Last week I bought a one-way train ticket to Imatra, Finland. If this had happened around a hundred years ago, I could have wound up with someone watching me closely on arrival: there was a time when it was romantic and “trendy” for unhappy women to end their lives by jumping into the white waters and sharp rocks of the great Imatra rapids, Imatrankoski. One-way tickets, especially purchased by ladies traveling alone raised suspicions, and these women were sometimes followed by police to prevent the potential suicides. My reason to visit my old home town was rather different: I was on my way to shoot the second seasons of my TV show, Metsien kätkemä (Back to Nature). Instead of a plunge into the water or onto rocks, I had lovely time scouting my old hometown for the upcoming episode… and having a chat with a ghost!
I spent a night in the hotel which has just been voted as the most beautiful building in Finland: Imatran Valtionhotelli. It’s very meaningful for me in several ways; my parents met there in early 70’s, so would I even exist without the hotel? I have many beautiful memories from the hotel and the area around it, and some of them quite funny too. I remember being about 10, pretended my red bicycle was a horse (or was it a motorcycle?), and riding around the adjacent Kruununpuisto park collecting empty bottles (which happens to be the oldest nature reserve in Finland, found in 1842). The park was a popular place for teens to spend weekends drinking beer, and for us kids that meant good money: in Finland almost all drinking bottles can be returned for money. We collected bottles, money mostly to pay for horse riding. A bit later in my teenage years, I quit riding the horses and joined the beer drinkers, and took my turn helping the next generation of local kids earn some spending money.
I also visited my old workplace, Restaurant Buttenhoff, just to check if they still keep fresh flowers in the toilet too – and they did. This was one of my important tasks when working there: to make sure there was always fresh roses both on the tables and in the toilets. In the evenings we collected the flowers to a cold room to keep them fresh. I loved this habit and sometimes when I buy flowers for home, I take one and put it into our toilet. So elegant and vain.
The night itself was a bit restless. I ended up chatting with the famous ghost of the hotel. She started messing with me – first I heard weird sounds from the wall and then when I tried to write about my experiences, my phone was behaving really weird, like typing “femme” instead of “the wall” etc. At the end she calmed down and expressed her friendship by inviting me for a coffee… I think: suddenly there was a strong coffee smell in my room (in the middle of the night). I accepted her invitation and fell asleep dreaming about having a hot cup of french coffee and a girl-to-girl chat with her about men and infidelity, trying to convince her that there are some more sophisticated and less dramatic ways to deal with that kind of shit than throwing yourself to the rapids. Ways like therapy, or to reach out to friends for support, information, or advice. This seemed to be very strange concept for her, but then again, she’s from a different decade – even millenia.
Oh, and who is the ghost? People call her “The Grey Lady” and here’s a story of her, told by Pentti Rossi in Stories from South Karelia:
“According to legend, a young lady from Vyborg (now Russia) used to stay at the Valtionhotelli in Imatra and wander restlessly on the footpaths by the rapids. The person who told the story was a young maid working at the hotel at the time. She remembers that the lady had previously visited Imatra with a young army officer on their honeymoon.
One night, the lady from Vyborg gave the maid a letter, a rouble and told the girl to post the letter. Unfortunately, the maid forgot about it. The lady disappeared mysteriously. Soon people started telling stories about the restless “green lady”, La Dame Verde, who walked the hotel corridors at night.
The letter written by the lady was found by chance some years later. It turned out to be a letter of farewell to her husband who had been unfaithful. In the letter, the lady told her husband that she was going to throw herself in the Imatra rapids because of him.
Over time, the legend of the Green Lady became the Grey Lady. Even today, one can hear these stories, and many claim to have seen the Grey Lady walking the hotel corridors.”