04 August 2014

Signs of Old Age: Grey chest hairs and rants about white people

Last week, my mother sent me an article from Springfield's State Journal Register about "New life" in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. (The Tribune ran the same article with a less condescending headline.) Like a former English teacher grading a student's essay that I knew was not going to follow the rubric, I marked the article up with insolent comments and sent it back to my mother.

I work in Little Village, the neighborhood that borders Pilsen to the west. Ninety percent of its residents are Mexican, too. While its claim to fame is that 26th Street, its own "commercial epicenter," is second only to Michigan Avenue in generating sales tax revenue for the City of Chicago, it remains one of Pilsen's little step sisters.

My beef (or should I say my carne asada) with the article, whose author is an arrogantly self-disclosed North Sider, is that it credits the 2013 opening of a trendy restaurant and its basement bar with making the concrete Pilsen neighborhood uncharacteristically resplendent. Much like new Starbuckses used to do, no doubt. The author seems relieved that a restaurant in Pilsen has finally replaced the omnipresent 32-ounce jars of pickled carrots and cauliflower with roasted chicken bits from an organic farm in Michigan and that white guys with bushy beards are drinking craft cocktails in what looks like the wood-paneled basement of a thousand homes in Springfield.

Call me old and crotchety, but my real beef is that, more and more, we, like the author, rush in to re-create what we are accustomed to and comfortable with rather than sit back and take the time to learn about the unknown and unfamiliar. Nuevo Leon serves a uniquely Pilsen breakfast in Spanish with politicians, businessmen, caballeros, and families. During summer evenings, Harrison Park referees serious soccer games, while during the dark nights of Advent, 18th Street guides Las Posadas in their quests for shelter from the cold. The murals, which are residents, too, sell red and green tamales with unrebukable elderly women and mango and coconut ice cream with sketchy paleteros. This is the life of Pilsen. It doesn't exist - it shouldn't exist - on the North Side.   
  

01 March 2014

Tapa Gümnaasium 95

Yes, of course, Estonians celebrate birthdays every year. However, every five years, they really celebrate. Every 10 years, they really, really celebrate - so much so that birthdays at 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. years of age are called a juubel (think jubilee, or the bakery that used to be in Carlinville).

Estonian institutions are no exception. In March 2009, I was privileged to be a part of Tapa Gümnaasium's 90th anniversary celebration, held, as always, at the school. I had survived two academic years by then. I was "over the moon" to learn that many of the students I had taught for a semester in 1999 as a Peace Corps volunteer still remembered me. At some time during the evening of the class reunions, though, a corpulent, elderly Estonian women chided me for walking through the school's corridor with a glass and a bottle of wine in my hands. Apparently, I had exceeded the limits of really, really celebrating.

In March 2014, the school celebrated its 95th anniversary. (Watch a 12-minute video of the highlights of the three-day celebration here and get a real taste of Estonian folklore and tradition.) Unfortunately, I was not in Tapa in person, but I appeared in print in Meie Koolmeistrid (page 224), the commemorative book that was published and included the kind words of Rita Püümann, a fellow English teacher. Below are her remarks in the book, which Google and I translated into English.


Meie Koolmeistrid
Our Faculty, literally Our School Masters

On inimesi kes töötavad oma elust vaid mõned aastad õpetajana aga neid mäletavad nii õpilased kui ka kolleegid eredate tähtedena. Selline oli ka inglise keele õpetaja Kevin Hogan, kes tuli meile kaugelt Ameerikast ja on nüüd oma sõnade järgi Eestist sõltuvuses. Mis tegi Kevini nii eriliseks õpetajaka? Arvan, et tean vastust.


There are people from our life who work for only some years as a teacher but they are remembered by students and colleagues as shining stars. Such a person was English teacher Kevin Hogan, who came to us from America afar, and now he is addicted to walking the talk of Estonia. What made Kevin such a special teacher? I think I know the answer.

See oli inimlikkus kõige laimas tähenduses ja äärmiselt hea lastetuba. Kui praegu küsida õpilastelt, keda ta õpetas põhikoolis, mille poolest õpetaja Hogan erines teistest õpetajatest, siis vastavad nad sageli, et ei oska täpselt öelda, aga ta oli nii sõbralik, hooliv ja mõistis tunnis nalja teha. 

He was the best of humanity, challenging what is considered an exceedingly good children's room [a probably grossly inaccurate translation]. If today you ask the students whom he taught in elementary school what about Mr. Hogan was different from the other teachers, they often respond that they cannot say exactly but that he was very friendly, caring, and he made learning fun.

Ei ole just palju niisuguseid õpetajaid, kes suudavad õpilaste huvid oma isiklikest huvidest kõrgemale tõsta, aga Kevin suutis. Näiteks võttis lapsed sappa ja põrutas Londoni, korraldas keelelaagri või käis lihtsalt ekskursioonidel kaasas Eestimaad avastamas. Kolleegina iseloomustaksin ma teda kui abivalmit, äärmiselt viisakat, seiklushimulist ja tarka meest. Sellist inimest oodatakse tagasi ja olenemata vahemaadest on ta sina jaoks alati olemas.

There are definitely not many teachers who are able to put students’ interests above their own, but Kevin did. For example, he identified children and introduced them to London [another inaccurate translation], organized language camps, or simply went along on excursions to discover Estonia. As a colleague, I characterized him as a helpful, extremely polite, adventure-loving, and smart man. One would wait the return of such a person, and regardless of the distances he is always there for you.

12 October 2013

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Õnnelik korstnapühkija ja mina
Narrative coming soon. Really.

A man, his boy, their pitsa

Near the northern tip of Estonia
22 floors above Chicago

18 February 2013

15,000 Miles on Planes, Trains, Buses, & Automobiles

I Have an Idea!
Well, I have a bit of time right now while glasses of ice water flush goblets of glogg out of my blood stream. Cindy, Karen, Sarah, and Becki are always encouraging me to write more. So.... By the way, within my circle of potato-salad-eating friends in Tapa, Estonia we all agreed that our ability to speak our second or third language (Estonian for me, English for them) improved proportionately to the amount of alcohol we drank at any given function. I do not believe that this axiom applied only to the imbibition of Russian vodka. In Springfield on Christmas Eve, the more glogg I drank, the more mellifluous my Chinese became, as my sister confirmed. No, I don't know how to speak Chinese, too (although my father has spoken an unintelligible pan-Asian dialect around the house since I was young), but my six-year-old niece was writing letters in Chinese and asked me to read them aloud. No, she does not know Chinese either, but she was drinking more than her share of sparkling grape juice.

This Christmas past, I was impressed (as I am impressed every December) that Ed and Doreen, Mark and Betsy, and Nora and Dwight had the time to complete thoughtful retrospections of their families’ 2012 activities and accomplishments, to create illustrated narratives on bond paper of the highlights of said accomplishments, and to circulate said printed narratives to family and friends through the United States Postal Service -- all the while silver bells were on their street corners, carolers were at their spinets, and Jack Frost was nipping at their noses. I thought that this was something that I had always wanted to do but had never done until, quite recently, I found a copy of “Late for La Traviata, Or Ashcroft Is Covering the Breasts of Justice,” which I wrote in 2003 (three years after returning from the Peace Corps) and mailed to family and friends. Borders and Marshall Field’s were both still open. Amy was still sending me her family’s annual compilation of favorite recipes, like sleepy bunny cookies. A Latino Jesus was riding CTA buses carrying a three-foot wooden cross. And the United States was at war. In my letter I mentioned that, in her recollection of a night in jail for participating in a Code Pink demonstration, Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, had written: “If our species does not outgrow its tendency to fight wars, we can kiss all we have created, and ourselves, good-bye.” I seconded that by writing especially alliteratively: “War is a wank in the woods.”

Yes. Exactly. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Although, perhaps tres à propos, given Pope Benedict’s last Christmas message, there is no white, black, or brown Jesus riding CTA buses or trains any more. But I digress. In homage to the enjoyable years-in-review I received last December, here is a recap of my 2012, which started off on Waterloo Bridge, took me near the top of Mt. Rogers, and ended on the second floor of the newest Mariano’s Fresh Market. As fate will have it, this is the totally serendipitous celebration of the 10-year anniversary of “Late for La Traviata” and commemoration of my third -- well, maybe almost fourth -- year back from my second stint in Estonia, my Peace Corps host country. Regardless, after reading in December about how Ed and Doreen pulled a couple of drowning Germans from the Jarabacoa River in the DR over spring break, I’ve got to really man up.


How Many More Stops Really?
Cindy and I met my Tapa friends Tiit and Lairi on December 30 (2011) in one of those ubiquitous plexiglass bus shelters across the street from 221B Baker Street, London. Lairi had flown for the first time, and both of them had landed in an English-speaking country for the first time. That night, we all went to a cozy pub that could not have been more English, drank beer at room temperature that could not have been smoother, and ate sausages that could not have been, well, more Estonian. It brought Tiit and Lairi back from the shock of chit-chatting with Indian immigration officers at Stansted and speeding for two straight hours along the M11 in a luxury coach. As we were leaving the pub, a local patron said something to me. Between my buzz and his accent I had absolutely no idea what it was. I hoped it was more like “Aren’t you Gene Hackman?” than “You forgot to bus your table,” and I wished him and his friends a happy New Year.

The next evening, New Year’s Eve, we were in the median on Waterloo Bridge, herded like cattle between ubiquitous metal barricades along the Strand, with two bottles of champagne in my Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum backpack. I remember hearing Big Ben’s 12 haunting dongs at midnight. I remember looking at hundreds of miniature screens of mobiles, clasped in raised hands, taping the synchronized explosions from the London Eye and the colored clouds of smoke that blew our way, but I don’t remember seeing the spectacular fireworks display that the BBC posted on YouTube. (I believe my Facebook site somewhere has Cindy's own video recording of the fireworks that we penny-stinkers saw.)


10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.
To get back into the Embankment Tube station, which was a serious actin’-a-fool-free zone, we had to retrace our steps along the Strand and pass through a wall of pertinacious volunteers in orange vests, a phalanx of horse-mounted Metropolitan police officers, and, finally, a black wall of Metropolitan police on either side of the street. It was all much more civil than when I walked down the Esplandini after Helsinki’s 2000 New Year’s Eve fireworks and grimaced at the countless Backstreet Boys fans bent over puking and dodged the numerous statuesque lumberjacks launching volleys of flares from cardboard tubes in both of their hands…in the middle of a friggin’ crowd.

In London, the next morning, the first of 2012, although the House Guards could have shielded us from the persistent rain, the chill we got from standing, after having stood outdoors for four hours the night before, forced us to forsake the last half of the New Year’s Day parade and stop at the deceivingly upscale Pizza Express for a delightful adult lunch in English, German, and Estonian. Yes, we were sampling more English beers.

Now, a bit of backstory: sometime between 2001 and 2005, when I was in Estonia visiting, Tiit and I (and our friend Oleg) flew to Berlin for a weekend because Estonia Air had a promotional airfare from Tallinn for a penny. I was the self-appointed tour guide. Tiit wanted to sit down to a big Saturday night dinner at a proper restaurant, but all I could find on my map was a café that served apple strudel. Well, I felt I failed him terribly, especially after he had pretended to enjoy the second half of the Berlin Philharmonic concert.

This trip to London was a chance for me, again the self-appointed tour guide, to finally make it up to him. Cindy and her younger brother are fans of Chicago’s churrascarias, albeit moreso for the caipirinhas than the smorgasbord of skewered meats. So I searched and found a churrascaria on High Street in Putney, close to a Tube station, just over the Thames, in the opposite direction of the oddly-behaving man in the pedestrian tunnel dressed as Superman. Although Lairi remained relatively stoical throughout the evening, Tiit went all out. He and Cindy tried every Brazilian beer on the menu. At one point, I looked up at Tiit and through my caipirinha-glazed eyes saw sweat rolling down his right temple because he was dipping every bite of beef, pork, and chicken he ate into a hot Indian chilli sauce. As no sauce in Estonia is ever hot enough for him and no Estonian restaurant ever serves all-you-can-eat meat, I felt I had redeemed myself.

We rolled/stumbled out of the restaurant onto High Street. Cindy, unable to spot the elevated tracks of the CTA's Pink or Green Line, noticed that a bus could take us all the way back to Baker Street. A red double-decker bus. With empty seats up top. In the very front, directly above the driver. We should have all been mugged, we were so indiscreetly giddy.

Keen on double-decker buses, I took a blue Megabus double-decker to Indianapolis in May. Surprisingly, the regular Megabus that brought me back to Chicago had more legroom than the double-decker, and the driver had enough sense to pull it over to the side of Interstate 65 in White County and let an unbelievably low wall of spectral clouds sweep over us. It shook our bus; I think it would have tipped a double-decker over.

I went to Indianapolis by myself because I had never been to Indianapolis by myself, and, consequently, I had never been to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art or to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. I had walked around and drove around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument with friends on previous visits but had never gone up the 200-some-odd feet to its observation deck until, in May, I bought a $2 ticket. I had never strolled the Canal Walk, either, which was, sadly, pedestrian in both senses of the adjective. Yet it led me to a portion of the hitherto unknown Indianapolis Cultural Trail and the totally unexpected but intriguing and educational Glick Peace Walk, honoring “luminaries” from Benjamin Franklin to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Oo-la-la!
Over the Labor Day weekend, having had been infected in my twenties with affichomanie, I hopped Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service to stare affectionately beside the bratwurst intelligentsia at “Posters of Paris: Toulouse-Lautrec and His Contemporaries” at the Milwaukee Museum of Art. If Indianapolis were Hollywood director Ron Howard, then I think Milwaukee would be John Huston. Milwaukee’s river walk is goin’ on.

The Number 331 pulled up alongside one of Amtrak’s ubiquitous dark and musty covered platforms, but this one cowered behind a bright, award-winning, intermodal station with 40-foot glass walls that shamed its shabby neighbor, a sad, hollow, cement post office from the Sixties. I scampered to the Milwaukee Public Market, crossing the Milwaukee River into the Historic Third Ward, a former warehouse district from the late 1850s. Armed with a flaky pastry and a double Americano, I walked down Broadway Street and sized up the First Annual Third Ward Art Festival, but I kept getting distracted by the four- and five-story-high architectural details of the “massive brick” warehouses and, at the same time, excited by shops like Broadway Paper and Toni’s Hoarders World that occupied the renovated structures.

I apply the “taxi test” in assessing whether a city is good or great: Do you have to call a cab or can you just hail one on the street? Do you have to look for excitement or do you just run into it? Indianapolis is a good city: I went looking for the Chatterbox and only ran into a Marsh grocery store (and got a delicious ham salad sandwich). Well, to be fair, the next morning, the finish line of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon appeared just a couple of blocks from my hotel with a helicopter hovering overhead. That was cool. Yet, still, I liked Milwaukee more; it's a great city. I ran into the art festival as well as an Italian bakery (Sciortino’s) with a half-dozen flavors of biscotti; a brewery (Lakefront) with a Palm Garden in what used to be a coal-fired power plant; a coffee shop (Anondyne) with loners and families and couples sitting opposite each other staring at the screens of their own laptops; and the Fonz (albeit bronzed and really only about five-feet tall). If there could still be any doubt that Milwaukee is a great city, the Milwaukee School of Engineering houses a collection of European paintings of coopers, tanners, and forgers.

Counting the four- or five-hour layover I had had at Lambert Field in December 2009 and the stroll I took through the Serra Sculpture Park in downtown St. Louis, my weekend in Indianapolis and my 30 hours in Milwaukee completed a trifurcated tour of my Midwest.


Take an earful from me once, go with me on a hike
Along sand stretches on the great inland sea here
And while the eastern breeze blows on us and the restless surge
Of the lake waves on the breakwater breaks with an ever fresh monotone,
Let us ask ourselves: What is truth? What do you or I know?
How much do the wisest of the world’s men know about where the massed human procession is going?
From “On the Way” by Carl Sandburg
I ventured outside my Midwest comfort zone, too, in 2012. In December, my friend Ed and I were in Kansas City (Kansas and Missouri), still home to Hallmark cards. In November, my sister and I took Interstate 55 south to Winona, Mississippi and then Highway 82 east to Mississippi State University. On the way back to The North, with my nephew in the backseat now stuffed full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches, we stopped at Elvis Presley's birthplace and childhood home in Tupelo and William Faulkner's family estate in Oxford.

Say What?!
In August, I flew into Charlotte and then drove a cherry red Dodge Charger to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see Nik, a Croatian American from Providence, Rhode Island whom I hired and taught with in Tapa. Nik succeeded me as “The American in Tapa,” but now he teaches at a private elementary school in Pärnu because he prefers to live along the sea rather than along the railroad tracks. He was in North Carolina all summer, helping his parents out at the motel and restaurant they own in the mountains. 

Nik kept talking about being “in the mountains,” but then Nik drinks a lot. Interstate 77 from Charlotte was no more mountainous than Interstate 55 south of St. Louis. When I turned west onto Old Highway 21, I still did not see any mountains on the horizon. Eventually, though, the Charger needed a heavier foot to keep it at 65 m.p.h. The road scrunched up into left and right turns that were sharper than those on the road to Lincoln's New Salem. I was climbing: foot on the gas, turning right, leaning right, foot tapping the brake, turning left, leaning left, looking ahead for the next curve, foot on the gas, back to the right, hugging the steering wheel, a little gas, then the brake, and back to the left -- for about an hour in the dark on wet, black pavement with the windshield wipers trying intermittently to break my concentration.

I got better at driving at the posted speed limit with each day of sightseeing "in the mountains," zigzagging across the Blue Ridge Parkway with Nik. 
That is not to say I could have swerved in time to have kept from hitting that possum-like critter meandering in the middle of the night across the wet highway as I was accelerating to get around yet another steep bend. One glorious, sunny day, we thought we had made it to the top of Mt. Rogers, for we had walked, shirtless, hatless, in the direction the markers to Mt. Rogers were pointing. But when we got to what looked like the top, we saw another sign pointing to Mt. Rogers even further over hill and dale. It didn't look much higher than where we were standing, so we headed back down. By the way, they grow tobacco and Christmas trees in North Carolina.

My semi-mancation weekend in Kansas City was one of three face-to-face engagements with Facebook friends who are former classmates. Talk about logging out and shutting down and going outside my comfort zone. Woo-who! In Kansas City, Ed and I visited a fellow Griffin High School classmate whom Ed hadn't seen for 10 years and I hadn't seen for 30 but had exchanged comments with over photos he had posted to Facebook. All three of us raved about Lincoln; "snarked down" Gates Bar-B-Q sandwiches; enjoyed the somber, fact-filled National World War I Museum; and concurred that the man in the alley who said his wife had just had a baby at a nearby hospital really wanted more from us than 10 bucks for gas to get them home.

Earlier in the year, I had lunch at Uncle Bub's BBQ with Susan, a fellow graduate from Little Flower School's Class of 1975, whom I had not seen for at least 30 years. She is a Cubs fan and posts photos of her trips to Wrigley Field on Facebook. When she talked about taking the train, I thought she was referring to Amtrak from Springfield (because everybody who grew up in Springfield still lives in Springfield), but she was really referring to Metra from Plainfield. Since having lunch with me, Susan has whooped my butt countless times in Words with Friends. Yet, having grown up in Laketown with me and attended Little Flower with me, she is very apologetic when she scores 50 points with a two-letter word or 500 points when she uses all seven letters.

Jackie, the third classmate I met up with, graduated from Rosary College a year behind me. I had forgotten that she had spent a whole semester in London with me. My bad. Although we had not seen each other for -- you guessed it -- 30 years, she remains as I thought she was in college: pragmatic but opinionated, insipid but droll. In interacting with Jim, Susan, and Jackie there was a comforting familiarity that was nostalgic yet refreshingly unpretentious.

Is This Chicago or Egiptus?


Alas, I did not get to Estonia in 2012 but Enni ja Maia, 2/1,340,000th of Estonia, came to me in March. While your conscientious self-appointed tour guide took them to a performance of Hair at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora; to Mass at Old St. Pat’s with Mayor Emmanuel, followed by brunch with the Trinity Irish Dancers; and to Abraham Lincoln’s home, tomb, and Presidential museum in Springfield and fed them a deep dish cheese pizza from Bacino’s; a ham horseshoe from Darcy’s Pint; and four classic deep fried appetizers at Miller’s Pub, all that I bet they remember about Chicago is the unexpectedly and unseasonably warm temperatures!


Double alas, come Monday, December 31, 2012, on the way home from work, I checked out the new Mariano’s at Halsted and Monroe for clementines, got home, and fell asleep before 2013 arrived in Newfoundland.

21 June 2012

A Few Words for the Class of 2012

In the fall of 1999, the vice mayor of Tapa asked me, a Peace Corps volunteer at the time, if I would substitute for one of Tapa Gümnaasium's English teachers who had decided to extend her working summer vacation at a YMCA camp in Colorado. I was excited!

In the fall of 2007, the deputy head of Tapa Gümnaasium told me, now a teacher on the school's payroll, that I would be teaching English to fifth graders. I was terrified!

Today, those fifth graders, whom I also taught as sixth graders (pictured above at the beginning of class and below after 50 minutes), graduated from the ninth grade at Tapa Gümnaasium. I didn't make it to the school oven that they call an auditorium this year, but I sent a message to the graduates, which, as is the tradition for all letters received from well-wishers who could not be present, was read during the ceremony. I was told through Facebook that it received the intended laughs and unexpected applause. I wrote it in poor Estonian, knowing that Sirje Sell, who has been in charge of organizing Tapa's graduation ceremonies for more than a decade, would correct my many mistakes. (She is also one of the school's Estonian teachers.) No student names were changed, however, because there were definitely no innocent students to protect.

Arvake kus ma olen. Lilled on igal pool. Toatemperatuur on kolmkümmend neli kraadi. Ees, kolm õpetajad naeratavad. Paremale üks veel nutab. Üks direktor kulmu kortsutab. Ja taga, sajad rahvast magavad.
Guess where I am. Flowers are everywhere. The room temperature is 34 degrees. In the front, 3 teachers smile. To the right, 1 more cries. A director frowns. And in the back, hundreds of people sleep.

Õige, õige! Ma olen Tapa Gümnaasiumi lõpuaktuses!
Correct! I am at the Tapa Gümnaasium graduation!

Barack Obamast kodulinnast, Eestimaalt vorsti pealinnasse, ma saadan Palju onne! iga õpilanele 9. klassist.
From Barack Obama’s home town, to the sausage capital of Estonia, I send Congratulations to each and every student of the 9th grade class.

Ehkki ma olin õpetaja Tapal viis aastat tagasi, ikka ma mäletan palju õppetundid mis ma andsin teile. Ma mäletan, et alati Andres istus nurgas ruumist, ja Karl Robert eelistas istuda aknas pigem toolis. Ma mäletan, et Angelika, Cärolin, ja Sigre oli alati vait kui hiir aga Elli ja Silvester möirgasid nagu lõvid. Silvester hammustas ka! Priit ja Arthur uskusid, et Tehke harjutused tunnis tahendas Mängige kaardid. Ma olin uhke, et Kristo oli mootorratas kuningas ja Kuldar oli Lada ekspert. Kristian teadsis rohkem inglise keel kohta kui mina. Karina ka oskab küll saada inglise keel õpetajaks aga ma saan aru, et tema tahab saada tants superstaareks.
Although I was a teacher in Tapa 5 years ago, I still remember many of our classes together. I remember that Andres always sat in the corner of the room, and Karl Robert prefered to sit in the window rather than in a chair. I remember Angelika, Cärolin, and Sigre were always as quiet as a mouse but Elli and Silvester roared like lions. Silvester bit, too! Pritt and Arthur believed that "Compete the exercises" in class meant "Play cards." I was proud that Kristo was the motorcycle king and Kuldar was a Lada expert. Kristian knew more about English than I. Karina, too, could become an English teacher but I understand that she wants to be a dance superstar.

Ma olen vana Ameerika mees nüüd aga kindlasti ma ikka mäletan Marek ja Margus ja Maria ja Jane. Kas see on kõik minu kallis ja õpetatud õpilastest? Ei ole, mitte päris. Muidugi ma mäletan Batman and Robin – Venno ja Ülo. Ma usun, et teie rääkisite minuga inglise keeles rohkem tunni pärast kui tunnis.
I am an old American man now but I definitely still remember Marek and Margus and Maria and Jane. Is that all of my dear and learned students? No, not quite. Of course I remember Batman and Robin – Venno and Ülo. I believe that you spoke in English with me after class more than during class.

Ma tänan kõigile nii rikas mälestused jaoks. Ma soovin teile kõike paremat tulevikus. Lõpuks, ma jagan teiga sõnad üks suur saksa keelt õpetajalt kes ma tunnen: Hip Hip Hoorah! Hip Hip Hoorah! Hip Hip Hoorah!
I thank everyone for such rich memories. I wish you all the best for the future. Lastly, I share with you the words of a great German teacher that I know: Hip Hip Hoorah!

Minu poolt Atlandist,
From my side of the Atlantic,

Kevin Hogan
Õpetaja

25 March 2012

Tapalased Chicagos

 
Sa Oled Ilus. In August 2000, after a stop at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I returned to Ameerika from serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tapa, Estonia. I lived with my parents in Springfield until Thanksgiving and then with friends and their families in suburban Geneva and Homewood until March 2001, when I started a full-time job in Chicago and moved to the city's Bucktown neighborhood, still home today to the Thai Lagoon.

Sometime in the first half of 2001, I believe, either as a frustrated jobseeker or overwhelmed new employee, I walked down State Street that Great Street and recognized Sa Oled Ilus on the makeshift wall hiding the notorious, square-block hole in the ground that had been Gallery 37. Sa Oled Ilus is Estonian for You Are Beautiful! A bit further down, under the Swedish Du Är Vacker, there was Sina Olet Kaunis, which seemed close to Estonian, so it had to be Finnish. On one hand, I felt that I was the only person in Chicago who understood Sa Oled Ilus/Sina Olet Kaunis. On the other hand, I wondered where these Estonian- and Finnish-speaking Chicagoans hung out and drank õlut.

Visitor Üks. Perhaps the signs were a sign, for, in August 2001, as I was growing accustom to my co-workers speaking English, Oleg, one of my friends and co-workers from MTÜ Arenduskoda in Tapa, visited me for two weeks - the first resident of Tapa to visit me in Ameerika. I remember we ate supper one evening with my parents at the original Three Happiness in Chinatown. (This is the restaurant Joyce Fong, Chicago's premiere concierge and a fellow 1983 Rosary College graduate, consistently recommended.) I think my dad was a bit befuddled by a young Estonian sitting across from him speaking English and an old waiter standing next to him speaking English with a thicker accent than Oleg. The next day or two, the four of us met up with my sister and her husband to watch Venetian Night's parade of boats along the lakefront in Grant Park. (BTW, the last Venetian Night was in 2009.) My sister had met, dare I say danced with, Oleg when she visited me in Tapa.











Visitors Kaks ja Kolm. Estonians, like many Europeans, generally take three- and four-week-long holidays every August. But even though Oleg was here on vacation, I still had to be an efficient, dedicated, hard-working, butt-licking, American worker into just his sixth month of employment with a very corporate nonprofit organization, getting into the office early and leaving late. If it weren't for the fact that sleeping is Estonians' favourite pasttime, I would have felt really, really bad leaving Oleg alone so often.     

In August 2002, Oleg came back to Chicago (Chihuly was at the Garfield Park Conservatory), and, wisely, this time he brought his own travel companion, Monika, who is today his wife and the mother of his two daughters (not necessarily in that order). This time, I was a little more secure in my position at work and had a little more time to take off. Over one long weekend, the three of us drove west on Illinois Route 64 (North Avenue out of Chicago), stopped in Dixon at the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, Junior Presidential Museum, Lee County Information Center, and Slice of Early 20th Century Rural Americana, and then had a picnic lunch on a bluff in the Mississippi Palisades State Park. Before dusk, we drove south to the Quad Cities where Oleg entered - his own choice - his first Wal-Mart. On the way back to Chicago, we stopped at a roadside Dairy Queen.




Since Oleg had met up again with my sister in 2001, I took him (and Monika) to meet up with my friends Ed and Doreen, whom he had met when they, too, visited me in Tapa. (I don't remember Oleg dancing with them though.)








Visitor Neli. Man, I got some work to do....

19 June 2011

A Few Words for the Class of 2011

The auditorium was a sauna, but 400 people were wearing their Sunday bests buttoned smartly around their necks. A handful of them were blocking the two doors that, if even ajar, might have conspired with stealthily opened windows to whip up whaffs of fresh air for the graduates' family members. About 90 minutes into the ceremony, with my white Oxford and my white Hanes wet enough to suck on for rehydration, it was my turn to say a few words. A stoic, local politician and a frustrated, scandal-entangled school director had preceded me, unexpected killjoys, buzzkillers, party poopers at a traditionally joyous occasion for which I had flown 800 miles.

I have been to at least three graduations at Tapa Gümnaasium. Still, I am really not exactly sure what people come up here and say.
Ma olen viibinud vähemalt kolmel Tapa Gümnaasiumi lõpuaktusel, aga ikkagi ei tea ma täpselt, miks inimesed siia kogunevad ja mida peaks rääkima.

Am I suppose to praise the graduates for being such attentive students, such enthusiastic learners, and such hard-working individuals over the last three years? Am I suppose to vigorously encourage them to work harder and harder and to become tomorrow’s leaders in politics, in business, in the arts, and in sports? The next Ojuland. The next Oleg Gross. The next Getter Jaani. The next Kirsipuu.
Ma peaksin kiitma lõpetajaid selle eest, et nad on olnud kohusetundlikud, innukad ja töökad kõigi kolme gümnaasiumis oldud aasta jooksul. Ma peaksin lõpetajaid jõuliselt julgustama veel rohkem tööd tegema, et neist saaksid tulevikus liidrid nii poliitika, äri, kunsti kui ka spordi vallas. Järgmised Ojulandid, Oleg Grossid, Getter Jaanid ja Kirsipuud.

Or am I suppose to warn them that there’s record unemployment, pervasive corruption, blatant discrimination, and abject poverty out there. Wait, that’s America.
Või peaksin ma neid hoiatama, et töötus on rekordtasemel, kasvab korruptsioon, diskrimineerimine on muutunud lausa jõhkraks ja vaesus süveneb. Oot oot, see kõik käis nüüd küll Ameerika kohta.

I am not teaching back in Chicago; I have a job writing. I write proposals. I write reports. I write stories for Annual Reports. I write thank you letters. I write letters for the CEO.
Olles tagasi Chicagos, ei ole mu tööks enam õpetamine vaid, nüüd ma kirjutan. Kirjutan ettepanekuid, raporteid, aastaaruandeid, tänukirju ja kirju oma ülemuse eest.

I hate writing letters for the CEO. I tell my co-worker that I hate writing letters for the CEO. My boss asks me when I will be finished with the CEO’s letter, and I tell her I hate writing letters for the CEO. Does it sound familiar?
Nende kirjutamist ma lausa vihkan. Ma olen oma töökaaslastelegi öelnud, et see ülemuse eest kirjade kirjutamine ei meeldi mulle kohe üldse. Kuid sellest hoolimata küsib ta pidevalt: ”Kuule, Kevin, millal sa mu kirjad valmis kirjutad?” Kas see kõlab kuidagi tuttavalt?

A month or so ago, I was writing another letter for the CEO and telling myself I hate writing letters for the CEO, and I had a flashback to the lektoorium at Tapa Gümnaasium where my students hated writing reports and letters of enquiry. I was sitting in front of my computer staring out the window instead of writing the letter. I remembered my students sat at their desks in the lektoorium and stared out the windows instead of writing letters. Then I was sitting in front of my computer just staring at the keyboard. I remembered my students sat and just stared at their blank pieces of paper. I did not want to write the letter; they did not want to write letters. But I needed a paycheck, and they needed their grades.
Umbes kuu aega tagasi, kui ma olin järjekordset kirja kirjutamas oma bossi eest ja sisendamas endale, kuivõrd ma seda tööd ei salli, sain ma justkui ilmutuseTapa Gümnaasiumi lektooriumiruumist, kus minu õpilased olid kirjutamas aruannet ja järelpärimiskirja. Ka mina istusin oma arvuti taga ja vahtisin aknast välja, selle asemel et kirjutada. Ma mäletan täpselt, kuidas nad istusid lektooriumis ja kirjutamise asemel vaatasid aknast välja. Ja seal ma siis olin: samamoodi jõllitamas klaviatuuri kirjutamise asemel. Mina ei tahtnud kirjutada nagu nemadki tookord. Aga mul oli siis palk vaja välja teenida ja õpilastel hinded.

And so this is what I have come up here to say to the members of the 89th graduating class of Tapa Gümnaasium. I finished that letter for the CEO partly because of you, because you finished your letters in my class. It is important, I think, as the saying goes, to practice what you preach. The American government, of course, is famous for saying one thing and doing the opposite. When Osama bin Laden…. I understand the CIA has an office in Tallinn now.
Ma tahan teile, Tapa Gümnaasiumi 89. lennu lõpetajad, öelda: osaliselt tänu sellele, et teie oma kirjatükid lõpetasite, lõpetasin selle tookord ka mina. Ma arvan, et on oluline teha ka ise seda, millest sa pidevalt räägid. Ameerika valitsus on vastupidi kuulus selle poolest, et teeb ühte aga räägib teist. Kui Osama bin Laden…… Jätame nüüd selle jutu. Kui mu mälu mind ei peta, siis nüüd on CIA kontor ka Tallinnas.

People, too, get a reputation for saying one thing and doing another. Or saying they will do something and then don’t. I worked with one of those types of persons until she was fired. I told you you had to write. Back in Chicago, I told myself I had to write. Or what kind of a teacher would I have been.
Ka mina olen kohanud kolleege, kes on rääkinud üht, aga teinud teist, andnud lubaduse ja selle ka võtnud. Olles tagasi Chicagos, mõtlesin ma sellele, et kui ma oma õpilastele andsin ülesande kirjutada ja nad tegidki seda, siis milline õpetaja ma olen, kui ise sellega hakkama ei saa.

I also want to say to you that it is important to forge ahead. Yes, I finished that letter for the CEO, but I wrote the last paragraph first, then I wrote a little of the middle, then a line or two of the beginning, then I got a cup of coffee, then a little more in the middle, and so on. You – we – always have things to do that we don’t like so much or things to do that are huge and complicated and time-consuming. Have confidence in your skills and abilities and complete the letter sentence by sentence, or the essay paragraph by paragraph, or the report page by page, or the project day by day. It doesn’t have to be firstly, page one; secondly, page two; and thirdly, page three. When you come back from vacation, do you tell your friends about it by starting: “I got on the plane at the airport in Tallinn”? No. You start with the most exciting, the most memorable, and add details that took place before and after. So it is you can complete many tasks, rather than give up on them, especially those that are overwhelming at first glance and those that are not so much fun.
Veel tahan ma teile öelda, et oluline on liikuda edasi. Jah, tookord ma sain selle kirja kirjutamisega omamoodi hakkama. See tähendab, et tegelikult kirjutasin ma kõigepealt viimase peatüki, siis paar rida algusesse, seejärel jõin tassi kohvi ja panin kirja mõned laused keskele ning nagu te isegi juba taipate, niisuguses tempos ja viisil kuni lõpuni välja. Ülesanded, mis meil tuleb lahendada, on sageli ebameeldivad, rasked, keerulised või aeganõudvad. Usalda oma oskusi ja võimeid ning kirjuta kiri kas või lause - lauselt, kirjand lõik - lõigult, aruanne lehekülg-leheküljelt või projekt päev – päevalt. Pole oluline alustada just algusest ja nii edasi rida - realt kuni lõpuni, sest kui keegi näiteks tuleb tagasi puhkusereisilt, siis ei alusta ta oma muljete jagamist Tallinnas lennukile minekust, vaid sellest, mis oli puhkusel olles kõige huvitavam, meeldejäävam ja lisaks kõneldakse sündmustest enne ning pärast saabumist. Niisiis, järgides minu omanäolist ülesandele lähenemise strateegiat, on võimalik täita esmapilgul üle jõu käivaid ja igavaid kohustusi.

In sum, have courage to move forward from high school and faith in your ability to succeed in university or on the job. Assess each task ahead of you to see how best to complete it and have a bit of fun while doing it. Also, remember, you will lead or fail more by what you do than by what you say.
Lõpetuseks soovin, et teil oleks julgust liikuda keskkoolist edasi ja uskuda oma võimete realiseerumisse kas kõrgkoolis või tööalaselt. Enne, kui te langetate otsuse, püüdke hinnata, kuidas oleks kõige otstarbekam ülesannet lahendada ning ärge unustage , et igas töö peaks olema üks suhkrutükk, mis teeb pipratera magusaks. Te võite kas õnnestuda või läbi kukkuda pigem läbi selle, mida te teete, kui selle, mida te ütlete.

I wish health and happiness to you and the families that have brought you to this point in your life.
Ma soovin tervist ja õnne nii teile kui ka peredele, kes on aidanud teil jõuda selle eluetapini.

Graciously translated by Rita Püümann (back row, second from the left), a smoker, Jenga player, world traveler, and English teacher who has a Corgi and a grandson.