esmaspäev, aprill 27, 2009

seto maffia

We only spent eight hours at our new place in Setomaa yesterday, but my entire body is exhausted. It's not like I took on particularly arduous tasks. It's just the constant movement: chasing children, carrying items, opening dysfunctional barn doors.

My wife's grandmother Laine did not approve of us finding a maamaja -- country house -- in Setomaa. She recommended Tõstamaa, the coastal area of Estonia north of Pärnu where she was raised.

I really like water too, Laine, but Tõstamaa is expensive. One might pay more more a rundown outhouse on the coast of Estonia than for what we dropped on a little house with a barn, sauna, and rundown outhouse in Setomaa.

There's something else you should know. Laine's husband Karl was born in Setomaa, though he is not himself a Seto, whatever that means. Seto people are basically Orthodox Estonians from the border region with Russia that speak a funky dialect that is very close to Võru, the main differentiator probably being faith, as most Võru speakers are Lutherans.

But the reality is that our nextdoor neighbors in Setomaa are like Karl in that they aren't Setos. They don't appear to be Orthodox. And they definitely didn't speak any special Finnic dialect with us. As far as I could tell from the conversation, these people moved to Setomaa for the fresh air and country life. They were sort of like us, we of the Italian family name.

Our friends Helen and Mart who live near Obinitsa aren't Setos per se either, though Mart has deep roots in Petseri, on the other side of the border, which makes him sort of like an exile Seto who has returned, I guess. Mart seems to know so much about Seto culture, that I cannot accurately represent his wealth of knowledge. One day in a parking lot in Värska, I told him it was hästi libe -- "very slippery" -- in Estonian. "Ah, but do you know what the word "slippery" is in Seto?" he asked, as if I might now. "It's %&#%." Or something like that.

All properties in our parish have names. Our farm, built in the 1920s, originally had a Russian name, like "Nikolaikova," that was shortened to a cute Estonian name, like "Niku." The farm was later bisected into two farms, and we were encouraged to choose a new farm name, while the other property owner maintained the old name, "Niku," for their farm.

This is actually a good example of how things can become Russified or Estonianized. If it is Russified, it becomes Orthodox and is written in the Cyrillic alphabet. If it is Estonianized, it is rendered with a few extra vowels, some with diacritical marks, in the Roman alphabet. On the Estonian side of the border, there are villages with adorable names like "Lüübnitsa" and "Võmmorski."

I didn't like the existing name of our farm anyway, so Epp and I went back and forth trying to think of a new name. Epp suggested Leelo Talu, after the famous seto folk song form, but she later decided that it might seem obnoxious for some guy from New York and a lady from Viljandimaa to name their farm after the most sacred word in the seto vocabulary.

We played with other names, trying to remember the few seto words we knew. How about Ubina Talu -- "Apple Farm" -- because ubina is "apple" in seto language? No matter how hard we tried, these seto names didn't work for me. Why? Maybe because it's just a cosmetic way of appreciating the local culture. So we settled on Sassi Talu, after Epp's great-grandfather, who lived in Setomaa. I was told that this worked well because "Sass" is also a Seto name.

Then there is the discussion of what to do with the house. Most Seto interiors are spare and wooden, save for a ornate "Icon Corner" for the Virgin Mary. The Estonians I know seem to exotify the Orthodox Church. They have grown up as dull secular Lutherans, and anything with a splash of color and some incense is instantly more appealing. To me, though, these trappings of Orthodox life remind me of my own Catholic upbringing. Do I really need a mystical Orthodox portrait of the Virgin Mary on my wall? Really? Do I?

Maybe Seto folk patterns and colors would be a better route to show our appreciation for local tradition. As he is familiar with Seto architecture, Mart advises foresty greens or sky blues for the exterior trim on the house, and I am not opposed to green. I think it's a good choice. Still, I feel like a blind man, feeling his way around the southeast Estonian landscape. With some advise, the house might look great. Without it, it might look garish and out of place.

One bonus for me is that there are people in Setomaa who do speak the dialect, and in Tartu there is also a subset of people who belong to a category I call, "I have no idea what the heck this guy is saying," most of them either from Võru or Setomaa. One of them works at the place where I get my car fixed. Whenever he picks up the phone, it sounds something like, "%&%&? #%¤&! #¤#¤?" So, I figure that if I can break the Seto dialect, then I will hold the key to understanding all varieties of the Estonian language in my hand.

16 kommentaari:

Eppppp ütles ...

Some corrections:
- I think our neighbors are local (Setos), they simlpy chose to speak Estonian to us... but they can speak Seto as well.
- Farm is "talo" in Seto, not "talu".
- Local exterior colors are also bright blue and yellow. We were thinking of using rustic (dark) red but according to Mart, it is not Seto color. We perhaps will go something between forest green and sea green (a little blue in green) for our exterior details (like windows, and barn doors), rest of it is gonna stay as it is... bare wood grey.
- Actually, he said that Sassi is not at all common Seto name. But we can use it for our farm :), it is understandable for people.

Giustino ütles ...

Mart told me that Sassi was " "adekvaatne" in both Estonian and Seto languages.

Unknown ütles ...

Niku talu... hahaha :D

Unknown ütles ...

there was a Estonian/Russian boy called Alexander in my childrens art school... way back when. And this one time, the teacher was trying to address him: "Sasha... Alexander... Sass, noh" :D

Don't know if ubin is so definitely a seto word, I think it's a generally Southern Estonian word. Like 2mber instead of pang or esik instead of koridor (or "kalidor" as my virukene grandmother says). Putsunutsuja, now THAT is a seto word ;)

(means vacuum cleaner)

Rainer ütles ...

"Petroonõ talo" would have had undeniable zing to it ;)

Martasmimi ütles ...

"Yasgurs Farm"..Woodstock..

Who would know?

luuletaja ütles ...

petronõ talu kõlab kusjuures tõesti päris setulikult

Unknown ütles ...

I was involved in a somewhat heated discussion earlier this year about whether Võro is a language or dialect. My understanding at the end of the discussion is that modern Võro is kind of a reconstruction of several older south-Estonian dialects, created by some academics. What's the viewpoint on the ground?

I understand that kids in south-Estonian schools can take Võro as an elective subject, but it may be losing out to computer studies. Can it be heard in the streets and shops, or is a bit foreign to natives there?


bunsen_lamp ütles ...

Keel on murre, millel on oma armee. Eestil on, võrol ei ole. Kui võrokad endale oma teevad, näiteks "Võro vabariiklik syavägi," arutame edasi. :-)

Unknown ütles ...

I'm an exchange student coming from China. Right now I am going to make a film about the Estonian
aged lady's life and memories. First of all, I wanna understand the situation in Estonia about aged women. I think maybe at least there are these 3 kinds of living condition: old women workers who
make a living by themselves, aged ladies living in nursing houses or social houses, and those who live
together with their children or grandchildren. I want to find some possible and propor characters
could stand for each kind and make a film about their daily routine. I know people's living condition is complex and hard to be classified, but at least this means of pre-production could help me clarify the focus and find out the characters. I think it's a good point to cut in to understand Estonian society and culture. I heard that the Estonian folk songs are composed by women or specificly mothers, about their life and daily routine. But I cannot find out the lyric's meanings due to the language barriar. If anyone could and will help me, I greatly appreciate!

Sharon ütles ...

But what do you do about the lawn?

That's what I want to know. Are you going to drop by every fortnight to make sure the grounds don't go wild and the wolves don't move in?

Are you going to invite neighbours to graze their livestock on your patch?

How do you take care of a farm from afar?

Rainer ütles ...

Dear Chinese Exchange Student,

"I heard that the Estonian folk songs are composed by women or specificly mothers, about their life and daily routine."

You do realise that Estonia is not a tribal society any more?

ontark ütles ...

Did your wife inform you what "Niku talu" also means in Estonian? :D
But to talk about Setomaa...
My grandfather comes from that region, more specifically from Petserimaa, where his ethnic Estonian family moved after the War of Independence. He has told me a lot about the Seto culture I get a special feeling when I hear someone speak about them.
As for the farm, they also had one right outside Petseri, which is now on the other side of the border. Their farm was destroyed and the location is now actually a border station (Koidula). It makes me quite sad that my grandfather's old farm now lies on the border of EU and Russia...

Kristopher ütles ...

Estonia may even have evolved past a clan-based society. I hope.

To tädi Laine, I would ask: does anyone really believe sea levels are not going to start rising in the next 20 years? January 2007 storm was a warning.

Isn't ubin also a term for potato? Kind of like pomme and terre in one word.

Sharon: an overgrown taluõu can be quite nice-looking in my opinion. Or you can have a redneck agenda and it can look terrible. You can put new roofs on the structures to halt major deterioration, then replace logs and do what needs to be done little by little. I guess if left unheated for more than a season or two, you can risk a mould problem. That's my understanding.

John Menzies ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Eppppp ütles ...

Ontark: Giustino made up this "Niku" name (he did not know it means something else in Estonian :), he did not want to post the name of our property.

Sharon: we are planning to buy a scythe (no electrisity or oil waste.. only physical exercise), and we are planning to have rather a little overgrown yard.