pühapäev, juuni 10, 2007

Võrumaa -- oma ja hää


Today I fulfilled one of my major Estonian ambitions, I traveled south through Põlvamaa to Võru, the home of the mysterious speakers of Võru kiela, a dialect of Estonian similar to Finnish.

As a city, Võru is larger than Põlva. It seems a bit smaller than Viljandi, but not by much. However I found it more attractive than some cities in Estonia because there is simply less rotting Soviet-era crap around.

When we got to Võru we visited an antique store -- yes, I am getting old and boring -- and I got to look at old copies of Kalevipoeg, photos of Konstantin Päts, and, of course, creepy 1950s Soviet stuff -- you know the picture of Stalin with Lenin's head floating in the clouds above him, symbolizing how, even though Lenin is gone, his genius lives on through Stalin. Yeah, that kind of stuff.

Võru is layed out in a pleasant enough grid around a lake with fairly well kept buildings. Every bench in the park in the center of town was warmed by the rear-end of an elderly resident of Võru. They were all very quiet and seemed a bit perturbed by this large male with his small yet very loud daughter trailing alongside him on the way to the Konsum.

In the Konsum, I sensed an accent. I was listening for the Võru dialect, but I just heard Estonian spoken with a bit of an accent. Maybe it was dialect, maybe it's just that the Lõuna-Eesti murre is especially thick here. The people were a bit slower. When they counted my money it seemed like it took forever. I felt like I was in a real farm town. Perhaps what Iowa might feel like if I ever went there.

As we headed for the beach on Lake Tamulina, we got sucked into a parade. There were many, many older ladies in folk costumes holding signs that said things like "Itä Virumaan Seura" and holding a yellow flag with a Nordic cross on it that looked slightly familiar. Many of them had hats on that said "Inkeri" and it turned out that we had just stumbled into a parade and laulupidu of Inkeri Finns who had traveled from all parts of Estonia to sing songs in Finnish and Estonian in Võrumaa of all places.

I heard words like "kiitos" and "hyvä" floating around me and I suddenly felt like I was back in Seinajöki five years ago. The feeling was the same. It was as if Finland was in Estonia or rather, Estonia was part of Finland. But there were Russian-speakers there too. We thought they might be from some place exotic, like Mari-El, but no, they were from Kohtla-Järve. They also switched to Estonian when we asked them questions about their costumes, another part of the daily proof that the language issue isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Yesterday at the beack in Tartu I encountered a little boy, about six years old, who yelled at one little girl in Russian (I presume his sister) then at another in Estonian (I presume his sister's friend) and then got up and ran down the beach yelling, "Kes tahab jäätist?" It's amazing. He was just a little boy and bilingual.

Anyway, not only were there Inkeri Finns from Itä Viromaa, but there were Chuvash there and Latvians and Lithuanians and even some fiesty Ukrainians with their yellow and blue flag and emotive speaking style that was a welcome cup of coffee after snoozing through speeches by Estonians and Finns. Plus, we got to listen to the Estonian national anthem twice -- in Finnish and in Estonian! Altogether, it was an interesting experience. So if anyone ever tells you that the Inkeri Finns don't exist, just send them to Võrumaa.

After we left Võru we traveled to Umbsaare to visit a friend. She has two golden haired children -- both under two years of age -- and it was interesting to think that pretty soon we'll be dealing with a baby again that cannot speak or tell us when it has to go to the bathroom. She made us lunch which included kama, the yummy Estonian snack that leaves the foreigner feeling a bit off after consumption.

Kama is made of ground peas and wheat and all sort of good stuff and it is mixed with hapupiim -- literally sour milk, but not sour cream, more like yogurt but softer -- and consumed as a sweet dish. This is good as Estonians like to put salt in most everything. They even put salt in their porridge! But not, as far as I know, in their kama. After I had the kama I felt as if I had eaten drain-o for my digestive system. I could feel the kama weighing down on my intestines, the powder scraping the sides as it worked its way towards its eventual destination. To put it simply, kama is some heavy duty shit.

After kama we went to Vastseliina vald, a parish to the southeast of Võru. Võrumaa isn't altogether that huge as a county and pretty soon we were near the Russian border, although I imagine that the Russian side also looks like the Estonian side -- thick with forests, the kind of forests that would be good for, hmm, I don't know, a guerilla war?

That's right. Vastseliina vald was among the old hiding places of Orion, a guerilla organization led by Jaan Roots, a Võru high school student loyal to the Estonian state that joined a group called Põhjala Noored (Northern Youth) and subsequently came under investigation by the Soviet authorities. Roots fled to the forests and conducted raids on Soviet forces until he met the fate of most metsavennad, dying in the forests of Võrumaa in a shoot out in 1952 at the age of 25.

We didn't meet any guerillas in Vastseliina though. Instead we met mosquitos, thousands of them. As soon as I stepped out of the car the droning of the sääsed filled my ears. I tried wading into the nearby creek to escape them, but the just wouldn't leave me alone. Our friend led us up the creek to a scenic waterfall -- she's accustomed to the sääsk treatment -- but before we could get there I had to bail with my small child, carrying her up a hill through the forest, all the time swatting away the swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitos and avoiding the many pinecones that punctured my New York tender feet.

Finally we got to the bluff above the waterfall, took our photo there, and walked quickly back to the car to hide from the nasty mosquitos that followed our fresh wounds everywhere. I managed to kill a few and boy did I enjoy swatting the shit out of those sääsed. Believe you me, they felt my furious anger as the Estonian map came swinging through the air, crushing their tiny blood sucking exoskeletons. Let this be a lesson to you, sääsed.

At this juncture, I decided that Võrumaa wasn't really for me. I was heading back to Tartu, home of blonde chicks in hot pants, friendly pubs, a multitude of supermarkets, and other such civilized things. I wanted to be in my little Tartu apartment, sääsk free, recuperating from the havoc that the kama had wrought on my body. I left Võrumaa fulfilled but wary of the wilderness. The next time I am in the mood for Võrumaa I just might have some Wõro sausages instead.

28 kommentaari:

stockholm slender ütles ...

Seinäjoki?? You have been to the strangest of places for a New Yorker... Võrumaa is an interesting area, I guess the dialect is in some ways closer to Finnish than regular Estonian. That's interesting as they are farthest removed from Finland (except Setumaa, of course). My wife's family is partially from Võrumaa and we have visited there a few times. Mosquitos have admittedly been a problem at times, and ants - btw, they say here that this summer will be especially bad, so I wouldn't suggest Lapland for anyone till September.

Heli ütles ...

That real Võro dialect speak mostly only elderly võros daily and to the ear it is indeed very similar to finnish but for me is this language something very hard to understand and to the most of the estonians in fact, though I speak and undrstand also finnish quite well, but still from võro I understand mainly only verbs.

Reinumag ütles ...

I always have my kama with some sugar. Perhaps that was one of the ingredients in your case too?

kessu ütles ...

"The next time I am in the mood for Võrumaa I just might have some Wõro sausages instead."

geniaalne!

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Giustino, don't forget that a lot of 'blondes' at Tartu university are actually from Voru.
The city has a lot to tell. Urmas a local journalist guided me around the city recently. And he was still angry that a former Tallinn mayor came to his small town who act like it still were Tallinn. The politicians then decided to pave the central park, covering the former green belt in the city centre with concrete and stone. There is a strange waterfall in the middle. But from the side it looks like basement for a Soviet tank that had to leave the place recently.
Soviet left overs were around a big military compound that was taken over by the Estonian Army again years ago. Just behind the abandoned train station.

Eleonora ütles ...

Guistino said re Vasteliina
thick with forests, the kind of forests that would be good for, hmm, I don't know, a guerilla war?

Strangely, last night I was reading about Vastseliina in one of Arthur Vööbus’ books on his series of the history of the Estonian People. According to Võõbus (a pompous, flowery, jingoistic and prejudiced writer), after the German army crossed into the southern border of Võrummaa the Metsavend, organised themselves into a unit,and first took on the Russian army units and extermination battalions in Võrumaa at Anstla on 5 July 1941. The next day a larger offensive happened in Vasteliina where the Metsavend prevented Russian destruction of the town and trapped the Russians, the extermination battalion chiefs and local communist administrators. On July 7 the Metsavend were able to fly the Estonian flag in Vasteliina. Võru was subsequently liberated and by the time the German army arrived the blue-black-white flags were already at full mast and the Metsavend had organised into an Omakaitse – self defense units.

I remember my many visits to Võru and surrounds and browsing in the antique shop was like travelling back in time seeing the huge stock of Russian and German WW2 items.

My relatives told me that in the forests on the Võru/Rõuge road, the odd shaped square type clearings in the pineforests were sites for Russian mobile missile launchers in Occupation times.

Your comments about kama remind me of Estonian breakfasts which I can’t face. However, I fully support salt on porridge rather than sugar. And I love hapukapsas supp. Maybe it is a gene or neme thing.

Wahur ütles ...

First, about kama. I just finished my bowl for lunch. With both sugar and salt - some salt will make it only better, I think. In our modern times kama goes also well with yoghurt.

About võru dialect - I don't think you hear it in Võru, it's more of a countryside and elderly thing, although it has been gaining popularity again. I still remember my surprise visit to a girlfriend near Põlva. She was not at home and I spent 2 exciting hours talking to her grandmother, mostly only vaguely understanding what the old lady was saying.
Similarity of võru language to Finnish is a result of sophisticated history - modern Finnish is a mix of ancient Western Finnish (Estonian, Liivi and Helsinki area Finnish) and Eastern Finnish (Karelian and all those small languages behind the Peipsi) Võru dialect (unlike modern Estonian) has also strong influence of the latter, therefore the similarity to Finnish (actually its Karelian component) and difference from Estonian.
Oh boy, I hope someone can get a clue of what I wrote above ;)

iluut ütles ...

I suppose you might have heard the dialect, but if then the older people speaking it. As for the rest, I am not surpirsed you noticed it sounds different there, the same normal Estonian spoken eveywhere else.
The difference is about pronounciation - it is said that in south we somewhat speak more "soft" Estonian than in the rest of the country (south is what starts after you leave Tartu to the direction of Võru and Põlva ;)
). I remember at school the teacher pointed out some aspects regarding the different usage of the language in South and North of Estonia (namely "välted" and "astmevaheldus" - ask Epp to explain you more). There are some words which I´d name as the "lacmus" words which can tell off your ofigin. The softness and hardness of Estonian pronounciation is evidnet when to pronounce "L", especially like in the words like "pudel" and "mantel". I am myself originally from Võru, and when I went to the university in Tartu then I met a lot of people who told of just of my speaking that I was from South Estonia. The step further was to make fun of my "pudel" and "mantel" which was not so funny to me though, as I did not recognize the difference myself. As it is with jokes that are about you but are not funny to you - then you want to "get rid of them". So at one point I asked a friend of mine from North Estonia to teach me to say these words as in North - I think it did not work in the end after all.
Next to the pronounciation differences, there are also some words that are the same, but just have different meanings in North and in South. In this case I can tell the difference, and every time I meet someone who uses these words with the same meaning as in South, then I can be sure that the person is from South. The other option is that he/she has recenlty been in the company of Soth-Estonians and has picked up the meaning in the end. One of these words is "too" f.e.

Giustino ütles ...

The difference is about pronounciation - it is said that in south we somewhat speak more "soft" Estonian than in the rest of the country.

Quite honestly, the guys at the beach in Võru were just mumbling. They had the worst diction ever. It's like they are too lazy to actually say the words so they just sort of make the sound and the other one guesses what word it is.

I know this well because a lot of my friends in New York did the same thing. Instead of having the typical New York accent, we just would mumble through things.

I do this with my daughter. She in no way learns the English you read in your textbook.

"What do you want?" is "Waddyawan'"
"I don't know" is "Idunnah"
"What are you doing?" is "Wuddyadoin?"

Then every "o" sound is converted to an "ah" sound (this is characteristic of New England and New York).

Box is "bah-ks". Blog is "blahg" Orange is "aringe". It's a Yankee thing. When my wife says "box" I think she is saying "books" -- she learned British English in school.

Likewise I cannot make the "õ" sound. When I say "tõi" or "või" I am told that I am from Saaremaa. Which is ok with me.

Eleonora ütles ...

Molto sympatico. One book I have states that õ is formed by pronouncing the 'e' as in the word bend while at the same time moving the tongue backwards without rounding the lips.

Can anyone can actually do that without grimacing? I am not the only the õ dunce in my eesti keel lesson over this vowel and we end up in fits of laughter at the facial expressions this vowel causes.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Honest, old-fashioned Finno-Ugrian vowel harmony would make Estonia so much easier to pronounce for us forest people... - don't they have that in the Võru dialect?

Juan Manuel ütles ...

If you guys find "box" and "book" very similar, why not say "raamat"? )))

we got to listen to the Estonian national anthem twice -- in Finnish and in Estonian!

They have the same anthem, don't they? They just change the words. I think there was even a project to create a common country and Tuglas or Suits, I don't remember, were great fans of that idea.

What is the meaning of "hyvä"? Is it a Finnish word?

And why were there Chuvash there? Chuvash are a Turkic people from quite far away. Obviously they are in the same situation like Meri and Udmurts, but still there is a big difference between them.

Trulla ütles ...

Met a funny page about Estonia on the Internet recently :).

Perhaps it's already known to you - and I apologize to Giustino for a possibly irrelevant comment and give him every right to remove the link from the comments-page if he decides to - but I found it amuzing enough to present to the readers here too :).

ALL ONE NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT ESTONIA

Sgt. Pepper ütles ...

You can have lots of fun taking turns with making an english speaker to say 'õ' sound and estonian speaker to pronounce 'th' sound.

david h jones ütles ...

another interesting and well-wriotten blogg. However, with some references you need to give us non-Estonian Estonianphiles some clues:

"Võru is larger than Põlva. It seems a bit smaller than Viljandi," - so, is that 10,000 people, 20,000 thousand or 5?

Otherwise, keep up the good work. Don't speak any Esotnian but I enjoy references to the socia-linguistic and diaglossic side of things.

Andres ütles ...

david, most Estonian cities have a Wikipedia page *hint*hint*
To make it easier, Võru has about 14.5k inhabitants, Põlva has about 6.5k, Viljandi has 20k people living in it.

Giustino ütles ...

Estonia needs some kind of regional development plan beyond "A Selver and a Rimi in every town." I feel like not enough is happening in places like Viljandi.

I am also told that because of the population size it's hard to attract investment. But if Finnish and Swedish towns like Oulu and Umeaa can be built up, then I am sure that Viljandi can as well.

plasma-jack ütles ...

What is the meaning of "hyvä"? Is it a Finnish word?
Finnish word for "good".

One of my favorite English accents is the Newcastle accent, which is so nicely used by band called Maxïmo Park:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7Do5QBtuJU

The Australians sound also very cool.

Giustino ütles ...

They have the same anthem, don't they? They just change the words.

That was one of my Vaudevillian jokes.

Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha.

iluut ütles ...

...well... I definitely did not mean by "soft" Estonian the sounds mumbling guys on beach are able to produce :) Normally you get from those guys is just something like "mõmmmmm" and it is the same all over Estonia - just go to an average Estonian village in the middle of nowhere (wherever then), find a shop, go behind the corner of the shop and listen to those guys you see there....

iluut ütles ...

However, the whole discussion here is pretty interesting.

First, the notions about the similarity of South Estonian dialect (let´s say Võru dialect (because there is also Setu dialect and this is something that should not be mixed up))and Finnish - I myself have never find them similar anyhow. But for foreigners maybe they might sound similar, otherwise - according to this logic, if I can speak and understand Võru dialect, shouldn´t I be able to at least understand Finnish? Which I don´t. Funnily, the Estonians who speak Finnish are more from the North coast region. The legend goes (and pretty true one) that during soviet time peiole on north coast could watch Finnish TV programs on their TV even without official broadcasting. Whereas the south ones of course, could not.

Second - it is true that in Estonia you get the "proper" British English at school. Even so, if I happen to watch a British movie (with sometimes some extra cool local acent) without subtitles, then the first time the first half of the movie is totally lost, the second half you kind of start understanding, and then you need to watch it for the second time to be able to follow the plot.

Sgt. Pepper ütles ...

LOL. That wiki site was a riot. Take the part about seks:

"... As it is impossible to have sex or anything close to it after having drank 2 litres of vodka (after every 4 hours), there are no known cases and certaintly no spotted cases of sex in Estonia. Estonians multiply by binary fission. It is every Estonian's duty to reproduce at least a cluster or two of little Estonians.

Another reason for Estonians' frigidity in bed is the horrendous unfixed Estonian road surfaces (well if the evil Communists build them they should bloody well fix them too). The vibrations caused through contact between the tyres of the Toyota Corolla and the gaping chasms in the so called road travel all the way to the seats, providing the driver and the passengers with multiple tantric orgasms (as Sting found out after having an 8 hour auto tour of Estonia). By the time they get home they are literally so shagged out the thought of any sort of intimate closeness makes them violently puke..."

Juan Manuel ütles ...

That was one of my Vaudevillian jokes.

I am actually laughing now that I got it!!! :-DDD. I am a bit slow sometimes you know. Very funny.

Wahur ütles ...

Ehh, iluut, you uncouth southerner. Watching Finnish TV is not a legend but reality. Considering the distance from Helsinki and ability of radiowaves to spread its not very surprising. All you needed was PAL block to get the voice and colour working (Soviet TV used SECAM IIRC). And I think if you watched Latvian TV enough you would also understand it pretty soon.

Sgt. Pepper ütles ...

... "And I think if you watched Latvian TV enough you would also understand it pretty soon."

Theoretically. It probably depends what your ethnic background or, rather, what your political convictions are. Without being too specifc let's just say that some people in Latvia have been watching Latvian TV for about 40+ years and still don't understand anything.

Wahur ütles ...

Yup, sarge.
Sister of my grandfather lives in Riga since 1950 and is married to another expat Estonian from the same time. While quite able to speak good Estonian, they even use Latvian at home nowadays. So it depends. Mainly on whether one wishes to learn and feel at home or not.

Suhkrutükk ütles ...

Hmm I kind of like that there is still wilderness in Estonia... I wouldn't like all Estonia becoming Tallinns. But I agree they should fix the damn roads! The comparisson with Sweden and Findland would be pretty fair if they would have built their country up from scratch, too. But they didn't.Good for them.
Still, I object, being a big fan of South-Estonian lakes, hilly landscapes, mosquitos and country folkes :))

PS: Try Otepää when there is Leigo Music Festival. I think you might like it. But prepare some Raid to take with you ;)
PS: How is life in Tartu? I've been away for half a year. But coming back soon for a while to deal with my academic career :))
Good luck! Nice blog!

Architectse ütles ...

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