Revisiting school days
By Abdul Turay
First Published Jun 11, 2008
My spouse’s father is a fisherman. Since she grew up with the sea I once took her to see the first sea clocks in Greenwich. These 18th century inventions made safe sea travel possible for the first time.
First I showed her the drama “Longitude,” which tells the story of how the clocks were created. Inventor John Harrison went through hell making the things. This gave the visit an extra poignancy for my partner because she knew the human story behind the clocks.
This is a good recommendation for any site-seeing tour. If you read the book or see the film first, then you will enjoy the place you go to see more.
Palamuse is a small town in Jogeva County. It has just 2,500 people. It is most famous as the place where Oscars Luts, a 20th century Estonian writer, went to school.
Luts is often compared to Dickens, but with less blood and guts. One of his most famous works, Kevade (Spring), is about his school days. That school is now a museum. Near the school house is the old church where Luts prayed and the river where he played as a child.
Kevade is a coming of age story about a group of friends, each one in his own way an outsider. There is a young, scallywag, Toots: lanky, loser, Kiir, and romantic, dreamer, Arno. The main love interest is the earthy, good-natured, Teele. All three main characters make a play to win her heart at some point in the trilogy.
Luts takes the story forward with “Suvi” and “Toot’s wedding” set in the dying years of the Russian Empire, and “Sugis,” set in the first Estonian republic. The “Kevade” movie was filmed on location 1969 and is widely regarded as one of the best Estonian films ever made.
Two sequels were made, “Suvi” (1976) and “Sugis” (1990), both starring the same actors in early adulthood and mid-life.
It is difficult to stress how important these films are to really understanding Estonia. All Estonians have seen the movies without exception. In fact, all Estonians have seen these films many times. So if you have a genuine interest in country you have to see it.
It is gratifying that the school house looks exactly like it does in the movie, as does the little stream. However, visiting the site does raise some issues – there is a scene in the movie where one of the characters sinks a raft to the bottom of the stream. I wondered how this is possible given that the stream is only knee deep at any given point.
It was also satisfying to discover that the characters that you meet in the book and the film are based on real people. Joseph Toots was based on a prosperous farmer who was a good friend of Luts. Sadly, the real Toots died at a young age just before the outbreak of World War II.
There is always an element of sadness when a building such as this is turned into a museum. The Edwardian photos, school desks and fake inkpots only give you a vague sense of school must have been like at the turn of the century. The school house still stands but all the vitality has been drained out of it. The sensation is like looking at a stuffed animal, killed and filled with sawdust.
The church is still functional, and though it is as unremarkable a church as any in Estonia it means more than most churches because, frankly, it’s in a movie.
Palamuse is for those people who are really interested in Estonian culture, those who want to find out what the “real Teele” and the “real Toots” actually looked like. If you are not interested in Estonian culture, what are you doing here? If you happen to be passing that way have a look, but remember see the film first.
Open every day
10 a.m. -6 p.m.