The return

Sep. 22nd, 2005 07:30 pm
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Tallinn turned out to be my least favorite city on the itinerary, owing to its reluctance to give up any signs of actual existence. The Old Town was empty of habitation except by tourists - stag parties, large groups of elderly folks being led around by a tour guide, younger folks trying to pass off their dodgy passports in order to buy beer - and places that might attract these tourists. A German beer hall. A Depeche Mode-themed bar. A marzipan museum. The density of souvenir shops nearly reached Chinatown levels.

We made it out of the Old Town for an afternoon, strolling out to Kadriorg park where no fewer than four recently married couples waited for their turn to pose in front of the palace there, which resembles a pink plastic Barbie dream house. On the way back to the hostel, we saw the same musical group that had perplexed us in Vilnius - three or four men, dressed up in full stereotypical Sioux costume (feather headdress, mocassins, war paint), playing pan pipes over taped, diluted new age music. They attracted a lot of attention - apparently the Wild West is in vogue in the Baltics - but not a lot of revenue, as far as I could tell.

Our Esperantist hosts in Riga were more welcoming than we could have imagined. They fed us ceaselessly, to the point where I was sure they were fattening us up in order to eat us, and kindly drove us into town. A young Russian man approached Josh and asked him if he'd like to buy a greeting card, the proceeds of which, he was assured, would go toward the promotion of morality. Josh pretended not to speak English. I was making a recording of some kind of wind-driven sculpture at the time. (I have a lot of recordings from this trip, which I hope to share with everyone soon.)

If a trip to the Baltic states is in the cards for you, I highly recommend visiting the various Occupation museums - there's one in both Tallinn and Riga. We visited both. The museums helped me understand what the Cold War period was like for people living on the other side - a story that wasn't really available to folks from the U.S. until very recently. I had no idea that the deportations to Siberia were so extensive, that the press and the local languages were so censored. Some of the exhibitions in the museums had press clippings from the New York Times next to them, which professed vague knowledge of whatever important event had just happened but were helpless to give any details, since that it was so difficult to get any information in or out of these countries. Now, of course, what a change - you can't spit in Estonia, for example, without hitting a wireless access point or Internet cafe.

The journey back to New York was exhausting. A flight from Riga to Stansted; a bus from Stansted to Heathrow (which cost circa $40, nearly more than all the money I spent on bus travel in the Baltics put together); an eleven-hour wait in Heathrow (made easier by the presence of music and book stores in Heathrow's mall-like terminal); a flight from Heathrow to JFK (which I mostly slept through); a subway ride from JFK to my apartment (which are about as far away as two locations can get and still be on the A line). The immigration officer said "Welcome home" as he checked my passport, and that was comforting. I'm glad to be home.

Top five favorite places that I visited on the trip.

1. Tahkuna Peninsula, Hiiumaa, Estonia
2. Vilnius Old Town, Lithuania
3. Cathedral Hill, Tartu, Estonia
4. The Baltic Sea off of the Curonian Spit, Lithuania
5. Upe Record Store, Riga

Top five places that sucked on this trip.

1. The Tallinn Bus Station. This is the worst bus station I've ever been to. The food choices consisted of weird pink stuff on toast, coffee, hot dogs, and kiosk junk food. An old woman wandered around the place aimlessly dragging a broom behind her. It cost 4 EEK to use the filthy bathroom. Dear whoever is in charge of Tallinn: Your bus station is truly terrible. Sincerely yours and concerned, Adam.
2. Wherever it is that I lost my debit card.
3. There was this bathroom in one of the places that we stayed, and I feel bad about complaining, because our host was very nice, but it was a pretty disgusting bathroom. More disgusting even than the guy who didn't have running water in his house.
4. Hausma Hostel in Kärdla. Don't go to this hostel! You will feel threatened by the dead in the middle of the night and the people who work there will be mean to you, and also the water tastes like rust.
5. The filthy bathrooms at JFK. All public facilities in the Baltics are next to immaculate - coming home to such second-rate hygiene didn't exactly make me proud to be an American.
aparrish: (Default)
Vilnius. Our would-be host, one Maruska, complained of a client with "dika sango" (thick blood) and instead referred us to a friend of his, who offered us bizarrely cheap housing in an Old Town apartment. Maruska even showed us the way to the apartment, walking the entire way with a bottle of leeches in his bicycle basket.

Kaunas. The Narbutases have a crazy cat who tried to eat my pants. They showed us around some Lithuanian ethnographic museum as if they owned the place - jumping barriers and turning the stone mills. The whole thing is a haze to me because Ramunas spoke to us only in a strange dialect of Esperanto with uvular r's (think Esperanto with a French accent). We visited a monastery (we couldn't figure out what the Esperanto word for "monastery" is) and a nun gave us a tour, pointing out in detail which members of which nationalities had defaced the 17th-century chapel: Napoleon stole a bell from the south tower, the Russians destroyed the frescoes, the Soviets tore down the statue of Mary.

Palanga. Our host, a kindly architect in his late 50s, had a picture of a naked lady hung up in the bathroom. He encouraged us to hitchhike to Nida and sleep out on the dunes, under the stars. (We were hardly equipped.) On his shelf: five Gregorian Chant CDs, Enya's Greatest Hits.

Nida. We built a sandcastle and called it Rome 2000 (with new technology, it CAN be built in a day). I wrote "Don't tread on me" across the front to egg on the incoming tide. We checked the structure the next day and found it to be sound, but my inscription was erased. So much for the founding fathers!

Tartu. I went to the ATM and found that my debit card was missing. Called to cancel it. Who knows where it's gotten to. Riga? We stayed with a kind, Esperanto-speaking family, whose photographs in historical garb appear in Tartu's tourist literature. Kalle, the father, reads Harry Potter to his kids before they go to sleep, and showed off his Estonian translation of "Eragon" to us. His wife made us tea from the "ebaküdoonia" fruit and asked us what, if any, difference exists between the English words "graveyard" and "cemetery." Tartu is, so far, my favorite city that we've been to on this trip - peaceful, comely, good Georgian food.

Hiiumaa. The hostel was further out of town than I expected and we weren't off the bus until after sunset. The road to the hostel was unlit. Armed with the knowledge that a cemetery (or graveyard) was nearby, my brain conjured all manner of spectral illusions - ghosts, zombies, our own corpses lying, slashed by ethereal killers, helpless on the roadside, relieved of their spirits who now must forever haunt that ghastly road, shining their flashlights in vain for any sign of the hostel. When we finally arrived, the hostel keeper answered the door, answered his cell phone, spoke to a friend for five minutes while we waited with our packs on, then turned to us and asked, "what's the problem?" The next day we moved to a different hostel, borrowed bikes, and biked much further than a chair-bound nerd like myself has any license to bike. My ass still hurts.

Tallinn. We just arrived this morning.

Riga. We get there in a few days.

New York. Soon enough.


Aug. 29th, 2005 11:50 pm
aparrish: (Default)
I met my new, temporary flatmate today. He seems like an upstanding gentleman. He has the new Gang Gang Dance album on his hard drive.

Josh and I leave for Lithuania on Wednesday. With the exception of two hostel bookings that we made in Tallinn and Kärdla, we'll be staying the entire trip with Esperantists (thanks to Passporty Service). One of them runs an acupuncture business in Vilnius; another wears a gnome cap. I have always wanted to live a novel and it seems like I'll have a pretty good shot at it on this trip.

I will make every attempt to send dispatches, as time and access to the Internet permit. (Apparently you can't spit without hitting an Internet café in this part of the world, though, so access shouldn't be a problem.) I'm also bringing my minidisc recorder, so hopefully when I return I will have many recordings of Baltic insects and belfries for you, along with recordings of a number of friendly Esperantists singing the stirring anthem of Esperanto.
Our diligent set of colleagues
in peaceful labor will never tire,
until the beautiful dream of the humanity
for eternal blessing is realized.
aparrish: (Default)
1. Estonian

Josh and I have tickets to Vilnius in September, whence we will depart on a whirlwind tour of the Baltics focusing mainly on the northernmost and southernmost of the states belonging thereto. (We'll drop by Riga, but on the whole Latvia fails to interest. Ask anyone.) We decided to split the linguistic load between the two of us. Since Josh has already had the opportunity to study a Finno-Ugric language (Finnish), he let me take Estonian. I've left him to figure out Lithuanian, of which I know little except that it uses macrons.

Tolkien called Finnish an "amazing wine of a kind and flavor never tasted before", and Estonian gives me a similar heady feeling. (Those who have no patience for poetic waxings about linguistic structure are invited to take a break and rejoin me for the next section, in which I talk about bashing monsters with swords.) The pronominal system is balanced, but not perfectly symmetrical; the genitive forms are elegant but unpredictable. A regular, productive morphological diminutive! A partitive case! How can you not love a language that represents one of its vowels with the letter 'õ'?

The thirty minutes I spend doing exercises from Juhan Tuldava's Estonian Textbook often end up being the best minutes of my day. I love the textbook, aside from a few vital omissions (isn't palatalization pretty important, Tuldava?), and the "Texts," which are in most cases vapid to the point of uselessness. An example, from an early chapter. (Translated by yours truly. I need to call up the U.N. to see if they need an Eesti interpreter.)

-- Hello, who's speaking?
-- It is I.
-- Are you at home today?
-- Yes, I surely am.
-- Are you coming tomorrow?
-- Yes, I'm coming.
-- What are you doing?
-- I'm studying!
-- How's it going?
-- Fine, thanks.
-- That is good.

2. NetHack

I have been playing far too much of this game lately - specifically the Windows CE port. It's an enabler. Anywhere, anytime is now appropriate for getting killed by soldier ants or accidentally reading scrolls of fire. (In my now extensive NetHack notes file: "Don't do that.") Someone once called it "the GPA killer," but life killer is more like it. The desire-to-do-anything-else killer is even closer. I've even started playing ZAngband, to see if I can get a more satisfying fix. I'm reading the newsgroups. The newsgroups, for the love of God!

I actually ascended a character not too long ago, but I was in explore mode and playing a Barbarian. Not so much an accomplishment as reconnaissance, although I think my eventual death count was less than five, and I had a few spare wishes. I'm currently working on a promising Gnomish Ranger, although her chances of survival may have recently diminished: her dog ate a chameleon corpse and became an iguana. (Notes file: "Don't let your dog do that.")

3. Architecture in Helsinki

Their new record In Case We Die is kick-ass fun (more info from the record label, no mp3s but you can watch a video of "It'5" at their web page). Sonically they remind me a lot of Múm in their earlier, cutesier (as opposed to painfully twee) days, but with the pomo song structure sensibility of the Unicorns. Recommended.

4. That's all

I'm heading to the MC Frontalot show now. No, really. I told you this was a nerdy entry.

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