sisu

Mead-paw. Wide-brow. Cloudberry-boy. Dweller of the land. These are the many names for karhu, the bear who embodies the forefathers of the country in Finnish mythology. And listen to them untranslated: mesikämmen, otso, kontio, lakkapoika. For a language which usually sounds like someone on drugs sucking lime Tic-Tacs, that's pretty beautiful stuff.

via Daniele Colombo@flickr

I'd never thought much about Finland until I went to Helsinki for the Like Minds conference. Part of our job at the summit was to devise social strategies for Visit Finland, and so it seemed a good idea to, well, know something about the place, beyond Sibelius and the Moomins.

Alongside the incredible mythology, which has all the severe, windswept, Pullmanesque ice-and-stars savagery you could wish for - I particularly love the Sielulintu, the soul-bird which protects the soul from being lost amongst the paths of dreams - I fell for the deeply Finnish concept of sisu.

Sisu describes a sort of quiet inner determination and force of will; a strong 'n silent ability to stick to a path in the face of adversity. It's a slightly grim quality, but it has a sort of pained, sacrificial nobility that seriously appeals to the miserable romantic in me. Give it a go. It got me through the Currency Exchange queue with rare grit.

On the plane back, I mentally detoured via Poland and spent an hour watching Nigel Kennedy, someone on the surface as unsisu as you get, but who actually exemplifies that rare and admirable ability to damn well do what he wants and wait for others to catch up. Such is the case with his mission to bring Polish jazz and Jewish klezmer to a wider audience, a mission that Alan Yentob tracked (with some fascinating footage of Kennedy's childhood and somewhat fearsome mother) in one the best yet Imagine episodes.

Having previously heard nothing at all about the Polish Weekend our Nige helmed at the South Bank back in May, I have been reminded to jump off my theatregoing treadmill and search for different things. I remember being taken to se the mohawked man himself perform Four Seasons in Oxford in a very shiny jacket when I was about eight, which was a strange and electrifying experience of intense wildness and beauty. This programme captures just that about him and it is, amazingly, still on iPlayer. You know what to do.

Sisu is, quite frankly, a little unpalatably po-faced for most. This is obvisouly what it needs to truly catch on: a dodgy haircut and a tendency to burst into grunting giggles.

I hope Finland's listening.