Tallinn Old Town

Reflecting on my trip to the Estonian capital last month, I can say I noticed some things I have not previously been aware of even though that may have more come about from my own previous ignorance.

Firstly, it is important to know that the history of Tallinn–of Reval, of Koluvan, of Lindanise–spans firstly many centuries and secondly many cultures, of whom nearly all have left some mark. A wandering around the capital can lead you on streets financed by German merchants that gave birth to Danish legends and which were partially uprooted by Swedish axes or Soviet bombs.

One of these items I thought of going to investigate up close, but did not, was the famous Danse Macabre by Bernt Notke that I think I have seen once before. The thought behind it–of everyone’s equality–is probably more to my liking now than fifteen years ago. However, the motivation to spend an exorbitant sum to go into a museum for a few tens of minutes did not exist. Clearly, one can become too comfortable with the free museums offered in some other places…

Tallinn’s depth of history also means that one needs to know where they are going or what they are doing if they are looking for something specific. For me, this time round, I was not looking for anything else than an opportunity to see what was there.

The Danish gardens by the Old Town, the city perimeter, the abandoned modern fortifications… and the list goes on–what do you want to see? A Soviet-style prison? Also there. A Hansaetic guild house? Go and take a look…

A lot of these places, naturally, carry their own local myths and legends, and even if I was more able to differentiate between their varying history; I had also forgotten some, if not most, of the legends that accompanied these sights.

A medieval atmosphere definitely existed though I have previously laughed at some writers who have mentioned Tallinn as the ‘medieval’ city of Europe; of course, this atmosphere won’t be found on the Town Hall Square at bars charging €5.50 for a beer while grumpily acknowledging your presence. Instead, one needs to know which places are worth going to, or at least be willing to experiment outside of the traditional options (probably best defined as the ones which are easily signposted). The advice of Mr Cowen to look for places (especially for food) out of the way and frequented by locals won’t go amiss.

A final surprise which was pleasant at least to my mind was the plurality of street musicians. The good weather naturally helped, but it was an absolute delight to stroll down a street while decent (folkish) music played aloud. It was even possible for me to leisurely listen to these tunes–something which might be less true for the tourist of the cruise ship who is sailing out again in four hours’ time…

Dreamworld

It is an odd coincidence that lately I have been able to remember my dreams far more than I used to. Coincidence I say because it would also seem that my dreams have become more interesting than in the past. Obviously though, this could only be a reflection of the fact that I remember, by which I also appropriate more importance to these dreams.

When I think of the dreams I have had lately, I have to say that mostly when I wake up I am confused as to whether what happened in the dream might have happened instead on the day before. Since the events I see fall in line with the things I am concentrating on in ‘real’ life, the similarities only confuse me more.

It might be difficult to describe it any better terms unless this feeling has been experienced in person. But, think of this: Of the things I can remember, the most memorable was something that either happened on Friday or in the dream on that day. I haven’t been able to determine which it was up to this point, and I will probably remain unable to do so. Maybe this inability to categorize it as either is the main reason for which I appreciate it that much — the uncertainty I face is fun.

There have been a number of other events as well, but I will not lay them out here. It was more that I wished to describe the general sensation. In a way, it has made me think I live in a dreamworld. Once I lost the capability to define whether a dream had been a dream, the only way to continue on was to say that anything seen in a dream might have happened in ‘reality’ as well. So, if something went wrong or contrary to plans, it would make more sense to avoid it even if it seems as if the original was part of a dream. It pays to be cautious.

In a way, would a dream not be the subconscious’ way of warning us from things we should not do? And all the more so if it does it in a way where the warnings resonate greatly with daily life and results that I would not see come true.

There is also the small possibility that if my dreams feel real, my reality might have become a dream… How would one go about resolving this particular conundrum?

So, as inconclusive as this post has been, I have said what I meant to say. Life feels more like a dream since my dreams have continued on from the experiences of the day, with this sense of similarity acting as an anchor on life itself. I am still here, and so is the day in which I live. The dreams come at night, but the next morning it might feel as if I have just woken from a long yesterday. And I think I am better off for it.

‘From dream to dream we dream, and today we dream anew.’

“Whose entire body of work is worth reading?”

Reading Marginal Revolution brings up interesting questions every now and then. Tyler Cowen is a person with a very wide range of interests, and these are well reflected in the wide spectra of posts that can be found on MR. So, with interest I opened up a post with the same title as above, thinking: “What has Tyler written now?”

That original post can be found over here, ‘Whose entire body of work is worth reading?’. It might be interesting to acquaint oneself with what Mr Cowen has said for I think I wish to differ in my opinion.

Yes, I’ll grant that historians are an easy pick. Or, at least, an easier pick than any fiction writer. But there’s a reason for that and I am not entirely confident that the reason is that high quality history is always substantiated by top research. And, even if it is, it is not the research but the author’s readability which is the important part in reading a historical book. And, being very good at research means very little in immediate writing skills gains so there must be more to the puzzle.

My theory on the historians would be that historians who have the knack for writing come out better in the general readability of their tomes. If they know how to write well instinctively, they have an easier time writing for having to worry less about making the story into a single cohesive unit. And, yet, I would dare not name any names. I don’t think I am familiar enough with the works of any single historian to bring him/her out in full.

Overall, then, this question comes down to style for me. But, if I concentrate on the problem, is it possible that any writer has kept their style from the very beginning to the end without pause so that it is uniformly strong and infallible?

I don’t think so.

In effect, I would go so far as to say that all of the names that Mr Cowen brought up in his post are names that I would not dare mention. In which case, what names would I bring up?

That’s a trickier one to answer, partly because I feel like I would want to name a few people, but I am afraid that their originals read worse than the translations that I have read. It might be a fortuitous event that I’ve probably read Arthur C. Clarke most extensively, probably covering the majority of his published works, but even that list is a few titles short of a full collection. And no matter how good the ideas present in the books I’ve read, Mr Clarke has had a few weaker books.

Henryk Sienkiewicz would probably come second, and again the question of translations has to be present. Assuming that Sienkiewicz’s style in Polish is just as clear and strong as it was when I read it in English and Estonian, I would be happy to say that all of his work is worth reading. If, however, some parts of it were a fluke of chance or an edit of the translator, then maybe the reader has been deceived. [Note that a lot of the sentiment present in Mr Sienkiewicz’s works is something I might consider worthy of reading to understand the past rather than the present.]

Of other names, I would bet on Ryotaro Shiba. Again, I have only read him in translation, some of which was not the top quality work I was expecting, I do say myself, but I think that his style in the original is likely to be so much better. So, there’s another unsubstantiated claim that I cannot prove.

On the philosophers: why would I cross off Plato and the rest mentioned in Tyler’s post above?

I am not certain that their works carry the worth of reading throughout. The thoughts of philosophers naturally vary over time and space, and I would not find it difficult to believe that the heavy style we have attributed to Plato and Nietzsche is stronger in some of the books than in the others. And if that is the case, then with the style of the author faltering how can the author himself be consistently skillful?

Indeed, if I were to guess of a type of people who would have put down the most to paper that is all worth reading, I think I would lean towards a playwright or a poet. Maybe Pedro Calderón de la Barca is a good guess, but I’ve only read one title by him so I cannot comment in full. Yet, Calderón de la Barca sounded as if he had something to say. Likewise, I would probably prop J.R.R. Tolkien up there if only for all of his poems, although that is shirking the question slightly again…

So, those are the names that I would put forward. I didn’t think much on where to get them from, nor did I spend an inordinate amount of time on them, but I think that’s something for a start (I’d be interested to see what any of my readers say). I dare add that this is probably one of those questions which are better left unasked in general, although it is also always fun to throw names around and see which ones stay in the air. But, for now, I’ll keep to the poets…

Life on the Coast

Merede tuules on päikest ja liiva…

I was yesterday surprised when a person I know said that living by the sea had become disappointing/boring for him… and when I managed to think about it for a few seconds, I understood that that might be the only feeling that the average British coastline can give to a person on the average day.  The beaches I’ve been to have both been windy. Well, not both, I did climb down the wonderful hill in Slapton so I could theoretically say that I’ve been to four — Thurlestone/Buckland, Slapton Ley, Hunstanton, and Sea Palling/Happisburgh. Original count gave me three since I considered the Norfolk ones together — they did look rather similar. On all of these counts it was windy — given, Thurlestone was rather warm as well but that only seemed to exacerbate the wind… All of the rest can be summed up as windy and overcast (admittedly, the larger frequency of visits to the Slapton Ley one means that I was there during non-windy times as well).

However, that is nearly irrelevant — just wanted to demonstrate that I know little of the variety most definitely present around here. Nevertheless, I am well acquainted by now with the weather of the finest location in the United Kingdom — an average of two more hours of sunlight per week than the rest of this realm. And, if I picture any beach that I know of in such conditions as that claim suggests, I shudder. Living on one or near one would mean that seeing the sea at its worst is far easier than the opposite.

For some reason, the image of two long seawalls extending far into the sea side-by-side under an overcast — the one where you know that it will rain soon, and it would not surprise you in the least if thunder accompanied the rain — sky… not thoroughly overcast, if you turn around in the end of the seawall and look back at the land, you can see the sun far away. The knowledge remains, it will still rain. The best and worst of a city by the sea.

Added to that the sense of supervision, a look from above at the same place frozen in the darkness of the winter, the sun now in the height of its wintery ascent — the sea glistening under the light, a near-perfection if there can be something like that.

What remains to be described is the third option — a southern sea under a mild breeze that lets you know that the season of monsoons has not yet come or is past already. The sun slowly moving to hide beyond the horizon, with darkness crawling over the setting day. The branches of the palms and tropical trees swinging slowly in that evening wind.

There are other images present as well but I will leave them without a description. I have said what was the important part, and I do believe — the right mind-set will allow even a bleak day by the sea to be better than a fine day away from it. Agree to disagree,..

Sundays

The wonders of the world are passing.

Sundays are interesting. Waking up early (half seven), drinking tea, listening to music, reading news, observing what’s going on…

Faint ideas that tomorrow will be worse.

I think I might have sorted out what is going on next year and the year after. Well, to be fair I kind of replanned the entire "future section". We’ll see what happens, a few contingency plans ready in my mind as is.

And this quote came to my mind (relating to studies but also otherwise // and it took me a considerable time to actually find it in the book): 
"Anyone who toadies to those above him and treats those below him with hauteur lacks confidence in his own resources and competence."
— Ryotaro Shiba

Lest we forget…

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
— ‘The Ode of Remembrance’, L. Binyon
 

So I thought that it might be worth to name those names which I know I should not forget. If I know I am not to forget them, why write them down? Because I am afraid that my mind, in its everlasting wish to make itself more important than it is, would like to pretend that others do not deserve what they do.

In the case of the following people, what they deserve is only good.

I have also tried to list the reasons why. The reasons might seem less significant whenever I am to reread this, but the significance was very real for me at some point.

Sander Kolosov — He told me, in a way that I knew those words were truth, "usaldusväärne". It meant so much to me then. Then? Sometime in the summer of 2010, when I paid a long-time debt to him that he had forgotten.

Madeleine Starks — She reminded me of what I had forgotten once more. She made me realize what I had been lacking. Motivation. I knew, I solved the problem. Laziness is to be abhorred. I wish it wasn’t that easy to forget. I hope I remember now.

Triin Vask — For teaching the concept of honesty. For reminding me I had forgotten what honesty should be about.

Hanna-Liisa Vilu — She saved my face. There’s nothing more to it. [I am reminded of the quote by J. Clavell: ‘I dinna ken who you are, but thank you for saving my face.’

Reliability

So, based on the internet and my probability coursework, I am a reliability engineer. Why? 😛 That’s what my coursework says. Said. Cause I got it done. When I had expected not to.

Motivation is an odd thing. Find it where you least expect it.

But the best things in life… they either don’t ask for motivation, or you’re already motivated for them. And that keeps the engine working. Even though it’s not very reliable.
 

Memories of Summer

Beautiful weather for the 24th of February. It seems like summer. And Estonia is frozen. It seems fitting. It might even be that any other way would be wrong. I cannot be sure. 

I am reminded of the summers when I read outside at "home". There is no photograph of that… yet, the image is clear in my mind.

Hmmh. I say, a photograph… I hear, しゃしん…

A Passing Moment

 It is an amazing feeling to sit in my room, looking outside at the drizzling rain while listening to good music and reading about the exploits of men of steel and the cowardice of those who were afraid to do their duty. Svanstrom’s ‘A Short History of Sweden’ is the book I’m handling at this current moment in the hopes of finding reference to a very obscure military manouver. It is most interesting.

Why should I bother with Probability? Or RSF coursework? Indeed, if I can deal with topics that are interesting and fun to read about then ArcGIS proves to be no good alternative… at least on this moment.

It is worth mentioning that the rain stopped for the exact time that it was supposed to be dry. Odd. Now I hear it again, falling slowly against the roof and windows.

And I’ll continue my reading…

Thoughts Reimagined

 What is this life… 

.. And this would likely make the day … if I continued with William Henry Davies. ‘Leisure’ is, after all, an excellent piece of poetry. However, what I wished to say today is not in reference to ‘Leisure’ (With the possible exception of purposefully misquoting him and saying "What is this life if, full of care, We have no time…") for what seems to be lacking lately is time. Nothing else, but time. And I’m not speaking mainly of myself — I am speaking of everyone and no one, and this tells me that something is wrong. I actually made a (very short) note before writing this and that reads as:

"A life of interest.
A vain person. To make
friends is nearly not as easy
as keeping them."

[Original spacing preserved for excellence.]

I’m sure that many will draw their own conclusions from the previous (indeed, an experience that more people should follow — thinking, after all, is a most useful experience!) but those are likely to miss what I meant to say.

So, what did I intend to say?

I think I’ve managed one thing I wished to accomplish, though it was by no means on the top of my to-do list. What I feel most strongly is that I’m growing more distant from Estonia with every passing moment. (That should be no surprise to anyone). What indeed I hoped would not happen was that I have not found much reason to keep going back there. I know of one upcoming trip, and I suspect another… but to spend a summer there, again? Even though summers in Norwich are likely to lack what I except (a warm sea) then it will most likely be a more interesting and enriching experience (especially if I’ll be able to do more than be in Norwich). As I see it now, I’d expect a visit back "home" in June and then August, or it might be possible indeed that I’ll have to accommodate the two important summer-time birthdays which would mean July (in which case August would be outright foolish). Oh well, I’ll see how it turns out. Whatever happens, it will be interesting. 😉

What I did not however expect was that the idea of Estonia (and what it has stood for) would be so clear in my mind. A discussion on the pros-cons of our policies (not directly, but indirectly at least) of the last twenty years was an example of that. No matter what they did wrong, I am slightly offended by the thoughts that they could have done it better. As it stands, the few names which allowed for the creation of such a state as it is today are still strong and powerful — I wouldn’t want it any other way. And, having grown up in it, I can see the beauty of such a system, as it is. Wanting it in any other way is… [!!]

And, I’ve finally kindled the thought of reading A.T. Mahan in his original [pun intended]. That should be fun… and somewhat more original than the usual book I read.