Standing on line at the Maanteeamet, overheard a fellow traveler’s tale of woe. He was traveling down there in the border area, between Võru and Läti, when the police stopped him, judged him to be in possession of the wrong papers, and promptly took his car and drove away with it. “But you do have the correct paperwork,” the official, an older lady, said, reviewing his file online. “You should have told him that everything was in order and he wouldn’t have taken your car.” At this, the man, a stocky, gray-haired sort with a jolly countenance, peered over at me with a grin, waving his hands in the air, as if to say, ‘Can I get a witness?’ “Don’t you understand?” he told the official. “When you are stopped by a police officer, he is like the king, and I am just a peasant.” He smiled to me again. “Nii see on,” I backed him up. This is true. If a police officer in this country tells you something, there is no debate, there is no point-counterpoint, they just decide it so, and it’s done. Nobody reads you your rights, although they might hand you a slip of paper that has them written somewhere. This gentleman had his car commandeered by some cops in Võru. The rest is just an embarrassing story. Algus ja lõpp.
Just when this gray weather has me contemplating suicide, some little soldier inside me convinces me to go on. I have been struggling, both with cultural differences as well as physical challenges. I think people misinterpret the Estonian ideal of stoicism as being somehow Germanic, but I have after many years here begun to appreciate the populace’s farther eastern links. (Ask yourself this, could any Estonian ever give a rousing, Nuremberg-like speech?) They aren’t some warlike tribe from the central European peneplain, no, they are from the silent, distant east, like blond Yupik or something. So I can forgive myself for feeling lost, as lost as any Westerner would feel in, say, Japan. My eldest daughter’s obsession with Japanese anime hints at recognition of that island country’s mentality, the warrior-poet Art of the Samurai corresponding roughly to the stiff-backed, impersonal manner of Swedbank customer service, or the static reception you get at Eesti Post. There is a woman who works at Eesti Post who is most fetching, but whenever I give her the eye, she shrinks and wilts, as if she has never seen the sunlight.
Tomatoes, tomatoes. The chosen food. This is the one that helps against seasonal affective disorder. I could take the easy route, go for dark chocolate, but that’s just too much, and it’s not easy on the constitution like tomatoes. I’ve also got some cranberries, some mushrooms, some avocados in the mix. I saw my friend Mart at Selver, told him that avocado was the Aztec word for testicle. It’s a fertility food. Maybe not a good idea for him or me (we have so many children). “Don’t you know, Estonians use garlic for that,” he said, bifocals on. My life is still so tuuline, windy, and he — someone who knows — said it won’t ever go away, but might congeal into a scar. Elu läheb edasi. Life goes on. This stuff, the murky skies, the residual hirm, the stiff, almost sensei-like demeanor of the Estonians, it’s like nine chains dragging me down. Apparently them too. All across this nation, nothing is more elusive than inner peace and self improvement. Yoga classes and tantra lessons blossom up like mushrooms. They say I should go too. Let a bunch of Estonians touch me there. Costs money though. Maybe it’s worth it though. The wonderful sensation of being touched.
Yesterday was rough. And the day before. I am not sure when the objectionable food sneaked into my diet. Too much coffee? Too many white potatoes? White rice? You don’t notice at first, then your energy gets weird. Too intense. Now I have what is called ‘die-off.’ This is when the bad gut bacteria dies. It releases toxins into your blood stream. I have concentration problems, I feel weak, tired, irritable. I have incredible anxiety and mood swings. In short, not a wonderful person to be around. This health problem has caused me more trouble than you know. We all have our ailments, and in Estonia, we are expected to keep quiet about them and tend to them ourselves. When someone dies, the cause of death is not announced. Too personal. In the meantime, I’ve decided to get the hell off of Facebook for both personal and personal reasons (yes, both kinds). Ask yourself this: is Bob Dylan regularly posting status updates? No. Too busy playing concerts. How about Haruki Murakami? No. Mr. Murakami’s too busy writing great novels. What about Jerry Garcia? No. Too busy being dead. Listen, learn.
Frosty mornings — though beautiful. I don’t mind shaving the ice from the windshield. The neighbor’s business is called Saja Krooni Pood. I assume you got everything for a hundred kroons in the pre-euro days. I am not sure what they charge in euros, but the discount ethic is still in effect. If you ask him about the name of the firm, he’ll put his hands in his pockets and say, ‘Well, you never know with the euro, maybe the kroon will come back some day.’ I love it. It’s my own personal Õnne 13-like Estonian sitcom. My other neighbor is named Endel. He’s always trimming the hedges and carrying wood and harvesting apples and cycling somewhere. He has a woman in the house too, though I never see her in light of day. Endel is always reminding me of something, because I always forget. The water meter! And the money! I really am useless. There are two older ladies who run things in these parts, both of them plump and adorable as pigeons. We talk through the windows sometimes.
America does seem to be engulfed in a sewage-like stew of molten fucked-up-ness these days, don’t it? You thought the amplified instances of black men getting gunned down by the cops was enough, but then the snipers started shooting at police in daylight, and you knew the boundary had been penetrated, that there was no way back, the membrane was punctured, perforated, leaving the poisonous goo that infects the purple and green gangrenous American wound to only seep more visibly. Not just that. Everything. You know what I am talking about. Reality TV show fascism. Lord have mercy. I still do not despair for my nation of origin, though it has become synonymous with the overly indulged, overly indebted, overly gunned down obese. I do not despair when I hear the cutting remarks of the insatiable Europeans, with their fussy, pedantic, hierarchical thinking schemes. O, professor. O, great poet. O, prime minister. Yes, yes, yes! Everything in its right place.
So who is this “Comrade Dos?” What happened to “Giustino”? I’ll tell you — briefly — then I must return to typing up this column about monkey slavery and coconut oil. My handle “Giustino” developed not just out of my Italian background, but because people sensed some inner effeminacy on my part, rendering me as “Justine” in correspondence so often that I decided to add the ‘o’ to the end and come fully into my own as a swashbuckling Mediterranean man, a Greek sailor, which is what I am actually underneath all of this, that’s what I am. I am a shipwrecked Greek sailor, except rather than being deserted on the sunny atoll of the cyclops I must fend for myself in this ghastly land of free wifi. That handle Giustino was linked to a now defunct aol account, and I moved my blogger account over to gmail, hence the birth of Comrade Dos, which is what John Dos Passos was called in E.E. Cumming’s book EIMI (see profile for full quotation).
Tartu again from the metal synthetic catastrophe that is downtown doubling for a “real city.” Milk soup gray sky. Tartu people are closed, kinnised, they say. Not to the isolated degree of the Tallinners, but still — remote. You know your neighbors, you know your friends, but there is that added degree of hesitance. People are busy in Estonia, busy, busy, busy. So goes Tartu. After living here, Tartu, for two and a half years again, I know some people, even others well to the minor degree, but I am not in their shit to the degree that I am in the shit of the people of Viljandi, where I am well acquainted with dirty laundry (and they no doubt have sampled mine). People in Viljandi wink at you knowingly. They know everything about you. They know the color of your underwear before you know it yourself. In Tartu? That reluctance, those pulled kisses, those restrained kalli kalli-s. Fine and good, fine and well, yet somehow dissatisfying. Trade intimacy for a movie theater, a shopping center, an apteek that stays open all night long, and a bunch of wannabe Italian restaurants and one real one, except that it’s run by northerners.
Viljandi is where I am today. It’s not so bad, even though it’s gray and somber, the chill of winter biting at the holes in your socks, that kind of thing. The Estonians too are extra tetchy, extra bitchy, because they know all of their summertime fun time is over and now comes the Big Dark before the Big Cold. When they drank beer in the summer it was fun, but now it’s kind of like for survival. I had a squash soup at the Rohelise Maja Kohvik, got to see Enn in the streets, gave his sister a peck on both cheeks. It’s so easy to flatter these Estonians, they are so unused to expressions of affection. Her cheeks got all rosy with blush. “Hey, how old is your sister?” I asked Enn. “I dunno, a hundred.” Probably. The atmosphere inside is always soothing to me, loving to me. One never feels safer in his skin than when he’s eating some squash soup and Jalmar Vabarna from Zetod stumbles through the door. I can relax around these musician types, these poets, these designers. I can breathe. I can breathe in Viljandi. I don’t care if my püksilukk is lahti here. Let my fly be down. Have a look.
God, I was looking through my archives and found some wonderful stuff, good stuff, tantalizing stuff. Stuff that hinted at greatness, before all the pomp and bullshit settled in. That’s the trouble with becoming a professional. People pay you to do what you love, then you no longer love doing it. Then what you produce is no longer good. That’s all right then, isn’t it? As Jimi Hendrix said, “I’ve still got my guitar.” So, it’s mid-October in Tartu and the weather’s shit. I can smell the smoldering smoke from the chimneys. The leaves, when the sun hits the piles strewn on the ground, are pretty. Immaculate. Natural. Love ’em. Lunch I take in at Kohvipaus on the corner of Rüütli and Küütri. I get the big Greek salad. Sometimes I look at Kroonika. Sometimes I look at all of the blonde women and try to figure out how they once overwhelmed my hormones so much. Youth is beautiful, isn’t it? Idiotically gorgeous.