One of the best things about going to certain conferences is meeting special friends. This time around friend and famed historian Elliott Gorn asked me: 'How is your lot?' We share a bit of Romanian history, and I always get to hear how, when Elliott went to Moldova to search for his Jewish roots, he got to hear from the villagers that 'the Gorns were not nice people'. Right. So I told him a story. My grandmother on my father's side smoked lots of heavy pipes, wore coloful layered skirts, and liked to go out and pee while standing. 'Whoa,' Elliott, said, 'that's more information than I'm ready for.' 'Really?', I asked him, and then we stuffed ourselves some with Finnish delights, while drinking ourselves under the table, laughing.

But my grandmother could also do more things than just provoke the establishment. She was a master weaver - I still have some of her loom pieces - and she would make my mother order my father around when she was visiting, claiming that she didn't raise all those boys (some 4 of them) to just sit around. She taught them to cook and be decent, and go for it. Well, they did. My father was a mathematician, one of his brothers a dentist, another became a general in the army, and the fourth I can't remember. He was handsome, though. That I remember. And they could all cook. I would have loved more of that lot's company, if it weren't for the distance between us. We lived miles apart from my father's family, which is why I never got to see them very often. Alas.

I smoke pipes. For ritual purpose. I inherited a few Orliks and some other special ones. I call on those who smoked these pipes before me. This is something that Elliott gets. The spirit work. We get together for the Maple Leaf and Eagle conference every other year, organized by our common friend, Markku Henrikkson. Markku also knows about spirits, as he has been hanging out with all the Native Americans you can think of.

But now Markku has just had announced that he was going to retire - before his time. 'Why?', we were all gaping? 'Because I'm tired of bullshit', he said. In his farewell speech he made me cry so hard like I'v never done it before. In plenum. He was articulating what most of us academics are thinking, but do nothing about: 'Surely I can't buy this crap rhetoric about points and global visibility and marketing and ranking and competing with ghosts and pretending and selling and selling and selling and selling again, selling all we've got and according to the best cliches developed by the phoniest consultant-like idiots who can claim to teach us something about intellectual value and relevance.' He pretty much told the Finnish posh university chancellors to go screw themselves. In plenum. Oy vey. So it goes. The rest of us say nothing against all the crap university reforms and politics that we're confronted with daily, because we are ever so grateful for the fact that we have a job to begin with. We all tremble in our pants from fear. 'What if I'm next, when they'll decide to shut a program?' Besides, we think, and as they say, 'surely giving Cesar what Cesar wants is part of a higher wisdom, no?' Right.

I'm thinking of my grandmother and wonder why it was only her sons that got something out of it, culturally speaking. Why wasn't SHE a general? She died before I could ask her about her secret magic. But I fancy that the smoke I send up in the air brings me a hint of that now and then.

So, here's to all women who know things, and who also dare to live according to their knowledge. May their secret lot increase.


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