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JAUNTS : A Celebration of Home Half a World Away : FinnFest USA opens today at Cal Lutheran University. Featured at the festival are Finnish foods, crafts and performances.


You probably haven't given much thought to Finland lately. After all, it's not in the news much, and it's halfway around the world.

But it's closer than you think. FinnFest USA opens today for four days of festivities on the campus of Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

Finnish people throw a cultural celebration somewhere in the United States every year. They've done it in Detroit, Seattle, even Berkeley. Last year about 12,000 people showed up for the one in Duluth, Minn., home to a large concentration of Finnish folks.

Southern California has an estimated Finnish population of 10,000, and this year organizers expect the festival to draw about 5,000 people. Visitors will see everything from an exhibition of Finnish baseball (it's faster-paced and the pitcher stands next to the batter) to a performance by a Finnish couple considered to be the best accordionists in Finland (where the accordion gets more respect).

In addition to ethnic food, music and dancing, the festival is a window on Finnish history. Scholars will talk about Finnish mythology, the country's involvement in World War II, Finnish pioneers of Southern California, language--and one will even explore the Finnish personality.

"I like to think of Finnish people as kind of clannish," said Suzanne Jurva of Thousand Oaks, one of the festival organizers. "We're a small tribe of people--that's probably why."

Her people, she said, have a few interesting quirks: They're almost ritualistic about serving coffee to company, and one of their favorite recreations is the steam bath.

Jurva, a television producer whose parents are Finnish, said that having the festival in Ventura County has brought together the Finnish community and drawn in new people.

And a few local celebrities have boosted Finnish visibility: Los Angeles Kings player Jari Kurri, Los Angeles Philharmonic director Esa Pekka Salonen, and Hollywood movie director Renny Harlin.

Whether any of them will be at the festival is still uncertain, but Radio Finland will be there, along with Finnish television crews and the country's secretary of labor.

During the festival, Finnish crafts and food will be on sale in a marketplace called the tori in the Cal Lutheran gymnasium. Jurva said it's a good chance to buy Finnish glassware. Weaving, fabric and clothing will also be available, as well as the popular Finnish-style carvings from birch.

Finnish people are also known for their love of cheese, and for their coffee cake, called nisua , so these will probably available too. They even like to put a glob of cheese, similar to Brie, in the bottom of their coffee cups, Jurva said. Lingonberries also are a great love, she said, so expect to find them in such items as jam and pancakes. Chef Eino will demonstrate how to prepare Finnish dishes.

The festival will feature Finnish dancers, gymnasts, accordionists, singers, impressionists, poets and a dramatization about Paavo Nurmi, a legendary Finnish long-distance runner who won half a dozen Olympic gold medals in the 1920s.

Some events require $5 tickets: a performance on Cal Lutheran's pipe organ by Ruth-Esther Hillila (Friday at 1 p.m and Saturday at 2 p.m.); the Singing Strings, a youthful group of violinists (Friday at 2 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m.); and the acclaimed accordionists Maija Rantanen and Vesa Vilenius (Friday at 10 a.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m.). Saturday night's barbecue in Kingsman Park on the campus is $15, and $5 for children 5 to 12 years old.


WHAT: FinnFest USA, a festival celebrating Finnish heritage and culture.

WHERE: Campus of Cal Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks.

WHEN: Today through Sunday. Events begin at noon today and at 9 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and go into the evening.

COST: Today, $5, children free; Friday and Saturday, $7, and children ages 3 to 12, $5; Sunday, $5, children free.

INFORMATION: Call Cal Lutheran University, 492-2411.

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