Monday, July 05, 2010

The Imatra Falls (holiday beginning)

Yesterday I returned from Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, and today, after some urgent business at the office, it's time for holiday. We stop for dinner at the Hotel Imatran Valtionhotelli. This National Romantic castle built in 1903 (architect: Usko Nyström) is rich in history, and it has been preserved in excellent taste by the current keeper, the Rantasipi hotel chain.

A perfect point of transition from Il Cinema Ritrovato, this castle is a showcase of the belle époque in Finland. La belle époque in Europe and especially in France was celebrated in many films I saw in Bologna, from the Lumière brothers till Albert Capellani till the Cento anni fà series.

Finland belonged to the Russian Empire a hundred years ago, and we are near the Russian border now. Since the fall of the wall, mobility across the border has increased, and Russians visit Finland eagerly again like they used to a hundred years ago. I order a salad à la russe.

The city of Imatra was built around the legendary Imatra Falls, the biggest falls of Finland, from where the waters of Lake Saimaa fall to the River Vuoksi. The falls were already mentioned in our Kalevala epic ("there is none to conquer the Vuoksi, no one to overcome the Imatra"). Finland's first touristic spot and national landscape have been visited by many prominent people since Catherine the Great. The Imatra Falls were once also a fashionable European spot to commit suicide. The Imatra Falls were also the early cinema's favourite Finnish location, with various short views being shot there from since ca. 1905.

In 1929-1951 the Imatran Voima company tamed the falls and since then they have been flowing freely only occasionally and for very short durations, 15-20 minutes at a time.

We had never seen the falls unchained before, and as the clock stroke 18, to our surprise, there they were, surging and roaring in the brilliant afternoon sun for a quarter of an hour, a magnificent spectacle of the power of nature.

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