Monday, October 17, 2016

Two Winners in Tallinn

Old Center of Tallinn
I wonder how many people in the United States could correctly point to Estonia on a blank map of Europe.  Shamefully, I have to admit that I might have guessed right with a 33 per cent chance between Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.   You almost never hear about them, and the last big news was years ago when they broke from the Soviet Union.  Think about what you know about these countries.   Not much, right?

I had my eyes opened this summer.  Landing in Riga, Latvia and riding a fancy but cheap bus to Tallinn, Estonia.   Walking through the center of both Riga and Tallinn, we visited the wonderful markets and later found some great local cuisine.   It was easy to have our eyes opened to see the gathering weight of two economies.  Clearly, the citizens have decided to use a strategic approach and compete with the rest of Europe.  That took  hard work and a truck load of time.  

For several months we made plans to meet two men in Tallinn who started their own business from scratch.  Ascending through the ranks of the successful, these fellows now run a factory that turns out frames for stitching hobbyists.  People from all over the world now excitedly order and wait for their new frames to be quickly delivered.  You would be surprised to know the huge number of stitchers in the world.  They are organized, to the point of groups who have made friends with others all over the world.  They spend time stitching, discussing their projects and more, all at the same time. Modern technology allows them to use videos as if they are sitting in the same room.  It is actually amazing to see how connected they are.   They have even organized weekends where they meet, a convention of sorts.  One I am familiar with met last February and had 50 people from 5 countries.  Imagine 50 stitchers taking over a golfing hotel!  Many of this group use frames made in this Tallinn factory and so  we were interested to meet these two fellows and see what they have accomplished.

They Are Good Listeners
There’s an old guy and a young guy.  Alexei is my age, the old guy,  and he had been a soldier in the Soviet army.  When the Soviet Union was dissolved he was given a choice to move to Russia and remain in the army, or leave and remain in his country of Estonia.  This was a difficult choice because it meant he would have no income and be starting out in his later middle years.  He chose to stay.  The state offered some classes that were offered to help people find a new career and Alexei chose jewelry making.   During this class, he was asked by a  Russian lady to build a stitching frame, one he would have to design by himself.  The frame turned out to be a great success and Alexei began to get a lot of orders from Russia.  Along the way, he managed to find an unused army building and this is where the factory is today.  His son, Anton, is the voice of the operation and is now the one communicating with the people who order frames, he also helps Alexei in their construction.

Put yourself in the shoes of Alexei, facing his economic disaster and a huge change in lifestyle.  He was a man standing on a bridge in a hailstorm yet he managed to change his direction and forge a new life for his family.  It is the kind of  story that encourages all of us to never give up.  No job to a new factory, what a vivid contrast!

The outside of the factory looks exactly as you would expect an ex-Soviet Army building to look, in need of a paint job and a bit in disrepair, but the inside is filled with tools and machines to do their work. Alexi tells us that he purchased many of the large machines through auctions held to unload state-owned equipment no longer used.  They have plenty of space and are able to separate painting operations, from machine work.  The factory is doing so well that they have hired another fellow to do work in a side room and Alexei had to ask him to stop for a few minutes so that we can hear them explain how and where they do each of the processes to make the frames.  

We are shown a new frame, which is still undergoing changes, and we are asked not to show photos later.  They expect a lot of interest and they do not want the competitors to copy their ideas.  My wife sits behind it and offers  suggestions. They listen.  She is very positive about this new set up.  

Peter The Great's Humble Abode
We spend almost two hours there and then Anton takes us back to our hotel in his Landcruiser.  We will meet them later for a late lunch, but on the way, Anton drives by the house of Peter the Great.  I had no clue that Peter the Great had lived in Tallinn, but let’s face it, I know very little of the history of Peter the Great.  We also see the house of his wife, located across a small park.  However, these are no palaces, as you can see.  His huge palaces we will visit later in St. Petersburg.

At the Restaurant 

Like a cop at a crime scene I was highly interested in what these two men would choose to eat, and secretly I was wondering if Alexei would be drinking vodka.  They ordered in Estonian language and we ordered in English, so I had no idea what we would see on the table, but sure enough a jug of vodka appears with one glass, then two tomato glasses of tomato juice arrive.  This is kind of a shock to me as in Italy you  would die before you could find tomato juice anywhere, a store or restaurant.  Bravo, Estonia!  The juice did have a funny color.

World Peace!
So here we are, me, an American flag waver, sitting next to Alexei an ex-Soviet Soldier.  There is hope for the world.   Never in my wildest dreams would I ever think I would have lunch in such circumstances.  (I grew up in the cold war era.)  What is also amazing is that in one week I would be meeting and staying with my good Russian friends, Albert and Alfiya, making a double dose of world peace.

The food was excellent.  The restaurant, we were told, was one of the oldest in Tallinn.  The experience of meeting these two men with their life stories made the day one of our best in the summer.  I came away glad that my wife is a stitcher and made this day possible.  

To all you stitcher folks!  This blog page was also dedicated to you.   You now have a glimpse into people who make those frames possible.  I hope you can also travel to these small countries and see their beauty as we did.  

If you have read this far, maybe you would like to offer a comment.  You can do that by clicking on the area that says...."no comments".  Google controls this statement or I would change it to "make a comment"......


1 comment:

QuietMind Stitcher said...

What a wonderful post Dave. You write so beautifully. It is indeed wonderful to see the world change and to connect with people via technology in ways we could not dream of twenty years ago. O is very special to me and many other stitchers. She has been one of the 'connectors' and many of us would have smaller stashes if we had not met her! Finding the Omanik frames and company, ordering, testing and recommending the frames was inspired! Mary xx