18 December 2015

The spice of age

This is a story about my thirtieth birthday party, during which we didn't exactly waste time on posing for pictures; instead, we focused on enjoying some good food and wine. And laughing. Lots of laughing and talking. Maybe sometimes with our mouths full. One of the stars of the story was South African wine, as should be apparent from the annotated pictures. Another star was my friend Marlene, who helped me plan the menu. She also introduced the main star – spices – through a wonderful spice story interlude, which was so intriguing that exactly none of us remembered to pick up the camera! I did however write a bit more about it here[link to come soon]. Thanks to my lovely guests for eating aaaaall the food and to everyone who sent wishes and even gifts from afar. So far thirty really couldn't be any better :)

08 June 2015

Räpina postscript

Besides a bit of National Geographic picture frame action, the principle of picture selection is limited to Räpinites on bicyles. Our day mostly consisted of general strolling and browsing.

At one point we had the ambiguous fortune of seeing a sign for the Tsõõrikmägi meteorite crater. After a bit of a walk and nearly being eaten alive by mosquitoes, I took a quick picture of a watery hole and then we half ran, half swatted our way back to civilization. Hopefully the craters on Saaremaa will be more, well, cratery.

07 June 2015

Sentiment and meaning

The other day in the sauna after my swim I was stretching a bit. One of the sauna cohabitants was an old woman; a woman of the age where I'm impressed that she has made her way to the pool and sauna at all. She looked at me stretching and started speaking in Russian. I speak no Russian. Well, I know "yes", "no", and "thank you", but they serve little purpose if the only question I might understand is "Do you speak Russian?" – "Uh, no." But as often proves to be the case, whether or not I speak Russian was largely irrelevant. I could imagine enough of what she intended to smile and nod through it. My imaginary transcription took form, "Oooh, look how supple you are. I was once supple, fit, and strong too. We used to do all the exercises every day like so, like so, like so", as she slapped her upper arms in turn.

More recently we went on a day-trip to Räpina. Upon entering the local museum, we met its keeper and tried to get started in English, but it proceeded a bit haltingly. He asked if we understand Estonian, to which I gave the standard yet in my case totally accurate answer, "A little." "Well then, we'll just go slowly and I'll tell you about a few things." Somewhere between the few words that I did catch, accompanied by pictures and maps, we seemed to absorb information. But more than that we were sharing in some kind of exchange beyond quantities of information: he was giving us his time and expertise, and we were giving him our attention and interest. He could've concluded that there's no point in speaking to people who barely command the language, or we could've concluded that there's no point in taking a tour that we won't fully understand, but in the end the experience had little to do with such considerations.

Shortly thereafter, on our way to lunch, the shoe was on the other foot. I wanted to peek inside the church that had been closed earlier. Just inside the door there was a man who gestured that it's alright to go inside, and then he asked what language we speak, maybe German? After a look at the church interior we took up a conversation with him. We didn't actually ask, but it seemed he was either someone tending the garden, or he could have been the pastor himself tending the garden. Either way, with his big face and his big hands he apologised for his poor memory of the German he had learnt at school. Then, in explaining that we're not from Germany but that we live there, we somehow got on the topic of Europe. His limited command of the language could not technically express his thoughts and feelings, but the sentiment was clear. Basically, God bless Europe, including Germany and Angela Merkel. The union is not without its failings, but Estonia is thankful for it. And oooh, the Russians, God bless them too, but that cheeky rascal Vladimir... We must hope and pray for peace.

26 April 2015

Honourable mention: Supilinna lapsed

This morning I recalled that I left out one of the best parts of yesterday. I met up with a friend who mentioned that a little girl with a whole lot of hustle had tried to sell him some things, in English, but he had neglected to bring cash so he couldn't buy anything. Naturally my response was: Take me to this girl! She was seated on the ground in the fleamarket area and had a tiny setup with her wares on some cloth in front of her. I'm guessing she was about ten years old. She asked if we'd like to buy something in Estonian, so I replied yes, in English. "Would you like some tea?" "No, thank you, what else do you have?" "I have kirju koer, it's a kind of chocolate cake." "Okay, two pieces please. How much is it?" "It's one euro. It should be very delicious, because this year is the first time I made it with extra butter!"

And my heart melts. As if it were made with extra butter too.

There were numerous performances by children, but I loved this one's spunk. This is just a few seconds, but the whole song was treated to his energetic accompanying steps and giving the vocals his all.

And, finally, the big swing, which is actually the village swing (küla kiik), in action.

25 April 2015

Supilinna päevad

There's a district in Tartu that has its own website. It also has a flag. Maybe other districts do too, but anyway, Supilinn (soup town) is where I was today for their street festival. Something about it made it the best day in Tartu in two years. In part, it was definitely due to all the effort everyone put into their small stage performances and stalls for both selling and activities. Without a doubt the most gorgeous spring weather contributed. But then, these things are never quite objective, so it probably also had something to with my departure from Estonia that is drawing near (just under two months) and some kind of bittersweet nostalgia making itself known in advance.

If I hadn't already known it, today once again provided evidence: Estonians are urhipsters – original hipsters. They were hipsters before being a hipster was a thing. I mean, I suspect so. I wasn't here then, but the signs are clear. As a supporting aside, I should actually lead with the following story. Quite some time ago I attended a Spanish evening where an Estonian who had lived in Spain for a while talked about her experiences there, and her boyfriend, a Spaniard now living in Estonia, told us about his experiences in Estonia thus far. Of course Spain was the focus, but in the end it was a rather enlightening comparison, and both countries were treated with a 'home eye' and a 'foreign eye'. The Spaniard pointed out the pride Estonians take in their national identity, including the love of everything related to folk traditions and dress. He reported regularly seeing young people in Viljandi who look like folk hipsters, somehow managing to be mega cool and super folksy-patriotic.

Today's event was basically an embodiment of that wise observation in street festival form, with the qualification that you don't need a nation to be folksy-patriotic – a city district will do just fine.

We caught a Curly Strings rehearsal sneak peek as we arrived, so we embarked on some rounds before the performance.

The first ridiculously tasty discovery was some cabbage pie. That might sound weird, but trust me, it worked. This country is all about pastry/pie kind of thingies, including vegetable types, and they know how to do it. We didn't stop for chess, but I took a moment to capture some of the plein air painters.

The big swing. A must-have for folksy locations.

We returned to the stage to be entertained by the Curly Strings' Supillin song. So, the tally is: website, flag, song. And then there was Silver Sepp's performance that stretched the possibilities of what you can sample to loop for your accompaniment, and, by the way, the possibilities include the crowd. "Everybody! One more time!"

The river was a contributing action-packed zone – rowers, jet skis, short tours on old wooden boats – as I made my way back up with another friend to see everything and eat some more. Two thumbs up for the falafel wraps (not pictured).

Apparently we need to be able to fend off wolves and... goats.

Blacksmiths have mad skills. Two bicycles are better than one. Sequenced hats totally rule. And the police lion collected some high fives.

We toured up one street to see what Stencibility 2015 had delivered.

The Supilinn flag adorns a house in matching colours.

I don't think you can legally have this kind of event without some people slacklining (saw it, but not pictured) and doing some acro moves.

This conversation went something like: "You look like homemade." "Yes, I'm trying to show that I belong here in Supilinn and that I'm not actually from Annelinn." My thoughts: it's working.

P.S. Folksy-patriotism at the national level, as posted once upon a time when I wrote for the University of Tartu student blog: [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ].