Helsinki. Day 25

After the great art chase, acres of smorgasbord. PLENTY of fresh milk and cream laid out at breakfast. Reminds us how little of them we've seen in the past 24 days. Our Helsinki guide and our daughter have the same name. When you're traveling, lesser things than this can provide an excuse for getting acquainted.

Another excuse is being in pursuit of something. For us it's the contemporary art we don't see at home (though even Chinese surrealism can be seen in American galleries these days). Here we're particularly taken with a print by an artist the dealer says is well known in Finland. We don't have the courage of our convictions. We go on to the big national museum of Finnish art, with its prime examples of the 19th-century national artist, Gallen-Kallela. And there is a painting by our man, Juhani Linnovaara!

Suddenly we do have the courage of our convictions. But do we have the courage to risk being late for the sightseeing bus? There may not quite be time to detour and buy the print. Along with the convenience of traveling with a group, there are definite social pressures not to keep the whole crowd waiting for incomprehensible personal enthusiasms.

Joan strides off to the bus to tell them not to wait if I'm late. I stride off to the gallery.

No one else buying at the moment, so I have everybody's smiles and assurances. Two people take the picture into a back room. A clerk is enlisted to compute the price in dollars, so I can write a check. Sorry, they don't accept credit cards.

Why is it taking so long to get the thing out of its frame? Because they thought I wanted it in the frame, which they are trying to adjust properly. No frame? Now the price has to be recomputed.

It is a speedy transaction, and it would have seemed so at the time if I weren't thinking of all the strange streets between me and the bus. Anyway, I try running, or maybe loping -- some gait fast enough to leave me dripping when I round the last corner and see the delayed bus.

Joan was about to immolate herself or something to make them go on ahead while she waited alone for me. But this is our first offense, and everyone is smiling and considerate.

Trying to be objective, and the handsome monument to composer Sibelius notwithstanding, I think the group as a whole feels we have had enough sightseeing anyway by the time the bus reaches the overnight ferry for Stockholm. The acres of smorgasbord for dinner would leave a good taste in anybody's mouth.

Roderick Nordell is the Monitor's feature editor. Tomorrow he hears Mozart at the Drottningholm Court Theatre.

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