Thursday, July 27, 2006

Riga, day 3

In the morning Tiina and I go take a look at the local churches and Daugava. Very bright idea, checking out the churches on Sunday morning. We do the best we can.

It's really, really hot and sunny.

Later on we go to the History and Navigation Museum with Leena and Ville. The history part is interesting; the navigation part contains a lot of ship models but little having to do with actual navigation. The texts in the museum are in Latvian and occasional foreign languages: sometimes Russian, sometimes English and sometimes German. Again, none of the visitors speak Russian.

After the museum we want some lunch. We've been talking about pancakes for a while but Tiina seems to want "real food". We check out the pancakes nevertheles, after which I want real food too. We go to some grill place in the middle of Livi Laukams and get perfectly good beer and steaks. The waitress has a problem understanding my request for no onion - she does not know the word "onion". "Sipuli?" - I ask. "Ahh, sipuls," - she sighs happily and assures me there isn't any.

One thing that's weird here is that they don't ask you how you like your steak. They just bring it well done. I feel like asking for rare, but am not sure whether the quality of their meat allows it. (As an aside, why do so many restaurants in Helsinki ask you "medium or well done?" when they are perfectly capable of producing rare on request?)

Afterward I finish the church round by visiting the Dome church and the St. Peter's church. Both ask money for the visit, which is quite fine with me. St. Peter's has a small but worthy show of paintings, and an elevator to the tower. Lovely views.

Many museums here have separate prices for tickets that does not give you permission to take pictures and one that does.

I buy some amber jewelry and go to check out the synagogue. It is on a tiny deserted street which should probably be marked "under renovation" as a whole. There is a mobile police booth from where I hear a woman talking on a cell phone. While the policewoman is not watching I walk into the yard and pull on the front door.

The door is not locked. There is a sad-looking Jewish (these are not the same thing, even though some Jewish authors like to tell us so after looking in the mirror) man of about sixty reading a book and smoking.

"May I take a look?"
"Yeah. Come in."

There is something very Soviet about the place, but it's still pretty. The man comes in too.

"Where are you from?"
"Born in Russia. Moved to the US. Moved to Finland. Long story."
"Live in Finland now?"
"How's your Russian?"
"Mostly fine."

He switches to Russian:

"Why did you start with speaking English?"
"I am not sure speaking Russian around here is polite, at least without asking first."
"Bullshit. Do you think that they'll like you better if you speak English? Well, maybe they will, but they will also give you the menu where the prices are twice the ones in the Latvian menu."
"Speaking English does not prevent me from reading Russian. Besides, they haven't done so yet. But this phenomenon is familiar to me from Prague."
"Argh, Prague..."

He starts a long and fairly entertaining story of having been mistreated in Prague while travelling there. Then he starts talking about life here. He does not like Latvians, even though he is a Latvian-born Latvian citizen. He feels more of a connection with the US, Israel and Australia. I get a feeling that he needs to move somewhere there.

"And now they keep celebrating "forest brothers" as fighters for independence..."
"Uhm, they were fighting for independence."
"Murderers is what they were."
"Who wasn't, back then?"
"Who cares about Latvians anyway? Riga has never really been a Latvian city."

What can you say to that? I've seen people like that before; they usually also tend to think that Latvia has never really been a Latvian country, and prefer things to remain that way.

"And you know, they even have a Holocaust rememberance day, July 4. But do you think they really care about our dead? They care about their own dead more!"

I try to explain that people generaly care about their own dead more than about the neighbors' dead, and I don't find this fact either surprising or objectionable. He does not buy this.

"And in Estonia they removed the monument of the Russian liberators!"

I abstain from saying that maybe they did not feel particularly liberated.

At some point he stops talking about the general evilness of the Baltic nations and complains that all the other Jews went to the beach in Jurmala and left him here to watch the synagogue and wait for the Messias. He also complains about New Yorkers who committed a crime against humanity (his exact words) by charging him $7 for a pack of cigarettes.

I go for a walk again. There is an ice cream place where they sell ice cream in waffle cups by weight. The girl speak no English but turns out to speak Russian, and sells me a cup of redcurrant ice cream.

The shopping center at the railway station is fairly big. There are countless shoe stores that require people to wear socks while trying shoes on, but do not provide them. There is also a jewelry place that sells a ring which is almost an exact copy of mine. I have a very strong impulse to buy it, I don't know why, but don't. Instead I buy some beer and a caramel product called variti iebiezinats piens and go home.

We all go out for some food and drinks and then spend the rest of the evening together at home drinking and chatting.

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