LAST NIGHT, I watched Quantum of Solace. This is a 2008 film, the second to star Daniel Craig as James Bond. I had seen it once before. With a running time of 107 minutes, it runs tightly, and yet it is a perfect film. I can see no problem with it. Ian Fleming actually left future scriptwriters with loads of material, and “Quantum of Solace” was a short story of his, but for some reason, nobody wants to make film versions of these stories like “The Hildebrand Rarity,” “Risico,” or “007 in New York.” From what I understand, the only aspect from the short story that was borrowed for the film was the title. This time the villain is a very believable nefarious businessman named Dominic Greene, played by Matthieu Amalric, who schemes to take over Bolivia’s water supply. (One thing I rather enjoy is how many actors who turn up in Wes Anderson’s films also appear in the Bond world. Both Amalric and Lea Seydoux appear in The Grand Budapest Hotel. This begs the question, now that Craig is done with Bond, will he turn up in future Anderson movies?). One aspect of the film that was nice to see was the technology, what smartphones looked like back in 2008. I don’t think I had a smartphone capable of transmitting emails until about 2009 or 2010. Back then, life was more “Did you get my email?” Rather than, “Why didn’t you reply to my email?” One thing I learned from this film is how short, well-written dialogue, or well-blocked scenes, can provide ample back story without slowing the pace of the narrative. This is actually one reason why I watch these kinds of action films: to become a more engaging writer. Yesterday I went and got my PCR test done for Covid-19. I walked up to the market and stood in line in the rain with my umbrella. This morning the result was positiivne. I have not disclosed my vaccination status, because of how ugly that issue has become. I do not trust either vaccine advocates or so-called antivaxxers because they have no respect for people’s personal boundaries. Just because you got a shot doesn’t give you the right to stick your nose in someone else’s face and lecture them about “science.” And just because you have watched a night’s full of YouTube conspiracies doesn’t make you a better authority. It’s been disgusting, the whole thing. But, let’s just say, I have been fully able to access public events, restaurants, and cafes here in Estonia, where people are checked at the door, and there is the illusion of health safety, and here I am sprawled out on the couch for days, watching my consciousness dissolve into the air and imagining my blanket is an Aston Martin DB5. This has been a full-fledged flu, and there has been nothing so mild about it. That being said, having to lie around and watch Bond movies isn’t the worst fate, now is it? I might try Casino Royale. I don’t know if I can bring myself to watch Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) drown again at the end, but, as I said, if you leave the film dry eyed, you’re just not satisfied.
ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, I drove out into the country. All of the apothecaries and pharmacies had closed at 3 pm in town, but I managed to assemble a bag full of supplies for an older couple suffering from Covid-19. Turmeric, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, some other vitamins, ginger, paracetamol. Yes, they were both vaccinated, but had breakthrough infections. I left the bag of goodies at the door of the farm, called to alert them that it was there, and on the way back began coughing. It was a dry, painful cough that continued into the next day. An unusual cough. The following day, I began to feel rather sluggish. Then I decided to arrange a test for myself. I went to the private clinic that offers fast turnaround antigen testing, ordered my test while standing there on my mobile phone, had that nice tickler inserted in my nose yet again, and waited for the result. A half an hour later, it arrived: negatiivne. Still, I was feeling slow. At night, I ordered Spectre, the 2015 James Bond film, and watched it. I quite enjoyed it. I am not sure what people expect from a Bond movie. It delivered on suspense, car chases, boat chases, helicopter chases. It had Lea Seydoux, who is inarguably beautiful. I mean, she really is stunning. Compared to some of the ridiculous stuff that Roger Moore put out in the 1970s, you can’t really do better than this. Still, it somehow got mediocre reviews. I mean, come on, people. What else do you expect? I suppose people want to cry too, which is why Skyfall and No Time to Die were somehow more satisfying. We want to cry at the end. Somehow I was lost in this Bond world as my illness continued, to the point that I began to have those slightly feverish dreams, where you lose your focus, or your perspective, and perception starts to shift. I started to think that I was Bond, and that my blanket was Bond’s Aston Martin DB5. This continued until I lost all comprehension of existence all together. The only thing I remember was Freyja bringing me a glass of water. Freyja is Dulcinea, the “youth” of “The End of Days.” She really has lovely eyes, eyes like oceans. You can just stare at them forever. I don’t think I have ever fallen for someone so young, but I am getting a little older, so maybe this trend will continue. And maybe she is not so young anymore. Anyway, she brought me a glass of water and I drank it, and then I whispered to her, aitäh, aitäh, aitäh, or “thank you, thank you, thank you.” I think I actually said this out loud during my shapeshifting sleep. For me, that gesture was worth everything. The water was gravely needed. 007 was parched.
TODAY SOMEONE ASKED me about the blues. I had said that I was living the blues. “What do you mean? The music?” No, not exactly. The blues are presented in the music. I guess you could stitch the two of them together, but the blues are bigger than the music. The blues are a belief system, a way or key to interpreting life. The way this belief system is presented is via the music. The music is the teachings of the system presented for the people. The architecture. The layout. This goes here, that over there. At their core, the blues are about survival. They are about people who have been kicked out, kicked low, kicked high, kicked, shoved, pushed, pulled, molested, hurt, pained by life, and yet keep moving on, no matter what, out the back door, in the front door, out the back window at night, in the front window in the morning. “When I first started hoboing,” sang John Lee Hooker, “I took a freight train to be my friend, Oh Lord.” That’s all it is right there. Solitude. Desperation. Loneliness. There is a monastic quality to the blues, yet one that does not demand of its adherents monastic qualities. No. No. You do whatever you need to get by. That is the tenet of the blues. You have to move.
THERE, ALL IN PINK, curious new eyes, lioness ringlets dropping to the pinkest softest pillows, exuding, channeling, challenging, caressing, possessing, as if by virtue, the softness of all imperfections of perfection, with ballads, haikus, novellas, and miniatures, dropping loose from your waistcoat, like shards of broken sunlight cascading through pink autumn 10 am Old Town confectioners, bakeries, cafes, bistros, putkas, pulling me up, rising like hot bread, out of my mossy granary burial ground grave, up, up, up you pull me, ballooning out into full hurricane blossom, rejuvenated, refreshed, revived, currant purple starlight shooting cosmic moon dust comet love, yes, you, you know the type exactly, the kind of pull that makes you do foolish things, splurge on rash plane tickets, set up money laundering operations in Curaçao and the British Virgin Islands, the kind of pull that makes you promise that which can never be delivered, pledge that which can never be accomplished, commission public works, organize tropicalist festivals, win gold medals, entertain His Holiness the Dalai Lama, all for your love, love, all for your pink, all for your Jupiter moonburst honeycream explosions of the profound, that strawberry geyser pink cream comedown, those buttery dreams of post-aftermath bliss, those sweet runny dreams of wisdom, dreams of rebirth, dreams of palm tree reveries, dreams of kaleidoscopic intergalactic oblivion, dreams of raindrops, spicy teas, and the perfect late morning, the morning I saw you, my fall dream of you, for this is my dream of you, love, sitting there, unaware, all in pink.
Blues is the roots, everything else is the fruits.Willie Dixon
ONE DAY AFTER MANY HOURS of work, I decided to explore Paalalinn. This is not something I usually do on purpose. In fact, the more years pass, the more I try to avoid leaving the Old Town and its environs altogether. I have all I need here, food, shelter, clothing, vinyl records, and the gym at the Grand Hotel where I can work out and watch documentaries about Stalin in peace. Everything that anyone could ever need. Yet I decided to go and seek adventure in Paalalinn. There was something there that people said I should see.
Paalalinn is a district in Viljandi about which I know very little. I don’t even know how it got its name, or if there even ever lived someone named Paala. A few years ago at Vinoteek Mulks, I did meet some old-timers who had grown up in Paalalinn before the building boom of the 1960s. They said that Paalalinn used to be a country place, before all of the housing projects, and children frolicked in the forests and along the streams there. At some point though, they built those large apartment buildings, and the man-made lake alongside them, now called Paala Lake.
This is now a popular summer spot for locals, who come to sun themselves on its sandy beach, play on its playground, and buy ice cream from a small ice cream cafe at lake’s edge. This is also, as I recently learned, the site of an intriguing dive called the Paala Järve Vaala Baar, or the “Paala Lake Whale Bar.” It is built into the side of one of the hills. Apparently, it is such an inspiring place that Puuluup, the eclectic musical duo, had to write about it. In the video for the song, they can be seen swimming fully clothed and singing in the water, as well as wrestling in the beach sand. The song itself is structured like choral music. There is a mysterious, Eastern inflection to this tune that recalls the incantations of holy monks. Puuluup are like monks, I have thought, which makes it strange that they would hang out in bars, especially this bar I had never heard of. Somehow after years of living here, I had never managed to encounter the Whale Bar.
Because of this, I decided to undertake my pilgrimage.
Getting to Paalalinn is not difficult, but not particularly pleasant either. I walked past the two buildings that burned in the summer down Jakobsoni Street, following the road past the earthworks for the hospital that’s being built, and then by Leola, that building that encloses another legendary underground bar, the one that locals call auk or “hole,” presumably because once you go in, you never come out. Also, auk, as I have learned, means “blood” in the Inuit language. Something to keep in mind. At last, I came upon the lake and saw the buildings of Paalalinn towering against a gray horizon. The people of Paalalinn are different from the ones in the Old Town, but how, I cannot say. The few I saw on my walk seemed indifferent to me, neither particularly happy nor sad, and I decided not to trouble them with my search for the Whale Bar. Instead I pressed on toward, eventually discovering it across from the beach. There was a table outside the bar, and the door was open. Smoke curled from a chimney which, because of the way the bar is built, made it seem as if smoke was coming out of the ground. Inside, a client was talking with the bartender, but they stopped their talk as soon as I entered.
“So this is it,” I said, admiring the place.
“This is what?” the bartender said.
“The Paala Järve Vaala Baar, of course.”
“No,” the bartender said. “This is the Järve Baar. The Lake Bar.”
“But I thought there were supposed to be some whales here.”
“No,” said the bartender. “There are no whales here. There is a lake here though. That is why it is called the Lake Bar and not the Whale Bar. I don’t know why people keep coming here and asking about whales, really. It makes no sense to me. There are no whales in Paala Lake.”
“Maybe because it just sounds nice,” I said. “Paala, vaala. See, it’s like poetry.”
“You’re probably right,” said the bartender.
I ordered a drink and took one last look around the bar, whatever its name was, and left. This trip to Paalalinn was over.
Recently while talking with a local writer friend whom I will call Jaak, he remarked on how much he has missed Venice in the pandemic years and, to cheer him up, I suggested that they could replace the streets in Uueveski, where he lives, with canals, and that way he could take a gondola to the cafe in the morning instead of his bike. “And look at all the work they are doing on Uus Street,” I said, referencing the construction that has left this major thoroughfare completely dug up. “They’re already installing the canals! All they have to do is fill Uus Street with water and it will be ready.” Jaak was not amused. He wanted the real Venice, not some fake Venice, but as I walked back from the bar in Paalalinn, I considered how much of our town experience is imaginary and how much of it is real. In some ways, Puuluup’s Paala Järve Vaala Baar really exists, for many even moreso than the actual bar. And my idea of turning Uueveski into the Venice of the North is now unforgettable. Close your eyes and you can see it. So, who knows, maybe in a few years there really will be a Whale Bar in Paalalinn, and gondolas on Uus Street.
All we have to do is dream and dream well, and our dreams will become the new reality.
An Estonian version of this piece appeared this week in Sakala.
I BARELY ATTENDED this year’s Harvest Party (Lõikuspidu) at the Viljandi Folk Music Center (Pärimusmuusika Ait). I saw two concerts: Johanna-Adele Jüssi and Peko Käppi, a jouhikko musician from Tampere, Finland. Folk music is repetitive music, and from this repetition, one can extract or achieve serenity, provocation, insight, inspiration, or true ponderous burdensome boredom. I appreciated Jüssi’s music because she knew when to begin and end her songs. Each one was a well-crafted knot, perfectly tied up. Käppi’s music was like a tarred old coil of ship’s rope, hastily discarded at the docks. His songs were longer and wilder, but he managed to well conjure the ideal folk musician, a traveling bard who goes from town to town telling stories with a sack of instruments slung across his back. That’s the twist when it comes to institutions like the Folk Music Center or the Viljandi Cultural Academy. How can you institutionalize traditions that always existed outside of institutional caretaking? Of course, much of the Harvest Party is about making an appearance, socializing with old friends, partaking in the long jam sessions upstairs. Estonia’s extended folk family is tightknit and its nice to be a part of it. Yet, maybe I am getting a bit older here, but I preferred to be in bed watching Harry Potter with my youngest. I’ve done my time downing bottles of whatever and shamelessly carousing. A warm blanket sounds far more enticing.
PART II was the chase scene. I had been renting a small room downtown on Castle Street for conducting interviews, typing up manuscripts, that sort of thing, and I had gone into the building to pay the rent in cash to the proprietor, who sat before one of those old-fashioned concierge desks with the keys all hanging on the wall, like some kind of San Francisco flop house, you know what I mean? When I was paying her, she pushed her glasses up her nose and handed me a business card. “Two suits came to inquire after you,” she said. The card had a German name on it, something long, terrifying, and Teutonic like Hauptwerke or Buchmalerei. “They said you owed them money.” “That’s impossible,” I said. “I paid off all of my lenders.” “That’s not what they said,” the proprietor responded. Outside I got in the car with my daughter and began to drive back to the hotel where we were staying. But on the road, I noticed we were being followed by an aggressive driver in a yellow bus. He eventually ran us off the road, or rather up onto two wheels, though the car fell back into place. Neither of us were hurt, but we were both shaken. In the hotel, this sort of luxury Miami resort full of guests who looked like they belonged on Fantasy Island, we rushed through the halls until we got to our suite, which fortunately was full of various members of the family, that is not real family members, but soldiers, enforcers, the kinds of cats who drive up and down Howard Beach in Queens looking for some action on a Friday night. That is not to say they were true mafia, or made men, but rather had seen enough Italian-American cinema to know how to behave properly in circumstances like these. This makeshift army came face to face with the Hauptwerke collection agency mercenaries in the hotel corridor and there was a bloodfest. In the end, the Hauptwerke men agreed to forgive all of my debts and called it just a simple misunderstanding. They even pretended to be on friendly terms with the family enforcers and humored their requests to come back sometime and drink. I felt ashamed though. My daughter was not pleased by the car chase and the mercenaries chasing her father. “We were supposed to go see the pandas in Helsinki,” was all she could say through sobs. “You promised! You promised we would go see the panda bears in Helsinki.” I felt bad that she had the misfortune of having being born into such a mess. Yes, I promised her. There would be no change in plans. I would take her to see the pandas in Helsinki at the zoo just as I had promised.
LAST NIGHT I dreamt of Kärt and Anselmo, her Latin husband. We were at their penthouse in the city. It was late morning and Kärt was sprawled out nude in her bed, engulfed in crisp, white sheets. The sun was through the window on the sheets and illuminating her boughs of wild golden hair. I was kneeling beside the bed suckling on one of Kärt’s breasts while she took part in a Teams meeting via her phone. Then, on occasion, Kärt would get thirsty and dispatch me to fetch her some water or coffee, which I would only too gladly do, while Anselmo would enter, tying his tie for work, and take his turn kneeling on the opposite side of the bed, and being attentive to Kärt’s other white breast. My breast was her right breast. Never did I venture over to the left. That was Anselmo’s territory. Likewise, he never took her right nipple in his mouth. This went on like this for some time, the jug worshipping, until it was time for us to both leave. Anselmo had ignored me for the entirety of this exercise (other than to lecture, as if to a spellbound audience, that visitors had to keep their hands above the sheets, that is, only breast licking was permitted in the penthouse and nothing more). At the door though, Anselmo for the first time turned to me and asked, “But what do you think, can a man really not have faith in himself?” It was a very serious question and he looked me in the eyes as he asked it to me. To which I replied, “Well, if he has done all that he can and it still doesn’t work out, I suppose a man has reasons to doubt himself.” Anselmo nodded repetitively as if making a series of calculations. “Defeatist,” is all Anselmo could reply. “Defeatist, defeatist, defeatist!” He marched out the door with his briefcase in hand.
I KEEP RETURNING to Henry Miller (1891-1980) whenever I feel all hope is lost, or down in the blues. Whatever the proper phrase is. One cannot call the author of Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Black Spring, The Colossus of Maroussi, and many other books, a hero, though certainly he is a literary hero to some. He was once working a rather dull job at a telecommunications company, or precursor thereof, in Brooklyn in the 1920s, and then left that to move to Paris. He was not successful in his enterprise, at least financially, and became renowned for mooching off friends and lovers for sustenance. And yet, even in that bottom-feeding roll, he was still a survivor. Others of his generation poisoned themselves with worry and drink. They wallowed in their own catastrophes. Not Henry. He looked at a terrible spot, a true catastrophe of life, and decided that he would like to make the catastrophe grander, more spectacular, amazingly horrible. If one is going to fail in life, then why not fail brilliantly? I think I first took note of Miller from his interviews in Reds. I thought: who is that guy? He seems so familiar. He talks just like one of us. He really did. There was something in Miller’s attitude that echoed that of my peers. Maybe it is true that the souls of the dying generation inhabit the bodies of the newly born. So that when we were being birthed into this world sometime in that gray Three Mile Island haze of the lost Carter years, the ghosts of the Great War and the Roaring Twenties were finding new hosts. It’s a thought that gives me comfort, that sort of muscular individualism they developed. No, they were not heroes of any sort. They were bootleggers and loafing slacker writers. Drifters. Scoundrels. Yellow journalists. Playboys. Actresses. Observers. Experiencers. Artists. Survivors.