esmaspäev, november 21, 2011

the shadow knows

This is the time of year that produces the most bitching and bellyaching, the last days of November, the curtain call for autumn. People complain about the darkness, complain about the black, but I have to ask, isn't the black also sometimes beautiful?

There is something majestic about the whole scene, something inky and purple about the texture of the night that sets in, the kind of night one doesn't meet at any other time of year. It is so dark that anything that is light takes on new significance, the light from the inside of a passing car, the glow of a neon sign.

The days, if sunny, are colored with orange haze and long lovely shadows. Many of the days are sunless. These days are more like monotonous shrouds of cottony white and gray that stretch around barns and church steeples. The darkness is thus a reprieve: an opportunity to forget, a chance to dream. When 4 pm feels like 9 pm, then the very notion of time itself becomes irrelevant. Some might see this as an obstacle, but others might see it as liberating, an empowering opportunity.

Each day no matter the length I wrestle with assumptions. People have assumptions about me as I do about them. One is that, being from New York, that I am suffocating or drowning living in a small wooden town like Viljandi, and would still suffer in an even larger "metropolis" like Tallinn, home to just 400,000 souls, about the same number as Cleveland, Ohio, or Omaha, Nebraska. My truth is that big cities can be even lonelier places than small towns, as I have experienced first hand. Just because one is surrounded by people does not mean that they know who you are or care about your well being. And often the streets are just as deserted. I've rambled through the empty black streets of Washington, DC, and New York City and Boston in the wee hours, like wading through graveyards, the only signs of life being the homeless bums snoring away on the park benches, the pigeons pecking away at the garbage.

Another assumption is that just because I have written a book about Estonia (two actually), that I am some kind of expert or knowledgeable person when it comes to this place. Not only that, but I am a figure who might be able to give a person advice (!). In which case, I almost automatically point the hapless soul searchers in the direction of fellow bloggers Flasher T or Mingus, gentlemen who exude enough confidence to fool others into believing that they actually possess some form of insight or wisdom. I understand the need to look for support. Life is tricky. I can't even count all the letters I've sent to Vello Vikerkaar asking his advice on whatever it is that pesters me. But we are all just humans! Equally flawed, equally ridiculous.

Supposedly, the above attitude makes me a nihilist, which sounds quite scary. I imagine nihilists to be cloaked in shadows, weepy and black, like Sirius Snape sporting a "No More Mr. Nice Guy" coffee mug in one hand, a scythe in the other, and a puss that conveys a nasty attitude. I have no idea how this nihilism snuck up on me and overtook me. It was plain highway robbery, or rather a back alley mugging. But I think it comes in handy in times like these, the autumn of autumn. Long days or long nights, sun-drenched insomnia or gloom-induced narcolepsy. It's all just weather, right? Equally flawed, equally ridiculous.

neljapäev, november 10, 2011


"Did you know that Tallinn means 'Danish city?'"
Estonian PM Ansip and Danish PM Thorning-Schmidt talk Europe.
Estonians are never happy. In the days when they had a new prime minister every few years, if not months, they yearned for a steady hand, their very own Anders Fogh Rasmussen or Matti Vanhanen who would come along and tell everyone what to do.

But now Rasmussen is gone, as is his successor Lars Løkke Rasmussen,and his counterpart is one Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Vanhanen handed his crown over to Mari Kiviniemi, who then lost an election to Jyrki Katainen. And the people back home are starting to whisper about "stagnation" and a "crisis of democracy" as Estonian politics seems to be headed nowhere fast. They even use the dreaded 'B' word to describe their top leaders -- Brezhnev.

Andrus Ansip is the Six Million Dollar Man of Estonian politics. Small scandals and broken promises don't faze him. Instead, he leaps over them, keeping his eagle eye trained on the future, zooming around the world on his cross country skis.

Even if his anglophone detractors refer to him in private as "Unzip," Ansip's an eternal optimist. No matter what happens in Estonia, it is typically good for the country and only possible thanks to his wise and thrifty policies. Sure the removal of the Bronze Soldier was a messy affair, but at least it didn't provoke a war with Russia. Sure Estonian unemployment is high, but at least it's not as high as in Latvia. Sure, goods are often ridiculously overpriced, but at least you are paying for them in euros. See what I mean? With Ansip, there is always a silver lining.

In April 2012, Ansip will conclude his seventh year at the helm of the ship of state. People wonder will there be an eighth year of Ansip, and a ninth year after that. With Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar sidelined by Center Party squabbles, and Defense Minister Mart Laar sizing up other opportunities, the only real challenge to Reform Party rule will come from the Social Democrats. But it's going to be a long time before voters have any chance to change things in Tallinn -- about three and a half years. Until then, Estonia looks forward to more of the same.