black maze

A LONG TIME ago I wrote my first novel, which was published in Estonian as “Montreali deemonid,” and rendered as Montreal Demons in English, which many people noted was the name of a local hockey team. So the title was a bit of a failure. I haven’t thought about this book for a good while, but recently, the worldly inspiration for one of its characters got in touch with me. I thought about sending it out again, after some read through edits and a retitle, and came across this line from the text.

 “Montreal unfolds like a black maze, department store window jollies pass me by, hamburgers and hats framed by buildings with rows of ornate columns, curvy balconies, and pointy roofs that poke up into the moon-lightened sky like witches’ bonnets.’

It was always difficult for me to get the right perspective on this book. But I checked and there is no other novel called Black Maze. Two other titles come to mind, “Black Math,” a song by The White Stripes, and Henry Miller’s “Black Spring.” So it works. I hereby lay claim to it.

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peipsi fish

This one’s for you, Herk!

WE STUMBLED ACROSS a little paper the other day somewhere in downtown Tartu. It probably fell out of the purse of a tourist. I’ve seen tour groups with busy cameras around despite the frosty weather. It is beautiful, though, because the frost eliminates the +1 C fog, that murky gray soupy awfulness that just sops you of all your life’s desire when the winter temperatures rise above freezing. But when it goes below O, things right themselves, and so all of the city is illuminated with warm yellow sun that reflects off the crunchy ice, and there are even birds singing cautiously in the trees, like scouts for legions of more birds

The paper contained pictures of different fish found in Peipsi järv, which is known to English speakers as Lake Peipus, which sounds very weird to these ears, so I just call it Peipsi järv. And looking at the sea creatures, I realized that many of the people I know or know of are actually named after fish. There’s Pärnu drummer Herk Haug, whose name means ‘pike,’ or the famous playwright Oskar Luts, whose last name means ‘burbat.’ And what about the Estonian film producer Anneli Ahven, whose name translates as ‘perch’?

Showing the other Peipsi fish to Epp, we realized we knew a person for each one of the marine life depicted.

‘Latikas? (Bream)’

‘Urmas Latikas!’

‘Koger? (Carp)’

‘Urmas Koger!’

‘Linask? (Tench)’

‘Elo Linask!’

‘Angerjas? (Eel)’ I asked.

‘Angerjas? Hmm.’ Epp tapped at her chin. ‘I really don’t know.’

‘Alo Angerjas,’ I offered.

‘Who’s that?’

‘I don’t know. This is Estonia, though. There must be at least one Alo Angerjas out there somewhere.’

õigeusu palveraamat

We have this little blue book here. The title is written in silver. Õigeusu Palveraamat. Orthodox Prayer Book. Whenever I am in need of some added buoyancy, I open the book, always to the same page. Ükskord uputas see kõigekõrgem vägi kõik vaarao sõjaväe mere põhjas ära … .

Something about the idea of navy ships sinking seems to get to the struggle of life, which is to remain positive and faithful until the wet and hopeless end. It reminds me of the wreck of the Circassian, a cargo ship that ran aground off Mecox on Long Island in 1876. While all lives were brought ashore, a crew of Shinnecock Indians was sent out to bring in the cargo in rough weather. They all drowned, leaving behind nine widows and 27 children.

Capt. Charlie Bennett in an interview many years later said that as they stood on the beach they could hear the Indians singing “Nearer My God To Thee.” It was the very religious Shinnecocks meeting death as courageously as they knew how.

The Orthodox Church in Estonia is divided. Half of the churches belong to Constantinople, the other to Moscow, Moscow having styled itself long ago as the “Third Rome.” It’s a very long complicated story. But it’s also a fine book to turn to now and then, that little blue book with the silver writing on the cover. Õigeusu Palveraamat. Arsti mu hinge haavad …