Tuesday, June 10, 2014

From Dusk Till Dawn

First of all, congratulation to the Class of 2014! You will be dearly missed in French House next year. I really wanted to come say good-bye in person, but I overestimated the length of a Wednesday and was already about to miss my flight. Well, I did get on the plane during the final call: 15 minutes before the scheduled take-off I finally realized that I had been checking the updates for the 10:45PM flight to London instead of the 9:30PM. 

Heathrow is not half as romantic in real life as in “Love Actually”, or at least not in May. However, on the shuttle from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3 I finally felt I was going home because so were all the Finns, and I learned that Etelä-Suomessa on kesä.*

*It’s summer in Southern Finland. Interestingly enough, while the names of all other cardinal directions are virtually the same in Estonian and Finnish, the words for south and southwest are reversed, so edel would actually mean southwest in Estonian. Furthermore, the Estonian word for lunch (lõuna) is the same as our word for south, while it is lounas for the Finns, meaning Southwest. It has been proposed that lunch is generally eaten around noon when the Sun is in fact in the south, hence the polysemy. I wonder if the Finns just eat lunch later in the day?

Then again, I am willing to believe that those Finns at Heathrow were quite right: Etelä-Virossa oli samoin kesä, for a few days at least. It was 90 degrees outside, and although far less humid than in Boston, still more than I had expected or would have liked. That did not last, of course, and the past two weeks it has mostly been raining with a chance of thunderstorms. Lasse, my dog, has once again decided to declare the bathroom his own: he is scared of the thunder, and the bathroom is the only place with no windows. I still have to take him out for walks, though. At least, everything is back to normal at home - even the mosquitoes are back. 

Taking Lasse out for walks seems to be my main contribution to society; I mostly just sleep a lot. To be fair, these almost three weeks, there has been only one sunrise I have not seen (I was simply too exhausted after 17 hours of travel on the day I arrived). Then again, the sun rises around 4AM and sets around 11 PM, so I do not feel particularly guilty for sleeping at odd hours as I still see plenty of sunlight. My sleeping mask has proved useful, though. 
Sunset over the Baltic Sea at 10:30PM
I did, however, travel to Narva and Narva-Jõesuu with my family last weekend. Narva-Jõesuu is a summer resort on the coast of the Baltic Sea near the mouth of the Narva River (which is exactly what the name means). Most of the population speaks Russian, although there are 13% native Estonians in Narva-Jõesuu compared to just 4% in Narva, so I was hoping to get some language practice. While most of my friends have been learning Russian for over 10 years, I managed to avoid taking Russian all my life in Estonia, learning German, French and Swedish instead (the folks in the capital Tallinn have no choice to opt out, as nearly half the city speaks Russian as a first language). A fourth of the people in Estonia are native Russian speakers, so it is without a doubt the most practical language to learn after English. I have thought about it and come to believe that this is exactly the reason why I decided against learning Russian: it was practical. Then I moved to the US for MIT and suddenly Spanish was the practical language to learn, while Russian became something exotic (at least at MIT), not really useful at all. I’ve now taken two semesters of Russian at MIT, and am hoping to continue in future semesters. As I learnt, I still mostly use the words and phrases I knew before taking Russian, but at least I understand more. We even went to a museum tour entirely in Russian (not that I understood much, but still, I can know distinguish the words in a sentence). 

Narva-Jõesuu is basically a forest with some houses, several spas, one supermarket and lots of Russian and Finnish tourists under those pine trees. Despite somewhat cold water, I hereby declare the swim season open. The salinity of the ocean water averages around 35‰, whereas the Baltic Sea has salinity between 6 and 8‰ by the coast of Estonia. It was probably even less in Narva-Jõesuu because of the river, so it is debatable whether or not it should be considered a sea at all for swimming purposes. The low salinity is one of the reasons why the Baltic Sea has a unique species composition, as well as why Estonians like to taste the seawater whenever they travel (the Gulf of Mexico, for example, is ridiculously salty compared to the Baltic Sea). 

What Americans might think of as a forest, the Estonians consider a parking lot
Narva-Jõesuu is best-known for this kind of wooden architecture
Narva obtained Lübeck City Rights in 1345 under the Danish rule. The baroque style Old Town built during the 17th century underwent practically no changes until World War II and became in later centuries quite famous all over Europe. As in many parts of Europe, however, WW II destroyed practically everything, and Narva is now architecturally nothing more than an average Soviet town, with the exception of the castle and the rebuilt town hall.
Russia on the left, Estonia on the right
The town hall of Narva
The border crossing
As you can see, I finally bought myself a smartphone from Amazon and spent a great deal of Saturday learning to use the panorama function of its camera.
Lotta and Lenin
Lenin is quite popular with the children, despite (or because of) his current location
During the Soviet era, the statue of Lenin used to stand proudly on his own square close to the bridge to Russia. After the union collapsed, Lenin was obviously removed, and is now safely inside the castle walls, possibly to protect him from being taken to scrap iron collectors (considering his size, he should be worth quite a lot) - this actually happened to many Lenins across the former USSR.

PS. It’s less than three hours from dusk till dawn. 


  1. Lotta + Lenin is great!! I wish I had had time to come to Estonia <3 miss you!

  2. I wish I had the time and energy to try to persuade you to come to Estonia! But you can always buy some canned food and hope it's made out of a Lenin from Estonia! (at least in the UK, it is not entirely impossible)
    ... or maybe a Stalin because while some Lenins were saved to entertain the kids, none of the Estonian Stalins survived the collapse of the USSR