Thursday, 19 February 2009

eesti (English version)

Estonia is not one of those countries with a stereotype image abroad, which is actually a plus. I'm Italian, and therefore used hearing "oooh you're Italian, pizza spaghetti, mandolino" or stuff like that. When mentioned, Estonia doesn't actually recall strong images, if not that it used to be part of USSR and it's a cold north east european country. If you're a boy you probably think it's a place where beautiful girls grow on trees, if you're a computer geek you probably know it is the place where Skype was invented.

When I went to Estonia the first time, it was to meet my extended family. Karin was already there and I had to reach her by myself. Needless to say, there's a lot to discover about this "deep" country. They say "calm water but deep water". Therefore, when back, I decided to write a post on my blog, to create an image of this country in the mind of my friends.
Now most of my friends don't speak Italian, so I realized it was about time to make an English version of it. I will try to translate it with utmost accuracy, because I don't want to compromise the fresh feelings I had when I wrote it in the first place.
Hope you will enjoy it and hope it will help you to visualise Estonia with my eyes.

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I haven't been in many places like Estonia.
on the one hand a nature agreeably wild and innocently hostile, on the other the slashes of an invasion that have left concrete marks randomly in the country and in the spirit of the people.
it was the kinda situation that suits me best. the unique and peculiar position of someone visiting a foreign country not as a tourist, but as an equal inmate of the locals with their existences and rhythms.
so I eventually find myself flying over Tallinn, spending three hours in a comfy bus southbound to Tartu and then watching out of the window of a car for another hour to Alatskivi.
Tallinn is the capital, 400.000 inhabitants and a railway station with 4 platforms mostly desolated. Tartu is the second biggest town in Estonia, 100.000 in the records.
apparently Alatskivi gets to 1000. has got a gasoline pump -not a proper gas station, just somewhat a gasoline pump-, a small shop for primary goods and basic luxuries and a grand castle from more or less the 19th century. about 50 minutes from Tartu, through forests, beside a totally white lake, in front of a random quantity of wooden houses, under the eyes of several wild animals.
getting in the village is sudden and unconscious. there are no pavements and the tarmac is tormented by years of snow tires. the houses are still surprisingly random. I was expecting them to be close. don't ask me why, I was expecting them to be leant against each other, like a group of prairie dogs in a winter like this. there's plenty of prairie dogs around here.
instead the houses are scattered.
I start to think that everybody here minds his own business, retired, exactly matching my imagery of the nordic people, cold and isolated in themselves.
well, they are obviously not mediterranean, but a lot of people surprise me engrossed in moving from one house to the other. lines in the snow link every home, and all of a sudden all the distances have a meaning, a reason. time for thinking. the steps in the snow are the physical proof of the will to see someone face to face, the will to go to the no-frills shop to buy something.
I discover a different pride in the eyes of the people. a pride that made mine blush, feeling so conceited all of a sudden. here people look straight into each other's eyes, longer than in Italy. eternal seconds more than in Italy. and I never look away, not to challenge, of course. rather curiosity. it's part of the communication. Karin's dad doesn't speak English, and I don't speak Estonian. nevertheless we speak for hours, with her in the middle as a translator. we don't understand each other before she translates, but we stare into each other's eyes.

outside the window a snow that scares no one starts to fall silently again.
everything is busy in his own balance.
everything apart from the concrete boxes.

Alatskivi used to be one of the thousands of u.r.s.s colonies.
people from all over estonia, actually from all over the union, were sent with all their caboodle, to live in big concrete boxes dropped from the soviet sky between these small wooden houses. everybody used to have a job, everybody was equal. so equal that it didn't really matter where they were living... you know... being equal...
the only strong evidence from the image I'm facing, walking alone the path between these parking lots, is that all this made good to nobody.
no good for the estonians, deprived of their own language, victims of a capillary programmed invasion. pure violence.
no good for the russians, shipped thousands miles away from their own houses to live in concrete boxes in the middle of nowhere. and, I mean, most of them came from another village in the middle of nowhere. but in that middle of nowhere there was their family, friends, relatives. their background. after generations, these russians are still pissed off. since 1991, they keep on speaking russian. not a good sign, if you ask me, 17 years after Estonia got its own independence and language back.
no good for the land. respectfully inhabited for centuries with shy, functional wooden houses made with the wood grown a few steps away, and then slashed with random boxes of concrete. not one. fifteen of them.
the violence of the gesture is also clear inside the flats.
when I walked in I wondered why proud and tidy people such Karin's parents live in a house with electric wires hanging from the walls.
I knock on the wall to test it.
all the internal walls in the house are made of reinforced concrete, like pillars of a bridge. have you ever tried to hammer something into reinforced concrete? then you know what I mean.
the flats are all the same, and so must they stay. you can't move a wall, or destroy it. you can't change the organization of the flat, of your house. and it doesn't matter if hammering a nail in the wall becomes impossible.

however. their house is full of pictures on the walls. nailed.
some wires are hanging, and so they will stay.
some things, no matter how much dignity you use to fight them back, remain incurable.
there we go again with the peculiar pride they have.
it's not a facade, it's not a pride that spends weekends hammering the concrete walls to hide a silly wire.
Karin's parents' pride and dignity, are of the kind that made them buy a piece of land.
















and its this piece of land that deserves my only photograph of the whole journey.
to get there I need my last little travel, deep into the heart of estonia. another 10 minutes of sinking into the forest.
50 hectares between the trees, 5 little houses of scraped wood, a little lake and a sauna.

a field of strawberries.
one of raspberries.
one of blueberries.
one of black currants.
one of white currants.
one of red currants.


a female dog without lace or kennel guards tenderly, though is not completely clear what is she guarding.
her name's Lonni, and she has thousands of warm ravines around to sleep in.
in every little house the refurbishment works have been started and they have suddenly been interrupted by the disease Karin's dad has been fighting for more than a year now.
funny, after the lucky situation that avoided him "volunteering" in Chernobyl, back in 1986.
Martin, the younger of Karin's brothers, is slowly taking care of them when not at school, while Margus (the other one) is doing the same for the land.
the mom got three awards for the unbelievable wine she manages to get from the berries. remarkably the alcohol starts to kick in already at the third glass.

and all around forests and forests. the snow is losing the battle and the dirt track leading to the little houses starts to
show its path again. Lonni lays down on my feet waiting for some cuddles she will always have.

someone holds my hand.
the girl of my life is smiling to me.
in her eyes the secret of those steps in the snow, the depth of that ancient pride and the quiet, infinite innocence of that snow that scares no one.

4 comments:

mauro said...

There are places that reflect our state of mind. A depth, a vertigo, a longing feel coming from the bottom of our soul. Just like those windy days, when the air is far too clear and we get forgotten scents from our childhood through the air. Is there anybody who can explain that? Where do all those "hints" come from? Why are they so effective on our subconscious? Are they real?

Karin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karin said...

thank you, davide! every time i read this post it makes me feel very warm inside. you have managed to draw a very honest and true picture of my home.

d a v i d e said...

sorry, had to make a minor correction and it automatically posted it again.