It was last Tuesday when I wrote Dr A. N. a regular update on my life and I mentioned that it was a pity I had to cancel my UK trip in November. And that I feel I could really use some Newbold air again. On Friday morning I had a long-ish Skype talk with T. about Greek - as he's teaching it in Newbold, we need to make sure my teaching in Riga is synchronised with his teaching, plus there is always some technical/administrative issues for us to work through. We concluded our conversation with stating that the easiest way for us to get the exam - which my Riga students need to take before Christmas - written would be to sit down together and put in on paper. Trying to find Skype times that would suit both (plus Dr A. N.) has proven to be more than difficult. So T. said, well, why don't you come to Newbold, even if for a couple of days, an exam plus your prep for the spring semester would be a reason good enough for the DTS to pay for your tickets. I said I'd take a long look at my calendar and would think about it. I went home, I looked at my calendar and did some thinking, in the mean time T. had informed the DTS guys of this plan. I found the dates. I had a conversation about it with my colleagues in our conference's AdCom yesterday morning, and explained the need to take this trip. Yesterday afternoon I had my plane tickets booked. T. was glad, Dr A. N. said she was heading to a book shop in preparation of my coming, and even Dr J-C. V. said that he was looking forward to seeing me on campus again (it's amazing how far we've come with J-C. V. since we first met - from the first tutorial when he absolutely killed my essay and I cried my eyes out in my dorm room, thinking I was the dumbest student in Newbold, to him welcoming me as a young colleague now). That's sorted then.

I like this stuff a lot. I like it when things happen so fast I don't even have time to blink my eyes or get myself sorted. Here are tickets to Newbold, go have fun with Greek and your people.

God is good.

I'll be there for two full days only and indeed a lot of work needs to be done, but still - if any of my UK friends happens to be in Newbold area on November 7 and 8, come find me in the midst of Greek grammar books in the library and say hi. I would like that very much!

As to teaching in Riga, I was there again last week. And as we only have two more study days plus the exam left during this semester, I felt surprisingly sad to see this phase - intense and tiring as it has been - approaching its end. I mean, we still have one more semester to go but we will switch to Skype based study days from January and so I won't have a reason to go to Riga that often any more. I have come to appreciate Riga very much - my late night walks in the old town, the small hotel I always go to, plus I've even gotten use to the 4,5 hours bus ride. They have excellent play lists in those buses and I can listen to Chaikovsky's piano concert no 1 and read my book for hours on end. It's really nice, a sort of a mini break between my office and class room.

Here's that Chaikovsky's 1st piano concert. I listened to the beginning of it for who knows how many times last week on my way back from Riga. It's so beautiful it always makes me tear up.

Other than that, no news. Or maybe just that it's getting really cold and I'm waiting for the first snow. Reading Chekhov's short stories and waiting for the snow to arrive, yes.


In Love

I went to a concert last night. I went to hear Mihkel Poll, one of our finest and most acclaimed young concert pianists, play Debussy, Lemba, and Chopin. It was a solo concert, throughout the concert he was the only person on stage – as I understood from a lengthy interview he gave last week, this is by far the most complicated and nerve-racking situation for a musician. No-one supports you, no-one backs you up or covers for your mistakes. I don’t even have to say he did brilliantly and earned standing ovations in the end of the concert. During the second half he played only Chopin. And it took my breath away – in a very literal sense. I would unconsciously keep my breath, staring at his hands (I was lucky to sit very close to the stage), so much so that when the piece ended, I had to exhale and inhale deeply and try to get my breathing back to normal. His hands were creating such magic on the piano keys I literally forgot to breathe.

Afterwards, when I walked back home through the rain, feeling elated, I thought about music. And what kind of effect it can have on me.

For several times we’ve talked with M. about the role of music in our lives. And we have both concluded that it isn’t something extra, something to be added to the basic elements of our lives, music itself is at the core of our experience as human beings. I’m sure it can be different for different people, for many people it can be a nice addition, for me it is a must, a central element of my being. I wouldn’t last long without music. It touches me so deeply, it expresses my feelings so accurately, it can transform the world and it can overwhelm me so much it either makes me keep my breath or it makes me cry. The opening of Chaikovsky’s 1st piano concert makes me cry, for example. Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum mesmerises me. And some pop or jazz song can hold me captive and express my emotions like nothing else can.

I’m one of those people who can listen to one piece or song for about 200 times in a very short time. I know where the repeat button is. And a strange thing that happens with such obsessive listening is that I save all my surroundings and all my emotions I happen to feel during that short time into this one song. For example, when I listen to Norah Jones’ Come Away with Me, I can accurately describe my room and what it felt like to be a 16 year old insecure teenager because this is when I listened to that song excessively. Actually, I can even name the book I was reading during the time I listened to that song the most. We lived in Rakvere, and sitting on the edge of my bed I was reading Viktor Pelevin’s Chapaev and Pustota. I don’t know how my brain does it – I mean, it’s a half a lifetime ago! – but it really does save my memories that clearly, and it all comes back when I listen to this song. There are more songs like that, more time capsules like that. On the other hand, there are some songs I am no longer able to listen to because when I listened to them obsessively, I was in love with this guy or thought about that person. And for different reasons I can’t listen to those songs any more, they are like capsules that hold all those feelings inside them, and I can’t open them. I can’t bring back those feelings. I know it’s strange but it’s true.

This is what music can do to me.

And of course I fall in love with all those musicians right in the middle of concerts. It usually lasts for four days (longer when I was a teenager) but seeing extraordinary talent always touches me deeply. It doesn’t matter who these musicians are in real life, there’s something irresistibly romantic about great talent.

By the way, here’s a note to my UK friends – Mihkel Poll will give a concert in Lincoln in mid November (http://mihkelpoll.com/). He will play my favourite, Chaikovsky’s 1st piano concert there, dammit! Go and cry a tear on my behalf please! :)

I have exactly 3,5 days left to be in love with him.


Over the weekend I was able to spend two days at my cousin’s summer house in Southern Estonian woods. I was hoping to stay even longer but work cut my stay short and brought me back to Tallinn after two days.

This tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere has started to play an important role in my life. It’s not only a place of nature and sauna and ice-hole dipping, not even that of joyous and noisy dinners late at night after sauna or lazy pancake Sundays with my cousin's family (and often my uncle and his family). It has become a place with which I measure my life. Let me explain.

It takes so long to get there (4 hours on a bus plus a 4 km walk from the bus stop – it’s basically as far as you can go, considering how small Estonia is) and the place is so dramatically different from the rushing of the capital city that once I get there, life seems to slow down – even stop – so much so that I am able to take a more objective look at my life and doings and cares. It’s as if I enter a parallel world once I arrive there and I get to measure my victories and losses and acknowledge the seasons of life, both inward and outward. I can go there a couple of times a year, and this pausing, this space allows me to look back and draw some conclusions. The last time I was there, it was early spring. I remember walking 4 kilometers from the bus stop and picking budding branches on my way and putting them in water and enjoying first spring leaves. First green things to be seen that spring. I was on a sick leave. I was battling this and that, thinking about these and those people. Now it was late autumn. Those first fresh leaves had turned brown and yellow, many trees were already bare (or bald, as my cousin’s son says). Sitting in the sauna on Friday evening and looking out at the lake, I calculated and revised and concluded. So this is how far I’ve come since the last time I was here. My health is this and that much better or worse, these were my victories over the summer months, those were my losses. Now I’m thinking about these people, now I’m facing those challenges. (Everything, except for the mercy of the Almighty, seems to change constantly.) This cottage is the measuring stick of my life.

It’s a place where I go to catch my breath when I’ve run out of it. Like my dad said today when I told him I’ve just come from Sillaotsa (that’s the old name of the place), „Isn’t this the place you always go whe things get rough?” I hadn’t thought about it but it’s true – I’ve done a lot of mourning and crying there. But I am also determined to link my happier memories and life occasions to that tiny place. The time S. and J. came to Estonia to celebrate my 30th birthday and we spent a lovely day in Sillaotsa is one of those occasions – I still remember the crazy heat in the sauna and the boat we took out on the lake and the pancakes we ate on the porch. Should I ever get married, this – I hope – could be one of the honeymoon hideouts. Should I ever go and live abroad, this will probably become my regular pilgrimage destination. It will continue to measure my life.

I love this place.

Fifty shades of yellow
Spiders' wonderland
Tea is a must
Boys' playground
Out with the boys
Defending the hay fort
Lake mirror
Book for the weekend
Can't do without a selfie these days!