Cultures and tragedies and mysteries

Cultures and tragedies and mysteries

What can we learn about a culture by studying its mysteries and its tragedies? Living in Finland, we make it a point to find out all we can about its language, society, history, and everyday way of doing things. But tragedies and mysteries that have happened in this part of the world are not something I ever thought to look up - until recently.

I unearthed one of Sweden/Finland's tragedies when I was trying to get over my fear of taking the kids on an overnight ferry to Stockholm by myself in February. I bought the tickets, and then found out everything I possibly could about the sinking of the ferry Estonia in the Baltic Sea in 1994. This is the best article I found in English (this journal article about gender, social norms, and survival rates in maritime disasters is also good), and it is all of my worst-case scenarios come to nightmarish life. After I learned about the Estonia, I talked to people who lived here at the time and heard their stories of what it was like to wake up to the horrible news and hear helicopters flying over the city on their way to and from the hospital (right across from our house!) and the sea, to pick up survivors. Then, when we were in Stockholm, we passed by the memorial to the 850 people who died.

It's nothing that maybe I couldn't have learned someday in a traditional history book, but examining it as a tragedy that helped shape the culture and society I live in today was a valuable learning experience for me. Also, it helped me get over my fear of the overnight ferry trip!

Now, mysteries. What is THE mystery (that happened in the United States) that is widely known and spooky but not too terribly gruesome and remains unsolved? Maybe the Sodder children? I'm not sure (feel free to suggest others). But in Finland, as we found out this weekend, it's the Lake Bodom murders. In short: in 1960, four teenagers went camping by Lake Bodom and were attacked during the night. Three were killed. The fourth survived. Nobody knows for sure what happened that night and after reading that Wikipedia article I just linked to, you will have more questions than answers. (It's almost on par with Russia's Dyatlov Pass incident, except nonsupernatural...MAYBE.)

We found out about this national mystery because Jeremy had a trail half marathon yesterday at Lake Bodom and a few people made jokes to him about not stopping during the race or going off on his own. Naturally, we read up on the case beforehand and were fully prepared to be spooked out once we were in the area.

And it's totally possible to be spooked there! The finish line of the race itself was in a different area, but we spent an hour or so yesterday afternoon at a huge Angry Birds playground on the shore not far from where the incident happened. There is also - wait for it - a campground there. (This strikes me a little like opening a hotel in Fall River, Massachusetts and calling it Borden's Inn.)

I think asking about a particular country's or culture's mysteries (and to a lesser extent, tragedies) is going to be my new favorite thing. It's not something you necessarily think about before you move or travel to a new country, but I think knowing about these things gives you more context for the culture of a place.

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May 5th, outsourced