reede, august 08, 2014

most exclusive residence for rent in tartu's old town

Not too long ago, I ventured into a museum in Tartu's Old Town only to come face to face with two porcelain figurines: one representing the Swedish King Gustav Adolf and the other his daughter, Queen Christina. They were two treasures unearthed in the building's cellar along with loads of other 17th century junk – broken plates, bent spoons, headless dolls – and the figurines pleased me because they were proof that history had really happened, that before the EU, and the USSR, and the Wabariigi Aeg, and the Russian Empire, Estonia once really had been Swedish, and Queen Christina's porcelain image looked just as natural on a Tartu shelf as President Toomas Hendrik Ilves' bow-tied portrait looks today.

Our friend Rene knows such history. As the owner of several apartments in the Old Town, he has worked industriously to take them back through time and to restore them to their essence, while at the same time blending in modern amenities to taste. He was never content to just throw up some wall paper or move some furniture around to cover up the truth: that these apartments needed radical solutions to remain functional. Staring at the naked, ancient brick walls or beams in Jaani 18-4, one is left to wonder what all of the other apartments in the Old Town look like under their sheetrock or plaster surfaces. And to yearn secretly that all of them could be restored to their natural, birthday suit form, as they truly are.

To read its base attributes does the place no justice.

"Four rooms, 88 square meters, located in a historical 18th century house across from Saint John's Church. There is a private yard and a free parking spot. All historical details preserved, only natural materials used in the renovation.  Kitchen and bathroom furniture is built into the design. Possible to rent with our without other furniture. Call the owner at 5029873."

Yes, call the owner, see the apartment. Walk around inside and make up your mind or just enjoy it. The last I heard, it was going for 800 euros a month. If we weren't dragging around a caravan of three children and two writers, we might have taken it for ourselves. But since that was not meant to be, the second best thing we could do is to make sure you know all about it, and maybe even live there. If you are lucky. For my guess is that a life in such an architecture is like coming face to face with history every moment.

But for me there is personal history in this apartment. Rene bought it from my brother- and sister-in-law years ago. It's the place where I used to play with my niece when she was a little girl, and I learned a lot of my first Estonian words in there. I also watched the Estonian Eurovision competition for the first time down there, where I was to first hear the names Vanilla Ninja and Väiko Eplik. We ate piles of cutlets and potatoes around the table, and in the winter, when there was a warm, roaring fire, we would drink coffee and eat my sister-in-law's delicious cakes. Then my brother-in-law's mother would come in and tell us about how she had heard as a child that the house once housed Peter the Great's stables. I wasn't sure if it was true, but I wanted to believe it.

teisipäev, detsember 17, 2013


For a long time now, I have written here in this place. You've seen me come and go and develop and devolve. Now, at last, I know where I need to go. North! It's my newer blog and I will be writing there.

neljapäev, detsember 12, 2013

peppermint tea

In a recent business-related discussion, I happened upon an interesting question. It had to do with food production, and to brand something made in Estonia for the regional market with an N or a B. That's right: Nordic or Baltic. Just thinking about it was absorbing, because all of those prejudices floated right up to the top. Let's take something harmless like peppermint tea. I love peppermint tea. Now, would you rather drink Nordic Peppermint Tea, or Baltic Peppermint Tea? Hmm. Nordic brings to mind cleanliness. It smacks of Ikea and so there is a flavor of overproduction in the term, as in these tea leaves were handpicked and produced in line with 700 pages worth of government regulations. Still, they are Nordic, which means they come with a Sami folk pattern on the box and are of high quality. Baltic Peppermint Tea didn't sound as savory to my ears, though, nor to the ears of my Estonian colleagues. And nobody could say why. Or maybe we all really knew why we didn't want to drink Baltic Peppermint Tea, and lacked the courage to admit it.

kolmapäev, detsember 04, 2013


Estonia has a new minister of culture, and her name is Urve Tiidus. That's right, her name. The former mayor of Kuressaare is a woman. Estonia's cabinet now has its second female minister. While this is certainly cause for celebration, let's not forget that women are the majority in Estonia. There are 689,000 women. There are 598,000 men. That's a 54 percent to 46 percent split. Which, I guess, would mean that there should be seven female ministers and six male ministers, if you do the math, in an ideal world, in an ideal world...

why no western ukraine

In third grade, I was very proud, because I was one of the few students who could pronounce "Czechoslovakia." Other kids would prod me -- "Say it! Say it!" "Say what?" "You know what, just say it!" "Oh, {an eyebrow raised}, do you mean, CZECHOSLOVAKIA?" "See! I told you that he could say it! Pay up, boys!"

It was a talent that perhaps could have earned me a future slot as a diplomat in Prague {"The Secretary of State informed me that you are capable of saying it..."}, but, alas, there was that pesky Velvet Divorce. It happened {snap!} like that. Czechoslovakia dissected, cut into more easily pronounced halves. Nobody blinked, nobody twiddled nervous thumbs, the anxiety level was nonexistent, it was all calm and fine, at least from the vantage point of a New York junior high school student. Now that I read more about it, I can see that many people even opposed it! Still, it was bloodless, soft as velvet, and who doesn't like velvet?

What I don't understand, is why there is opposition to a Ukrainian "Velvet Divorce"? It's apparent that Western Ukraine, those parts of current Ukraine that were once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is/are not happy with Kiev. They aren't happy with Donetsk. Western Ukraine! Doesn't it sound grand? {"Don't worry, mother, she's from Western Ukraine."} And yet, when somebody brings up a partitioning of Western Ukraine from the rest of it, all you hear is no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. To which, I must respond, Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?...


esmaspäev, detsember 02, 2013


Very pleased to hear of the demonstrations in Kiev. One thing that always impressed me about former Communist/Eastern/New Europe {as opposed to glazed over, apathetic ABBA- and Boney M-listening Western/Old} is the belief in "people power" -- that change from the bottom up is still possible. Count me among those Western Europeans {or Westerners in general} who remain convinced that there is no such thing, and that our systems will remain mired in lethargy for eternity. We {or some of those among us} were not surprised by what has happened in Ukraine over the past month at all. But what is surprising is the tenacity of these EU-friendly parts of Ukraine, these demonstrators who simply do not give up. I do not know what their great ambition is -- the common currency, Schengen? -- but they are banging at the gates, crying to be let out of post-Soviet limbo land. They want a future. Don't we all?

neljapäev, november 21, 2013


The meeting took place in an abandoned barn on the western most tip of Hiiumaa. Outside it was raining, and the sea was stewing up with caps of white, and the pines were shimmying, and even the savage gulls were huddling under the eaves of the deserted summertime lodgings and wishing they had gone south like everybody else

The Candidate entered the barn and made his way past the fishing nets and dinghies to the very back. Then he pulled on the rusty sickle, just as he was instructed. The secret door creaked open, and he followed the steps down, kicking up the sand and hay that had accumulated in the corners of the steps. At the bottom, the Candidate crouched under a heavy beam and came into the light. It was a bare room, with walls cut from  salt-air-dried logs and sandy ground for a floor. In the center of the room, he saw a small wooden table. There was a man seated at it.

"Good afternoon, Minister," said the Candidate to the man.

The Minister said nothing. He was reading through some paperwork. When he was done, he looked up at the Candidate through his glasses and gestured for him to sit. The Candidate took his chair opposite the Minister. Then the Minister folded the papers up in a folder and tossed the folder across the table.

The Candidate took it in his hands. He felt its weight. Then he scanned the text on its cover. It read, in Estonian, "Government's Top Secret Plan to Remove Anti-Ruling Party Elements Who Write for State-Sponsored Publications."

The Candidate glanced up at the Minister. The Minister nodded but said nothing. Then the Candidate opened the folder. On the first page, he saw there was a list of names. It was written in black. Some of the names were very well known. When he read the names, he winced, because they belonged to famous people. In fact, the Candidate suspected that some of the persons named on the list might have even been to the secret Hiiumaa barn cellar before.

Then the Candidate turned the page over and saw an image of a white stone building overlooking a beach. There were palm trees around it, and there was a young brown-haired woman in a polka dot bikini sitting on its veranda. The Candidate studied the lady. She held an umbrella drink in one hand and was smiling. The Candidate smiled too, because the woman in the photo had very nicely tanned legs. Beneath the image was a single line of text. It said, in Estonian, "Your Future Timeshare in Maspalomas."

The Minister chuckled a bit when he noticed that the Candidate was smiling. Then he snorted and pretended that he was clearing his throat and resumed his stone-like pose. The Candidate shut the folder, but the images of the white house and the tan legs were still hot in his mind.

There was a pause.

The Minister looked up at the Candidate again through his glasses, as if he was awaiting a response. The Candidate bit his lip. He looked around the room, at the sandy floor, the wooden boards, the gray-haired man seated at the table. He thought of the names on the list, the white house, the smiling dish with the umbrella drink. Then he shrugged his shoulders and dipped his head as a sign of assent.

esmaspäev, oktoober 21, 2013

the cyclops

One can look at Tallinn in different ways. Some see a city that has been multicultural and market-oriented since at least the 13th century. Others see it as the capital of Estonia. The incumbent ran his campaign with this first perspective. The challenger ran his with the second. And I don't think the opposition's campaign was ever about winning. It was about doing what the conservative party enjoys doing -- sticking it to Savisaar. Maybe a few of them were disappointed that Eerik-Niiles Kross lost, but most knew that bringing down the Cyclops of Lindanisse was a political impossibility, yet delighted in watching Aeneas storm his beaches and fling rocks at him anyway. It's a shame, because Tallinn needs new management. Any person who has scaled the ruins of the Linnahall at the foot of Old Town, stepped over its rubble and weeds and graffiti to greet a friend coming off the boat from tidy Helsinki on the other side, has felt those familiar pangs of shame. Too much of the city looks like that. Neglect, poor planning, asshole capitalist architecture. The city suffers from its leader's myopia. The Cyclops wins an election and he thinks that it's because he is doing such a swell job. But it doesn't feel that way. Savisaar's city feels slower and lethargic. Its free transportation leads nowhere. And yet a challenger who can match his rhetoric of inclusiveness and optimism is nowhere in sight.