Eesti Elu
Bird Droppings
Arvamus 03 Nov 2011 Hilary BirdEesti Elu
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Summer is almost over but we are still having brief days of “old woman’s summer’ with warm, mellow yellow sunlight and a gentle breeze. There is even the odd mossie still on the prowl …everyone is remarking that it is very unusual to have such lovely interludes this late in the year. Is this Estonia’s version of global warming? But the stove is lit and the candles are set to welcome Hingedeaeg, the Time of Spirits, which, as old Bird Droppings hands know, is a bit of a favourite season with this writer … It’s the time, like Celtic Samhain, when the dead can cross over to mingle once again with the living. They “come in on a cart and go out on a sleigh,” as the old Estonian saying goes. Do the spirits behave, I wonder, like we live folk do? Do they dither over what to pack , do they wonder if the ghost bus will be late, do they complain about having to visit relations they don’t like and do they have to make arrangements for the ghostly neighbours to feed the ghostly cat?

Summer was very enjoyable but busy. I went (briefly) to spa in Pärnu (always a pleasure), to Sweden and then to the UK. I liked confident, sensible Sweden very much, not least of all because I spent my time there in the company of old pals who have a house in Lysekil, Götaland on the Kattegatt strait in the south west. The Kattegat is a continuation of the Skagerrak (meaning roughly ‘Skagen Channel’ and named after Skagen at the north tip of the Denmark) and is known either as a bay of the Baltic Sea, a bay of the North Sea or, in traditional Scandinavian usage, neither. According to The Great Danish Encyclopaedia the Kattegat derives its name from the Dutch kat (cat) and gat (hole, gate) - late medieval slang used by Hansa sailors who compared the reefs and narrow channels (at one point passable waters were a mere 3.84 km - 2.39 miles – wide) to a hole that was a bit of a squeeze even for an average puss. I am sure my Jelly would have managed when told of the fishy riches of the Baltic … she is very fond of a herring …

Lysekil lies by a fjord called Gullmarsfjorden (Gullmar fjord, Old Norse for ‘God’s Sea’). The fjord (an elongated inlet of water) is the only true one in Sweden and it’s big, wide and deep - 25 km (16 miles) -long, 1-3 km (anything up to 2 miles) wide, with a maximum depth of 118.5 meters (0.74 miles). The landscape is, as you might expect of Sweden’s only true fjord, rugged and craggy and typical of Götaland. Götaland, the traditional homeland of the Goths and therefore of German culture, was once inhabited by tribes called Gautar in Old Norse and the Geatas (now Geats) in ye Olde English. The most famous of the Geats was Beowulf, monster-slaying hero of one of the oldest surviving pieces of English literature and England’s national epic. Nowadays, however, the landscape is dotted not so much with chunky chaps in horned helmets but with stressed out city folk holidaying in summer cabins perched on the sides of the fjord and messing about in boats and “there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” said Ratty in The wind in the willows, a book by the secretary of the Bank of England. And Beowulf and Ratty are not the only connections with the UK! In 1943 Brofjord (near Lysekil) was used as a base for loading and unloading requisitioned Norwegian vessels manned by Brit and Norwegian crews who took part in night voyages running (from Sweden to Hull) the German blockade of the Skagerrak. Cargoes included sorely needed steel and ball bearings.

Lysekil is charming, especially on a bright, sunny day in the north where the light renders everything airy and translucent. Its old pastel coloured wooden town (gamlestan) is gently elegant as is the adjacent spa garden and buildings. I especially liked the whitewashed bathhouse that encloses a sea inlet, designed by Renaissance man, Carl Peter Curman (1833 - 1913), physician, gifted amateur architect, sculptor and photographer. Bird droppings always seems to come back to spa! Carl Curman’s main claim to fame was as a balneologist who initiated modern hot air baths in Sweden. He built many bathhouses, including the Sturbadel in the (now very exclusive) central Stockholm, whose façade is modelled on the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi in (appropriately watery) Venice. His own villa in Lysekil has been preserved as it was in the 19th century. See some smashing pix at

A bright green urinal, the Pissekuren (Piss cure), in Lysekil’s north harbour, is probably (1) the only toilet in the world recognized as a historic building and (2) the one with the best view, overlooking, as it does, the sea. It was made in 1926 and is the only cast iron urinal left in Sweden. See the Lysekil lav and famous facility at . It’s no 8 Pissoar med havsutsikt if you haven’t got Google translate. Lysekil is also famous as the home of ‘Kalle’s kaviar, ‘ a delicious concoction of tomato paste, cod roe, onion, dill and chives, based on a recipe several hundred years old that originates from the area. It’s even referred to in French as Caviar de Lysekil. Whatever it’s called it’s scrummy and I was delighted to find it in Estonia.

Being a seaside town, a spa and Sweden’s only marine preservation area, there’s rather a good aquarium and I enjoyed strolling beneath and through big tanks full of local marine flora and fauna. But beware! Peering over the barrier of an open pool of flat fish I was attacked by a turbot that braced itself on the bottom of the tank and launched itself towards my nose. I seem to be vulnerable to turbot terror because this happened to me once before, in Hunstanton aquarium in 1969…Just to be on the safe side, I left the crabs, anemones and sea stars in open tanks unmolested. It can’t, anyway, be much of a life being prodded and poked by curious giant, warm-blooded pink things. The aquarium annual exhibition is about sea monsters, complete with a Kraken head exhaling explosive smoke and an opportunity to stand between shark jaws. The local Gullmarsfjorden legend involves a sea snake but the star of the exhibition is a real (dead) giant herring 3.65 meter (nearly 12 foot!) long. 73-year-old fisherman Kurt Ove Eriksson who found it said “I’ve been fishing around here since 1957 and I’ve never seen anything like it!” He had found the world’s largest bony fish, a Giant Oarfish (aka ‘The king of herrings’) last seen in Swedish waters in 1879. See the colossal kipper at and a nice video at
(to be continued)
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