kolmapäev, aprill 26, 2006

The Ice Museum

Today I finally got a chance to flip through The Ice Museum, a new book by Joanna Kavenna that traces her journeys across the Nordic lands in search of the myth of Thule. During her journey she visits Norway, Greenland, Shetland, Svalbard, and Estonia, where she meets with former president Lennart Meri to discuss his theory on the origin of the myth of the Scandinavian frontier of Thule.

Meri posits that Thule was actually an event - not a place - and that the event was a meteor crashing into Saaremaa about 700 years before the birth of Christ. "Thule" he believes, comes from the Estonian word for fire, "tuli."

While the quest for Thule is interesting, it is Kavenna's description of Estonia - its juniper trees, bogs, marshes, and recovering infrastructure, that reminded me of my own connections to the place. Kavenna continually points out that Estonians are a simple people who are connected to nature and rocks and lakes. How true.

I call my in-laws päkapikud - elves - because their idea of a good time is to rummage through the forests finding wild mushrooms or berries. The Russians called them Chuds - which I have read in Old Slavic translates to "weird." The Latvians joke of Estonians who are slow, rural people. Maybe. But there is something very different in the way my wife picks berries and how I did when I was a child.

It reminds me of how I met an old Indian man on Long Island who told me about the food of his ancestors - squash, beans, maize, fish. They had such profound meaning for him. And I have to say that the often greasy and heavy foods of Italy mean a lot to me. Sometimes I feel that mozzerella is one of the crutches upon which my existence rests. I also am turned off my fancy Italian restaurants. I feel that this food is meant to be consumed in the home, not dished out in expensive platters.

But it must be cool to have belonged to one stretch of Earth for 5,000 years. To know songs that have meaning. To speak a language that uses archaic constructions like "Läheme Antsu juurde" - let's go to Ants' root. It's a powerful eternal feeling, and you can understand why Estonians care so much about their lakes, rivers, coasts, and forests. Their country is not just a place where they can walk around feeling good that they are in the EU and NATO all day. It's not just a place where they work and play and sleep and drink Saku Originaal. It's actually sacred to them.

I've never really known a feeling like that myself. But it's all there in the well-crafted lines of Kavenna's new book.

13 kommentaari:

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

This reminds me of a visit of an young Estonian TV-engineer to Germany. In the northern part there a 4000 years old megalitic graves. When he got to see them he tried right away to find a place where his thumb could find a whole in one of the huge stones. Then he got concentrated and said afterwards: Ya, I've just let the energy start flowing.

Anonüümne ütles ...

So what is different between you and me in berry picking, can you describe it? I did not pay much attention to you when I saw berries so I cant remember ;)

Giustino ütles ...

The difference is you can actually tell which berries are poisonous and which are not, and which ones taste better than others. AND you get excited about finding a good berry. It's hard for me to get excited about berries.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Sorry I can't tell where and how you could make extra cash, but your observations about Estonians and their closeness to their lakes and forest is propably more or less how we Finns feel. I never seen it with the other Europeans or North Americans, exception being North American Indians and my Canadian wife. She just might have been an Estonian in her previous life.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Very interesting. I never thought that when I say to go somebody's "juurde" I could actually wanna go to where that person's roots are. I mean it is funny as it is wonderous. Foreigners and children are surely best positioned to notice such odd things about our language ... For the rest of us we need to inhale a bit before it all becomes obvious. ;-)

Anonüümne ütles ...

"Päkapikud" are dwarves, not elves. The Estonian word for elf is "haldjas".

Anonüümne ütles ...

But everyone here (in the US) says "Santas elves" about päkapikud.

Giustino ütles ...

Actually Estonians are more like dawarves - sturdy, rotund, occasionally fat, beer-loving - than elves - who are sort of thin, with pointy ears, and drink elderberry wine.

Mart Laar is certainly a dwarf, not an elf. :)

Anonüümne ütles ...

More on the "juurde-root" topic. Thought you might be interested..

Even the most ordinary everyday Estonian language contains numerous ancient expressions, possibly going back as far as the Ice Age.

The Estonians say külma käes, vihma, päikese, tuule käes ('in the hand of the cold, rain, sun, wind'), or ta sai koerte käest hammustada (literally 'he was bitten from the hand of dogs' i. e. 'he was bitten by dogs') or ta sai nõgeste käest kõrvetada (literally 'he was stung from the hand of nettles'). Quite obviously, nobody any longer thinks that the wind, rain, dogs or nettles actually have hands. But in ancient times the moving, often personified natural phenomena, to say nothing about animals and plants, were believed to have certain powers. These powers, sometimes exerting control over human beings, were symbolised by a hand. Hence the contemporary Estonian käskima ('to order'; can be translated 'to give orders with one's hand'), käsilane ('handyman').

In all the above Estonian expressions 'hand' occurs in the singular. This is associated with the integral concept of the world of our ancestors. Everything formed a whole, a totality, also the paired parts of body which were used only in the singular. If one wanted to speak about one hand, one had to say pool kätt ('half a hand'). Hence the division of the holistic world into the right and left halves, right and left sides.

Even now, Estonians find their bearings spatially by using parts of the body, mostly without being aware of it themselves. If something is kõrval ('beside', 'next to'), an Estonian speaker does not even notice that what he is actually saying is that something is 'on his ear' (kõrv, kõrva meaning 'ear' and suffix -l corresponding roughly to the English preposition 'on'). The Estonian postposition peal ('on') means literally 'on the head' (pea 'head' + -l); juures (juur, juure + -s which corresponds in modern Estonian to the English 'in' but in earlier times stood for 'near' as well) means that something or somebody is close to the speaker's juur ('root'), i.e. the place where he touches the ground.


Anonüümne ütles ...

Epp, Santa's elves are an exception -- although called elves, they usually look like gnomes or dwarves. Depending on the context, I can possibly accept "Santa's elves" as the translation of "päkapikud" (in my opinion, päkapikud aren't necessarily related to Santa), but not just "elves".

Eppppp ütles ...

Claro! ;)

Giustino ütles ...

I'm here at Eest Maja, and I have just learned that vodka on the rocks is vodka j22peal.
On the head of the ice!

Anonüümne ütles ...

Not that anyone would ever say "vodka jää peal"... or well, I guess some would, but normally, an Estonian would order "vodka jääga" või "viin jääga" ("vodka with ice"). I know, it doesn't sound half as cool.