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.’

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One comment

  1. Sharon B

    I’ve always been amused and pleased by the way Estonian surnames are so literally “down to earth”. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a name and thought “wait a minute, isn’t that a tree?” or some such. They like their nature.

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