laupäev, august 02, 2008

joodik

Today we took a trip out to visit Epp's great uncle Leo, who is approaching his 79th birthday, and despite stagnant living standards and chronic illness, is still taking care of his business and is probably in better mental shape than some of his offspring.

Leo was actually born Leonid and christened in an Orthodox church in Värska. His father was an ex-White Army soldier from Vjatka in the foothills of the Ural mountains; his mom was a local girl from south Estonia. To add to the cultural palette, Leo married an Ingrian Finnish woman who has since passed on.

Leo's generation in Estonia has gotten consistently screwed at nearly every stage of life, it seems. As children they suffered through the economic and political crises of the 1930s, only to spend their teens living in fear of a war that ravaged every community in this country. The post-war "peace" meant that nearly any man with a brain and a pulse quickly found himself arrested and sent to Siberia, and Leo's father was gone for nearly a decade.

After the war, the young men of Leo's generation had to quietly stomach years of Stalinist intrusion into almost every part of their lives, baptizing their kids in secrecy, watching their children going to school with a little hammer and sickle on their lapels to ensure that they knew who was boss.

It is for these reasons, perhaps, that older Estonians seem to be defiantly apolitical: even if they scrape by on a pension and live in impoverished conditions, they say little as their representatives glide around Tallinn in shiny, black cars. They just want to be left alone; they have no interest in ideology. They also have no money and no power, so no one listens to them.

After a lifetime of serving Eesti NSV, the rebirth of the Estonian Republic caught guys like Leo when they were just nearing retirement. Their savings were suddenly worth nothing, and their assets -- typically a worn down apartment or farmhouse in the countryside -- were worth little as well. I am told that when another side of the family received compensation for the property lost following the Soviet takeover, they spent the proceeds on car parts. Today, alas, the same property would be worth much more.

Things could be worse, and they are. Leo has two sons. One has a steady job and is a family man. He does what he can to help out and it good that he does because the other son is a joodik -- a drunk. When I asked Leo what his sons do, he informed me that one works in forestry and the other is a drunk -- he stated it plainly, as if being a drunk was a full-time job. maybe it is. It amazes me, though, that given the steady stream of bad news about Estonia, including its oft-exaggerated ethnic and economic problems, people seem to leave out the social ill that plagues nearly every family I know -- booze.

Apparently, the joodik has passed on his love of the bottle to at least one of his children, who was allegedly conceived with another joodik. Other children, one of whom we met, are fine, but typically these "normal" relatives spend their time compensating for the lifestyle of the more afflicted members of their family.

Another uncle -- the first cousin of the previously described joodik, is a joodik as well and he's never getting better. He could handle daily intoxication for a few decades, but now he's pushing 50 and making routine visits to the hospital. You can imagine the stress it puts on his octogenarian parents, with whom he still lives.

This paucity of responsible, middle-aged adults in these families means that there is no one around to fix up the sagging ceilings or the nightmare electrical work that has been done on these homes to give them some semblance of modernity. There is no money and so life just keeps drifting on in a sea of tattered decay. A few improvements are made, here and there, but one can paper over the cracks only so many times.

Leo, though, doesn't seem to complain much, and I don't blame him. How do you really complain about things that you have come to accept as your reality? That's just how it is and it really isn't that different from family to family. Some Estonian cities -- like Tallinn, Pärnu, or Tartu -- are awash in reconstruction and if you are young and you have a good head on your shoulders, you can graduate to a decent living standard.

But while society infatuates itself with monuments and arguments about the past, fellows like Leo and the alcohol-infused villages of south Estonia are typically relegated to the obituaries section of the newspaper. It's going to take a long time for any economic morsels to find their way to his door, and I doubt that a last ditch effort to give him state-supplied laptop and turn him into a day trader will have a positive outcome.

I wish a campaign to lessen these troubles would find their way onto some social agenda, but I am not holding my breath.

40 kommentaari:

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

When looking at the sunny side of life then ... with these kind of inlaws it is really simple to buy them presents they dig ... er, consume.

Rainer ütles ...

I hear you, Justin.

But what do you mean by "...as children they suffered through the economic and political crises of the 1930s"?

What political, let alone economical crises did those children suffer from?? It seems to me it was a wonderful time to be a kid in this country.

plasma-jack ütles ...

If you check some biografies, you'll see that to be a kid from a poor family would not have been too wonderful back then. But manageable, as every period of history is.

Rainer ütles ...

True, but being not-so-well-off can hardly be called a crisis.
Don't get me wrong, I really don't have an Ivan Orav view of the Pätsu aeg...

plasma-jack ütles ...

dude, the Great World Depression and Estonian "silent era" sounds like a crisis to me

Rainer ütles ...

Estonia got off with a scare when it comes to the Great Depression. And how would the Silent Era spoil one's childhood... dude?

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

Isn't there a some kind of a new silent era in Estonia happening right now? Aside from blogosphere the freedom of intelligent thought seems to be under assault.

In other words, jõmmluse kambakraatia has reached the critical mass and subjugated the rest of the free society - the government, academia, art, politics, business, media and traffic, of course.

I tend to hold extreme views, but I think I am on to something. If nothing else, then too much Päeva ja Õhtuleht, Postimees, online tv and Delfi for me.

Or, maybe it is not others, but me who has dumbed down?

Where woudl I find progressive Estonian thought? Other than from an US expat personal esto themed blog?

Giustino ütles ...

I have no idea who my wife's grandparents vote for, by the way. I know my in-laws are all Isamaaliit, but that her grandparents have supported Rahvaliit in the past.

Kristopher ütles ...

My grandparents, who were definitely middle class, talked about finding a 2-kroon coin (I think it was 2, certainly not more than 5) and going out to dinner with it.

This is telling also in that eating out is probably something a Päevaleht secretary and warehouse manager didn't do very often.

Nevertheless, judging by their memories and making allowances for post-1940 nostalgia, there wasn't too much that was inaccessible. Life was pleasant (and probably never more so than the summer of 1939).

I look forward to a Howard Zinn style history of Estonia, though, after enough time has passed.

Rainer ütles ...

The only point I was trying to make was that thirties were probably the only time in the lives of a certain generation when they didn't have to put up with shit. 2-kroon dinners or not. People ate more at home back then, anyway.

Hirnu, you strike me as a garden variety Kõik-On-Perses -kind of guy.

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

Oops, sorry rainer, I slipped. OK let me put on my silly cap back on and spin the propeller ... there ... huh, life is good again.

Wheeeehooo!

Puu ütles ...

I want to know just how the korean prostitute feels about you wearing propeller caps ... What about how the korean prositutes family suffered in the thirties.. what about her?

Jim Hass ütles ...

let's celebrate the fact that Leo's made it to 79, after a difficult century. Sounds like he's poorer but healthier that my mom in Indiana.
If you have a magic bullit to prevent alchoholism, justin, bottle it and sell it. The only drunks that really changed among the kids I grew up with used a 12 step program or something similar, and stayed with it for years. A lot of effort by a lot of people for years at a time.
A lot of research over the years about alchohol policy has been done, although it all seems mired in controversy.
I think I read one line in this governent's coalition agreement. What would you add?

Giustino ütles ...

I think I read one line in this governent's coalition agreement. What would you add?

Visibility. I mean, this is a cohort that costs the state resources -- it has a significant number of unemployables with health problems.

In essence, they are costing the state money, but giving nothing back to the state.

Kristopher ütles ...

There aren't any magic bullets, but there are promising avenues that are overlooked.

Two herbs for example -- skullcap (Baikali tihashein) and St. John's wort, the latter traditionally added to vodka in northern Finland, Ukraine.

"Bottle and sell it" is precisely the wrong paradigm. A bunch of scientists trying to extract an elixir in pure form is not the answer. We've tried that with nutraceuticals for over 20 years and we haven't even come close to the original potency of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Learned helplessness from the Soviet era is a big factor, and so are genetics. It's not a coincidence that Finns, Hungarians and Estonians (and First Nations) all have high alcoholism and suicide rates.

But there is a vicious circle with other factors -- diet. A lot of heavy drinkers' digestive systems are so damaged that they aren't absorbing the micronutrients they need for healthy brain function.

Andres ütles ...

In essence, they are costing the state money, but giving nothing back to the state.

Sure they are. Alcohol tax for example which yet again rose in the summer.

Puu ütles ...

Well, the fact that so many middle aged men are penniless alcoholics also clears the way for people
like Guistino ( and don't get me wrong I like Guistino) to marry the women. The stable of normal estonian men is very small and made smaller by this drinking problem and other self destructive behaviors( though ok these drunks are married, but not desirable).

Puu ütles ...

Just a quick story... I can't get myself in any more trouble professionally anyway.... When I was teaching highschool I felt like the male English teacher ( who totally fits the profile I'm talking about, nerdy short guy from like Michigan, moves Estonia eight years ago, starts dating girls who could be models, and writes nice little neo -colonial tracts about the development of Estonia during the stone age as opposed to the mediterrenean , ends up dating the estonian teacher, speaks four words of estonian) was kinda in this male competitive mode with the few and far between male students in his class.He would call up boys for disciplinary infractions pretty often. I'm sure it was unconcious.And ending up looking all the more desirable for his efforts.But it's pretty immature for a thirty year old to do. I think it is a real crisis with estonian boys though. That they make something of themselves and don't kill themselves or get beaten over the head.

Giustino ütles ...

Well, the fact that so many middle aged men are penniless alcoholics also clears the way for people
like Guistino ( and don't get me wrong I like Guistino) to marry the women.


Actually, Estonia is about 56 percent female, 44 percent male. So us foreign guys are just making up for that missing 6 percent. In my mind, at least.

Puu ütles ...

I know, but there is a history of foreign guys killing, subverting and otherwise acting shitty to the Estonian guys ( not you but historically). Like on the island of Kihnu, it was only women after the fall of the soviet union because men would literally be shot at...by the soviets, it was like predator or free range hunting. Men who had been fishermen couldn't work because they might leave the island. There are lots of other examples, its a society that has been for years designed to bring about high rates of morality in Estonian men. And when most estonian girls, esp teenagers are fantazing its about foreign men.
The only defenses for men were to be a clown ( good at music for example) or try to do some perverted model of the international playboy ass-hole ( like Hirnu)... which because all the Estonian girls are going for other men is pretty ineffectual.
I'm guilty too... I've been predominantly seeing black and Jewish guys, but that at least is seeking some sort of kinship with people who have been historically oppressed and reverses the neo-colonialism a little bit (like I'm not trying to trade up and date an english guy) but I've dated estonian guys too and I'm only half estonian. But when you get whole generations of people like me ( I'm like your daughters twenty years in the future, except they will probably be better adjusted then me because you live in Estonia, and your family seem less crazy than mine), it is going to dilute and change the country as a whole eventually... how to shore up the men of estonia without going into overt nationalism and hooliganism is another matter.

Giustino ütles ...

I was unaware of that history when I met my wife, and I met her in Helsinki -- which negates the 'come to Estonia, steal woman' concept.

It's really funny, because at the time I had few employment opportunities, and yet there is the myth of the wealthy foreign guy.

I wish.

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

Me, an inernational playboy assohole?! Aw behave, puu! I am not so bad.

Besides I totally dig you shagging (insert your favorite racial slur here) instead of us, poor matsid.

Dysfunction is nothing to be ashamed of. It should be celebrated!

Right on, girl.

:-)

Puu ütles ...

I m not talking about actual reality or real wealth, but the perceived situation...the tropes that fuel the desires and social interactions of the estonians... ( how pretentious I know).

Puu ütles ...

I still think sex is a large reason that lots of Western ( american, british, german, swedish, french) men go to places like Eastern europe or Asia. It's definitely in the air. Either the illegal type as in prostitution or the more legal love and marriage route.
I'm just saying, I'm not trying to piss on the sanctity of everyone's marriage...it's human nature...
In your case Guistino, I'm sure it was a curiousity about rooselje, oomlauts, and eleven tenses.
But Deuce Bigelow, American Gigolo, and the novel Prague both address these issues.

Giustino ütles ...

Estonian women don't really fit into the 'trophy wife' stereotype, by the way, Puu. They organize everything; it seems.

The Estonian man's job (or the foreign husband's) is to chauffeur the Estonian woman from place to place while she and other Estonian women make plans.

If Estonian women have any kind of fetish, it's for agendas.

Puu ütles ...

You don't regard a gorgeous wife who does all the housework takes care
of the kids and holds down a steady job a trophy? I'm sure lots of your american friends are impressed.

Giustino ütles ...

You don't regard a gorgeous wife who does all the housework takes care
of the kids and holds down a steady job a trophy?


Now you are talking out of your rear end, Puu. I do those things too. And, allegedly, I know how to fix things. I am a trophy husband.

Puu ütles ...

That's cool. But the larger issues of estonian men not being euro stud muffins remains.

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

Khm, khm. Right. We have an issue and it needs to be resolved. I propose we form a committee and develop the agenda.

We can do it all online and right here. Puu will be in charge of developing bullet points for our next meeting.

Puu ütles ...

I mean just in the name of equality shouldn't Estonian men have as much of a chance with like hot italian or English ( well maybe not... kate moss and posh spice and keira knightly are sort of statistical outliers but stilll) as estonian women? What would it take to make these matsid studly enough to get some foreign love. Gentlemen and ladies, these are important issues.

Puu ütles ...

What you need to do G is fix some potential joodikud up with some fly eye-talian girls from long island. This will save the livers of estonia.

Giustino ütles ...

Estonian courtship rituals are like this: Estonian guy goes out to bar, Estonian woman clubs him on head, drags him back home, the next morning he's out chopping wood.

All Estonian guys have to do is sit around and wait for their Finno-Ugric cavewoman to show up.

Puu ütles ...

But she's clubbing an englishman over the head instead.

Hirnu-Hrnx! ütles ...

I was just listening to Kelly Joe Phelps today, and somehow this song kind of associated with the picture of Leo. River Rat Jimmy. So I post you a link here to give G's story a cool soundtrack. Check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=escOytqfSI0&feature=related

Giustino ütles ...

But she's clubbing an englishman over the head instead.

Well, English guys get around. Mick Jagger probably has offspring on every continent, save Antarctica.

But is this really an Estonian problem. No lady I know has ever said, "Ooh, Germany, that's where all the hot guys are."

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Great insight. This is indeed the problem. The predominant popular view is that even though politicians are required to do something should this issue, nothing can really be done.

plasma-jack ütles ...

I know personally three cases where an Estonian guy weds a Finnish girl That means there's three very pretty girls less in Finland, and their children will grow up in Estonia. Take that, Pekkas!

Doris ütles ...

There's a very funny bit in the Livonian Chronicle (Hendriku Liivimaa kroonika), where the German missionaries are talking to Estonian men about converting and the Estonian men are getting excited about Christianity.... and then "The Estonian women came with sticks and made the men go home". Here it's interesting to know that at that time the Estonian society was predominantly polygamic. And, apparently, matriarchal. Very odd combination, that.

anyway... the drinking issue is really an addiction issue. vulnerability to addiction IS written on our genetic plate and even though it doesn't always spring out as substance abuse (drinking, smoking, drugs), it can appear instead as gaming addiction instead. Whole new can of worms there for the makers of games like Counter Strike and World of Warcraft. I mean, it's hard enough to wrench yourself away from your Sims or Civilization game (just one... more... turn) but these new MMO games are the spawn of Satan.

Anyone read "Otherland" by Tad Williams?

Pierre ütles ...

Brilliant piece, Justin! That's all I have to say.

Puu ütles ...

I just realized I wrote high rates of morality. When I meant mortality.