Today I finally got a chance to flip through The Ice Museum, a new book by Joanna Kavenna that traces her journeys across the Nordic lands in search of the myth of Thule. During her journey she visits Norway, Greenland, Shetland, Svalbard, and Estonia, where she meets with former president Lennart Meri to discuss his theory on the origin of the myth of the Scandinavian frontier of Thule.
Meri posits that Thule was actually an event - not a place - and that the event was a meteor crashing into Saaremaa about 700 years before the birth of Christ. "Thule" he believes, comes from the Estonian word for fire, "tuli."
While the quest for Thule is interesting, it is Kavenna's description of Estonia - its juniper trees, bogs, marshes, and recovering infrastructure, that reminded me of my own connections to the place. Kavenna continually points out that Estonians are a simple people who are connected to nature and rocks and lakes. How true.
I call my in-laws päkapikud - elves - because their idea of a good time is to rummage through the forests finding wild mushrooms or berries. The Russians called them Chuds - which I have read in Old Slavic translates to "weird." The Latvians joke of Estonians who are slow, rural people. Maybe. But there is something very different in the way my wife picks berries and how I did when I was a child.
It reminds me of how I met an old Indian man on Long Island who told me about the food of his ancestors - squash, beans, maize, fish. They had such profound meaning for him. And I have to say that the often greasy and heavy foods of Italy mean a lot to me. Sometimes I feel that mozzerella is one of the crutches upon which my existence rests. I also am turned off my fancy Italian restaurants. I feel that this food is meant to be consumed in the home, not dished out in expensive platters.
But it must be cool to have belonged to one stretch of Earth for 5,000 years. To know songs that have meaning. To speak a language that uses archaic constructions like "Läheme Antsu juurde" - let's go to Ants' root. It's a powerful eternal feeling, and you can understand why Estonians care so much about their lakes, rivers, coasts, and forests. Their country is not just a place where they can walk around feeling good that they are in the EU and NATO all day. It's not just a place where they work and play and sleep and drink Saku Originaal. It's actually sacred to them.
I've never really known a feeling like that myself. But it's all there in the well-crafted lines of Kavenna's new book.