She’s a hippie girl

By the second day it was pretty much clear to me – she’s a hippie, a hippie girl. When I told her that, she took it as a surprising compliment and blush. N. is 20 years old lady from East Coast hanging out around California. Daily she goes out on the streets, plays some guitar, meets people, talks to them about her hopes for the better world order and her concern about the third world was which supposedly is happening now. “With all the Syria and all that…” She tries to make some money, as she’s not on benefits anymore. The day has been successful for her when she gets some free food from People’s park or from the people she meets or at the public eateries for homeless people.
When I got here, there was a white rabbit on the yard, a lonely white little bunny, so sweet. I was surprised again how well the Goddess Coincidence can play it out for you – the memory of Jefferson Airplane and their White Rabbit activated in my mind, as well as the mystery Rabbit Hole of Alice in Wonderland, as a warm welcome from San Francisco. The white rabbit was in the garden also the next day, how cute she was. But I was surprised that N. didn’t know anything about Jefferson Airplane or the song.
I like her desire to make her way within the system, and thus change it from inside. She would like to work in the NGO sector, work with foundations, organizations, for the human rights and social justice, but first she wants to make documentaries about her travels. She knows she deserves money and she wants to make her contribution to the society, not sitting passively on drugs, neglecting all the world around you which turns out to be actually turning you into an ego-freak.
But she’s a hippie girl, a child of a drug addict mother whom she considers her friend. She wakes up in the morning and get’s her first high. Always makes new friends and looses old ones. Will she make it?

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Flowers in your hair and in your head, body walking in space

IMG_8956I have arrived. I am in America. All these dreams, illusions, memories and hopes for the big America start folding out in front of me through each and every second I walk on this earth, in the city of San Francisco, where you must go with flowers in your hair. I like to add here also flowers in your head. And your body walking in space. It has been wonderful to enter the country right on the spot, never leaving the airplane, rather floating on the yellow submarine.

When me and Berit were 20 and having our first bigger social experiment in life – that was when we decided to move to London, just for the excitement of it, just for the sake of the social experiment and fun – the idea of San Francisco sneaked in. Probably the overall materialistic attitude and class society of London was eating our brains the way that we started longing for the left-liberal dream.  San Francisco – the good old hippie capital – must be the right place to be. We were singing the “if you’re going to San Francisco” song and tried to figure out the visa case. Settling in in London was not a big deal, why would it be different in Frisco, we were wondering. But soon we started to realize that Europe and America are two different things and hippies in San Francisco have died out long ago.

It was not before I moved together with Monica in Indonesia while working on my fieldwork research in Yogyakarta. I spent the days with warias and working out my stuff, and in the evenings we had a lot to talk about with Monica. It seemed to be rather miraculous how similar we were when it came to the music, films, political attitude or thoughts on gender and (post-)colonial situation. Yet we had grown up each on different sides of the globe, but I wanted to pay her a visit in San Francisco.

Thank god that Susan Stryker, again her, as we met at the conference in Sweden, told me as the first thing: “Bay area would definitely be the right place for you to be!” One thing led to another, I was gifted with Fulbright scholarship, and when I now come to think about it, then I didn’t pick San Francisco, San Francisco picked me.

Going to San Francisco, everybody’s queered up

In a week time I’m in San Francisco. That’s gonna be my first time in America – the promised land that’s been haunting my childhood since growing up in the post-socialist Estonia. TV has always been the window to the wider world here – starting from the beginning of the media-time when the Finnish television used to be the open source for foreign cultural influence in Northern Estonia during Soviet time, later on during the 1990s when the children like me were carried away to their fantasy Matelle-Barbie-dolls-mini-cars-superhero-world. Oh, I remember how much I desired all these plastic-fantastic toys laying around the cute bedrooms, where frustrated American children in the movies escaped from their beautiful parents, who seemed perfect for me.

Along with age came maturity, another kind of films, different sources, new views on this amazing country that has often claimed to be the best society in the world.  And then came real people, friends from America with whom we crossed paths in different parts of the world. I’ve shared my living with some of them, I even had an American boyfriend, and he was rad.

For the past few weeks I’ve been browsing Craigslist – the most popular web for selling and buying stuff and searching for houses – to find myself a living space near Berkeley. After few days I realized that half of the population in the Bay area defines themselves as queer. They often also claim to be progressive, radical, anti-racist, sometimes also easy-going and 420 friendly. Sounds good to me, I thought. The not so good part would be when they define themselves through TV series that I had never heard about.

But back to part of the radical – so everybody’s queer. I remember Susan Stryker, an awesome scholar on transgender studies, once posted on her FB page about a phone call that she overheard: “Everybody’s queered up! I can’t find no bitches anymore! That’s what it’s like in San Francisco now…”  (by a man sitting in BART drinking something from a wrapped bottle)

Many questions circulating my mind when I come to think about these roommate adds. How come so many people are defining themselves through the gendered or non-gendered selves? How has it almost become the first and most used ‘tag’ to position yourself as a potential roommate? How is it going to be in real life – is their an actual divide between the queers and the non-queers? Can you tell the difference? Are all the queers cool and the non-queers assholes or just boring? What does the “queer” actually stand for – is it about sexual preferences, (non)gendered selves, critical attitude towards gender norms, or has it become a style or a trendy way to label yourself?

And how am I going to cope with all that – am I queer enough for these folks??!

As I still haven’t got any deal, then at least I got my little anthropological experience started. Can’t wait to take it further.

Another thing my American friends here keep on telling is that America is a dangerous country. Rock on!

As a bright comet, the rock’n’roll legend takes off straight to the heavenly cosmos

We continue with our hippie journey through time back to the 1970s Estonia – the so-called Soviet West, where young people were thrilled by the radical youth movements that had been taking place earlier in the West, and now against the expected Soviet codes of behavior and morals they were seeking their own bitter trajectories towards something that would allow them to feel free within this rigid Soviet system. I’ll introduce you one of the rock’n’roll legends in Estonia – poet Aleksander Müller. 

As you read the post, here’s the soundtrack to put on – by Suuk – Statistiline (words by Jonnhy B, vocals Aleksander Müller)

The University town Tartu has always been the intellectual hub in Estonia, so some progressive thought developed here around the poetry evenings at University Café with Ave Alavainu or Johnny B on spot, or the Oriental Cabinet in University of Tartu where Buddhist studies were introduced by Linnart Mäll, or the avant-garde artist group Visarid, where painter Enn Tegova was one of the leading figures.

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Enn Tegova, painter in Tartu

Some guys like for example the poet Aleksander Müller took off wild with the principle of “live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse”. He says these vibes were definitely in the air back at the time, as the surrounding politics were so depressive and left no space for hope.  His large apartment at Supilinn in Tartu became a legendary place of coming-together to listen bootlegged records, read poetry and talk all the shit that had to be spoken, but couldn’t have done in public. His home formed an important social center for free-thinking and free will in the context of Soviet power along its propaganda machine and overall stagnation. The door was always open, there were always people around. There he had a piano that didn’t have any white keys. Meaning, all the keys where covered with cigarette butts black spots! And according to a rumor, Müller started drinking constantly since he was 15, he was a god damn rock’n’roll spirit. He later became a well-known blues musician, but in 1970s he was  involved with psychedelic rock music. 

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Aleksander Müller in front of his legendary old house in Tartu, summer 2012. By the time, he was already pretty week and couldn’t move himself, so he’s being carried by another poet Päärn Hint.

Music making certainly became one of the few sources of joy at the time, or the means to express the hate, the anger against the established system. But this social criticism, of course, had to be always served hidden, hidden behind the lines of poetry, in metaphors, as the punishments could become very real.

At some point in 1970s, Müller Sass joined a psychedelic rock band Suuk from Tartu as a singer. Suuk has often been compared to The Doors, as it sounds tripping, rebellious, destructive and liberating at the same time. But different from Jim Morrison who actually put in practice his principle of “live fast, die young” belonging to the “club 27”, Sass lived much longer.  He passed away just recently on the 4th of July 2013. We all knew his soul was going straight to the wide heavenly cosmos and this comet deserved some celebration.

We were actually the very last ones who interviewed him last summer for the Soviet hippies exhibition and documentary. And oh, this rock’n’roll legend seemed so very happy to chill around on a wheelchair at the massive exhibition opening, to enjoy his 4cl of cognac, and to experience that finally his bitter pain and sorrow and the inner burning sunshine has made it to the local cultural history, right there at Estonian National Museum!

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At the opening of the exhibition “Soviet hippies: The Psychedelic Underground of 1970s Estonia”. Photo by Merilyn Püss

Listen to the full album of Suuk recorded in 1976 in Tartu here with comments in Estonian from Aleksander Müller. The band Suuk, as the host of the broadcast Jaan Tootsen says, is a band which by all parameters of the time could not have possibly existed in Soviet Union. And no-one would even believe that the band existed, if we didn’t have this remarkable recording from 1976 that only happened only coincidentally when Estonian Radio stereo-bus came down to Tartu to take this recording.

Rest in peace and in rock’n’roll, Aleksander Müller (1947-2013).    IMG_8054

Raja Ampat wonderland in flow

Shot in one of the most amazing diving locations in the world, Raja Ampat in Papua, Indonesia, i’m happy to share possibly the most beautiful hour spent in my life with seven gorgeous manta rays.

Sometimes you’re just lucky for having to conduct your anthropological fieldwork in the area, where such spots of Alice in Wonderland are just few hours boat trip away. I had been working in Sorong already for weeks, when my psychical abilities – and after all these stories I had heard from warias, and experiences we shared, also mental abilities  – were challenged hard. That, on the other hand, formed a great excuse for a weekend getaway to Raja Ampat.

Raja Ampat advertises itself as the ‘Last Paradise on Earth’. Witnessing the massive piles of fish under the sea surface it’s hard to argue the contrary, especially when also encountering the manta rays. These huge birds of the ocean fly around endless blue of the globe and stop around Raja Ampat only for a few months a year. They’re incredibly intelligent and I’m pretty sure they can sense the human vibrations and if you really try, you can communicate with them in some meditative ways.

I combined the video clips I recorded in February 2012 with a random improvisation we played last week with my good old sound collective Voog (translates as flow) in Tartu, Estonia. Guitars: Mänts; drums: Martin, keyboards: terje. Camera, editing by terje

Read more about Raja Ampat here and here.

I AM BREATHING – MND/ALS Global Awareness Day

Today on the 21st of June is the Motor Neurone Disease Global Awareness Day. To spread awareness and raise funds for MND-related research, an award-winning documentary I AM BREATHING will screen across the globe simultaneously.  Tonight I’m hosting a screening in a local subculture house called Genclub in Tartu, Estonia, but where ever you are at the moment – seek for a local screening in your town, as there’s 173 screenings taking place tonightI_AM_BREATHING_Facebook_Banner

While living and travelling around in variouscultures I have come to notice a general trend which could be summed up with the words: what is known is socially constructed, what is not known is to be afraid of. As an anthropologist, the tools I work with are about interpretation and translation – from one cultural community to another, from one language to another, from one reality to another. To create better understandings, to fight the fear.

I believe film is a great medium to fight the fear of the unknown. Yet when it comes to the matter of death we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation – we are afraid of death as this is the total unknown. No anthropologist can help us much here with interpretation. Almost all religions have tried to do so, yet death remains outside of our subjective experience, thus creating tensions, creating fear.

I saw I AM BREATHING at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam which I was attending as a media representative for Estonian independent cultural magazine Müürileht. It was a late night screening, I ended up in tears. These tears were not fully about sadness, but there was also something else – something that could perhaps be explained with this old Latin saying ‘memento mori’ – remember dying. Remember dying in order to remember living. Death is like a mirror in which the true meanings of life are reflected. Or just as Sogyal Rinpoche said:

“You will all die successfully.”

I AM BREATHING is a great film with an incredibly touching story, and I am totally willing to make my small contribution to raise MND awareness in Estonia through organizing a screening.

I AM BREATHING is about the thin space between life and death.