Monday, April 30, 2007

I went to Latvia and it was closed

Riga's Orthodox Cathedral, with unorthodox photo merging - the Soviets turned it into a planetarium.

Morning sleep in and then back into the fray. Breakfast was not too successful: the "milk" that I thought I had bought yesterday had a rather unmilky consistency, unmilky smell and unmilky taste. My guess is that it's some sort of runny eel cheese or other macrobiotic undelicacy. I managed to down it with my muesli and I'm sure it has other uses, like plastering the outside of your adobe hut, or repelling soldier ants.

Outside, the temperature had dropped further, hovering around 0C with wind-chill probably -8C or lower: quite a change after sweltering in Poland. All in all, malamute weather. Bondi was positively bristling with subzero energy as I tried to skulk in non-windswept corners of the Old Town centre.

Arriving on a Sunday, followed by a bank holiday and then May Day national holiday, with National Eel Cheese day just around the corner means there's just not much happening. If I was on my game, I would have gone to the National Opera's performance of La Traviata* last night.

* - "A tenor and soprano want to make love, but are prevented from doing so by the baritone." - GB Shaw.

Riga's Museum of the Occupation was also closed, but I spotted the poster + photo above in windows of the Latvian Archives. They show some of the 2 million citizens of the Baltic states in a 660km long human chain to commemorate the sad Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of half a century earlier.

I am so good at being a statue.

In yesterday's blog I claimed the above statuesque ensemble was unlabelled, completely overlooking the plaque at bottom right in the photo frame (reproduced below). That's what 9 hours of driving through relentlessly dulating* countryside will do to you. Anyway, it's not Julie Andrews, Dick van Dyke and the Shaggy DA, but a former mayor of Riga, his good wife, and unspecified hound. Hovering in the background, high on a pedestal, is Milda, Riga's Liberty statue.

*ie not undulating.

Nice lats!; Mayor's plaque

Walked into a coffee shop for a late lunch unsure if Bondi would be allowed. The same chain in Vilnius was OK with dogs, but I'd seen no-dogs stickers on other branches here. There was a look of shock from some staff at the counter, but I didn't know if this was just regular Bondi shock or more. After a few seconds without further reaction, I sat down at a table in the corner, Bondi curling up next to me. A waitress came over with the menu, saying in sotto voce, "You'd better be careful!" as if I'd just walked in with The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies tucked under my arm.

Stumbled across a great CD shop called Upe, the Latvian for river. They had an interesting selection of domestic music on top of a well-curated selection of global offerings. Of the Latvian music I picked up:
  • Illumina - basically picking up from the Jan Garbarek/Hilliard Ensemble hit Mnemosyne, with a saxophonist improvising over medieval polyphonic vocals, in this case provided by Schola Cantorum Riga.
  • Latviešu Šūpuļdziesmas [Latvian Lullabies] - downbeat folk/rock pieces
  • Jetlag - solo album (English lyrics) by Goran Gora
plus the very non-Latvian Joni Mitchell tribute album.

At a not distant remove from this, I just finished James Hamilton-Paterson's beautiful collection of short stories The Music. They are like a set of exquisite etude-impromptus, as entertaining and reflective as his farcical Cooking with Fernet Branca and sequel.

On the way back to the apartment, I stopped in at another supermarket to find something recognisably milk-like. I eventually found a carton with a picture of some cows on it, so that narrowed the contents down to milk, cream or bovine blood. When I got around to the cashiers, I found they'd all done a bolt, standing at the door of the supermarket eyeing off some dog tied up outside.

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