Wintertime is the time to be in Lõuna Eesti. Tallinn may have the medieval flavor, kitschy bars, and money-leaking tourists, but Tartu and environs have the winter sports, attractive Olympic gold-winning athletes, and somewhat less-attractive wannabe athletes as well.
Tartu also has the ice and snow, and the strange appearance of the sun during the past few days has meant that young fathers like myself who wish to spend quality time with their daughters have ventured forth, sled in hand, child in tow, to the Tartu Spordipark for some rigorous kelgutamine -- sledding.
All would be well, except yesterday my naine and lapsed had an encounter with Priit Pullerits, the godfather of Estonian journalism, a Postimees editor and columnist who provides his fellow maarahvas with crucial insights into winter sports and integration.
Pullerits, as you may recall, in 2007 raised the important question of why gay rights groups choose to parade down main thoroughfares, rather than gather beside lakes. But yesterday, he had something else on his mind: why were all these abominable tykes on sleds crowding up his cross-country skiing trails!
You see, the Tartu Maraton is just weeks away, and the Tartu Spordipark is the ideal place to train for the marathon, a 63-kilometer test of endurance. Kiddies on sleds may be useful inspiration for those journalists who wish to encourage Estonian population growth or stress the importance of exercise for today's Internet-loving slothful youth, but when the Estonian godfather of journalism straps on his suusad [skis], he means business and y'all better get the hell out of the way.
Fortunately, I wasn't there to witness Pullerits scold the children for interrupting his marathon training, but I did quiz our friend Mart, who was present for the scolding, about it. "So did you fight him?" I asked Mart, a calm man of Seto extraction who teaches nature restoration. "I beg your pardon?" he replied politely. "Did you fight Pullerits when he told you your kids couldn't sled on the course?" I asked again. Mart smiled to himself and responded in the negative.
Today we went back to Tartu Spordipark and were pleased to see that no one had heeded Pullerits' advice to stay completely clear of the cross-country skiing tracks. On the other hand, there were now so many skiiers that the kids and their sleds had migrated to a lone hill unfrequented by would-be Marathon participants. Besides, what responsible parent would let their kid sled in front of a Marathon man like Pullerits anyway? That would be a recipe for disaster.
And though the problem appeared to have been solved -- kids and sleds get their one hill, Pullerits and other ski-heads get the rest of the park -- someone had posted a large red and black sign at the entrance to the Spordipark that proclaimed that sledding on trails designated for skiers was strictly forbidden. "Ah," our friend Helen pointed out when she saw the sign. "I can see that our friend Pullerits has been here."