von trapp

“All the people from this country should be removed and replaced with Brazilians.” This was my Latin American friend’s response to the question, “So how are you getting along in Estonia?”

Sometimes it feels that way. As much as we care about Estonia and it’s people, they can get annoying. We are equally as annoying for them, or at least amusing. Example. I am a father, and yet am not an Estonian father. I yell at my naughty children in shops, WHAT THE HECK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? They tend to ignore my spontaneous outbursts. An Estonian father though is austere and firm. All he has to do is mutter a few lines under his breath, and his children fall back in line. Good Estonian fathers are like The Sound of Music‘s Captain von Trapp before he started sleeping with Fraulein Maria.

That severity in character, respect for discipline, order, silence … it can drive a non-Estonian to the edge. It builds up over time. My little daughter Maria, aged 20 months, greeted every passerby in Haapsalu over the weekend with, “Tere!” I would estimate that 20 percent of those greeted bothered to look at her or respond. The others winced and scurried by, as if they felt as if they had been found out by the friendly toddler. Why so reticent? I wondered. Did they think they were invisible?

statistical condom

Interesting to see the Russian question pop up from time to time, along with statistics … “X percent THIS, therefore THIS …” Statistics are important because they are used in the transmission of halftruths, lies, propaganda, so always wear a statistical condom! One discussion that caught my ear revolved around the translation of Estonian law into the Russian language, a suggestion made by a Social Democrat named Ossinovski. Society comes unglued at the very mention of such ideas, with statistics tossed around like rice at a wedding, “X percent THIS, therefore THIS!” I scratch my own itchy head … Yeah, why not translate the laws?

I have always been opposed to making Russian a second-state language, not just because I like Estonian so much because I think it’s so cute with all of that ä ü õ ö, but also because I feel it is unnecessary. I am of the opinion that forced legal inclusiveness is, in two words, complete bullshit. “Oh, look, the official languages of Kosovo are Kosovar Albanian AND Serbian.” That’ll get them to stop hating each other, sure … Or, “Just look at Finland, just look at Canada!” — the linguistic minorities there are bitching round the clock. The Quebecois complain about not having their own state, the Anglophones in Quebec complain about living in the Francosphere. And so, as you already knew, NOBODY IS EVER HAPPY.

Then I start thinking about the multilingual origins of the Estonian state with its Danish and German merchants and border Russians and deposed Polish counts, and I recall that during the 1920s and ’30s, Estonian politicians used to go to Narva or Petseri and give addresses … in Russian. So what exactly are we restoring the state to, if that’s how it was in the earlier period of independence? What is the default for which we yearn? Are we going back in time, or involved in a completely new state-building project? Stuff to consider.

But, back to the question: Estonian laws in Russian? … Why not? Why not in English, too? Hell, let’s add Swedish. The Swedes are still a tiny minority, but, unlike the Russian minority, they are actually growing. If you model it out over the next 500,000 years, at current growth rates, the Swedish minority will surpass the Russian minority in 253,000 years. So, that’s my advice. Think ahead. Be the future.

zooropa

The Estonians do it, too, but the British are the worst … £69 to Europe!” says the airline advertisement in Victoria Station … Terrific, but aren’t we in Europe, already? Is this some kind of scam? £69 to remain standing in place? … How can the British look at themselves in the mirror and believe that they are somehow less European than the Swedes or the Danes or the Dutch, or any other Northern European kingdom ruled by inbred monarchies from dank castles? And this at a time when PM Cameron’s eurosceptic tory backbenchers are in revolt … I’ve heard the Estonians tell odd tales of travels to “Europe,” which in the local imagination combines the canals of Venice with the banking streets of Switzerland and other assorted landmarks (La Tour Eiffel, British Houses of Parliament, Spanish Bullfighting) … too bad that they don’t realize that Estonia is a lot like East Anglia… EUROPE … Look at the map, it starts over here and runs to over here, you’re it, and there’s no escaping it …

matsid

Yesterday watched three local citizens parade down the street — a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter — all of them smoking. Then the word came to me, “matsid.” I am not sure who the poor, ill-mannered country bumpkin was that gave the Estonians this term, but his name was Mats … To be called Mats (or even worse, Mats Hobusega (“Mats with Horse”)) is to have one’s poor, dirty, country roots put on display for all to see … Drinking, smoking, TV game shows, the habits of the lower classes (yes, string me up now, oh would-be French Revolutionaries, elitist second estate snob that I am) … I’ve seen locals drinking and smoking in the morning on the streets in town … cigarettes, beer, breakfast cereals … these are the things that go together in their mindset [but hush, do not criticize the matsid‘s habits, nor even suggest {aloud} that they are matsid, or that matsid even exist!] … And yet, when they walk by on parade, even the Estonian who is but one rung above this bottom-rung untouchable class is known to look over his/her monied, educated shoulder and sneer and spit … 

“Once a mats, {ptui!} always a mats …”

little wooden town

Tartu, that’s a Little Wooden Town! From the lips of a Tallinner, the words are derisive, little and wooden meaning small and inadequate, not metropolitan, cosmopolitan, urbane … Yet people in a little wooden town are also quite little {as small as they are anywhere} and in this context, this Little Wooden Town impresses. Like John and Paul and George and Ringo sang, Tartu is getting better all the time, blocks of postwar wooden shanties cleaned up and made new, yellow and orange and other creamy mild colors, so that when you are walking along at night under all of those Big Wooden Windows and Wooden Gingerbread and Architectural Curiosity, the Warm Electric Lamp Glows, under the Eaves of the Big Wooden Houses and the Eavesdropping on Goodlooking Young People’s Conversations, well … you DO feel like you are in the middle of something, even if it is just a puny, pathetic, backwater, upstream, remote joke of a Little Wooden Town …

high and holy

It’s always a big come down being back, I don’t mean an emotional come down though Estonia can be pretty boring and lonely, but, you know everywhere with me is boring and lonely at least some of the time … I once sat on the steps of the New York Public Library on a Saturday afternoon watching the automobiles fling by, my God, never been lonelier, but wait! The come down, yes … I love the way the Finnish air bathes me on the bus from the airport to the plane, it’s cool, mild, relaxing, like peppermint astringent, that refreshing, you know, a nice, cool, longdrink of a refreshment, spiced with clarity, purity, holiness, saintliness …

… Lots of religious thoughts these days (not me, no, no conversion for me, never) They asked me what my faith was in Bali, I told them Catholic, not that I am one, but I once was one, and to-date, it’s been my most enduring exposure to faith, which is why I feel I must tell SOMEBODY about EVERY bad deed I’ve ever done, because Confession is in my nature, though I still cannot figure Christianity out {HE LOVES US, but WE MUST FEAR HIM???} I’m sure I just got it all wrong the first time and it all makes sense. Maybe Pope Emeritus Benedict 16’s book contains some clues, helpful hints …

… The Balinese are Hindus with a tiny Muslim minority and though everybody’s good pals, officially, you can tell that they don’t take the Muslims very seriously, or that they see them as ridiculous, with their evening prayers and non-pork eating [this in a land of daily flower and incense and fruit offerings to the many Hindu Gods, where cows roam free, swinging their tails at flies] Can’t say “on sul hästi hästi” to the Muslims, they must be addressed with Selamat Tinggal. I kept thinking of Cat Stevens/Yusef Islam and Kätlin Mrabte, author of Minu Maroko, Gentile converts to Muhammedism and the thought that I was thinking was, “What, the hell were they thinking?” But here I am purchasing my copy of the Ramayana, so who am I to speak? Our taxi driver had what appeared to be large grains of salt pasted to his forehead. Must have been another high holy Hindu day …

The Estonians claim to not be religious … pure bunk, bullshit, jama. Explain to me all of your holy days then, my post-Soviet atheist friends … Where were we? Oh, yes …

  • Vastlapäev (Shrove Tuesday, celebrated by sledding, eating rolls filled with whipped cream)
  • Jüripäev (Saint George’s Day, April 23, celebrated by burning manor houses, killing landlords)
  • Jaanipäev (the big one, Saint John’s Day, June 24, celebrating by eating grilled meats, leaping over bonfires)
  • Hingedepäev (All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2, celebrated by lighting candles)
  • Mardipäev (Saint Martin’s Day, Nov. 11, celebrated by cross dressing)
  • Kadripäev (Saint Catherine’s Day, Nov. 25, also celebrated by cross dressing)
  • Luutsipäev (Saint Lucy’s Day, Dec. 13, also celebrated by lighting candles)

… about the cross dressing, each year our house is stormed by Kadrisantid (boys dressed up like Saint Catherine) and Mardisantid (girls dressed up like Saint Martin) and they come inside our house with their raggedy old dresses or ashy mustaches and do a little dance called the kaerajaan – “Kaerajaan, Kaerajaan!” — they fold their arms and put one foot in front of the other while remaining in place …  If we are feeling particularly magnanimous, we reward our visitors with a little piece of fruit or a candy. And these people claim to have no affinity with religion?

So, next time an Estonian tries to tell you he’s not religious, don’t question his lack of faith. Simply cross your arms and put one foot in front of the other and sing, “Kaerajaan, kaerajaan.” See if he doesn’t join you.