teisipäev, juuni 07, 2011

notes from the north

As I have discussed previously, living in northern Europe does funny things to you. While one might feel as if he is living on an oil rig in the Arctic during the long winters in Estonia, the same person finds himself at the center of a very perverse sleep-deprivation experiment every time June rolls around.

This is because, as everyone knows, the sun rises earlier and earlier (and sets later and later) until the longest day arrives towards the end of June, and the sun sets at 10.38 pm only to rise at 4.02 am, making for 18 hours of light.

These extremely long days cause all kinds of bizarre behavior among the locals. It becomes completely appropriate for a neighbor to mow his lawn at 6 am on any given Sunday in June, as the sun has already been up a good two hours. It is also completely appropriate for the same neighbor to cut down dead tree branches with a chainsaw at 10 pm, as he has got a good half hour until the sun really sets. In summary, Estonians take advantage of the long days to work even more.

The term "sunset" is relative here. The sun does disappear from the sky, and so a state of "night" does exist somewhere between 11 pm and 4 am. At the same time, light is still lurking on the horizon, and so total night does not really ever arrive. What you get instead is an extended dusk that returns at dawn. The light at around 10 pm is also not like the afternoon sun. Instead a hazy dusk falls upon the land, akin to the grayish light that occurs right before a thunderstorm, lending a certain eerie quality to this time of day.

Going to sleep, especially when you have children, becomes more absurd as the June days wear on. It's hard to convince a child that it's "nighttime" when light is visible through the blinds. In this circumstance, the time one goes to sleep, and the length of the period of rest, become completely arbitrary. Feel free to nap during the day and work all night. Indeed, the other day in Setomaa, I started a painting job at 5 pm, knowing I would have plenty of time before "night" rolled around. I worked until nightfall, that is, about 11 pm, and went to sleep in a curtain-less room, only to be awakened by ecstatic birds at 4 am. I was back on the job, paintbrush in hand at 4.30 am. A new day had begun and I had gotten probably less than five hours of sleep the night before.

This is just one manifestation of the freakish quality of Estonian life. Another came yesterday, when a friend delivered bottles of organic astelpaju mahl to our house. We weren't home at the time, so it was left at a neighbor's apartment. I went to go pick it up later, unaware of the size of the order (my wife had placed it), and was surprised when he pulled a dozen bottles of the yellow stuff from his refrigerator, placed it back in the cooler it came in, and handed it to me.

I make it a point to always speak to my children in English, no matter how complicated the situation. And so I found myself sitting across from my youngest daughter who asked for a cup of astelpaju mahl, which in English translates as sea-buckthorn juice. This drink is popular in northern Europe but I have never encountered it anywhere else, so I had to look it up just to find the proper English translation.

"More astelpaju mahla, please," my little daughter begged of me.

"Don't you mean 'more sea-buckthorn juice,' honey?" I was forced to ask her.

"Yeah," she responded. "That."

It was 10.30 pm.

12 kommentaari:

Christine ütles ...
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Christine ütles ...

I loved this post especially the Oil Rig reference.. having so much daylight after such horrible winters must make everyone want to take advantage of the very short summers.
It is as if they/you can double the summer season, time and productivity by not sleeping.

"Buckie Juice" a good name?

Giustino ütles ...

There are some benefits to this. When my car battery died at 9.30 on a Thursday night, my neighbor was happy to help me recharge it. He was out doing yard work.

Trollsilm ütles ...

Good to know that we're not the only ones struggling with the "but it's not dark, we do not sleep now" sentiment of the younger individuals of the family.

Lingüista ütles ...

Same thing in the Netherlands with my daughter -- and the night does start between 9:30 and 10:00 pm... To convince her that she should go to sleep before 9 (her usual bedtime would be 8:30) is almost impossible. There's no way to keep her room dark enough that it won't seem to her like we're just trying to fool her. And her body itself apparently doesn't want to slow down when there's so much light around.

My daughter, by the way, has the same problem of inserting Dutch or Russian (but especially Dutch) words in her Portuguese when she's speaking to me. I always speak to her in Portuguese, and I correct her gently when she uses a foreign word. At one point, though, she told me the Portuguese equivalent for something (I think it was some part of a bicycle) just "doesn't feel right" and went on using the Dutch equivalent, just to drive me mad.

Children...

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

That is why Eskimo parents do not miss the windows on their igloos.

Troels-Peter ütles ...

I can't say I've ever heard of sea buckthorn juice. I wonder what it tastes like.

How widespread is it in the Baltic region? I know the plant, but juice...?

Bea ütles ...

Lovely post. :)
The juice is made in Lithuania for sure.
My neighbors have been out with their 1-3 yo children running around in the yard and funnily trying to imitate the singing of some birds there late in the evening. They've stayed out until 10 pm for sure in those hottest days.

Kristopher ütles ...

How would one describe astelpaju? Like a really sour guava? That's not quite it, but there's a medicinal quality (in a good way)

Minh Khuê ütles ...

Interesting.

Simon B ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Mardus ütles ...

@Giustino:
Doing stuff outside early in the morning or late-late in the evening is useful only because it's not that hot at this time of year.

Your daughter on astelpajumahl: "Yea, that."

Yes, that volcano.