In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

“The Finnish word SISU can be defined as a characteristic that takes over when determination and fortitude run out.” – Deborah Frontiera

Sisu was present everywhere last week. It came after years of Finlandia’s preparation for FinnFest.

From all walks of life, Finns of all stripe arrived, stayed a week, and already the event is a fond memory.

FinnFest, a whirlwind of activity in the midst of a Copper Country monsoon, proved that sisu is more than just an idle word. Despite the downpour, thousands arrived – on foot and with canes, walkers and wheel chairs with great expectations.

They settled into dorm rooms, motels, homes of friends or relatives – their motor vehicles swelling traffic, confused with our strange street addresses and the various spread-out exhibit locations from Finlandia to MTU to Calumet and beyond.

The common sight the first day revealed people by the dozens wandering lost down campus corridors in search of room numbers, but by the last day they maneuvered like old time Yoopers, slowing down, but never missing a beat from dawn to dusk.

Statistics are only a slight indication of what actually happened here. Imagine guests arriving from everywhere three special plane loads from Finland alone and others arriving by American airlines, cars, and motor homes. It was almost expected that some of the attendees would arrive from Texas in boots and 10-gallon hats, while others came in a wide variety of shorts and sandals. The boys from Finland were easily recognized by the shaved sides of their heads a style that hasn’t yet quite caught on in the US and it was easy to pick out the other foreigners by their trim figures.

Unlike most conventions in which people remain insular within esoteric groupings, these visitors young, old, fat, skinny, tall, short, blonde, brunette, grey and white heads mixed like the ingredients of a giant cake getting acquainted like long lost family members, exchanging names and addresses for future use. Many checked directories for familiar surnames in hopes of finding long lost relatives and some won out.

Success stories abounded. One of the filmmakers discovered a name similar to his own, a person until now he’d never known existed. A local couple bumped into a couple from Finland whom they’d met there, but lost contact until this accidental meeting.

Humanity in action!

One white-haired little lady who fractured her foot hobbled it from program to program with sisu and a smile.

An elderly lady from Milwaukee bypassed the nostalgic events to focus on those educational movies detailing the Finnish wars and even taking advantage of Pine Mountain events and came away with eyes sparkling with delight.

A hubby asked for direction to a men’s room, then vanished while his wife stood where he left her, fearful of losing him among the thronging crowds. Similar “lost-and-founds” were constant, cell phones working overtime.

Groups formed outside Fisher Hall waiting for a bus to take them up to the Tori at the sports complex – then, later back to Fisher Hall, their Nokia-labeled shopping bags bursting with goodies.

Things slowed down a bit when a woman experienced what appeared to be an epileptic seizure in the middle of a costume demonstration. But to everyone’s relief, she was almost immediately carted away by a 911 team to the hospital, as the event resumed.

When the rains came – and came – and came – one might expect spirits would be dampened, but no. The parking lots and bus drop-off spots revealed a panoply of kaleidoscopic colored umbrellas as people leaped puddles and dashed to the nearest entrances – no complaints, just chuckles. And as the foyers became slick with water, the kids made a skidding playground of it.

What a non-Finn could deduce from casual observations proved the old adage: the more people differ on the surface, the more alike they are underneath.

The years of preparation had paid off. Directional booklets and pamphlets determine where to go, what to see, how to get there, etc. Phenomenal precautionary on Finnest committees’ plans made life easier for everyone. The final effect was like a game for adults hunting, calling, waiting, moving from place to place except that no one lost, everyone won with the exhibits, demonstrations, lectures, music entertainment, films and socializing.

The paucity of non-Finnish local residents proved it was not easy for locals to maintain a normal schedule and still get involved with many of the hundreds of events but many did and were enriched by discovering amazing facts about Finnish folklore, history, politics, art and entertainment and with just human encounters an unexpected bonanza. Lucky were those who did take the time to dip into a culture known only tangentially, vaguely, and from an inadequate empirical point of view. Those who didn’t well, too bad; an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime experience has been missed.

And as FinnFest recedes in memory, the Pine Mountain festival continues with more entertainment tonight at the Rosza with an operatic salad: “Viva Verdi!”

Rotten Tomatoes averages: “Monsters University, B-; “World War Z,” C+