kolmapäev, veebruar 01, 2012

shakespeare and company

Tere Tulemast!
Even typing those three words gives one an idea of how far Estonia is from the heart of Europe, the Europe that we all know and love, from films and books, and half a century of uninterrupted, guided international travel. It's remote. The word "backwater" is coming to mind but I will suppress it because it is unkind. But what other word would you use to describe the least populated state on the Baltic Sea?

Here the cursed Soviet legacy is actually blessed, because the Soviet legacy is what puts Tallinn on the map, allowing it to rise above other expat havens like Paris or Prague or wherever those no good traitors mill about these days. Ooh, you've got your haute couture and your bustling sex industry, but we've got our Soviet legacy. Estonia is indisputably the most successful of the republics once under direct Soviet control. Number three on the Press Freedom Index, baby! And it sits right beside scary Russia, which means a faint whiff of danger is always in the air. Russia is a dormant dike. You never know when it could burst.

The Estonian foreign community has always been plagued by Baltic solidarity. That is, it never made economic sense to have an English-language newspaper solely for foreigners living in Estonia. It always had to be peddled down the Baltic route, a "pan-Baltic" newspaper or magazine or online news resource, which meant that so much effort and print had to go in to constructing a Baltic identity ("What do Balts think about each other?") or comparing the three countries ("How are Lithuanian wines different from Estonian wines?") That's what I want to know.

Fortunately, the community now has its own used bookshop. It's called Slothrop's and it's in the Old Town of Tallinn, located at Müürivahe 19. I believe the effort is a month old. I am unsure of the origin of the name. I am guessing it is in homage to a character in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, which I never read but my college roommate adored. He even befriended a homeless saxophone player who had dreads and paint on his face who called himself Gravity's Rainbow. "Gravity" and my roommate would sit around playing music and talking about Thomas Pynchon. Gravity liked to drift between Mexico City and Washington, DC, which, being a street person, he said was the most dangerous city in which he had lived: "People in Mexico City will rob you," he was fond of saying, "But in DC they will kill you."

Here I have a faint memory of jogging over a bridge at night near a memorial for the USS Maine and looking down to see two homeless men groaning in a heap of garbage.

But enough of this digression. Slothrop's is open from 11:00 - 18:00, Monday through Saturday. "We also are looking to buy books from you!" the shop claims on its website. "If you have English-language books, bring them by and we'll take a look. We are especially interested in non-fiction." Fine. I've got loads of books I'd like to unload on any willing taker. And, I'm told, I can get rid of them in exchange for store credit. This means that I might not have to stock up on books in the US or pay exorbitant prices for English-language titles at one of Estonia's larger book chains.

As everyone says in Estonia everyday Eesti on nii väike - Estonia is so small. So it's going to take more than bored vodka tourists to make this thing turn. It's going to take you, and me, and Mingus, and Scott Abel, and Kris Rikken, and Flasher T, and that guy next to Balti Jaam who is throwing up on himself as I type this. Come on, The Sound and the Fury is only €5. You get stream of consciousness for €5! I think I'll take it. But what we really need is a Slothrop's imprint, something along the lines of the Obelisk Press. If only I had some contacts in the publishing world.

46 kommentaari:

Spawnie ütles ...

Holy shit, this is paradise!
I really missed my extensive book collection from back home, and there was no way I could transport it to here. This can be an opportunity to start rebuilding it. Thank you!

Me ütles ...

If you want my advice I think you should appreciate the success you have enjoyed thus far and just focus on being a regular guy in Estonia. Which will be just as challenging as trying to import the spirit of Sylvia Beach. You've got a good 20 years of child rearing and being a good citizen ahead of you.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Just to pile on ... Yes, focus on being mediocre. It is not easy. At least not in Estonia where, as the song goes "igayks on staar".

Spawnie ütles ...

Nah, that's just a loan from trashy American pop culture. Estonians don't think they're stars, they just think they're better than everyone else!

And wait, how many years are we supposed to raise our kids for? Damn, my maths must be way off!

Kristopher ütles ...

Indeed - Thomas Pynchon has a major following in the homeless community. Logical, as he wrote a whole novel about an alternate postal system based on garbage cans... Those men you saw under the span had probably just found some particularly moving prose.

You can have all the Faulkner in the damn place (too difficult!) long as you leave the Paul Bowles - couldn't find any on my recent trip.

karLcx ütles ...

seems to me that the term 'state' also has something to do with it.

in my mind referring to eesti as a country instead (even if we must, 'baltic country' makes it sound less like the rhode island of the russian federation gone rogue.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Speaking of Russian state and all things Russian ... I thought this blog is worth sahring with you, fine people. Check it out ... http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2012/01/the_years_of_stagnation_and_th.html

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Full link ..

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2012/01/the_years_of_stagnation_and_th.html

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Ah, never mind. Sorry. It is not pasting right ... f it.

Rainer ütles ...

karLcx, you are absolutely right. I've always been annoyed by the term "Baltic STATES" (as if still part of some other COUNTRY) being used instead of the Baltic countries. And all because "the West" can't get with the program (=to aknowledge the fact that the Soviet Union is ACTUALLY gone).

Säss ütles ...

But the West doesn't really want the USSR to be gone. It was so much better to have a serious them to use as a landmark for their own development.

America's been at a lose end without them, and has been trying to find a replacement for years - still trying to play on the see-saw even though the other kid left the park.

Technically a "state" is a self-governing body, not a subdivision. A country is a state (even if a state isn't always a country).

Most "states" within countries were originally not part of another, bigger state (but rather individual colonies or settlements) - they just ended up that way.

In places like the United States of America, a bunch of independent self-governing bodies decided to lump themselves together but tried to retain a little independence (hence the multiple tiers of government).

Oklahoma is one state within another state - and, but for a few twists of history, could have easily established itself as a country in it's own right.

So, the word "state" is actually entirely appropriate. It's just that, like many things in the English language, a lot of people get hold of the wrong end of the lollipop and have the wrong word associations stuck in their heads as a result.

Rainer ütles ...

"So, the word "state" is actually entirely appropriate. It's just that, like many things in the English language, a lot of people get hold of the wrong end of the lollipop and have the wrong word associations stuck in their heads as a result."

That is exactly what I meant.

Joe ütles ...

" If only I had some contacts in the publishing world."

Have you met Ep Patroon (sp)? I think she's originally from the Viljandi area, which you visited a few posts ago. Runs a press that's one of Estonia's bestselling in travel books if not every genre. Lots of "first-hand" and also "literary merit."

karLcx ütles ...

it's not inappropriate, but 'country' is a better word that more clearly 'states' (haha) that a country is a country, where a 'state' may mean all sorts of crap.

even scotland, an entity with less independence than estonia gets to be a 'country'.

Spawnie ütles ...

Karl is right.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary:

State:
5
a : a politically organized body of people usually occupying a definite territory; especially : one that is sovereign
b : the political organization of such a body of people
c : a government or politically organized society having a particular character 'a police state' 'the welfare state'
6
: the operations or concerns of the government of a country
7
a : one of the constituent units of a nation having a federal government 'the fifty states'

whereas country is defined as:
1
: an indefinite usually extended expanse of land : region 'miles of open country'
2
a : the land of a person's birth, residence, or citizenship
b : a political state or nation or its territory

So I would say they are not perfect synonyms, a country could also be called a state, but a state is not always a country. Also note that 'state' has 4 previously listed definitions. So it's quite accurate to say that it 'may mean all sorts of crap.'

On topic: I checked out the store yesterday and I liked it. I got the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction for the staggering amount of 5 euros, Raymond Carver's "Where I'm Calling From" and one of the copies of "The Sound and the Fury"(they still got one left, hurry Justin!).
I found it more convenient to browse the collection online and go there with a list, as it's easy to miss a good book if you just peruse through the shelves.
The staff were nice and helpful and were curious to know where I found out about them.
There's one thing I didn't like: you can only pay in cash. And when I asked about the option to order online that they advertise on their site, they said they are planning to set up a PayPal account. This is interesting...

Giustino ütles ...

Karlos - there are some interesting political units on the Baltic Sea, such as the Åland Islands (an autonomous region) and Kaliningrad (an oblast).

Asehpe ütles ...

Estonia as the Rhode Island of the Soviet Union -- that image is going to stay in my mind.

Poor Estonia. So far away from God, and so close to Russia.

Asehpe ütles ...

But frankly, I'm not against the idea of Baltic countries. They do share commonalities, in history, heritage, and in their current situations. It's as good a term as, say, Iberian countries (Spain, Portugal, Catalonia) or Balcanic countries (Serbia et alii, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania). Central American (or Mesoamerican) countries can differ -- Costa Rica is certainly very different form El Salvador or Honduras -- but there is a sense to the idea of Central America (Mesoamerica).

We should simply not assume that any country in a specific region shares everything with the other countries in that same region. But if this assumption isn't made, the region can be a useful tool in understanding the countries in question.

Marko ütles ...

I would disagree a bit. Estonia shares with Lithuania as much as it does with England - which is quite a lot, but not enough in the sense of common culture. I prefer to call Estonia Northern Baltic and leave it as that - both, the Northern and Baltic are mentioned here, as some people have problem calling Estonia just Nordic, due to it's unfortunate Soviet occupation, and there are plenty of others who have a problem with Estonia being called solely Baltic, mainly in refrence of having things in common with modern Lithuania (in terms of society, the rule of law, corruption, press freedom, education standards, equal rights for minorities, etc. - Estonia and Lithuania differ as night and day). In that sense Nordic and Baltic both can be misleading, up to a point, when positioning Estonia in the region, therefore I think new term is needed and Northern Baltic might just do that - if it catches on, of course.

karLcx ütles ...

bloomberg must have read my comment, as here they refer to estonia as a 'baltic country'.

sounds nicer, doesn't it. even if this professor from tartu sounds a bit down on the place.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-03/estonians-keep-faith-in-euro-a-year-after-switch-correct-.html

karLcx ütles ...

guistino - yep there are some super nice political oddities in europe. my favourite probably being gibraltar. åland perhaps too. :)

i think the oblast was a historical accident and product of degermanising the baltic (pretty much ethnic cleansing). so interesting but less my favourite. :)

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Baltic is often mistaken for Balkan which has even worse reputation so, pick your poison.

I'd prefer Estonia just quit trying to explain itself and remain anonomys and exclusive. I love to be from such a place and being able to speak its intricate, hard to learn, "boutique" language.

The longer Estonia remains a God forsaken perifery, the better.

I love to go to my sauna in the middle of nowhere while in Estonia. I want nothing changed there. Civilization and modernity is over rated.

Rainer ütles ...

"bloomberg must have read my comment, as here they refer to estonia as a 'baltic country'."

"They" happen to be Ott Ummelas, an Estonian journalist, so no wonder.

Temesta ütles ...

Latvia and/or Lithuana should become richer than Estonia, and Estonians will not dislike the 'Baltic' tag anymore. :)

Rainer ütles ...

O sancta simplicitas...

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Temesta is on to something ... it is only human to want to be associated with success and disassociated from failure. Imagine Russia one day becoming something like Switzerland or Austria or even way-way better? All of the sudden we'd all be glamoring how we've been part of Russian Empire and etc., etc. It would lose it's ugly stupid stigma and it would be considered hip to be associated with Russia.

Not in our lifetime, of course, but still ... it could be possible. In theory.

Baltic Lass ütles ...

I like Ilves' suggestion that Estonia change its name to Estland and be part of the Scandinavia and flag to match.

Culturually it has much more in common with Nordict countries than with Latvia and Lithuania.

Baltic Lass ütles ...

I like Ilves' suggestion that Estonia change its name to Estland and become part of Scandinavia. After all, it has much more in common culturally with the Nordic countries than Latvia and Lithuania.

Temesta ütles ...

Lithuania should try to distance itself from the 'Baltics'. Lithuania's history strongly diverges from Estonia's and Latvia's history, while the latter two had very similar experiences during the last 700 years.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Talking about associations ... just as recently as this Saturday night. Georgetown. Ristorante Piccolo.

A violinist approaches our table and asks where we are from. Hearing Estonia, he pauses for a moment, looks up, and then launches into a soaring "Ochi chernye, ochi strastnye ... kak lyublyu ya vas ..."


And I was thinking, well ... that's not too bad I guess. I did not expect him to have boken into Kaerajaan or something anyway ... so, for the nth time, I was a russian. By association. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just the way it is.

Rainer ütles ...

I wonder if the violinist would have reacted any differently, had you said you're from Finland? Or would he have broken into a spirited rendition of Säkkijärven polkka?

Temesta ütles ...

I am from Belgium and it often happens that when I meet foreigners from a more faraway country they start to speak French, while the majority language (60%) here is Dutch. It's not so strange that people lack knowledge about small countries.

Rainer ütles ...

"I am from Belgium and it often happens that when I meet foreigners from a more faraway country they start to speak French, while the majority language (60%) here is Dutch."

At least they don't presume Belgium to be a part of France, or do they?

Temesta ütles ...

I didn't meet them yet, but I assume there are people who believe it. Does it often happen that you meet foreigners who think Estonia is a part of Russia?
Anyway, these kind of people do have some knowledge about Estonian history, they only forgot to inform themselves about events in the last decades. :)

viimneliivlane ütles ...

Somehow, from my experience, it comes down to a question of ´who´s asking?´ In general Europeans have some awareness of the map of Europe and at least the northerly populations will know where the Baltic Sea is. For Americans you have to be able to explain where the Baltic Sea is in concise terms as they lose interest fast. And the fact that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania aren´t the only countries/states surrounding the Baltic Sea doesn´t make that term acceptable for describing these particular three entities, to my way of thinking. Include Russia, Finland, Sweden, Poland – that makes seven distinct Baltic countries/states.

It seems to me the term comes from the era of conquests and reflects a need to apply labels and create categories. The native people of Estonia referred to the Baltic Sea as the Western Sea, knowing that for Sweden the same body of water was the Eastern Sea. That makes a lot more sense to me – we never needed nor did we ask for all those European conquests – they are the ones who named the sea something else. And what should we call this modern nation-state that sits on the eastern shore of the Western Sea – well, the natives call it Kodumaa. Anyone have a problem with that?

Rainer ütles ...

"Does it often happen that you meet foreigners who think Estonia is a part of Russia?"
I haven't met many, who "know" Estonia to be part of Russia, but I know plenty of people who have. So they are out there. There are people, according to whom Estonia SHOULD be part of Russia, but fairly seldom in the West; some ask cautiously, IF Estonia is an independent nation or is it "the Rhode Island of the Russian Federation", as karLcx so aptly put it :) The heart of the problem is that, good many - not to say most - Westerners can't tell the difference between Soviet Union and modern-day Russia. The two are hopelessly intertwined and overlapping in their consciousness. And if Estonia was part of USSR, albeit unwillingly, then how come it's not part of the RF?
You said it well: "Anyway, these kind of people do have some knowledge about Estonian history, they only forgot to inform themselves about events in the last decades. :)"
These kind of people don't take change well. It confuses them.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

In my years living here, I've worked out a shortcut to explain Estonian relationship with Russia. I simply say that Estonia is as much as part of Russia as Ireland is of England. Except Irish DO speak English whilst, Estonians don't speak Russian.
Sweet.
It works always like a one-two punch. Follow-up explanation is seldom needed. I don't know why, either they think I am nuts, or they got the point. Or, at least they got the point that these Estonians must be one arrogant bunch of son-of-a-guns ... Either way - it works.

Marko ütles ...

Whenever I speak of Estonias history to foreigners - our relationship with Russia often comes up. As the Golden Age for Britain is the Victorian era, I do explain that Estonia used to be part of the Russian Empire, back then, while having considerably more autonomy then for example Scotland has today. And when I say that unproportionately big number of Baltic nobleman (inc scientists, explorers, high ranking servicemen in Imperial Army etc.)used to make up the 'creme' of that society, everyone goes like: 'Wow!'. And when I say that it used to cause a bit of resentment towards the Baltic provinces and it's people and similar patterns are there in todays Russia - a lot of Russias rich and powerful do have Baltic links, be it through family connections, invested business relations etc., and it all suddenly makes sense to them - 'You, Estonians, are alright!'. So I think it is important to take time, when explaining our history and relationships with our neighbours - and we shouldn't forget - Imperial Russia is as glamorous to the Western Europeans as Imperial Japan, people can be thrilled by the subject. And when speaking about Estonias role in the Soviet Empire, I try to go emotionless - bring out the facts as - Estonia used to be location for several Tarkovski's films, or, as SU was about to go digital in late 80's Estonia was the location for main serverparks, or, speak about our contribution in fields of science etc. I leave the misery bit out, emotions out and voila, again - 'You, Estonians, you're alright!'. So, there's nothing to be ashamed about, it's the 'glass is half full' attitude that prevails. Typical scenario - 'Is Estonia somewhere near Russia or something?', 'Yes, it's right next to St Petersburg.', 'Oh, thats alright then, so it's like the Western Europe then?', 'Yep.'

Giustino ütles ...

When I mention Estonia in articles, I refer to it as a Northern European country and that's it. No need to get too technical - Baltics just gets confused with Balkans. It's like West Africa - quick, name all the countries of West Africa!

I know a few - Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ivory Coast, Cameroon ... probably forgot one in there. Ah, yes, Sierra Leone. And Liberia too. Not sure what languages they all speak. (And Ghana, forgot about that one! And Senegal!) Well, I know some are Francophone countries and some are Anglophone ...

Anyway, if I was from Togo, I would just say that it is a country in West Africa ...

Temesta ütles ...

"Baltics just gets confused with Balkans."

So then it would also make sense to refer to Latvia or even Lithuania as Northern European countries? On the map they are located as far to the north as Denmark and the southern part of Sweden.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

I happen to know for the fact, and you could have guessed that Latvians suffer even more pains when trying to explain where their is located.

Giustino ütles ...

Yes, I would refer to Latvia and Lithuania as northern European countries as well.

karLcx ütles ...

wikipedia agrees. this map seems perfectly reasonable to me.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Europe_subregion_map_UN_geoschme.svg

karLcx ütles ...

bastard thing.

map!
http://tiny.cc/b9dmu

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Let's look at something classic ....

Europe according to Estonians -
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUgqXGu_gTQ

Lingüista ütles ...

Giustino, I'm curious about a totally unrelated aspect of Estonian culture and its shock with the West, I thought (in case you're interested in the topic) consider it for a blog post: LBTQ rights in Estonia (and Eastern Europe). I've just read an article about the next Pride Parade in Riga, and the amount and intensity of hateful answers was somewhat shocking. Considering that a Dutch ambassador to Estonia was recalled because his being gay caused problems there, it would seem that being anti-gay is the only thing in which all ex-USSR republics and Russia really agree on...

Just curious about your take on the topic.