nashville cats

"I find myself alone when each day is through."

“This is that real America, the one they talk about.”

NASHVILLE is in Tennessee and Tennessee is in the Old South, as well evidenced by all of that “Yes, sweetheart,” and “No, darling,” I heard over the phone as the hotel receptionist buttered me up.

For breakfast, pork sausage and eggs and hot biscuits with gravy, some smooth gray sauce with black flecks of pepper to make it look edible, and some sugary sweet juices to wash it down, or a hot coffee. For lunch and dinner, the men and women behind the counter had one question, “Beef brisket or pulled pork?”

One time I ordered the brisket just to have the barely-there bartender repeat back, “You wanted the pulled pork, right?” “No, I said I wanted the brisket.” He reached into one of the tins of steaming, dead slop. “You said you wanted the pulled pork, right?” “No, I said I wanted the brisket. See, this stuff right here.” I tapped at the glass and he winced as if embarrassed by his mistake and I felt like that terrible pushy Yankee that I am. Then the man looked up at me again through those glasses and squinted, “Excuse me, sir, but didn’t  you say you wanted the pulled pork?” And I thought, “Is this Southerner slow or something?” But I would never ever say that. No, no, no. I just inquired again for the brisket, politely, gently, because being Down South means you’ve got to be genteel.

It’s a weird relationship we’ve got with those Southerners, my Virginian granny among them. Granny’s never lost the mild manners, the mild temperament, the mild avoidance of the letter ‘r.’ I used to look at the Elvis Presley Christmas Album in her house and wonder how somebody could listen to such a thing and take it seriously, to really dig the King singing “We Three Kings,” maybe even catch herself singing along. Southerners! I’ve heard tale that some of them are still trying to defend the CSA, as if I cared. I’m not going to split rails over your head with the bones of Abraham Lincoln, gentlemen, but let moribund cavalry horses lie. And where would be the US without Nashville anyway? Our most iconic postage-stamp-worthy musicians have all walked its streets, even an ominous-sounding one called “Demonbreun,” which the taxi driver pronounced as “de-mon-bre-un,” but I read as “demon-something-something,” as the car pulled up to the curb beside a big band blazing satanically away, saxphones and baritones and all. “Do they ever stop playing music in this city?” I asked the driver. “Not on your life,” he said.

The Man in Black himself Johnny Cash is an old saint of this music city. Across from its conference hall, called the Music City Center, you can stare at his custom cowboy boots and military-looking jacket behind protective glass. “Those personal effects. He wore them.” You slobber, you gaze in awe. The man who bagged June, who was very pretty, either as herself or as Reese Witherspoon. Yeah, you get a real sense for how dark and dashing he was, that Johnny Cash, so much so that you just want to say his name over and over again and cross yourself a few times too (“JC”) and admire in perpetuity those spare guitar lines and rockabilly rhythms.

They still pour out into the avenues of Nashville, every bar has bands playing. Here you still hear the rollin’ sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival,  “Bootleg,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Proud Mary.” The party people hang from the balconies above the neon lights with their beer and hats and revelries, those cat calls and whistles, and it reminds you of New Orleans, but with less poverty and hurricane madness and voodoo hoodoo. And if you are a Yankee you know you’ll never be one of them, not if you try. Because first you gotta change that last name to something that means something good — Swift, Cash, Snow, Earle, Haggard — and then set your voice up with some twang and practice saying “Y’all” in the mirror a few times before you head out among the honky tonk men and women in their swinging bluejeans. This is that real America, the one they talk about, the one with the pedal steel guitar licks and cowboy hats and pickle salads. Out on the coasts, in the factory mills of Massachusetts, that’s not the real America. That’s something else.

And here come the honky tonk girls! They all look like that honky tonk woman that Miranda Lambert is trying to look like, like a done-right Dolly Parton as seen through beer goggles, with the frosted hair, birdy features, the t-shirt revealing form, the lanky limbs and pleased-as-punch smile and manicured everything. They stand behind the counters with their pleasantly pasty forearms ready to tap some refreshing alcoholic beverage into that mug or query your choice of pulled this or that brisket, and, “Would you like barbecue slaw with that?” And, “Yes, I would.” And, “Here you go, darlin’.”

After a few days in Nashville, Tennessee, your insides are so sloppy with meat ribbons and hot sauces and grimy grits that you’d beg for a fire hose enema or maybe a tamer, Northeasty fruit cleanse. Anything to get the grease out. And so you say goodbye to those Nashville cats and bar hall “sweetheart-sugar-honey-pie-darling-baby” babes. It’s time to move on. Back up to Yankeedom. Back north.

like a bad cold you don’t want to catch

South Park Episode 513 -- Kenny catches a lethal case of Estonianitis.

South Park Episode 513 — Kenny catches a lethal case of Estonianitis.

ESTONIA IS NEXT, or so they say. They being somebody. The story of how a Russian official voiced concerns about the treatment of Russians in Estonia is already so convoluted, I cannot tell whether it is an accident, or a brilliant PR stunt on the part of pro-Estonian media partisans to make their country seem vulnerable in order to win more security commitments. The fishy trail to a Russian diplomat’s statements at the UN has been well sniffed out by ERR. Yet that hasn’t stopped the speculation that Tallinners might wake up soon to the specter of armed Russian soldiers standing between them and their custom Vapiano pasta orders .

It seems ridiculous, but then again, the Soviet occupation and annexation of Estonia in 1940 was also ridiculous. The 2014 takeover of Crimea was absurd. And who is Russia to let its Dadaist foreign policies stand in the way of geopolitical tits-for-tats?

But as bizarre as such events would be, should they ever unfold, they would also express galaxies worth of stupidity on the part of the Russian leadership. Have not they acquainted themselves with Russia’s history in this indigestible Baltic province? Are not they aware of how many times Estonia has screwed over the empire? Everyone talks about that precious quarter of the population that is Russian. But what about the seventy percent of the population that is Estonian? As history has taught us, Estonians are just not the kinds of people you want in your empire.

But first, let’s make like Mr. Peabody and Sherman and take the Way Back way back in time, setting the controls for the year 1710. It is summer, and the Baltic German landowning elite in the provinces of Estonia and Livonia (present day Estonia and northern Latvia)  is about to capitulate to Peter the Great. As part of this reversal in allegiances, Peter guarantees the Baltic Germans their Protestant faith, their traditional privileges, leaves all local institutions in place, and overturns Swedish land reforms that would have put the Estonian serfs on the path to being full subjects of the crown. Estonia thus becomes Russian, but with vast autonomy. Indeed, the official, public language will remain German, right up until the end of the 19th century. When future Estonian leader Jaan Tõnisson goes to market in Estonia as a boy in the 1880s, he will be ordering “zwei” kilos of strawberries, not “dva.”

Yet the Slavophiles in the empire at that time have decided on a course of Russification throughout the land. They want administration in the Baltic provinces to be in Russian, and encourage many Estonians to convert to Orthodoxy. These efforts appear to nullify the old agreement with Peter the Great, and leave the Baltic Germans looking with warm feelings toward an expansionist German empire, which is busy unifying German lands under one leadership. When World War I breaks out, and the Baltic lands fall under German occupation, the Baltic Germans propose integration into the German empire as a Baltic Duchy. The Slavophile Russification policies have alienated the leadership of the Baltic provinces to the point that they are no longer loyal to Russia. They have made the Baltic provinces open to the overtures of expansionist Western powers. The sad yet ironic thing is that Russia’s leaders will make the same mistakes toward Estonia again and again during the 20th century.

Even at that same time, other Russians are busy making a similar mistake. The Northwestern Army of General Nikolai Yudenich refuses to back Finnish and Estonian independence. As a result, the Estonian High Command makes its peace with V. I. Lenin, and interns Yudenich’s retreating forces. Had the White forces agreed to support Estonian independence, they may have been able to retake Petrograd together. Instead, the Whites lose the war, and the Soviets consolidate their power. Yudenich is said to have regretted this decision to the end of his life in exile in Nice, France. Even he knew that the White forces had made a grave mistake in not supporting Estonian independence. Unfortunately, for Yudenich, history could neither be relived nor repeated, and, according to one legend, Yudenich requested to be buried with a tiny Estonian flag in his coat pocket.

We skip ahead to June 1940. The Soviets have provided the Estonian government with an ultimatum to form a government capable of carrying out the mutual assistance pact that the two states signed in September 1939. The government responds by nominating August Rei, a highly intelligent social democrat and former state elder. While Rei is no Communist — he later regards Lenin as suffering from a mental disorder in his memoirs — as a social democrat he is perhaps best poised to accommodate Soviet demands while retaining some modicum of Estonian independence. Instead, the Soviets insist on a puppet government led by depressed poet Johannes Vares (who later commits suicide in Kadriorg), a full military occupation, and annexation into the USSR.

Not only do many Western powers refuse to recognize this illegal incorporation, but political repressions and deportations within the newly proclaimed Estonian SSR lead the public to actually welcome the arrival of the Germans a year later. In a year’s time, the Germans have gone from being the historical enemy of the Estonian people to their saviors. The most hated army in history is greeted by crowds waving Estonian flags. It will later take six months for Soviet troops to break  through a German and Estonian defensive line in northeastern Estonia in 1944 and Soviet troops will continue to fight partisans in the forests of Estonia well into the mid-1950s. Yet nothing of the kind happens in neighboring Finland, which has retained its independence, albeit at a huge cost. In Finland, Soviet soldiers will remain stationed first at Hanko and then Porkkala until 1956 without incident.

Had August Rei become prime minister in 1940, Estonia might have joined the Nordic Council in 1956 and retained a policy of strategic non-alignment. Instead, given its experiences with Moscow in the past, the restored Estonian state in the 1990s opted for integration with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in 2004 the alliance expanded to include Estonia, bringing NATO to within an hour’s flight of Saint Petersburg.

I can go on. The establishment of Russian as an official language in 1940, the import of Soviet workers dramatically changing local demographics, intensified Russification policies in the 1970s that led to the famous Letter of 40 in 1980 and associated protests that year, the illegality of the Soviet annexation that allowed the Baltic republics to spearhead the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But the theme remains the same. For more than 200 years, Estonia was part of the Russian Empire, but enjoyed vast autonomy and even a completely different administrative language. When this autonomy was reduced in favor of central control and Russification policies, it created resentment that reversed loyalties to the empire. Soviet aggression in the 1940s might have had short-term benefits in term of military control, but it had long-term negative consequences that led not only to the dissolution of the USSR, but also the expansion of a Western military alliance right up to the border of the Russian Federation.

I think it is fair to argue then, that any Russian leader who is a student of history should try to avoid Estonia at all costs, because Estonia, as history has shown us, is like a bad cold that you do not want to catch.

goodnight putin

Goodnight KGB man mumbling mush.

THE ESTONIANS WORRY ME SO. They worry me so because they are so worried. “Are we next?” they think. To which, I mouth, but do not utter aloud, “Get over yourselves.”

Part of it is just me talking myself out of worst-case scenarios. But the other part of it is true. Estonia was never that important in the real world game of Stratego. Even Peter the Great was a bit surprised when he won it off Sweden three hundred years ago, something like, “Huh, what’s this?” He had only wanted Ingria, and yet wound up with Estonia after defeating Sweden’s Rambo King Carl XII, a sort of imperial freebie, the way a Chinese take-out restaurant upon receiving a large order might throw in an extra quart of wonton soup.

But what about all of those wars, all of that tragic history? It is true that throughout the years many armies crisscrossed Estonia, but what people forget is that most of the time they were heading somewhere else. Sometimes they were on their way to Saint Petersburg (under its various names). Other times, they were driving to Berlin. Yet they rarely — if ever — went to Estonia just for the sake of going to Estonia. Which is not to say that Estonia is unattractive. Not at all. It is a lovely country, and Tallinn has a magnificent Old Town, with one of Europe’s oldest continuously running apothecaries, where you can view and photograph medieval medicinal cures, like mummy juice and deer penis, but … even with such delightful trappings, most visitors tend to stay for just a few days before going somewhere else. That’s just how it is.

And that should make us sleep more comfortably at night, right? We should be able to curl up like that little cute bunny in Goodnight Moon and drift off into dreamland without mistaking that noisy truck in the alleyway for an invading tank like I used to when I lived in Tallinn, and Tartu, and Viljandi. Or, I’d hear a crackling sound and look out at the hills and think, “Oh, no, it’s started again …” when it was just fireworks, or hear the hum of a convoy down by the lake and run over to check it out, just to see it was the local hillbillies racing their leased cars around on the ice.

Call me paranoid, but I bet I’m not the only one with such an overactive imagination. The US is sending jets to patrol Baltic airspace, in part to calm those jittery nerves. Still, I have to ask, if Ukraine is being dismembered, and people seem to feel the Baltics are under some existential threat, then what does that portend for the rest of Europe? Because, like I said, Moscow never took over Estonia just for the sake of taking over Estonia. They always took over Estonia on their way to taking over something else. If you are worried about Russian troops marching through Tallinn, might as well imagine them in Budapest, Prague, and Berlin. Because if history repeats itself, then that’s history repeating itself.

I have no idea why they would attempt to do something like that again though. That would be profoundly stupid. Think about it. It’s almost been a century since Tallinn’s own Roman von Ungern-Sternberg became a White Russian war lord in Outer Mongolia. It’s been slightly over two decades since Dzhokar Dudaev, who once commanded the 326th Heavy Bomber Division in Tartu, returned to his home in Chechnya to declare the republic’s independence from Moscow. In the past 100 years, empires centered in Moscow have crumbled twice.  The chaos and carnage has been spectacular and absurd. And the best its current leadership can come up with is, “Let’s try it again”?

No, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. This just can’t be. It can’t be because I thought Putin was supposed to be a clever KGB man. A diabolical mastermind. An evil genius. A real-life Bond villain. He’s the one pulling all the strings, faking left and hooking right. Putin couldn’t be that stupid, could he? Could he?

guaranteeing soviet borders


A map of Crimea (1922)

THINGS ARE LOOKING SHAKY in Europe’s East. It seems that the Russian Federation has adopted a policy of trying to destabilize the new government in Kiev by questioning its authority and right to exist. To what end, I do not know, because it is clear that European, American, and other powers recognize that new government’s legitimacy. But deposed President Yanukovich is asserting his continued status as the country’s legal president, and his messages are being circulated by Russian state-owned news media. Meantime, masked gunmen have been seizing control of buildings in Crimea. We are warned against separatism in Ukraine’s south and east, and are holding the air in our lungs, fearing an escalating conflict over Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The trouble with the concept of territorial integrity in the post-Soviet countries, is that the borders of the countries were drawn by Stalin and others specifically to foster internal divisions that would keep any of the republics from achieving goals of independence based on specific, national concerns. The most legendary case of this is in the resource rich Fergana Valley in Central Asia, which is split between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, making it an obvious source of contention for all three countries. Most of this mapmaking was done in Moscow, and with a quick stroke of Comrade Stalin’s pen, land became Ukrainian, or Uzbek, or Tajik. And now, more than sixty years after Stalin died, teenagers must bear arms, and diplomats must issue warnings, to defend the territorial integrity of the nonviable republics he created — states that were created to fail should they try to achieve and maintain independence.

While anybody who cares about anybody on Russia’s borders cringes at the idea of Russian expansion, we may eventually have to step back from our stalwart defense of, say, Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and ask ourselves hard questions about the creation of these states, and how they managed to produce so many of such problems — so-called “frozen” conflicts that just happen to flare up from time to time. Will the government in Kiev risk a war with Russia over a peninsula inhabited by people who do not want to be ruled by Kiev, just for the sake of the ideal of territorial integrity? Will young people have to die to defend borders that are, by their very constitution, unsustainable? How far should we go to defend Stalinist cartography? Is it even worth it?

Some things to consider.

the ansip years

"Ansip, born in Tartu in 1956, perhaps best reflects the ideal Estonian leader."

“Ansip perhaps best reflects the ideal Estonian leader.”

I LEARNED A LOT about my wife’s people, the Estonians, from Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. When I look back, to how much I thought I knew about them in 2005 when he was named prime minister after two years of chaotic ministerial sackings and resignations under his predecessor, Juhan Parts, I am astonished by my then ignorance of the supporting cast of our lives.

The Estonians, a small nationality of 1.3 million, resident on a piece of land about the size of Vermont, New Hampshire, and some of Maine put together. If you look at it via satellite, you will see that Estonia is a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides. And if you count those marshes in the south of the country that separate it from Latvia, it becomes a true island, for these are people with an island mentality.  For the Estonians, there is but Estonia. They travel with gusto to exotic locales, but with the main objective of reporting back to the other Estonians about what it’s like out there or to compare notes with other Esto adventurers.

One other thing you should know about the Estonians, is that they are inconvenient. Nobody ever wanted them to exist. The Germans tried to make them Lutherans and gave them German-sounding names, the Russians tried to convert them to Orthodoxy and gave them Russian-sounding names, the Nazis wanted to salvage the most racially similar parts of the population for breeding and murder or enslave the rest, and the Soviets tried to erase large parts of the local population via deportation and replenish the stock with reliable Russophone workers. And yet the Estonians clung to their roots, like obstinate head lice, and one of the reasons they still exist is because they are a  stubborn, insubordinate lot that have convinced themselves that they are right, even when they are wrong, and will continue into strong headwinds and against snowy storms if they believe it to be the correct direction.

In short, they are a lot like Andrus Ansip, for Ansip, born in Tartu in 1956, perhaps best reflects the ideal Estonian leader. To begin with, he’s a man, and in Estonia, the men are still believed to possess awesome powers of logic and reason that make them preferable to the women, with their rash, emotional decisions and unsettling vanity. Ansip had that that determined patrician’s squint, in some ways similar to George W. Bush’s resolute pucker, except that Ansip wasn’t faking it when he answered a question about taxation policies while strapping on his cross-country skiing gear. He would stare off somewhere behind the interviewer and speak in slow, declarative cadences, and we would all know that Ansip was the kind of man who would, say, amputate his own arm should it get stuck under a boulder, and not shed a tear about it, “because it made sense and it was the right thing to do.” The Estonians have a word, kindel, which can mean “certain” and “secure.” Ansip seemed to embody both meanings.

This certainty certainly got him into trouble at times. About two years into his tenure as prime minister, he encountered a colossal shit storm known as the Bronze Soldier. This was a calamity of diarrheaic intensity. In Ansip’s certain mind, there was a problem, a Soviet war memorial in the center of Tallinn, and a solution, moving it to a nearby war cemetery. And that should have been the end of it. It wasn’t exactly, and many blamed the chaos and violence that circled and followed its removal on Ansip’s own Estonian myopia, but in the end, it was removed, and he even laid flowers at its feet, with the more sensitive and emotive (and pretty) Population Minister Urve Palo clutching his arm. 

When that was over, the economy tanked, and euro adoption was delayed, and many called on Ansip to step down. But he didn’t budge. At a time when Swedish financiers were urging devaluation of the currency, Estonia underwent something called an “internal devaluation.” The real estate holdings, which had fueled the long boom, lost much of their worth, and many people found themselves paying off mortgages that were three or four times the amount of what their apartments and houses would now sell for, but euro adoption was achieved, and Estonia became “more European,” which was good. Andrus Ansip — the man who removed a controversial Stalin-era war monument, undertook an internal devaluation, and led his country into the common currency at the time it degenerated into crisis. And yet he did not blink, because he knew he was leading his country in the correct direction.

As his time in office wore on, people began to suspect that Ansip was a new Konstantin Päts, in reference to the Estonian president who led the country from 1934 to 1940 (a long stretch for a state so accustomed to turnover in politics, but three years short of Ansip’s reign). They even poked fun at his name, rendering it as the perverse homophone, “Undress Unzip.” And yet as much as they grumbled about a new Päts or Unzip’s “father knows best” approach to politics, the same people savored it, because they preferred that kindel certainty to the revolving cast of characters they had known in the years prior. While Latvia burned through Prime Ministers Aigars Kalvītis, Ivars Godmanis, Valdis Dombrovskis, and Laimdota Straujuma, Estonia had only one: Ansip. And as long as the Estonians could feel they were outdoing the Latvians, they could feel content about their place in the world.

Ansip even stayed in office for so long that the Russians forgot a bit about that Bronze Soldier thing and started doing business with him again. A border treaty, which disappeared into a puff of smoke in Putin’s chimney after some disagreements in 2005, was revived and signed anew just a few weeks ago in Moscow by Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and his Russian Federation counterpart Sergei Lavrov (who was also holding the same exact position in 2005). And then it became known that Siim Kallas, the founder of Ansip and Paet’s Reform Party, had tired of life of his life as a commissioner in Brussels, and wanted to come back to Estonia, to lead his party in the 2015 elections. And Kallas’s desire at last prompted Ansip to do what no monument scandal, economic crisis, or any other very big problem he had encountered during those long nine years could force him to do. 

He resigned.

that tiny, grimy gem of truth

“Beware of any messianic political figures who are, innately, the right person to lead their country forward into the light of the West.”

IT’S DISHEARTENING to come across opinion pieces from self-described left-leaning media sources that are critical of what has happened in Ukraine. They are regurgitating Kremlin talking points about a US or EU coup, about the resurgence of antisemitic ultra-nationalist groups, even recycling World War II propaganda about pogroms and Nazi-allied partisans.

To any of my friends who think of themselves as progressives, I think we should be aware that Kremlin disinformation campaigns have used left-leaning Western media for decades. We should also remember that the Kremlin in those years was never our friend, and some of the first people on Lenin’s hit lists were social democrats {“traitors to socialism who would castrate Marxism”}. But too many of us have eaten it up, unquestioningly. Because if our own corporate media is lying to us, then this other media must be correct, right? Right????

Putin is no Communist, but he represents a state built on the foundation of the USSR, with many of the same ideological underpinnings, memes, and channels of delivering information. And the propaganda against foreign meddlers and Ukrainian “fascists” is exactly the kind of tripe that would have been published in Pravda in the 1930s. Word for word. Putin never reinvented the Kremlin’s arsenal of disinformation, you see. They upgraded the channels of delivering it, but the logic behind it remains the same. So, what you hear coming from the Kremlin and its Western dispensers is just that: recycled propaganda. And the thing about leftovers, is that you can only reheat them so many times before they lose their flavor, or go bad and start to ferment. Which is why it pains me to even read these warmed up dishes of Stalinist junk food. I can’t stomach it.

And you shouldn’t either. Any mention of “fascism” or World War II should be a clue that you are dealing with something very antiquated and tied to long-debunked belief systems. It’s been 70 years since Mussolini and Hitler walked the earth, and 70 years since that war to end all wars. Seventy years is a long time, especially when you consider that many of the victims of those sharpshooters on Maidan were 22 or 23 years old. If your well-meaning progressive friends start using these terms, it’s probably best to take them aside, grip them by the collar, and shake them, until that fragile connection with reality is remade.

I am like you, though. I’m a skeptic. While some are bathing in the golden light of freedom and hope, I’ve got my hands in my pockets, whistling in the corner. Whenever I hear the word “freedom” or “freedom fighters,” I become suspicious. Smells too much like Nicaragua, right? And so many of the cheerleaders of the ouster of the Yanukovich government in Ukraine are the same people who told us that Iraq would be a cakewalk, and that we would be welcomed as liberators, and that their oil would fund their recovery. Just because the Kremlin is deluding itself with yesteryear’s golden nuggets of Stalinist propaganda, doesn’t mean their right-wing counterparts across the seas aren’t also living in a fantasy land. I would caution you to beware of grand narratives of “freedom and democracy” sweeping aside the old order in Ukraine and making over everything with wonderful and glistening neon signs from Western chain stores.

Also beware of any messianic political figures who are, innately, the right person to lead their country forward into the light of the West. How many times have we seen this? In an unstable, incomprehensible situation, a magical leader rises to the surface, with an iconic look and catchy name, and we put all of our faith into this one person to fix everything? The mainstream media outlets repeat that name over and over again, until it becomes synonymous with all that is just and good in the world, until it turns out that this modern day Moses is actually just as corrupt as the stooges he or she replaced.

What you have in Ukraine is a very messy situation. The crooked stooge Yanukovich is gone and the politically motivated murder has stopped, but there are still a lot of different interests (and yes, ultra-nationalist groups were one of them) and it remains to be seen where this will all lead. Whatever is happening there, though, it is not over, and it will be very difficult for the average person to grasp it all as it takes place (I’d wager that it’s perhaps tough for the average Ukrainian to know everything). So, don’t trust anybody — not your own media, not left-leaning media regurgitating Kremlin talking points, not the Kremlin-owned media itself (I wouldn’t even want to know what the Russian state-owned TV channel RT is broadcasting, though I am sure some musty, worm-eaten phrases from the Stalinist era have been put back into rotation). The best bet is to read as much as possible from as many sources as possible. Poke with care through the piles of a propaganda dung in search for that tiny, grimy gem of truth.

It’s in there, I swear. In there somewhere.

a kayak full of ghosts

“IN THE TIME of floods and earthquakes, there was only one woman in all the world and she lived off by herself on a rocky island. She was an angakok who’d made her penis into a vagina. Her name was Putu, Hole, and she was quite pretty as well.”

Each night I read myself off into the dreamland,  with Lawrence Millman’s  A Kayak Full of Ghosts as my swinging lantern. It’s a collection of Eskimo tales, and it was published in 1980, which makes it feel safe and cozy and childlike to me. I remember watching a film called Iceman that was made around that time, about a group of explorers at an arctic base who thaw out a prehistoric man and resuscitate him.

You could say this book has had the same effect on me, brought my internal ancient being back to life. For these are very primordial stories, those strange urges you feel in between dreams and lucidity, laid out in parables about walruses and seals, narwhals and giants, entrails and shit piles, cavernous vaginas and corpses. There’s even a tale called, “Him-Whose-Penis-Stretches-Down-to-His-Knees.” I think I once had that dream, too, though I never dared to speak of it. It was very hard to ride a bicycle in that dream, though.

Or, sometimes when I see Inuk throat singer Tagaq grunting I have those same bloody, pounding recollections. Tagaq, who I saw in Viljandi at the Pärimusmuusika Ait. Yet these days, when America is spelunking about in the underground caverns of its homosexual regions, I am left feeling that my own delirium, my core hetero heart, is dismissed as ordinary, or not that important. My own subliminal furies  are like the frozen Greenlandic wastes — people look at it and yawn and say, “But there are no trees up there,” or, “It’s covered in ice.”

That’s all. But I believe there is much more to it than that, and this book is like an old treasure map for us last few adventurers. It’s leading me somewhere, I think. But not into myself. Into the pulsing, sinewy substrata that connects us.