When we lived in Estonia, we used to be awakened every morning by TV hosts Marko and Anu of Eesti Terevision telling us about all the amazing things happening in Estonia, like car accidents and Juhan Parts' pet kitten. They'd also play music videos, some of which were totally NOT appropriate for morning television, like Missy Elliot's "One Minute Man" (break me off/show me what you got/cos I don't want/no one minute man). Good thing I only understood that one. Now I liked waking up to Marko and Anu, but what I really hated was when the Tartu crew took over on Fridays. From a misty tower somewhere in South Estonia two not so nice looking kids that looked like they'd both just smoked a fat spliff, yawned out the morning news in their flat south Estonian accents.
"How boring," I thought. "Glad I'm up here in Tallinn where everyone is so rich and beautiful, and I can go to Stockmann whenever I want, and I can go peruse the cake section at Kaubamaja and get some meekook, and maybe I'll see someone famous, like Alex Lepaja at the Söörikukohvik on Kentmanni Street or Meelis Atonen getting out of his shiny, black car." To me, at that time, Tallinn was where everything was happening. Tartu was just some college town. But these days I am not so sure. Things have been changing in me. My tastes have grown. I no longer want sweet lemonade. I want iced tea. And maybe, if we returned, I wouldn't want to live in the city of Kroonika, where all the girls get their nails done and then shimmy straight over to the tanning salon for the Scandinavian golden brown. Maybe I'd prefer that college town with its dreadlocked kids and snoozy mornings.
I'm an ocean boy. I've always lived near it, and most of my ancestors lived near it too. As far as I know, only one of my ancestors came from a place that was not near an ocean or sea (Sebnitz, on the German-Czech border). But everybody else comes from the water, and I've got it in my veins. I can't stand being away from the sea. My mind needs mental barriers. It NEEDS to know that just out there, a few kilometers down the road, is a big salty continent-defining mass of sogginess. So I would expect that Tartu, with it's meandering little river would not cut it. But somehow, it does.
For one, Tartu has some nasty Soviet leftovers, but it's not like Tallinn, where parts of the city still look like Beirut circa 2006. But actually, in some ways it's prettier than most of Tallinn, aside from the Old Town. And Vanalinn is filled with girls selling nuts and postcards, and Italian tourists with babies crying for gelato, and 24-hour prõnkssodur watches. Not so in Tartu. Tartu is like a confectioners paradise compared to Tallinn. It's colorful buildings look so good, you could strip them of their sugary icicles and snack on their creamy moldings. Plus in Tartu they have Tsink Pekk Pang - or however you spell it. The food there is GOOD.
Another good thing about Tartu is the fact that all the major heads make it a point to stop there. When famous DJs like LTJ Bukem come to Estonia, they stop in Tartu. And in a way, I feel they are appreciated more. It's not the biggest city (about 100,000 people) but you can do things there. Even if you read poetry by Michael McClure, it's possible you could generate a sizeable crowd. You've got to appreciate an Estonian city with two reputable Chinese restaurants within 300 yards of one another.
Plus Tartlased, for whatever reason, seem more genuinely international than Tallinnlased. In my mind this is distinguished between the people from Tartu looking 'normal' while the kids from Tallinn look like they are going to a party 24-7. You know exactly what I am talking about. The untrustworthy group posturing. The bleached out hair. The suave earring. The fondness for A. Le Coq. The anxious text messaging thumb. Tallinn teens are so trendy, I even feel intimidated. And I am a 26-year-old geezer.
Now, I'm not totally dissing Tallinn. I'm just saying that as I move from lemonade to iced tea, and from chocolate cookies to bowls of fruit, and from rock to the boss nova, maybe my heart is setting a bit on Tallinn and moving on to Tartu.
And maybe those hungover kids with the dreadlocks weren't so bad afterall.