kolmapäev, veebruar 16, 2011

kirjakoer

These have been days of contrasts. The sun and the cold. I welcome the sun. It has lifted us all up. People seem happier, friendlier. In November, the clerks at the A ja O wouldn't look you in the eye. Now they seem like they actually mean it when they say, Head aega! Strangers waved to us when our car zoomed past them on a country road on Sunday. Can you believe it? And they didn't even want anything.

Each day is longer than the one before by two or three minutes. It used to be dark when I brought my daughter to school. Now it's light out before we leave the house. It's been sunny for days now. I hope it never ends. Light is important. It soothes me, and I need a good soothing, especially since both taps in our office are frozen, as is the toilet, and I've been working from home.

I returned to the office on Monday to discover the heating system had broken. Ice and snow had accumulated around the windows. The Estonians keep track of the weather. They check the reports everyday. But I didn't know what the temperature was on Monday. Could have been -20 C or -30 C. All I know is that I could see my breath in the office and I didn't bother taking off my coat.

The tap in the bathroom was still working then. I managed to fill up a pot and put a bag of frozen gnocchi to boil for an early lunch. I don't know if they've kidnapped some Italians, but they sell fresh gnocchi at the local Rimi supermarket. Really delicious. I stood over the stove as the huge puffs of steam lifted off the boiling water, trying to stay warm. I kept thinking about Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica in 1915; how they got stuck in the ice flows, eating penguin meat and drinking boiled penguin blubber. I imagined I would have no problems drinking the stuff on that day.

That's an odd side effect of the cold. It makes me hungry. After the gnocchi boiled, I fried them in a pan with olive oil, slicing the remnants of a hunk of Synnove parmesan cheese to sizzle among the dumplings. In summer, I would never eat such a heavy meal in the middle of the day. That day I ate the whole bag of gnocchi and sliced parmesan and then ran to the shop downstairs to buy some chocolate.

It was Valentine's Day. In the shop I also picked up the ingredients for an Estonian dessert called kirjukoer, "spotted dog," which actually has nothing to do with dogs. Our recipe called for cookies and cocoa powder and marmelaadid. Cookies? Check. Cocoa powder? check. But marmalade? I later searched three stores looking for marmalade jam, but couldn't find it anywhere. I found apricot jam and cherry jam, but no marmalade. I began to lapse into the foreigner's delirium. How come they don't sell marmalade in this goddamn country?

When I was a child, I watched a program about a British bear named Paddington who loved to eat marmalade sandwiches. That's how I learned about marmalade. But Viljandi is a long way from London. Haven't seen any bears here either. Exasperated, I called my wife to inform her that there was no marmalade to be had in Viljandi. Then she told me that marmelaadid are actually little jelly candies, which I easily managed to locate about 30 seconds later.

To make kirjukoer, you mix melted butter with sugar and cocoa powder and then add in the crumbled cookies and marmelaadid. Roll it up in wax paper and let it set in the refridgerator. When it's ready, long and brown, it does resemble something doglike, but it's still is worth the effort, especially on cold days when the sweeter and more filling the food is, the better.

On Sunday, I went cross-country skiing for the first time. It was a beautiful sunny morning, but there was nobody else on the course. At first I was gliding along with ease, but then, when I had to get up a small knoll, I realized how out of shape I was. I know nothing of cross-country skiing. My old downhill skiing tricks were useless. I tried to wedge coming down a hill and came down hard on my hip. Good thing no one was around to see my embarrassing spill. Only later I was informed that it is against the law to ski when it is that cold out. But I know nothing of Estonian laws or sports. I simply know nothing.

While I was lying on my ass on the course, I considered taking a teacher, but only for a moment. Then I realized that I actually have some prejudices against the Estonians, particularly against the males, who are the inverse of me. While I am glad to admit that I know nothing, they are keen to pretend that they actually know everything. I could imagine the look on my teacher's face. "You mean you're 31 years old? And you still don't know how to cross country ski?" Tsk tsk. But I felt great when I got home, and I've decided to go again. Energy begets energy.

My lack of knowledge of marmelaadid and cross-country skiing is amusing when considering I have now written two books about Estonia. A lot of people enjoyed the first one, but others complained that I wrote too much about my personal life. They wanted some kind of anthropological exploration of this intriguing land. "The natives are known to frequent warm dwellings and whip themselves with branches to repent for their sins. In summer they don colorful striped skirts and worship a deity they called leelo with songs." I got the first review of the second book from a reader today. He's already read it and it's not even in bookstores yet.

"How did you read it already?" I asked. "I don't even have a copy."

"I got it as an e-book," he answered proudly.

"Is it as good as the first?" a woman nearby asked him.

"It was a little different compared to the first one," he said. "But the ending was very moving."

An e-book? Indeed, the book is available online. You can get it digital form in Estonian from Apollo, Rahva Raamat, Krisostomus, and Digikogu.

The English links are here: Apollo, Rahva Raamat, Digikogu.

35 kommentaari:

Reine ütles ...

"Strangers waved to us when our car zoomed past them on a country road on Sunday. Can you believe it? And they didn't even want anything." That sentence explains very, very much about Estonians.

About gnocchi - well, first of all, I am sincerely happy that they are selling them in a supermarket. But they are really easy to make. Indeed, all the Italians are surprised when I say that in Estonia there is no such thing as gnocchi. Afterall - Estonia is the potato country. We make everything out of potatoes except gnocchi and focaccia di patate (imagine a focaccia with mashed potatoes instead of bread- it is really delicious and easy to make).
Gnocchi are easy to do as well, maybe you saw from the Godfather... All you need to do is boil the potatoes in slightly salty water, mash them and add eggs and flour. Then shape them into... whatever mood you have (traditional shape is round) and boil until they rise to the top. Ed e' tutto!

Kirjukoer - I saw it in the supermarket but I was afraid to buy it - it looked kind of strange and now, that I know that marmalade was inside, I am happy I chose küpsisetort instead. In Italy there is "Salame di cioccolato" which is very similar to kirjukoer. Without marmalade candies of course.

Uhh, and well, about skiing... My Italian husband, who is not much younger than you are, doesn't know how to ski as well. I tried to teach him.. and guess what - he has prejudices against Estonian men AND women :D Luckily my ironic comments about him never been up to the mountains (we live just under Dolomites!!!) didn't hurt more than he hurt himself...physically. And after a 3-year-old (italian!) boy passed us, we both shut up.
Now we try to drag our lazy asses up to the tracks at least once a season. 25 minutes driving is way too much, especially on a weekend morning(s) :D

Piimapukk ütles ...

Nice read. Love the honesty. Made me think that if I had to compile a similar list of observations how I've been baffled by american culture and fallen on my ass, would it be just as long? I think in general we Eastern Europeans are better prepared for America than Americans for Eastern Europe. Maybe this is because that we did not have an equivalent of 9 sequels of Police Academy where americans would have been able to learn about our culture and mores. (This is how I like to explain to the locals here how I learned to speak English - by simply watching all nine sequels of PA)

Reine ütles ...

Ohhhh, the police academy :D and during the christmas time some kind of Bruce willis movie. Hilarious

notsu ütles ...

With this weather, doesn't Estonian food (all this nourishing stuff, või and hapukoor) make more sense?

Well, we are still lucky. I read about Antarctic explorers who had to consume 7000 calories daily just to survive.

Christine ütles ...

Police Academy I am so embarassed.
to think what you folks over there must think of us based on your TV viewing.... ugh!

Sean ütles ...

I lived and loved Estonia for six years and never learned to cross country ski I think my luck would have given me a broken ankle at best, clavicle at worst and that would mean the Estonian health system as a foreigner.

Ryan Suske ütles ...

I see the links for the ebook in Estonian, but I can't find one in English...

Giustino ütles ...

Hi Ryan,

Thanks for pointing that out. Just posted the English links.

Justin

G. ütles ...

I just finished your book, part 1. It was really good and I can't wait to get my hands on part 2. I think that it is really amazing that a foreigner, (well I can't say that about you now, can I :D ) was willing to change his lifestyle and surroundings so easily. I wish all the best for you and your family and I hope that many people will follow your example and forget their preconceptions.

Rainer ütles ...

Thanks for the links, Giustino. I just bought/downloaded ME II - my first e-book ever!

Miraculix ütles ...

Anybody knows if the ebooks are with DRM? I've got an Amazon Kindle, so I have to convert them from epub to mobi - but I don't really have the time to read through all those hacking blogs on how to remove DRM, I'd rather buy the "real" book next time I'm in Estonia.

Christian

luize ütles ...

It is not AGAINST the law to ski when it is so cold. Just not advisable.
I ski this winter, after 15 years. You cant forget it, just like riding a bike. But I fell down more then last 10 years...

Giustino ütles ...

Hi Miraculix,

Yes, it is with DRM, and, as far as I know, you'll have to read some hacking blogs to remove it for your Kindle. Sorry! I'm new to this stuff too.

Reine,

Tell your husband, I understand!

Luize,

One of my daughter's teachers told me it was against the law. Maybe it is against the law for them to let children outside to ski?

Reine ütles ...

Yep, children ( I don't remember until which age) are not allowed to go out with certain temperatures. I remember my last year in high school, we were sitting in a classroom with +10C and later had to go to ski with -22C

Piimapukk ütles ...

Is there a typo in the title here? Or did I miss the part about the "letter-dog"?

Giustino ütles ...

It's a play on the words 'kirjanik' (writer) and the dessert mentioned, 'kirjukoer' (spotted dog).

Giustino ütles ...

Pene, I forgot to say thank you for proof reading. And you turned it around quick! SUUR TÄNU

Rainer ütles ...

If Kirjukoer is Spotted dog in English, what would be the Estonian name of its English cousin Spotted dick? Kirjum...? Just wondering.

Mardus ütles ...

@Rainer:

Mwahah. See here.

The Estonian polite alternative could be kirju puding.

Chris ütles ...

I've seen marmalade at the hyper rimi in Lounakeskus.

Temesta ütles ...

Off topic:

Could someone recommend me a good course that explains Estonian Grammar? Preferably a book, not some internet course. Now I am using E nagu Eesti, I like it but it doesn't provide in depth information about grammar.

Piimapukk ütles ...

Temesta, you are asking for proprietary information. I hope nobody from the Estonian side will leak the secret code.

Mardus ütles ...

@Temesta:

Wikipedia resources:
Estonian language (see External links, because they refer to courses, too)
Estonian grammar

Giustino ütles ...

Chris,

There is marmalade in Estonia. I bought some in Ülemiste Keskus once. But there was none at the Rimi, Comarket, or A ja O in Viljandi that day.

Mardus ütles ...

@Giustino:

"Run-of-the-mill Rimi", Comarket and A&O (and Maxima and Grossi shop, too) typically don't have marmalade; Maybe only marmalade candy and chocolate. — Because they're all smallish shops and marmalade is a specialty product.

OTOH, Hyperrimi, Lõunakeskus, Norde Centrum, and Prisma are more likely to have marmalade, because they are large.

I remember the times during the Soviet (and a bit post-Soviet) times when we as kids could have marmalade from tin toothpaste-like tubes... Yum :9

P.S. If one day sometime in the future you're done writing, you could start a business importing and distributing/selling anything that expats want, but can't yet have in Estonian shops. For example, much of Estonia outside Tallinn suffers from a dearth of licorice.

Attila- ütles ...

Nice drawings of Estonia by a French artist

http://nboldych.free.fr/Estonie.html

viimneliivlane ütles ...

Gosh G. – Aren’t you getting with the program? We are fully aware that living in present day Estonia has got to be at least as challenging if not more so than what the adventurous people who settled America once faced. If not then there would be no Minu Eesti I or II, would there. We are beginning to worry if the ‘Talendid Koju’ produced only 12 results where is everyone else. I am beginning to ask if all those people who joyously went West are not beginning to ask where they see themselves 10 or 20 years hence and where the real opportunities lie (China you say, not Estonia). We know who made out best with the great gold rush of 1849, and it was Levi Strauss who was smart enough to sell rugged pants to the hopeful prospectors rather than go out digging himself... To this day Hollywood puts out all sorts of westerns – some good, some not so good, but all with a moral to convey. Worth thinking about.

viimneliivlane ütles ...

Temesta, a little bit tricky here, if you’re English or something you will probably look down your nose at this, but there exists a fastidiously thorough explanation of Estonian grammar in book form, if you can get your hands on a copy of Paul F. Saagpakk’s Estonian-English Dictionary, Yale University Press, 1982, the Preface, pp. xxxvii-cxi is a translation by the US educated linguist Koit Ojamaa (BA Columbia, PhD UConn) of Johannes Aavik’s ‘A Grammatical Survey of the Estonian Language’.

Aavik’s scholarship is impeccable, as is the translation. There was a problem with publishing this work in Estonia because Saagpakk used some anti-soviet terminology but I think I’ve seen the Estonian version on the shelf in bookstores.

Rainer ütles ...

Congrats on the movie deal, Giustino! Who's gonna play you?

Piimapukk ütles ...

Andy Garcia, good fit by looks is a bit too old. Toby McGuire ... hmm ... too Irish looking? Who could that be? Can he play himself? Re-enacting scenes from one's own life should be easy. And as authentic as you can get.

Rainer ütles ...

Wouldn't it be cool if Justin and Epp would be played by Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie? Since "The Tourist" tanked dismally, my bet is they would be more than keen :)

Piimapukk ütles ...

What would be the genre of this movie? I wish Tarantino will read the scrip and come up with some Pulp Fiction style stuff. I don't know if the source material would lend itself to this type of treatment, but come to think of that (without reading the actual book) maybe something along the lines of "Vanad ja kobedad" or "American Pie" would work? "Estonian Pie" and then have a scene in there Giustino is hiding sylt in his pockets at the dinner table in order not to offend his Estonian hosts. On that note, maybe Ben Stiller is the best to protray Giustino. He did well in "Meet the Fockers" Good stuff. I am standing by for more good news on this one.

Giustino ütles ...

I hope it gets the Wes Anderson treatment. Something like The Royal Tenenbaums.

Justin ütles ...

Temesta: I recommend Colloquial Estonian for grammar explanations. E Nagu Eesti was horrible in my opinion -- no explanations at all.

C. ütles ...

Update - the ebook have actually no DRM (I found it out after wasting 2 hours to get it decrypted...) - I purchased the book from Rahva raamat and simply converted at www.2epub.com
Works and looks fine on my Kindle, I'm looking forward for some nice holiday reading :)