Tuesday, January 17, 2012

III Draakon

“Welcome to the Third Dragon, where weary Travelers can fill their Tummies and partake of the Drink!” Krista the Wench greeted us in good English. We were three, and three were we. Two lady Jesters of international Renown and I.
—Hi, could we have a Menu? I asked.
“Menu?” Krista bellowed with Surprise. “Of what speakest Thou? We offer but one Food, and it is Soup of the Elk! One Ladle is one Money. All that we offer here is one Money!”
—Okay, and I paused to understand her. You only have one Food here, but you said everything we offer. What else do you have?
“We have Pastries. Pastry of the Elk, Pastry of the Beast, Pastry of the Carrot and Pastry of the Spinach,” she stated with Aplomb.
—Pastry of the Beast? I asked, Eyebrows raised.
“The Beast from whence you draw Milk!”

The two Jesters and I exchanged Glances. “It's good, I've been here before,” one of them said. “Everything is one Euro, and Drinks are two Euros.”
—Do you come from the Land of the Far East? Krista asked her, noticing her Asian Eyes.
“I'm from Sweden.”
—Ah, the Land of the good King Adolf. Welcome, thee! she exclaimed in what I was later told was perfect Swedish.
No Menus, I thought, and no Electricity. I don't carry Cash, either. Ever. Euromoney weighs too much in my Pocket. “Can I pay by Card?” I asked, just to be certain.
—Ah, thin Device of unknown Material. Yes, we can handle that.

We each ordered two Pastries and a Bowl of Soup, and sat down in the back Room. I immediately returned to the Register to ask for some Cutlery. “Thou art born with the silver Spoon, yet thou travelest with it not?” Krista asked in mock Rage.
—Can I just have a Spoon?
“One you may borrow.” And she gave me one of those Spoons with the wooden Handle, the ones made in Brazil, which Krista probably had not heard of yet. At least not while she was at Work. The other Jester also went to fetch a Spoon, and when she returned, said, “Wow, she speaks perfect Finnish as well!”

The Décor in the Third Dragon, written in Estonian as III Draakon, was beautiful. Probably very authentic. If you look at the Town Hall from the Square, in Tallinn, enter the Door on the Left. And with these Prices, it's likely the cheapest in Town. But our Pastries, Soup and Drink of the Cranberry quickly added up to six Moneys each. Not really expensive, but we were not exactly filled up either. I would want to eat again before dinner, and it was only two o'Clock.

But the Soup was good. It smelled amazing. Lentil Soup always does. The Elk Meat inside was delicious as well, although there was not much. The Pastries were tasty, but nothing better or worse than run-of-the-Mill Fazer Pastries available in every Shop in Estonia. I could not complain, however, due to the Atmosphere.

When suddenly the Atmosphere stank of Booze and Manstink. I felt a Tap on my Shoulder, and the two Lady Jesters gazed with Fright behind me. “Excuse me,” the drunken Voice began in English. “Do you need to use the Toilet?” I turned to see what appeared to be a Man with no Home, leaning right to my Face.
—No, I do not. It's right there, I replied, leaning back away from his Face.
“Thank you,” he continued. “Listen, can you help me? I need some Money to eat.”
—I don't carry Money, I informed him. He stood there. I'm sorry, but we're having a private Conversation, I continued.
I didn't want to tell a hungry Man to leave because we were having a private Lunch. But he just stood there, stinking, and exhaling what could have been Plague. One of the Jesters gave him a one-Money Coin.
“Thank you,” he smiled. Yes, he smiled, but he did not leave. Suddenly, Krista the Wench arrived to rescue us.
—Be gone thee! Be gone to thy Haystack, Man with no Haystack! I have told thee before, you may enjoy no Welcome here! she bellowed in Estonian.
“But I just want to eat,” he protested.
—Then thou must pay!
“I cannot afford your Food!” he practically shouted. Apparently he had forgotten the one-Money Coin my Swedish Jester had given him. Who was I kidding? He would spend that on more Drink. That's the Thing about Haystackless People. You never know if they will get drunk or get fed with Money you give them in Pity.

There is a homeless old Maid in Tartu who occasionally sits on the Steps near the defunct Kaubahall trading Market. She does not beg, Hand opened with Palm up. Every once in a While, I enter the Food Shop upstairs, and go to the Deli. I order a large Box of some Food they offer, have the Deli Worker heat it up in the Microwave, then I grab a Set of Cutlery of unknown Material, a Box of Juice and a Kohuke. I pay for it, and even buy a nice Bag, also of unknown Material. I then give the Bag and all its Contents to the homeless Maid, and give her a Smile as well. I feel good about that. I do not feel good about giving Money. I noticed in the Man's Bag that he was carrying a Loaf of Bread and other Items fit for a King. Well, maybe not a King, but he definitely ate well.

But I began to think. Is it my Responsibility? To help People like this, I mean. “I pay Taxes, and my tax Money funds Programs designed specifically to help the Homeless,” many a person (yes, small P intended) with no Heart will say in Justification of their Unwillingness to help. And, well, they have a very valid Point. On the other Hand, many Homeless find it embarrassing to accept public Aid of this Sort. “Beggars can't be Choosers,” the heartless Man will continue. I still like to give an occasional, nice Meal to a homeless Maid on the Steps. It makes me feel good. It's even selfish, if you think about it. Like mental Masturbation. Yes, I'm doing Good for Another, but is it for the Sake of Good, for the Sake of the Recipient of my Help, or because it makes me feel good?

I like the mental Masturbation Analogy. You can have Sex to make a Child, or you can have safe Sex with your Partner just for Fun. If the Latter, then it is essentially two-Person Masturbation. It is, well, just for Fun. Makes you feel good. And it's the same Thing about Charity. Child-making is to Sex what Teaching a Man to fish is to Giving a Man a fish. The worst possible sex Offender is One who gives a large Sum to a Charity and uses his Name to do it. It is like doing your Deed in Public. An Advertisement.

On the way out of the Third Dragon, Krista was speaking fluent French to some Customers. “We have no Cake! Careful thee, lest thee lose thy Head over Cake,” she warned, then turned to another Customer and answered a Question in rapid Russian. I had no Doubt she also spoke German and probably Something else. Very impressive, for a Woman wearing a dirty Smock in a Basement Restaurant.

What if Tartu had a Place like this? With this kind of Interior. It would have to be on Rüütli Street, where the nicest, single large Venue is a Fabric Shop. That has to go. It's a good Place, but it needs to be not there. Bars, Restaurants, a Hotel, Currency Exchange, a Church, Handicraft and—Cloth so you can make your own Curtains!

But if there were a one-Money Restaurant in Tartu, it would surely serve Fries with Potato Seasoning, mystery Meat Burgers, Russian Ravioli (Pelmeenid) and sour Cream. And Ketchup. Must not forget Ketchup. Except it would cost a lot more than one Money, and the Staff would not eject the Haystackless.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


“Let’s go to that Greek restaurant for lunch today,” Mrs. Mingus suggested this past Saturday.
—Greek restaurant? In Tartu? I asked. Odd how they just now had Greek food in the self-proclaimed “Athens on the Emajõgi River”.
“No, it’s not in Tartu, it’s in Luunja,” she corrected me. Luunja is a small village a short drive from Tartu. In a few years, it will be a suburb. It’s locally famous for cucumbers. Cucumbers that cost three times as much as imported Spanish cucumbers. But I tell first-time visitors to Tartu that Luunja is actually famous for nukes, not cukes. The huge, industrial greenhouse there emits a powerful glow in the nighttime sky that is very visible from Tartu. The nuclear weapons that would be used for an attack on Western Europe, my story goes, were stored in Luunja, but there was an accident, and now the residents of Tartu have to leave for six months every five years to avoid radiation sickness. “Let’s go to Tallinn tomorrow,” visitors then reply, “immediately when we wake up.”

We loaded up the kids and set off in the direction of the imaginary radiation cloud. Several wrong turns later, trying to follow the directions to the Greek restaurant, we finally found it. “Closed today”, the taped-up printout on the front door read. I told Mrs. Mingus that the owners were probably going to be gone for half a year.

So we drove back to Tartu. “Where do they have a playground?” I asked.
—The new Ränduri restaurant in Tasku (the mall) has a nice one, Mrs. Mingus replied.
We walked through the sporting goods store to enter the restaurant over the bus station, the third such restaurant of a chain that started in Võru. Very cozy, very attractive interior, nice playground. Order from the bar. No one at the bar. Five-minute wait, still no one. “Where else is there an inside playground?” I asked.

Dedi Cafe (sic!) and Bistro is on the top floor of the other mall in downtown Tartu, Kaubamaja, which means Department Store, which is right across the street from Tasku, which means Pocket. I hadn’t been there for years. When the Little Minguses were still taking naps in their baby carriage, we would go to Dedi often for coffee. I remember ordering a crêpe once with some sort of Indian spice mix all over the ham-and-cheese filling. It tasted exactly like the Indian food available in almost every other Estonian restaurant. Palatable.

“Third time’s a charm,” I said as we sat down. Krista the waitress promptly brought us menus. They had a special page for holiday dishes. I ordered the spicy holiday beef wok. I like beef. The wife ordered a bowl of chicken pasta, and the kids shared a crêpe with ratatouille filling, a vegetarian dish. We ordered just a couple minutes later.

While we were waiting, we sent the kids to the play corner. They were back in an instant. “There is a violent man on the television,” Little Mingus explained. I looked and saw a man running with a bloody ax on the screen in the play corner.
—Just sit here with us, I told the kids.
“Now I’m going to have a nightmare,” she complained. “Like with Darth Vader.” I had a hard time not laughing.

Twenty minutes later, I turned to see if our food was going to arrive soon. The chef was not even at his station. “I don’t get it,” Mrs. Mingus said. “Usually the food is really fast here.” Above the chef’s station was a chalkboard that advertised “minus fifty percent”, and nothing else. I assumed it meant half the staff was on vacation for half a year.

I browsed the menu again, and noticed that soft drinks were twenty percent more expensive than beer. But beer was cheap here. The atmosphere in Dedi is nice, in fact. Nice view, up on the third floor. I should point out, however, that we were in the restaurant section, not the buffet section. The buffet, if it hasn’t changed, was super expensive by the time you actually went to pay, as you had to buy everything individually. It really added up quickly, and frankly was sort of bland.

Mrs. Mingus said, “I need to buy a new wallet, and I know they have a sale downstairs. I’ll be back in just a minute.” Five minutes later she was back with a new wallet. Then the food was served. To be perfectly honest, I found my spicy beef wok to be absolutely boring. It was mildly spicy, yes, and it was perfectly crunchy, but there just wasn’t any taste. No soul to this food. It was even topped with dill. I didn't know people still cooked like that in restaurants. Dill and beef. Mrs. Mingus had to give her pasta to the kids, as they didn’t like their ratatouille crêpe. “It tastes like a rat made it,” Little Mingus joked in reference to the movie.

The ratatouille filling was indeed disgusting. Noxious, I would even say. It was like eating vegetables in acid sauce. It hadn’t gone bad, I knew exactly what the problem was. Canned tomatoes. They are very sour. Must add sugar and then boil for a long time. Some herbs and spices—flavor, to put it bluntly—would not hurt, either. “I don’t get it,” Mrs. Mingus said. “Usually the food is really good here.”

So rather than eating, Mrs. Mingus began to transfer the contents of her old wallet to the new one, and noticed that the zipper was broken. The part that you pull with your fingers was missing. She assured me she had inspected it before buying it. This had happened in the last ten minutes, but she could not find the little piece anywhere. She went to take it back to the shop.

“Mmm, this pasta is so good,” Little Mingus said. “It tastes just like butter.” Mrs. Mingus returned, rolling her eyes. “They wouldn’t give me my money back or exchange it,” she informed me. I hesitatingly asked why. “They’re going to send it off for an expert evaluation. Maybe I’ll get a new wallet or refund in thirty days.” The Estonian Consumer Protection law is anything but that.
—But you just bought it. Clearly it’s defective, I insisted.
“They said there’s no proof of that, and that I might have broken it on the escalator.” It was at that moment that I decided not to send back the ratatouille crap. I mean crêpe. It would do no good.

Mrs. Mingus, who was a regular in this fine dining establishment, noticed that today, the chef was a man. “Usually it’s a woman,” she pointed out. “She knows how to cook.”

We got up to leave, and I walked to the bar to pay, waiting for the woman in front of me to finish. When she did, I stepped up, card and receipt in hand, and Krista the waitress just walked away to wipe off dirty tables and remove completely empty plates of food. For dinner that night I made vegetarian tacos with beef. Mmm…yummy.