A year and about twenty days ago I set foot in Tartu. I made my journey by train from Tallinn. All I could see was forests, trees, more forests, apparently abandoned villages where the train stopped (for whom?).
I had never been on such a slow and bouncy train…with a wireless connection. The arrival in Tartu was equally an estranging experience: a station in the middle of nowhere, only one or two taxis outside, and a city of wooden houses I’d never seen before (except in the mountains of Northern Italy I guess).
For a big city person like me, it all felt very different from what I knew. It’s the kind of sensation you cannot easily classify as pleasant or unpleasant. Like a surprise, it takes a little while to realize whether it is good or bad.
It didn’t take me long, however, to realize that I liked this new arcane world. The leaves turning red and then brown so early, the first hints of snow in October, and then the big, massive, snowflakes, and the roads becoming white and soft, and a nice view on the frozen Emajõgi: everything—and I should add, practically everybody: colleagues, new friends, musicians, and other fellow adventurers—conjured to make Tartu very dear to me right from the very first weeks.
It’s been a busy year. I have built my life here brick after brick, like perhaps I never had to do before. Finding a decent place to live and making it my home. Learning Estonian, a dauntingly alien language and yet somehow close and easy to make sense of for someone with (distant) memories of Latin and Ancient Greek.
Settling in inside the philosophy department, with a comfortable office where to work, and extremely welcoming colleagues. Getting on with my research, and teaching students willing to be lectured in English by an Italian. Setting up an international rock band with students — which almost made me feel like I was on Erasmus again. And much else besides.
It’s been a happy year.