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.