reede, mai 02, 2008

island people

One of my chief concerns about moving to Tartu was its lack of sea. Tartu has water, a silty, slithering river known as the emajõgi, but there were no major geographic boundaries from which I could get my bearings.

As a child, I always lived by the sea. I always knew it was there, often minutes or less from our door. Even if I didn't go out of my way to see it everyday, I sensed it. I smelled its air. I could feel the dark humidity before a thunderstorm. It helped keep me, in some ways, sane.

It was my fear that by moving to Tartu, I would be somehow stuck in the Missouri of Estonia. My own internal bias was that all landlocked people eventually went mad. I didn't want to go mad and, as you can see, I haven't gone quite mad yet.

That is due to two reasons. First, Estonians themselves have an island mentality, even if one "coast" is a marshy border with Latvia. So no matter where you are in Estonia, you are still delineated by the Baltic and Peipsi. Second, Tartu itself is an island community that just happens to be surrounded by farms instead of sea. Going anywhere -- to Põlva or Otepää or Lake Peipsi -- takes some adjustment. When you are lost in Tartu, the outside world might as well not exist.

In Tartu, you forget that the rest of Estonia doesn't voluntarily wear 19th century university corporation fashion accessories to the supermarket. The rest of Estonia isn't brimming with people who call themselves "poets" by profession. In Tartu, thrill-seeking Americans gather together to ... drink beer and carve pumpkins.

The bevy of nighttime entertainment leaves you breathing room to roam from the cavernous püsirohukelder to the crowded Zavood, to the old-timey Vilde's. If you want Georgian, there's the Gruusia Saatkond. Italian? La Dolce Vita. Libraries? We've already lost count of those.

Why would one ever leave Tartu island when everything you need is right here?

20 kommentaari:

Flasher T ütles ...

Hear hear.

chile ütles ...

Yet, still, something is missing. Its the feel and rush of the city! Sure, this place is great, but im the kind of person who likes to roam in the city, for hours, but something like that - is just impossible in Tartu.
You can walk through the city in 5 maybe 10 minutes, and its over! Now im not saying Tallinn is some megacity, certainly not, but it has the aura of possibility about it. And yes, you can walk for hours in the city centre, moving from one place to the other.
But ofcourse, Tartu is perfect for what it is - a university town, walkable - everywhere! And yes, the weekends in Tallinn, oh i so curse the taxifee i get, when in Tartu... zavood is just 300m away, or maybe less, anyway, its damn close! perfect, but not quite!

Alex ütles ...

Yet, still, something is missing.

Same great taste but less filling.

Rainer ütles ...

You are so very right. When I wind up in Tartu, it's always hard or even impossible to leave. So now I know why...

By the way, a very creative typo from you: püsirohukelder. It can be translated into English as Cellar of Permanent Grass or something like that. Just one s is missing, but what a difference in meaning.

Kristopher ütles ...

Is Zavood püsi-? I heard some rumour about a fraternity moving back.

Now I've read often about how great it is to walk in Tartu, but I find it slightly wide -- takes a while to get from, well, Zavood or Krooks to, Kotka Kelder or the Feenoks store. I'm not a local, those are just the landmarks I know. And if you're going from the river uptown it's quite a hill. So I don't know about that one in relation to Tallinn.

I stopped in Tartu for work not long ago and ended up having to get a room. You also have a huge supply of standard double hotel rooms for $30-$40 in the form of the "hostel" system run by the university. That is cool.

Cat Power ütles ...

I have always wondered about a similar thing with sea. How come people who live in inland don't eventually become nuts with angst, desperation and claustrophobia (for some reason, being far inland always has associated with being trapped for me).
Sure, Tartu is not that bad in that sense, but take Mongolia for instance?
I guess it's good I ended up in Copenhagen :D - you can't find a place far away from sea in whole Denmark.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Self diagnosis is the hardest thing to accomplish. Well done, Justin.

Colm ütles ...

My parents grew up by the sea. My siblings and I grew up by the sea. Here in Saku I miss the sea and I can't wait to get back. There is something to the smell of seaweed and the sound of the waves crashing against the shore.

Kristopher ütles ...

You would be in good company if you went mad inland:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prairie_madness

Three former presidents. And I think they all recovered.

But nothing beats a warm winter in Tallinn for madness.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Why would one ever leave Tartu island when everything you need is right here?

Why would you...no need?

Jim Hass ütles ...

My daughter lives in Missouri, and I can assure you that not everyone in St. Louis is mad, yet.

Mingus ütles ...

Americans, beer and pumpkins?

Alex ütles ...

Americans, beer and pumpkins?

Isn't that why people leave the U.S. to begin with?

Gavin ütles ...

I would tolerate Americans AND pumpkins for American beer.

1500 US microbreweries is a pretty powerful argument when you live in a country where a bottle of English ale costs 50 kroons.

Not a fan of the output of the big brewery in St. Louis though. Tastes too much like Saku with water. :)

timbu ütles ...

I see you're allowing anonymous comments again - that's great!
Yes, the fear of being inland; I call it continentophobia. I have it myself. How amazing that this condition is known globally! By the way, the opposite condition exists as well - folks who lived all their lives inland, when presented with two parallel paths along the coast, choose the one separated from the sea by trees. They're also reluctant to travel by boat.
I've wondered what keeps my Minnesota relatives sane: is it the international airport, or is it the Canadian border?

Giustino ütles ...

Americans, beer and pumpkins?

They don't mention it in the stag party brochures.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Minnesota. Where all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.

timbu ütles ...

Anonüümne, you forgot "where all the women are strong".

Doris ütles ...

I miss Emaj6gi. It's not so bad here in Amsterdam, what with all he canals and all but... I miss the river.

Instructor ütles ...

"Missouri of Estonia"?

Dude, you are so dangerously close to being dead to me ...

And after I said nice things in the comments in the latest City Paper about your article. Meh.