Estonian Maritime Museum

I just realized that I forgot to blog about one more museum in Tallinn – the Estonian Maritime Museum. The museum is relatively new, and its centerpiece is an old cog – a Medieval merchant ship. 

It was built at the end of the 13th century, and it sailed for quite a long time until it sank in the mid-14th century. The ship was discovered and lifted from the sea in 2015. Now, the cog, along with hundreds of artifacts discovered on the wreck, occupy the museum’s first floor.

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Tallinn: Walking The Streets Of The Old City

Until it started raining, we walked along the familiar streets, and each turn made me happier and happier. It’s not like I thought that pandemic is forever, but for a while, I was thinking – will we ever have this freedom again?! And Tallinn… I really love Tallinn – for many reasons, not only because it is Boris’ city. 

Remember what I said earlier about going abroad in the time of the Soviet Union? To put it bluntly, we were not allowed to travel abroad, period. But the Baltic countries (no matter they were called “Soviet republics,” we knew better!) were our tiny windows to the Western World. We knew that “we” – Soviet Russia, were hated, and somehow that fact also reassured us that we were in real Zagranitza. An overnight trip to Tallinn by train on student discount cost 6 rubles – something we could afford, and going to Tallinn for a day was one easy way to stay in a fairy tale for a day. A night in the train car, a day there, and another night back.

When we entertained the German student delegation, one of the tours we offered them was a day trip to Tallinn. We even managed to book a tour in German! We endlessly walked around the city, and I can only imagine how our German visitors felt. During the day, we grabbed food here and there, but when it was time to have dinner, our German guests wanted to go to Vana Toomas. 

Now, Vana Toomas was (and still is) the restaurant on the Townhall Square, and it was the only “real thing” back then. And it was guarded against “invaders.” I almost forgot about this story, but yesterday, Boris reminded me about it when we passed Vana Toomas (not about the story – he was not a part of it, but how I told him this story).

We told the Germans that we could try, but they had to speak, and we would be silent. They agreed, and about fifteen minutes before the restaurant was to be open for dinner, we lined by its doors. In five minutes, several tall, muscle, and silent Estonians approached and asked one of the Germans in Russain what the hell they thought they were doing here. Following our instructions, the student replied Ich verstehe nicht. This answer created an instant miracle: we were cordially invited in, and the staff even moved the tables to accommodate our big company. We (three Russian female students) kept our mouths shut and whispered to the Germans when we needed something. 

We loved Tallinn, loved its unique Medieval spirit, the walls and the gates, and the towers. We loved their independence. We loved that they hated us. 

These times are gone. I had this feeling even in 2016, but even more now. We walked the streets of the city with Boris, and he told me that he felt this difference during multiple trips to the Baltic countries in the past several years. He told me: these countries parted their ways with Russia irreversibly and forever. And they do not hate anymore. They just not care. Pretty much like Finns.

Here is to our love and adoration for this unique place …

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In addition to working two jobs simultaneously and having never-ending crises on both, I dealt with one more problem.

Over a week ago, when the rains were really heavy, we had the building utility basement flooded. I didn’t think much about it: there is a bike room and storage units there, and nothing else. Our board members encouraged us to check the content of the units, but I thought I am fine: my unit is the closest to the bike storage, and I see it every day.

However, on Monday, I finally decided to move to storage a utility cart, which was sitting on my balcony. When I opened my unit, I realized that one of the cardboard boxes was sitting on the floor, not on the shelves. I thought that I should move it back to the apartment for a while since now I know that I have space, but I never got to do this. And now, the box was visibly wet and damaged.

It turned out that I was not even aware of how many letters I had! I didn’t have space to set them dry, and I didn’t have time! This week was very work-intense, I tried to squeeze a half-hour here and there, but it was not enough.

Some letters and dairies were almost intact and required very little time to dry. Others were so wet that the paper was falling apart, or the ink would get almost dissolved. Some wet pieces of paper or postcards were pressed together so that I could not take them apart, and then they dried that way.
I will need to spend some time over the long weekend sorting this stuff out.


Yesterday, I watched the movie “Radioactive” (a part of Siskel center membership). It’s a great movie, but watching it at that moment and in my current state of mind was a terrible idea.

It’s such a tragic story, of which I knew almost nothing. On a personal level, it elevates the fears I am trying to dismiss. I cried a lot while watching…

Film Center from Your Sofa: Mephisto

To be precise, it didn’t need to be a Siskel Center member to watch this movie online. But one of the reasons I love Siskel center is that they make me aware of the great movies I might never hear about otherwise. 

I believe the Mephisto was the first film directed by Istvan Szabo I ever saw, and I can’t even describe how much it impressed me! Often, when you watch the movies made in the 60s-70s-80s, you can’t but notice some “old” ways. Not the case here. The film feels so up to date! 

Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Szabó’s most celebrated film features a mesmerizing turn by Klaus Maria Brandauer that Roger Ebert called “one of the greatest movie performances I have ever seen.” Brandauer plays Hendrik Hoefgen, a German provincial actor who starts out in the 1920s with high ambitions and fashionably leftist ideals. His signature role is Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, but he proves to be more temptee than tempter when the Nazis take over and cultivate him as an all-too-willing tool of the regime. MEPHISTO is more than just a showcase for Brandauer, as Szabó crafts a rich and vivid picture of both the Nazi and theatrical worlds, whose shared reliance on sham and spectacle exposes the slippery slope between artistic self-absorption and moral/political corruption. 

Gene Siskel Film Center

When I was watching the film it felt like I heard it just yesterday: I am not interested in politics! I am an artist (scientist, writer)! I am doing things which are more important to mankind than politics. And I need to be here, to preserve theater, science, art for future generations! And by the way, <put the name of a political figure here> is way better than others! He is smart, and he cares about art-science-theater, you name it…. Great movie…

And yes, I am planning to watch the other two!

“I wish I knew” – Documentary

Yesterday, I watched a documentary, “I wish I knew.”

Widely considered China’s most important contemporary filmmaker, Jia (STILL LIFE, ASH IS PUREST WHITE) focuses on the city of Shanghai in this ambitious documentary, never before released in the US The city’s present in captured in stunningly composed widescreen images that emphasize the juxtaposition of decay and progress, often incorporating the hazy expanse of the Yangtze River. The past is explored through interviews with the survivors of such upheavals as the Civil War and the Cultural Revolution, their stories often marked by violent death and exile (the latter subject occasioning side-trips to Taiwan and Hong Kong). As in his other major documentary 24 CITY, Jia blurs the line between fact and fiction, with his muse Zhao Tao serving as a recurrent presence wandering through the city. In its latter stages, much of the film concerns China’s cinematic past, with excerpts and interviews (including Hou Hsiao-hsien) evoking the often contentious relationship between art and politics. In Mandarin with English subtitles. New DCP digital widescreen restoration. (MR)

Siskel Center website

I found this documentary to be very depressing, although Igor disagrees with me. The filmmaker’s work is outstanding, but it shows China not how we are used to seeing it. In this “mixture of decay and progress,” we are not really used to the “decay” part.

For me, there were too many allusions to the history of the Soviet Union, both in the excerpts from the propaganda movies and the specific language, the way of saying things by survivors/witnesses.

Also, I was thinking about the Soviet documentaries from the time we were not friends with China. At that time, the Soviet correspondents would search for Chinese dissidents, and film interviews with them (half-face covered by black stripe). And these dissidents were saying, how things were horrible in China: hunger, shortage of everything, no freedom of speech… how ironic!
I’ve already mentioned some other Soviet documentaries when they would interview people in England or the US during the 1970s economic crisis. The funny thing – is was all true! The workers would emotionally tell how prices are up every day and how their salaries are not matching up… You do not need to photoshop the reality, you do not even need to cut and paste the pieces of film, it’s all in the commentary on the background…