Job shadowing at the A. H. Tammsaare and the Eduard Vilde Literary Museums and at the HeadRead Literature Festival in Tallinn, 31 May-3 June 2012

Report by Pierre Marson

From May 31st to June 2nd, Jeff Schmitz and myself, both staff members of the Centre national de littérature in Luxembourg, were in the Estonian capital for a job shadowing visit at the A. H. Tammsaare Literary Museum, the Eduard Vilde Literary Museum and at the HeadRead Literature Festival. The first and the last day of the mobility were mostly spent on the trip, as there is no direct flight between Luxembourg and Tallinn, a fact which we regret very much after our wonderful experience in that friendly city.

We were very lucky to have Maarja Vaino as our host – with her organisational skills, her professionalism and her engaging personality, she made our stay informative and profitable. After we had dropped off our bags at the hotel, she was already waiting at the reception for a preliminary meeting, providing us with practical information for the following working days. Then, she took us for our first walk to the center of Tallinn, pointing out the main historical sights and, most importantly, the house of the Estonian Writers’ Union, where most of the HeadRead Literature Festival was taking place. In a little park opposite this building, we also had a look at an outdoor travelling exhibition about Estonian writers, curated by the Association of the Estonian Writers' Museums. The evening ended with a typical Estionian dinner in one of the restaurants on the main square.

The following morning, I woke up early - very early. As Maarja had pointed out, it was the season of the white nights in the Nordic region … But our 35 minutes walk across Tallinn to the A. H. Tammsaare Museum, in sunshine and fresh air, definitely energized both of us. We were welcomed with a cup of coffee, and then the working programme began.

Maarja gave us an introduction to the museum’s work, we met the staff and could see the real action, as there were several school classes visiting the museum. We had a close look at the permanent exhibition about Anton Hansen Tammsaare, the most famous Estonian writer, who had lived in a large appartment in the house which now hosts the museum and to whom the museum is dedicated. Maarja’s expert explanations were helpful to understand the museographical concepts behind the museum design. The permanent exhibition is articulated not around a chronological timeline, but around themes which were important to the author and which provide different access lanes to his work, such as landscapes, cities and people. Three different layers of information provide the visitor with three levels of access to the author. So every visitor can choose his own approach to the author according to the time he wants to spent at the museum.

Then followed a look at the temporary exhibition (every year, the museum displays a temporary exhibit about changing authors who had links with Tammsaare) and a third exhibition, about Estonian literature in general. It is interactive and was obviously appreciated by the students on visit that day. The same holds for a large table with a society game, providing the students with a playful approach to Tammsaare’s life and works. Finally, Maarja gave us a tour through Tammsaare’s memorial appartment, which is located in the second wing of the museum. Jeff and myself found the A. H. Tammsaare Museum inspiring, and we both left with a number of ideas for our own work.

After a short lunch, we were off to the Eduard Vilde Museum, located in the same historical Kadriorg neighbourhood of Tallinn. Upon entering, we came accross Piret, who had been part of the Estonian delegation for the project meeting in Luxembourg in March. Inside, Kairi Tilga, the Mueum’s branch manager, was waiting for us. She showed us the Eduard Vilde memorial appartment, where the author lived with his wife and his mother-in-law ... There were quite many visitors in this museum too, among them a number of children, who were engaging in activities organised by the museum. As we learnt, it was the International Children’s Day. The author of this report had the opportunity to try one of the activities, but did not do very well - no doubt too old! We made a tour through the temporary exhibition, dedicated to caricatures - a topic which seems to be in the air, as the Centre national de littérature just launched its new exhibition, dedicated to satire. We would have loved to stay longer in the Vilde Museum and find out more about this interesting writer, but we were already a little late on our schedule and had to rush off to our next meeting.

In the center of Tallinn, Jan Kaus, our next contact, was already waiting for us. Jan Kaus is a well known Estonian writer as well as co-founder and organiser of the HeadRead Literature Festival. We were honoured that he had accepted to meet us, and grateful to Maarja for arranging the meeting. It took place on the premises of the writers’ union house. We had an informal conversation about the festival and its founding concepts, about Estonian and Luxembourgian literature and about literary translations. Among other things, we found out that there are not only differences, but also common aspects to our literatures, e.g. the relationship between our respective, small national languages and the more widely spoken neighbouring languages – Russian and Finnish in the case of Estonia, French and German in the case of Luxembourg.

After this tightly scheduled and rewarding programme, we had the opportunity to take part in the events of the festival. Many were in Estonian, but a number of them involving foreign writers were in English, so we got a good idea of this international literature festival. It was interesting to see, that the public attending the events (lectures, interviews, poetry slam …) was really numerous and obviously following the discussions with a lot of interest. Information stands in front of the main venue provided information material about Estonian literature, including copies of the English-language „Estonian Literary Magazine“. Another highlight was the literary walk „In the footsteps of Apothecary Melchior“, guided by historian Ott Sandrak. Our guide provided us with insights into historical places and facts, which we would surely not have found and understood on our own. We found his tour very interesting and highly informative.

On Sunday, it was time to leave, and after two flights over a good part of Europe, we were back in Luxembourg. Our job shadowing visit in the Tammsaare and the Vilde Museums and at the HeadRead Literature Festival in Tallinn was definitely enriching and inspiring from a professional point of view. The credit for this goes to those who were willing to share their time and knowledge with us: Kairi Tilga of the Eduard Vilde Museum, Jan Kaus of the Estonian Writers’ Union and, above all, our dedicated and competent guide through the world of Tallinn's literary institutions, Maarja Vaino of the A. H. Tammsaare Museum.

No comments: