Although their actual name is ice resurfacing vehicle, most people in North America know them by the memorable and unique name Zamboni, since the first such device was developed by Frank Zamboni in California in 1949. Although now an internationally registered trademark, and not the only manufacturer of ice resurfacers, the generic colloquialism has stuck. Even jäähooldusmeister Vello Altma, responsible for cleaning and maintaining the artificial rink at Pirita, knew of Zambonis and everything else to do with cooling and flooding. When I saw this hulking resurfacing beast’s tank being filled with water as I approached on skis, I had to take off my suusad and go investigate. Five minutes later I was in Vello’s warm little “office” surrounded by a thousand gadgets, necessary for the maintenance of tehisjää, artificial ice.
Ice is a great word in Estonian, JÄÄ. The only word to beat it is ÖÖ (night). Skates are uisud (sing. uisk) and skating is uisutamine, hence the word uisuväli (literally “skating plain”). But I prefer the synonym LIUVÄLI. Liugu laskma is to slide, including sledding and is precisely what one does on the ice. It also could well be the cheery sound you might want to make while zipping along: “Liiiiiiiuuuuuu!”
It turns out Vello doesn’t know exactly how long Berta (the name I’ve given the beast in my head) has served skaters in Tallinn, but she was around long before Estonia’s reindependence. My attention was drawn to the fact that vehicles similar to her have served in the Chechen Wars (perhaps he assumed that’s where someone like myself might have seen them – on the evening news). I also learned that indoor and outdoor resurfacers are nagu öö ja päev (like night and day); Berta was built specifically to withstand the harsh outdoor conditions we’re currently experiencing in Eesti. “Ta on võimas!” She’s powerful!
Like any good Zamboni-wannabe, she has a nuga/tera (“knife”/blade) which shaves the surface of the ice, a korjaja (collector), which Vello also calls a tigu – snail! – i.e. an auger, which sweeps the accumulating shavings to the centre, where a second auger picks them up and deposits up into the dump tank. The veepaak or main water tank holds clean water at 60°C for making new ice, which is released through a long sprinkler pipe, a procedure known as kastmine, watering. (Berta lacks the sophistication (?) of a cloth towel beneath the sprinkler pipe, “which lays down the clean water to fill the residual grooves”. But the skaters looked happy enough with the results, which are kept chilled at -4° or -5°C.
Most were no doubt happier still this past week, when Tallinn hosted the ISU European Figure Skating Championships at Saku Suurhall, which was transformed into an ice arena. (Premia Jäähall next door was simply not up to the task.) This was the largest international sporting event ever to be held in Estonia (300+ million TV viewers) and especially exciting given the count-down to the Winter Olympics. Estonia was represented by Jelena Glebova (Ladies), Viktor Romanenkov (Mens), Maria Sergejeva and Ilja Glebov (Pairs) and Caitlin Mallory and Kristjan Rand (Ice Dance). Mallory and Rand already won a “ticket” to Vancouver, but since Mallory was not willing to revoke her American citizenship in order to skate carrying an Estonian passport, and has so far not been issued citizenship based on merit, they are not slated to skate at the Olympics. You can peruse the results of the European Championships at www.euroskate2010.eu
I hope rinkmaster Vello won’t mind my saying Berta looks like a groovy, glorified ice cream truck (jäätiseauto). In any case, I promised I’d send him a clipping of this article, since when I asked if he had internet access, he said he was retired (does that say it all?!) Next time I go for a ski at the Pirita trails, I’ll pop in, in hopes of maybe catching a retro resurfacing ride.