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Pole to Pole

Day 25: Tallinn to Leningrad

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleOn a side road a passer-by offers Patti something in a bag for fifteen dollars. It turns out to be a gun. Patti shakes her head categorically, at which, unfazed, he drops the price to ten dollars.

Pick up a copy of the Tallinn City Paper. It's in English; well produced, anti-Russian and easily available. It pronounces on politics - hoping that talks with Moscow may reduce the 180,000 Soviet troops stationed in the country but holding out little expectation; seafood - 'In this seaside city, the best fish . . . goes to Leningrad, Moscow . . . and not to Estonia'; and national differences - 'Estonians complain that the Russians here are hot-tempered, uneducated and haven't bothered to learn about the culture to which they've migrated. Russians . . . complain that Estonians are cold-tempered, arrogant and dull'.

Back in Raekoja Square a group called the Johanson Brothers are entertaining a small crowd. Jakov Johanson maintains that 'singing has been for the Estonians . . . the most effective way to use the language . . . to sing out loudly . . . that we are Estonians'.

He sees similarities with the Irish, whose songs they perform as well, and draws a parallel between the Russian occupation of Estonia and the British occupation of Northern Ireland.

For our last meal in Tallinn we take the advice of the City Paper and eat in a restaurant irresistibly described as 'about the best you will find anywhere in the Soviet Empire'. It's called The Maharajah, and to be eating fine and delicate Indian curry in a fourteenth-century Estonian town-house seals an intense, if confused, memory of this extraordinary city.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 25
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Tallinn
  • Book page no: 53

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