12/09/2017

It was Finland's Independence Day last Wednesday, our neighbors celebrated the 100th year of their independence. Estonians seemed to have gone all crazy that day, and I thought it was very sweet. I was listening to the National Radio in the morning before going to work, and they only played Finnish music. They also had a quiz where people had to guess the speaker by the voice. I think they were Mika Häkkinen and Sofi Oksanen who were to be recognised. All the buses and trams in Tallinn had little Finnish flags on them and there was a big fireworks in the evening. The fesitivities had surely made their way over to our side of the Baltic bay, and we were so happy for our Finnish sisters and brothers.

I caught a nasty virus that day, and ended up not going to see the fireworks but instead throwing up all over the place and generally feeling like my life had come to an end. But I still thought about Finland and history, both that of our sister countries as well as my own family. And the next day, although still feeling like dying, I dutifully went through a whole photo gallery from the last night's presidential ball and I had to admit, with a little sting of jealousy, that at least when it comes to the presidential balls in our respective countries, the Finnish ladies have more class and grace than ours do. I mean, starting with their First Lady, who's the epitome of elegance.

But the history is so hard to make sense of. I remember walking in Tallinn's Old Town with Dr A. N. last summer and as she looked at the town, built mostly in the 15th and 16th century, she said, Well, we on the other side of the bay were still living in the turf huts when you already had such high civilisation and culture. And I suppose in a sense it's true. We were quite a few steps ahead in this respect. But fast forward a couple of hundred years, and it was still Finland who beat us, declaring independence from Russia three months before we did. We'll celebrate our 100th year of independence in February. But of course our "100th" is not to be taken literally as we then went down two very different paths. Finland had the courage to fight the Soviet Union, and not only to fight, but also to be one of the very few countries ever to win a war against them. And to prosper after the war. We, on the other hand, spent 50 years out of the last 100 under the Soviet occupation, a repressive, meaningless and downright stupid occupation which did a lot of damage. By the end of the occupation, by early 1990s, in many ways we were as far from Finland as could possibly be. We had next to nothing and had grown up in a paranoid society while Finland for us embodied freedom and plenty and the absense of fear. I remember how Finns took it as their duty to help us, and honestly, my whole childhood and teenage years I grew up wearing the ADRA clothes that were sent from Finnish churches. In the very first years of our independence in early 1990s we even needed food parcels. I remember rice and packages of some weird powdered (babies?) food, and the sweets we had never seen before. Everything that came from Finland seemed to be shiny and new and wonderful.

My great-grandfather was a Finn. He was a wealthy factory owner and he lived in Estonia with his family. My geat-grandmother was their housemaid, and then, well, my grandmother was born. The Finnish family left Estonia once the Soviet threat got worse in 1930s, so I have a whole bunch of relatives over in Finland. I don't know anything about my great-grandfather's ancestors but thinking of how my grandmother looked like - she had dark hair and eyes, very high cheekbones and almond eyes - it's not entirely impossible that she had some Inuit blood in her. In my early childhood I often heard about our half-mystical Finnish relatives although never, now that I think of it, about the circumstances of my grandmother's birth... Well, the relatives are not mystical any more since some of them have started to join our yearly family reunions. I never know exactly who they are or how we're related but they seem to enjoy our company very much. And the feeling is mutual. So by now Finland has lost a lot of its mythical shininess and newness but it's become a land of many wonderful people, related or not.

And my name, Mervi, is a Finnish name. Yes. That's important.

So. Here's to Finland and to the next 100 years!

I feel like reading Tove Jansson's book now.

11/27/2017

The Concert

It was my dad's concert on Saturday evening, and I was looking forward to it more than Christmas or annual leave. And yet I really enjoyed the preparation process because it meant that dad was in Tallinn more often than usual, and after or before the organ practice we would go out and have a lunch or a dinner and would have long conversations about life and theology. And then we would go to the church for a practice, and he would play all kinds of stuff and it would be so much fun to sing and to assist him on the organ. One time it was around 11 p. m. when we left the church. Ah, so much fun!

And the concert was well worth the preparations. Tallinn church was absolutely packed on Saturday evening and the unfortunate latecomers had to stand up in the back of the hall for the whole time. Some seasoned church members noted later that they hadn't seen such a crowd in our church for decades (we were sitting in the very front because we all sang in the choir - S., H., K. and me - and S. said he wasn't looking around much (good upbringing lol!) and he almost got a shock once we went up on the platform as he had no idea the church would be full to its limits). So many friends came, family, colleagues. I was especially happy to see two of my dad's professors from the Music Academy, the Grand Old Lady of conducting, and the organ professor who has encouraged dad to write more pieces for the organ. The chamber choir was well prepared, the soloist - a church member who has been an opera singer in the past - did an excellent job. I don't know how it all looked or sounded to others, I was emotionally and in every other way too closely connected to it to evaluate it from an objective point of view, but for me the whole evening was a whopping success. I was so terribly happy for my dad, and so very proud. I was afraid he'd never get back to composing after mom died but thank heavens the springs of inspiration have not dried up. There were a couple of songs for which last Saturday's concert was the premiere. All in all, when we got to my place, dad and me, late at night (because there had to be a little after-party at my auntie's) and we unloaded the car from all the gifts and bouquets, a great calm decended. The hard work was done, the concert was over, we were happy, and very very tired.

I'm so immersed in my dad's music that it has become the fabric of my life. There's no way I can separate myself from it. From my earliest memories - when my mom and dad led another chamber choir - to the latest award-winning song in the Christmas carols contest (the official premiere's coming up this Sunday, whoop whoop, guess who's going:), dad's music has been the most natural part of my life. He has a lot to do with my deep and emotional love for music.

--

I'm trying to think of any other noteworthy things but not much comes to mind. It has been busy time work wise, and I don't mind the least. I've celebrated the 500th Reformation anniversary at the Arch Bishop's reception on October 31. I stood there, among a great number of men with very black suits and very dark robes, with my very pink blazer, and felt exceptionally good haha! I've been to the National Television to shoot some Christian programs - it was my third time there and I always love it - everyone's so nice and polite to you, and you get a really nice tv make up. Oh, vanity of vanities! I've been to the Churches Counsil's committee meeting, giving a presentation on our church's view on ecumenism (I've had easier and better presentations in my life but fortunately the Catholic church's rep with his two PhDs was missing, phew), I've preached and given Bible studies. The lovely doctor who performed my eye surgery was in church this past Sabbath morning (I had invited him), and I made sure I told the story of getting back my eyesight in my sermon. He sat in the first row and beamed. The Newbold semester is ovah and the Greek exams have been graded and will fly to Newbold tomorrow. So much good stuff, now that I actually start thinking about it.

Other than that, my blog hit the bar of 20 000 page views last week. I don't know if it's much or little for these years but it's a nice milestone in any case. I never go back to read my old stuff but I wholeheartedly enjoy writing those silly posts. Please don't take them too seriously. Too often I write that stuff with my tongue in cheek.

Books wise, I've come back to Ismail Kadare.

Music wise, have I already mentioned Tchaikovsky? Heavens, I think I'm properly obsessed.

And Christmas is around the corner. Sweet.

11/16/2017

When we had our exhibition challenge with Dr A. N. – a monthly visit to a museum or art gallery – sometimes I would remember it two days before a month ended and would then frantically look for an exhibition to visit. There were some great experiences (a photo exhibition about apartheid in South Africa probably touched me the most – they were terribly painful photos to look at) but all in all the whole thing took some effort from my side. So when we started another one of our "culture challenges" this September, that of classical concerts, I was a little worried. I wasn’t sure how I’d do. Now I know how I’m doing...

I’ve turned into a complete concert junkie.

In all honesty, I’m not looking for these concerts, it’s more like the opposite. They seem to be chasing me.

I mean, the whole thing started with a bang in September – with Arvo Pärt and his handshake and his concert. I wrote about that. Then it must have been (I’m starting to forget) Erkki Pärnoja, he plays the guitar in a band called Ewert and the Two Dragons (if there’s one Estonian band I’d recommend, that’s the one). It was a solo concert and the first time I ever saw looping on stage. I sat there, wide eyed, not sure whether it was magic or sorcery. Then October began with Mihkel Poll and me keeping my breath when he played Chopin, that one I also covered. About two weeks later he played with his sister Mari – a goddess looking violinist – and a cellist in the Music Academy and I made sure I didn’t miss it. To my surprise they came to talk to the audience after the concert so I had a little chat with them and I learnt that Mari and me have had the same violin teacher. There our similarities end – I mean, she went on to study in Royal College of Music in London, my violin is collecting dust under my bed and crying. I had barely recovered from that concert when my auntie (she’s a violin teacher) messaged me and got me a last minute under-the-counter ticket to hear violist Maxim Rysanov. This guy turned out to be not only a ravingly talented violist but also an equally talented conductor! He got such charm the orchestra did absolutely everything he wanted them to do – and probably also the audience. Last Sunday – I’m starting to feel like a stalker – I found out about another small concert of M. P. & M. P. and went to hear it. It turns out some musicians use a concert hall of a small music school near Tallinn as a sort of a practice space where they give small (and free!) concerts before they have their big ones. M. P. is playing Glazunov’s violin concert with her orchestra soon – she works in Stavanger Symphony Orchestra in Norway, and she had this „practice” concert here. It cost me less than 4 euros for a return ticket to go hear her play Glazunov, and then her brother played some more Chopin. I simply could not believe my luck! And yesterday I was in Tartu, and after a day in the Seminary the principal invited me to go and listen to the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and a shining star of the violin world, Baiba Skride.

I have no explanation for how this has happened. And it seems to go on with about the same speed. There are four more concerts I want to go to before the end of this year - two for which I already have tickets. It's madness.

Whether it happens to be a coincident or divine providence, I don’t know. All I know is that I need this music. There is something in my mind, in my uncounsciousness, that is terribly restless. Those dreams about my mum, the restlessness of sleep – I don’t know where that stuff comes from and why and what to do about it. It’s all very frustrating and terribly tiring. But music soothes my mind like nothing else does. It doesn’t fix me – how could it? – but it brings calmness and joy to my soul and these are just about the best things I could think of and wish for these days.

Music seems to be my therapy, concert halls my counseling rooms.

11/10/2017

I am back home after my rush visit to Newbold.

Newbold has always been good to me, and it didn’t disappoint me this time either. When I think of this place and try to find a metaphor which would explain – or at least try to explain – what it means to me, I’d say it’s like an anchor. It’s one stable place for me, something that keeps me grounded and something I can go back to when I start drifting or am in danger of forgetting who I am. Once I’ve been there, I’m back on track. Once again I know who I am. And why I am.

My visit was so short I didn’t contact everyone I would have wanted to see. I knew I couldn’t fill my days with meeting friends this time. I didn’t even tell The Lady I was on campus, although I have missed her and her counseling office a lot. I would have loved to talk about life and grief and losses and victories. Not this time, I told myself, there will be other times for that in the future, in sha Allah. There were other people whom I would have loved to see again. But no. Some other time.

Which doesn’t mean I isolated myself entirely. I went out with friends who are on campus, had some appointments with lecturers, and had lunch with the whole staff of the Department of Theological Studies on Tuesday. They were having an academic board that day so everyone was on campus. It was a happy meeting for me, some of my lecturers I hadn’t seen for a long while. And then, after their marathon board meeting, we headed out with T. (I should really say Dr T. de B.) and Dr A. N. and Dr J-C. V. for a long and lazy dinner. It’s still difficult for me to make the mental transition from being their student to being their colleague. But I loved every minute of this dinner.

I think I spent only about an half an hour in Dr A. N.’s office. She gave me drugs – books – which I had run out of and which she had so generously purchased for me. So I’m good for a while, until I run out of the stuff again and will need another fix, that is. Books are dangerous, addictive stuff, and I’m hopelessly hooked. But it wasn’t only about books. It literally took less than half an hour for her to give me some direction I so badly needed in my life. What she told me (to do) felt almost like a revelation. That’s why she’s my mentor no 1. Only she can do something like this.

But work also got done. I am really looking forward to the next semester and to the translations we are going to do with Riga study group. Chapters of 1 John, some Mark and Matthew, bits from Revelation – I think it will be the most enjoyable semester of all! The hard labour of working through endless grammar tables has ended, let the tranlsation fun begin.

And the exam got done. It took me and T. almost three hours to get it on paper but we did it!

It all felt a lot like a breath of fresh air. And God knows I needed it. I had been struggling with a lot of stuff before the trip, sleeping problems and growing sugar addiction. Seeing mom in my dreams again. Hard things which I don’t really want to talk about. So they were all very uplifting, these traveling days. Even the fact that I missed my connecting flight in Frankfurt yesterday and had to spent 8 hours waiting for the next flight didn’t bother me overtly much. I had a brillinat book with me. And I was refreshed and inspired.

Thank you, Newbold.
These should last for a while.

10/24/2017

It was last Tuesday when I wrote Dr A. N. a regular update on my life and I mentioned that it was a pity I had to cancel my UK trip in November. And that I feel I could really use some Newbold air again. On Friday morning I had a long-ish Skype talk with T. about Greek - as he's teaching it in Newbold, we need to make sure my teaching in Riga is synchronised with his teaching, plus there is always some technical/administrative issues for us to work through. We concluded our conversation with stating that the easiest way for us to get the exam - which my Riga students need to take before Christmas - written would be to sit down together and put in on paper. Trying to find Skype times that would suit both (plus Dr A. N.) has proven to be more than difficult. So T. said, well, why don't you come to Newbold, even if for a couple of days, an exam plus your prep for the spring semester would be a reason good enough for the DTS to pay for your tickets. I said I'd take a long look at my calendar and would think about it. I went home, I looked at my calendar and did some thinking, in the mean time T. had informed the DTS guys of this plan. I found the dates. I had a conversation about it with my colleagues in our conference's AdCom yesterday morning, and explained the need to take this trip. Yesterday afternoon I had my plane tickets booked. T. was glad, Dr A. N. said she was heading to a book shop in preparation of my coming, and even Dr J-C. V. said that he was looking forward to seeing me on campus again (it's amazing how far we've come with J-C. V. since we first met - from the first tutorial when he absolutely killed my essay and I cried my eyes out in my dorm room, thinking I was the dumbest student in Newbold, to him welcoming me as a young colleague now). That's sorted then.

I like this stuff a lot. I like it when things happen so fast I don't even have time to blink my eyes or get myself sorted. Here are tickets to Newbold, go have fun with Greek and your people.

God is good.

I'll be there for two full days only and indeed a lot of work needs to be done, but still - if any of my UK friends happens to be in Newbold area on November 7 and 8, come find me in the midst of Greek grammar books in the library and say hi. I would like that very much!

As to teaching in Riga, I was there again last week. And as we only have two more study days plus the exam left during this semester, I felt surprisingly sad to see this phase - intense and tiring as it has been - approaching its end. I mean, we still have one more semester to go but we will switch to Skype based study days from January and so I won't have a reason to go to Riga that often any more. I have come to appreciate Riga very much - my late night walks in the old town, the small hotel I always go to, plus I've even gotten use to the 4,5 hours bus ride. They have excellent play lists in those buses and I can listen to Chaikovsky's piano concert no 1 and read my book for hours on end. It's really nice, a sort of a mini break between my office and class room.

Here's that Chaikovsky's 1st piano concert. I listened to the beginning of it for who knows how many times last week on my way back from Riga. It's so beautiful it always makes me tear up.

Other than that, no news. Or maybe just that it's getting really cold and I'm waiting for the first snow. Reading Chekhov's short stories and waiting for the snow to arrive, yes.

10/11/2017

In Love

I went to a concert last night. I went to hear Mihkel Poll, one of our finest and most acclaimed young concert pianists, play Debussy, Lemba, and Chopin. It was a solo concert, throughout the concert he was the only person on stage – as I understood from a lengthy interview he gave last week, this is by far the most complicated and nerve-racking situation for a musician. No-one supports you, no-one backs you up or covers for your mistakes. I don’t even have to say he did brilliantly and earned standing ovations in the end of the concert. During the second half he played only Chopin. And it took my breath away – in a very literal sense. I would unconsciously keep my breath, staring at his hands (I was lucky to sit very close to the stage), so much so that when the piece ended, I had to exhale and inhale deeply and try to get my breathing back to normal. His hands were creating such magic on the piano keys I literally forgot to breathe.

Afterwards, when I walked back home through the rain, feeling elated, I thought about music. And what kind of effect it can have on me.

For several times we’ve talked with M. about the role of music in our lives. And we have both concluded that it isn’t something extra, something to be added to the basic elements of our lives, music itself is at the core of our experience as human beings. I’m sure it can be different for different people, for many people it can be a nice addition, for me it is a must, a central element of my being. I wouldn’t last long without music. It touches me so deeply, it expresses my feelings so accurately, it can transform the world and it can overwhelm me so much it either makes me keep my breath or it makes me cry. The opening of Chaikovsky’s 1st piano concert makes me cry, for example. Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum mesmerises me. And some pop or jazz song can hold me captive and express my emotions like nothing else can.

I’m one of those people who can listen to one piece or song for about 200 times in a very short time. I know where the repeat button is. And a strange thing that happens with such obsessive listening is that I save all my surroundings and all my emotions I happen to feel during that short time into this one song. For example, when I listen to Norah Jones’ Come Away with Me, I can accurately describe my room and what it felt like to be a 16 year old insecure teenager because this is when I listened to that song excessively. Actually, I can even name the book I was reading during the time I listened to that song the most. We lived in Rakvere, and sitting on the edge of my bed I was reading Viktor Pelevin’s Chapaev and Pustota. I don’t know how my brain does it – I mean, it’s a half a lifetime ago! – but it really does save my memories that clearly, and it all comes back when I listen to this song. There are more songs like that, more time capsules like that. On the other hand, there are some songs I am no longer able to listen to because when I listened to them obsessively, I was in love with this guy or thought about that person. And for different reasons I can’t listen to those songs any more, they are like capsules that hold all those feelings inside them, and I can’t open them. I can’t bring back those feelings. I know it’s strange but it’s true.

This is what music can do to me.

And of course I fall in love with all those musicians right in the middle of concerts. It usually lasts for four days (longer when I was a teenager) but seeing extraordinary talent always touches me deeply. It doesn’t matter who these musicians are in real life, there’s something irresistibly romantic about great talent.

By the way, here’s a note to my UK friends – Mihkel Poll will give a concert in Lincoln in mid November (http://mihkelpoll.com/). He will play my favourite, Chaikovsky’s 1st piano concert there, dammit! Go and cry a tear on my behalf please! :)

I have exactly 3,5 days left to be in love with him.

10/09/2017

Over the weekend I was able to spend two days at my cousin’s summer house in Southern Estonian woods. I was hoping to stay even longer but work cut my stay short and brought me back to Tallinn after two days.

This tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere has started to play an important role in my life. It’s not only a place of nature and sauna and ice-hole dipping, not even that of joyous and noisy dinners late at night after sauna or lazy pancake Sundays with my cousin's family (and often my uncle and his family). It has become a place with which I measure my life. Let me explain.

It takes so long to get there (4 hours on a bus plus a 4 km walk from the bus stop – it’s basically as far as you can go, considering how small Estonia is) and the place is so dramatically different from the rushing of the capital city that once I get there, life seems to slow down – even stop – so much so that I am able to take a more objective look at my life and doings and cares. It’s as if I enter a parallel world once I arrive there and I get to measure my victories and losses and acknowledge the seasons of life, both inward and outward. I can go there a couple of times a year, and this pausing, this space allows me to look back and draw some conclusions. The last time I was there, it was early spring. I remember walking 4 kilometers from the bus stop and picking budding branches on my way and putting them in water and enjoying first spring leaves. First green things to be seen that spring. I was on a sick leave. I was battling this and that, thinking about these and those people. Now it was late autumn. Those first fresh leaves had turned brown and yellow, many trees were already bare (or bald, as my cousin’s son says). Sitting in the sauna on Friday evening and looking out at the lake, I calculated and revised and concluded. So this is how far I’ve come since the last time I was here. My health is this and that much better or worse, these were my victories over the summer months, those were my losses. Now I’m thinking about these people, now I’m facing those challenges. (Everything, except for the mercy of the Almighty, seems to change constantly.) This cottage is the measuring stick of my life.

It’s a place where I go to catch my breath when I’ve run out of it. Like my dad said today when I told him I’ve just come from Sillaotsa (that’s the old name of the place), „Isn’t this the place you always go whe things get rough?” I hadn’t thought about it but it’s true – I’ve done a lot of mourning and crying there. But I am also determined to link my happier memories and life occasions to that tiny place. The time S. and J. came to Estonia to celebrate my 30th birthday and we spent a lovely day in Sillaotsa is one of those occasions – I still remember the crazy heat in the sauna and the boat we took out on the lake and the pancakes we ate on the porch. Should I ever get married, this – I hope – could be one of the honeymoon hideouts. Should I ever go and live abroad, this will probably become my regular pilgrimage destination. It will continue to measure my life.

I love this place.

Fifty shades of yellow
Spiders' wonderland
Tea is a must
Boys' playground
Birches
Out with the boys
Defending the hay fort
Lake mirror
Book for the weekend
Can't do without a selfie these days!