Tuesday, 10 May 2016

(Part B) Islands in a Time of Civilizational Decline: Estonia

Quality assessment: 

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3'5 is "mediocre pass", 4.5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to develop quite a few points to reasonable length, admittedly while having to change the idea of issuing  this essay in two installments (one on 2016-05-03, the other on 2015-05-10) in favour of  a three-installment schedule (2016-05-03, 2015-05-10, and finally 2015-05-17). 

Revision history:

  • UTC=20160510T1410Z/version 1.2.0: Kmo uploaded more trivial and close-to-trivial changes (he had erred in representing saffron as mandatory in the "kringel" sweetbread, for exmple); and he then planed to continue producing, in a way not documented here, minor tweaks, as version 1.2.1, 1.2.2, ... .
  • UTC=20160510T0143Z/version 1.1.0: Kmo uploaded a reasonably polished version, in which no point-form outlining was left; and he then continued to produce, in a way not documented here, minor tweaks, as versions 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3, ... . 
  • UTC=20160510T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded base version (tail end as mere outline, in point form, but everything else written out in a semi-polished state); and then Kmo uploaded various here-undocumented verions 1.0.1, 1.0.2,  in the first half hour or so managing to convert the remaining  point-[form outline into correct full sentences.  

4. Estonia 

I  have read that in the 1930s, Tallinn was amused by the advent of a prophet of doom. Here was a prophet right amid the streets and cobblestoned squares of our small, and primly Teutonic, and primly Lutheran, capital. I imagine the prophet as a real-life embodiment of a stock figure familiar from American newsprint comics - his hair overlong, his clothes ragged, his single sermon loudly repetitive. I imagine him accompanying that one unwearying sermon with some placard, as comic-book prophets do. 

Our end, he said, is nigh. 

People must have commented: Good. What fun. Nice to see something interesting in the street. Practically as good as gypsy violins. Better, in its way, than Methodist preachers, actually. Oh yes, almost better than the Salvation Army, actually. 


In the autumn of 1944, Mum and my Mum's Mum fled Petseri with minimal hand luggage, seeking the west-coast harbour of Pärnu. The retreating Nazis were nice about it, giving them a partial lift on some kind of troop-transporting vehicle. We can't stop, ma'am, they said. But (they said) when, as we roll along in the dark, we reach a sharp turning on the highway, our convoy will slow down. You will feel that coming. At that instant the two of you will have to jump for the ditch. 

Mum and Grandma made their modest jump without notable injury. Their initial target, as I say, was the harbour town of Pärnu. What would come after? Neutral Sweden would be a good destination. 

And some people were, on the other hand, saying "No great danger from the USSR; no need to run anywhere." The radio was, after all, announcing that British forces had landed in Tallinn. It is, as Jane Austen might put it, a truth universally acknowledged that in wartime the radio is a reliable information source. 

Although the carefully neutral state of Sweden would have fitted the bill, improvisation was under those September circumstances indicated. Mum and Grandma had the good luck to find a vessel which was indeed leaving Pärnu, although it was bound for Nazi Germany rather than for neutral Sweden. 

The Baltic crossing took forever, I think on the order of 48 or even 72 hours. Grandma was somewhere below decks, and Mum pretty much under the open sky, perhaps under some awning or balcony ledge. Mum once told me that during the crossing she was so exhausted that she did not even trouble to go below and see how Grandma was getting on. There was no energy, she explained to me, for doing anything. People simply sat and waited - I imagine no longer even retaining sufficient emotional energy for so-necessary meditations regarding bombers and torpedoes. If death from Soviet air or sea forces was going to come, well then it was going to come. 

A USA officer, I think of some such modest rank as Sergeant, I think in that same Hitler war, haranguing his men in their reluctance to advance against opposing fire: "Do you want to live forever?"

Dad, in the 1980s, returning from work on blueberry fields, telling me that he has seen some small bird perched in a bush, or something, near him on the land that day, perhaps a sparrow or some such. He tells me that he knew this bird to be now tenanted by the soul of a person who went down with the torpedoed 1944 refugee vessel Moero

And yet Dad, sharing the hard-nosed skepticism of Mum, was not at all inclined to "see things" or "hear things". 

The general topic of World War Two was indeed in our family (as it seems to me) quite often downplayed or avoided. I think that many families, in all epochs and in all nations, do the rational thing - whether they are, for instance, leaving Europe in the wake of Hitler, or are instead leaving today's Middle East. 

The rational thing is to live in Dead Cow Space. 

In the living room is a big dead Holstein. 

The oozing blood has largely clotted, and the stains in the carpet have dried to the point of tackiness. From that half-tonne of meat comes a rather insistent, but perhaps in some ways mildly appetizing, stench. 

Everyone is dressed in Sunday clothes, and the coffee cups are being handed round, with the inevitable Estonian accompaniment - the thinly sliced egg-and-butter-rich loaf, dusted with icing sugar, called kringel

Ah, Mrs Vabasoo, would you care for a second piece of kringel

Someone uses the tongs to reach for a sugar cube. Someone's little spoon clinks delicately on bone china. 

And nobody makes any mention at all of the somewhat awkward sitting-room Holstein, even though the puddled brownish blood is sufficiently obvious against the forest-green broadloom. 

I ask: what else can you do? What alternative mode of thought, feeling, and conduct could there possibly be? 

Things in Estonia got quieter after that bad 1944 September. 

The "Forest Bretheren" took to the woods in their thousands. But they were in a few years reduced to their despairing hundreds, and finally to their despairing tens. 

The United Kingdom tried keeping up radio links until 1958 or so, I think at least in part in the context of their "Operation Jungle" (in some sense facilitated in London by Colonel Alfons Rebane). But "Jungle" had been compromised by Philby, Burgess, or other "Cambridge Five" (or similar) British operatives within MI6 (or within similar British agencies). So by 1958 or so, the British had to give up. The radio links were still working. London had at this point, however, no reliable idea whether the operators at other end were actual "Forest Bretheren" or impersonators. 

The last of the known active "Bretheren", August Sabbe, drowned - it is often suggested that he committed suicide to avoid KGB capture, and there is also a contrary suggestion of extrajudicial KGB-execution-by-drowning, and I have no information beyond what I have read - on 1978-09-28 in the Võhandu river in the Lasva "vald", or administrative sub-district, in remote, rural Võru County. 


The hope of the general populace within Estonia, I think real enough in the 1950s, flickered and faded in the 1960s. I have read, somewhere, a lady giving her account of this. She was working on a sovhoz or kolhoz, I think tending to livestock, in that latter decade. Suddenly the insight struck her, I imagine with the numinous clarity that attends specially sharp insights, as when one has cracked a problem in vector calculus:  

This occupation, this Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, is permanent. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, one hundred years hence, life will continue much as it proceeds now, here in this Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. 

Life in the Estonian diaspora, in Sweden, Canada, the USA, and Australia (with lesser diaspora outposts also in the United Kingdom, West Germany, and other countries) in a way mirrored the gradual loss of hope in Estonia. 

The 1950s were a decade of vigour, with the prewar classics republished, notably at "Orto" (in Sweden and Canada), and with much fresh prose and poetry coming onto the diaspora market from the Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv (the "Estonian Writers' Cooperative", in Sweden). 

In the 1960s, many of the refugees were entering middle age or worse, and were additionally burdened with the distracting complexities of Swedish, North American, and Australian postwar affluence. 

Shall we, tonight, watch "Get Smart"? or "Bewitched"? or the "Ed Sullivan Show"? Can we this month afford another LP, perhaps this time of Bizet? Should we now try to replace this increasingly battered dining-room table, of such nondescript wood, with teak? If the dining-room table, then why not also more, perhaps also a good part of the den - in, of course, Scandinavian Modern? Should the son of the family not now have serious dress shoes and a better blazer, so that we can look half-respectable when we walk into the Estonian Lutheran church in Montréal - at any rate when daughter-of-prewar-friends Maie, having reached Sweet Sixteen, takes her First Communion? 

Under such external cultural pressures, things crumble. 

Mum, I know, in her unsentimental way eventually declined to renew her subscription to Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv. That Sweden-based publisher had sent its members what in Mum's view was a particularly banal memoir, devoid of literary-political merit, recounting merely the career of a stage dancer. This, Mum told me later, had proved for her to be the Last Straw. 

It would have been unthinkable for Dad and me to use much English. Mum and I did, however, switch over to English, I think in part because of Mum's university training in, and ongoing post-university enthusiasm for, modern languages. The two of us were thereby taking a dreary Path of Least Resistance. It is surely a path familiar to a majority of diaspora Estonian families, and I conjecture that it has its sad parallels in the Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian, and Jewish worlds, to name just a few. 


I did not get switched back to Estonian in conversations with Mum until fully two decades later, around 1984. 

Ah yes, the 1980s! 

The odd thing about the erosion of hope - the more I think of this, the odder it seems, and the stronger the happy message it appears to carry for the impending civilizational collapse which is the overall governing theme of this blog - the odd thing is that in the fullness of time, our erosion reversed itself. The eventual reversal came with all the strength of a tide which, having long ebbed, at some instant begins once again to rise. 

In my own personal case, I can pinpoint the reversal. For the reversal, I shall be perpetually grateful to diaspora cultural activists Tiiu and Inno Salasoo (Inno's father was the late New South Wales all-things-diaspora archivist, pharmacist Dr Hugo Salasoo - decorated by the Republic in 1939 with Valgetäht ("White Star"), Third Class,  for producing the Pharmacopeia Estonica I, and in exile the compiler of an Australian herbariuim now lodged in Tartu) with their fellow activist, the linguist-and-teacher Vinnifred Oser. (Mrs Oser, by maiden name Vunk, may indeed have known my Mum from before 1944, at university, when Mum was still "Miss Ranne".) The reversal came in a period of some few days in which, although working hard in Australia, I nevertheless found the free time to attend our local Estonian "Forest University". 

Our Forest University - I have also pointed this out in my old essay "Utopia 2184", in the "Literary" section of my Web site http://www.metascientia.com - holds useful open-air classes. Nothing silly, just history and literature and politics and sociology. Since Estonia has for the most part managed to avoid the political ethos of the world's more violent jurisdictions, we have not used the Forest University for significant physical training. 

In occupied Estonia, one particularly salient milestone of the reversal - in fact almost the earliest significant milestone - was the last Sunday in the August of 1987, more formally 1987-08-23. Tiit Madisson, recently released from the gulag, had organized a demonstration in Tallinn's Hirvepark ("Deer Park"), denouncing the secret Baltic clauses of the 1939-08-23 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. 

It at first seemed, I gather, that nobody much would be coming. The announced demonstration time was near, and yet the park was largely empty. So drearily ordinary was this late-summer Sunday. 

And then, a few minutes before the announced time, one or two people just happened casually to stroll in. Then another two or three or four happened to wander in, ever so casually, as people even in the USSR were allowed to do on a nice, warm Sunday. Eventually, when it was time for oratory to begin, the crowd size was beyond the hundreds, I think attaining a size, in a not-too-big park, of something like two thousand. 

I believe it was on the next day, the Monday (I was at this point working in South Bend, Indiana), that I followed my then-normal habit of picking up the  New York Times, reading idly and suspecting nothing. To my shock, I found an Estonian event, with its simultaneous Latvian and Lithuanian accompaniments, reported on the front page. It was clear in a split second what had happened, in Estonia and beyond. However silly seemed those PR slogans of "glasnost" and "perestroika", substantive change was now afoot.

It took, admittedly, a while for much of the West, and even for M.S. Gorbachev, to grasp the import of the situation, especially because things evolved on so many fronts with bewildering rapidity. 

I recall, for example, a phone call which I made from my South Bend office over to Foggy Bottom, a couple of days before the big follow-on Tallinn demonstration of 1988-02-23 or 1988-02-24.

The venue was to be the monument commemorating novelist Tammsaare.

Activists in the diaspora, including even me as a low-down person, were duly briefed by our own people. (I was at that moment in a modest-but-not-negligible slot, serving as "North American Liaison" for the Stockholm-based Eesti Vangistatud Vabadusvõitlejate Abistamiskeskus, the "Relief Centre for Estonian Prisoners of Conscience". I never did try to push myself up into any higher Cold War position - and equally never did get pulled higher, by way of painful yank on straining hair.) Surely, I said to myself, Foggy Bottom will know all about this one. Surely, I said to myself, Foggy Bottom will, working with one or more of the three-letter agencies, have a couple of assets in place, duly mingling in the (big?) crowd. For this particular demo at the Tammsaare monument is, after all, this week's top story from inside the increasingly restless Union. 

But when I rang State, and got connected with an appropriately senior person (possibly head of the "Baltic Desk"), my illusions were shattered. Ms Desk was courteous, polite, and diligent. How, Ms Desk asked me, does one spell "Tammsaare"? 

On the other hand, not everyone in the West was caught flat-footed. 

I recall, from 1987 or 1988, a brilliant essay in the the New Yorker, by an author who seemed to me to be ethnically anchored in Anglosaxonia, and yet who grasped Our Stuff in the way one would normally expect only an insider to grasp it. The author seemed to have gone everywhere in occupied Estonia, and to have met everyone in occupied Estonia, our opaque "Socialist realities" notwithstanding. 

How could such a journalist, however abundantly blessed with New York street smarts, manage to track down a retired member of the Forest Bretheren? But this street-smart journalist did. His interviewee, said the journalist, had welcomed him in a big, booming voice - loudly proclaiming, in English, his conversational English to be "gone with the wind". 

The journalist had no illusions regarding Estonian-Russian relations within the borders of the ESSR. Here, he said, were two disparate communities walking the same sidewalks, riding the same trams or buses, knowing nothing about each other, taking not a scintilla of interest in each other. 

And what was beyond hilarious was his (deadpan) series of interview with Estonians regarding political prospects. Here I have to paraphrase loosely, from memory, regrettably not having the original in front of me: 

Linda warns me of a shadow on the lawns: "Yes, but you must realize that we Estonians are in the final analysis individualists."

Later that evening, while I am enjoying a beer with her neighbour Mihkel, I hear the same: "Of course the emerging free Estonian institutions will have to cope, somehow, with our uncompromising individualism."

The following morning, in the cluttered office of sociologist Paul Nusik, I am told, "Estonians have a radical flaw, a fragility which could cause everything to go off the parliamentary rails - namely, an entrenched individualism." 

"And of course," muses an officer of the Estonian National Independence Party over a sandwich lunch, in our quiet corner of a quiet park, "Estonians, whether in the Savisaar-Lauristin or in our own Laar-and-Parek camp, or even in the depleted ranks still admiring Soviet apologist-academician Gustav Naan, do have this odd, stubborn streak of individualism." 

It is a theme that arises again over coffee and torte in Tartu's "Gunpowder Cellar" cafe, with a pair of young medieval historians: Yes, they affirm, we see from the events of 1227, from the fiasco which was St George's Eve of 1343 - we see from drama upon sorry drama in the national soap opera that we tend to go our respective ways, tugging in fifty directions at once,  in a severe, in an unbending, in an intractable, in a deplorable, in a profoundly un-Slavic, in an ever-so-characteristically Nordic individualism.

I may as well simply recycle here, from the already-mentioned "Utopia 2184" at http://www.metascientia.com, my onsite impressions regarding the final year of the occupation: 

Communism and resistance. 1990. So far has the régime now crumbled (the Berlin Wall came down some months ago) that it is not in the least vulgar for an exile Estonian to go home for a few days. On the deck of the Georg Ots from Helsinki, I for the first time see the Tallinn ramparts. Everyone carries in his or her cranium a small photo album. The pages of the album are no doubt liable to turn as the moment of biological death approaches, recalling one definitive scene, another definitive scene, from byegone decades. Tall, angry towers, then, looming large, no longer so far from the deck of the Georg Ots. Those towers were ancient when Thomas More had his trouble with Henry. I am 37. Later, walking and being driven, I note the ubiquity of forces. Guys in fine green uniforms, laundered, ironed. Two guys on this street, three guys on that street, everywhere. And on the country roads, their vehicles.

Estonia is in its the last communist year when I visit, though nobody knows that yet. A grandiose war memorial near the bombed-out ruins of Raadi Mõis, the manor house that in the interwar decades housed the National Museum. Russian names, not Estonian, names of troops who helped wrest Tartu from the control of the Dritte Reich as the 1944 summer ended.

I will likewise recycle here, from the same source, my little note on how this particular successor to the Dritte Reich got wound up: 

The fall of communism. Dad, eternally the pessimist, had predicted that Mihhael S. Gorbachev would prove one of the bloody dictators of history. Dad died on 1991 May 1. Mum and I are in our bungalow in Nova Scotia. A cloudy August lunch-time, in the year of Dad's death. We sit in the kitchen, by the same table where Nana once asked about Cuba. The amplitude-modulated radio brings in CKCL at 600 kHz, 'the voice of Central Nova Scotia'. CKCL confines itself to the life of Colchester County. It is time for the farming programme, famously narrated by a Frank McDonald (MacDonald?), the signature tune 'Old McDonald had a Farm'. Russia, says the announcer, is having a busy day.

Later I walk out toward the marshes near the house, convinced that glasnost and perestroika, the Gorbachevian opening, are over. Brown, dead summer grasses. I know that Stalin is back, know that our four decades in Canada are empty. T.S. Eliot talks about the rock which in halcyon days is something to steer by and in the storms is what it always was.

Party careerist Arnold Rüütel takes advantage in that 1991 August of the Moscow putsch, declaring the full independence of Estonia. His gambling instincts prove sounder than those of Ottawa, where the Department of Foreign Affairs sullies itself by choosing a cautious form of words, prematurely admitting of the possibility of the putschists' succeeding.

A few days later, Estonia is admitted to the United Nations.


More than enough has now been said on Estonian background. 

I return, therefore, to my main purpose: here I seek to present the Cold War Estonian-diaspora home, in the way I knew it in boyhood, as yet another case study of the "Island in a Time of Civilizational Decline". 

In 1952, my parents moved into their newly constructed, miraculously mortgage-free, bungalow (they had counted pennies), on a hectare of sometime farmland, seven kilometres west of Truro in Nova Scotia. 

From my bedroom window at night, in the 1950s and 1960s, I could look eastward to the red aviation beacons on the CKCL transmitting masts. 

Behind our hectare, to the north, was a one-or two-hundred metre expanse of pasture. 

Behind that, farther north, lay a forest of no very alarming character, suitable for exploration by even quite small children, and probably inhabited by no fauna more threatening than the porcupine a couple of us once witnessed. 

To the immediate east and west lay farms which had perhaps been laid out under the British crown in the Onslow Township Grant, from around 1765. 

Best of all was what lay to the south: endless pancake-flat fields, reclaimed from marshland first by the Acadians, and perhaps also, in the wake of the 1760s change in government, by "Ulster Scots" immigrants from colonial Massachusetts and colonial Connecticut. Here was a correctly timeworn landscape with something of the mystic quality of Estonia; or again (as I imagine it) Ireland; or (as I again imagine it) the territories of free, Hanseatic, Novgorod; or (as I again imagine it) Cornwall. 

In one place, stranded in the middle of dry pasture, was a low dyke, far inland from the high modern dyke demarcating the modern dry pasture from tidal marsh. Surely - I thought then, and I still think - this is a dyke from remote times, perhaps from just a generation or two after Matthieu Martin's 1685 seigneury grant. 

Best of all was the little Fort Belcher headland, perhaps four kilometres to our west or southwest. The name expressed an adequately real folk memory of a 1761 British outpost, from the insecure summer-of-first-Anglo-settlement, when the Micmacs were justifiably restive, with legitimate, even with terrible, grievances. Here a bluff of reddish soil, three or so metres high at its most imposing point, plunged down to a tiny beach, sparsely speckled with tiny white clamshells. At twelve-hour intervals a world-famous tidal bore would sweep in, momentarily transforming the brown Salmon River estuary mudflats into a convincing simulacrum of true seaside. 

This terrain, in its mystical depth (from pre-Anglo times, "Cobequid") has stamped my visual memory to the point where now, whenever I have to ask myself, standing in Toronto or Richmond Hill or whatever, "Which way is East?" or "Which way is South?", I once again see, from decades ago, the CKCL radio towers, or once again see those ancient reclaimed marshlands.

Mum, like Dad, and perhaps unlike me, was on the whole impatient with organized religion and with theology, and a fortiori with glib talk of The Spiritual. It is therefore remarkable that she was convinced she saw a ghost, early in our time on that terrain.  The year was possibly still 1952. (My own birth was in 1953 - i.e., as one might say in imitation of Viivi Luik's memoirs, "in the eighth peacetime summer".) 

Mum, as she would in later years explain, was in the kitchen, ironing. A little girl joined her. Mum's visitor did not smile. And yet her eyes seemed both curious and friendly. The little girl meant no harm at all. She was simply wondering (Mum would in later years hypothesize) who was newly arrived on the land. 

Having discussed this point quite carefully with the distinguished gardener who now owns our former hectare (the land has not suffered, but has on the contrary under its current ownership advanced), I conjecture the little girl to be Acadian. I imagine that she was interested to find, for the first time since the 1755 deportations that brought an end to her family's austere agrarian life within the old Matthieu Martin seigneury, a dwelling - a dwelling erected not on the old McKay property to our west, and not on the old Whidden property to our east, but halfway between, pretty close to the compact cottage she must have inhabited before her family's 1755 catastrophe. 

Our own one-hectare island rejoiced on its west and north in a vivid rampart, a pine windbreak. For most children, the climbing of a maple or other large hardwood is a tedious exercise, undertaken only infrequently, and requiring caution in one's choice of foothold upon successive foothold. Pines, by contrast, are as easily climbed as ladders. So I would often enough perch in one or another of the windbreak pines, marvelling at the view of bungalow roof significantly below my horizontal, and marvelling also at the pendulum sway of the trunk as the breeze broke its force against those densely needled branches. 

Of the many imposing outdoor things on our so-to-speak island - the apiary; the orchard; the vegetable garden; the rows of raspberry canes, of gooseberry, of red currant, and of black currant; the garage-cum-honey-house - the most imposing outdoor thing of all was Mum's rockery. Here great slabs of slate, and other large rocks, made a stair linking the upper terrace of our two-level lawn with the lower terrace. In those stones lodge some of my my most vivid early-childhood memories. Particularly do I recall that uncertain turning of the year which in Cobequid can be the final week or March, or can perhaps be the first few days of April. Whatever snow lay elsewhere, here it would have melted, under the warming influence of sun and stone. Here crocuses would open - first yellow, then blue or purple - to the delight of scouting honeybees from the apiary behind the hedge. 

The very heart of our island was, however, indoors, in the living room. 

I wish I could say, "Here I sprawled, on the sunlight forest-green carpet, reading Kalevipoeg and Tammsaare." The stern truth, however, is that I read, properly and from cover to cover, just one reasonably serious Estonian book in my childhood - a gripping, finely illustrated, thinnish volume entitled Sipelgad ei alistu, "Ants Do Not Surrender". Sipelgad ei alistu had come in one of those important brown-paper parcels from Uncle R., in occupied Tallinn. 

I knew, even at the time, that this delightful book, with its enchanting colour drawings simply forcing child to read text from cover to cover, was propaganda. In fact I have confirmed in the last few months, through a reliable informant, that it is propaganda of a type standard from Tallinn to Sochi, from Tallinn to Vladivostok, in whatever language of the Union the presumed-to-be-malleable child might happen to be reading. 

The ants establish their colony through many a heroic labour. And they even overcome an invasion, from terrifying spider-silk parachutists. Their communal triumph is the triumph of the Collective over the Individual. 

So no, no Tammsaare, no Kalevipoeg

My mornings and afternoons sprawled on that sunlit forest-green carpet were spent, rather, in the twenty-odd volumes of the 1954  Encyclopedia Britannica Junior, and in Reader's Digest Condensed Books. (As Sherlock Holmes "highly recommends" to Doctor Watson the seven-percent solution of cocaine, so I, Gentle Reader, might today highly recommend to you the RD abridgement of Nicholas Monsarrat's 1963 espionage blockbuster Smith and Jones.) 

All the same, we had the built-in shelves flanking the big brick fireplace. Here were kept the most serious books - Kalevipoeg indeed; and Tammsaare indeed; and August Mälk; and novels from Dad's university chum Arvo Mägi, now in exile in Sweden; and many other heavy things.  

All I would ever do was gaze at spines or dust jackets - "August Mälk. Hea sadam" ("A Good Harbour"), "Arvo Mägi. Karneval". I recall one gruesome Mägi dust jacket, showing a shower, perhaps onto a crowd, perhaps at carnival or parade time, of some tokens or bottles marked "Gift", and additionally adorned with skull drawings. Not until the 1980s did I start reading Mägi, and not until the 1980s did I realize that the rather exotic Estonian word "Gift" - well, perhaps eesti "kift", deutsch "Gift" -  means "venom".) 

When I think of that living room, I think of the all-too-infrequent Estonian diaspora guests (we were, by anyone's standards, living in geographical isolation), carefully signing our leather-bound guest book. The book, bearing on its cover a finely tooled image of Narva fortifications, was a Christmas-of-1952 gift handmade by engineer-manager Uncle Uno, in Montréal. 

And I think of the first signature in that book, which I have just now, in this blog-dedicated evening, in filial piety reopened for the first time in a few months: A. Kostjakovitsh, from 1952-12-24. "Härra  Kostjakovitsh" specialized in silviculture, I imagine as a functionary in some branch of the Nova Scotia or federal-Canada government. It was explained to me early on that Russians are wicked, wicked people, that we do not have anything to do with them, and that that they do not speak Estonian. And yet härra Kostjakovitsh spoke perfectly clear Estonian, and was polite and friendly to me around 1958 (from when I was old enough to chat with him), and was received into the living room as a legitimate and honourable visitor.

This was a little like my half-sister, in occupied Tartu. Officially, she did not exist, until I got officially told of her existence upon attaining adult years and preparing my departure for Oxford. Nevertheless, the Officially Non-Existent would, I guess in defiance of her own safety at the hands of the forever tedious, Official, KGB, regularly send our mutual Dad a birthday telegram.

It is a remarkable feature of the infant mind that it can embrace, without visible discomfort, the two sides of a contradiction.

And I think of Christmas, paricularly and especially of Christmas as it was in the early days.

In the 1960s, when the cultural-preservation tide was ebbing at our island, we did what our anglophone neighbours did at Christmas. At that point, we started putting coloured bulbs onto the Christmas tree. But in the 1950s, our bulbs were white, in happy memory of the real candles that had adorned Christmas trees back home. 


Our family story is in no sense unusual. The same family story was played out again and again and again and again, everywhere in that remarkably uniform diaspora - whether in Nova Scotia or in Toronto, whether in New York City and Chicago and Los Angeles or in London and Leicester and Bradford, whether in Melbourne or in Capetown. 

What was the diaspora, after all, but an archipelago? What was it, if not an ensemble of one-home islands, each of them resembling both in their tangible externals and in their self-defining essence the island that my energetic parents succeeded in constructing? 

Everywhere, on every free continent, Estonian exiles had solid (if often dusty) bookcases with the same solid (if often dusty) books-of-high-honour from the same handful of free-world Estonian publishers. Everywhere families had the same gramophone records from the same diaspora choirs or folk ensembles. Everywhere were living-room cushions hand-embroidered in similar patterns. Everywhere was coffee and kringel, the kringel always baked with pretty much the same quantity of egg, butter, milk, and sugar. 

And family guests from within the diaspora, in whatever continent they might have happened to board their Viscounts or Stratocruisers,  or (later) their DC-8s or Boeing 707s (or whatever), lived ultimately in the same Estonian frame of reference - having as youngsters known the same professors or maestros or magistrates,  from before 1939, from back when the doomster was entertaining polite Tallinn. All of us in the intercontinental diaspora belonged ultimately, at any rate given two or three degrees of separation, to the same well-knit circle. 


I cannot claim that the Estonian diaspora, as an exercise in cultural continuity, rose to the high dignity of those examples studied earlier in this essay, Constantinople-or-Byzantium and Israel. But I hope I have shown that we did, in our own modest way, have our own modest successes. 

In thinking this through now, I recall in a particularly happy way a little incident in the street, during my 1990s visit to the bad dream which was the last year of the occupation. 

People living Inside were at that point desperate to get cash. Estonian-diaspora tourists, disembarking from Outside with their American dollars or Finnish markka or whatever, and more than ready to expend the hated rubles, were eminently fair game for the emerging domestic-Estonia entrepreneurial culture. 

And so I found myself bargaining with a Tallinn or Tartu street vendor for one or two volumes from Oskar Luts. (Luts, while best known for his semi-autobiographical Kevade ("Spring"), has among his minor works a  Pikem peatus ("Longer Stopping Place"); "Pikem Peatus" was the name also formally conferred by my parents upon our so-to-speak island, and this same name was known to some of our diaspora friends or relations.) 

- And how much for this Kevade, would you say? 

- Well, maybe so-and-so-many rubles. 

As we were concluding our small deal, an unknown matronly lady walked past - the incarnation of Estonian respectability - and sniffed, and said Vaat' kuidas hangeldatakse eesti klassikutega ("Well, fine. See how Estonian classics get monetized"). 

This was Inside, not Outside. 

And yet - in the unknown lady's tone of injured propriety, of stiff you-will-eat-your-broccoli-and-LIKE-it, of sternly sticking her matronly nose into someone else's business - it was exactly as things were with a thousand Mums and Grandmas and Aunties and Honorary Aunties and Important Friends-of-Family in Estonian meeting places all across the free-world diaspora. At that moment, I knew I was in no foreign country. At that moment, I knew myself to be, for good or ill, Home. Further, I knew that I not only was at Home now, but had never been away.  Home was surviving, equal and indivisible - here on the Inside and additionally in the free Outside, out and out across the interminable intercontinental archipelago. 

And I guess I at that instant knew, or at least now in retrospect know, that Home can go on surviving, provided people from one generation to the next remain willing to make the effort, if necessary by creating  islands.

[Part C, on the cultural-island character of Canada's David Dunlap Observatory and Park (DDO&P), and with concluding remarks of a more general character, to be uploaded at some point in the four-hour interval UTC=20160517T0001Z/20160517T0401Z.]  

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