laupäev, detsember 31, 2016

the one, the one

As the year closes, I think of its unseemly demises. With simple time, it carried away so much. Memories, people. I'll never forget that peculiar feeling I had walking along the train tracks in Tartu on the day it was over. Abielu katki. It was high May, California weather, sun that lingered, warmth sumptuous and succulent and erotic, the trees like Dr. Seuss would have sketched and colored them, except greener and more pungent, luscious and octopus, enveloping you up in like her red-gold locks. As I eased into single-hood, the temptation to be a bastard ever strong, I clung to ideas of her natural boughs because of what they represented to me -- the last vestiges of the soul, the last morsels of the self. Now the year ends and I am not even halfway toward her, not even a quarter of the way there, or a sixteenth. "You need more time, you need more time." Watch me scratch the rocky bottom of the tunnel, trying to move toward something that I'm convinced must be light. Sometimes. More time, it all takes time ...  The ghost of one love gone, and another arrives to take her place. Vulnerability. Deep as death.  Not nearly enough time, she tells me. This is how it goes and goes. It's not exactly easy, all this. But what other choice do I really have? If you see light, you must move toward it, correct? Candle light flickers over dinners and there it is again, a well-contained thrill. Someday, someday. The one, the one.

kolmapäev, detsember 21, 2016

the darkest days

It didn't occur to me that light deprivation might be the cause of the immense maelstrom of sadness that has left me sprawled across a couch poking at various old wounds for days on end until I overdid it on the kodujuust and noticed an immediate light and easy boost in the serotonin levels. The mechanics of light, Vitamin D, cottage cheese, dark chocolate, mandariinid, and the like, are still not clear to me, but I understand that these are cornerstones of warding away suicidal thoughts at this time of the year. It's not just me. Most people who do not live in the north swear they would never survive without their Californian sunshine. "I could never do that." And yet we sadists contend with submarine pressure. It's sinister and dreamy all at once. Look up at those gray milk soup skies. They will turn your eyes blue, your skin white. Anyway, I am off to get some more kodujuust. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Iceland is the land of fire and ice. Eistland is the land of cottage cheese, dark chocolate, and mandariinid. And the sauna.

Ei saa me läbi ilma saunata.

pühapäev, detsember 11, 2016

big waters

I wrote so much about my driving mishap three years ago, but what years have passed. The past three years have been nothing but life changing. It wasn't even every year, or month, but every week, every day of every week, that turned my life upside down. For the longest time, I clung to my ship of stability but eventually let go and began to drift in these big waters. To flow with the wet current, to accept all that comes and savor. When my US license was up, and my international one with it, I at last took my theory exam, took my driving exam, and passed fine. I have been a driver for 20 years now. The staff at Maanteeamet were friendly and helpful, and I found my passenger for the sõidueksam concise, clear-headed, and amicable. Things went smoothly, and I had no trouble. If you ask me why I never did this before, I will tell you: my life used to be crazy. I know I could try to explain it all to you, but no words would do it justice. But if you had been inside this person, inhabiting this flesh, it could have all happened to you exactly the same way. Now it feels quite good to be here in Eesti-land, and write in a warm cafe. Wonderful.  

kolmapäev, november 30, 2016

this remote, forested place

I do wonder sometimes about the flow of Estonian foreign policy, and the idea of the independent state in general. The idea of Estonia, going back to 1918, was to separate the country from the "rotten foundations" of the Russian Empire. Essentially, they decided their statelet was better off alone (and they were right). The story of each Baltic country's path to independence is different and involves different regional players. Consider that the first Lithuanian declaration of independence occurred under German occupation. The reemergence of the Lithuanian state on the map of Europe was a byproduct of First World War German foreign policy. One might see Lithuanian EU membership in a different light given that particular tidbit. Or that the headquarters of the Latvian Republic were for a time aboard a British vessel moored off the coast, at a moment of political upheaval at the end of the war when there were three governments in what became Latvia -- a pro-German and a pro-Russian one as well. Latvian independence owes a significant debt to the British navy. Estonia actually fought to remove foreign armies from its soil, which gives its independence a rather local, robust flavor. Yet, in 1917, when Estonian servicemen demonstrated in Petrograd, they were demanding autonomy within the Russian Empire -- the desire to manage their own affairs, not to be aligned in various military alliances. In the late 1980s, the country again demanded independence, encouraged by the example of Finland. And yet today it is Finland that remains "Finlandized," while Estonia is constructed to either the front line in the "New Cold War," or some kind of symbolic "West Berlin." As additional NATO backing arrives to this remote, forested place of 1.3 million souls, I do wonder how this all fits into the concept of Estonian independence. The people of this land just wanted to manage their own affairs. Somehow they keep getting caught up in problems many times larger than themselves.

reede, november 25, 2016

the ethical state

An ethical state does not play with its people. A self-confident people requires an ethical state. An ethical state supports choices made by Estonians. A self-confident Estonian makes themselves happy. An ethical state does not prescribe methods of becoming happy or definitions of this concept in general or for Estonians. A self-confident Estonian is free in their choices.
This from the site of the president, Kersti Kaljulaid. It seems to touch on themes central to the Estonian mindset. The 'you don't touch me, I don't touch you ideal' is played out in the concept of the 'ethical state' that 'does not play with its people' (and would like to have as little to do with them as possible, other than that which is necessary). The ethical state, therefore, will shake your hand, but with its gloves on. It will embrace you, but stiffly and ethically. Do not expect any loving kiss. You will get a chapped peck on the cheek. Enter the Estonians, preoccupied with their important work of making themselves happy. The Estonian does not look to the aloof, gloved ethical state to assist. No! The Estonian is self-reliant and industrious in all pursuits. One day, they will all be happy. I am quite sure of it.

neljapäev, november 17, 2016

kennan from the grave

Came across this interesting old interview with George Kennan, then 94 years old, from August 1999. Here is what America's premier diplomat and architect of containment had to say about Baltic-Russian relations an an interview with Richard Ullman. It's interesting for me that so many of these old issues -- NATO expansion, the Kosovo War -- seem so ancient and done with. But the Russian leadership today is the same leadership that came to power in 1999. They are stuck in the past.


G.K.: We are now being pressed by some advocates of expansion to admit the Baltic countries. I think this would be highly unfortunate. I agree that NATO, as we now know it, has no intention of attacking Russia. But NATO remains, in concept and in much of its substance, a military alliance. If there is any country at all against which it is conceived as being directed, that is Russia. And that surely is the way the Poles and others in that part of the world perceive it.
These are sensitive borders—these borders between Russia and the Baltic countries. I will not go into the history of Russia’s relations with those Baltic peoples, other than to ask you to remember that they were included in the Russian empire for nearly two hundred years in the two centuries before World War I, and much of their advance into modern life was achieved during that time. And then, for a period of almost another two decades, they were quite independent, and this was accepted by the world community and, with the exception of the Communists, by most of the Russians themselves. It took Hitler to virtually compel the Russian government to take them over in 1939, and then to put an end to their independence in 1940. And the later entry of Russian forces onto their territory occurred (and this we should remember) in the process of pushing the German army out of that region—a process which had our most complete and enthusiastic approval.
In other words, the Russian relationship to the Baltic peoples has had many ups and downs. They have been a part of Russia longer than they have been a part of anything else. For a time they were fully independent. I never doubted or challenged the desirability of their independence. I never ceased to advocate it in the years when they didn’t have it. But I don’t think that it would be a good thing for NATO to try to complicate that historic relationship by taking these countries into what the Russians are bound to see as an anti-Russian military alliance.
R.U.: What do you think the relationship between Russia and the former Soviet republics will look like say a decade or so from now?
G.K.: Oh, I don’t think it will be too troubled. After all, the Russians, under Yeltsin, took the lead in pushing them into independence ten years ago. He left them no alternative but to accept it. Why should the present Russian government wish to reverse it? By and large, Russia has been better off without them.
Of course, there are the problems of Russian minorities in two or three of those countries. In the case of Ukraine, in particular, there was the thoughtless tossing into that country, upon the collapse of Russian communism, of the totally un-Ukrainian Crimean peninsula, together with one of the three greatest Russian naval bases. For that we, too, must accept a share of the blame. But even in this case, all the recent Russian aspirations have been limited to the alleviation of the effects of these blunders; they have not taken the form of any encroachments upon Ukrainian independence.

esmaspäev, november 14, 2016

counting coup or how it went down

Well here we are. Welcome to the cold, cynical new era. The Kremlin successfully influenced the outcome of the American presidential election in its favor. Went down a bit like this: Kremlin-backed Wikileaks divulged the information damaging the non-Kremlin candidate (Hillary Rodham Clinton). FOX and other sympathetic media turned the information into a national scandal supporting the Kremlin's favored candidate (Donald J. Trump) and other networks followed. The Kremlin candidate's past misgivings started to undermine his campaign (mid-October). The supporters of the Kremlin candidate in the FBI (Comey) reopened the investigation in a timely manner, damaging the non-Kremlin candidate by triggering another round of damaging disinformation from FOX, et al. This helped to depress support for the non-Kremlin candidate, pushing their selected candidate over the top. Thus the Republican Party became the United Russia of the United States. Terrifying.

laupäev, november 05, 2016

with f. scott at mandel

After going cold turkey for a while on social media I cannot go back the same way. What's more, all of the merry images and self promotion that occur there seem incredibly wasteful and vain. I can't take a person seriously anymore, he or she who prostitutes and flaunts his or her own image. It's as if the superstitious old-timers were actually right, that the camera could steal your soul. Never am I happier than when I am at Mandel in Tartu working or reading. This is a comforting cafe, with good coffee and good atmosphere, and lovely old-fashioned aprons and wallpaper. There, I have rekindled my friendship with F. Scott and his This Side of Paradise. The more I read of him, the more I recognize a similar bemused contempt for and delight with the stratum of the established and ambitious, the fiscally sound but morally hollow. And he enjoys it, you know. He does not preach disgust, but ridicules with superb fun. People ate it up.

neljapäev, oktoober 27, 2016

police on my back

Standing on line at the Maanteeamet, overheard a fellow traveler's tale of woe. He was traveling down there in the border area, between Võru and Läti, when the police stopped him, judged him to be in possession of the wrong papers, and promptly took his car and drove away with it. "But you do have the correct paperwork," the official, an older lady, said, reviewing his file online. "You should have told him that everything was in order and he wouldn't have taken your car." At this, the man, a stocky, gray-haired sort with a jolly countenance, peered over at me with a grin, waving his hands in the air, as if to say, 'Can I get a witness?' "Don't you understand?" he told the official. "When you are stopped by a police officer, he is like the king, and I am just a peasant." He smiled to me again. "Nii see on," I backed him up. This is true. If a police officer in this country tells you something, there is no debate, there is no point-counterpoint, they just decide it so, and it's done. Nobody reads you your rights, although they might hand you a slip of paper that has them written somewhere. This gentleman had his car commandeered by some cops in Võru. The rest is just an embarrassing story. Algus ja lõpp.

esmaspäev, oktoober 24, 2016

way of the samurai

Just when this gray weather has me contemplating suicide, some little soldier inside me convinces me to go on. I have been struggling, both with cultural differences as well as physical challenges. I think people misinterpret the Estonian ideal of stoicism as being somehow Germanic, but I have after many years here begun to appreciate the populace's farther eastern links. (Ask yourself this, could any Estonian ever give a rousing, Nuremberg-like speech?) They aren't some warlike tribe from the central European peneplain, no, they are from the silent, distant east, like blond Yupik or something. So I can forgive myself for feeling lost, as lost as any Westerner would feel in, say, Japan. My eldest daughter's obsession with Japanese anime hints at recognition of that island country's mentality, the warrior-poet Art of the Samurai corresponding roughly to the stiff-backed, impersonal manner of Swedbank customer service, or the static reception you get at Eesti Post. There is a woman who works at Eesti Post who is most fetching, but whenever I give her the eye, she shrinks and wilts, as if she has never seen the sunlight.

laupäev, oktoober 22, 2016

elusive inner peace

Tomatoes, tomatoes. The chosen food. This is the one that helps against seasonal affective disorder. I could take the easy route, go for dark chocolate, but that's just too much, and it's not easy on the constitution like tomatoes. I've also got some cranberries, some mushrooms, some avocados in the mix. I saw my friend Mart at Selver, told him that avocado was the Aztec word for testicle. It's a fertility food. Maybe not a good idea for him or me (we have so many children). "Don't you know, Estonians use garlic for that," he said, bifocals on. My life is still so tuuline, windy, and he -- someone who knows -- said it won't ever go away, but might congeal into a scar. Elu läheb edasi. Life goes on. This stuff, the murky skies, the residual hirm, the stiff, almost sensei-like demeanor of the Estonians, it's like nine chains dragging me down. Apparently them too. All across this nation, nothing is more elusive than inner peace and self improvement. Yoga classes and tantra lessons blossom up like mushrooms. They say I should go too. Let a bunch of Estonians touch me there. Costs money though. Maybe it's worth it though. The wonderful sensation of being touched.

reede, oktoober 21, 2016

sick for a while

Yesterday was rough. And the day before. I am not sure when the objectionable food sneaked into my diet. Too much coffee? Too many white potatoes? White rice? You don't notice at first, then your energy gets weird. Too intense. Now I have what is called 'die-off.' This is when the bad gut bacteria dies. It releases toxins into your blood stream. I have concentration problems, I feel weak, tired, irritable. I have incredible anxiety and mood swings. In short, not a wonderful person to be around. This health problem has caused me more trouble than you know. We all have our ailments, and in Estonia, we are expected to keep quiet about them and tend to them ourselves. When someone dies, the cause of death is not announced. Too personal. In the meantime, I've decided to get the hell off of Facebook for both personal and personal reasons (yes, both kinds). Ask yourself this: is Bob Dylan regularly posting status updates? No. Too busy playing concerts. How about Haruki Murakami? No. Mr. Murakami's too busy writing great novels. What about Jerry Garcia? No. Too busy being dead. Listen, learn.

neljapäev, oktoober 20, 2016

a whole lot better

Frosty mornings -- though beautiful. I don't mind shaving the ice from the windshield. The neighbor's business is called Saja Krooni Pood. I assume you got everything for a hundred kroons in the pre-euro days. I am not sure what they charge in euros, but the discount ethic is still in effect. If you ask him about the name of the firm, he'll put his hands in his pockets and say, 'Well, you never know with the euro, maybe the kroon will come back some day.' I love it. It's my own personal Õnne 13-like Estonian sitcom. My other neighbor is named Endel. He's always trimming the hedges and carrying wood and harvesting apples and cycling somewhere. He has a woman in the house too, though I never see her in light of day. Endel is always reminding me of something, because I always forget. The water meter! And the money! I really am useless. There are two older ladies who run things in these parts, both of them plump and adorable as pigeons. We talk through the windows sometimes.

teisipäev, oktoober 18, 2016

everything in its right place

America does seem to be engulfed in a sewage-like stew of molten fucked-up-ness these days, don't it? You thought the amplified instances of black men getting gunned down by the cops was enough, but then the snipers started shooting at police in daylight, and you knew the boundary had been penetrated, that there was no way back, the membrane was punctured, perforated, leaving the poisonous goo that infects the purple and green gangrenous American wound to only seep more visibly. Not just that. Everything. You know what I am talking about.  Reality TV show fascism. Lord have mercy. I still do not despair for my nation of origin, though it has become synonymous with the overly indulged, overly indebted, overly gunned down obese. I do not despair when I hear the cutting remarks of the insatiable Europeans, with their fussy, pedantic, hierarchical thinking schemes. O, professor. O, great poet. O, prime minister. Yes, yes, yes! Everything in its right place.

esmaspäev, oktoober 17, 2016

comrade dos

So who is this "Comrade Dos?" What happened to "Giustino"? I'll tell you -- briefly -- then I must return to typing up this column about monkey slavery and coconut oil. My handle "Giustino" developed not just out of my Italian background, but because people sensed some inner effeminacy on my part, rendering me as "Justine" in correspondence so often that I decided to add the 'o' to the end and come fully into my own as a swashbuckling Mediterranean man, a Greek sailor, which is what I am actually underneath all of this, that's what I am. I am a shipwrecked Greek sailor, except rather than being deserted on the sunny atoll of the cyclops I must fend for myself in this ghastly land of free wifi. That handle Giustino was linked to a now defunct aol account, and I moved my blogger account over to gmail, hence the birth of Comrade Dos, which is what John Dos Passos was called in E.E. Cumming's book EIMI (see profile for full quotation).

pühapäev, oktoober 16, 2016

kinnised, kinnised

Tartu again from the metal synthetic catastrophe that is downtown doubling for a "real city." Milk soup gray sky. Tartu people are closed, kinnised, they say. Not to the isolated degree of the Tallinners, but still -- remote. You know your neighbors, you know your friends, but there is that added degree of hesitance. People are busy in Estonia, busy, busy, busy. So goes Tartu. After living here, Tartu, for two and a half years again, I know some people, even others well to the minor degree, but I am not in their shit to the degree that I am in the shit of the people of Viljandi, where I am well acquainted with dirty laundry (and they no doubt have sampled mine). People in Viljandi wink at you knowingly. They know everything about you. They know the color of your underwear before you know it yourself. In Tartu? That reluctance, those pulled kisses, those restrained kalli kalli-s. Fine and good, fine and well, yet somehow dissatisfying. Trade intimacy for a movie theater, a shopping center, an apteek that stays open all night long, and a bunch of wannabe Italian restaurants and one real one, except that it's run by northerners.

laupäev, oktoober 15, 2016

day two

Viljandi is where I am today. It's not so bad, even though it's gray and somber, the chill of winter biting at the holes in your socks, that kind of thing. The Estonians too are extra tetchy, extra bitchy, because they know all of their summertime fun time is over and now comes the Big Dark before the Big Cold. When they drank beer in the summer it was fun, but now it's kind of like for survival. I had a squash soup at the Rohelise Maja Kohvik, got to see Enn in the streets, gave his sister a peck on both cheeks. It's so easy to flatter these Estonians, they are so unused to expressions of affection. Her cheeks got all rosy with blush. "Hey, how old is your sister?" I asked Enn. "I dunno, a hundred." Probably. The atmosphere inside is always soothing to me, loving to me. One never feels safer in his skin than when he's eating some squash soup and Jalmar Vabarna from Zetod stumbles through the door. I can relax around these musician types, these poets, these designers. I can breathe. I can breathe in Viljandi. I don't care if my püksilukk is lahti here. Let my fly be down. Have a look.

reede, oktoober 14, 2016

this was actually fun

God, I was looking through my archives and found some wonderful stuff, good stuff, tantalizing stuff. Stuff that hinted at greatness, before all the pomp and bullshit settled in. That's the trouble with becoming a professional. People pay you to do what you love, then you no longer love doing it. Then what you produce is no longer good. That's all right then, isn't it? As Jimi Hendrix said, "I've still got my guitar." So, it's mid-October in Tartu and the weather's shit. I can smell the smoldering smoke from the chimneys. The leaves, when the sun hits the piles strewn on the ground, are pretty. Immaculate. Natural. Love 'em. Lunch I take in at Kohvipaus on the corner of Rüütli and Küütri. I get the big Greek salad. Sometimes I look at Kroonika. Sometimes I look at all of the blonde women and try to figure out how they once overwhelmed my hormones so much. Youth is beautiful, isn't it? Idiotically gorgeous.