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....