Some Goblin and Some Door
Sakari asked me to write this text for reasons I have either already forgotten or been uninformed of: it might be that I have told him about the following incident sometime before, as it happened several years ago, so I have had plenty of time to ramble about it to him and then forgot about it. His reasons are a subject I am unwilling to speculate on, he is he and I am of course me. He also asked me to write this in English, which I feel I am obliged to say fills me with feelings of horror and disgust. It is a language I use often, but my vocabulary and verbalization are a rag-tag collection of words, phrases and expressions that I have stuck in my arbitrary mind and memory, and, as such, might not be intelligible or even proper use of English at all. This knowledge leads me to feel uncertain and I wish to apologize in advance for any clumsiness or weirdness that You might read and thus to apologize for wasting Your time. I also feel that it is necessary to mention that I feel that there is an inherent loss of information and meaning in any translation, personally, a text written by me in English feels as an image imagined by someone who is getting a picture drawn in their back with a finger in relation to the actual picture being drawn. The meaning and relevance of the “original” mutates into something else, not necessarily worse, but different, which might have more or less of the characteristics of the original, but is never quite “it”. For example, Sakari has informed me that his choice of translation for the Finnish word “tonttu” shall be in this context “goblin”, which reminds me of something totally different than “tonttu”. In all fairness, this is not Sakari’s failure, as when I tried to think of a better word, it dawned on me that there might actually not be a good translation. An elf reminds me of Legolas, goblins are gnarly and somehow wicked creatures, lacking the homely and benign characteristics I relate to tonttus. I’m not even sure what gnomes actually are, but they evoke a feeling of work and diligence, and pixies are something more like fairies with wings and all that. So perchance it might be that the proper translation doesn’t exist and the whole topic is only tangential to the subject being translated. But it was Sakari’s wish that I’d do this in English so naturally I will deliver.
The incident regarding a door and a goblin happened several years ago during a trip to a certain cabin in the woods. Immediately we run into another translation related problem, as I’m not sure of the underlying meaning of “a trip to a cabin in the woods”, but the Finnish expression “mennä mökille” is obvious and self-explanatory, a meaning that I feel I am not solitary with, it is most likely shared with multiple people. The details might vary, but “mennä mökille” quite often means sauna, swimming if possible (and it should be possible, I feel that there is a strong consensus that the cabins without a body of water adjacent to them are most certainly “mökki”-type cabins and nothing to make fun of, but always inferior to the ones that offer the possibility to dip yourself in a lake or the sea after sauna), outdoor fires or indoor fireplaces, negligent clothing, grilling food, eating food, rowing the boat, listening to old (in this case) Finnish music (often quite shitty music that you wouldn’t listen to normally, but during these trips it seems perfectly normal and the music doesn’t even sound that irritating, and this behavior reaches its culmination during Juhannus, or the midsummer fest, and you can even catch yourself singing along to these songs, fundamentally because it is somehow just the custom, which in the end just feels really sad). If the participants have the habit of drinking alcohol, alcohol most certainly will be drunk, but it is by no means mandatory for the essential parameters of these trips. The essence of the trips of this type is being in small, confined buildings, with the outdoors offering little way of an escape, as these places are “ideally” well away from urban areas, one might even find themself on an island with no way of escaping. You could basically have the exact same dwelling in a suburban area, but it would no longer meet the requirements to be a proper “mökki”-type cabin. These essential restrictions turn these trips into more like tests of social habits and relationships between people, these trips having the possibility of being the most pleasant of times or the shittiest of times, all depending on the chemistry between the participants. The trips are where friendships get made, people find love, friendships get broken, fights break out, and new ideas and attitudes are born. Also, it is not totally uncommon for people to die during these trips. This particular trip to a cabin was fundamentally no different than what I described above, everything had been okay but not great, I could sense the anxiety of some, the irritation of others, and the indifference or the ignorance of the rest.
We had somebody you could quite well call a host with us, they did not own the property, but had easy access and the right of use to it, good knowledge of the surrounding woods, among other things, as the rest of us would find out. We had left the cabin for a hike in the woods, seemingly out of the need for some exercise as we had indulged ourselves in heavy eating and drinking and nobody wasn’t feeling as healthy as they should. Nobody said it aloud but I got the feeling that at this point mostly everybody was more or less irritated with the presence of others, yet everyone knew that there would be no escape from this prison until tomorrow at the earliest, so a hike in the woods must have seemed like a good idea to spread out and have some personal space. The invigorating effect of the fresh air and light exercise proved to be a short-lived relief, as the thick maze of the woods was packed with humidity and buzzing insects, and the ever narrower pathways forced us closer to each other: there was no landscape to admire, no clear blue sky to be seen, only the all-encompassing moist green walls of this forested prison. As we proceeded with our now cumbersome journey through this maze, our host was the only one with any interest in any conversation, hence they became the sole narrator of our trip.
Their unintentional monologue was concerned with matters regarding these woods (it turned out, for example, that this forest was exclusively coniferous), from the elements of nature, which I indeed found interesting, to local myths and legends, which offered no fascination for the rest of us, as we were at this point hungry, relatively drunk, wet from the occasional small showers of rain, and indeed just generally quite tired. Everybody was eager to get back to the cabin for dinner, sauna and more refreshing drinks. Nevertheless, our host kept on with their monologue, with scattered one- or two-worded interruptions from some of us, which were met with no recognition. Their monologue progressed to the matter of goblins, which were present in the woodlands according to the local lore. As this turn in the testimony of our host sparked some relative joy among the rest of us, the said monologue went on with the subject of goblins, which, as everybody knows, there are several different types, as our host was keen to emphasize. Sure enough, even I, not an expert in the field of goblins, do know of sauna goblins (saunatontut), home goblins (kotitontut) and so on. As you all know, said our host, people have a habit of placing garden gnomes in their yards (here I feel obliged to diverge from Sakari’s preferred translation for “tonttu”, sorry for that, but I feel that the garden gnome is an institute in itself, so the different translation not only feels justified, but virtually mandatory), but surprisingly few people are aware that these garden gnomes are not all wooden or plastic, but indeed some of them are actual living gnomes. Garden gnomes are in fact based on actual gnomes dwelling in gardens, said our host, and as such, are an interesting, perchance the most classic case of the question of the chicken and the egg, which was the predecessor and which the successor, the actual living gnomes or the statues illustrating them, since it is hypothesized, said our host, that it could be that the living garden gnomes are possibly outcasts of some other society of gnomes, and mayhap have found a suitable habitat among the plastic marvels on our yards, hiding in plain sight. Hypothesized by whom, I wondered in my mind, yet I kept my mouth shut, not to drag the one-sided conversation any further. My silence proved to be futile, as there was a lot more our host had to tell of these gnomes. Garden gnomes, are they masters in the art of mimicry, or a foundation of a multimillion business of plastic knee-high statues, asked our host, rhetorically of course. Our host went on to elaborate on the matter of different types of goblins, which, as we were to discover, was a vast field of information. I cannot possibly remember everything, nor would there enough space in this publication of Sakari’s for a perfect recollection of all of the goblins our host told us about, but I will try to summon up a few examples from my memory. They enlightened us of the existence of the number goblins (numerotontut), who see the reality as nothing but a series of numbers, as it were. These goblins supposedly sense the world as mathematical differences, which at first might seem like a meager representation of the world surrounding us, but evidently there is a consensus among the society of academics preoccupied in the matters of goblins (who are these academics, I could but wonder) that these goblins sense the differences and fluctuations of the numeral sequences in the same manner as we see the differences in the values of color, the depths of perspective, and as such, can find the mythical true beauty we all strive for in these numerals. There is a certain resemblance, described our host, with the way we verbalize feelings and visions, how the nonverbal translates into the verbal realm, and as such the translation of the universe into words with meaning and intent is actually quite similar with the translation these goblins make into sets of numbers. After the number goblins, they told us of the existence of the so-called wooden box goblins, who are masterful craftsmen specialized in the art of making small wooden boxes. Techniques vary, but the end product is one we all know from numerous flea markets and antique shops. These goblins supposedly are on a mission to insert their creations into the world of humans, often allied with different goblin societies such as home goblins or market place goblins to help them to traffic their wonders to the shelves of these places of commerce, for us to pick and buy and later store our small sized belongings: coins, hairpins, superb pebbles of rock found on the beach of last year’s vacation, random screws, keys, condoms, trinkets, keepsakes, tokens, relics, odds and ends, junk, kitsch, trifle, dingle-dangles, knickknacks and whatnot. At some point one of our other companions tried to lead the very one-sided conversation away from the goblins to something else, art being their choice of topic, them being artists and all. This only incited our host to educate us about the goblins of art openings, which quite often have the physical resemblance of art students, thus the goblins and the art students, all gathered on a Thursday afternoon at some art gallery drinking insipid white wine, are indistinguishable from each other, as both the former and the latter have the mutual habit of gathering in corners of the galleries in their own secluded social circles, perceiving their surroundings with an odd mixture of indifference and appraisal. Apparently some of these goblins have a frolicking manner of disguising themselves as rich art collectors, which itself is a meticulous and by no means a simple task, approaching seemingly insecure artists or art students on the pretext of buying a work of art or an upcoming group show or a biennial etc., displaying considerable interest in their target, only to suddenly disappear and never to be seen again. From the goblins of art openings our host made the clumsy transition to the so-called color field goblins, who are simultaneously masters of camouflage and inherently vain, hiding themselves not only in plain sight, but expressly in the middle of attention, most famously in art museums, taking the form of a painting, “hiding” as the object of everybody’s admiration and interest, at the focal point of our collective gaze. According to our host, well-versed in goblin matters, as it was at this point quite obvious, abstract North American paintings from the 1950’s are by no means the only disguise these goblins exploit, as there are rumors that some have even gone so far as to distribute their material form on the outside of a window, then displaying themselves as a nebulous landscape comprising of hazy, obscure fields of color, an illusion performed so well that the viewer will be able to sense the depth perspective. I know it sounds unbelievable, but I assure you, all that I have told is very much real, said our host, before continuing with their listing of goblins, but at this point I was too tired, too hungry and too fed up to concentrate, even if I had been interested in the matter in the first place.
Later, when we had gotten back to the cabin, while warming up the sauna and preparing the materials which were supposed to become our dinner, the topic of gnomes prevailed in our tired and hungry conversation. We had reached the point of no return, when the variable amount of alcohol and the clearly inadequate amount of proper food consumed during the day merged into an atmosphere of petty quarrel and hostile arguments, fertile ground for a set of conflicts and bickering. The verbal arguments we had were repulsively dull and ordinary, nothing spectacular or groundbreaking. They followed the common themes of quarrels built on the hunger and intoxication of the attendants: Why is the sauna taking so long to heat up? Why didn’t we start preparing the dinner earlier? Why are we eating this stuff? (Actually, we had a prime feast containing caponata, cassoulet, lamb chops, kung po tofu, artichokes, steamed broccoli with garlic, carrots with honey and thyme, Hasselback potatoes, Boston baked beans, all in all a full course meal that would make the measly sandwiches of the Famous Five look like dogfood…) Why do you (referring to our host) have to keep on going about goblins? How can somebody believe in such a thing? Why is somebody cynical enough to dismiss the possibility of the existence of these goblins outright? Who drank the last beer? Who drank the last glass of wine? Who made a huge mess in the bathroom and most certainly made no effort to clean it up? Why are we here? Why are we together? The dinner, even though culinarily luxurious, was fucking ruined, as one of us paraphrased it. The evening went on in an atmosphere of discouragement and joylessness, as each and every one was clearly outright fed up with each other, and so the evening went on as all of us succumbed to introverted silence.
As the evening drew near its proverbial end, we had all sat in silence for who knows how long. Nothing outright unhinging had happened, no word-bombs of any category were dropped, there wasn’t a dead Franz Joseph lying around nor was there any historic trauma from previous tribulations to justify this total, all-out verbal warfare, but in the end, everybody was withered with the battle fatigue and pulled their troops back before declining to a state that seemed superficially not so much different from comatose. It was if we were in a lethargic, catatonic dream, none of us seemed to even move as we sat still. It was like time itself had frozen with us as its captives: I felt completely unable to move or speak up, to break up the catatonia dominating us. It was in a way an almost terrifying moment for me and I felt assured that this was a shared feeling among all of us. Not a sound could be heard, no movement was visible. Most certainly everybody was alive and breathing, it was just as if there had been an invisible force restraining everybody from breaking the moment of frozenness. Had there been fresh paint on the walls I would have most willingly been an observer of its drying. Oblivious to the passing of time, I flirted with the idea that there actually HAD been fresh paint on these walls made of thick and round logs. Of course, painting the logs would make no sense: they were obviously made by expert crafters and the teeth of time had left a nice finish on the surface of the woods. Still, a nice thought… I started to think back to this quite nice documentary I saw on www.youtube.com about the old way of building these kinds of cabins, naturally with no motor tools etc. I would say that everybody should watch it. While measuring the wall with the gaze of my eyes, it dawned upon me that the measurements of this cabin were ultimately restricted by mother nature, as the size of her offerings, the girth and length of the logs, were something the builders and woodcutters, with no amount of violence, could affect. This was the second nice thought I had acquired while admiring the architecture of the dwelling so I stayed with it.
Suddenly, look! Around the middle of the vertical axis and almost on the corner on the horizontal axis of the northern wall made of logs seemed to be a door of some sort, around 30 centimeters in height and approximately 25 centimeters wide, with no floor straight under it, a small peculiar door whose existence I am sure none of us had detected earlier. We had been oblivious to it as if it had been totally hidden in plain sight or that it had just materialized from some astral plane. Who knows. And as we were all just starting to grasp the realization of the door even being there, there was a small squeak, a sound that broke us free of our jammed state of being, and through the door a goblin entered.