quarta-feira, 29 de abril de 2009

My thousand days in Eesti Vabariik

By João Lopes Marques (Eesti keel)

Distracted by some life bureaucracies and unnecessary concerns, I forgot to signal properly my first thousand days in Estonia. Doubtlessly, it is a beautiful and round number. Considering all the natural ups and downs, it has been quite exciting: when I debarked in Tallinn with a heavy suitcase on 11th June 2006 I had plans to stay for not longer than one year.

For some reason, time went by faster than my sweet inertia. Hereby some assorted impressions I have gathered since then. Since an article in Eesti Ekspress every two weeks is not enough to share all reflections, I've decided to select nearly one topic per month I have lived in this homy country:

1) Local girls' favourite name is "Laura";

2) Cakes are too creamy;

3) Solarium is as important as sauna;

4) Egypt is even more important than solarium;

5) One hears the name Narva usually related to a joke;

6) Locals love to quote a specific passage of Ernest Hemingway in his book To Have and Have Not: "In every port in the world, at least two Estonians can be found" (I haven't read this book, but I was told that wrote insted "No well-run yacht basin in the Southern waters is complete without at least two sun-burned, salt-headed Esthonians");

7) Men are more silent than women;

8) Lots of people boast they never pay on the tram;

9) "Margarita and the Master" by Mikhail Bulgakov is the favourite book of almost all my friends and acquaintances;

10) Estonians younger than 26 years old don't speak Russian;

11) Estonians older than 26 years old speak some Russian;

12) In my network, it seems something wrong goes very wrong every time I pronounce the word "Savisaar";

13) Residents in Läsna Mäe prefer not to mention they live there;

14) There is more Polish blood in Estonians than the autochtonous estimate (not necessarily Jewish);

15) Georgian food is the tastiest I've tried in Estonia;

16) Lately, wooden houses have became quite trendy again;

17) Because of the global warming, Summer in Pärnu became a tremendous bluff;

18) As good-yet-silent observers, Estonians are more acquainted about foreigners than foreigners are about Estonians;

19) Aladin restaurant is a lost oasis in Kopli neighbourhood;

20) Nail spas are the only business that will survive the credit crunch (never underestimate the look);

21) Estonian people have a fetish by Australia and Brazil (arrivederci Italia);

22) Lennart Meri is God, and He reigns especially for the local majority of Atheists;

23) Jaanipäev is by far much more relevant than Christmas;

24) One in every four (or maybe three) Estonians souls believe the supreme harmony will be achieved via the formula half-year-here-half-year-in-a-Thai-island;

25) Old habits die hard: Soviet canapés are still competing with capitalistic tapas;

26) Odessa champagne provides the worst hangover ever;

27) Estonians never ever travel to Latvia (well, perhaps for a conference or two);

28) Most mixed Estonians I have met tend to have Estonian father and Slavic mother (and they are usually adopt mother's tongue as their mother tongue);

29) The most repetitive question ever: "What the hell are you doing here in Estonia?";

30) Posting is cheaper than in other European Union countries;

31) Porsche Cayenne is a very popular vehicle indeed;

32) Even abstemious people admit Hell Hunt is one of the Top 10 national institutions;

33) "Come on, João, are you going to speak about the Bronze Soldier again?";

34) Orkut is Estonia's Yellow Pages;

35) The massive response to my last article "Viimase aja tabu Eestis: 'Maarja läheb ka Eestist ära...'" just proves gender gap is a perfect topic to trigger a harsh discussion in Estonia

Uff, I feel more relieved now. And yes, last but not the least, I also ackowledge Estonians love to know what foreigners thinks about them...

sábado, 25 de abril de 2009

Mascote não entra

E eu e pensar que as regras na Argentina eram mais suaves do que na Europa... Que fazer convosco, queridas mascotes? Gil, fala com o Quinas e diz-lhe para telefonar ao Misha e ao Naranjito. Que não venham ao churrasco amanhã cá em casa. Não podem entrar...

quarta-feira, 22 de abril de 2009

El mejor amigo de Maradona

Foi já há alguns anos: nesse sonho, eu era o melhor amigo de Maradona e tinha como sogro (?) Harrison Ford. Estranho, nem nunca tive um Ford, foram mais Twingos. Mas agora que estou em Buenos Aires, vi El Pibe na forma original, uma foto de 1981 vertida em poster, tal como ele me surgiu. Diego ainda estava chupadito. Eu tinha dez anos, e essas coisas raramente se apagam.

Pacheco Pereda?

A imagem surge-me pela frente de forma tão abrupta que cheguei a pôr tudo em causa. A vida por um fio num mini-mercado de Buenos Aires. Mas não, não era ele.

quinta-feira, 16 de abril de 2009

The ultimate Estonian taboo: "Maarja is also leaving Estonia..."

by João Lopes Marques (Eesti keel)

It is never easy to write about — or to break — a national taboo. I will do my best: I guess Estonia is on verge of a dramatic social convulsion. Statistics don't show us this demographic trend, but seems to me all my female friends and acquaintances are about to leave the country.

"Can you explain me why?", I asked Maarja.

"Especially because I am fed up of Estonian men", she replied fast. "Besides being arrogant, they drink too much and don't make any effort to seduce us! They know it is still quite easy to get a girl in Estonia... Historically, there are more women than men in Estonia."

"They became blind with this neoliberal model from the 1990's and they just think of being successful", added Triin, who also has a foreign boyfriend. "They think money is everything, that they can be fat and nasty as long as they can show off their car or wallet. Plus it is not difficult for them to get a good position and visibility here, independence is so recent that success is easier here than abroad..."

Marta also spiced up the debate: "Why we want to emigrate? Don't be too surprised! This is the typical behaviour of all post-communist girls in Eastern Europe! Happens the same with Czech girls, or Romanian, or Ukrainian, or... It doesn't matter! We couldn't travel then and now the sky is the limit!"

They all spoke with so much self-assurance and revolt I decided to continue my quest. That moment I also recalled my ex-Estonian girlfriend opted to move to Melbourne. Likewise, most of my early female friends in Tallinn aren't living in the Baltic region anymore.

"Hmm... If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it is probably a duck", I wondered. I will never forget the day I was asked: "João, convince her to stay in Australia, please. What is her future in Estonia? Just bad weather and short money!" For sure, "the weather thing" I fully understand. And the severe Baltic downturn provoked by the credit crunch just amplifies this Nordic pragmatism.

Curious about the subject, I started gathering empirical information in a more systematic way. The figures about the Estonian community in Portugal, for instance: out of three dozens of Estonian residents, there are just a couple of men. I saw the same percentage while in Australia last year. The opposite pattern applies to almost all Southerns European souls I had the chance to meet in Tallinn: inhere is more like cherchez la femme, of course.

"Unlike the girls, most Estonian men don't want to leave the country", underlined me Maarja.

Are men more territorial than women? Anything to do with freedom after 800 years of alien domination? Do men feel more attached when it comes to protect the local sovereignty? Asked this several times to my Estonian male friends — but for them this isn't even an issue.

Seen from this perspective, seems quite logical lots of Estonian men face foreigners — either tourists or residents — as potential threats. Especially because these "alien hunters" acknowledge the high potential of native girls: nice looking, usually talented, good command of English language and eager to conquer the world. Not nice to say, because of their post-communist-nordic-blonde exoticism, some of them are seen as trophies.

In short, the "Homo Balticus Syndrome" has a reason to exist as a quasi-diagnosed-pathology. Some girls also confess they can feel embarassed when they are seen chatting with a foreign mate.

Actually, my latest surprise popped up home a week ago. I laughed but soon I understood sweetheart was very determined: "Don't you think we should leave Estonia for a while?" Indeed, this question was mere rethorics. The world is quite big for a former Erasmus student. I had plans to stay for another couple of years in Tallinn, but know it seems that our future together will be in a French-speaking country. Or in Latin America. Perhaps Asia. Or...

Well, I am confused: another thing I have learnt is that Estonian women are flexible as long as the journey is long and exciting. Free from religious and family constraints, they jump and full stop.

Assuming it is true, such a sharp demographic phenomenon will bring unavoidable consequences in the future. Specific gender roles — if not antagonism — will emerge in Estonian society. One historical example: it is not a coincidence Scandinavian women are some of the most emancipated in the world: the viking expansion was a mannish thing triggered by the shortage of land. It paved the way for present-day feminism.

Similarly, in case of shortage of women, future Estonian society also risks fostering a new mentality. The likeliest scenarios? Even knowing societies are slightly unpredictable: a) Homo Balticus will become less arrogant and strives in order to convince the best Estonian girls to stay; c) Homo Balticus will be more flexible and starts conquering the world by their partners; c) Estonian machismo will rise because Homo Balticus believes their women haven't faced their national responsibilities.

Honestly, a) and b) are much rosier than c).

* author of the novel "The Man who wanted to be Lindbergh"

quarta-feira, 15 de abril de 2009

Disseram "Khazana"?

Se é artesanato ou não, já não sei. Fica na esquina da minha rua em Tallinn. E claro que foram uns tugas malandrecos quem me chamou a atenção para tal facto. Uma vergonha, há coisas que nunca mudam. Às vezes penso o que é que será feito desta mocidade daqui a uns anitos...

segunda-feira, 13 de abril de 2009

"Tobacco"? No, Tobago!

by João Lopes Marques*

Didn’t start yesterday. It’s been like this for centuries. Much before the Kremlin gerontocracy, plagued by the rheumatics, fled for a healthy bath in the Summer resort of Jurmala. This exquisite taste of mini-megalomania is part of the Latvian genetic code. Maybe influenced by the fact Riga is the only Baltic metropolis. Or its decisive gateway between two antagonistic worlds: History has proved this was the chosen geography for systematic clashes between West and the Cyrillic civilization.

For a tiny territory inhabited by no more than 2,4 millions, reports can be admirably impressive: we see happening here world ice hockey championships, NATO summits, even bids to UN Secretary-General (i.e. Vaira Vike-Freiberga). Moreover, Air Baltic and its Riga International Airport — nicely dubbed “RIX” — have assumed themselves as the golden hub for the Commonwealth of Independent States, the decadent corps of former USSR.

In the wake of the financial crisis, after registering the highest annual GDP growth in European Union, things haven't changed that much (in absolute terms). From CNN to local scholars, all observers coincide on the abuse of superlative: “The biggest credit boom, the biggest property boom, the biggest current account deficit, the biggest wage inflation, the biggest price inflation, the biggest indebtedness...”

— But did you know once we had a colonial empire? — challenged me Inese.
— Beg your pardon, I don't understand…
— Didn’t you know Tobago island was ours?
— Are we speaking about the same Tobago?

Yes, we were. The very same that is nowadays twinned with Trinidad as an archipelago. Needless to say, I didn’t capitulate in the first round. Inese had to invite me for a guided tour so that I could see Tobago casino and other homonymous shops that mushroom in Old Riga. That was far from being a fabrication. Those embellished maps were crystal clear: 45 cannons, 25 officials, 124 soldiers and 80 families of colonists took over the Caribbean island that holy year of 1654.

Just a pity that Jacob Kettler, the committed Duke of Courland and Semigalia was too vulgar re-baptizing the colony he had bought ten years before to his English relatives. Obviously, too obviously, he opted to call it “New Courland”. A confessed mercantilist, Kettler believed wealth does not depend on the size of a country: his beloved-and-hated Netherlands inspired him. To boost chances he still proposed a joint-venture to Polish King, though earthy Kazimierz wasn't interested in current French Guiana and Northern Brazil.

— And we didn’t colonize Australia just because of a bad coincidence! — added Inese, I guess she took advantage of my sudden perplexity.
— Australia? Did you mean “Australia”? Aren’t you going too far?

Well, not for her standards. Not at all. Self-confessed patriot, eventually she will convince me that Mr. Kettler decided to send a strong fleet as far as the Antipodes. Just because the dreamy Duke wanted to scoop the Dutch, whom he was at war with and whose explorations off the Lost Continent were whispered across Europe. Some believe Kettler had designed a grandiose plan of seizure and consequent settlement of what Portuguese navigators had called 150 years before “Terra Java” — the Ptolemy's’ Terra Australis Incognita.

A more thorough search confirms it: deep-rooted in Latvian mythology, the Protestant Jacob Kettler had already trafficked the unlikely bless of the Pope Innocent X. Unfortunately, the Pontiff would pass away in 1655, ruling out all hopes in such a Baltic diaspora.

The skillful Mr. Kettler even greed some islands in the West African shores, somewhere off the Gambia River. For less than two decades he claimed the remote desert island of St. Andrew. Limited by a two-hundred-thousand-soul-population, we may agree he was overstretching his ambition. The generous wish to export Latvians always clashed against this demographic constraints.

Smallness brings the bad taste of frustration too often. Yet the three republics have been struggling hard — sometimes alone and in a epic way. The endemic roots of megalomania lay perhaps in this admirable effort of transcendence. Lithuanians never hide their pride on the medieval Grand Duchy that once stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea shores; Estonians thrive to be cutting-edge positioning themselves as "the" post-modern e-xample.

Coming back to Latvia, though. Mr. Kettler's megalomania could arguably be related to his capital city Liepaja, which means "the city where wind is born”. Such claim happens to be as p[r]o[ph]etic as pharaonic. Have you ever thought about claiming your cradle the place where wind starts blowing? Wind is universal, stateless, rebellious, almost as untamable as the present-day credit crunch crisis. Insufficient for the fearless sovereign: for the end of his life in 1681 he sought to recover the possession of the Courland colonies meanwhile seized by Western powers.

Therefore I have now plenty of arguments to believe that, when the topic is Down Under, my good indigo friend Inese is perhaps more than correct. Plus, I acknowledge she researches hard before speaking out things. Her Nordic assertiveness is proverbial. And that is why — had picky History been more benign to Mr. Kettler; were the three republics slightly larger; had Baltic golden ages lasted longer — I wouldn’t be surprised if one could watch brown kangaroos jumping happily by the Daugava.

Pity, especially because “if” is a tricky monosyllable.

* originally published in "The Baltic Times"

domingo, 12 de abril de 2009

Sinais de trânsito

À primeira, confesso, chumbei no exame de código. Estudei, mas há coisas que ainda me fazem espécie. Sinais como este, por exemplo. Provocação ou indiferença? É por isso que nunca perco um episódio do Bruno Aleixo: gosto mesmo de o ver a falar com o Busto.

sexta-feira, 10 de abril de 2009

Menu Madoff

Eu a subir o Chiado ("Rua do Caaaaarmo!") e a tropeçar neste delicioso Menu Madoff. Tudo por apenas 10 euros, mas atenção que só servem almoços.

domingo, 5 de abril de 2009

sábado, 4 de abril de 2009

Overbooking, por exemplo

E lá fui eu assistir ao final das gravações de mais um "Cuidado com a Língua". Este foi gravado nas chegadas do Aeroporto da Portela e versa os anglicismos. Além do Diogo Infante, conta com Lúcia Moniz como actriz convidada. Eu é que, com tanto "salmonish", deveria era ter vergonha... Enfim, doravante prometo dosear os estrangeirismos.


Tinha aveia para o negócio.