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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Yesterday in Tallinn

We locked our 55-pound backpacks in a baggage room on the boat, which transformed itself into a ladies change room just as we re-collected its contents. Suddenly we were surrounded by women of all ages in various stages of changing from oversea afternoon wear into matching lettered t-shirts.

Our first stop was an Old Town Tallinn smoker's haven where hipsters smoked tobacco and that fruity stuff they put in those big hukka bongs. We had a quick coffee and ventured forth for pizza with Katherine, Disney movie with Zinta and Sophia, and a history of the Baltic States' ethnic relations with Harold. [Apparently nobody much likes the Russians around here and the dislike is pretty mutual. The ones left here are the former Soviet administrators and their descendents, none of whom have much interest in learning Estonian. English has become the comprimsed language of neutrality. Even the playground kids get into it.]

After the history museum on the city bus toward the Saku Stadium basketball game, which is nestled between the zoo and a big amusement park, we passed the shanties hiding just off the main road in among the trees. Always jarring to see how poverty gets swept away in the crevaces of wealth.

Later, riding in the back of Harold's company car with surehanded Katherine at the wheel, I proved to Zinta that I could be as fun as Miia by handing her some blank paper and a pen. What ink didn't land on the page swirled into the magic of children's art, abstract images of birds flying backwards and swings spinning spiderwebs.

At the Fall Market, in addition to becoming local folk legends, we ate delicious fried fish and deep fried bread stuffed with cheese, which reminded me of the St. Lucian roadside dish called bakes (essentially deep fried bread with hot sauce). Sophi and I delighted in the sheer quantity of cute puppies. When she collapsed in broken-hearted exhaustion of course it was softie me who picked her up - discipline will never be my strong-point. She won my heart so easily.

We ended the tourist frenzy at the modern art gallery with its immitation Canadian National Art Gallery architecture. I enjoyed the photographs of purgatory, which resembled a gutted military hanger. The exhibit was called 'Crises' which is probably why it was so depressing.

We bought our hosts a Users Guide to Tallin because they have been here less than a year and might not know all its underground contents: everything from where to find the best grafitti to essays on local prostitution and street kids. We hadn't seen any homeless people here but according to this book there are about 30 street kids. They often squat in abandoned housing until they get kicked out or forced out by vigilante arson. There are hundreds of others with housing but living in equally dangerous situations, on drugs, selling their bodies, surviving on crime. There are thousands of others who don't go to school for whatever reason. Most are Russians, though the number of Estonians is increasing. There are also about 20 brothels, and another 50 flats serving as make-shift brothels, and 2-3000 prostitutes, all from poor backgrounds, mostly within Estonia (which is a net exporter of sex-trade workers), and most have become drug addicts. Half report being victimized by the violence of their clients (mostly Finns and other tourists but also local businessmen) or their pimps. This book has oodles of other uncommonly distributed information such as details of skate parks, city flora and fauna, streetraces, Tallinn in films, clubs, etc.

I wish I had the St. Petersburg equivolent, but we do have bus tickets, bread, peanut butter, fruit, and a hand-made pukko (traditional Finnish knife) from Lapland. St. P here we come.


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