Exploring A Snowy Traditional Village In Estonia

Estonia
After so many years living in Spain, it was nice to visit Estonia and experience a real winter again. That numbness on the tip of your nose while the rest of your body is bundled up and warm, the way sounds get muffled by the snow, the intricate designs the icy branches etch into the sky – winter is a good season when you don’t have to experience it for too long.

The best way to experience winter is to get out into the countryside. Day trips from the capital Tallinn can be tricky, however, as the bus system isn’t the greatest. One quick way to experience country life and get a bit of history is to spend a few euros on a taxi and go to the Estonian Open Air Museum just outside of town.

This remarkable place is the Colonial Williamsburg of the Baltics. Historic buildings have been collected here from all regions of Estonia to recreate several traditional villages. Costumed employees practice traditional crafts as visitors wander around the forested paths between the villages.

I went on Shrove Tuesday, which is a special event in Estonian culture. The village tavern was serving up pig trotters with the warning not to wipe the grease off your chin if you wanted to ensure a prosperous and lucky new year. After a messy lunch that’s going to make me rich and fortunate in 2013, I headed out into the country lanes. Being the middle of a weekday, it was quiet. Visitors were spread out over the museum’s several acres and for the most part all was silent except for the crunch of my boots in the snow. Every now and then I’d hear the jingle of sleigh bells and see a happy family scoot by, driven by one of the museum employees.

%Gallery-179095%It’s a big day for kids, who go sledding on this date. For some reason sledding ensures that flax will grow tall in the new year. The child who sleds the farthest guarantees that his or her household will have the best flax crop. A gaggle of squealing Estonian kids hurtling down the slope next to one of the windmills were having too much fun to care whether the flax grew tall or not. Nearby was a merry-go-round set atop a frozen pond, spinning extra quickly on the ice.

Estonian kids have turned the making of snowmen into a fine art. Kadriorg Park, back in town, had an entire population of snowmen, snow women, snow dragons, and a snow bear climbing a tree to get a snow squirrel. Scattered around the 18th- and 19th-century buildings of the Open Air Museum I saw snowmen hanging out enjoying the holiday. It made me wonder how old the tradition of making snowmen is and why it started.

The homes, barns and churches collected here are now rarities. During Soviet times the emphasis was on collectivization and most old rural buildings were allowed to decay. So it’s a rare treat to see their distinct, homey style and watch kids play at the same games their ancestors did when these old buildings were new.

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: The Secret Tunnels Under Tallinn!

[All photos by Sean McLachlan]

Estonia

Museum Of Craft And Folk Art In San Francisco To Close

Museum of Craft and Folk ArtSan Francisco’s Museum of Craft And Folk Art has announced in a press release that it will close its doors forever on December 1.

Museum officials said, “Sustainability in the current economic climate, with reduced funding for the arts, was a significant factor in the decision.”

The museum tried to put a brave face on the announcement by highlighting its past achievements. It was founded in 1982 in San Francisco at a time when artists carrying on craft and folk traditions were generally overlooked by the art market. The museum was instrumental in changing that, the release said.

The closure is scheduled to coincide with the end of its current exhibition “Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers.”

There is no word yet on what will happen with the museum’s collection. The museum is the only one of its kind in northern California.

The global recession has hit museums and the arts particularly hard. Many museums are scaling back exhibitions and reducing hours. I’ve written before on how Greek museums are facing the economic crisis. They’re not alone. The Edgar Allen Poe Museum may have to close, and a Dutch museum is selling part of its collection to survive.

[Photo of guitar/record player from the museum’s collection courtesy Marshall Astor]

Whatever Happened To The Lake Conway Monster?

Lake Conway, skunk apeCould a reservoir in Arkansas be the favorite watering hole of a southern Bigfoot? Maybe it once was, but it doesn’t seem to be anymore.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I loved tramping through the woods, and so of course I loved hearing about monsters lurking in the woods. I vaguely remember a rash of sightings of a big, hairy monster in the woods of Arkansas. It had several names, the most popular being the Fouke Monster, which was sighted by numerous individuals and was the subject of some atrocious films that freaked out 10-year-old me.

There were also sightings at Lake Conway just north of Little Rock. It’s 6,700 acres in size, making it the largest man-made game and fish commission lake in the country, and a popular fishing spot. Most of the sightings come from fishermen in remote parts of the lake.

According to one anonymous testimony (the sort of thing that constitutes evidence for cryptozoologists hunting these critters) it was about 7 feet tall and completely covered with dark hair. It stood at the edge of the lake watching a fishing boat for several minutes and showed no fear or comprehension when a gun was pointed at it.

Sightings of the Conway Lake monster date back to the 1940s, according to this article in the Saline Courier, which cites no sources. They continued until the 1970s before trailing off to nothing.

Several witnesses noted that it had a terrible odor. This led some cryptozoologists to suggest it’s a skunk ape, a mysterious beast shown here in a photo courtesy David Barkasy and Loren Coleman. This shot was allegedly taken in Florida. Skunk apes are found throughout the South although, of course, none have ever been caught. Sadly, no photos of the Lake Conway monster have ever been reported.

So what was the Lake Conway monster? Skunk ape? Bigfoot? A hairy refugee from a nudist chili festival? Did it go extinct like some people said Nessie has? Perhaps it moved away as Little Rock has expanded and more and more fishermen use Lake Conway. It seems a shame, though. The folks around Lake Champlain have kept their monster alive and kicking. So come on, Arkansans, go find the Lake Conway monster, or at least take a blurry nighttime photo of an orangutan!

Grandma Moses’ Early Home Among Buildings Added To Virginia Landmarks Register

Grandma Moses
The Virginia Landmarks Register has just added 17 properties to its list of important sites. One of them is a home lived in by Grandma Moses and her family before she became famous as a folk artist.

The c. 1850 brick farmhouse in Mount Airy in the Shenandoah Valley was home to the painter in 1901 and 1902. While her stay was brief, it is the best preserved of any of the homes she lived in in the area. Grandma Moses only turned to painting when she was well into her 70s, yet she became world famous and her simple yet evocative folk paintings, such as the one pictured here, remain popular today.

Some of the other properties that have been added to the register include an African-American cemetery dating to the Civil War, the late 18th century Galemont farm in Fauquier County and a one-room schoolhouse in Springfield that operated right up until the 1930s.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]`

Museum of European Cultures reopens in Berlin

Berlin, PerchtenThe Museum of European Cultures has reopened after a two-year renovation.

Located in Berlin, this museum focuses on the life of the common people of old Europe. While most museums focus on the famous accomplishments of the elite, this one looks at the everyday lives and traditions of regular people so often forgotten by the history books. Folklore museums can be found all over Europe and make for fascinating visits. With a collection of some 27,000 objects, the Museum of European Cultures is one of the largest.

The latest temporary exhibition is of the paintings of Wilhelm Kiesewetter, who traveled across Europe 150 years ago to paint the traditional costumes and lives of various ethnic groups. There’s also a study collection of old toys.

While many of the costumes and artifacts on display are now only museum pieces, some traditions have survived. One of the stranger ones takes place in the Alps over the Christmas season-the Perchten processions. Perchta is an old pagan goddess who was never quite suppressed by Christianity. She can appear as a beautiful maiden or an old crone and has single huge swan’s foot. She roams the countryside during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany, checking to see if children and servants had been good and done their work. The good ones are rewarded with a silver coin in their shoe, while the bad ones get gutted and stuffed with straw.

Her entourage, called Perchten, includes glittering animal figures that bring luck and ugly critters like this one to scare away evil spirits.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.