Daydreams of Latvia

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Riga, Latvia – August 2008

As I stand on the lookout deck at St. Peter’s church, a realization hits: The more I travel, the more it takes to rock my world. This view is amazing, and yet I’m blasé. Maybe there is a downside to traveling all the time. But if I don’t travel, what will I do to fill the empty spaces?

In a month, I will be forty years old. Angst is no longer cute in someone my age.

Maybe it’s because of the oppressive heat. A pre-thunderstorm hush has fallen over the city. I walk around the old city in a somnambulant daze that’s disconcerting, but strangely pleasant.

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I stare up at the haunted glamour of Elizabetes Street’s Art Nouveau masterpieces. It’s as if they were conceived in one of those nocturnal journeys where the line between dream and nightmare is obscured. Or maybe I’m the one who’s not fully awake.

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I catch a tram to the Museum of the Occupation. All of the tram drivers in Riga seem to be blonde, fortyish women. At one of the stops a woman jumps aboard. She is out of breath and has a fresh gash on her head that’s bleeding through its bandage. Red marks and scratches cover her arms. She casts frantic looks out the back window. The other passengers stare straight ahead. Eastern Europeans have an impressive ability to hide their reactions behind a mask of indifference.

I spend a respectful amount of time at the museum, but don’t linger. There’s not much that I feel entitled to say about such suffering. Except: Totalitarian regimes suck.

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It is now the next day and the storms have broken. I take a train up to Sigulda, gateway to Gauja National Park. The town and park are eerily quiet. I meet very few people on the trail. There are caves and manor houses and medieval castle ruins.

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The cable car drifts over the primeval Gauja River Valley. It resembles the slow-moving, bronze-colored rivers and dense forests of northern Michigan. I breathe deeply and smile.

Maybe I’m not becoming indifferent. Maybe everywhere is starting to be home.

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