Sunday, 28 September 2014

In memoriam MS Estonia

This blog is mostly about books, but occasionally I just want to write some personal musings. Do a spot of writing things out of my system. This is one of those.

It has been 20 years since the MS Estonia disaster.
If you don't live somewhere around the Baltic Sea, I won't be surprised if you have never heard of this shipwreck - especially if you're under thirty - or just don't remember it any more. But around here, it's still synonymous with devastation.

It was a big disaster. Over 850 people lost their lives as MS Estonia sank. Most of them were Swedish and Estonian. Many of those who managed to get away from the sinking ship died in the stormy, freezing cold sea.

There weren't so many Finns on the ship, which was en route from Tallinn to Stockholm. I had no personal connection to the tragedy. But I remember how it shocked me, as it shocked all the Finns I knew. I think we all felt to some degree 'it could just as well have been me.' Travelling on the Baltic sea in a big cruise ferry, whether for work or leisure, was such a normal thing to do - as it still is.

Estonia is a small country. In the years after the disaster, whenever I was in Estonia and the MS Estonia tragedy was spoken of, it seemed to me that everyone had some kind of personal connection. If it wasn't an immediate family member or relative, there was a connection through a neighbour, a colleague, a schoolmate, a friend of a friend - someone they knew, in some way or another, had been on the ship, died or survived.

In the spring of 1998, when the film Titanic was released in this part of the world, I was in Estonia. We went to see it. The cinema in Tartu was old - my most vivid memory of the place is the wooden folding seat. Yes, wooden. It got a bit uncomfortable during the 3+ hours of the film. (I remember thinking 'just sink already' as DiCaprio and Winslet seemed to be endlessly running along the ship's corridors.)

But what was making me even more uncomfortable than my seat was the consciousness that sitting all around me were Estonians who were likely to have some kind of personal connections to a more recent shipwreck tragedy. It was less than four years since MS Estonia.

In the dark cinema, I wondered: how many others here are remembering MS Estonia, too? I'm sorry to say I did not feel much for the leading couple of the film. I felt more for the ordinary people trapped in their cheap cabins far down in the ship, like the Irish mother and her little children. The people who had no chance of saving themselves. Like so many on MS Estonia. Asleep in the middle of the night, when suddenly everything turns around and you don't have time to get out anymore. I felt almost sick in the cinema, trying not to imagine what happens to the people inside a passenger ship that sinks. What would I feel if it was myself and my family trapped in there?

I haven't wanted to watch Titanic since.

We still travel on these cruise ferries, more reminiscent of floating cities than means of transport. Usually, we do not worry that a disaster might strike again - no, not us. This huge, beautiful modern thing could not possibly sink, right? Security and safety measures have improved a lot since (and because of) the MS Estonia disaster. People are doing their best to keep these kinds of accidents from ever happening again.

And yet there are shipwrecks like the Costa Concordia cruise ship in Italy or the ferry MV Sewol in South Korea. People still die at sea - people who were only going for a leisure trip, or people who were only doing their jobs.

I may forget the film Titanic, but I hope to never forget RMS Titanic, or MS Estonia - the 'Titanic' of the Baltic Sea - for that matter. 

I hope to never forget that we cannot take any day of our lives for granted. Whether we go out to sea or stay at home. 

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, 
and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. 
You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
Instead, you ought to say, 
“If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
James 4:13-15

Monday, 15 September 2014

Reading in August-September

It's Twitterature time again! Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy to share short reviews of recent reads.

So what have I read during the past month?

Not a lot.

No great Christian books to share, as the only one I've finished since last time was in Finnish.

Just one book of fiction:

Simonson, Helen: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Pettigrew, retired and widowed, lives in a small Sussex village. A new relationship in his life means he has to 'do the right thing' - even if it seems that half the village is against him.
A sweet novel. Perhaps even a gorgeous novel. Great main characters.

And two non-fiction:

John Hughes-Wilson (with Nigel Steel): A History of the First World War in 100 Objects.

The ONLY non-fiction book I finished in August. At 400+ pages, chock-full of interesting details, it's probably not surprising that it took a big chunk of my reading time.

The point of view is mostly British, and all the objects in the book are from the collections of the Imperial War Museum. Colonel John Hughes-Wilson is a notable British war historian and Nigel Steel is the Imperial War Museum's principal historian: great credentials for writing an overview of the war: background, events - many aspects

Recommended: for history buffs interested in the First World War.

von Bremzen, Anya: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. A Memoir of Food and Longing.

The history of the Soviet Union interwoven with the story of one family and food.

Anya von Bremzen puts her and her mother's personal stories into their context in history, painting a living picture of the paradoxes and realities of Soviet life. Hospitality, feasts and famines, shortages and queues contrasted with the extravagance of the later 'ruling class'. We see the significance of food in human relationships - and in culture, history and politics, too.

This is one of the best food-related memoirs that I've read. Anya von Bremzen can write - and she has a lot of stories to tell.

Personally, I loved this book all the more for being able to connect some bits and things to my own memories.
I grew up in Finland - a next door neighbour to the Soviet Union. As a child, I visited the Soviet Union twice on tourist trips and read about the 'wonders' of Soviet Union in glossy magazines. Growing up, I also had an inkling of the non-glossy realities of the totalitarian state. Around the time I became an adult, the Soviet Union collapsed. I've been travelling in the Baltic countries since early 1990s. I've visited many flats in those khrushcheba houses and been on the receiving end of incredible hospitality. I've seen the Baltic countries shedding their Soviet influences - and yet, some 'pan-soviet' have foods remained. Salat Olivier. Prianik gingerbread. Plombir ice cream. Pelmeni. Kotleti. Borshch soups. And when Anya von Bremzen writes about them, I go "Oh, yes. I remember that!"

Thursday, 4 September 2014

So far, not too bad (overview of the year)

Two thirds of the year gone. It's time for another little overview.

Reading statistics for May, June, July and August:
Books total: 47
Christian (non-fiction): 12
Other non-fiction: 21
Fiction: 14

The total number of books was suprisingly close to the first third. I thought it would be higher, as I felt I was reading A LOT in the summer.
Well, I was reading a lot in June and July.

In August, though, my reading time seemed to just evaporate. (Work, start of the school year, etc.) I ended up abandoning at least three books - though only one with no intention of ever taking it up again, the other two just had to be returned to the library before I had finished them. Plus I'm still reading a couple of books I started in August. So that's quite a bit of reading time gone without the statistics of 'a book finished' to show for it...

Luckily I don't read for the sake of impressive statistics, but rather for pleasure and edification... ;)

Most of the books were in English (28), the rest in Finnish (19).
The ratio of e-books to paper was pretty much the same as during the first third of the year: 13 e-books, 34 print. (No audio books.)

Am I reaching my reading goals?

1) Constructive Christian books: apart from August, yes. 
(And in August, I've been reading good books, though I haven't finished them yet.)

2) Learning: yes, I suppose I can say so. (You can learn a lot from travel stories. Like, what kinds of adventures you definitely do not want to get yourself into, no matter how much you like to read about them.)

3) Just for fun - yes, plenty.

4) New books for my son. Well, yes and no. He read all through the pile we packed for the summer road trip, which was mostly new-for-him titles. He seems to read in cycles: something new (a new series, even), then he re-reads an old favourite. Can't blame him for liking re-reads. :)

5) Books we already own? Oops. Those tend to migrate to the bottom of the pile, because of pressing library deadlines, etc.

6) The Bible. Still reading aloud daily to my son, and by myself, on most days.