Itching for Eestimaa, June 18, 2012
I would have felt lonely if it hadn't been for the bikes, the fleets of bikes running me down scared in the streets of the Danish capital. Everything has changed here since I last called this land home, but the bikes are a constant, they never leave, rather, there are only more of them. This is a country, or at least a city, where this form of transportation is king, and that means it rules above all others, cars, pedestrians -- you hear the bell ring twice and that means get the hell out of the way because some albino Amazon woman who looks like Brigitte Nielsen (pre Flava Flav) in a business suit is about to mow your sorry foreign ass down faster than you can say "Tivoli" or "Pølsevogn."
Yes, bring it on, bring me some more Tuborg Classic, reignite that youthful hunger for carousing and destruction. And then, when sobered up, back in Estonia, I yearn for those ladies and gentlemen on bikes, the bells but a sad nostalgic song, like one of those post-new wave anthems that were designed to make you cry: "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order, "How Soon is Now?" by The Smiths, "Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode -- And there's a reason these songs are still being played in Copenhagen.
Oh Denmark! You gave Estonia your three lions, you gave Tallinn its name and Harjumaa its flag, but you came too many centuries too early, long before bicycles were the fashion. If there is an ancient tapestry depicting Valdemar II (The Conqueror) riding his bicycle into battle in Lyndanisse, politely ringing that bell to any Finnic pagans who stand in his way, it has long since been lost or disappeared into the archives of some invading country.
Here in Viljandi I long to ride my bike everywhere, but there are too few occasions, it is something that must be selectively done, "Today, I will ride my bike!" You must don your helmet, proceed to fine designated recreational areas. Everything you need is in walking distance, and if not, it's within driving distance, But biking distance? Does such a concept even exist?
Even when I lived in Estonia the first time, in the dreaded and dark winter of 2003, there were young eestlased around trying to ignite a cycling revolution. It was hard and still is. In Tallinn, my cyclist friend informs me, things become more and more "human" every year, meaning there are more cyclists, him seeing driving around in some blinged-up "I've made it!"-mobile as the post-Soviet form of neanderthal grunting, a sort of knuckle-dragging, hunched-over sashay before learning to walk upright and straddle a bike. Terrible. But I do see old grannies in Setomaa riding to the store with their long skirts fluttering in the wind. How I love those scenes. If only there were more of them!
In Viljandi, I am lucky to see people riding bikes around the town center, usually young ökoinimesed or poets or artists. Sofia Joons passed me on a bike a few times with a cheery hej hej, but that doesn't count because she's Swedish. The bikes do not dominate because the infrastructure isn't there to support a bike-dominated society, you see, one needs specific lanes for bicycles before one can lead a cavalry of cyclists into battle against pedestrians and automobiles. If only the infrastructure was there, I might use my bike every day, because most of the destinations that are within "walking distance" and "driving distance" are actually within "biking distance." Bumping over cobblestones and crumbling cement and asphalt is fun, you know, but it won't provide you with that thrilling "Valdemar II (the Conqueror)" feeling.
satori in copenhagen