I have been busy with my grant writing and research plans here at Tartu. As a result, I have gotten a little behind with my blog reports.
Our lives have settled now into a routine. We get up around 6:30 AM-7:00 and have breakfast. Jüri has found the farmer’s market (turg) especially to his liking and is whipping up wonderful breakfasts. Having worked with really early stages of chick embryos, I know what fresh eggs look like. Tartu’s farmer’s market has the freshest, most remarkable eggs I have ever seen. The egg yolk is almost orange in color and when you break it open in the pan, the heavy white albumin forms a mound around the yolk. Fantastic! He fries local smoked bacon with it, that doesn’t seem to have too much fat and adds freshly picked mushrooms (more about this later). Estonia has what is termed in direct translation ‘sour milk’ (hapupiim). It is somewhat like buttermilk in the US, but has a different taste to it. I like it better than buttermilk. One mixes a cup of hapupiim with a tablespoonful of ‘kama’, a mixture of ground, dried grain types of all kinds, as well as ground dried peas. Although it may not sound like it, it makes, however, a very tasteful drink. I like it slightly sweetened, preferably with local honey. After a cup of kama, we have coffee with a fresh pastry. One thing I have noticed about Estonian pastries and desserts, they have a lot less sugar than we usually see in our pastries and cakes in the U.S. So, we have a rather good breakfast. As one can imagine, I should not have too much for lunch, and usually don’t. I allow myself these good breakfasts every other day. On the alternate days I have just some type of granola with fruit. I rationalize the large breakfasts with my being much more physically active here than back home in Florida. Here we do not have a car and as a result we do a lot of walking. On the way home, I get off the bus earlier than needed so that I can take a 30 minute walk back to the apartment through the old historic part of the city and through the center city square.
I usually catch the 8:27 AM bus to get to my office by 9:00 AM. I bought a monthly bus ticket that allows me to jump on any bus any time of the day. So, if I miss one bus, I can walk to a main transfer point about 15 minutes away and take another bus that will take me close to my destination. This works out well. If one buys just one ticket that can be only used within the hour, it can create problems. City bus overseers can board any bus at anytime and if you should be riding without a correct ticket, you are escorted off the bus and fined 40 euros.
My office is quite large with large windows looking out over fields and a forest further off in the distance. To the left is a view onto a large mall that is about a 20 minute walk away. On that side I have a view of a large smiley face that has been placed at the entrance to the mall. That smiley face is a nice way to start out the day! For taking a bus home, I go to the mall, because most buses go there, as their last stop.
In the lab are 4 nice young people: Triin who recently finished her Master’s and now is working on a genotyping project, including SNP analysis, related to a certain group of cancer patients. She plans on starting her Ph.D soon. I will be working with Triin specifically on our stem cell project. Triin is an attractive, very smart, young woman with a lot of interests. One is music and she sings in Tartu’s Women’s Choir. We went to one of her concerts one Friday evening at a local Lutheran church, Maarja Kirik. The congregation presently is quite small and is headed by a young minister. This church has quite a history. During the Soviet takeover of Estonia in 1944, that part of Tartu was bombed and most of the wooden buildings burned to the ground. Only the walls of the church remained. Rather than rebuild it as a church, during the Soviet period the building was restored to be a gym where a local basketball team played for years. The small congregation is now in the process of restoring the building back to the original church layout and they are trying to rebuild the congregation. There will be years of work ahead of them. The pews are in place and the present alter is literally a large mural photo of the original altar. I have never heard so many songs dedicated to Ave Maria, as I heard that evening. With the old gymnasium/church setting, subdued lights, and religious music being sang, it was somewhat melancholy and served to again remind one of the hardships endured by this small country and its people..
Many Estonians are involved with music at some level. Most of us in the US who follow classical music, most likely have heard the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s music which is often played at concerts or on the classical music stations. Two Estonian conductors Neeme Järvi and Eri Klaas are world renown. We have heard the young Estonian female conductor Anu Tali with the Sarasota Symphony Orchestra in Florida. Her concerts tend to be sold out when she conducts there. I read that she will be conducting in Sarasota again in January 2013. Every city in Estonia tends to have several choirs and and there are numerous concerts going on all the time, that it is hard to pick and choose. An ensemble that I hope to hear in December is Hortus Musicus. This is a group that has been singing and playing for 40 years. They chiefly sing Renaissance music, wear period costumes, and play period instruments, as they move and jump around on stage and sing. They are very popular all over Europe. Music was the underpinning for Estonian’s push to independence at the end of 1980’s and 1990, as witnessed by James Tusty’s movie Singing Revolution that played at theaters around the U.S. and now will be aired by PBS.
Alar, another person in the lab, is a Senior Research Specialist who is also a father of four children. The last child was born this summer, before I came. Then there is Anna, who seems to be a person who likes sports and Kristi, a lab technician with a young child who just started school. They all seem to be bright, energetic young people, in general on the quiet side and very respectful in their attitude. I have been working on my grant pretty much nonstop. It was submitted September,25th, so I feel I have not had the time to get to know everybody very well yet, except for Triin.
You may be wondering what Juri has been doing with his time, while I am at the lab. He is busy as ever and says that there is no way that he could be bored. He visits the different bookstores in Tartu and is reading a lot about Estonia’s history and especially what happened in Estonia before and during the Soviet occupation. It indeed is a sad and horrible time in Estonia’s long history. I worry about how we will be able to take back all the books that are appearing in small stacks in the apartment.…. He may take a bus out into the countryside and takes short hikes along various trails. In the early fall, he went on a trip organized by one of the museum’s of Tartu University to go mushroom picking. You’re probably thinking – ‘Mushroom picking’?? At the end of summer and into the fall, mushroom picking appears to be a national pastime in Eastern Europe and certainly in Estonia. The Museum wanted to have a special exhibit of all the different types of mushrooms that grow in Estonia and organized the trip to collect them. Jüri signed up to learn about the local fungi, and especially the poisonous ones. The white Ammonita is one of the most poisonous. Jüri had the dubious honor of finding the first one for the exhibit. I felt safe eating the mushrooms,that he brought home , however, because they had been checked over by the experts in the field. Indeed, needless to say, we had an exceptionally fine mushroom dinner that evening!
On one Saturday, a couple that we knew previously and who had visited us in Florida, invited us to go on a hike with them to see a bog and mire in the Southern part of Estonia – about 2 hours away, not far from Võru. They picked us up and as we left Tartu, it was pouring rain. As we made our way toward the southern part of the country, it began to clear and by the time, we reached the bog, it was only cloudy. I read somewhere that bogs and mires cover almost a third of Estonia. Where we went is a National Park area (Meenitunno Kaitseala) with a trail made of planks that takes you across the mire to a small picturesque lake. From there we continued on to the other side where a pine forest takes over, as the land starts to climb away from the mire. On that side, there were a lot of mushrooms and Jüri and my friend’s wife started picking. I’m not too keen on picking, since I know nothing about mushrooms, nor which would be the poisonous ones; Rein does not care for them, so the two of us walked on ahead. We decided to follow a trail through the woods back to the car, instead of going back on the mire. Unfortunately it began raining and the hour was getting late. I was somewhat concerned that we would not make it out of the forest before we were overtaken by darkness. None of us had a flashlight. That is rule number one, when one goes hiking…. We pass a large anthill as we make our way through the woods. We just made it back to the car, but at times it was hard to see the trail, because the pines were quite tall and blocked out what little light there still was. We drove back to their home and had a tasty late dinner that Viivi had prepared that morning, knowing we could be late getting back. Conversation flowed and when I checked my watch, it was already past 2 AM! We called a taxi and got back to our apartment within 20 minutes. All in all another nice day spent with friends.
See photos here: