Rongkäik. If I was translating it into English, it would literally mean “train way,” but really it’s a parade, and yesterday the parade to Tallinn’s Lauluväljak (Song Festival Grounds) where Estonia’s famous Laulupidu (Song Festival), held every five years, was set to take place.
Th parade started at 2 pm. We heard the drums beating, and soon it seemed all of Estonia was marching past in folk costume, city by city, parish by parish. There were even singers from Kiev, Ukraine; Stavanger, Norway; and Vancouver, Canada. Other places too. Hungarians, New Zealanders, Latvians. It took a very long time for the big Estonian counties to filter through during the rongkäik. I wasn’t even aware that so many people lived in Ida Virumaa, “where the sun starts to rise over Estonia,” as they declared proudly.
To show ones appreciation for a certain parish or singing group, you have to yell out Elagu ____, or “Long Live ___.” For example, when Tallinn gümnaasium 34 passes by, you must salute them by crying out Elagu Tallinna Gümnaasium Kolmkümmend Neli! I waited patiently for my pet towns and parishes to pass by just so I could salute them with a little Elagu Sürgavere Kool! or Elagu Karksi Lauljad!
Actually, I let others cheer them on. I was too busy trying to keep an eye on my wandering Pippi Longstocking-esque daughter who makes friends and gets into adventures wherever she goes. When Pippi grows up a bit more, she’ll happily cheer every choir that passes her during the rongkäik. But I was a little shy. I am used to that “I’m paying more attention to you because you have a funny accent” look I get from cashiers in Estonian shops. I was afraid that if I belted out “Elagu Meremäe Vald” the wrong way, I might get 25,000 of those stares. So I kept my mouth shut.
Then a funny thing happened. I was keeping one eye on Pippi and one eye on the crowds of lovely flaxen-haired Estonian ladies when one of them saw me and shouted out for all to hear Elagu Epu Mees! — “Long Live Epp’s Husband!” The women in the choir, which was part of the long contingent of Tallinn singers, immediately cheered this husband of Epp’s. Epu mees? It took a moment to register. Noh, mina olen ju Epu mees. I spun around and waved to my admirers. They flashed smiles of warmth in my direction. The sun gleamed in Tallinn harbor. I felt flattered. It’s been awhile since I was cheered. I’m not a nobody with a funny accent anymore, I beamed. I’m Epp’s husband.