This was our last day in Tallin. Tomorrow at noonish we return to Helsinki and fly to Istanbul on Monday. It was an excellent day, with a visit to the Estonian Museum of Applied Arts and Design. There we concentrated on the “New Nordic Fashion Illustration 2” exhibit. I think you will agree that the works are fabulous!
Illustration is an orphan art genre. It’s uses are primarily in advertising or as aids of other sorts, such as in books and magazines to support the story line. Its pinnacle is reached in fashion illustration. This use goes back to around 1750, per the exhibit we saw in Amsterdam at Rijks Museum. But since the advent of fashion photography “…the focus has shifted from conveying garments to independent self-expression, creating a new visual and captivating context and fascinating the viewer with idiosyncratic worlds, which in their uniqueness have found broad application in the fashion industry, magazines, the interior design of fashion outlets, and in the marketing strategies of the most diverse brands in the field of fashion and pop culture.” http://www.etdm.ee/en/news?news_id=360
I struggle to see why we can not call this ‘art’ other than it’s end use, reflected in the lack of signatures on most of the pieces. The artist hopes not to so much to make a statement as to sell the piece to a commercial entity. Otherwise, it’s art.
Another interesting day in Tallinn, the capitol of Estonia. I visited the St. Nicholas’ Church, Niguliste kirik. It is famous for the Danse Macabre fragment, as seen below, which is about 1/3 of the original 30 meter (100′) work. It owes its theme to the Black Death that afflicted much of Europe. Unfortunately it is not easy to see, as it is protected by highly reflected glass or plastic.
Bernt Notke: Danse Macabre (end of 15th c)
Here’s the altar screen, also a fine piece:
Niguliste (St Nicolas) Church. Altar screen
Afterwards we visited the Occupations (Nazi and Soviet) Museums. There’s an excellent exhibit about the Nazi and Soviet Occupations, very well translated (as is the norm here) into English. The USSR got there first, pursuant to its pact with the Nazis dividing eastern Europe. Then came the Nazis, driving the Russians well back across the border, from Tallinn, the capital, just 210 kilometers away. Like the Finns the Estonians welcomed the Nazis at first, but many changed their minds. Others enlisted in the German armed services, on the side opposite to those who joined USSR forces. The Nazis murdered tens of thousands (not many were Jews from here), setting up 10 extermination camps. While at first some thought the Nazis would bring freedom, they were soon revealed to be another occupying power, exploiting Estonia for all they could in the interest of its war ambitions. Some Estonians fought the Russians on the latter’s way out, inflicting significant damages. The Nazis disarmed them once the Russians were gone. The Germans instituted the draft in 1942, eliminating most of the remaining support they had from the populace.
Lunch was at the Boheme Cafe near our house. There were some interesting pastas on the menu but we stuck with more local fare. I had buckwheat with salmon and shrimp in a tomato basil sauce. I am not sure how local the sauce was. In any case the sauce over-powered the seafood and the buckwheat, which was in grain form. Peg got mushroom pancakes, not at all objectionable but not very interesting either. What was more interesting was the conversation with the waitresses and the tall slender blond sitting nearby. They tolds us English instruction starts in first grade if not sooner. All movies and tv shows are in English if they originate that way, and there are no subtitles. The system works, and it is the same in Holland, Finland, and I bet the rest of these northern countries. Think Abba. They were Swiss.
I’d picked up a local art scene paper. The young blond noted I was taking photos of some of the fashion shots and told us about the exhibit. We’ll go tomorrow.
This was among the friendlier moments we’ve had here. They do not smile much.
After a two hour ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland, we made our way to a Bohemian section and met our Bohemian landlord, a woman in her late 20’s perhaps. She has a small comfortable flat with crazy angle bookshelves and an orderly yet stylishly unkempt look wth open kitchen shelves with jars screwed to the bottom. Our building is stucco but the area is known for wooden structures, which I will photograph and share with you.
The next day (September 8th) we hopped on the tram to the foot of the old town; public transit does not take you in. It’s up a few hundred steps and there we are with this lovely view of the town, the port and Baltic Sea in the background.
While walking through town, we run across the fabulous Russian Orthodox Church. I am sternly warned about wearing my hat inside. We watch a woman kiss various objects and a priest make blessing signs over a few people allowed beyond the barriers. No hat , no photography either. It is much more impressive inside than the Russian Church in Helsinki.
This is the old town wall- up the steps there is a cafe
Another view of the town wall.
This is the fabulous town square. Pricey restaurants abound and aggressive hosts try to pull you in.
We visited the Estonia History Museum at the Grand Guild Hall. A few interesting facts: They trace settlement back to around 11,000 years ago when the ice melted enough to allow for human settlement. The Estonians, a Finnish people, have inhabited the Baltic Sea area for at least 3000 years. The country dates to around 1100 but has been independent for only 40 of those years. Their language is closely related to the Finnish and Sami languages (Norweigan, Swedish and Russian primarily), and distantly related to Hungarian. There are currently a mere 1.5 million inhabitants and an amazing 2200 islands.
Estonia was annexed by the USSR in 1939 following Stalin’s delightful deal with Hitler, then taken by Germany, before being retaken by the USSR and dominated until 1991. They welcomed the Germans in WWII, thinking they would be better than the Russians; they changed their minds in short order. The Finns reacted similarly, having been invaded by the USSR in the same period.
You might think Estonia is rather backwards. It isn’t. It has a high per capita income and is one of the most wired countries in the world; Skype was invented here. It has freedom of the press and is in other ways a developed democracy. English is widely spoken if a bit less fluently than in Finland. Nonetheless, the musuem’s ehibits were in nearly flawless English, interesting and entertaining as well.
Per a BBC podcast, the Estonians are very nervous about Russia and have instituted a draft. About 25% of the population is Russian speaking and they do not feel they are part of Estonia.
For lunch I had pancakes with meat, as they bluntly put it, which turned out to be ground beef, very basic but certainly not objectionable, and Peg had broth with a hard boiled egg in it and potato salad on the side. We shared a very good piece of almond cake with icing. It was inexpensive, just 13 euros for the whole thing. On the plaza lunches were about 13 per person, by comparison. No doubt it was a much simpler meal than those at twice the price.
An interesting walk about town included stops in several artisanal shops- the place is full of them. The quality of the work is impressive. Paintings, drawings, stained glass, leather, jewelry and other handicrafts.
There is an old Dominican church that is now a theater. The order was closed down during the Reformation and its property confiscated, just some 300 years after the forcible conversion to Christianity. Today Estonia is one of the least religious countries on the earth, with 14% saying religion plays an important part in their life. I saw several of the 14% today, sharing germs via religious objects; hopefully the surfaces are not all that hospitable to the little creatures.