Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Perfect Pärnu day
This routine was adopted during my annual favourite week of the Pärnu Music Festival in time for my special visitor, who arrived two days after I did, and his birthday, followed by 'linden boys' Kristaps and Artis from Riga on the Friday. In the end, I'm glad I chose the slightly down at heel but ever so characterful Villa Katariina in Pärnu's garden zone next to the beach as a base, with its slightly sullen staff who left you to your own devices.
I'm sorry, owing to the evening concerts and the gatherings thereafter in the Passion Cafe, to have missed a glimpse of the tango and karaoke nights held at the hotel; J arrived back earlier one evening to see a scene featuring three people straight out of a Kaurismäki movie.
Breakfast at 8am under one of the fruit trees in the garden. A watchful eye was necessary; when I crossed the lawn to fetch something from another table, the resident crow made off with an entire bun.
Cross the road to the park on the other side. Once I spied a hedgehog
which I took as a good omen because, not having seen one since I used to garden, as a student, for a neighbour, over 30 years ago, I'd also spotted another in an equally beautiful place, the churchyard of Saint-Cybard de Cercles while waiting for the eclipse and escaping part of an organ recital (report on the Itinéraire Baroque here).
The park is full of healthily-lichened oaks which fringe the protected coastal meadows
but there are also stands of other trees, including the silver birches which have been suffering in Sweden (here temperatures went back up to 31 degrees for two days, but all remained green)
and it's good to see vegetable plots for all.
Turning out to walk alongside the Pärnu river with the docks on the other side, you pass garganeys ducking and diving, though on the first hot day they were very much idle.
I first saw a pair by the legendary stone pier
while on the other side the cattle grazing on the peninsula were reintroduced through the EU-funded 'Urbancows' programme, 'to restore the traditional semi-natural habitat of the area via livestock grazing'. The first day I saw them doing their thing,
but with the return of the heat they were all sheltering under the lone tree.
This end of the beach is the quietest for swimming; I've never seen the main strand so busy in any of the previous three years I've been here. There's the jetty to one side
from which you may look back up the river towards town,
and general views across the grasses to the peninsula.
To swim you must wade quite some way out in the warm, shallow waters off the eight-mile curve of the sandy beach. This is our largest posse, also including that greatest of clarinettists Matt Wolf. A distant people shot is as close as I'm allowed...
Next part: to walk along the water's edge back, passing large naked sunbathers and swimmers and the Women's Beach,
and then to the hotel to change. Heading for a second breakfast, you may encounter something as enchanting as this in the park on the other side of the road - 'are you performing somewhere soon?' 'We're not good enough!' -
and even - bizarrest - a Christmas bazaar in aid of a local musical organisation.
There is only one cafe to lounge at - the beautifully designed Supelsaksad (the term translates as 'the snobby dippers'). Its cinnamon and cardamom buns are the best in town; there's quite a queue for them when the establishment opens at 10am. We arrive later, sometimes just in time for lunch (also superb); the birthday lounge must have extended over some hours.
The garden's full of sparrows, which may be pests on the continent, but since we have so few in the UK now, I was happy to let them peck the plate clean once I'd finished.
Options now diverge. If there's a message that 'Arvo/Neeme is coming to the rehearsal', then you don't hang around but go straight to the concert hall. Where on the Wednesday lunchtime I found the master of the Third Symphony to be performed that evening intent with the score before hoiking himself up on to the platform to listen and advise.
Järvi Senior was there on Friday afternoon to rehearse the young Academy Orchestra in a fun little nothing of a march.
Afterwards he beckoned me to a chair and we chatted. I had no idea the great Kaupo Kikkas was lurking with his camera. He says he likes this shot because he knew our long-term story and thinks I'm looking pensive about it - though I fancy I was not ignoring Neeme but responding to viola-player Mari Adachi, whom I'd caught as she was passing us.
Another alternative haunt on some afternoons was the little wooden building and garden taken over the previous month by the cafe/restaurant Pipermunt - though we rather took agin the previously charming lady in charge when she was sniffy about serving us up plates of hummus and carrot salads before a concert ('the kitchens are very busy' - ha! Supelsaksad wouldn't do that). Still, I loved my place under a crabapple tree, where I managed on several occasions to get some work done,
with views across to St Catherine's Orthodox Church (1764, commandeered by the Empress of that name on a visit)
and the amusement of a tit at the crabapples.
Later, of course - with the option of a late-afternoon nap - there were the concerts, six spectacular nights, and the option of chats at the Passion Cafe. Not sure how the musicians managed it, staying up until 4am or later - which I did on the last night, but they had a Prom in two days' time.
Let's just say the love and adrenalin just kept flowing. Paavo Järvi commandeers the magic of the music-making by choosing his players carefully and then making everyone feel welcome; but Pärnu itself is a very special quiet place to work and thrive. And a perfect Pärnu day means a perfect day, period.