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Title: A Blind Esperantist's Trip to Finland and Sweden, to Attend the Fourteenth International Esperanto Congress
Author: Merrick, W. Percy
Language: English
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A

Blind Esperantist's Trip

to

Finland and Sweden,

to attend

The Fourteenth International

Esperanto Congress.

BY W. PERCY MERRICK.


  Printed with the help of the Hastings Esperanto Group,
  Hastings, England.



  A
  Blind Esperantist's
  Trip to
  Finland and Sweden,
  to attend
  The Fourteenth Esperanto Congress
  and after.

  _By_ W. Percy Merrick.



On Thursday, August 3rd, my wife and I left Hull on the "Arcturus"
with some fifty other Esperantists, including Mr. John Merchant
(President), and Mr. Warden (ex-President), of the British Esperanto
Association. Until Saturday the sea was smooth, though the weather
was dull, and we all ate heartily and chatted and joked in holiday
mood. The ship's company were all Finn's, and none of them spoke a
comprehensible language except the Captain and Purser, who spoke
English well. The waitresses were very demure, some of them wearing
their hair strained back from the forehead in puritan fashion. The
only time they were known to laugh, despite the efforts of the more
frivolous members of the party to make them do so, was on the Sunday
evening, when one of the tables having been vacated by the diners, a
lurch of the ship shot all the crockery on to the floor in a heap of
ruins; then they stood round and laughed merrily; here was a real
joke!

The meals were served in the Finnish manner: a substantial breakfast
at nine; lunch at twelve, and dinner at six began with hors d'œuvres,
set out on a special table, from which you chose what you thought
you would need before taking your place. There was usually a
quantity of pickled fish, cold ham, tongue, sausage, salad, butter,
cheese, and several kinds of bread, one of the nicest being the
"hard-bread"--half rusk, half biscuit--of which all Scandinavians
seem very proud. Then the hot meat, and at dinner, fruit or a large
portion of ice was brought to you. Throughout our stay in Finland we
could never quite solve the problem as to how much of the hors
d'œuvres we ought to appropriate in order to leave the exact amount
of accommodation for the dishes that were to follow.

Friday evening we came to the Kiel Canal, and during the night were
joined by some German and other Esperantists, among whom were
several who were blind; Dr. Bano, from Budapest, Miss Polandova,
from Prague, and three or four from Germany. Mr. Stejskal, of
Prague, and Mr. Hendricx, of Ghent, both energetic helpers of the
blind, saw to their safety and comfort. We much enjoyed long talks
with them on the Saturday, when the sun shone brilliantly all day.

Sunday was "a day of rest but not of gladness," and after breakfast
most of us retired to our cabins, the few who did not succumb
feeling very proud of themselves. By lunch time some of us were
convalescent, but the Esperanto service so elaborately arranged the
day before did not take place, as both of the clergymen and most of
the congregation had more pressing engagements. But on Monday
morning we were all alive again and enjoyed a sunny entry into the
beautiful bay of Helsingfors with its many islands, and the town
with its fine buildings and churches spread out before us. A large
crowd of Esperantists, with flags and cries of welcome, received us
on the quay and guided us to our hotels as soon as we had made a
purely formal procession through the customs. Here we scored over
non-esperantist passengers, who had their baggage searched
diligently! Our hotel, the "Fennia," was most comfortable, with an
English-speaking porter. Their big ices after dinner, strewn with
raspberries or strawberries and drowned in cream, quite won the
hearts of their lady visitors.

Most of the blind congressists were entertained for the whole time
gratis, at the blind school, a large stone building with wide
corridors and spacious rooms, about a mile from the centre of the
town. Although it was holiday time many of the teachers had returned
to look after their blind guests; they were exceedingly kind and
devoted ladies, and we were heartily sorry they did not speak
Esperanto, so that we could have thanked them as they deserved. I
spent as much time there as I could, for besides the official
meetings of the blind sub-congress, they had arranged several social
evenings with much good music and recitation. All there seemed
thoroughly happy. They attended the opening and closing meetings of
the Congress, the Concerts, the Theatre, the National Costume Ball,
etc. Mr. Robert Bergh, a quiet, good-humoured blind man, was our
president, and much interesting information on blind matters was
reported, and many subjects ardently discussed. Our ever-sprightly
friend, Miss Melchoir, of Denmark, told us how she had started what
is perhaps the first home for blind babies in Europe. It is now an
important branch of the institution in which she lives and works.
One morning, Dr. Privat came and spoke charmingly on Dr. Zamenhof,
his interest in the blind, and his work as an oculist.

The Finns have the reputation of being a silent race. At first they
seemed to be rather shy, but as the week wore on they became
increasingly anxious to talk to their foreign visitors. One felt
everywhere, in the streets, in the "Akceptejo," in the blind school,
that they are a seriously-minded folk, somewhat slow in thought and
very cautious in adding up bills, but thoroughly trustworthy and
keenly anxious to promote universal fellowship. They seem to be
idealists with a strong love of poetry, which one of them attributed
to the rhythmic nature of their language, but which I venture to
think is an essential part of their character. Their voices, like
those of the Swedes, are very clear, and the tone of their famous
mixed choir, "Suomen Laulu," which sang unaccompanied in the concert
room and in the theatre, was as pure and thrilling as that of the
best choirs of the north of England without the least suspicion of
harshness. It was with real delight that I heard an old grey-bearded
bard in the theatre chant some runes of the great epic, "Kalevala,"
to a beautiful old--perhaps pre-historic--modal melody. Here, too,
we heard much Finnish music, saw national dances, and enjoyed a
Finnish play acted in Esperanto.

The temperature at Helsingfors during August is very pleasant, and
the weather was very kind except for one wet morning and occasional
showers. The air is fresh and invigorating until you get into the
large halls, for the Finns seem to think that doors and windows are
meant to be kept shut. They are doubtless quite right for nine
months in the year, and the short summer does not give them time to
cultivate a taste for draughts.

Helsingfors is essentially a modern town with good hotels and
restaurants, electric light, good tram and telephone services, and
many fine buildings in quite modern style. There are several nice
promenades and parks where bands play in the evenings, and the
streets are wide, though alas! they are paved generally with round
cobbles which tire one's feet and make the traffic noisy. The
market, where one can buy country produce and household utensils, is
open every day till noon, but so far as we could find the shops
contained little that could not be bought in other towns in Europe,
excepting, perhaps, some fine cut glass, said to be made in Finland.

The buildings in which our meetings were held were spacious, and the
"akceptejo" (headquarters), where the Congress had Post office,
Bank, books for sale, light refreshments and conversation rooms, was
a general meeting place for Esperantists of all nations.

Drinks containing more than two-and-a-half per cent. of alcohol are
prohibited by law. However, one hears thrilling stories of fishermen
turned smuggler-millionaires, and one sometimes meets people who
steer an erratic course.

The arrangements for the comfort and entertainment of the members of
the Congress were perfect in every detail.

On Wednesday, August 16th, some sixty of us started for a tour
through Finland. We had sleeping cars to Viborg, a much older town
than Helsingfors, where we spent most of Thursday. The principal
sight seems to be the museum, but they kept the finest exhibits on
the upper floors, and as many of us had not found it easy to sleep
in the train, we preferred an after dinner nap on a low stone wall
or on the grass near by. We spent the night at Imatra, where are two
fine waterfalls. The river, some fifteen or twenty yards wide, falls
over a rocky bed with much noise and foam, and brings down hundreds
of logs thrown into it for use in paper mills below. Often these
logs stand on end and look like men struggling in the water. We
passed Friday night on a steamer to Savonlinna, where is a very fine
old ruined castle, now carefully preserved, from the towers of which
one gets a splendid view of the lake and surrounding country. The
lakes are full of islands of all sizes and covered with pines and a
few silver birches intermingled with rocks. We stayed the week-end
at Punkaharju--the only place, so far as I could find which did not
have two distinct names, according as one heard it in Finnish or
Swedish. It is a long narrow peninsular, with lakes on either side,
of which one caught glimpses between the closely growing straight
pines. An Esperantist doctor at a huge sanatorium for consumptives
invited us all to coffee on Sunday afternoon, and showed us the
institution, which seemed quite up-to-date. We returned to
Helsingfors by train on Monday night, after having had a most
delightful trip, the pleasure of which was enormously increased by
the presence of several Finnish Esperantists, who came with us as
guides and translators.

On Wednesday morning, August 23rd, we left Helsingfors in the
"Birger Jarl," for Stockholm. Several Esperantists came to see us
off, and one of our Scottish friends photographed us as we leant
over the side of the boat. All day long we passed innumerable
islands, much like those we had seen in the lakes. We found some
Dutch Esperantists on board and enjoyed a pleasant chat with them.

On landing at Stockholm next morning we were met by an English
gentleman who took us in a taxi to the station for Saltsjöbaden,
where we stayed for four days with Mr. Thulin, who had very kindly
invited us to visit him in his beautiful villa. Mr. Thulin has been
blind for many years, and devotes his time and energy to the
collection of money for the higher education of the blind in Sweden.
The "Bokfond," which he founded some years ago, provides Braille
text books of science and languages, and gives scholarships to
promising blind students. Mr. and Mrs. Thulin and her sister, who
lives with them and helps in the Braille work, are a charming
family, and in their hospitable company we felt we were seeing
Swedish life under ideal circumstances. Saltsjöbaden is a beautiful
place on the coast of the Baltic, dotted with villas, where the
chief inhabitants of Stockholm spend the summer months. On Monday,
28th, Mr. and Mrs. Thulin took us in a motor car to Osmo, which we
reached about midday, after a pleasant drive through woods and open
country. Mr. and Mrs. Thilander were waiting in their garden with
the Swedish flag flying in our honour. Their little country house,
like so many in Sweden, is painted red. It stands in a garden with
grass and abundant fruit trees, and at the back is a wood, which
gives it a picturesque appearance from the road. Osmo is near the
port of Nynashamn. It is a large and straggling parish with a fine
church dating from the fifteenth century, a railway station,
electric light and telephone. The neighbourhood is very pretty; the
ground is undulating, with woods, pastures, and a few corn fields.

And now came the most memorable and delightful part of our holiday,
of which we had so far enjoyed every moment. I had seen the
Thilanders before they were married, in Cambridge, in 1907, and I
knew that Mr. Thilander was blind, somewhat of a cripple, and so
deaf that no one but his wife could speak to him intelligibly
through his speaking tube. Mrs. Thilander, too, is blind. Yet it is
a revelation to be with them, for they are the most devoted, the
kindliest and the merriest couple I have ever met. Their lives are
spent in working for the blind; he editing magazines and
stereotyping Braille books, and she proof reading and seeing to
household affairs. Their work brings them an enormous amount of
correspondence, more than enough of itself to occupy the working
hours of an ordinary mortal. He is a perfect mine of information on
all matters relating to the blind of all countries, and yet has room
in his memory for items of local history and tradition, and can talk
interestingly on almost any subject. He speaks Esperanto and English
with correct intonation, although he can never have heard their
sounds perfectly as he lost his hearing when quite young. They take
in and read Braille magazines in various languages. He never seemed
to be at a loss for the right English or Esperanto word to help us
out when our vocabulary was deficient! Their talk was full of wit,
and no little joke escaped their appreciation. He thoroughly
understands the mechanism of the machines he uses, and has devised
many improvements to Braille stereotyping machines, and one of great
importance to the "Picht" typewriter, which is now being adopted by
the makers. He has brought his Braille printing to a fine state of
perfection. Their gaiety was infectious, and we never had a dull
moment during the week we stayed with them. When they were busy with
work that had to be done to time, we rambled in the woods, to the
little lake or the sea, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the
countryside. One day I noted a musical cattle-call sung by an old
man as he led his cows home to be milked. In the evenings I
sometimes played chess with Mr. Thilander, while his wife, an
excellent musician, played and sang to us. They call their little
house, "Solkojan" (Sunny Cottage), but I would translate it "the
happiest home in the world." Living there one soon forgot their
disabilities and ceased to wonder at the things they could
accomplish. Their welcome was so hearty that it was quite a wrench
to leave them; one felt that an important and interesting part of
one's life had passed away. We often spoke to him for a short time,
but listening to long conversations evidently tired him greatly.

At Stockholm we spent two busy days. On the Tuesday we visited
Skansen in the company of Miss Josefson, an Esperantist friend of
the Thilanders. This is the great open-air national museum, where
you see old Swedish houses from various districts, set up and
furnished in the original manner. There are also some Lap huts
inhabited by Laplanders. These are small round chambers made by
lodging split pines against a central upright and filling in the
crevices with moss. There was, too, an old wooden church, in which,
I was told, service is held on Sundays. The old furniture and
household implements interested me very much.

The second day we visited Tomteboda, the chief blind school in
Sweden, where Director Ostrand gave us a rapid but most interesting
sketch of the history of the blind in Sweden. He took us through the
institution, and then Mr. Blom, the music teacher, with some of his
pupils played and sang to us delightfully and gave us coffee. It is
a splendid school with a real wood for a playground and the
education is quite up-to-date and practical. The girls learn
housewifery, and before they leave go through a course of cookery in
a kitchen purposely made quite simple and free from mechanical
luxuries, so that the pupils should not miss them when they practise
their art in their own homes, or as often happens in Sweden, when
they find places as servants. This visit we owed to Mr. and Mrs.
Warrilow, who being in Stockholm, very kindly took us.

Copenhagen we reached on Thursday, September 7th, in the morning,
and were met on landing by Mrs. Blicher, whom we had met at the
Congress. She at once found us a nice hotel, and then guided us to
three blind institutions, where we found a few Esperantists and one
or two pupils who read English. In the school are some interesting
models, especially one of the building itself. Music is taught to
the blind more here than in Sweden. The next day Mrs. Blicher took
us to see the city itself; the Town Hall, a very fine modern
building; the Ethnological Museum, containing pre-historic
implements and much beautiful furniture; the Thorvaldsen Museum,
wherein are preserved most of the works of that famous Danish
sculptor, who, in his later years, collected and presented them to
the nation. In the evening she took us to her comfortable flat and
gave us a real Danish supper and showed us many interesting
Esperanto books that she and her husband had collected. She had also
invited Mr. Ommerbo, our Danish blind Consul, and we all chatted in
Esperanto by telephone to Miss Melchior, whose institution is
unfortunately too far off for us to have visited. In short, Mr. and
Mrs. Blicher made our stay in Copenhagen most active and
interesting.

We returned through Germany and thought we had come to the end of
the Esperanto part of our holiday. But having an hour to wait
between nine and ten o'clock on Saturday evening at Hamburg, I had
just remarked that it seemed strange not to have Esperantists to
talk to, when a young couple came up to us on the platform. They
were Mr. and Mrs. Bünemann, who had come an hour's journey by rail
and on foot to see if they could help us in any way. It seems that
Mrs. Blicher had telegraphed to them to say that we were passing at
that time. We were delighted to meet them, and it seemed quite a
pity for their sakes that we did not need help. This shows what
trouble Esperantists will take to help one another, and how entirely
they make you feel at home in a strange land.

At Frankfort we stayed six days with an octogenarian friend, whose
years and cares sit lightly upon him. So genial and kindly was he
one would never have suspected that he has been ruined by the
depreciation of the German Exchange and has to deny himself what we
should consider the necessaries of life. He took us to the blind
school, a rather old building, where we found among the teachers and
pupils some fifteen Esperantists, all eager to hear about the
Congress and about the "kara redaktoro" of "Esperanta Ligilo," Herr
Thilander. We were the first to bring them the news that the next
Congress is to take place at Nuremberg, and many of them hoped they
would be able to come to it.

We heard of a blind gentleman who has a wonderful dog as a guide;
when it comes to a busy crossing it lies down till the street is
clear enough to cross. These dogs are trained at the Sanitätshunden
Verein, Oldenburg. It rained most of the time at Frankfort, an
unwelcome change from the lovely weather we had enjoyed before.

At the blind sub-congress I had heard that in many blind schools in
Germany all the pupils are taught hand-writing, but at Frankfort
only the partially blind are taught this useful accomplishment.

We returned home by the Hook of Holland. At Cranenburg, on the Dutch
border, we had a tussle with our bags, having to carry them through
a big waiting room crowded with other passengers in a like
predicament. One traveller standing next to us was led into an
adjoining room to pay duty on toys bought in the Black Forest. We
slept well on the boat, and so ended our most delightful holiday.


  Long Live Esperanto!



_For the publication of this note the Author is gratefully
indebted to the Hastings Esperanto Group._


  Se donas Di' al vi favoron,
  Li sendas vin for el la dom'
  Por montri sian mirlaboron,
  La belan mondon, al la hom'.


Copies can be obtained from:--


  ALFRED JNO. ADAMS,
    Plynlimmon Terrace,
      Hastings,
        England.



LIST OF NATIONAL CONSULS FOR THE BLIND.


Argentino: Segismundo Taladriz, General Pinto, F.C.O.

Australio: F-ino T. Aston, 42, Raleigh Street, Windsor, Melbourne,
    Victoria.
    W. L. Waterman, 26, Henley Street, Torrensville, South Australia.

Austrio: I. Krieger, Zieglergasse, 25, Wien VII.

Belgio: Frato Ludoviko, Institution Royale des
    Aveugles, Woluwe.

Brazilo: F. A. de Almeida, Instituto Benjamin Constant,
    Rio de Janeiro.

Britio: W. P. Merrick, Woodleigh, Shepperton, Msex.

Bulgario: St. Orozoff, Pirdop.

Ĉeĥoslovakio: Em. Macan, Praha XI., Kosire Vaclavka.

Danio: P. Ommerbo, Frederikssundavej 128, E. Kopenhago, Bhr.

Finnlando: Robert Bergh, Gengatan 3, Helsingfors.

Francio: P. Gilbert, Villa Maria, Rue Merle, Cannes.
    E Barrier, Rue Nicolas-Charlet 1, Paris.

Germanio: Ges-oj Zapater, Moltke Strasse 101, Köln.

Hungarujo: D-ro Miklos Bano, Margit-Rakpart 42, Budapest II.

Hispanio: J. Bellfort, Provenza 109, Pral 2, Barcelona.

Italio: Ing. A. R. Tancredi, Regia Scuola Tecnia, San Remo
    (Porto-Maurizio).

Japanio: T. Kumagae, Nihan Metodist Yanai Kickai, Yanai Cha,
    Yamaguchi-Ken.
    Tokuĝiro Torii, Migauĉi-Mura, Joza-gun Tango, Kioto-Fu.

Latvio: Henriko Ĉaĉe, Flora Strato 23, Ventspils,
    Latvio (Vindau, Kurland).

Meksikio: S-ro Meza, 8 de Orizaba 154, Mexico, D. F.

Nederlando: W. J. A. P. Créman, Bosboom Toussaint
    Straat 6, Amsterdam.

Norvegio: Redaktoro E. Imsdahl, V Torvgate 1, Bergen.

Polio: W. Stachowiak, Ulica Warszawska 14, Poznan.

Rusio: D-ro M. Nemser, Petr. Stor., Boèoj Prospekt 49,
    Petrograd.

Svedio: Redaktör H. Thilander, Majorsgatan 12, Stockholm.

Svisio: F-inoj H. Gal kaj R. Vogt, Asile Recordon, Lausanne.

Usono: E. Middleton, Greenfield, Illinois.



Monthly Review.


"Esperanta Ligilo" is edited and published by Harald Thilander,
Majorsgatan 12, Stockholm. Founded in 1904 by Professor Cart it has
now a circulation of about 700 Copies each month in 32 countries,
in some of which other literature for the blind hardly exists.
It contains literary articles, poems, songs, amusements, maps,
correspondence and reports concerning matters of interest to the
blind, new apparatus, newly-printed books, etc. Blind Esperantists
who so desire receive it free. It is appreciated by many
institutions for the blind, eight of which from seven countries help
to support it by gifts of money. Further financial assistance will
be very gratefully received by the Treasurer, W. P. Merrick,
Woodleigh, Shepperton, England.


All Braille Esperanto Books can be obtained from:--

  The National Institute for the Blind, Great Portland
    Street, London, W., and
  The National Library for the Blind, 18, Tufton
    Street, Westminster, W.





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