Bird Droppings from Estonia: Spring (2)
Archived Articles 26 May 2006 Hilary BirdEWR
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Has not so much sprung but pounced! Just over a month ago there was snow on the ground, the trees were bare and the earth was down-trodden and brown.

Not now! It's the 21st of May - the storks have been back for a few weeks and are traipsing round the fields and sitting perkily in their nests atop telegraph poles and such, flocks of other birds have been seen flying north.

The maple tree outside my window has come out in full bloom in the last week. Little blue and yellow-cream flowers have came and gone and the countryside is a symphony in green. In the town the flower ladies are out en masse, the town council is repairing everything in sight and hordes of teenagers can be found snogging in the secluded nooks and crannies of the Cathedral Hill. They were particularly numerous around the Old Anatomy Theatre where, peering through a window, I found myself face to face with a skeleton's bum. Perhaps it was the memento mori that got 'em going but I rather think it was the sunny weather and freedom after being cooped up with the parents all winter, not to mention the sap rising!

The temperature was in the 20s for the Tartu Spring Days and Rag Week held at the end of April to commemorate the opening of the Swedish university in 1632. It's all very inclusive. There was a meeting at a 'witch school' in a nursery, a 'waste paper is not garbage' collection (all week) on the green outside the Gunpowder cellar, aerobics, all sorts of music, plays, a self-made flying machine competition (hilarious), nighttime processions with torches, daylight processions with brass bands, and, for those who could hack it, a 'Listening to birds singing' at 06.00AM (!) at the Raadi cemetery.

Altogether there were around 400 events in the week and the atmosphere was great. There was much messing around in boats on the Ema (mother) river. This included a water fight (Academics versus Party Animals), a serious boat race and a rubber boat rally in silly costumes - crews included ancient Egyptians, who did a suitable ancient Egyptian dance before starting, Crusaders (boo, hisssssss!!) and pink rabbits. The serious boat race was between the University of Tartu and the Estonian University of Life Sciences. The latter, also based in Tartu, is responsible for 'research into the sustainable development of natural resources' and it's actually just a fancy name for the old Agricultural College. As I am an alumni of UT, naturally I supported the University team, who won. Student Days are presided over by the university mascot, a large, tubby yellow dog-fox called Villem wearing a student's cap. Villem is foxy because so many students were called Fuchs (German for fox) and the name was transcribed into Estonian - rebane. For pix of amiable Villem on the disco floor, sleeping off a hangover, socialising with other mascots, making announcements, etc go to


Happy birthday, Vanemuine!

The Vanemuine theatre is 100 years old this year and, as part of the Spring Days, there was a fabulous international ballet gala with performers from the Brit, Danish, Swedish and Flemish Royal ballets in tandem with the home troupe! The show opened with a simple little polka by the girls of the Tartu ballet school, the youngest of whom was a mere 5 years old. Very sweet. The Danes danced a pas de deux from the lovely 'Flower Festival of Genzano' (choreography by the incomparable August Bournonville) with the gorgeous bounce that distinguishes the Danish style. The Tartu Vanemuine Ballet Troupe acquitted themselves admirably in an act of their quirky 'Midsummer Night's Dream' (choreography by Belgian Hugo Fanari and score by Felix Mendelssohn, Elvis Costello and others) premiered during last year's Spring days.

In an evening of terrific ballet the show was stolen by Tamara Roja (UK Royal Ballet) and Iñaki Urlezaga (from Argentina but billed as Dutch National) dancing, superbly, the fiendishly taxing Don Quixote pas de deux (choreography by Master of the 19c Imperial Ballet, St Petersburg, Marius Petipa with perfect show-off circus music by Maestro Ludvig Minkus) and the full house clapped along to the ballerina's spinning fouettes in a great show of unsophisticated (and very sincere) provincial appreciation. At the end there were many curtain calls, much bravo-ing and stamping of feet in a very un-Estonian (till now) display of delight. After I could see the celebs having après booze in the Vanemuine from my window.
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