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New Europe

Day Eighty-five: Tallinn

Viinistu 
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Viinistu. The next exhibition goes by.
Michael Palin - New EuropeSince the Soviets left and access to the rock has been restored, there has, Jaan says, been a baby boom.

He claims personal experience.

'I went there to check the Stone a number of years ago and we have a small boy of five, and then I went there once again and there's now one of two years old. So...' the sixty-two-year-old grins a little sheepishly, 'it works.'

He talks about the craziness of the old Soviet economy. 'A big shoe-making factory in Tallinn produced left-foot shoes... the right-foot shoes were made in Irkutsk.' He has his own ideas as to why Estonia has recovered so well and made such progress, citing a young government, with a Prime Minister in his early thirties, and the fact that it's much easier to make big changes in a small country.

'We started from scratch or even minus... but the keystone to start up a new society and a new life in this country was a successful privatisation. And this,' he gestures around him, 'is an illustration of that process.'

The noise from the building work at the harbour becomes so loud that he sends someone to ask the workers to stop. I can't help noticing that the only language they seem to understand is Russian. It's beginning to look as if hi-tech-loving Estonians don't do the manual labour any more.

I have an afternoon appointment with the doctor. I'm quite unusually anxious, not because of what they might find out, but of their method of examination, for this particular clinic specialises in something called hirudotherapy. To the uninitiated, leech treatment.

Leeches have had a generally bad press and a quick look at the dictionary doesn't help.

'A blood-sucking annelid worm. To cling to like a leech. To drain.'

I've been warned about their unwelcome attentions for walkers in the tropics and how they have to be burnt off the skin with cigarette butts. So why am I offering my aged body to them in a remote corner of the Baltics?

Well I guess we all want to feel better, especially after months on the road, and I'm a sucker (excuse the pun) for any form of revitalisation.

'What do you want me to take off?'

'Small striptease,' orders Lyudmilla Agajeva, one of the clinic's most experienced hirudotherapists, in heavily accented Russian.

Ms Agajeva must be in her fifties, buxom in a generous, motherly way. As far as she is concerned, leeches are it. They are an ancient and proven way of treating impotence, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hangovers and the problems of overdoing it generally. She smiles reassuringly as I lie on her consulting couch. Hers are the very best leeches. They've come all the way from St Petersburg.

She extracts three of them from a bottle and lays them on my right-hand side, just below my ribcage. One keeps slithering off but the other two waste no time digging themselves in with what I'm told are 300 teeth, arranged around a three-jawed mouth.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Eighty-five: Tallinn
  • Country/sea: Estonia
  • Place: Viinistu
  • Book page no: 203

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