neljapäev, aprill 05, 2007

The Ghost of Frank Sinatra

So we are back here in New York for the next weeks. I think most New Yorkers really have no idea where this country called Estonia is, and if they do, few have an understanding of why one of their native-born sons would freely choose to live there, rather in New York.

This is actually an outgrowth of New York's attitude towards all places other than New York. Boston is hamlet of bitter Red Sox fans who put a little bit more 'ä' in their accent than the New Yorkers do, but skip the 'r' at a similar rate. Philadelphia is a poor cousin. Washington is false and sterile. And what is there really beyond that? Fly over country.

On the other side there's LA (too smoggy), San Francisco (too idealistic) and Seattle (too rainy). New York is "the only place in the world where you can get a slice of decent pizza at 3 am" -- why would anyone ever want to leave?

Of course, New Yorkers do travel. They feel more at home in Europe than anywhere else, particularly in London, where the cold aloofness of the British matches their own internal disgust with humanity. Stepping over people in the subway will do that to you. Eastern Europe or Scandinavian Europe -- to which ever sub-category Estonia belongs, is seen as an outrageous place to get drunk and laid by New York cads. It's a weekend destination, not a place to live in the proper sense.

But what does it feel like for me being just two months out of it and stepping back in? Well there's some things I already miss about Estonia. The first is meals that match the actual size of my stomach. I miss the feeling of digesting a normal amount of food and feeling content, instead of trying to consume the meals served me here and then lying on my back in a 'food coma' to digest them.

I miss walking. I want so badly to walk someplace, but there is no place for me to walk to. The places that sell all the things I need must be reached by car. Those who would bicycle are lying to themselves. I am, for lack of better words, fixed to certain areas and movement is just the process of exchanging a train seat for an office seat or a place on a line in a deli or a seat in front of a computer.

And finally - and this is the most odd - I miss being surrounded by people speaking Estonian. For the past two months English has been my internal monologue. It's been so easy to think. But here it's like there are dozens of voices competing for attention in my consciousness. I register every word of every person that passes me, and it's actually kind of disconcerting. Oh, to be on an Estonian bus, listening to two guys mutter incomprehensibly between each other!

One thing that's great about New York is the sense of humor. In the office yesterday I felt perfectly justified in playing "Ice Ice Baby" and "Pump Up the Jam" on my laptop. But in Estonia I would feel a bit like a weirdo. People in Estonia have their own self-referential sense of humor, but it is not mine, and I understand this.

I think one feeling that haunts me is that I should somehow be ecstatic to be back in New York, gobbling down pizzas, drinking martinis, watching art house films, seeing indie rock bands, kissing the rats in the subway. But in all honestly, I feel sort of a limited attachment to this place. It's just a place like many of the others I have been to. I am here for work and to visit my family. I am happy with that part. The rest is just scenery.

23 kommentaari:

AndresS ütles ...

I miss walking. I want so badly to walk someplace, but there is no place for me to walk to.

I actually find that I walk way more in Toronto than in Tallinn. Living in downtown Toronto you can walk to basically anything in 30-40 minutes (which I do every morning to work) but I can't really imagine walking that far in Tallinn to go anywhere. Eesti has become as much of a car culture as North America imo.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Weird, when I mentioned that a Korean who wants to move back from NY to Korea a month ago and who I've got to know through blogging, the Korean, she who's left NY after 17 years my wife decided to do the same. One month ago. After 14 years in Germany. 2 months are left. And I hope I will like it in Korea as you do in Estonia. Walking will not be the problem.

martintg ütles ...

I lived in Dallas for a year (Plano in fact), and it is absolutely impossible to get anywhere without a car. In fact the newer parts of Dallas they don't even bother to build side walks. Public transport is pathetic too. The concept of a corner store, where you can easily walk to in order to pick up a newspaper and milk is non existent. The only place to go is the mall, which is only really accessible via a car, since the only entrance is via the carpark. I love European cities, they are just built on a more human scale.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Your feelings about being back in NY - I think I recognize them somewhat and can relate to it a little, except I get mixed feelings when visiting Estonia... Was coming back from overseas this time somehow different than any previous time?

I think living in Houston is even more miserable than NY what comes to walking. Not only because the sidewalks are nonexistent, period - but also because of the climate. No other place to walk really than a treadmill...
greetings to you all, Tiina

Anonüümne ütles ...

Different strokes for different folks. I, on the other hand, fall homesick for America every time I am in Estonia for too long (if more than a couple of weeks).
I also tend to get annoyed by the barking intonation of the "kodueesti" speech. Sounds too russian-like to my ear.
I also get tired of the grime and dirt.
And it is so mind numbingly provincial. Especially in a small town where I am from.
But it is a good country to be from. People don't know how to stereotype you.

antyx ütles ...

I thought NYC was the one place in America where you do actually get to walk?

Years ago, in a small South-Californian town, yours truly walked an hour round trip - in the July sun - for a roll of quarters. (Literally; I'd run out of clean clothes and needed lots of quarters to feed the laundromat.) I'd set out thinking it didn't look far, just a couple blocks over, but in the end it was a matter of principle.

(The fact that I've routinely walked very nearly as far to my corner shop in Tartu doesn't quite have the same idealistic background to it.)

(Iceland, on the other hand, has the stupidest pedestrian streetlights I've seen yet. The green light doesn't blink, it turns to red randomly. Not that pedestrians pay attention to the lights - so it's one of those European situations where the strictness of the law is compensated by the fact that you don't necessarily have to follow it.)

antyx ütles ...

Eesti has become as much of a car culture as North America imo.

Anywhere reasonably urban in Estonia has usable public transport though. Not convenient, but usable.

antyx ütles ...

And it is so mind numbingly provincial.

Learn to enjoy it. Five years after moving out of Tallinn, I can pull off a decent impression of a Tartu snob. ;) And condescention towards anything American doesn't require much effort these days.

Eppppp ütles ...

Flasher - Justins parents dont live in Manhattan but in Long island. Thats why Giustino cant walk...

I remember how I missed walking the very first time I visited Justin and his parents. Of course you can walk, but there are no sidewalks and you literally risk with your life taking a stroll to the library.


Language. I remember when I got back from the long trip (3,5 months away from Estonia, without an Estonian speaking friend, alone) - it was so strange to be back, its hard to describe but its something like you (Justin) describe. You catch all the words around you, your head gets so messy... But it goes away in a few days, or weeks.

Eppppp ütles ...

I do miss New York. I mess every place where I have been ;)
I miss that Indian restaurant in the village. And beach in Belle Harbor, etc.

But - Im really happy in Tartu. There is so much to say (how I like people, and why) but WALKING. I walk so much here.

Andres critizes the Tallinn`s car culture and I cant agree more (wait! I can agree more! ;) Every time I go to Tallinn I see a traffic jam. And the way my friends and relatives think in Tallinn is very "American" - "what time do I have to drive there to beat the traffic"? Beat the traffic. YOU are the traffic.
The car cult in Tartu seems to be in relatively smaller scale (les traffic jams, less cars). My personal experience.

space_maze ütles ...

I also tend to get annoyed by the barking intonation of the "kodueesti" speech. Sounds too russian-like to my ear.

Forgive me, but .. I honestly don't understand this. From the little experience I have with recordings of pre-war Estonian, modern kodueesti seems soft-spoken, if anything - I'd guess due to the decline in German influence.

I also would never describe Russian as a language that "barks". German barks. Russian is just way too nasal to bark.

I do understand that what feels right and wrong with languages is a very subjective matter. As an american ex-pat, I generally get the heebie-jeebies when I hear American tourists on the subway ("and I'm like, wow, that's so, you know, like, awesome!") .. but I really can't see much of a case for modern Estonian having been altered, by Russian, in this way.

Anonüümne ütles ...

By "barkig" I meant constant "noh" and "davai" and "tsau".

Also, I wish Estonians would go crazy about lawn care like they tend to go crazy about everything else American (while pretending to "hate" it).
You just miss general public beauty in Estonia. It is just so lacking. Unless, of course it's your style. Stalker-like vistas of the "hills" outside center of Tallinn can be artful, if looked with a different eye, I guess. But, hey, there is beauty everywhere. Skyline of New York and skyline of Tallinn are equally breathtaking and both cities have plenty of quaint neighbourhoods and hideaway places.

Anonüümne ütles ...

New York is not America just like Tallinn is not Estonia.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I disagree about the general beauty issue - I'd rather see a place with some character, than an "Edward Scissorhands" (insert any of the hundreds of movies where you see the cookie-cutter neighborhoods depicted) landscape where everything is beautifully manicured, but totally devoid of personality. But that's just a matter of taste... :)

I can't wait to go back to Estonia this summer... I'm going through another one of those "I'm so over NY" phases. I'm sure it will pass with the next great concert or unbelievable restaurant though :) But some things can't be replaced. Too bad the continents separated, eh?

Anonüümne ütles ...

Excuse me...KISSING the rats???

Anonüümne ütles ...

Anonüümne, I beg to differ on this point... US is very diverse, and NY is very much a part of it, including culturally. Estonia is a bit smaller and less diverse, but Tallinn is indisputably Estonian. Both those cities belong in no other country, nor are they so different as to stand alone.

Anonüümne ütles ...


like I said, unless its your style. Some people wear tattoos and shaggy clothes becaus they just like it. Much of Estonia is "coutner-culture" to begin with. We are all some kind of alternative lifestyle viljelejad by default. That is why it so hard for us to fully fit in anywhere else but Estonia.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Like Moscow is nothing like Russia. Tallinn is not like Kapa-Kohila, or Lihula or Koigi or Koeru or whatever. New York is not America.

Get out of Manhattan and see it. You'd be shocked.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I'd rather live in some dull and pretty Pleasantville than in "oh, so full of character Lasnamagi." Anytime.

Unknown ütles ...

Lasnamäe does NOT characterise Estonia. It's an ugly place put up by the Soviets (or so I prefer to think). Get out of Tallinn a bit. Sure there are depressing places where people have left and the local economic growth has abruptly stopped but there are pleasant places too where people actually care about the surroundings. (If you're scared of the 'countryside' you could even visit Tartu, a much more pleasant place aesthetically than Tallinn.)

antyx ütles ...

The car cult in Tartu seems to be in relatively smaller scale

As someone who drives a lot in Tartu - this is true. Tartu traffic is a lot less frantic, and there are only a few tight spots, which can be avoided anyway (the worst being Freedom Bridge in the direction of Annelinn after 6pm on weekdays).

More importantly, Tartu is generally not restricted to arteries. You can get right across town while bypassing nearly every major road.

plasma-jack ütles ...

but the way to bus station has been made bloody difficult for pedestrians.

Anonüümne ütles ...

By "barkig" I meant constant "noh" and "davai" and "tsau".

The only Russian one of these is "davai" - an utterly ugly loan (temporary I am certain). "Noh" can be likened to "well", and "tsau" is of Italian origin (ciao). Besides, "barking" can be used to characterise the phonetics of a language, not the vocabulary.

That is not to say that I like "noh" or "tsau". Ugly little bastards ... :)