal as would be every dinner and lunch during the course of the next four days, often plus three or four other drinks and some beer thrown in there for good measure. A note on my drinking habits: My metabolism requires me to drink huge quantities of alcohol in a short amount of time in order to become drunk and then my hangover sets in almost immediately. Finding an Aristotelian golden mean for alcohol consumption is virtually impossible.
When I returned from that first lunch, I visited the mall and ate at McDonalds. McDonald’s: it is good when you are hungover at 4 p.m. I saw a young man with a skateboard deck he had just purchased eating French fries. The young women working behind the counter were remarkably attractive and cherubic. The young man with the skateboard set his deck on a chair and ate French fry after French fry.
As he stood and left, I knew the skateboarding aspect of the trip had truly apexed.
Indeed it had.
Enough of this drinking talk.
During the next three days, I went snowmobiling and developed light frost bite on my cheeks (I am a pussy), ate a lot of reindeer, went go-karting on an ice track, rode in a rally car on ice and snow race courses with a professional tire tester, went dog sledding, went reindeer sleighing, saw the aurora borealis, visited an igloo hotel, and threw much water.
1. The visor on my snowmobiling helmet was frosted over for 25 of my 30-mile snowmobile ride. This meant I could not see as I drove at 50 mph over the river, through the woods, and atop frozen rivers where happy little trout no doubt nibble on flies and such during the two months of Lappish summer.
2. Reindeer tastes a lot like high-end beef and is not nearly so gamy as venison.
3. In many regions of America, deer are thought of as nuisances. Like giant rats.
4. In Finland, there are reindeer fences lining almost every road. Reindeer are stubborn, docile animals that sometimes will sit down in the middle of a road and not move, even when nudged gently by a car.
5. Reindeer is a delicacy in Finland and you can only get it if you have a direct connection to someone who owns a reindeer. You cannot buy reindeer in the market.
6. After eating my first piece of reindeer, I stepped out alone into the cold, tore open my polar suit and warbled a forlorn cry for Blitzer and Vixen although I didn’t mourn so much for Rudolph who was after all the chosen one.
7. Reindeer live in the wild in Finland and are herded twice a year, once for tagging and once for slaughtering.
8. Every reindeer in Finland is owned by someone.
9. It is considered rude to ask a reindeer farmer how many reindeer he owns. It would be like asking to see someone’s checking balance.
10. You wouldn’t give your ATM card and password to just anyone would you?
11. Someone should start a reindeer farmer-themed band. Reindeer farmers wear tight fur pants, fur elf boots that have pointy and curled up toes, jester-like multi-colored hats, and really trippy shirts. Like so far out, brah.
12. Dogs can poop and pull sleds at the same time without stopping.
13. Check out that sun, dude. It is so rad.
14. Dogs can have sex and pull sleds at the same time, but then will pull off the trail for the finishing moves.
15. Drinking milk does not seem to factor into the Finnish diet.
16. Pourable yogurt is a popular cereal-topping alternative to milk in Finland. It is yogurt, yet it is pourable.
17. Double Deusch body wash is perhaps the most remarkable product scent and cleansing engineers have yet produced in that it cleans both the hair and the body in one refreshing soap.
18. Pine tar schnapps taste like eating smoke from a burning pine tree.
19. The traditional native Lappish structure is called the kotta. It is like a log cabin tee-pee. Kotta: Lappish as Tee-pee: Native American.
20. To throw water is to glimpse the storied the halls of the Gods.
HOW COLD WAS IT?
It was very cold. It was forty degrees below zero Fahrenheit a lot of the time. When we would leave the log lodge for activities, I would put on five layers of thermal clothing, a facemask, a hat, gloves, and thick thermal coveralls. It was so cold that my beard would ice over within minutes of going outside and my eyelashes would sometimes freeze my eyes shut thus leaving me wondering if it was possible for an eyeball to freeze. About this I’m not sure, but human teeth can shatter when the temperature dips below –60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dolphins do not stop swimming when they sleep; rather, they sleep one brain hemisphere at a time.
Regions near the equator are much warmer, but nothing would stop me.
Finland currently has a female head of parliament and a female president, but the last president was a man. One year, when he wanted to beat the new members of parliament into political submission and suss out who had brass balls and who was but a hatchling, he invited the new male members of parliament to his private sauna one by one and threw water on the stones to see how much heat each could take. Some passed out. Many left too quickly. The strong, those with big warm sacks, survived and they became among his closest political allies.
People love to sauna in quasi-socialist Finland. Every apartment and home no matter how small has its own sauna. It is considered rude in the mega mega total extreme to read in a sauna. If you invite someone to your home sauna it means that they are part of your innermost circle; thusly, an invitation to sauna is not extended lightly nor should it be taken as such.
We stayed in a giant ranch-style log cabin lodge owned by Finlandia that was ultra plush. The lodge had, of course, its own sauna. After returning from a hard day’s activities, we would retire to the sauna, we men, and throw water together. We would leave the sauna to shower in the sauna chillout area or go roll in the snow and then return to the sauna for a number of cycles until we could throw water no more. It was in the sauna showers that I first discovered Double Deusch.
From that moment forward, I knew that things had changed and nothing would be the same.
STEAL MY SUNSHINE
Before departing on my voyage to Valhalla, I hadn’t done any research and thought I was headed for an eternally black Arctic circle winter. Turns out I was wrong. It would start getting light at 9 a.m., the sun would rise for two hours at noon, and then it would get dark again at 5 p.m.
1. Lapland, the area where I was, also turned out to be heavily forested and have a population of more than 3,000.
2. The Finnish say that a fist full of butter makes everything better. I couldn’t agree with them more.
3. Japanese couples travel to the igloo/ice hotel to make tender love beneath the glow of the aurora borealis, for it is said that if you make love beneath the glow of the aurora borealis that your firstborn will be a son. That’s a long way to go to do some fucking.
4. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find any black metal. The Finnish prefer shitty house music.
5. Finlandia vodka is the best. If you are of legal drinking age, drink Finlandia vodka.