Sunday, September 20, 2009

Back to your regularly scheduled programming

...yes, well. I've come to the realization that not many people particularly care about the details of the UStrip, and those that do will have already heard them over a drink. So I shall say no more of it, except to mention that NYC has joined Stockholm and Barcelona as a city where I would genuinely love to live - but with the caveat that I would need to already be rich. It is natural for me to be sarcastic about the hipster culture, but I must be honest: were I in a position of having more money than imagination, I too would choose the life of a Tribeca trustafarian.

Should you wish to peruse any further account of the author's travels this summer, the Flickr widget is to your right.

Meanwhile the best excuse I have for not blogging is that I have spent no small amount of time and effort cultivating a habit of saying nothing unless I have something interesting to say; and far more of both in learning to recognize whether what I have to say really is interesting. Without conclusive evidence, I prefer to err on the side of caution. I assure you my life in the past months has been interesting, just not in a way you would care about. The trials, doubts and difficult decisions have found their way into the firepit at Mingus's country estate, where skeletons belong. I return to you, the stunningly patient reader, with a renewed vigor in the general sort of existentialist whimsy that is the engine of AnTyx. Hope you've missed me; I have certainly missed you.

I've been pleasantly surprised to find some gems in movies I have seen recently. The one I would primarily direct your attention to is Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel, which is most completely described as Shaun of the Dead, but for time travel. While Chris O'Dowd may not quite have that same air of sardonic befuddlement, the film itself certainly captures the air of movies that a fair amount of my friends are great fans of. You'll enjoy it if you're a sci-fi fan, and you'll enjoy it if you're a Simon Pegg fan.

I liked Gamer, although I can understand if a lot of people won't. I accept its flaws as an uncomplicated action movie with a formulaic plot, and with low expectations, it does redeem itself in two ways. One, somewhat predictable: Michael C. Hall is a great villain. He's not exactly showing us a new facet of himself, but his portrayal of a psycho is delicious enough; unchained from Dexter's building desire to achieve, or at least convincingly mimic, some degree of humanity with all of its boring little melodramas, he provides the pure, inhumanly evil persona that has been disappointingly absent from the silver screen since the early Bond movies. The other breath of fresh air is the film's pacing. It is an odd irony, but this bit of mindless gore is the first film in recent memory that flatters the viewer by presuming intelligence. It knows that the audience is well familiar with the tropes, and does not spend time on redundant, superfluous plot or character development. Every time you go "I know what's going to happen next", the film responds with "alright, then let's skip it and go to the next part". The honesty is tremendously endearing.

I was in search of a Sunday night's light entertainment, and found it in Tartu's now-lesser movie theater, in the form of Easy Virtue. It's based on a play by Noёl Coward, and is outstandingly fun. The posters and trailers make it out to be a film where Jessica Biel pretends to be Scarlett Johansson, but in fact it is a wonderful theatrical comedy, full of fast pace and British humour; playing to type, but an excellent execution. Kristen Scott Thomas is extremely good, Colin Firth puts in a brief appearance, and Jessica Biel herself does far better than anyone would have expected. Her performance, while not groundbreaking, certainly does not let the film down. And I like the butler.

Taking Woodstock - I will simply say that Liev Schreiber in drag is awesome.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Thousand Dollar Car Theory Still Holds


The Mazda RX-8 was launched in the early 00s, and at the time, I really thought it was close to the perfect car. It was a rear-wheel drive sports coupe, looked really good, and was relatively practical; in fact there was an ad campaign for it saying that if you tried hard, you could actually justify it to your spouse as a family car.

I liked it so much at the time that I made myself a promise. Obviously I couldn't even come close to affording the RX-8, but others bought them, and of course new cars depreciate rapidly - especially expensive sportscars from non-prestigious brands. I told myself that when I was 25 - which seemed like a long way away - I would buy one. Even if it was used. Even if I would have to pay it off until I was 30.

I turned 25 a little less than two weeks ago.

Unfortunately, the RX-8 has a serious flaw. Its engine is unusual, a completely different engineering solution to regular piston motors. It's called a rotary engine, or a Wankel after the German who invented it. I won't go into detail, but basically it is smaller and lighter than a piston engine, but produces more power. The downside is that because of some inherent problems with Wankel's design, it's not terribly reliable. Reports from RX-8 owners suggest that the engine tends to break down catastrophically after 100,000km, even with careful maintenance. If the RX-8 had come with a regular engine, such as Mazda's 2.3-liter turbo from the MPS line of cars, it would be perfect; but it doesn't. An RX-8 that has done around 30,000km costs about twelve thousand Euro in Estonia today; not completely outside the realms of my budget, but not the sort of money I'd feel comfortable spending on an inherently unreliable machine, despite the fact that I don't drive that much. (My current car has done around 25,000km in two and a half years, and the bulk of that has been on the Tallinn-Tartu freeway.)

However, I would still like to keep the promise to myself. And it appears that the Estonian Volkswagen dealer got an unusually large shipment of the new Sciroccos. Now, I like the Scirocco: it looks good, and it's based on the VW Golf GTI, which is considered one of the most fun cars this side of something fundamentally impractical. (People who write for car magazines have repeatedly stated that on real-world roads, a Golf GTI will certainly be able to keep up with a Ferrari.) In Estonia, today, VW will sell you a Scirocco with all the equipment you need for less than 20,000 Euro. For a car in this class, that's bloody cheap, and VWs keep their value quite well as used cars, and hey, my mortgage interest rate dropped like a brick in April, didn't it?



I was in Tallinn this Friday on other business anyway, so I went to the main VW dealership and test-drove the Scirocco. The one they had was the top-end model, with the turbocharged engine and DSG gearbox - the best automatic gearbox in the world right now, by general consensus of people who know about these things.

My first reaction was that I was right to aim for the cheapest model, with the less powerful 1.4 twin-charged engine (which is still powerful enough to force me to contribute to Estonia's ailing budget), and manual gearbox. I've had the argument with Mingus, who dismisses the common argument of manuals giving better control, because with an automatic you always have both hands on the steering wheel - and that's safer. Honestly, I can't refute it, and the DSG was really awesome. I simply enjoy driving a stick shift more.

But honestly, even while I drove the Scirocco down the back roads of Tabasalu, I couldn't feel it. I wasn't experiencing that wonder, that sense of do want that I would need to justify the purchase. I spent over eight thousand kroons on my little aluminium HP laptop, which was more than the competition, and I didn't strictly need it - but the satisfaction from owning something genuinely awesome was worth it.

It's the same thing, every time I drive a new car. It's great, sure, but it's not mind-boggling; it's not an order of magnitude better than whatever I am driving myself at the time. I had the same experience with a Suzuki Grand Vitara, back when I had a 1988 Honda Accord; the Suzuki was quiet and comfortable, but dog-slow in comparison. Modern cars are just too heavy to take advantage of the power, and neither do they have the ability to filter out the imperfections of our roads - certainly they don't provide the difference to match the price increase compared to a ten-year-old car. Yes, a new one will be more reliable - but, if you choose your ride carefully, a used one will not be more expensive to run than the maintenance costs of something that still has to be serviced at the dealership to keep the warranty.

It's odd that, for such a gearhead, I am having such trouble getting properly excited about something as nice as the new Scirocco.

----
PS. The guy I talked to at the dealership was a real pleasure. Friendly, active and competent. I feel like an asshole for deciding against the Scirocco, so if you're looking for a new car these days and have been disappointed with the customer service levels at most dealerships, go to Saksa Auto Pluss in Tartu (corner of Aardla and Ringtee) and ask for Allan Ainson. And I think there are some really good discounts on most VW models these days.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Self-Made?

From a forum discussion... I reaffirmed my long-held belief that while there are aspects of a society that must be managed centrally and provided universally - such as healthcare, education etc. - the state's involvement should be limited to safety nets, ensuring minimum sustenance, but certainly not a comfortable living standard. Society is not obligated to support those who choose not to contribute, and highly developed welfare states do tend to produce that type of mentality, at least in some parts of the population.

The inevitable and, I'll admit, reasonable response to that was, Hardly surprising that an economically self sufficient 20-something with a high disposable income thinks that, is it?

Uh-huh, but I grew up as the child of a newspaper editor in a postsoviet economy. I'm not a trustafarian, so I get to say things like that.

Wow, you really don't have any idea how privileged you are, do you? You actually earned everything you have on your own accord?

I was lucky enough to be born in a country that became part of the Western world within my lifetime. Other than that - my education was paid for by the state (which is why I consistently say that education should be state-sponsored), and my healthcare costs were covered by the state as well (and I absolutely believe that universal healthcare is a non-negotiable human right).

My parents supported me in university, but didn't completely pay my way - I worked starting from the second semester until I graduated. I have never claimed any sort of unemployment benefit from the state. I got a state-sponsored cheap student loan, which is a system that I like and recommend, but it wasn't vital. I got my job by putting up a CV on a website, it had nothing to do with family connections or university old-boy networking (but, I suppose, everything to do with living in a country whose government found a way to attract massive amounts of foreign direct investment). My apartment was bought using inheritance as a down payment, but I'm covering the mortgage.

So - a question to both regular readers and people who know me in real life - exactly how hypocritical am I?

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gumbo

A philosophical interlude, if you will indulge me. There is an old science fiction trope about immortality, that it can be achieved by recording a mindstate, either at the moment of death or before, and unpacking it into a new body if the original dies. The implication is that the new body would of course be in excellent physical condition, and the process could be repeated indefinitely (or the body is a robot of some sort that does not age).

The earliest example of this idea that I have encountered was in a Roger Zhelazny novel, which I read long ago, in translation, and do not remember the name of. It has also served as a significant world-building element for Tad Williams’ Otherland, John Scalzi’s Ghost Brigades, and I’m sure many others; the most recent one I have read is Iain M. Banks’ Look to Windward.

All SF novels that use this idea inevitably concern themselves with a case of two instances of the same identity existing, and interacting. But that was never as interesting to me as the question of whether it is, in fact, immortality.

The problem is a lack of continuity. Ghost Brigades is the second book in a trilogy, and in the establishing work, Scalzi comprehensively evaded the issue by declaring that in his world, a consciousness could only be transferred directly into a clone (albeit a heavily modified one). The mind was never copied, it was transferred, and the original body died, even if physically it was still perfectly viable.

In Otherland, the advocate of the technology, developed specifically for immortality, expounds that it does actually involve copying a mindstate and storing the copy inside a computer. The advents are encouraged to kill their physical bodies and minds at the moment of the transfer; not because the technology necessitates or results in it, but because the two consciousnesses would continue to exist, in parallel, and would diverge due to unsynchronized experiences.

In Look to Windward, mindstate backups are commonplace and accepted as a form of immortality; a restored creature is considered still the same one, just missing a few days or months. The society of the world takes great care to ensure that no two identical constructs are walking about the universe at the same time, but there is no natural barrier to that, and it does occasionally happen.

To me, this does not constitute immortality, because I am not convinced that the reconstituted entity can be equated to the original (except in circumstances carefully contrived to show that it is, such as Scalzi’s original interpretation – a masterful cauterization of a nagging question that was irrelevant to his story and only served to explain how a 75-year-old wreck of a human could be quickly turned into a supersoldier). If a copy is taken of me, my personality, thought patterns and memories, and stipulating that the copy is perfect in the context of the argument, then that copy could be used to create another iteration of me that would be indistinguishable to other people. For anyone grieving upon my demise, it would certainly be an acceptable resolution. But I continue to exist beyond the backup point, and when I die, what happens to the self-aware me? To suggest, as Banks and Zhelazny do, that the dead me simply wakes up somewhere else with a case of amnesia, is entirely unsatisfactory. Me-2 is the same person in the regard of everyone else, except me.

This bothers me, because it is the absolute biblical definition of soul. The line of reasoning presumes that there is some absolutely unique focus for my personality, inextricably linked to this body, and that if a copy of me is created with the exact same memories and thought patterns, a sentient, self-aware creature that is indistinguishable from me either biologically or behaviourally, passing any Turing-style test, then it will still not possess my soul. Atheism precludes me from accepting the idea of a soul, but then I am not entirely limited to perception – I can conceive that there are forces at work in our physical universe that cannot be perceived by current technology. An atheist should be willing to consider any falsifiable idea, and perhaps there is some mechanism whereby two copies of a consciousness cannot exist; where a restored backup is no more than a vessel that then draws in the departed soul. This would actually be a decent premise for an SF novel, though I believe it has been done at least partially.

But until such a mechanism is discovered and made to work, let’s get back to a world without souls. The question remains: is the death of a personality that was then restored to an earlier backup an actual death? For practical purposes it isn’t, the question is purely subjective, since it is a given in this scenario that the backup is indistinguishable from the original, minus the memories between the points of backup and death.

If it is indeed death, if an expiration of a sentient consciousness is a permanent loss despite the creation of identical one, then where is the line drawn? I know, in this scenario, that when I die, someone will wake up later who will be convinced he is me. In this case, is short-term amnesia effectively death? Remember, soul does not enter into it. Do I die if my streak of continuous self-awareness and experience of the surrounding world is broken, even temporarily? If the answer is yes, then do I die every time I fall asleep?

If it is not death, then what is the value of human life, and how much effort should we really put into sustaining it? The history of our society proves that in the short term at least, no suffering is unendurable; for every tragedy, there is an example of someone who got through it, and if everyone was sure that they will wake up in a week/month/year in a new, healthy body, without any memory of the pain, why wouldn’t you take the ultimate decision whenever faced with anything greater than an inconvenience? And not just physical pain, either. Had your heart broken? Kill yourself and leave a note asking to be restored to a version from before you met her/him. Sidestepping tragedy becomes simply a question of leaving enough assets behind to cover the cost of restoring yourself. And it might just be covered by your health insurance: with economies of scale, restoration could just prove cheaper than treatment.

But if you have no soul, then why restore? In our existing society, a single human life is worth more than anything except another human life. Yet a lot of lives, lived to their natural extent, turn out to have been inconsequential. The value of human life is therefore not only a recognition of infinite, invaluable potential in every human being, but also a safeguard against human lives in general being treated lightly; our history has taught us that this is one slippery slope that cannot be tread upon.

But if mortality ceases to be a certainty and becomes a choice, then how easy will the choice be? Certainly it should be in each person’s power to decide if they will be restored or simply left alone. If a merciful society gives everyone the ability for immortality, then a thinking person will inevitably have to make the crucial self-assessment: is my life worthwhile? Do I deserve the effort and energy it would take to put me back on this Earth? Do I actually matter?

This is the hardest philosophical question of all, but it occurs to me that irrespective of technology or faith, everyone needs to ask it.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Restitution

As Tartu is being drenched and cars begin to stall out at the Riia-Turu junction, where ongoing roadworks have stripped the top layer of asphalt and left the surface below drainage level, I am watching a TV show that I found in my RSS feed. It is a TV documentary, supposedly banned by the channel that paid for it, about real estate development in Moscow. If you know some Russian, go and have a look. The point is that centuries-old buildings in central Moscow are being torn down, to build shiny new steel-and-glass offices. People who lived in the old buildings are being thrown out and sent off to the suburbs.

This is an odd sort of situation, and as far as I can tell, it stems from the fact that there is no private land ownership in Russia; even if you own property in central Moscow, you do not own the land under it (like you would in Estonia, or most places around the world). The typical scheme is for the developer to bribe the city authorities so the building is officially declared to be irreparably dilapidated. The developer can then tear down the house and build something new in its place. Because Russia is a welfare state, the developer is obliged to give the people living in the old house new accomodations, but the market value of these is not considered; so folks are usually sent to tower block apartments a few hours away from downtown.

It's tragic, and it got me thinking about what is probably the most uncomfortable aspect of Estonian restoration after 1991: restitution.

Because the Republic of Estonia continued its legal existence after 1940, all legal relationships were still valid, including property ownership. When the country became independent once again, people who could prove that they owned real estate before the Soviets got it back - and for people who had died in the meantime, the property was returned to their heirs. Sounds fair enough - except to the people who were already living there.

In the Soviet days - before my birth - my family used to live in a house in Kadriorg, the park on the edge of downtown Tallinn, and one of the city's most expensive residential areas. My grandfather was the head engineer at a factory - the clever Jew actually running the place while a loyal party man was nominally in charge, a Soviet stereotype. Grandfather, whom I never met, had a decent enough living standard, and under Soviet law, the house belonged to him. At some point - I'm guessing after my father got married and moved out - they part-exchanged the house in Kadriorg and moved to an apartment in one of the brand-new tower blocks in award-winning Blossom Hills.

My father took me to see the old place in Kadriorg once - he knew the people who ended up living there - and sure, it would have been far nicer than our own Lasnamäe dwelling; but the exchange had been a stroke of luck. Because the tower blocks were not there before 1940. They couldn't possibly be returned to anyone; even if someone claimed ownership of the marshlands where the bedroom communities sprang up, the state would simply refund their purchase price, in 1940s money. Only property that still existed in a recognizable shape could be returned - for the rest, compensation was paid by the Republic of Estonia out of today's taxpayers' money. I like to think that some of the compensation was financed by the hard currency that we (allegedly!) got from Chechen rebels, who paid over market rates for our spare pile of Soviet roubles. It would have been poetic justice.

So after '91, each side of my family took its privatization bonds, an equal share of the presumed value of all the Soviet state property that was distributed to the population (the Communist ideal of "taking everything and splitting it up equally" finding a hilariously ironic implementation), and bought out its apartments, summer houses, etc. Had we stayed in Kadriorg, we would have still gotten the bonds, but we could not have used them for the house. It was older than 1940; it was roughly in the same shape; it used to belong to someone, and that someone's children would get it back. If we stayed there until 1991, we would have become part of arguably the most miserable groups in Estonian society: forced tennants.

This is the problem with restitution. For all its fierce free-marketry, Estonia retains a fair amount of social security. The term "forced tennant" does not mean that the tennant is forced to do anything; it means the tennant is forced upon the owner. If you got a house back in '91, and someone was already living there - given the place by the Soviet authorities - then you could not just tell them to leave. They were now renting the place from you, and there were protections in place for what you could or could not do to them.

Some of the restored owners were families of fugitives, who moved back to Estonia and decided to live in their ancestral homes - people like Aarne. Others figured it made more sense to develop and/or sell the property. Valuable old buildings started to change hands, complete with forced tennants, whose rental agreements were ironclad: three years from the point of restitution, then extended twice again, for five years each time, by an act of law. Forced tennants could only be evicted for a gross breach of the boilerplate rental contract, or if they chose to leave. This was the middle of the 90s, a turbulent time when, for a moment, Estonia became the world's number one exporter of rare-earth metals (I'll leave you to ponder the factoid, suffice it to say that Estonia has no significant natural metal reserves of its own and didn't appear to import much). Unscrupulous developers quickly learned the methods for making a tennant choose to leave.

The injustice of forced tennants is possibly the biggest chink in the armor of Estonian self-righteousness. Almost everyone* was given a place to live by the Soviet authorities; most people managed to privatize their homes after independence, but some did not, and there was no good reason for it. The bulk of Tallinn's forced tennants come from Pelgulinn, not just the gateway to Kopli but a seaside community of timber homes that were considered uncomfortable in the Soviet times - so they were inhabited by low-paid workers, people who would have trouble with buying a place to live for cash. The state made efforts to improve their lot; former forced tennants are entitled to municipally-owned apartments with nominal rents**. Privatization bonds could be traded, but at far below nominal value - they were only useful if you were occupying a Soviet-built property and were the first to claim it for yourself. There were not particularly many forced tennants, but they were vocal, and they were genuinely wronged.

Normally this is where I would explain how restitution should have been implemented instead. But I just don't know. Should the state have compensated former owners and let the tennants privatize? It worked for most things, but... There are still living people out there who fled on the fishing boats in '44. At least one of them reads this blog - I hope he'll comment. They lived through decades abroad, congregating into societies, going to great lengths to find a bakery that would do black rye bread, and all that time they were holding on to old photographs of their farmsteads, back in the motherland. Though they lived full lives in the West, they told their children that their home was always here. And if the home in question, the actual building, still exists - how could we possibly justify letting someone else have it? The exiles did not abandon Estonia, and when they finally returned, how could Estonia abandon them?

What would you have done?

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Liquids Only



Three weeks since the surgery. Have to stay on liquids for another, what, five weeks?

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Still Alive

Surgery went well. Out of the hospital now. Feeling vaguely like Doctor Who after a regeneration cycle ("huh, new teeth"). Wondering how long I will be pissing green for.

No solid foods for six weeks. Hopefully not being hungry will help; also, the really awesome Kenwood smoothie machine I have at home. Looking forward to trying various ways of crushing berries in liquids.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Estonian Healthcare - Redux & Personal

I've written before about Estonian healthcare - how it's considered crap, though probably undeservedly. Of course, it is difficult to pass judgement on a system that you've only ever used for trivial matters. I've had major surgery when I was very young, but that was still in the Soviet times and I remember nothing of it. Otherwise I never had cause to avail myself of Estonia's hospitals for anything more serious than an adenoid removal, which took half a day and resulted in as much ice cream as I could eat; not a complete waste, then. A couple of years ago I got into a fairly impressive car accident, was ambulanced to Tallinn and checked over at the ER; I was sent home the same evening with some stitches and a concussion. That was luck. But in 2008, I've been deliberate.

I'm a big guy. Always have been. I'd resigned myself to being fat for the rest of my life; and then I decided I was going to do something about it. The key factor was the appearance of bariatric surgeons in Estonia; but the turning point was late last fall, after I'd been swimming regularly, three times a week, for about half a year. I was feeling a lot better and gaining muscle mass, but not really losing much weight. My last bit of self-deception - that I could get into shape through diet and exercise - fell away: there is no way I will ever have the sort of self-discipline for the sort of massive weight loss I need. There are people in the world who've done it, and I have the greatest respect for them, but that's not me. Growing up fat meant a lot of confidence issues; Antyx readers will recognize that confidence is not something I have a problem with. The way I did was to stop hating myself. Self-discipline on the order required to go from the clinical definition of morbidly obese to more or less normal would have to stem from a burning hate for my own body; and that is not a choice I am prepared to make. Even if it kills me.

Fortunately, I now have the opportunity to cheat; to achieve the result while bypassing the part that makes it so difficult for me. Not that the cheat itself is particularly simple, but it's something I can do. There are surgeons in Estonia who do the operations that result - reliably - in radical weight loss; I am still young and have most of my health; and I can afford the surgery. I'm paying a little over two thousand Euro for it, which isn't a lot. Thanks to the Estonian healthcare system.

My first move was at the end of 2007, when I saw my GP (or rather one of the GPs sharing a pool of patients) for a severe sore throat. I got a week's bedrest and a referral to an endocrynologist - a specialist on metabolism. Since this was not an urgent matter, I got put in the back of the queue; a little over a month till my visit.

When the time came, it was all remarkably efficient. I paid 50 EEK (3 Euro and change) for the initial visit. The doctor ran a bunch of tests, some that afternoon, the rest on the next morning. A week later I got the results, with commentary, and some research on the state of bariatric surgery in Estonia. The doc confirmed the diagnosis I'd known already: hyperinsulinemia, the most remarkable thing about which is that it is not diabetes. What it does do is cause an appetite disproportional to consumption. By this time I'd recognized that I eat more than most people; but I do it without really thinking about it. It's the difference between hunger and appetite, and it's something that ought to be fixed well by an operation that constricts the volume of the stomach. The endocrynologist gave the go-ahead.

I then contacted the surgeon, from a Tallinn private practice. It took a while to set up a visit, and when I did travel to the capital, it turned out that he was in surgery; apparently he actually works as a gastric surgeon on the staff of Tallinn's regional hospital as well. Fair enough, really; but what I did find out was that the metabolism workup was not sufficient. I'd also need to be cleared by a gastroenterologist. Fortunately, I could do that in Tartu.

This time I didn't feel like waiting a month, so I cheated. I paid the university hospital for an unreferred visit to a specialist doc. My 300 EEK (20 Euro) got me a time within two business days of putting in the request on the hospital's website. Since I did actually have national health insurance, that was all I paid; the ultrasound, gastroscopy and doctor's consult were all free. The GE was one of those old doctors that somehow instill tremendous trust. (I've never been afraid of docs, not even of needles when I was very little; an old relative that died before my birth had been something important in Estonian medicine, so all through my childhood various doctors had been very pleased to meet an heir to that family. Comes with having an uncommon last name.) She gave me the OK, and mentioned what she knew about the bariatrics in Tallinn; some 70 surgeries had been performed successfully there.

Most of those were of the really hardcore kind. There are three types of surgery available, and the most radical one is an actual bypass, where the patient's guts are rerouted. (Curiously enough, since it's purely surgical and does not involve any medical gadgets, it gets paid for in full by the national health insurance.) The least invasive type is the gastric balloon, which they insert through a tube down your throat - but it stays there for no more than 6 months, and I needed a longer-lasting effect than that. So I'm getting a lap band - a sort of belt that gets tied around the top part of the stomach. The upshot is that very little food can actually fit in there, so I can't overeat - and apparently most of the nerve endings are at the top of the stomach, so I constantly feel really full. It's not a magic pill, but it's been around for decades, and it seems to really work.

The great thing about the lap band surgery is that they're not cutting any internal organs - just adding a new bit. Sounds safer than removing an appendix.

Today, after my extended three-day birthday celebrations involving cake and a last Chateubriand stake from the Crepp meatery, I weigh 149.8kg. My surgery is on Wednesday. I'm about to put my gut where my blogging finger is.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

24

Happy Birthday to me. :)

I'll be at the Maailm pub on Friday night if any Tartu readers want to come along and say hi.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

One Year Anniversary

Exactly one year ago today I moved into my new apartment. :)

Long day. Productive. Most of the results imminent on Baltlantis.

Best swag at Tallinn Motorshow: Nissan's USB memory keychains; Citroen's press pack CDs in cool ejector jewel cases that I'll be using for my own disks.

Most impressive part about Tallinn Motorshow: an Icelandic bloke from the support team that got Jeremy Clarkson to the North Pole in a Toyota Hilux. Complete with the actual car.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Memories of a Postsoviet Childhood

Chiquita. Not the bananas themselves - the stickers. You couldn't really get bananas in the Soviet Union (a fact made all the more ironic by their cheap ubiquity today), so when you got a hold of one, you treasured it. Eat it slowly, and completely, chewing the tasteless flesh off the inside of the skin, and then peel off the Chiquita sticker and put it on your desk or some other prominent piece of bedroom furniture, to remind yourself and others that you are a happening frood with access to bananas.

At about the same time, a bit later maybe, empty drink cans were all the rage. It was ages until you could get soft drinks in cans in Estonia, in the first years of independence the only thing that came in cans was beer - and then it was expensive imported beer. I don't think my parents have ever been beer drinkers anyway, but even for other kids my age, colorful cans were an awesome thing to possess.

It must have been '88 or '89, when my dad went to Sweden, and brought back a whole bunch of bananas. They were still green, and were left to ripen in the kitchen cupboard. Dad's return really was better than Christmas. A pencil sharpener in the shape of a cartoon car for me, a remarkably tiny electronic calculator for my sister, and - gasp! - a twin-deck Siemens stereo cassette player. Its recording capacity, built-in microphone, and the ability to copy tapes directly was truly remarkable.

I'm only 23, but the world around me has changed unbelievably.

---
Postsoviet - because Estonia in the late 80s was not entirely Soviet any more.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Bear with me.



I haven't written anything in a few weeks now (been busy with a side-project - I'll plug it here once done, and you'll be able to judge me on my technical writing skills). I have a good idea for an article, but I promised Baltlantis first crack at it. My guilt over procrastination is alleviated somewhat by the fact that they aren't actually paying me anything.

Anyway, an article in Wired Magazine talks about an event I was marginally involved in; records of that event are hosted on AnTyx. I am extremely impressed with my web host for handling the rush of traffic you see in the graph above; still, it's not completely impossible that I will actually run out of bandwidth this month. I am supposed to have an amount of bandwidth far in excess of my needs, and the pages in question are almost completely plaintext, but who knows.

Stay tuned...

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday nights in Tartu...


Plugging a mate's band - but hey, I'll be there myself. ;) Still, scary memories of Thursday night drinking. Last time I did that seriously, it was the week before Summer Solstice. A British friend had some of his friends over for the celebrations. One of them had apparently just had a streak of very good luck with his business, and appeased the gods by going to the ATM, punching a random button and insisting that he would spend all the money the machine gave him on vodka & Red Bull for everyone that night. Silly limey got 5000 EEK (£200 and change). After a long pub crawl involving Kissing Students, Rasputin (which refused to serve us any food except gherkins, so we just had more vodka), the Atlantis nightclub ("...but you don't understand - men like cheap sluts!" - a fine justification to present to one's girlfriend) and invariably Zavood, I got home around 4am, woke up at 8 and made a brave attempt to walk to work. I made it as far as the petrol station next to my house, where I proceeded to imbibe a large quantity of Nestea green tea and wait for a cab. Normally I take pride in being able to maintain some level of functionality with a hangover, but this was too much for me. I crashed onto the couch in the office and slept until 3pm. I respectfully posit to you, sir, that it was not the drinking that did me in, but the lack of a full night's rest.

Mind you, the last Helena Nova gig in Tartu started with half a liter of vodka's worth of Screwdrivers and ended in Krooks. But that wasn't a Thursday.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Last of the Soviets

For all my European posturing (for I am neither convincingly Estonian, convincingly Russian, nor convincingly Jewish) - there is that part of me, the part established in the first seven years of my life in the Evil Empire's Switzerland and the confusing, irrational mess of a society it turned into in the early 90s, that will remain Soviet. Hell, I even got to wear a school uniform for a few months in 1st grade!

And the reason I'm saying it is, I've been eating mandarins. English-speakers will know them as tangerines, but for the purpose of this discussion, they're mandarins. And I've been thinking that the Soviet legacy will finally die with the last person on Earth who subconsciously, inevitably equates the taste of mandarins with New Year's Eve.

It's an aspect of the economy of the Soviet Union: citrus, like most other fruits you couldn't grow locally on your allotment, was a rarity. Oranges were even more rare than mandarins, because there were more places in the SU where mandarins could be grown industrially. You couldn't go to a shop at any time of the year and buy some citrus. Such things were sold only occasionally, in batches.

People could get rarities through their jobs, though. The big corporations tried to instill loyalty in their workers by sending out raiding parties, scouring the warehouses and various shady connections for deliciousness. On major holidays, you would get a package from work, with things for your kids.*

And mandarins were one of those things: you'd get them in the packages, and you'd get them in the shops, just before New Year - the technically secular form of the pagan Winter Solstice and imperialist Christmas. Something exotic, and very un-wintery, to put on the celebratory table. Then you'd sit there, watch the Blue Flame show on TV (baby blue was the predominant color of Soviet New Year, for some reason) and wait for the coming of the Näärivana (or Father Frost, if you'd like) - a theatrical school student hired by the trade union that your parents belonged to.** You had to recite a poem for him before he'd give you your present.

The scarcity of the Soviet time, the deficit - which I never really felt in its worst form, because in the late 80s Estonia was a much better place to be than the rest of the Soviet Union - served to curb the consumeristic impulses, to an extent. Western tradition of Christmas involves a pile of stuff under the tree, lots and lots of presents. But for me, it's always been one gift; that one thing, which was usually not so much expensive as unattainable, that I could wait for and finally get, just past midnight. Then I'd go out with my father, and we'd set off the fireworks; actually fireworks are a much later thing, in the Soviet days it was bangers - cardboard tubes with a rope that you'd pull, and it would set off a small powder charge inside, spraying confetti all over, and maybe even a little present that you'd have to search for in the snow.

That said, at least there were a lot of holidays to get one present for. New Year's was the main one, but there were also two Christmases. The Catholic Christmas (as it was always referred to in Russian, despite Estonia being a Lutheran country - for what it's worth) was celebrated along with the rest of the country. This was the true pagan holiday, the Winter Solstice, a time of quiet joy with the family, irrespective of your religious affiliation. Then there was the Russian Christmas; the Orthodox church still used the Julian calendar, where everything was offset by two weeks compared to the official Gregorian one, so Christmas fell on January 7th. And then there was the final triumph of holiday spirit over reason and logic: Old New Year, celebrated on January 14th. All these were worth a present, though not all of the presents were equal. But it's the very fact of a present that counts.

All these holidays were so draining on the population, that they were referred to as simply "the New Year holidays". It was common knowledge that any business transactions, any negotiations or requests, had to be delayed until the end of January. During the New Year holidays, the Soviet Union just stopped.

--------
*This is one of those improbably strong Soviet traditions that is still going on, in Nordic, Western Estonia after nearly two decades. My employer - big enough to actually be a faceless corporation - still distributes gift bags of Kalev candy to employees' children at Christmas time. Along with the informal celebration of March 8th as International Women's Day, and the fact that the Latvian border guards in Valga will still address you in Russian and not English, it's proof positive that the regular people are deep down both willing and able to let go of the insults and injuries of the past, and keep the positive bits.

**It was a lucrative, sought-after job. My former boss told me about his exploits as a Jõuluvana, doing some door-to-door promotions, long after the SU had burned in flames. It was the duty of nearly every head of family to offer him a shot of vodka, and he had no moral right to refuse.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

300th Post!

W00t!

I sincerely hope there's nobody anal enough to count them, because Blogger's dashboard might actually also count the ones that are still in draft stage, in which case this is not the 300th post published on AnTyx. But let's just pretend it is, anyway.

Days like today is why I own a car in Tartu. I live alone, and I'm within half an hour's walking distance of my downtown office, which is doable even in the freezing winter months. I'm now much more conveniently serviced by public transport than at my previous rental apartment. It would definitely be cheaper to take the bus than drive around, usually alone, in my relatively enormous '93 Mazda 626 liftback, which consumes about 15l/100km in Tartu urban driving, because I only do about 70km on my tiny commute, in traffic, and it always runs cold. I now need to buy winter tires for it, then find out what I need to fix up for the MoT coming in December, and insurance runs out in early January (when I'll have owned the same car for a full year - OMG!). It's a really expensive proposition.

But on days like today, when it's snowing with a cold wind, and it's dark, and slippery, and generally unpleasant - it is an indescribable pleasure to scrape the ice off your windshield (takes longer than the actual drive home), get inside, put the heater on full, turn on the stereo, and carefully inch along the treacherous streets to the wail of the over-revving engine and the cricket staccato of the ABS brakes, driving past the poor, miserable bastards waiting for the bus.

Worth every penny.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ice? Really?

October 11th - first day this fall when I had to scrape my car clean of ice in the morning.

I need to steal Mutton's winter tires.

No politics today - generally disgusted with human stupidity. It'll pass.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Good Morning Sunshine

As I came out of my sleeping quarter this morning and gazed at the living room, adorned with remnants of a pitched battle between man and mosquito, the grand truth of the previous evening dawned on me:

Half a dozen 20-something IT yuppies really will drink anything. Including Giustino's vile blackcurrant vodka that got separated into blackcurrant and vodka fractions over 24 hours in the freezer.

Still, the rolling housewarming party seems to be going well. (I can only accomodate about 5-6 people at a time, so I'm doing this in stages.)

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday afternoon

Yesterday's post was once again brought to you courtesy of the Chinese pub, which has closed its non-smoking floor in favor of the summer terrace (which has no power outlets for my laptop); although the smoking floor was full of people not smoking, so that worked out fine.

Today I'm at a bakery, which has a weaker signal and less outlets, but makes up for it in having Nerva paintings on the walls. I still don't have a network connection at home, so on weekends I go to cafes and pretend I'm in Paris. Although I suspect most cafes in Paris don't actually have free WiFi.

I've been exploring the area around my apartment, and tried a new supermarket. Whereas the one I normally use is posh and opened a few days before I moved in, this one is a bit cheaper, but it's in a run-down building and caters mostly to residents of Tartu's own Soviet tower block ghetto. For some reason, I found it viscerally depressing. I've always been a bit of a snob.

I like to go into grocery stores when I travel - it's one of those places that is by definition not touristy, isn't putting on a show. It's all business. Stockholm on a summer day will be a clean, pretty, impressive place, but go into the groceries section of Ahlens City and you're exposed to the inner workings of it, the things tourists don't see.

I'm bored. Need more things to do and people to do them with. *yawn*

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Temple

For Jens, by special request. :)

Giustino reports snarkily on the opening of a synagogue in Tallinn - Shimon Perez was there for the ceremony, and the President of Israel had come earlier to lay down the cornerstone. (Construction is quick in Estonia today.)

At a Tartu blogger love-in a few weeks back, I was asked about my background; when I replied that I was (half) Yiddish, the others were surprised. Yiddish is a term for Eastern European Jews; I use it because it is a more specific definition. It is difficult to explain to foreigners the uniqueness of a post-Soviet Jewish identity, because it does not necessarily have anything to do with the two widely-known pillars of judaica: religion and Zionism.

All the mythology and conspiracy theories aside, Zionism comes down to a single imperative: Jews must live in Israel. It is partially because of dogma - the return of all displaced Jews to the Holy Land is supposed to be a prerequisite for the coming of the Messiah - but I guess mostly it's because Jews want a homeland, a place where they would not be persecuted. The Zionist movement dates from the 19th century, far predating the Holocaust, but then Jews had been persecuted in Europe before.

As I explained to my fellow Esto-themed bloggers, the Holocaust has given rise to a specific sentiment among people with at least some Jewish self-identification: the 'never again' which refers not to the evil of others, but to the complacency of ourselves. The most disappointing thing is not that so many people died - it's that so many people didn't resist. This cannot be allowed to happen in the future, and so I unquestionably support the existence of Israel, as a Jewish state and as a significant military force; I am sorry for all the suffering Arabs, but Israel acting like a psycho nutter bastard is my own personal guarantee that if a new Hitler emerges, he will get a late-night visit from Mr Craig long before he ever gets to any sort of threatening position.

And yet I have no intention or desire to move to Israel. It was an interesting country to visit, if I get a chance to go back I'll probably take it; but it's not somewhere I would want to live. My home is elsewhere.

The other thing, religion - I'm a militant atheist. Under equal circumstances I'd prefer Judaism to other mainstream religions, because it's mostly based on interpretation by rabbis - authoritative, but fallible; and because unlike others, it includes a loophole for outsiders. The Noahide Laws, which essentially come down to "don't be a dick", will guarantee a non-Jew passage into Heaven. Dogma influences mentality, so having a rule like this buys a religion a lot of credit in my book.

So I'm quite sure I won't be attending the new Temple in Tallinn; I might stop by for a look when I'm in town, but that's about it. Still, I'm very happy it's there.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Estonica: Still Standing

I'm still around. I haven't been stabbed by rioters, arrested by the police, or even deported to Russia. :)

What I have been doing is dealing with the fallout of something I did on Saturday. With no network connection at the new apartment, I was having suffering from serious information deprivation. Getting online via a Chinese pub's WiFi and reading the news, and particularly the comments on LiveJournal, I became so incredibly angry that I sat down, and wrote a long text about The Truth.

This is a text that spells out the reality of Russians' position in Estonia, all the things that nobody ever really wanted to say out loud. The problem is that this is the time of reckoning, the time to choose a side. And I've chosen. I've been criticized because of the text, called a fascist, a nazi and a kike; I've lost friends over it, because some people could not comprehend the things I wrote about, or accept them. But I've also found support. Before the text spread through word of mouth, when it was only visible to locals, I received dozens of comments supporting me, saying that what I wrote was right.

Below is the translation of that text.

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My name is Andrei. I was born and raised in Estonia. My ancestors on both sides of the family lived in the first Estonian Republic. Even though I am a citizen of Estonia by birth, I have no Estonian blood in me. Biologically I am half Russian and half Jewish. When I am asked about my nationality, I reply: I am an Estlander.

And I support the relocation of the Bronze Soldier.

A few days ago, if you were to ask my private opinion about the monument, you would have gotten a different answer. I would have said that moving memorials is wrong in principle; that a healthy society must develop the capability to look at the figure of a solider in a Red Army uniform, with a stone halo in the shape of the Order of the Patriotic War, and see foremost a part of that society's history. I thought that the memorial should stay in place, and schools must explain to children what it is about. Because the tragedy of Estonia in World War II and the consequent decades of Soviet rule are a part of the country's history. And while the Bronze Soldier is standing on Tõnismägi, Estonians and Estlanders will remember what happened.

At the same time, I knew that there is something much more important than the fate of the monument. This is the right of Estonia's population to decide the fate for themselves. For a small country that only recently escaped from the rule of a gigantic neighbor - and a neighbor with a fundamentally different worldview at that - the sense of independence is primary. Estonians are a careful, restrained nation, capable of doing business even with a partner that they personally dislike; but if Estonians are slow to take offense, they are not quick to forget it. No business interests, no threats of sanctions can make Estonians admit the right of Russia to meddle in their internal affairs.

So let us forget philosophical deliberations of the insult of relocating soldiers' remains from a concrete slab to a military cemetary, and the idiotic myths of Estonian fascists. Let us talk about the sort of things that are not usually said out loud.

Despite the presense of many peoples on its territory, Estonia is a nation state, made by Estonians, of Estonians and for Estonians. This is exactly what is not understood by those local Russian-speakers who predict Ansip's resignation after the events in Tallinn on the night of April 26th, and call the riots a victory. They honestly think that the government will back down now; that they were simply not heard, or not taken seriously.

However, they base their opinion on the mistaken assumption that in a democratic Estonia, living according to Paragraph Twelve of its constitution, rioters shouting "Rossija! Rossija!" and throwing stones at policemen have the same right to the state as Estonians themselves. My parents, who have lived most of their lives in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, explained to me in my early childhood the fundamental principle of democracy: your freedom ends a millimeter from the tip of my nose. Freedom is not anarchy, and democracy does not intend to satisfy each and every member of society. Estonian democracy serves first and foremost the interests of Estonians.

Russians live in Estonia only because Estonians allow them to.

And local Russians understand this. Which is why most Russian-speaking Estlanders have considered all the pros and cons, and decided to stay here. In return for the right to use the conveniences of life in Estonia, they follow the rules that Estonians have established for themselves. This includes knowledge of Estonian, and behavioral norms...

Whatever Moscow media and anonymous russian Delfi commentators say, after 1991 Estonians did well by Soviet immigrants. Getting citizenship requires only minimal knowledge of the language and an elementary test on the Constitution; I have not had need to do the exams, but many of my friends have gotten citizenship through naturalization, and not one considered the demands to be daunting. At the same time, Estonian national exams (recognized for citizenship applications) are done by all those who graduate from a Russian-language high school. In the democratic, free, civilized countries of old Europe - like France - public schools in a non-state language are unthinkable.

The only thing Estonians have asked of the foreigners forced upon them by Soviet rule was respect for the local custom; an understanding that however long these people live in Estonia, they remain guests. This is why a citizen of Estonia by birth and one by choice is only distinguished in one aspect. The former cannot be stripped of citizenship under any circumstances. The latter can. Because when a family member is behaving badly, he is calmed down. When an uninvited guest does the same, he is thrown out.

The events in Tallinn are the fault of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, whose actions against the memorial were overly harsh and obvious, and also Russia's authorities, who used the Russian media to spin the hysteria surrounding the monument to the stage where the relocation of the Bronze Soldier was inevitable. Ahead of the parliamentary elections, the Reform leader needed a political platform, as his party had the image of a team of managers, not statesmen. In the battle of Estonia's two large political parties, the local ally of "United Russia" Edgar Savisaar unambiguously came out in favor of keeping the memorial, and so Ansip came out against. The President's veto did not allow the fate of the memorial to be decided before the elections, and they effectively turned into a referendum; people who voted Reform may not have wanted Alyosha's relocation, but they did not particularly care either. Winning the elections with an unpredicted majority, and setting the record for votes cast for a single candidate, Ansip was forced to continue the relocation process. Backing down at that point would have firstly shown him incapable of delivering his own political projects, and secondly would have destroyed the electorate's trust in the party, which already suffered from "vote Reform, get Savisaar" jokes because of the previous coalition. In the context of Estonian politics, this is terminal.

Under no circumstances could Ansip yield to the Kremlin. At the same time, the pressure from Estonian residents came from non-citizens, or citizens that did not vote; therefore their opinion was predictably ignored. The Estlanders that agreed to play by the rules voted for Savisaar - and lost; the democratic majority voted vor the relocation of the memorial, or at least not against it.

When the police, unprepared for the invasion of the agressive mob, gave downtown Tallinn over to be looted by drunk Russian youths (a third of the looters were Estonians! some scream; and who were the other two thirds? After the relocation of the monument to the German soldier in Lihula, Estonians did not smash shop windows), it was not a victory for Russia, and it was definitely not a victory for the local protectors of the monument. Among my Estonian friends, the disapproval of Ansip's behavior does not lead to demands for resignation, and the only call to hang someone that I've heard on April 27th referred to Edgar Savisaar, who ran to Russian TV to apologize. Two thousand drunk youths in Tallinn and Jõhvi will not scare a million Estonians; conversations overheard in a crowd of Tartu students came down to local Russians mostly being decent guys, and the riots being not a national confrontations, but rather the work of fuckups of all kinds. No matter how much the kids riled up by Night Watch and Delfi riot, the right of Estonians to move the Soldier as they see fit cannot be taken away any more.

At the same time, the authorities' failure to prepare for the riot, senseless and merciless to street kiosks, and the lack of a crowd of Estonian antiprotectors on Tallinn streets, does not indicate readiness to take more disturbances. As the famous Tallinn writer Mihhail Weller wrote, Estonians are not short of steam - they just have a bad whistle. A little more, and detained non-citizen marauders may start to be taken out past the Narva border crossing and left there. In my eyes, as a half-Russian, half-Jewish grandson of people who fought in the Second World War on the side of the USSR, they have already earned the suitcase-train station-Russia treatment.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Home Stretch

So, eight short months later, and my apartment is ready. I'm moving in on Monday, which means that I'm having to think long and hard about what to do with it.

In the spirit of doing things that are slightly out of my nature, I've decided to take the absolute minimum of stuff with me when I move. The new apartment is a bit smaller than my current rental, but the use of space is a lot more efficient; however, it has a lot less storage space. Here I have a balcony and a couple of wall closets where I can simply dump stuff for later reference; there, I will not have the luxury. It is a brand new, modern building, a break with the incompetence and limitations of Soviet architecture. It's even got an unorthodox color scheme, contrived by an artist/interior designer. The point was that the foundation would be grayscale, onto which background I can then add wild and lively colors as I see fit. It came out great - very warm, unoffensive, classical rather than retro. I said it's unorthodox because most of these new apartments - as indeed most deep renovations these days - either end up with either a bland shade of beige, or lose all self-control when faced with a Pantone book. There's an apartment in another building, same floorplan as mine, that is painted a magic marker sort of neon-green. Boggles the mind, really.

But now, I need to figure out the rest of the stuff in the flat. The problem is that such sense of style that I myself possess is calibrated negatively. I mostly get the sensations of "hell no, definitely not that". The upshot is that I rarely end up with things I really like - rather, by process of elimination, I end up with things I can tolerate. I'm not non-conformist for the sake of rebellion itself, not in this case at least, because this is where I'm going to be living, so I need it to be comfortable and practical; at the same time, I despise both the prevalent conservative style and the prevalent modern style in furniture. The former is decadent enough to be offensive, the latter is impractical enough to be preposterous.

I've got two days to trawl Tartu's shops and come up with something acceptable. Wish me luck.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ring The Alarm!

Well, here's a good man
And a pretty young girl
Trying to play together somehow...

The Sad Bastard Christmas tree is now dead. It's a Saturday in February, and I am swearing to myself that I will never - ever - take vacation time around the winter holidays ever again.

A year ago (or close enough, anyway) I was on a ferry, with a girl who I met online - in fact she'd read AnTyx, and was quite impressed. We started talking online, and eventually she asked me to go to Stockholm with her on a day cruise. First time we met in real life, and we were stuck together for two days and two nights. She'd also asked me to take her to the theater, to a play I'd seen and highly recommended. This girl had the sort of life that had no room for theater, or for pleasure travelling - even though she'd been to some very awesome places.

On the first night, we never went to sleep. We just lied there, in our beds, in a pitch-black cabin, talking. She told me about her life, I told her about mine; about my crap experiences, my heartbreak, the girl who thought I'd kill myself over her. She got the not at all unfounded thought that I did not get into a relationship lightly.

We had an awesome day in Stockholm; we had fun together. Back on the ship, I was both exhilarated and exhausted. The excitement of being in a city that I love, with this awesome girl, and the tiredness from walking around all afternoon, put me in an altered state of mind, where I could pretend I was a purer version of myself - with none of the stupid, annoying psycho shit that I cannot escape when I'm in my normal routine. I don't think it would be fair to say I worked up the nerve - it was a form of dutch courage, really - but I did ask if she'd mind if I kissed her.

It could've gone over better; then again, it could've gone over a lot worse.

What she said, was that I should not fall in love with her. That she had a massively busy life, and it was a very important year for her, she had the project of her life coming up in the summer, and she really could not afford to get involved. The most important point she made was that I really did not want it; that it would mess me up.

That night, in the pitch-black cabin - I won't be specific, but I can say that it was very probably the most emotionally extatic night of my life. Morning after, we parted with a hug at the bus station, she going off home down one major highway, and me down another. That night, on IM, she talking about what she thought all day; asking herself why she didn't kiss me.

Fast forward a few weeks, theater, a play she really liked.

Fast forward to the summer, the rocky seaside at a place that a lot of born&bred Tallinners don't know exists; when we fell off a slippery rock, drenching our shoes, and her phone in the process. (It never really recovered.) Sitting on a boulder with her arms folded on my shoulder, the sun shining on her face - that's my mental snapshot of her, at that moment.

Fast forward, when I came back from Israel and she came back from her great project; literally the day of my return (the flight came in at 2am) we drove down to Haapsalu to see Lordi at the ruins of the old bishop's castle. Unbelievably, the show was sold out; so we drove through the night, to Tartu.

The ferry, the boulder, and that was strike three. But things went downhill from there, and by the time the fall came, I felt alone again. She took more and more time replying to my SMSes, and was almost never online. And then I did something stupid.

I took two weeks' vacation over the year-end holidays. Last week of December and first week of January. And if I've said before that I would never be so miserable as to kill myself, then during those two weeks I at least began to see why some people did it. If you've ever remarked upon the destructive power of thinking about your life at night, in your bed, before you fall asleep, you'll know how much you can fuck yourself up when you're left alone with your own consciousness.

Now imagine two weeks of that.

I know it's foolish to somehow rate the success of my year on where I am come New Year's Eve, but somehow I can't help it. That's why early on, I asked her if she wanted to make an agreement - that barring any major events, we'd spend the next December 31st together; and she seemed to get it. Unfortunately, she ended up with some coworkers at the lakeshore instead. And as the last day of the year started, I was a bigger mess than I had been since high school. It got so bad that I could do nothing, except stand in the bathroom, propped up against the sink, look in the mirror and cry for myself.

In the end I didn't have to spend NYE alone. I went to a pretty cool party, held by the German acquaintance of the girlfriend of one of the Gay Vikings. But even before that, I spent a couple hours at a friend's house - a girl I knew from university, who I've spoken very little to before that. When I had no plans for the night, nowhere to go and nothing to do, she invited me over; she was a friend to me when I needed one more than any other time in recent memory. For that, I will always be grateful to her.

I survived the remainder of that week, spending my time at the movie theater watching crap like Eragon. I went back to work. I bought a car. I drank a lot of alcohol with friends in Tartu and in Tallinn, and I decided that I could not go through with such a torturous vacation again, so I allocated my spare eight days and a massive amount of money on a trip to Iceland (in early April; watch this space). And then I had a moment of clarity.

The girl kept telling me, throughout, that I should not fall in love with her, that she couldn't allow herself to fall in love with anyone, and that she definitely did not love me. But I never, ever said the word. Not in those good, early days, and not afterwards. Her presense, her closeness was euphoric; and not having that was horrible. I'd always been good at being alone - yes, I was easily annoyed by people bailing on me, and yes, on a conceptual level I felt like I needed a girl to share my life with. But I was comfortable with spending a lot of time by myself. Being with her changed that: I enjoyed it too much.

After the suicide girl, I was properly heartbroken. After this girl, I am suffering from a black, soul-devouring loneliness.

There are ways of driving it back, and I spend more time socializing now than I have ever done previously. I've not really talked much to the suicide girl - didn't feel like I had anything to say to her. I won't do the same with the loneliness girl, because if there's one thing this New Year's Eve told me, it's that a friend is far too precious a thing to discard. I won't spend a lot of time speculating on her motives. If I want to make myself feel better, I'll say that she's confused and making the horrible mistake of expecting a Prince Charming, denying the possibility of enjoying herself in the meantime. If I'm feeling cynical, I will say that it's the hypocrisy of all womankind, who may talk of personality being more important than looks; but I'm not the Brad Pitt type, so her fascination with my writing, my intelligence and my self-reliance fizzled out.

Lordi is playing in Tallinn on February 24th. I'm going alone.

So don't come here and tell me things that you don't understand
When it's all about the honesty and time for you to learn
Come back, you're always a friend - is that the message I'd like to send?

I want you to feel no more loneliness...
So ring the alarm!
You opened my mind, now I talk to the sign
You cleared up the sights, now I'm up for the night.


P.S. And a Happy Valentine's Day to you, too.

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