Ave Maria Blithe

Ave Maria Blithe is a photographer and writer residing on a small farm in New Jersey, not too far from NYC, with her husband; growing organic vegetables and raising two sons and free-range chickens. Her parents still live in Tallinn, which she left in 1990. Ave contributes regularly to Estonia's Ohtuleht, Delfi & Eesti Naine. She always has a strong opinion about a variety of topics even when nobody asks for it.

A chat with Joel Lindpere

Joel Lindpere is an Estonian professional footballer who currently plays for Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer in the US. Ave Maria Blithe caught up with Lindpere for a little cheeky chat.

Just the other day I was reflecting about growing up a tomboy and musing how I enjoy being the only girl in the family of four. But the fact, that I find myself writing yet another sports themed article is quite unexpected. When did I become Bob Costas? If anything, I should be Annie Leibovitz.  Or Annie Lennox.

I have to admit, I know nothing about sports. As far as stats, strategies and team affiliations. What I do know, is that sports are largely played by people. And people interest me. Both as subjects in front of my lens, when I can hide behind the camera and peer into their soul. And equally as much when I overcome my mandatory Estonian shyness and ask them point blank questions. This time the subject is an American-based Estonian soccer star Joel Lindpere, who most graciously agreed to answer some of my inquiries.

In a global context, soccer is the most popular sport, riling up hooligans in Manchester just as passionately as gauchos of Argentina. During the recent years, Estonia has gotten in the game. Literally. Mart Poom was signed as a goalie by Arsenal in August 2005 and became the first Estonian to receive a Champions League runners-up medal.

I ask Joel, if there is higher than average genetic disposition for Estonians to be great soccer players, much like Estonia revels in producing most super models per capita. Joel replies “We should actually have many more of our talented soccer players on the international arena, but since Estonia is such a small country and sadly still quite unknown, we are not taken seriously. On the plus side, more and more teams form in Estonia every year, the popularity of the sport keeps growing among young Estonians and as the number one sport in the world, more and more games get broadcasted on TV. So the progress is very positive.”

Even so, sounds like Joel has his work cut out for him, proving our prowess. An Estonian sports fan is a fickle creature. As long as you bring Estonia fame and fortune, the average couch potato is proud and shouts “Estonia rules!” God forbid the tide temporarily turns, he gets nasty and mocks his countryman for deserting his homeland, and posts envious comments about the foreign money he is making. Oh well, the favourite meal of an Estonian is another Estonian, as the saying goes. Therefore I salute all my fellow-expats who dared to venture out of the comfort of their familiar village and are now trying to prove themselves in the big world.

I remember wanting to become a cab-driver when I grow up (shocking, I know), so I ask Joel when he remembers wanting to become a professional soccer-player.

“After my very first practice!” he is quite resolute. This bull-headed determination and focusing on a single goal, pun intended, is a hallmark of all achievers. You know early on what you want, you figure out what you need to do to get there and you go for it.

But it is not all soccer twenty-four-seven for Joel, everyone needs to relax. Joel enjoys following other sports like hockey, NFL and NBA. He is also an avid swimmer and poker player.

Joel Lindpere signed with Major League soccer club New York Red Bulls on 25 January 2010. He scored his first goal for the club against Santos FC on 20 March 2010, becoming the first player to score a goal at the new Red Bull Arena. On 4 January 2013 Lindpere was traded to Chicago Fire in exchange for an international roster spot.


So, having recently moved from New York City to Chicago, I wonder which town he prefers. “NYC is the greatest city in the world that literally never sleeps. During my time there I got to know most of its nooks and crannies very well. Chicago is still new to me, but so far I enjoy this clean and peaceful city and look forward to discovering it. I like them both.”

America being the melting pot that it is, one can’t avoid but naming discovering different cultures and cuisines as a pleasant pass-time.

“With all this international jet-setting, how often do you manage to visit Estonia?” I pester him.

“As often as I possibly can, at least 3-4 times a year,” Joel replies.

Now I feel bad, I only manage about once a year to get back to both of our hometown Tallinn. And even in hanging out with fellow Estonians, Joel has an advantage. I inquire where and how often he gets to meet our countrymen in America. “Every day!” he replies cheekily, alluding to his family.

I wonder how Joel celebrates the important days in the Estonian calendar, such as Midsummer Eve, while in the US. “BBQ and Estonian beer, of course!”

My last question to Joel is very girly, even for a former tomboy. “Joel. Let’s be honest. You are a good-looking dude. When can we expect you to model underpants like David Beckham?”

“Beckham is Beckham,” smirks Joel and leaves the possibilities open. Advertisers, when you sign him to hawk boxer-briefs, I expect a 10% finder’s fee.


Photos by Julia Kähar

An American man by an Estonian woman

I must confess – I am a product of a very matriarchal clan led by my diminutive mother who rules like Napoleon and makes no apologies for it.  Add a gaggle of grandmothers and aunts of every crazy caliber. It is no wonder I continue to be intrigued by men.

My dad was the defeated minority, frequently hiding in a garage “fixing the car”, terrified of all the estrogen raging in the house and knowing that try as hard as he might, he could do no right. The male species remain an elusive mystery to me. Even now, when I am the only girl in the family of four…

Throughout the years I have studied the males in their natural habitat, conducted scientific observations and even resorted to Gestapo-style interrogation.  As fate would have it, my main point of interest has specifically become the American Male. What exactly is it? In Europe, an American man is easily spotted by the obligatory white sneakers and equally gleaming dentistry. However, in their home terrain one realises that there are many interesting subcategories. Broadly speaking, though, I can quite resolutely declare that I love American men. Some of them personally. Maybe it is because I left Estonia at such a young age that there was no time for love. Legally. Maybe it is because the American men’s selection is a real smorgasbord. Do you desire someone with a temperamental nature who cooks well? Here you are, a Cuban American. Looking for a jolly lovable alcoholic? Thadaaa, an Irish American. Do you wish someone really exotic and to piss off your parents? Please, take an African American.

A questionnaire I conducted amongst my Estonian girlfriends revealed that the biggest difference between Estonian and American guys is the communication skill and a general cool attitude. American man is usually sociable and friendly, not lurking in the corners by himself. He makes a lot of compliments without necessarily expecting anything in return but just to be polite. And yes, the Estonian consensus seems to be that the perpetual keep smiling attitude is very shallow, but let’s be honest: would you rather spend the whole day in a fun, friendly, positive environment; or amongst closed-off, grumpy, greasy-haired specimens contemplating their own bellybuttons?

American man flirts a lot without a designated purpose. It is how a salesman up-sells you or a waiter makes an extra tip.  It is entirely a woman’s choice whether to respond to the compliment with angry feminist offence, or go weak in your knees and start planning your wedding day. The best response, I have found, is to simply smile and say “thank you”.

Estonian girls are well aware of the fact that we boast highest quota of super-models per capita. They expect to be wined and dined. A modern American girl offers to go Dutch on the first date. Whereupon it is polite for a gentleman to refuse such a sweet gesture. My own first superficial impression of American men was their immaculate appearance. No greasy hair, broken teeth or black socks with sandals. A typical American man showers at least once a day, be it a fancy Wall Street racketeer or a hardworking labourer. Emphasis on shower, not bath. The only way an American guy will jump in a tub is if there is already a pair of soapy boobs bobbing about. I think men are afraid to bathe alone. An American male always smells good. A pleasant sporty cologne is in his arsenal, even for the most macho of them, who otherwise use car keys to clean their ears. If a man’s daily routine includes going to the gym, or nooners with a mistress, add another shower. It is mandatory for an American man to wear clothes only once. At the end of a day, all the shirts, socks and underpants fly on to the floor. Better trained individuals deposit then in a designated laundry basket.

Like in most cultures, a straight American male can roughly be divided into two categories – metrosexual and macho.  A liberal metrosexual spends a considerable amount of time and effort to look effortless. And a lot of time and money styling his hair to look like he just rolled out of bed.
Macho man dress classically. While living in Texas, I discovered that cowboys are not just a figment of Hollywood imagination but a real life specimen. They wear big hats and the big shiny belt buckles on their tight jeans proudly herald their ranch. I have not met a more polite gentleman than a Southern guy. A standard greeting is a tip of the hat and the conversation peppered with frequent “yes ma’am” – s. They even turn away when spitting tobacco on the floor.

Many macho men proclaim their sports allegiance, favorite beer or political views on a t-shirt. Or the car stickers. Hours and hours of sitting in traffic jams makes for pretty interesting reading. For example, you may find that “my child can beat up your honour student”. Or that if I can read the bumper sticker on the car straight in front of me, I am, in fact, too close to him. The back of the Harley guy’s t-shirt proclaims that “If you can read this, the bitch fell off”.

Be it macho or metrosexual, a successful cohabitation and marriage with an American male begins with proper house training. As a first step, literally, you must teach them to take their white sneakers off in the hallway. This is very painstaking work. Americans are accustomed to plop their feet with their filthy shoes on right onto the coffee table. Right next to a bag of chips and ham sandwich. Imagine if you have a baby crawling around on the floor? You imagine all the steeped in dog-poop and disease-infested gum spreading leprosy to the off-white carpeting. The nagging may take years and usually ends in defeat. As in, the woman resorts to vacuum-cleaning twice a day and endless use of Lysol. This sad situation is offset by the fact that an American man lets his wife decorate the home. And if he should attempt to chime in about placement of furniture, send him back into the debated closet and file for divorce immediately. The black leather sofa and a pinball machine get booted to the dumpster. A more generous woman will allow those monstrosities to be installed in the garage, where the husband can hide “fixing the car”, while he, and his guitar gently weeps.


Cover photo: Jeremiah Hill

Margus will Hunt you down

You know you have it made once Chuck Norris style jokes begin to circulate: “Margus Hunt isn’t sleeping, he is waiting.”Or, “How many sit-ups can Margus Hunt do? All of them.“

Even his name, which means “wolf” in Estonian, lends itself to many metaphors. Recently, Margus Hunt himself started using the English pronunciation of his name, and being a defensive end, he will hunt you down. Or deliver one of his infamous eastern blocks…

Margus juggles

With the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals draft and overall 53rd pick, history has been made and a new hero was born. With only two other Estonians before him in the American National Football League (NFL), the nation is represented well. It is an interesting paradox that to the NFL and the rest of America, Estonia is just as obscure as American football is to Estonia. But perhaps Hunt can bring enthusiasm and interest to this sport just like Baruto did to sumo wrestling and with his career, more people could be inspired to look up Estonia on the map – with a magnifying glass.

Many in Estonia still respond to his career choice with mixed emotions, prompting Hunt to declare publicly that he hopes Estonians forgive him for not sticking with discus and shot put, two of the least popular summer Olympic fields. Actually, it was not entirely his choice. Southern Methodist University in Texas simply did not offer those two programs and in order to stay in school and earn his degree, Hunt switched to football, having never played the game before and resorting to playing hours of a video game called Madden to actually learn the rules of the game.

As many of you might know, football in America is a religion, creme de la creme of all sports, to which the brightest stars of other fields get recruited. A burly two-ton wrestler becomes a lineman, a great football (the normal kind) player becomes a kicker and someone small but agile and superfast on his feet becomes a running back. It was inevitable that SMU coaches would notice the 6’8’’  Estonian giant with an impressive physique who is still incredibly fast and super resilient. Best of all, being new to the game, he was a blank canvas ready to be moulded to fit the game, as he himself admits.

I meet Margus in New York City on 25 April, the first day of the official 2013 draft. Chelsea Pier football field glistens in the platinum sun peeking from behind the Empire State Building. The 2013 draft hopefuls play football with an exclusive selection of the area kids. Margus towers over them. Not only the half-pint, but all the other players. I holler a loud Estonian “Tere Margus!” (hello, Margus) and since we already know each other through social media, he is delighted to chat with me in our own exotic language. After a few minutes, my neck hurts, looking up to him, and at 5’8 I’m no shortie!

Margus & author Ave MariaNeither one of us could imagine a few years ago that we would be here talking about football. Just like many other snobby Europeans, I considered American football a brutal clashing into each other, senseless and boring, for the game seemed to stand still most of the time, with only sudden bursts of energy. It took meeting my American husband, an ex-player, to explain the rules and object of the game.

Turns out, football can be quite interesting! It’s is like chess, all about strategy and out-manoeuvring the opponent, played by real life hunks in tight trousers. And the bone-shattering clash of helmets to shoulder pads is downright primal, like two rams butting heads in mating season. What’s not to like? Now I freeze my butt off, cheering on our eight-year-old in his third year of football. “Go low!”

Much like any made-for-TV American fairy tale, Margus Hunt’s saga would write as a quiet country-boy who was bullied as a child and whose family went through periods of poverty. It is no wonder that poor little Margus (as hard as it is to imagine that) could not resist the temptation and ate the entire loaf of bread on the way home from the store. That was the only grocery his mom had money for that week. With a multi-million dollar contract, Margus now has enough money to keep his family in bread and butter indefinitely.


Photos: Ave Maria Blithe/Margus Hunt

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