esmaspäev, juuli 02, 2012

prangli dialogue

Prangli Island, where the blood is neither tip top nor superluks.
As the taxi bore us out to Mähe, my father asked about a strip of land in the distance that appeared to be disconnected from the mainland. "What is that, is that an island?" he asked.

"Maybe," I answered. Then I asked the taxi driver in Estonian if it was an island, perhaps the fabled Prangli Island, center of an excellent short story by the reclusive writer Vello Vikerkaar. That story, "The Inbred Bastards of Prangli Island," hinted at the lack of genetic diversity on Prangli, which prompted the following question.

"You're not from Prangli, right?"

"No," the driver answered, looking in the rearview mirror.

"Good. So, is it true that all the people who live there are relatives?"

"Well, yeah," he said. "You are stuck on an island, you want to keep the property in the family, so you wind up marrying your cousin. I mean, who else are you going to fuck?"

"You could go to Helsinki," I suggested. "Just row up to the port in the middle of the night, steal some women, and head back to Prangli. You know. Pirate style!"

The driver laughed. He thought I was kidding. "But, you know, we Estonians on the mainland are not inbred. We've been invaded so many times! Germans, Russians, Danes, Swedes,  Poles ..." he counted them out on his fingers so as not to forget, "... our blood is tip top!"

At this point I chuckled, not because Estonians are so proud that they carry the genes of a motley crew of rapists in their blood, but because they overuse the terms "tip top" and "superluks" in everyday speech. Both are English borrowings ("superluks"="super luxury"), and both are used to describe material things: a new car might be tip top, a swanky apartment could be superluks,  but this was the first time I have ever heard a person refer to his blood as being tip top.

Estonian genetic diversity was one of the selling points of the Estonian Genome Project, which billed the small country's genetic heritage as being as heterogeneous and representative of the larger European population, just as the older Icelandic project was sold on that small country's homogeneous population and tip top genealogical records, making it possible to trace rare diseases over many generations and, ultimately, identify the variants causing those diseases. But that's marketing. I honestly have no idea what real genetic impact Estonia's assorted invaders had on the local population.

Estonians were somewhat confused when it emerged in recent years that they were more closely related, in terms of genetics, to Latvians and Lithuanians, than to their linguistic brothers the Finns. "But Estonia has the euro!" they told themselves. I know, it makes no sense to me either. Still, it might explain why Finns just seem weird in any context, because, well, they are. At the same time, Finns are genetic outliers, meaning that Swedes are no more closely related to them than Estonians are. Or, rather, Estonians and Swedes are the Finns' closest relatives, but other northern Germanics (Danes, Norwegians) are the Swedes' closest relatives, and Latvians and Lithuanians are the Estonians' closest relatives. (Got that?)

I bring this up because an Estonian relative recently complimented my mother on my family's fecundity: I have aided in the production three new Estonians, and therefore deserve a medal, or something like that. Even though I am a foreigner, and have thus polluted the Estonian genetic well, it's okay because, hey, they speak Estonian, and two of them have blue eyes. This upset my mother, as you can imagine, who reminded the relative that they were American citizens too, and I had to wade in later, after the fact, and explain the Estonian psyche to her using American equivalents, such as, "This relative is very conservative, the Estonian version of a Tea Party activist, pay him no mind."

That got me thinking. Does every bit of Americana have a counterpart? If a relative can be the Estonian equivalent of a Tea Party activist, and Jaan Kaplinski can continously remind me of Peter Fonda, then surely there are other parallels as well. That's another post. But I have wondered from time to time what the poor Estonian geneticists will do if one of my offspring shows up in the biobank and they start picking up variants associated with Mediterranean populations, leading to some backward hypothesis -- "Maybe there was a Greek in the Teutonic Order?" -- when, all along, it was just little old me and my wanderlust.

Or maybe it will be cause for celebration, a vindication of the big theory that the Estonians are genetically diverse, that there is no risk in breeding with your neighbor, so long as he or she is not from Prangli Island. I can just see the beaming geneticist's face as she holds up a vial marked with my surname, the flash in her eyes as she yells out to her colleagues to share the good news. "Our blood really is tip top," she cries out in the lab, "superluks!"

33 kommentaari:

Rainer ütles ...

"You could go to Helsinki," I suggested. "Just row up to the port in the middle of the night, steal some women, and head back to Prangli. You know. Pirate style!"

"At this point I chuckled, not because Estonians are so proud that they carry the genes of a motley crew of rapists in their blood..."

What is it with you and all the raping and pillaging?! In your second book, now here. Do you find it romantic or is that (the only way) how you think people procreated in the old days?

Giustino ütles ...

It seems like a legitimate solution to a population bottleneck. In the book, it was just getting to the soul of the place, in that case Kuressaare. A lot of pillaging and raping did take place in Estonia (hence the taxi driver's comment).

Rainer ütles ...

No doubt raping and pillagin occurred. But that has had little impact on the genetic pool of Estonia. What I'm saying here is that it can be influenced via amicable coexistence (=marriage, commonlaw marriage, love affair), you don't get multiple children, a whole brood as a result of a rape. Secondly, children who are fruits of a rape have a way of not surviving into adulthood.
It is extremely naive to explain things away like this, and a taxi driver is seldom a reliable source of information.

Rainer ütles ...

One more thing: when the cabbie said "ivaded", he probably didn't mean "raped", there is nothing tip-top or superluks to be seen in latter.

Rainer ütles ...

I'm sorry for all the typos, must be temporary blindness.

Giustino ütles ...

Well, there certainly is some missing information between "we were invaded" and "our blood is tip top" (we are genetically diverse). I imagine the Swedish contribution probably came from the Coastal Swedes who just migrated here in the 13th century.

The Russians? Plenty of raping and pillaging there, but I think their contribution is recent - Old Believers, then all the refugees from the October Revolution (including my wife's great grandfather), and then the very big demographic dump of the Soviet population transfers. I know several Estonians with Ossetian and Georgian backgrounds. "Pure Estonians" :)

With the Germans, my dear Rainer, I think it was sort of a Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemmings phenomenon. I know that one ancestor in my wife's tree is referred to as the "Nagala Mill Owner," a Prussian German.

Rainer ütles ...

Ah, you are probably referring to esimese öö õigus. The impact of that on Estonia's genetic pool is much debated. It can not be proven any more conclusively than that of Baltic German ladies having children with Estonian grooms, stable boys and coachmen they kept as lovers.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Perhaps it is not being the victims of the rap e and pillaging people are proud of, but rather the recognition that some bloodlines in the nation delineate from the practice of primae noctis. Hence not every Estonian woman has a potato nose, weak straw like hair and short stompers without ankles. Quite the opposite. Exeptions exist of course, but hey, this was the privilege, not a job of the noblemen back then.

Rainer ütles ...

The bottom line is, my dear Giustino, that nobody is denying the fact of raping and pillaging, it's the effect on genetic makeup of the population that's highly questionable, if not negligible.

Temesta ütles ...

This upset my mother, as you can imagine, who reminded the relative that they were American citizens too

But isn't dual citizenship illegal in Estonia?

Marko ütles ...

Yes, we are diverse, but I think that rape had very little to do with it. It would have to have been on a scale of moors in Spain, or what happened to the Mongols. And if something on that scale would have happened there would for sure be some records about it, at least some nations or tribes would boast about it in their folk songs. None of that exists.

And on that American thing, I think you underestimate the power of environment. Of course only time will tell, but your kids are Estonian, just as T H Ilves is American.

Yes, the Americans. Reminds me of my last visit to Estonia. I was showing my partner around in some historic churches and met a couple of American ladies and had a short chat. Just about when we were to leave one of them made an odd comment about Estonians. I was like, excuse me, but I'm Estonian. No you're not, one of them said. I was like, yes, I'm Estonian. And the other one snapped sharply, why do you speak with an British accent then. I went all read in the face and tried to calmly explain, that English is the language, it's the Americans who got the accent, like the Irish etc. But they were having non of it. How rude, I thought.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

British DO have the accent, Marko. Not even one, but many, depending on the area and/or the social class they come from. I sometimes have to switch on the close captioning to enjoy British movies and not to miss anything in the dialogue. Jude Law is one of the few English actors I can actually understand when he speaks. He usually does not swallow the endings of the words and hack them up and spead over into unlikely syllables. He can though. When I am in the company of brits for a while, I too start soudning like I have a different shall we say ... orientation. That's how British accent comes accross to American ears. Something as hoity-doity ... holding your teacup with the pinkie finger raised and saying with the stiff upper lip "Oh, dear."

I like it. I find it amusing.

Temesta ütles ...

Does every bit of Americana have a counterpart? If a relative can be the Estonian equivalent of a Tea Party activist, and Jaan Kaplinski can continously remind me of Peter Fonda, then surely there are other parallels as well.

Actually the governing parties in Estonia have a lot in common with the Tea Party: economic libertarianism (Reform Party), conservatism and patriotism (IRL). The populism, however, the Tea Party has in common with the Centre Party.

Marko ütles ...

Do you actually hear yourself? Where do you think the English language comes from? Class plays a role in every language, but does not define it. You can speak posh, yet be 100% working class. It's the way you pick it up. (kas sa pole kunagi kohanud kolmeaastast kes kõlab nagu kuuekümne viiene?).

And as it still stands - received pronunciation, or Queens English, is considered the most cultured variety of it. You can't deny that - even Obama, turns his accent down and speaks clear, no bells and whistles English.

And what's the orientation joke about, do you stay in Texas or something?

I'm not saying Americans speak it the wrong way. It's just that Americans are the ones who for some reason feel insecure about speaking it properly. But that's also understandable - most of the immigrants back in the day were of, shall I say, humble backgrounds and literacy has never been a thing you necessarily associate with the States.

Ever heard how Siberian Estonians sound? I've met few and I think they do speak it in a very sweet way, but in no way is that what we would call proper Estonian. It's the same way to English ears, the old colonies sound comforting, but for example you wouldn't necessarily like your doctor to speak like that.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, Finns have admittedly been historically quite isolated - it was maybe a wise move to hide in the forests far away from popular trade and invasion routes... The strange thing is that there are amazingly wide differences within the Finnish population and some quite interesting genetic islands where cousins have been overly popular through the generations.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Comforting or not, chances are that your doctor in England already sounds just like Abu from the Simpsons.

Many do.

Marko ütles ...

And do you have a problem with that? I'm not a native English speaker, and the fact that most Brits can't tell that I'm actually a foreigner, does not make me any better than Abu. I actually like how the Indians speak, and by the way a lot of them speak it natively, thus their in the same league as the Irish, Americans and the rest. Where as I'm not.

And if Abu is not a native speaker, I think you should give him even more credit, at least he is trying. As we know from our own migrant communities in Estonia, effort is something that very few of them do.

Rainer ütles ...

It's Apu, for God's sake! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apu_Nahasapeemapetilon

Rainer ütles ...

I adore Indian accent. I find it very sensual.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Right, Abu was in Seinfeld and he was from Pakistan ...

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Any accent can be sensual, it just depends who is speaking ... beauty wise. And then, of course, whatever your own particular fetish happens to be. I personally think Elizabeth Hurley sounds more sensual that Maharishi.

Rainer ütles ...

No argument there :)

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

You are no fun Rainer, I wanted to argue more. Where's Puu or Marko when you need them?

Rainer ütles ...

Sorry I couldn't oblige. But be careful what you wish for. You may conjure up the unspeakable m...ort.

Marko ütles ...

I was wondering, and maybe Giustino can fill me in on this one. Who's the statistically average reader of this blog? Can't tell by usual means, as there are no targeting adverts displayed on this site.

Are they middle aged or more youngish? Are they more of the executive types, academics or just a mix of people. More men or women?

Who's the audience and who are the commentators? Come on, Giustino, you must have at least a rough idea.

Just asking, as I can see people from many walks of life sharing their thoughts but there must be something more there that connects us, or divides, depending on subject. What are the common denominators?

Rainer ütles ...

I believe the answer is: constant fluctuation.

Max Tammbeck ütles ...

I think Americans sound 'differently oriented'. Where is the gay-capital of the world?

Max Tammbeck ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Rainer ütles ...

"Where is the gay-capital of the world?"

One would propose San Francisco, USA, but in truth it is Sydney, Australia.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

It might be Kabul, Afghanistan.

Washington Post recently had a series of articles on the underground culture of keeping male companions and boy dancers.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Did I just offend somebody? Just making sure.

Marko ütles ...

Nope, no offence there. Just demonstrating your own level of emotional intelligence, suppose that actually expresses the wider American attitude towards some social issues. Ridicule and put down, that's the American way of dealing with it, innit?

Martasmimi ütles ...

Temesta ütles...
This upset my mother, as you can imagine, who reminded the relative that they were American citizens too

But isn't dual citizenship illegal in Estonia?

My grandaudies are American citizens...
... and coming from a true diverse country with real "tip top" blood"
I find all the constant nationalist purest remarks nauseating. The original comment was "please don't let your son return to America... he has produced 3 more Estonians and we are a very small country (sniff sniff) and we need to keep all our Estonians here" in Estonia.... gag !
I wonder if the people of Rhode Island feel the same way when their kids move to Boston?