little white church

THERE IS A SMALL CHURCH in Viljandi painted white and blue. It has a glinting gold cross that one can see from far away. For me, this sacred place has always provided a taste of the Orient, with walls engulfed in hefty boughs of red-orange pihlakad or mountain ash in autumn. I imagine that on a hot summer day, one might find peacocks and other exotic birds of the East behind its gates. The gates protect the church from outsiders, as does a sturdy wood door. I know this because I went there on Sunday to attend mass. When I arrived at the door, I could hear them praying inside.

The reason I returned was because I saw two old friends one morning at the café. These are long-time converts to the Orthodox faith. Our youngest is their goddaughter. I was taken into the church when she was Christened years ago, which was a special time for me, because I got to choose my given name as my church name, after the revered 2nd century Greek saint, Ioustinos. As such, I am one of a few people who can be said to have chosen their own name.

These pilgrims had just attended an Orthodox Christian wedding at the church, they said, where the bride had the crown placed on her head and was serenaded with song. I have been to a church wedding before and I have enjoyed it. Of course they appeared at the moment that I happened to be denouncing Christianity to a friend. “Because if you translate these words literally,” I was saying, “Christianity starts to sound like some sort of vampire cult. Drink my blood, eat my body? This is like cannibalism!” My friend mostly agreed. “And what about these angels? Who thought that up, and who thought that was more believable than Poseidon ruling the seas or Zeus taking the form of a swan?” 

Obviously, I had plummeted out of the faith. What did we even believe in before Christianity? I wondered aloud that day. That was a good question. I had read that the Baltic Finns, for example, believed that the world was attached to the heavens through the branches of a tree of life, and that the constellations were leaves on this tree. There was also the erotic fresco unearthed recently at Pompeii, the one that depicted Leda, the Queen of Sparta, who had intercourse with Zeus, who had taken the form of a swan and produced triplets. Something about the archaeologists’ brush dusting away volcanic ash from the fresco resonated. That buried under all these centuries of Christian ash was another set of beliefs, one with stories just as compelling. But these are not the kinds of thoughts you impart to good Christian friends, who are kind and who believe. Their saintly appearance let me know that Christianity was not going to let me off so easily with my tree of life and Greek gods. They told me of the wedding at the church and I told them how I liked that church.

“But this church, do you ever go inside of it?” one of my friends asked me.

“I did go in,” I said. “Once.”

“How was it?”

“It was cold. The church is heated by a wood furnace. And there the priest stood in his black robe, his beard flowing, tending to the furnace, with the sounds of the firewood crackling.” 

My friends liked this story, but it left me feeling cold indeed. Was it time to go back? The question began to haunt me.

Then one day soon after, I decided to go for a walk. It happened to be the autumn equinox, a weird, hazy day, and I was walking by that same church when two young women came down the street. I immediately noticed one of the women was very beautiful. She had eastern blue eyes, what the Estonians call piilusilm, and hair that dangled around her like lush branches. 

I only looked at her for a second, and then, when she passed, she looked back at me. As I said, it was a strange day, and I noticed then that she was all dressed in blue, the same blue of the church. She was dressed in the church colors and was standing in front of the church! Who was this woman? I hoped that she was not a high school student. That would be depressing. No, she seemed too mature. Who really knew? These occurrences happened every day now, and it made no sense to hang on to them one way or the other. Still, I liked that moment. I liked the way she looked at me. I felt that I could lie with her for all eternity in some kind of paradise full of gold crosses, peacocks, and that strong church incense from the East. Some kind of new life seemed to rise up and out of that moment, fresh buds blooming into yellow flowers blossoming into the wildest tree of life. Was it God’s love? Or had the mighty Zeus felt especially charitable that day?

Whatever it was, it felt wonderful.

gallows pole

THE SITUATION AROUND THAT, like many things, makes me uncomfortable and so I prefer not to speak of it. Instead, let me tell you about my dream, which involved a Spanish maid of all things, or rather, all people. Her name was Esmeralda, and she had small, soft, palm-sized breasts. I know this because as she was tidying up, she approached me. My wife had gone out and left behind a small shrine in the corner of the house, which consisted of a fire burning, and then a woven blanket placed over it, stitched in the parish fashion. “It is very beautiful,” Esmeralda acknowledged it, and then, lifting her shirt, implored me to touch her chest. It was comforting to touch Esmeralda’s breasts that way, they were very soft, and this seemed to calm Esmeralda who, after enjoying the sensations, pulled her shirt down and went about cleaning up the rest of the house. I rather enjoyed it too. I am not one for taking advantage of the help, but if a woman asks you to grope her breasts, then you grope her breasts, no questions asked. Later, I went down to the port where another confidant, a blonde woman who happened to be a bus driver, asked me to ride the entirety of her route with her. To soften the deal, she played Led Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole” on the transport bus, so that I would feel more comfortable. It was an autumn day in Tallinn, sunny but drenched with morning rainfall, and the bus rode from the port up toward that tram stop called Kanuti, where it seems five roads and six tram lines all merge into a tight circle. All the while Robert Plant was singing, “Hangman, hangman, wait a little while,” and the bus driver was looking back at me and winking. It seemed I was to spend the night with her at the end of the line and the map showed that the bus would leave Tallinn and then make stops in Upstate New York and Ontario before reaching Manitoba. It was going to be a long night. At Kanuti though my friend Erland got on, looking much the rogue figure with his shoulder-length hair, like he should be in the Swedish Guns N’ Roses or something. When I told him the plan he immediately tried to talk me out of it. “All of these bus driver ladies are the same,” Erland told me, shaking his head. “Trust me, this has happened to me so many times. They invite you on the bus, play your favorite music, take you back to their hotels at night,” again he shook his head. “So, what’s wrong with that? She seems okay.” The bus driver turned her blonde head toward me and winked again. “No, no, no,” said Erland. “That part’s fine, but afterward, she is going to expect you to be in love with her.” “Me? In love with a Tallinn bus driver?” (“Oh, yes, you got a fine sister,” Robert Plant sang on. “She warmed my blood from cold. She brought my blood to boiling hot, to keep you from the gallows pole.”) “Hey, this is a good song,” said Erland. “It’s Led Zeppelin III.” “Well, as I was saying, if you go out there with her tonight, she’s going to expect you to love her forever after that. Do you really want to love her forever?” I deliberated the proposal, but reached no certain conclusion. “Let’s just get off this bus, go get a coffee or something. I know a café in the Old Town.” When the bus pulled into Rocca Al Mare, we gave her and the others the slip. We went inside and hung out by the arcade until the next bus came to take us downtown. Then I remembered that Erland wasn’t vaccinated and didn’t have his QR code, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Nobody had been checking codes anyway.


LAST NIGHT, I had something like a panic attack. I was on the couch when it overwhelmed me. It’s a mix of anxiety and dread. I am not sure why the mind likes to replay a greatest hits of the most difficult moments of one’s life. All of those wounds, wounds I can never openly discuss with anyone, really. The tendency of well-wishing listeners is to brush away the concerns of others. People like to say, “That is the past,” as if that means something. If you are still troubled by something that happened in the past, a terse statement like, “That’s all history” doesn’t really help much. The fact is, some people are traumatized. Be it by a real, physical accident, or, let’s say, uncontrollable changes wrought by the merciless gods, some things just don’t sit right inside of us, some things haunt us, some things fill us with dread, despair, anxiety, and panic. So the key here is not to ignore the panic or trauma, but to accept that it is now part of your life, and to live with it and live through it. The same way a knee or shoulder injured years ago in a game can still ache from time to time, one’s traumas or anxieties or pains can lurk and manifest themselves, sometimes sharply, painfully, for a small amount of time. Maybe it’s an evening, or a couple of days. Usually they subside, but you can’t just write it off as “but that all happened so long ago.” It’s a white-gray day here in Viljandi. Lots of late October mist and fog. I think I lived through yesterday’s panic though. My ship righted itself and sailed on. What a nightmare, for sure. For those of you who have never felt this, I never want you to know how it feels. Stay secure under your warmest blankets. Tell yourself there’s no need for worry. It was all just yesterday.

first day out of confinement

I WAS STARTING TO get used to solitary confinement. I saw very few people: only my daughter and some people walking by the windows. Watching people walk by was of interest, because I wondered where are they walking to, and why do they even bother doing anything? What propels people forward? Are their minds like little magnets, radiating the next destination or coordinates, telling them that there is a reason they have to go there. “I must throw out the trash.” “I must take the car for inspection.” “Someone needs to give me a book.” This sort of mosaic of self-perpetuating behavior is then lumped under an umbrella called “life.” I have this kind of skewed perspective, because my life was more or less a bed, and a shower, a toilet, a plate with some food on it. My thought processes didn’t really exist, or were not happening on a continuum. I made the most of an online app to have food delivered to me through this. But I was glad to go to the shop. Sadly, my friend Gunna was not in the apteek as I passed by. I like Gunna. She only has to smile to me and I feel better. I keep little people around in my own trajectories like these, people I hang onto in a way, safe people, people who lift my spirits and Gunna is one of them. They were doing an inventory in there, and the apothecary was closed for the day. At the shopping center, all went well, except that I had to listen to really bad pop songs. One of them I have heard many times. There is a repetitive piano figure and some man sort of whines over it. I can’t remember one lyric from the song. There are a lot of rough characters in Viljandi. I don’t understand how people can drink and smoke and fight themselves to infinity and back and still manage to make it through a day. I saw some of these characters in a parking lot. Thanks to doctor’s orders, I kept a very safe distance. When I came out of the shop, I saw a local folk musician was advertising a performance called “accordion meditation.” I thought, of all the weird ideas I had during my illness, I would have never linked accordion music and meditation. There was something unique about that. Damp, gray weather here, reminding me of Cork, Ireland, many years ago. The pool halls and the beer halls and the broken faces in the toilets. It’s a tough life in Ireland and it’s a tough life in Estonia. It’s just a tough life.

maritime ferry town

MORNING LIGHT, SUNLIGHT. Sunlight comes through my window. I slept so deeply and so soundly that I was certain that I had slept half the day. But when I summoned the strength to grasp my phone and read the time, it said it was still just 8.51. Our homes here are still heated by wood furnaces. There is no turning of knobs, pushing of buttons. Fortunately, last night, I discovered a whole stash of dry firewood in a chest next to the fireplace, filled with old newspapers too. This meant that I did not have to go outside. It was very damp at night. In the morning, it dropped below freezing, and turned all the moisture to frost. In the morning, I did go outside. The light and air felt good on my face. The town felt somehow reassuring. It reminds me of a maritime ferry town. Unfortunately though there is just a lake here, and there is no reassuring blast of ferry horn to announce departures and arrivals, or especially thick fog. There is something liberating about living seaside, and something arresting about being landlocked. I shouldn’t despair. In my dream, I went back to my university with my friend Raoul and his mother, who looked like the actress Sally Field. I developed some kind of crush on Sally Field in the dream, which I suppressed, because one is not supposed to be attracted to his friend’s grandmotherly mother. Nii ei tohi. We wandered the halls of the university, but everything had changed, and only the basic layout of the place remained. “It must have been nice to go here,” Sally Field said, and I agreed, except that it didn’t really look like the place I had attended, and none of the people who were once here remained. All of that had been reupholstered, as it were. There was more dreamblur. Trying to escape from a woman who kept pursuing me, and a Japanese psychologist who was waiting for me in his office, but I never managed to get there. Instead, on the way to the office, someone asked me about a classmate of mine, called Buddy (really, in real life) and I commenced to tell the tale of prom night, and how we all went out to the Hamptons and got furiously drunk, and that the last time I had seen Buddy, he was sitting beside a swimming pool the following morning, drinking some bottled water, cool and hungover. That really was the last time I saw him, or heard of him. Like many classmates, other than some postgraduate sightings, Buddy vanished. And that is the way it should be.

no use for days

AFTER THE ILLNESS, the mind sputters back to life like a greasy old engine. You are not your thoughts, but your thoughts try to make themselves you. Little geysers, little cascades of ideas, fragments, obligations, ejaculating into the air. Your mind tells you to get out of bed and make coffee, when your body wants no such thing. I don’t think it’s a wise thing to trust the mind. Don’t trust your mind. Don’t let it tell you that tomorrow is Sunday, and the day after Sunday is Monday, which is a working day. The body is wiser, let it direct you. The body has no use for days. As my little eyes, my tiny windows reopen on the world, all I see is incomprehensible. A mass demonstration today against vaccinations and masks and other restrictions in Tallinn, Estonia. With the amount of Estonian flags on display, you would think that Konstantin Päts himself had risen from the safety of his mossy plot out in the Forest Cemetery and proclaimed again independence. After that, some health official assuaging the public that if you are vaccinated, and you get ill, your illness will be mild. “For a vaccinated person, the disease does not quite qualify as a common cold, but it is significantly safer and does not cause severe illness.” I guess this all boils down to how you rank severe. Watching these arguments, I begin to think about what an argument even is. An argument is a string of connected thoughts in your waking, functional mind. But when you are occupied by the sickness, the ability to process these kinds of linked thoughts crumbles. You can’t have an argument when you do not know who you are. Your life, your consciousness — because they are more or less the same thing — they exist outside of thoughts and arguments. Just as a virus is a biological entity, we too are rather curious biological entities. Thanks to a cozy relationship between my mother and father some cold winter night in the middle years of the Carter Administration, my own entity was launched, shot straight across the moonscape of existence. It’s hard for me to communicate in words at this point, but after waking up from a blurry tiring mess, watching people shout at each other about masks while waving national flags, or having an official tell me how my sickness is, just seems irrelevant. I am going to watch the rest of Casino Royale. It’s a good film. Wish me luck.

throwing love

DAY NUMBER UNKNOWN, second day in isolation. According to the health authority, who was kind enough to call me personally yesterday, upon receipt of my positive test, I probably became infected on or about the 15th of October, as my symptoms presented on the 17th. This could have been at the viewing of No Time to Die, but I really don’t know. People think they can game this thing with unlimited booster shots, rubber gloves, masks, sprays, supplements. Distancing, perhaps, is the only measure that can keep it away, as it travels from person to person. But, as Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park, “life will find a way.” This is another reason why I don’t necessarily want to discuss the situation with friends and acquaintances. It invites second guessing. “But did you wear two pairs of socks, instead of one pair?” At the beginning of this pandemic, I did think that the populist right, combined with the eco-left, were the most out to lunch, but at some moment in the summer, I started to realize how reprogrammed much of the mainstream center had become, as many people became walking infomercials for vaccination efforts. These are educated, experienced people. It was not that they were wrong per se, it was how they were interacting with information. We have lived through the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, not to mention the War on Terror. One might think that we would have retained some independent reasoning, some natural skepticism, survival tools for navigating confusing times, but, alas, not really. At some point, it became increasingly easy not to think, and to buy into popular narratives. As such, I will probably be told that my symptoms are mild, even though they are not mild at all. Because the symptoms should be mild. It’s rather frightening terrain. Zombies of the Living Dead. “But the man on TV said …” Oh well, into my second hot cup of instant coffee. I was lying in bed thinking about a concept I had conjured, throwing love. The other day in the café, I had encountered a really beautiful female soul, sitting there all in pink, and rather than do the usual “man on the hunt” thing (“Hey, can I add you on social media?”) I just decided to let the love feeling grow in me and walk by her slowly, without even looking at her. My belief is that people are sensitive, and they will sense this kind of energy, so that when I walked by, “I threw my love.” And that was all. No words needed to be shared, or awkward interruptions made. I kind of liked this woman. She struck a nice balance between being understated, delicate, but also interesting, and a touch võimas, or powerful. I like powerful women. If you are going to bask in the rays of the sun, then give me the brightest, hottest, most terrible sun. That is the kind of man I am. At night, during a storm, I dreamt I was in a movie theater with my first-year college girlfriend, and we were both nude beneath a blanket. Her roommate was there too. Then we kissed and she asked me to go get a coffee. I wandered the halls of that building, but the coffee machine was broken, and while a fully catered buffet was being set up in an adjacent ballroom, the coffee hadn’t been boiled yet. Which is why this hot cup of instant coffee tastes so well on this sunny second day in isolation. At last, I have it. Behold the cup!

quantum of solace

LAST NIGHT, I watched Quantum of Solace. This is a 2008 film, the second to star Daniel Craig as James Bond. I had seen it once before. With a running time of 107 minutes, it runs tightly, and yet it is a perfect film. I can see no problem with it. Ian Fleming actually left future scriptwriters with loads of material, and “Quantum of Solace” was a short story of his, but for some reason, nobody wants to make film versions of these stories like “The Hildebrand Rarity,” “Risico,” or “007 in New York.” From what I understand, the only aspect from the short story that was borrowed for the film was the title. This time the villain is a very believable nefarious businessman named Dominic Greene, played by Matthieu Amalric, who schemes to take over Bolivia’s water supply. (One thing I rather enjoy is how many actors who turn up in Wes Anderson’s films also appear in the Bond world. Both Amalric and Lea Seydoux appear in The Grand Budapest Hotel. This begs the question, now that Craig is done with Bond, will he turn up in future Anderson movies?). One aspect of the film that was nice to see was the technology, what smartphones looked like back in 2008. I don’t think I had a smartphone capable of transmitting emails until about 2009 or 2010. Back then, life was more “Did you get my email?” Rather than, “Why didn’t you reply to my email?” One thing I learned from this film is how short, well-written dialogue, or well-blocked scenes, can provide ample back story without slowing the pace of the narrative. This is actually one reason why I watch these kinds of action films: to become a more engaging writer. Yesterday I went and got my PCR test done for Covid-19. I walked up to the market and stood in line in the rain with my umbrella. This morning the result was positiivne. I have not disclosed my vaccination status, because of how ugly that issue has become. I do not trust either vaccine advocates or so-called antivaxxers because they have no respect for people’s personal boundaries. Just because you got a shot doesn’t give you the right to stick your nose in someone else’s face and lecture them about “science.” And just because you have watched a night’s full of YouTube conspiracies doesn’t make you a better authority. It’s been disgusting, the whole thing. But, let’s just say, I have been fully able to access public events, restaurants, and cafes here in Estonia, where people are checked at the door, and there is the illusion of health safety, and here I am sprawled out on the couch for days, watching my consciousness dissolve into the air and imagining my blanket is an Aston Martin DB5. This has been a full-fledged flu, and there has been nothing so mild about it. That being said, having to lie around and watch Bond movies isn’t the worst fate, now is it? I might try Casino Royale. I don’t know if I can bring myself to watch Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) drown again at the end, but, as I said, if you leave the film dry eyed, you’re just not satisfied.

bond, james bond

ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, I drove out into the country. All of the apothecaries and pharmacies had closed at 3 pm in town, but I managed to assemble a bag full of supplies for an older couple suffering from Covid-19. Turmeric, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, some other vitamins, ginger, paracetamol. Yes, they were both vaccinated, but had breakthrough infections. I left the bag of goodies at the door of the farm, called to alert them that it was there, and on the way back began coughing. It was a dry, painful cough that continued into the next day. An unusual cough. The following day, I began to feel rather sluggish. Then I decided to arrange a test for myself. I went to the private clinic that offers fast turnaround antigen testing, ordered my test while standing there on my mobile phone, had that nice tickler inserted in my nose yet again, and waited for the result. A half an hour later, it arrived: negatiivne. Still, I was feeling slow. At night, I ordered Spectre, the 2015 James Bond film, and watched it. I quite enjoyed it. I am not sure what people expect from a Bond movie. It delivered on suspense, car chases, boat chases, helicopter chases. It had Lea Seydoux, who is inarguably beautiful. I mean, she really is stunning. Compared to some of the ridiculous stuff that Roger Moore put out in the 1970s, you can’t really do better than this. Still, it somehow got mediocre reviews. I mean, come on, people. What else do you expect? I suppose people want to cry too, which is why Skyfall and No Time to Die were somehow more satisfying. We want to cry at the end. Somehow I was lost in this Bond world as my illness continued, to the point that I began to have those slightly feverish dreams, where you lose your focus, or your perspective, and perception starts to shift. I started to think that I was Bond, and that my blanket was Bond’s Aston Martin DB5. This continued until I lost all comprehension of existence all together. The only thing I remember was Freyja bringing me a glass of water. Freyja is Dulcinea, the “youth” of “The End of Days.” She really has lovely eyes, eyes like oceans. You can just stare at them forever. I don’t think I have ever fallen for someone so young, but I am getting a little older, so maybe this trend will continue. And maybe she is not so young anymore. Anyway, she brought me a glass of water and I drank it, and then I whispered to her, aitäh, aitäh, aitäh, or “thank you, thank you, thank you.” I think I actually said this out loud during my shapeshifting sleep. For me, that gesture was worth everything. The water was gravely needed. 007 was parched.

the architecture of the blues

TODAY SOMEONE ASKED me about the blues. I had said that I was living the blues. “What do you mean? The music?” No, not exactly. The blues are presented in the music. I guess you could stitch the two of them together, but the blues are bigger than the music. The blues are a belief system, a way or key to interpreting life. The way this belief system is presented is via the music. The music is the teachings of the system presented for the people. The architecture. The layout. This goes here, that over there. At their core, the blues are about survival. They are about people who have been kicked out, kicked low, kicked high, kicked, shoved, pushed, pulled, molested, hurt, pained by life, and yet keep moving on, no matter what, out the back door, in the front door, out the back window at night, in the front window in the morning. “When I first started hoboing,” sang John Lee Hooker, “I took a freight train to be my friend, Oh Lord.” That’s all it is right there. Solitude. Desperation. Loneliness. There is a monastic quality to the blues, yet one that does not demand of its adherents monastic qualities. No. No. You do whatever you need to get by. That is the tenet of the blues. You have to move.