Christmas concerns (and doggy bags)

What is the point of selling Christmas cards without envelopes? I mean, really. Even if you’re writing the card for someone you see every day, and will just be handing it to them in person, they’re still going to expect it to be in an envelope with their name scribbled across the front, perhaps in decorative curly writing. With a glitter pen. (‘Tis the season.) And you’re going to be even more likely to require an envelope if you’re buying the sort of cards that have touristy pictures of wintery Tallinn scenes on the front, surely? So why would those be the ones that are sold without envelopes? It makes no sense to me.

That was my first strange discovery today. The second was when I saw Santa standing at the edge of the Old Town, smoking a cigarette and urging passers-by to throw money into the large jar at his feet. This upset me slightly, partly because I didn’t know that Santa smoked (although I suppose it must be a stressful job, particularly at this time of year), partly because he seemed to have lost an awful lot of weight (possibly due to aforementioned stress), and partly because I never expected to see him begging for money. I mean, I know the world has plunged into financial chaos, but I just kind of expected Santa to be immune to all that. You know, maybe have some sort of emergency savings fund. Too many people are counting on him for a happy Christmas – what will happen if the people of Tallinn do not give him enough money to employ the elves to finish making all the toys? One shudders to imagine.

I tried to escape my Santa-related worries by going to see a film with Riho – there’s a film festival on in Tallinn at the moment. Tonight, we went to see Sina Olin Siin (“I Was Here”), as I really wanted to see an Estonian film. Yes, I have become so fluent in Estonian that I can now go and see Estonian-language films! It was very good (although the constant presence of writing in some other language at the bottom of the screen was a bit of a distraction).

The film was followed by dinner in a nice Italian place, where I couldn’t finish my exceptionally delicious meal and once again bemoaned the absence of doggy bags. Someone once told me that restaurants aren’t allowed to give you doggy bags any more because if you take food home and don’t reheat it properly and get food poisoning or something as a result, you might sue them, and they don’t want to take the risk. Which is just ridiculous, because surely if you’re that sort of person you’ll just blame a restaurant anyway if you do happen to get something resembling food poisoning? Anyway, I’ve never asked for a doggy bag since I heard this (which was years and years and years ago) – but then I went to the US a few years back, and upon expressing my horror at the size of the portions in restaurants, was informed that you’re not expected to eat it all at once. You just say “box it up” and they’ll bring you a little box with the rest of your food, so that you can have another meal the next day. It’s great! So surely if the doggy bag ban thing was true, the US would be on board? They’re more into the whole lawsuit thing than the UK, after all. So now I’m doubting the validity of the information I was given all those years ago, or wondering if I dreamt it, and I’m pretty annoyed at the amount of food I’ve wasted by not asking for a doggy bag, and indeed the number of times I’ve made myself feel ill by forcing myself to finish a far-too-big meal. Do you see? Do you see the enormity of the issues I face in my day-to-day life?

Anyway, I couldn’t ask for a doggy bag here, just to see what they’d say, because they would most likely think that I was literally asking for a bag for my dog, or a puppy in a bag, or some such thing. It would all be horribly embarrassing. Instead, I wrapped up my leftover cannelloni in my napkin and smuggled it out of the restaurant in a furtive sort of manner, Riho laughing at me all the way. “What do you think they’re going to do to you if they see you?” he demanded, not understanding my secrecy. I couldn’t really answer him, as I was trying to conceal my dismay at the feeling of warm spinach and ricotta seeping through my napkin into my coat pocket. Once on the street, I removed the disastrous cargo, realised that I was never going to eat microwaved cannelloni with added pieces of napkin and coat fluff, and threw it into the bin. “You’ll never make it in the world of petty crime,” said Riho astutely, through his laughter.

And so I must rely solely upon honest work to earn a living. Which is more than can be said for Santa, whom we passed again on the way home, still smoking and apparently doing nothing other than yell at pedestrians in order to earn his pennies. “I mean, he’s not even fat! He is basically standing there on the street corner, smoking cigarettes and wearing a costume.” I said increduously, getting really quite agitated about the situation. “Who on earth is going to give him money for doing that?”

A passer-by rather irritatingly chose that moment to enter into friendly conversation with Santa and stooped to put money in the jar.

It is a strange world.

When your friends pull you down

It is nice to be snuggled up indoors, looking out at the snow, which is actually very lovely and sparkly and pretty when you’re not trying to wade through it.

I have just spent an enjoyable half hour watching a guy in an internet company van trying to drive out of the car park at the back of our apartment. I feel a little bit mean about this, as I would have been traumatised if such a thing happened to me in Rio the Clio, but it’s not like I would have been any use to him if I’d gone out to lend a hand. Then it would just have been me openly watching him in amusement as opposed to me watching him, unseen, from a seventh floor window.

Internet Guy made the unfortunate error of driving up the ramp to the top level of the car park. The one that’s uncovered and exposed to the elements. The one where the blizzard raged wildy for several days and buried the car mentioned in yesterday’s post. The one, in fact, that is actually waist-deep in snow at the corners, where the snow has drifted and settled in for the long haul. Poor Internet Guy.

He didn’t even make it to the top of the ramp before his front wheels became wedged in a pile of snow and started spinning wildly. Internet Guy made a concentated effort to advance, but the wheels continued to spin and the van pushed in vain against a solid white barrier, so he paused and thought for a moment before putting the van into reverse. He was not going down without a fight. In fact, he was not going anywhere, because he’d now dug the entire front half of the van into a rather deep hole, and so trying to go back was no longer an option either.

Internet Guy emerged sulkily from the van, immediately sinking into the mountain of slush that his revving had helped to create. You could almost hear the sighing from up here. With admirable calm and patience, he worked his way around the van, kicking away the snow as best he could, before getting back into the driver’s seat and having another shot at reversing.

Wheeeee! It was like the snow was gleefully rejoicing in its triumph as it immediately piled up around its captive’s wheels once more. Internet Guy made an exasperated phone call.

Five minutes later, a loyal friend arrived with a shovel. Much walking around, digging, and scratching of heads was performed as the two attempted to free the trapped van and eventually saw their efforts rewarded by more frantic wheel-spinning and snow-spraying. Loyal Friend appeared to give up and walk away, but reappeared in his own car at the bottom of the ramp. Ropes were attached; expressions were grim. Apart from mine, and Riho’s, which were more of the disbelieving variety. I have never before seen a vehicle being towed down a parking lot ramp and around the corner. I wouldn’t actually have thought such a thing was even possible, but you know what? Turns out, it is.

dsc01975“He’s free!” I exclaimed joyfully, as Internet Guy removed the rope from his van and drove off somewhat apprehensively towards a “down” ramp, having apparently decided against “up” for the time being. And so, my friends, you now know that if you ever get stuck on a ramp in a car park, you just need to get a loyal friend to tow you back down.

I really need to get out more, but it’s quite entertaining to watch exciting rescue operations taking place right outside your window. Plus it’s much warmer this way.

Slip Sliding Away

In a moment of extreme bravery/stupidity, I have ventured outside in spite of the continued presence of the mad snow.

I have been forced outside by necessity, as Riho has apparently barricaded himself indoors until March and we are out of bread and milk, and as I also need to buy wool and post another Silly Hat to a customer, I have more reasons to leave the apartment than he does. I lose.

It is no longer blizzardy, but the snow continues to fall thick and fast here in Tallinn. I have watched unhappy workers from the offices opposite the apartment attempting to dig their cars out from beneath snow drifts; one of them simply walked to his vehicle and then walked away again in defeat, as I have surmised from the lonely set of footprints leading to and from the all but invisible car. Snow ploughs and diggers are out in force around the city, but they can’t keep up with the snowfall – huge white mountains, cleared from roads and footpaths, line the streets, waiting to be shifted by the flat-out snow patrol (or snow men, as I like to call them).

Walking is as close to impossible as anything can be without actually being impossible. I slither and slide my way to the Old Town, which, at a five minute walk away, takes me around half an hour to get to – mainly because I have to stop and take calming breaths every time I narrowly avoid sliding helplessly under the wheels of a bus. The Old Town – its narrow, uneven streets difficult to traverse at the best of times – is now only fit for nutcases and people with skis. I do not have any skis.

Whimpering pitifully, I take tiny nervous steps towards my destination, getting completely lost due to all the streets that already looked quite similar now being covered in snow. I take a brief detour to the Christmas Market. This is totally unintentional, and happens mainly because I am lost and also because I start an uncontrollable slide downhill and have no idea how to get back up without breaking a leg. It is easier to go with the flow. I slide gracelessly into the Square and try a different route, unable to take in the delightful Christmassyness right now because I cannot remain upright for long enough to do so.

I stagger up the steps to the wool shop, purchase my wool, and ask my friend the wool woman if she knows where I can buy some wellies. The wool woman does not know what wellies are, and we have a language barrier sort of conversation that would be very amusing under different circumstances. Glumly, I leave the wool shop, step on to the street, and promptly land on my arse.

dsc01956By the time I make it back to the city centre, I am wet and sore and have a twisted ankle, and I have reached the Death Slide path leading to the apartment, where heavy pedestrian traffic has turned the pavement into a lovely ice rink. I stand at the edge of the scary road, which has two lanes of cars, an island, two lanes of trams, an island, two lanes of cars, an island, and a little filter lane for good measure. This is usually daunting enough, but now I have to climb knee-high mountains of snow to get on to each bit of road, and am limited to very slow baby steps as opposed to my usual gallop, regardless of how many cars are skidding towards me. With a feeling of impending doom, I wait for the green man, and a joker beside me climbs on to the first snow mountain, creates a makeshift starting block out of slush, and braces himself as if waiting for the starting pistol. He says something to me. Ma ei räägi eesti keelt, I reply, and he shrugs, switching to English. That’s OK, since I wasn’t speaking Estonian, he says, embarrassingly.

Markus is from Finland, and he thinks that Tallinn covered in snow makes for a great day trip. We chat until the lights change, and then he notes the change in my tone and expression as we prepare to leap out from behind the snow mountain on to the icy road. You are OK? he asks, striding along confidently as I stagger around in an intoxicated manner. I just… I can’t… I don’t… I can’t walk!! I wail miserably. He looks at me and then grabs my bag, which might normally panic me, but I no longer care about anything other than not being killed as I cross the roads, and anyway, it is much easier to balance with my arms out at my sides and no bag weighing me down.

We make it to the first island. Would you like me to carry you? asks Markus helpfully. I force a smile. You might need to! I am joking, of course, but to my alarm he nods seriously and moves towards me as if he is going to throw me effortlessly over his shoulder. I foresee terrible injury and disaster for us both, and rush hurriedly on to the next bit of road, saying Err, no, no, you really don’t need to aaaaaaarghhhhh!, which is the point where I slide and fall on to the tram line, thus realising my worst nightmare. Markus does not hide his amusement very well, but he does grab my arm and haul me up, half-carrying, half-dragging me across to safety, where he gives me back my bag, wishes me well, and bounds cheerfully off into the snowy distance.

I have investigated the contents of the freezer and decided that I do not need to go outside for at least a week. Enough is enough.

Snow? Bah, humbug.

“!”

I’m not normally the sort of girl who finds herself stuck for words.

However, as I clung to a lamppost this afternoon while the wind howled around me in an effort to fling me into the middle of the road, with my feet sliding about underneath me and the blizzard stinging my face and making it difficult to breathe, I must confess that words did not come easily.

dsc01950

“Hhhhhh…. gaaaaaa….. uggggggg….” I spluttered eventually, letting go of the lamppost and allowing the snowstorm to hurl me effortlessly across the road, where I came to rest in a large snow drift. Riho gazed mournfully at me from the other side of the shopping centre’s glass door as I fought in vain against the driving snow that refused to let me climb the three steps to the safe haven of Indoors. “I told you so,” he mouthed through the glass, looking glum and slightly shell-shocked, having abandoned me some time earlier as I struggled to cross a road. It is every man for himself in these conditions, and I am not entirely convinced that I’m even vaguely likely to survive, to be honest with you.

I’m still excited about the opportunity to experience new and different things, don’t get me wrong. I still love snow, and winter, and all that sort of stuff. It’s just that, until today, I don’t think I really had any idea exactly how new and different the Estonian winter would be to me, despite Riho’s grim warnings.

I can’t quite describe how utterly wild it is out there today. If I had a small child, I would be seriously hopeful fearful that it would blow away; as it is, I did become a little panicky when the wind swept me along and I simply skated, powerless to stop or change direction, and unable to even see where I was going because of the blizzard. It has not stopped snowing all day, and it is not just “snowing”, either – snow is coming down from the sky in torrents, sweeping across the land in sheets, being whipped from the ground and tossed upwards, whirling around in the air and piling into huge drifts. It is snowing vertically, diagonally, horizontally, up, down, across and around. It would be like a snow globe, if the snow globe was being shaken vigorously by a child in a temper tantrum, who had the energy to keep up the shaking without a break for over 24 hours.

The snow hits you in the face with a ferocity for which I was completly unprepared, stinging your skin so sharply that tears stream down your cheeks, and making you involuntarily splutter things like “Hhhhhh…. gaaaaaa….. uggggggg….”. It is impossible to complete a word, because the iciness of the wind both snatches away the sounds from your lips and makes breathing so seriously problematic that it requires all of your concentration.

So, it seems that winter is going to be an interesting experience.

One additional small concern is that the temperature today was something like -3°C. And I don’t want to sound like a wuss or anything, here, but… well… if that’s what -3° feels like, what does -25° feel like?!

Gulp.

Dancing In The Streets

Riho and I took a stroll down to the Old Town last night, having heard something about a parade that was taking place.

Apparently there’s a Winter Tropics Festival going on this week, complete with Samba dance workshops and traditional Brazilian jamming sessions. I have no idea what it’s all about, but thought it might be fun to check out the Samba Parade that was scheduled to go from the Viru Gate to the Town Hall Square at 9pm.

dsc01912The parade turned out to be a bunch of dreadlocked guys playing instruments as pretty, exotic-looking girls with long dark hair danced around them. There was a trumpet, a drum, maybe some kind of flute and a couple of those shakey-ricey thingies. That was it. Most were wearing colourful garlands and waving balloons, and it was Silly Hat Central (I fitted right in). Everyone was smiling broadly, and it was nearly impossible not to join in with the whooping and dancing.

Amused, we stood at the edge of the road to watch them cavort past. It was at this point that it became apparent to me that it wasn’t actually the sort of parade you go and observe, but rather the sort you’re expected to become part of. I made this realisation when a balloon was thrust into my hands and suddenly Riho and I were swept into the midst of the singing, dancing swarm. Alarmed, I watched as someone performed some sort of martial art style dance at my feet. Then I shrugged, waved my balloon, and danced cheerfully along the streets with everyone else. No one seemed to mind that it was freezing cold, or that the majority of people in the parade were just innocent passers-by who’d become entangled in the procession and didn’t really have a clue what was going on.

Merrily, we proceeded through the Old Town. A little old lady watched from her window, drinking her tea and nibbling on a biscuit as if she was simply curled up on the couch watching Corrie. An unfortunate car drove into the procession and slowed down, the driver looking utterly bemused as people Samba-ed their way around his vehicle.

There was no police presence whatsoever, and no obvious parade route. We Norn Ironers just aren’t used to this sort of thing.

After a “concert” in the Square, which involved everyone stopping, blattering happily on drums, and dancing around madly some more, there was a loud cheer signalling the end of the parade, whereupon everyone promptly piled into the pub to start the aforementioned jamming session and stave off frostbite.

I love this place…

I can’t knit waterproof boots

I’ve been delighted with the response to my Silly Hat Shop.

If you’ve ordered one, it should be winging its way to you round about now: wear it with pride, and perhaps send me a photo of you wearing it so that I can use it for advertising purposes. Maybe with a statement of endorsement such as “My Silly Hat keeps my head so warm and cosy, and everyone stares at me when I go out wearing it!” or “My Silly Hat is so great that I ordered another one just in case someone steals it!”.

On average, people have been generously paying about 20 quid per hat, meaning I make around a tenner for each one and also that I now have a rough idea of the sort of price tag I can attach to the Silly Hats (still cheaper than in the touristy shops!) when knitting and selling them becomes my full time job. It also means that I have been able to purchase a winter coat: hurrah! Many thanks to my group of Silly Hat owners for making it possible for me to survive winter.

The coat did have to come from a second hand shop, because coats here are – in contrast to just about everything else – incredibly expensive. This is presumably because anyone who is buying a coat in the Baltics in winter is not going to be satisfied with a trendy, sparkly, casual jacket, but will instead be looking for the type of garment that makes you sweat bucketloads and adds about 20lbs to your appearance. I now own such a coat, albeit with a few scuffed bits. I am going to be nice and toasty throughout winter, with my charity shop coat, my self-made Silly Hat, and my slightly dubious scarf purchased for approximately €1 at the market.

The blanket of snow on the ground this morning, however, presented me with a new problem. I own two pairs of shoes: one pair of open-toed walking sandal things (which I think we can safely say are now in their hibernation period), and one pair of light trainers with canvassy bits at the sides to let the air in. Unfortunately, I fear that these useful canvassy bits will also be prone to letting snow in, which isn’t quite so helpful. What to do, what to do? I can – and indeed, I plan to – knit a pair of snuggly slipper-socks to wear around the apartment. But as advanced as my knitting skills have now become, even I can’t knit waterproof boots.

Let it snowAnd as excited as I am to see my weather widget’s predictions for the week ahead, it really does present me with some difficulties re: footwear. I am about to go outside to run a few errands and visit the snow-covered Old Town for the first time, wrapped up warmly, with my feet squelching soggily in my summer trainers. Maybe I should just wear the sandals, since the wetness of the feet is inevitable and the sandals will dry out much more quickly.

Quickly – someone think of something else I can sell online, so that I can afford a pair of boots….

Isn’t it Christmas yet?

It’s very, very strange to be this far through November without having I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day stuck on a constant loop in my head.

Christmas in the UK starts in October, approximately one week before Halloween, when the shops start getting rid of all their pumpkin displays and replacing them with twinkly lights and large Santas that scare the living daylights out of you by suddenly starting to wave or laugh or something when you’re standing right next to them. The festive season creeps a little further forward every year, making slow but steady progress towards the inevitable time when the entire year will be a countdown to Christmas, and our daily lives will be concerned solely with buying presents, putting up decorations and planning the turkey dinner. My mum will be leading the way, as a champion of Christmas Planning who, in January (after a week off), puts last Christmas behind her and starts thinking about the next one. I often think that it must pain her to have a daughter who is generally to be found rushing madly around the shops on Christmas Eve, trying desperately to think of gift ideas. (I mean The Sister, of course. I myself am always calmly sipping mulled wine and roasting chestnuts on an open fire by Christmas Eve, having bought, wrapped and delivered all my gifts in late November.)

Unlike most people, I don’t mind the earliness of Christmas, nor its commercialisation. I love Christmas – as I explained in this post last year. It has troubled me slightly, therefore, to realise that Christmas in Estonia does not even appear to have started yet, never mind being in full swing. There are no Christmas tunes playing, no houses covered in twinkly lights, no Christmas adverts on TV. I’ve only seen one shop selling Christmas trees! However, I am waiting patiently and with childlike anticipation for December, in the hope that Christmas will begin then.

dsc01888And indeed, I have been greatly encouraged by the recent presence of the Coca Cola Santa in my fridge – a teasing hint, I believe, of good things to come.

Just yesterday I saw a poster for the Tallinn Chistmas Market, and I am unable to contain my excitement. The website fills me with joy, as it describes a magical winter wonderland set in a place that already feels slightly like a quaint little fairytale. There will be little cabins, warm drinks, story-telling elves, gingerbread cookies and Christmas trees. And just to make my innocent little heart overflow with festive delight: “Tallinn Mayor will proclaim the Christmas Peace, reading the Christmas declaration from the window of the Town Hall to the townsfolk and visitors below on the Square.”

I can’t help but feel that this more than makes up for being without Starbucks and the seasonal Gingerbread Latte