Gentle Stoic Streak

My friend and very distant cousin Andres has built a house in the forest, just on the edge of Tallinn. This has been the zone of summerhouses and cemeteries. (There is one at the end of his road. Yes, we have quiet neighbours, Andres says.)
But summerhouses… Little cabins in the woods where you went at weekends, most of the summer, any time you could. Don’t confuse this with second homes and holiday cottages — almost every family had one, and the deal was you lived in a functional flat in a block in the city for the working days, with the bare necessities. The summerhouse was where you kept your heart, a small allotment and a hive of bees. (On my first visit back in 1995, everybody I stayed with presented me, proudly, tenderly, with a jar of their own honey; I was going to need a small container lorry to transport it home, and nearly said No, thanks… until I realised what I was being offered. A part of themselves.)
Now, more plots are cleared for new building, for full-time houses; people have cars and can drive to work. Still, this new house, self-built, has a chalet feel, the smell of new wood. We take a walk in the garden — in this case, along a narrow path cut into waist-high snow. Just outside the front door we stop by a particular snow pile, five feet tall, duvet-textured, fluffy-deep, which Andres looks at with pride. The best snow in the garden, he says. Absolutely clean. He leaves me to ponder that. We go inside.
And there, of course, in the centre of the house — pride of place over kitchen, dining room, work room — is the sauna. In it, three racks of wooden slats you move up, like one of Dante’s souls, through levels of purgatorial heat. Then it’s just five paces’ quick naked dash to the door. Of course, he says, you look out first, make sure there’s no one passing in the street. Then you dive straight in. (I think of my sparrows yesterday, snow-bathing in an urban bush.)
And what if someone comes past then? I ask.
A lesson in the Estonian character, its proprieties, its gentle stoic streak… Of course you do the decent thing, and stay under the snow till they’ve passed.

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One Response to Gentle Stoic Streak

  1. Gertrude C Hanratty says:

    Thanks for sharing this all with us Phillip, My daughter has just brought back from South Africa honey from my family, poor dear had to carry real heavy bags. My favourite blog this. Hope there is more to come?
    Take care

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