Estonian piglets & plums

September 3, 2011 at 10:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )


I like the word.  The m’s and p’s lock into each other beautifully. I roll them around my mouth for a moment, but I don’t say the word aloud.  I’m not sure I want to be the strange woman in the Eastern European supermarket, talking to herself.

Whenever I arrive in a new land, be it Iceland, Hong Kong or Fiji, my first stop is rarely a museum. Ask me where I want to go first, and my answer will invariably be…a supermarket. Wandering aisles with my fingers outstretched and my eyes wide teaches me so much about a culture, and as is my way, a language.

Standing in Tallinn, however, stomach still churning from the rough ferry crossing of the Baltic Sea, foot tapping in the combination of hunger and short temper that does my hair colour proud, what it taught me was this: I can’t understand a word of Estonian.

Estonian tongue twister

Kuuuurija istus töööös jääääres

(The moon-scientist sat in a working night at the edge of the ice)

Every single time I’ve been to Europe, I’ve headed straight to Belgium. This is my second home and for months afterwards, the Flemish, French and German bubble up in my dreams. This time, however, I’ve gone northeast, where the summer light stretches until almost midnight, Russia is just over the horizon, and the spiky words have no place in my mouth.

And I’m so, so hungry.

I stand in the supermarket aisle and hold a box in my hands, English leaping up at me. It should be comforting but the words make me frown: Wizard Sticks! It’s the exclamation mark that deters me; food is enough of a joy without being forced into excitement through punctuation. I put it back on the shelf and again turn to the Ploomikompott. It’s a heavy jar and the dark purple shapes swirl in the liquid, whatever they are.

I’m tired, cranky, and not a little seasick. And I really want to say I ate Ploomikompott. I drop it in my basket and in my ‘Which country am I in again?’ daze realise this makes perfect sense. I will, I decide, choose dinner purely on the names that intrigue me.

I wander the aisles, scanning fonts. I realise I should also register which section I’m in when my hands reach for what I assume is a packet of chips  but which I suddenly understand is, in fact, kitty litter.

I can now hear my own stomach.

Põrsas jooksis põrinal üle põranda, nii et sõrad kõbisesid

(A piglet ran noisily across the floor, so that his paws were making a sound)

 Fifteen minutes later I’m following the line of the old fortified wall that curves around the city like a cupped palm. I can see turrets against the evening sky and have to steady myself against the medieval stones as the memory of the ferry rolls me to the side. Down the steps of my hotel and the TV kicks into life as I curl up on the bed and spread my purchases out before me.

I have some Smuuti, Gutta, a particularly engaging yellow box, with a cartoon of a jaunty rabbit who appears to be riverdancing, called Magic Korsik, the Ploomikompott, and one or two other purchases whose arrangement of the alphabet makes me smile.

Miniriides filmidiiva viibis siin viimati pisivisiidil

(A famous film-star with few clothes on was visiting recently)

With a soundtrack of Eastern European death metal video clips, my first Estonian meal turns out to be stewed plums, some chalky breadsticks, a tin of particularly pungent fish, and a box of sugarcubes.

Next time I’m buying a dictionary.

(Thanks to Űbersetzung for the tongue twisters).



  1. Dave Webster Hare Cochran said,

    ❤ Estonia!

    If you get a chance to visit Tartu, go to the Püssirohikelder – epically cavernous pub set into the side of the hill – used to be the town's gunpowder store. Very good food for very cheap (or at least, was in 2007, anyway)

    • inkymouth said,

      Sounds fabulous! Alas, I landed back in Melbourne yesterday, with Hong Kong sunburn, far too many new red shoes in my backpack, and a newfound love for Poland. Tartu will have to wait til next time 🙂

  2. gretchen cello said,

    noisy little piglets… always causing mischief. miss you madly. x

    • inkymouth said,

      Ah babe, you are never far from my mind. How crazy that you’re now striding through the streets of New York, and I’m back at my antique writing desk in Northcote…do you think Poland misses us? X

  3. Leith said,

    It is hard to keep up with all your adventures of late Bell.. you are truly well traveled and well versed!

    • inkymouth said,

      Leith, I’m already sowing the seeds of my next trip in a year’s time…driving from New Orleans up through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, in chase of some good blues/bluegrass…think of those stories!

      • Leith said,

        That sounds like heaven.. I do like my blues rather a lot!
        For now it’s time to get your Australian accent back in check though hehe..

        {Word for the day: strewth!}

  4. Kütt said,

    What was that tin of particularly pungent fish? Kilu aka Baltic sprat?

    • inkymouth said,

      I can’t quite recall the name, I’m afraid, but the smell will never fade from my memory, believe me 🙂

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