My wife is in the publishing business. My folks had to leave on a jet plane. For these two reasons I ventured forth on Friday to the capital city of Tallinn, a place where I used to live but that now feels big and threatening as the Tartu vaim devours me.
We have a lot of Kroonikas on our living room table. Occasionally I glance through them and think, "so that's Tallinn, everyones drinking and getting laid and wears a lot of make up."
The reality is that Tallinn is big and gorgeous. The Raekoja Plats is the perfect place to soak in the spires of Olaviste and Niguliste churches. The beer flows freely. There are foreigners of every stripe, Finns saying "jo", Russians saying "da", Americans saying "yeah", and Brits saying "fancy a cup of tea then, Piret?"
I met two of these sodding limeys at McDonalds at midnight. I asked one if he was waiting in line in Estonian, to which the answer came back "English." Not "I'm sorry mate, but I am from Manchester. I know a lot about baggy, but not a lot of Estonian." No, he just said "English" like he was ordering a language from me. Douche bag. Glad we split with them in 1776.
I was later told that Estonians don't start random conversations with guys at McDonalds at midnight. Well, why not exactly? It's not like we were in the men's room. Hmm.
But you know, Tallinn doesn't really feel like Estonia to me. Estonia is sitting in Viljandi, drinking A. Le Coq, thinking about how I still haven't met Epp's Uncle Vello after five years of being in the family and wondering if he really exists or if everyone is just pulling my chain. Ah, olla Viljandis, kus terve elu on paradiis!
In Viljandi, I feel like the woman you meet knows things. She knows about potatoes and mushrooms and farm animals. She could fix your car. In Tallinn, she knows about pants, and make-up, and Kroonika. Not to stereotype the Tallinnlased, but the women there do seem to spend an awful lot of time sucking fumes in the nail salon. Not everybody, no. I used to give English lessons to Reet Aus.
Reet Aus is not your typical Tallinn babe. She is a very cool fashion designer. After attempting to teach her and fellow fashionista Anu Lensment, I had some astonishingly unmanly thoughts like, "maybe fashion isn't so bad" and "clothing is kind of interesting." We are talking about inspiring people here. Wholly un-nail-salon-fume sucking Tallinnlased. There are good people in Tallinn. There are. There are a ton of babies. Little Marguses and Andruses and Kadris and Katris and Katis. The town is awash with statuesque blond babes pushing baby strollers.
But there are also bad people in Tallinn. Drunks. Nail-salon-fume-sucking ho-bags. Politicians. Stupid fucking idiot drivers. Brits in town for the stag party demanding English at McDonalds at midnight. The cowboy boots thing is played out but I see the young ladies strutting down the avenue like they were in a J. Geils Band video. What is going on in the minds of these Tallinnlased? Helsinki is twice its size and perhaps more, yet it's comatose and Tallinn is always hustling and bustling. It's an amazing city.
Well, well. The reason I was at McDonalds at midnight ordering a McLavash was because I was out of my mind drunk. This was not all my doing. No, our very lahe peremees continued to fill my cup at the evening's soiree. This has happened several times before in eesti. The older generous host refills my glass until I get bombed. The bloodthirsty Roman in me cannot resist. I have to drink it all.
You know, they say alcohol does different things to different people. In the Americas the natives called 'firewater' and it continues to destroy many of their lives. But Estonians are so used to drinking that their bodies are perhaps 2 percent vodka at birth. If an Estonian gets smashed, he might do the Safety Dance. If I drink the same amount, I feel like Roberto Begnini.
So I was wasted. Skull fucked, if you will. Things were blurry. I was eating a McLavash and heading towards D Terminal. The next morning I was still alive.
But back to Tallinn. I can't put my finger on it. It's run by Estonians. But it wasn't actually built by Estonians. It was built by Hansa merchants. It has a spirit, perhaps several. One is certainly money, as the BMWs attest. Another is fashion, as the cowboy boots back-up. A third is politics, as the glimpse of Juhan Parts at the ATM proves. And a fourth is tourism, as the Brit-friendly bars bring forth.
Finally, there is the spirit of history. Of globalized merchants in the days of the 17th century, Swedes that were actually Germans and before that French. Russians that were actually Germans who were actually Dutch and before that Spanish Jews. Tallinn was and is part of the global framework. It is a spot on that worldwide net of dollars and cultures. Estonian politicians talk often of restoring the pre-1940 republic. But Tallinn in many ways has been restored to a time long before the days of Jaan Tõnisson and Konstantin Päts.