neljapäev, oktoober 11, 2007

Tour of Tartu

Today I was lucky enough to have a tour around Tartu guided by Heiki Valk, who had to cut short his tour because he was late for an archaeological dig. Despite our short time together, Heiki taught me many things about this city. I have lived here since February but I did not know that, for example.

1) The statue of Gustavus Adolphus behind the University of Tartu is not the original. The original was dismantled/blown up in 1950. When foreign human beings were allowed to visit Tartu without a KGB escort in the late 1980s again, academic contacts with Sweden were renewed.

It turns out that because the "Lion of the North" was such an imperialist pig, he was both beloved by Estonians (for granting extensive rights to the local peasantry) and disliked by Swedes, who prefer ABBA and Olaf Palme to conquering small nations. So it was not too difficult to find moulds of a contemporary statue of the old Gustavus Adolphus monument to part with, and they were very glad to loan one to Tallinn.

2) Kristjan Jaak Peterson only became famous after he died. It had really troubled me for some time that someone that lived to be only 21 years old could live on eternally as a national poet. Such is the tale of Kristjan Jaak Peterson (1801-1822), whose statue dominates Toomemäe.

Heiki recounted the tale of the ardent student Kristjan Jaak who made the journey from Riga to Tartu by foot just for the sake of learning, contracted TB and died. For workaholic Estonians, perhaps ignoring a cold to work some more, I am sure it is an endearing story. To regular joes, one has to wonder why he didn't just wait it out in Võnnu for a while.

Anyway, his diary and its soul-stirring poetry were discovered at a later date. Maybe one day your college poetry will make you a national hero too!

3) The Soviet time is still bad for real estate. On Jaani Street, past Tampere Maja, is a house where we once upon a time considered living. Epp warned me though that it used to be a jail and therefore it might contain disturbed souls given to mischief. We decided to look elsewhere in Tartu for a place to live.

In fact, as Valk pointed out, the building on Jaani Street used to be the site of the original university building. In 1941 though it was where some 193 people -- 170 men, 20 women -- were shot by NKVD and buried in the courtyard or thrown down the well. There used to be a memorial there to this act, but since the flats in the renovated apartment building were not selling well, it was taken down.

On the way home from the tour I met a woman who spoke to me in Estonian but seemed foreign. It turned out that she was a väliseestlane who had repatriated with her family. I asked her why she moved to Tartu instead of Tallinn. She said that part of her family was from Tartu, but that the real reason was because Tartu was so much better than Tallinn.

Sure Tartu was smaller and there were less big concerts headlined by aging rock stars, but Tartu still had a lot of restaurants, and Tallinn was simply 'vastik' -- not just because of the rampaging drunk teenage looters who went bananas over a statue, but also because of the rampaging drunk twenty- and thirty-something British stag party attendees who came to fight , funnel, and ... the other f word.

Standing there on Toomemäe with her looking out over the multicolored autumn foliage, I had to agree that I too liked Tartu better.

6 kommentaari:

tempest ütles ...

The poetry of Kristjan Jaak Peterson was discovered by members of the Siuru literary movement exactly a century after his death.

Rainer ütles ...

"human beings were allowed to visit Tartu without a KGB escort in the late 1980s again".

Wasn't Tartu inhabited by human beings? That sentence implies that only foreigners were human beings, since Estoinians were allowed to visit Tartu, only some military sites were off limits for civilians.

Giustino ütles ...

Fine, fine Reiner. :)

Rainer ütles ...

It's Rainer, Giustino... But yoy can call me Pain in the Old Posterior, since I always seem to find something to bitch about in your posts :D

Giustino ütles ...

Shit, I spelled your name wrong too. It was before I had my coffee, honestly.

ARK ütles ...

Yeah, you've partly got it about the inferiority complex, G. Quite right.

But you must've witnessed the other part of Danish sentiment: an ironic detachment, as if the Swedes are too uptight, too big for their, um, boots. The Swedish side is funnily caricaturized -- since we like caricature here -- in Lars von Trier's mini-series Riget [The Kingdom], from a few years back: The Swedish doc, a curmudgeon doomed to toil in Copenhagen, has nothing very good to say about his Danish hosts, and looks across the water longlingly, to Malmö.