esmaspäev, detsember 07, 2009

matilde ja mina

Disappointment. Utter disappointment. When did it set in? First I had to use the restroom. But it was midnight at the Tallinn bus station and the public pay-for-relief toilets all close at 11 pm. Which means that if you've got to go and you're on the night bus to Tartu or Saint Petersburg, you are quite literally shit out of luck.

"Is there a toilet around here?" I ask the night watchman at the station.

"Not at this hour," he frowns. "Believe me, it's a big problem."

The poor fellow had to hold it until morning. It's amazing what people are forced to do in order to earn a living.

So I let myself go behind some trailers parked on the other side of the bus station parking lot. I tried not to make too much noise, should I attract the attention of adjacent alcoholics. When you think of the term "alcoholic," you might think of an old man with a strawberry for a nose and the stink of rotten innards that shocks the air with its outrageous foulness. But the alcoholics at the Tallinn bus terminal weren't old, they were kids.

I watched them pass a bottle of moonshine around. It had no label. Just a bottle of vodka. Not water. Not juice. Not even limoncello or a 40 oz. Pure alcohol. And how old were they? 19? There was some commotion at the Tallinn bus terminal. Some yelling, some chest beating. Some cry of the frustrated Estonian youth. Maybe it had something to do with unemployment, I don't know. But when Epp told me that the meteorologist for Postimees was beaten to death with a baseball bat outside of Tallinn's Old Town two weeks ago, it didn't come as a complete shock. There are evil people in that city, Tallinn. They lack hope and access to necessary facilities.

The taxi driver was bad. He broke the cardinal rule: don't bitch to your customer about how great things were during "Russian times' (vene ajal -- which actually means "Soviet times" in Estonian, he wasn't talking about life as a subject of that affable chap Nicholas Romanov). Oh, vene ajal this and vene ajal that. "In Russian times, trains were going everywhere all the time: Riga, Moscow, Minsk."

"Who the hell wants to go to Minsk?"

That shut him up.

And the worst thing is that I was coming from Copenhagen airport. All of Kastrup was enlightened by Tivoli-like goodness. There were oceans of Tuborg Julebryg, the Danish beer maker's delicious Christmas blend, waiting to be swum, steppes of chocolate waiting to be traversed, armies of titanic flight attendants waiting to be noticed, and, the most endearing, my old girlfriend, Matilde, waiting for a late-afternoon rendezvous.

For me, my study abroad period in Denmark in 2001 was deafening in its destruction of all things sentimental and sane. It was like trying to sleep inside a timpani during the 1812 Overture. My neighbor was your typical Scandinavian nutcase. Every time she got in a fight with her boyfriend, she'd visit my room just to make him jealous. He'd sit there in her room moping, blasting "I Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode, while she would tuck herself into my bed and light up a smoke. This happened two or three times, and each time I told her, "I'm sorry, but you just can't smoke in here."

But there were others. The Swedish aristocrat who hated my guts. The Faroese girl who invited me to fix some furniture in her room and then rewarded me with morss (juice from concentrate). The ex-model who used to date the son of the star of an American 1980s TV show, and kept telling me about how she really preferred his dad. "He was just so funny." Only once did I see a normal pige in all of Denmark: she was wearing a shirt with a picture of the Buddha on it and seemed genuinely pleased by the efficiency of Danish mass transit. She was smart. She didn't talk to me.

Through all of this, there was Matilde, the chocolate milk I drank every morning on my way to school. She was always there waiting for me, soothing me in times of distress. And when I saw her there in the airport -- I actually saw about 50 boxes of her there -- my eyes moistened. It had been too long. Yes, I cut my teeth on sweets in Denmark. I pounded the sugar, I saturated my blood. And in the airport I had to relish one more. One more Matilde for old times. It was good. Just as I remembered.

The dark is rising now. In Denmark and in its former possession, Eistland. The dark consumes us, breaks our souls on a wheel of mist and moisture and night. It's sinister. It's the kind of creeping dread that can make a man fall in love with a box of chocolate milk. In such a despondent crapper of humanity as the Tallinn bus terminal, you'd think they'd make it an all night party, just to help us live through this. There should be batches of fresh piparkoogid, vats of simmering hõõgvein, Hanseatic bus drivers in medieval costumes, and toilets that stay open all night long that you can use for free. Free toilets? I know, what you're thinking: that's socialism.

The bus that night eventually dropped me off in some foggy forlorn armpit of south Estonia called Veeriku. I walked past the glimmering Selver, the oase di pace of Tartu, a spark of northern commercial vibrancy in a junkyard of imperial trash, then crossed the miserable railroad tracks where trees are ugly and want to die, and the buildings look as if they permanently contemplate suicide. This was my spot on the earth, for now, the only thing redeemable about it being my little family, a family of women so resplendent they could light up a mining shaft.

As soon as my head hit the pillow, I knew that I would have to procure the necessary ingredients just to survive here. Lemons would have to peeled for more limoncello, armfuls of spaghetti, fusilli, and penne bought just to keep our insides aglow. We would need kalamata olives and pesto and a lifetime supply of passata di pomodoro. And, most of all, dolci, sugary sweetness, loaves of gingerbread dough, ladles full of glögi. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I believe in it, I can almost see it. The more chocolate milk I drink, the brighter it gets.

***

By the way, My Estonia is now available via Amazon (finally). It should also be available soon through, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble and other online bookstores. Enjoy.

34 kommentaari:

Rainer ütles ...

"The taxi driver was bad. He broke the cardinal rule: don't bitch to your customer about how great things were during "Russian times' (vene ajal..."

That proves once again just how selective human memory can be.

It is my firm belief that the very same people who now lament the "vana hea vene aeg" actually bitched and moaned every single day about "kuradi vene värk" back then - the squalor, poor living conditions, the shortages of everything and overall poor living conditions.

Rainer ütles ...

PS did I mention poor living conditions? ;)

Colm ütles ...

Shouldn't that be Matilde och jeg? ;-)

I hate bus stations in Estonia be they Tartu or Tallinn. That said bus stations in Ireland aren't all that great either. They always feel very dirty in ways that an aiport wouldn't.

Brüno ütles ...

Makes me wonder ... Estonia ... Eastern Europe in general ... is some sort of alternative reality ...

I can't picture a number one selling author finding himself in a situation in America where he would have to go to bathroom behind some trailers under ordinary circumstances. I can surmise that it could happen if the sudden stardom and windfall of money blew his mind along with he lines of coke and all this happened in a post-orgy haze ...

In Estonia - this IS a reality. There you are, a superstar and standing in line for milk with the rest of the stinky masses.

Giustino ütles ...

The Cork bus station was heinous, Colm. I recall a fellow with fresh cuts all over his face, most likely from a bar fight.

Rainer ütles ...

"In Estonia - this IS a reality. There you are, a superstar and standing in line for milk with the rest of the stinky masses."

What an interesting East-European stereotype, Brüno, borderin on race theory.
Does anybody actually stand in line for milk in Estonia? Or for anything else for that matter.

Brüno ütles ...

My point was simply that one is unlikely to meet Dan Brown or any other best selling author in a cashe register line at Costco while the unlikely circumstance when he could be found relieving himself near a bus station at night is a little bit more conceivable.

And agreed, sterotypes are always interesting.

Rainer ütles ...

"Dan Brown or any other best selling author in a cashe register line at Costco while the unlikely circumstance when he could be found relieving himself near a bus station at night is a little bit more conceivable."

a) How would you know?
b) Giustino is not Dan Brown.
c) Thank God for b)

And stereotypes are woeful. They seldom tell anything about people they are about, but tend to speak volumes of the insecurities and self esteem issues of the people inventing them.

Paulmet Lemetsky ütles ...

Mathilde is good but I prefer Cocio ;D Morss=saftevand literally juicewater in danish, and You are right, they do make it here from concentrate - siirupivesi. That was the lighter side of things. The darker side is that nowdays a knifing and/or murder in København just gets noted in press, it used to be big news 5 years ago. Now its way too common to be really newsworthy;(

Puu ütles ...

Dear God, Bruno, don't swell Justin's head more than it already is. :). He is going to appear in a music video surrounded by Danish women all named Matilde and wearing gold chains the way you are swelling his head.

And FYI there was a recent Dan Brown sighting at the Greyhound Station in Pittsburg.The Masonic Temple Website said so.

Puu ütles ...

If Justin wants to really experience non superstardom he can just move back to Long Island. Where he might find himself standing in line at Costco with Dan Brown... who knows? America is a wacky place...

Адам ütles ...

Keep up the good fight with the encroaching darkness - we only have 13 days left of it progressing until it's just straight up dark through May!

Brüno ütles ...

You are right, Puu - I forgot the research that writers need to do. I was imagingin successful writers living lives like top-golfers and rock stars. The reality is probably very different and it needs to be in order to get certain auhtenticity to your stories.

It must have been my insecurity that led me to invent this stereotype. I'll be stronger tomorrow.

Andres ütles ...

It must have been my insecurity that led me to invent this stereotype. I'll be stronger tomorrow.


But it's true. Haven't you seen Californication?

Pierre ütles ...

Congratulations on getting your book published, Justin! Unfortunately, amazon.com reports your book "temporarily out of stock."

I'll keep looking for it. Shall I wait for the book tour?

Pierre

Giustino ütles ...

Congratulations on getting your book published, Justin! Unfortunately, amazon.com reports your book "temporarily out of stock."

I'll keep looking for it. Shall I wait for the book tour?


The book is in bookstores in Estonia. You should be able to order it through Amazon despite the fact that it says that. I am trying to fix that. Outside Estonia, it's print on demand. You order it, they print it, you get it.

Andres ütles ...

Which book do you recommend, Justin? The English or the Estonian version?

Giustino ütles ...

If you can read Estonian, read it in Estonian. It's my first book, so I am a bit sensitive about the English version. No matter how many times you look at it, you think, "Oh, it could have been better."

The next book (volume 2) will be a bit more abstract. I am looking forward to writing it.

Trinx ütles ...

It is not "that" bad in Estonia.. :) In my humble opinion ... But .. when you get back abroad, it just feels that way. I have felt it too.. But if you get to Tartu, that feeling is forgotten.

Brüno ütles ...

Trinx, are you suggesting that everyone's expectations are lower back in Tartu? Or what?

viimneliivlane ütles ...

Rein Taagepera, someone who actually gets listened to when he has something to say, some time ago asked the simple question of why the bus that goes from Tallinn to Tartu can't stop at the airport to pick up travellers bound for Tartu. I don't know whether that seemingly very simple improvement has taken effect or not, but it seems a 24-hour 'facilty' at the bus station shouldn't be that hard to effect either... shouldn't someone speak up? Does Taagepera have a blog?

Some people remember the long lines waiting to buy milk during the occupation, and I don't think any sane person wants to see a return to that system - families spent their time assigning members to the milk line, or the bread line, etc.

Brüno ütles ...

Could it be that the Tallinn-Tartu bus does not pick up Tartu bound travelers because they are full already? Bus drivers are not allowed to sell tickets? No physical place to pull in for boarding?

Another explanation could simply be that estonians don't believe in convenience. They believe more in suffering and "keeping it real". The the terribly sad history thing you know. Things in life are not supposed to make sense or be easy.

(Note to self - read "Kilplased" again)

luuletaja ütles ...

the bus stops at the airport nowadays, both when reaching and leaving Tallinn

Bea ütles ...

Eh, yeah... It's dark all the time and it actually seems lighter when it's really dark... and you can fully enjoy the lights put on. Sweets, nuts and coffee with cream gets consumed everyday without any pain.
It's a normal pige normally, not a piger, btw. ;)

Troels-Peter ütles ...

Ah, Matilde... I remember drawing pictures of her face in kindergarten.

Your stories from that Copenhagen lunatic asylum are hilarious :) Which one was it?

I'm not exactly fond of bus stations either. Any signs that railway transport will ever have a renaissance in Estonia?

Trinx ütles ...

Nonoo.. I was thinking that the things are lil bit better in Tartu...:)
And that long bus-ride helps shoo away the depressing thoughts.. I usually sleep at that time... Or in train...

Giustino ütles ...

Your stories from that Copenhagen lunatic asylum are hilarious :) Which one was it?

Albertslund Kollegium.

Tymen Ferron ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Tymen Ferron ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Tymen Ferron ütles ...

"Who the hell wants to go to Minsk?"

Actually I am planning to visit Minsk in the near future. It seems an interesting place.

Brüno ütles ...

A young girls' journey from MIlan to Minsk!

Justin ütles ...

I took the bus from Tallinn to Tartu about a week ago and it did not stop at the Tallinn airport. It did stop there on the Tartu-Tallinn routing.

The reason authors, superstars and so on in Estonia are likely to be spotted among "the masses" at the Selver and so on is that most of them simply aren't that rich. There's a limited marked for books or songs in Estonian. The best-selling book in Estonia in 2008 was Mihkel Raud's book and it sold 24,000 copies. The #2 book (Maris Aunaste) sold 13,000 copies and it goes down rapidly from there.

So most authors aren't going to get too rich and be able to afford a personal shopper to relieve them from making trips to the supermarket.

Pierre ütles ...

"... and it goes down rapidly from there."

Don't be so modest young man. :-)

Pierre

Gabriel ütles ...

I got your book as Xmas gift,the english version,it brought me up some old memories :D...when are you gonna publish the 2nd part?