When I was a boy at the ocean I would get taken down by waves, and some of them were big, and then some of them were monstrous, walls of moving salty water that sucked me up and pounded the meat of my body into the shells and sand. That's how my most recent bout of jetlag has overwhelmed me. I am exhausted. But I don't think it is this one travel that has exhausted me. It's 33 years of forward motion.
Scott Fitzgerald called it "the crack-up," a blow that doesn't hit you all at once, but takes you down over time, so that you can only pinpoint the moment the rushing water collided with your being in retrospect. In a lot of ways, he was describing jetlag, that sinister hangover that just won't go away, no matter how much sleep, no matter how much coffee. You long to get back to you, but you left you somewhere else, in a hotel room in Chicago maybe, or perhaps tucked under the seat on that Finnair flight. But this is a different kind of jetlag, a jetlag of the soul.
Estonia is cool these days, the end of August. Summer peaked with Viljandi Folk, when my home was turned into a temporary hostel. Viljandi is a hard town, a wild town. The streets here where we live are unpaved, so they are hard on the feet, hard on the shoes, hard on the legs. The homes are heated by wood, so the smoky air is hard on the lungs, the temperature is hard on the body. A person needs to be hard to live in Viljandi. I am still soft, and I am not sure if I can adapt. My neighbor watches me, smoking. His constant expression is one of quiet amusement. He's wondering when I will crack. He thinks it's only a matter of time.
The neighbor across the street smokes too, except he's 10 years old. I watched his mulleted father beating a carpet the other morning. There are class issues here in Viljandi, in Estonia. And class is not just how much money you make, but how you speak, what you eat, what you talk about. Class defines whether or not you will feel comfortable parading around town with a half empty beer can in your hands on a Wednesday afternoon, or playing bossa nova music at a dinner party. Class creates jealousy and friction, malice and misunderstandings. Most of all, class leads to ignorance. You don't see me, I don't see you. We live right next to each other, but very far apart. Even children grasp this, without being lectured.
Will I crack? I think not. I hope not. These are just complications, I tell myself. I'm not going to go the way of the drink like F. Scott, or burn up in a madhouse like Zelda. And I am definitely not going to do myself in ala Hemingway. I'm like the stubborn moss on the ruins in the Old Town of Viljandi. Smoke all you want neighbors, let me be the mellifluous entertainment in your morning charades. But as hard as these Viljandi streets are, some days the sun does shine. It reflects in the puddles among the cobblestones along with the close blue ceiling of the northern sky. And on these days, I feel that I'm this side of paradise.