the long hot summer

stockholm

Långholmen, Stockholm, Sweden – July 2018

FOR WEEKS, we have been beset by heat and haze. The temperature reaches 30 degrees Celsius on some afternoons, and the land bakes in the never-ending sun, awaiting thunderstorms that either never come or blow through too fast. There is absolutely no way that any person from this notoriously frosty region could complain about a drawn-out July heatwave, even as the hospital emergency rooms fill up with sweaty old ladies on stretchers holding ice cubes to their temples.

The Estonians’ industriousness continues. My own neighbor — a thirty-something woman — can be seen sawing wood almost until midnight, propelled by that inborn desire to get as much done as possible before the snows return. At 6 AM, the neighbor starts mowing the lawn, or sawing wood. It’s hard to tell the difference, though I train my ears on the sounds of the machines.

For my part, I have found it impossible to do anything. I cannot read, I cannot write, I can barely think. My dreams are a frayed network of primitive impulses, bizarre scenarios, drama and suspense. My waking life is equally as strange. At the promenade in Pärnu just a few days ago, I came across two men cycling around on bicycles, one wearing a rubber Putin mask, the other wearing a Trump mask, and blasting out Kukerpillid’s “Pole Sul Tarvis” from a portable speaker.

This is a famous country tune, the refrain of which is Pole sul tarvis teada mida ma teen. “There’s no need for you to know what I’m doing …”

There is a kind of madness that engulfs people during a heat wave. We lose our bearings, our sense of right and wrong, even our sense of self. We give in to wickedness and it feels wonderful. The sensation of sweating 24 hours a day brings out our most animal instincts. The political debates do continue, the chaos of the world spins on, but all we really need is a glass of water.

The Helsinki Summit between Putin and Trump has just been another surreal part of this heatwave, I think, as off-kilter and mirage-like as those masked cyclists in Pärnu playing Kukerpillid. The farcical press conference that followed the two-hour meeting between the two men, the uproar over Trump’s backing of Putin’s assessment that the Russians did not meddle in the elections, then the ridiculous pivot that he simply misspoke, all blend into the carnival blur of summer. People do say stupid things in summer after all. Why not just blame it all on the heat?

Maybe there was no air-conditioning in Helsinki?

Putin and Trump are what the Estonians would call pensionärid, pensioners, men above a certain age. You might expect to find them playing a chess in a park somewhere and arguing about Vietnam. Yet the extent of their old-age narcissism and vanity has been startling and perhaps only matched in recent times by leaders of certain southern countries who might decorate themselves in leopard skins. Trump has gone from being a loud-mouthed, pasty-faced real estate developer to a bloated, doughy creature given to childlike outbursts, very much resembling the giant baby blimp that hovered London during his visit. The slender face of Putin’s secret police days in East Germany is barely visible beneath his mounds of thick makeup and flabs of flesh. Looking at images of this duo at their respective podiums, one might think that he’s not witnessing a moment of international statesmanship, but rather lost in an exhibit at Madame Tussaud’s. In this heat, is it any surprise, that these outlandish wax figures have started to melt?

This is when one longs for another glass of water. That’s all we humans really are, just water. The world may seem nonsensical and run by narcissists and its form and substance might seem as permanent as a gooey chocolate left out on a dish to melt in the sun. But relax, just drink water. Stay hydrated. Together, we’ll all get through this.

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3 comments

  1. David Johnson

    Justin – Another WONDERFUL précis of life in general, not only in Estonia!! But we don’t saw wood at 6.00 am in England; we just cut the lawn 😉

  2. Esther Wouters

    The story is completely coherent to me. We saw those guys dressed up as Trump&Putin at the Pärnu festival on 11th of august. We thought the party was some sort of carnaval because we saw more people who seemed dressed up, for instance a lady in a really old fashioned tennis outfit. Later that evening we saw her playing tennis on a tennis court.

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