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A beginner´s guide to Estonian culture

Published December 3, 2004

DARKNESS IN TALLINN by Ilkka Jarvi-Laturi
“What do we do now that we’re free?”
”I don’t know, go to work as always.”
The scene shows two working men discussing the benefits of freedom in the first film made in Estonia after independence. The story´s premise is a heist to highjack Estonia’s gold reserves upon their return to the country after independence from the Soviet Union. Directed by a Finn in 1993, it has a healthy dose of Tarantino but manages to convey a very Baltic atmosphere, and the gangsters Russianness makes them particularly menacing at a time before this became a cliché.
The protagonist is a man named Toivo, an electrical engineer assigned to black out the city during the heist. He initially takes part because the money will buy a lot of baby food, but then suffers a crisis of conscience. Despite a disappointingly upbeat ending, the film still manages to capture the hopes and disappointments of post-Soviet Estonia. And the gimmick of shooting the first half in black and white and then switching to colour as the lights go on is simply stunning. Darkness in Tallinn is available at video rentals such as Aðalvideóleigan at Klapparstígur and Toppmyndir at Sólvallagata 27 and Aðalvideóleigan at Klapparstígur 37.

The Czar´s Madman by Jaan Kross
The writer Jan Kross was born in 1920, the same year that Estonia first achieved independence. During the Second World War, he was arrested first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets for being an Estonian patriot. Upon returning from the Gulag in 1954 he became a professional writer. His novels are usually historical and often deal with the struggle of Estonians against Baltic Germans, a metaphor for Estonia´s struggle against the Soviet Union. The Czar´s Madman is perhaps his best known work. Set in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, it is a sort of historical 1984, where the only sane person in society is classified as a madman for his opposition to an unjust regime. But the fact that the book describes a society that has existed (and in the form of the Soviet Union still existed at the time) makes the prospect even more chilling than in Orwell´s dystopia. The Czar´s Madman has been translated into English by Anselm Hollo, published by Pantheon, and into Icelandic by Hjörtur Pálsson, published by Hólar.

Saatus by Kirile Loo
What will become of the nestlings?
One became the sun above the earth
The other the star in the sky
The third the headland in the field
The fourth the name of the meacow
Thousands of years before Björk´s primal masterpiece Medúlla, the Balto-Finnic cultures sang about the origins of the earth in runic verse. The runic songs were written in the Balto-Finnic proto language, before it branched out into different languages such as Finnish, Estonian and Karelian. The songs were ever-changing and were to some extent overtaken by folk songs written by the national poets of the 19th Century. But the form still exists, and perhaps is not all that different from its original version in the first millennium BC. One of the foremost interpreters of the Kalevala meter is Kirile Loo. She grew up with her grandmother in a village with no electricity, and learnt to sing from her grandmother before moving on to the Tallinn School of Music. Saatus, her 1997 album features such instruments as the kannel, the oldest Estonian string instrument. According to tradition, God made the kannel and the Devil made the bagpipes. Most non-Scots would be inclined to agree. Lobby our local record store for this or order it online.



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A Steady Heartbeat

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The Reykjavík Dance Festival is no stranger to flexibility and experimentation. Founded in 2002, the festival has provided Icelandic and international choreographers an unparalleled platform to showcase their work to an audience that may not have exposure to the world of contemporary dance. In 2012, when the festival turned ten, the coordinating board decided to shake things up and began inviting guest directors to curate the future iterations of the festival. With different curators asking different questions, the festival’s flavour has been distinct each year. This year’s curators and joint directors, Ásgerður Gunnarsdóttir and Alexander Roberts have lofty, daring plans

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The Creator Of Hangman’s Darker Relatives

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Hugleikur Dagsson, the controversial cartoonist famous for his satirical comic strips which often depict stick figures in violent situations involving murder, rape, religion, cannibalism, incest and suicide, enjoys huge popularity in Iceland, as well as an international cult following. Apart from his comic strips, he has also published multiple books, written a couple of stage plays, produced his own television show and done some stand-up comedy. It may be hard to believe, but Hugleikur’s success came almost by accident. As he tells it, he was participating in an art show in Seyðisfjörður during the summer between his second and third

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Poet Tattoos Demand That Minister Resigns

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014. Poet Bragi Páll Sigurðarson just disclosed his new tattoo. It is situated on his right thigh, just above the knee. Unlike most tattoos, this one is written in Times New Roman. One sentence, split in two lines, it reads: “Hanna Birna, segðu af þér.” That is: “Hanna Birna, resign.” Standard punctuation. The direct message is as clear-cut as the typography. The demand, of course, refers to the scandal surrounding Iceland’s Interior Minister in recent months, which has been duly covered in this paper. I caught Bragi Páll on Facebook to ask him some questions. Well, before

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Land Of The Sodium Sun

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The Icelandic winter is supposed to be dark and fierce with a view of the stars and sometimes the Aurora Borealis stretching overhead. It’s cold and windy, sure, but that’s not what bothers photographer Stuart Richardson. It’s the garish illumination of the streetlights that have pervaded the city and are bleeding out into the countryside. “When you’re actually experiencing the Icelandic winter, everything is orange. Everything is the colour of the streetlights,” he says. “When we experience the winter here, we’re not really feeling, we’re not really seeing anything outside of these streetlights.” Stuart, an American who has been living

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Creativity For All

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Set in the glacial crevasse town of Seyðisfjörður, the music and arts festival LungA is a buzzing hive of creativity and pure, weird art. The weeklong festival is packed with different workshops held during the week and then topped off by a final presentation of the art and music on Saturday. The Endgame The presentation starts off with a mysterious team building exercise led by the Performance/Interaction workshop that culminates with an arm wrestling match and then waltz. Next, we’re shuffled into the auditorium/cafeteria to listen to the concert given by the members of the Automata workshop, all performed on

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Short-Circuit to Idiocy

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Icelandic artist Snorri Ásmundsson recently distributed a video on YouTube, that has since been publicized through most Icelandic-speaking news media. In the video, Snorri sings the Israeli national hymn, Hatikvah, in Hebrew. It seems objectively safe to say that the artist sings it badly: the unimpressive singing seems to be a deliberate part of the piece. The music was arranged and produced by Futuregrapher, while Marteinn Þórsson handled cinematography and editing. All that work is professional enough to be uninteresting compared with the video’s content. Ingredients The video starts with a close-up of a woman wearing a hijab or a

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