Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Already this Week

We haven't even reached Wednesday and there have already been events.

Events during which some things have happened.

First, our landlady finally came and took the large creepy bed out of the apartment. Since I didn't get any follow-up calls from her saying "Sorry but we broke ------- and ------- and --------- and ---------" or "You better pray to God that masking tape on the wall doesn't strip the paint", I assume everything went well. With the big bed there's enough room to put together the individual beds – I took care of mine first thing after work. In the process, I was reintroduced to the joys of "building" IKEA-like furniture and was reminded (more so the day after) that my hands are not, in fact, hammers.

Today, Tuesday, was normal enough except that I was 10 minutes late in meeting up with friends because I was busy leaning into the apartment dumpster trying to punch the cardboard box of said bed into submission. A big thanks to the guys carrying chairs out of the furniture store for not stopping to stare.

I was going to continue by explain how I experienced some kind of weird coca-cola poisoning at the restaurant, wherein I got waves of dizziness and nausea, but then I remembered just now that I ate a yogurt and fruit thing, which completely explains everything. It wouldn't be the first time yogurt made me feel like I had been hyperventilating in a room pumped full of helium.

Berlin is in four days - tomorrow I go to buy plastic boxes for transporting of German goodies.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I'll Show YOU Puddle!!!

While on the way to pick up three pairs of my long-ill shoes from the...cobbler? That's pretty archaic. Anyway, on my way to the cobbler through Friday afternoon weather that just couldn't be bothered to be a little bit colder so the rain would turn into snow. At the door of the cobbler's I remember they want cash and I have none, so I about-face and head back in the direction of the nearest ATM. As I'm walking I reach an area where there are several shallower puddles at the same time as a car. This car driver is obviously a jerk, as I have no steps to jump up on or any doorways to duck into as he or she drives by, right through the puddle. Luckily I had my purse and computer on the left side of my body, because right side was tidal-waved (in a big city sense).

WHY do people do that? I understand driving through puddles on empty streets, I used to do it all the time. But here... luckily most people don't act this way. There's a puddle the size of four Mastiffs lying back to back at the corner of our street, and no one drives through that. Because they're most likely not jerks like today's person. Today's person probably has a thought process along the following lines:

"I am approaching a group of shallow puddles on the passenger side of my vehicle. These puddles have been put there by rain. Rain that wants to spite me and make my driving experience that much more of a hassle. Rain puddles that need to be retaliated against. Ergo that pedestrian there, who looks like she probably forgot to get cash on the way to the cobbler's, deserves to be punished as an extra."

At least I live around the corner so I didn't have to experience sitting or standing on the train home with people secretly eyeing me with pitying stares.

All I have to say to that driver is this: be happy I forgot to buy marinated gherkins at the store because if I had done so, I would have retaliated and had a fun time seeing how quickly you could U-turn on a one-way street in Friday early evening rush hour traffic. And you would have had a fun time explaining "pickle damage" to your car insurance company.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

On (e-)Spam

I'm tired of filtering through spam comments regarding free porn, gold jewelry and pizza bagels. CUT IT OUT.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Last Night in Zoli

I'm sitting in my soon to be ex-apartment spending what will be my last night as a resident of this apartment. Then it's off to the city centre to organise the life I've progressively trucked over there for the past month. Including the cat, who turned out to be an apartment...floozy, really. 10 minutes in the new place and he had checked out every corner, pawed both the couch and beds, and found a necklace belonging neither to me nor my new flatmate. What a treasure hunter I've landed myself!

This past month has really been mostly work and slowly moving. Yesterday, though, we went to an afternoon showing of Phantom of the Opera, which wasn't the Andrew Lloyd Weber version, but another one. One that probably should have never been made. In its defence, I guess you could say it was more of a "Phantom light", as the whole thing was rather hokey. In a nutshell, we laughed a good deal, mostly at the wrong times (if one were to look from the director's/writer's persective), and I even did so to tears.

The most exciting part of the show was before we actually got into the stadium (bad placement...), when the Belgian friend of one of our group looked at her ticket and said "I don't want to ruin the fun, but is it normal if the ticket says 6 p.m. Friday?" We were waiting to get in for the 3 p.m. show Saturday.


So we start to think - or more realistically, I started to panic. Yes, I picked the tickets up the same morning, Saturday, so why wouldn't the woman at the ticket counter been all "Umm... I'll give you your tickets, but they're worthless."? Yes, I read the sign at the counter that said "PLEASE CHECK YOUR TICKETS BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE COUNTER!!!" Did I check them? Of COURSE not! This is Riga! And why would I have bought the tickest for Friday, since I have class Fridays, and we even remembered having a discussion on which time for Saturday would be best. We decide/hope it's a print errorSo I start to scheme - we'll get to the doors and if they put up a stink I'll tell them I saw the mistake and informed the woman, but she waved her hand and said it would be alright.

But we get to the doors and all they check are purses and bags. They rip the stubs off of our tickets and we're in. We go to our row and see - yes, someone is already sitting there. So someway, somehow, yours truly supergenius managed to buy tickets for the exact day and time the entire group had decided AGAINST. Luckily a fellow North American was working the tech booth (total fluke - Julija ran into him while trying to find someone to explain which doors we were supposed to enter through) and he told us to just wait until lights down, scope out seats and, if anyone came to bother us, send them right to him. REEE-SULT!

Thus, although the show wasn't the best (we decided before we even got in that we have seen enough crap shows over the past year to prepare us for anything out there), we ended up sitting about two price sections up from where we had purchased our tickets. I guess we weren't the only ones "seat-surfing", as an older woman entered the row we had picked before us, sat down, said "Man nepatik!" ("I don't like it!") and then got up to move somewhere else.

Like I said, this is Riga.

Oh, and I have nothing for breakfast here except coffee, cheese and mustard. And the room is eerily empty. I feel like I'm right back in college circa 2005 and my first weeks in Germany. Memories.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

18 November! (Happy Birthday, Latvia!)

With the rabies scare over, I was able to fully concentrate on work, work, and more work.

As of six minutes ago, the independent state of Latvia is officially and 90 years old. For those who don't know, 18 November is Latvia's Independence Day. A huge light-show deal was going on over the past weekend, too, called "Staro Riga" (www.staroriga.lv), which will certainly rack up a pretty electricity bill for the city's November account.

Independence Day in Latvia seems like a slightly bigger deal than that celebrated in the States - first of all, I can't remember a single 4th of July wherein I felt compelled to participate all day long in something. Most people seem to concentrate on the odd parade and the obligatory fireworks that happen once it gets dark. And if you have a grill and use it on this day, more points to you. Independence Day here went on all day long, mostly involving all sorts of documentary films that I didn't go see because I got to work from home today - that was my dose of fundom. I made it to the city centre in the morning to work from the new apartment in time to watch the morning's event of people laying flowers down at the foot of the Freedom Monument. We got to watch President Zatlers put down a bouquet of flowers larger than his torso, and then the whole slew of former presidents, ministers, members of Saeima, political figures, ambassadors, etc., put down their flowers. They cut the feed before the "normal citizens" got to do their stuff.

So even with all of the activities and Independence Day business going on today, I stayed at home and worked, then took a nap, then walked around a bit, got stuck in major people traffic, took some pictures and eventually made it to Krastmala to see the fireworks. Which weren't all that outstanding, but at least they had a few stints of "red-white-red" to keep it patriotic. It was very windy and we got some snow with which it was painful to be hit in the face. Tra-laaah!

I know it's a bit of a bummer I didn't walk around more, but I was out of the country last year, so this is a step up, if nothing else :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

UK Recap

I'm still sick, but have braved morning commuter traffic to come into work, tentatively until the meds wear off. I'm working off a combination of tasty cough syrup (which has most likely already worn off), Halls lozenges (not as bad as I had expected them to be), inhaler (whaddaya know, asthma is triggered by colds, too!), black balsams (a bit with my morning tea, no more, I swear) and good old-fashioned Tylenol Cold and Sinus.

All of which is mostly doing jack all. All that I really want is to go home, stuff Kleenex balls into my nostrils and sleep until I can't sleep anymore.

UK Recap
Saturday the 25th
Ilze, Davids and I arrive at London Stanstead and are greeted by a friend of Davids, who accompanied us to our hostel and then led us willy-nilly around the city. Mikelis, the friend, has been living in London for only six weeks, so this is marginally forgivable. We sit outside at a pub along the river front for a few hours then head back to the hostel, where we are the only three people in a six-bed room (for the time being).

Sunday the 26th
We wake up and realise two things: 1) there are now 3 slightly hung-over Scots in the room with us and 2) there has been a time change. The Scots confirm this. Mikelis meets up with us in the morning. We go off in search of breakfast. We find: Star. Buck's.
Oh. Yes.
One giant mug of soy caramel macchiato and one ginger muffin later, I am in corporate heaven.
After we buy train tickets to Wales, we spend the day walking around, window shopping, actually shopping (H&M and Borders were hit by us the hardest - I bought these wonderfully sarcastic and cynical children's books starring a horrid old grump by the name of Mr. Gum), and being dumbfounded by the number of people that could fit in one store. I really wanted to look at the sales at Top Shop, but the amount of people immediately killed the desire to peruse. We realize that London is a butt-load bigger than Riga.
Back at the hostel we find the three Scots have been exchanged for two beds with suitcases on them and one bed with a very drunk English girl in it. She asks us where we are from. We say North America. She asks if we saw an American guy and a French guy. We say no. She asks if we are with the guy, the one from California. We say no. She asks from where, then. Ilze tells her she's from New York. The girl giggles drunkenly and asks if J-Lo isn't from there, from the Bronx. I tell her that, according to the song, yes, she is. The girl finds this hilarious and attempts to have some kind of conversation with Davids before half-passing out and giggling continuously to herself. We are concerned - more so for us than for her. That night I have a nightmare that she attacks me.

Monday the 27th

We wake up to find drunk girl very out of sorts (Davids said she had alternated between whimpering and sobbing throughout the night), the French guy kind of off, but still coherent, and the American guy, who turned out to be completely normal and from Cleveland, Ohio. Not California.
Ilze, Davids and I get to the train station and on our train to Holyhead, Wales, with a stopover in Crewe. The Crewe train station is cold, boring, and hasn't a single waste bin in sight. I looked everywhere, too. We get to Holyhead around 7.30 p.m., call the hotel to let them know we're on our way. The man says he has to pop out for a bit to the store, but will leave the key under the plant on the front step and we can just let ourselves in. We learn everyone in Wales is incredibly helpful and friendly. A bit after 8 we are in the hotel room in a small, steep-staired bed and breakfast when our host knocks on the door. Not only does he own the B&B, but he is also a coast guard. He is the epitome of friendliness. We set our time for eating breakfast and he leaves us to explore the town a bit. We end up at one of maybe four town pubs and enjoy a quiet hour or so before the locals show up. They don't approach us until we've got our jackets on to leave. Then one man asks us from where we are, we tell him Canada, New Jersey, Midwest (respectively), and he tells us he has a friend who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I mentally crap myself. We tell him that we have all spent a good amount of time in that area of the states.

Tuesday the 28th

We wake up, have our Welsh breakfast (which doesn't differ too much from English breakfast, save that the beans taste a bit better and there aren't as many of them) and walk a bit around the town and see it in its rainy, windy daytime mode. We attempt to walk along the coast but quickly give up. We learn that the early morning ferry was canceled with good reason -- we can see huge waves crashing over the breakers off the coast. We hit up an off license store, buy a few puzzle books and head out to the ferry. The ferry does rock considerably, but none of us gets sick. We get to Dublin later that afternoon. We learn/realise that Ireland is on the euro. We are lucky that I had euro in my passport purse stored up from previous trips. We are able to pay for bus tickets to the city. We drop out stuff off at our hotel and stroll through the centre to a bar on one of the main streets. The bar has an absolutely gorgeous mahogany wood interior. We all decide we would not mind hijacking the building and living there. I am astonished to learn that, in Ireland of all places, a pint of Guinness costs me €4.50. For that amount of money one can get at least two large glasses of beer in Latvia. I get over it quickly and am simply excited to be drinking a Guinness in its homeland. Davids and Ilze are less enthused about the "dirt beer". We get back to the hotel and are asleep probably by 10.30 p.m., 11 the latest. We have become wimps.

Wednesday the 29th

Our first full day in Dublin. First things first, we take the Guinness storehouse tour. It is not as completely exciting as we had hoped it would be (it was a museum and we expected a tour of the actual facility). Nonetheless, we get a free sample of fresh from the kegs Guinness and later can comp our tickets for a free drink at the dead freezing "cafe" at the top of the storehouse. Beverage options are: Guinness or soda. Although it is 10.30 a.m., I recall how much yesterday's Guinness cost and opt for a pint o' black. Davids follows suit and is relieved to find that the first half of the pint does not taste as bad as yesterdays. Not so much for the second half. Ilze sticks to a sprite. Other tour-takers have been smart and have taken crisps or other salty along with them. The rest of the day is spent ambling around Dublin city centre. We don't do anything else exciting except for go in and out of random shops and walk up and down more or less every major and non-major street. At the end of the day we are tired, tired, tired. We drag ourselves to another yet expensive pub in the bar district and have a feast of fish and chips. Inside jokes are born. After dinner we drag back to the hotel and sleep.

Thursday the 30th

I forgot to mention Irish breaky. Irish breaky, though extremely similar to English and Welsh breakfasts, is somehow even more fantastic than anything out there. Irish breaky has the same fried mushrooms, broiled tomato, breakfast sausages, egg and toast as the other breakfasts, but the beans have been replaced with a wonder called "black pudding". Black pudding is a food that tastes like meatloaf, but has more grains in it, and is probably better left unexplained until several hours after you've eaten. It struck me as one of those foods that shepherds would have eaten: mash everything you need for the day, meat, grains, etc., into a patty, fry it and you're good to go. They won't crumble in your bag and could probably double as small, projectile weapons if left to harden.

Thursday we dragged ourselves around the city once more, went to the city gallery (not exciting) and the writers' museum (we only went to the gift shop to laugh at witty Irish writer quotes -- the museum itself we found was too expensive). Since our back-ferry had been an up-in-the-air as far as being canceled or not, we had switched our reservations to the evening trip, which left Ireland at 8:50 p.m. and arrived in Wales just past midnight. True, we were forced to squeeze every ounce of will out of our bodies to find something to pass the time, but after seeing what our original ferry looked like (take the Titanic, then put a rowboat next to it. the Swift ferry is the rowboat) we were more than fine with the change. We were to stay at the same hotel in Holyhead and they were to use the same "key under plant" system. We got back and promptly fell asleep.

Friday the 31st

We get to breaky and find we are less amused with our host when he is in casual clothes than when he's in coast guard wear. After breaky we slowly make our way to the train station, but not before stopping at the grocery store for provisions. We are now very aware that any UK breakfast can keep you going for hours and hours - you eat at 8.30 and aren't hungry again until 3 p.m. While last time I guarded the bags and was asked by a woman working at the store if I was leaving home, this time Ilze guarded and was asked if she was going on a trip. Apparently we either look like locals or like people from neighbouring towns (I assume Holyhead is one of the biggest towns in the area with the biggest or only train station in the direct area/island). The train ride back to London is boring, but we do get to see the Welsh country side a bit. In London we drop our bags off at the Daugavas Vanagu house and do some last minute shopping before meeting once more with Mikelis for dinner. Dinner is real Chinese food from real Chinese. In London's China town. Excellence. Since it is Halloween we avoid any confrontation or decorations and find a "chain pub" to sit in and chat. We are there for a few hours and meet one guy who has a self-diagnosed "obsession" with the 2008 US elections.

Saturday the 1st

After a slightly "blah" breakfast at the DV house (no juice... I'm still trying to get over that one), we meet with Mikelis at the closest Starbuck's for one last "good coffee" hurrah. As we are finishing up Davids says he has a great idea for our last hour in London. Ilze and I are immediately skeptical. Davids announces that we must go to Hyde Park and feed the squirrels. The rest of us immediately concur. We go to a convenience store, buy nuts and head to the park. Things are great until I am bitten by a squirrel, at which point things just become hilarious. I wash up, we head back to the DV house, we get our bags and go to the train station. We realise that we have been on vacation just long enough to want to be back home. The flight back is a little harrying - I almost experience my second-ever panic attack as we hit some turbulence and the flight (RyanAir) starts to play some very odd techno-ish and very epileptic music. It was some promotional song whose lyrics went something like "Gotta gotta RyanAir ooh yeah RyanAir" (repeat). The combination of the music, the lack of knowing or understanding why the @(*#@& they were even playing it (I have never heard music on any other RyanAir flight) and the turbulence and I almost snapped. It was soon over and we finally got back in Riga. My taxi driver got me back to the apartment in what was, in all seriousness, probably under five minutes. I gave him a generous tip.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"I Went to the UK and all I Got was this Lousy Squirrel Bite."

But no, really.

Before I enter my recap of the week in the UK, let me add a little enlightenment to the last bit of the vacation.

Leave it to me to create a bit of entertainment our last hour in london. After breakfast and coffee we decided it was absolutely necessary for four adults to buy peanuts and go spend 30 minutes feeding the squirrels in hyde park, just like the signs tell you not to do.

It was your run of the mill chaos with pigeons flying every which way and certain members of the group not understanding that throwing peanuts AT someone equals being mauled by stupid smelly birds and the occasional cute squirrel. The squirrels in Hyde Park are nice and take peanuts from your hand as if they were gentle hamsters. No tugging, no biting - they know exactly what's going on.

And yet... It was all good fun until I stopped doling out cashews to adjust the camera lens. My decision to stop led to a squirrel shimmying up my leg to my shoulder to my arm, at which point a tug-of-war for the small bag ensued. The squirrel scrabbled, I shook my arm and said "Nonononono" and then a pigeon joined the squirrel. Things went quickly from good fun to being hilarious. I'm trying to work the camera, the squirrel is trying to work the bag of nuts and the pigeon is seemingly just hanging along for the ride. The squirrel ended up accidentally biting me before I flung it off and tossed the bag of snacks to someone else, after which I tried to stop somewhat heavy bleeding from the thumb and simultaneously search for a tissue and half-punch any pigeon that tried to land on me.

There were blood spatters all around the bench by which we had been standing. It looked like a tiny war-zone. Miraculously, no one was crapped on.

I'm not extremely worried about the bite, but just in case I'll be paying a visit to some doctor or other by monday to get a tetanus shot. But I more or less held a squirrel today. One of my dreams has come true.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Look Twice before You Pick Stuff up off the Ground.

Barely made my train of choice this morning. Dutifully joined the masses in lining up to get in. Before I'm even on the train I can see that there are 5 minutes (a "quick-fix" free newspaper put out by the same folk who bring you Diena) scattered about the floor of the entrance. I finally get on the train and see the woman in front of me do a double take and bend forward to pick up one of the papers (maybe it's still readable), but then recoil in a kind of awkward horror; the newspapers had been scattered to cover someone's morning upchuck all over the one side of the entrance floor, the stairs, the door.


I had almost planned on standing in the entrance (no point in standing since the ride to the centre is only 15 minutes and I basically sit all day anyway), but the upchuck played a big role in my decision not to. Hey, at least they covered it with something. It's better than nothing and there's not much you can do but wait until it's time to clean the trains. Which might not be until a down-time in the schedule.

And, of course, the upchucked-upon side of the train was the side from which we had to exit once we actually got to the city centre. Of course.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One Violin Richer

Monday after work I went out to the psuedo-boonies of the city centre to pick up a violin from a guy who was recommended to me by a guy who my grandfather knows. turns out to be this really nice elderly gentleman (and I mean GENTLEMAN. holding doors every which way, walking me out of the building, etc.) who has an apartment full of string instruments and books. In the process of getting the violin from him we also started to talk and I found out his life-partner (she had passed away a few years ago) and he learned I worked as a translator. this led him to telling me of his own interest in languages and, a few minutes later, how his son is a writer and how his life-partner Vizma Belsevica had also been a writer and he himself was interested in Scandinavian languages and how one has to really love the language from which they are translating (in a literary translation sense).And in my head I go "HOLD up. VIZMA BELSEVICA?!!?" and then I almost started to cry. Maybe it happened because I was in Vizma Belsevica's apartment, in the room in which she had passed away, talking to who was probably the person who knew her the best after herself. Maybe it’s because I’m just a big fan of her work. Vizma Belsevica was and is one of the hands-down all-time best Latvian writers, female and in general. The woman knew how to use words in her poetry, how to get the gritty yet emotionally sensual, the politically charged. Through her writing it is clear to see she was a fiercely intelligent woman. And I’m there. Thanks to my grandfather who either didn’t remember or just failed to tell me who I was going to see.

After a few more items were passed into my bag (an article from the 1920s on translation and a copy of Belsevica’s "Bille" to borrow) and a few short anecdotes about his and Belsevica’s son and grandchildren, I went on my way in a whirl of emotions and one violin richer.

And my assignment, apparently, is to have "Bille" read by December.

This past weekend we went to Sigulda to look at the fall colours and sort of celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. This involved riding a skilift down a hill, having a picnic on a small beach by the Gauja River and then booking it back to the train station. We took pictures with giant canes, as well. Look for those photo-moments at kaija.jatnieks.com/photos!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How to (not) Kill a Snake

One thing I forgot to mention about the interesting trip to Lielvarde: we saw a snake!

Ilze noticed it, actually, and made me almost piss myself because as we were walking to the river we reached the path and she suddenly gasps really loudly and goes "ACK!" and all I saw was her dash away and something by me move, so I yelled, too. But then I saw it was just a snake and that I hadn't stepped on it, and proceeded to take pictures of it. As the snake seemed more interested in crossing the path away from me than stopping and rearing up to protect itself, there was no reason to worry. So there I am, taking pictures of this snake, when this older man speed-walking suddenly approaches from the opposite direciton. He sees us standing there and comes to see what I'm looking at, then goes:

Man: "Oh, that's just a *insert name of snake*, see the yellow on the head? It's okay, they're all over Latvia!"
Me: "Oh, okay." *keeps watching snake*
Man: "No, no, they're perfectly harmless! No reason to hit or kill it!"
Me: "...um, I-" *shifts expensive camera around in hands*
Man: "Really! Perfectly harmless, see how it's slithering away from us?"
Me: "Yeah, I know, no one's talking-"
Man: "Harmless!"
Me: "-about killing it."
Man: "It's just a *insert snake's name again*, this one's one of the bigger kinds. Don't have to hit it!"
Me: "Yeah, we know, I was just taking-" *once more indicates camera in hands*
Man: *abruptly walks away, still talking about how the yellow mark on the snake's head identifies its kind*
Me and Ilze: *kind of stand there, not really sure what just happened*

YEAH, because the FIRST thing I think of when I see a snake is to bash it to bits with my very expensive camera. Gut reaction, honestly. Forget going to find a stick, a Nikon D-60 is weapon of choice #1.

Whatever, weird speed-walking guy. Maybe it was because we were two females standing around looking at a snake that made him think our intentions toward it were anything but benign.

In addition! Since I've figured out that the reason pictures wouldn't load at a normal speed was due to my choice of browser, the photos at kaija.jatnieks.com/photos are going up faster than ever, starting with September 2008.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dirty Deal and Comic Books


Tonight I went here to see/support this. I left after an hour and a half due to the ever present illness (though I will say that the HUGE shot of balzams the bartender put in my hot currant juice might have finally done the trick), but I enjoyed every minute of it. My time there, not just the medicinal beverage. I sat for a bit and read some comics, then nursed my drink, then bought the rest of the comics to support comic books in latvia, then watched either Zidruns or Silards play (neither the Zidruns myspace page nor the Silards stuff at presiite.org sounds like whatever or whoever played tonight) - either way they were fantastic and I miss going out to hear bands like that perform, especially in that type of local. Dirty Deal is basically one huge room (with a back door leading...somewhere. I didn't get that far) with one bar and a few places to sit. Getting to the place made me feel like I was going to drop some kind of drug transaction at the docks, but once you get in the building that all fades away.

I'm mostly sad that I didn't follow through on my curiosity of what "kus!" might be and find out about this place sooner - this was the last "kus!" shindig. But now I have another site to keep my eye on, as I most certainly will be going back to Dirty Deal, which, from what I understand, supports these kinds of creative/contemporary events and artists.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cold Season

Usually I'm one of the last people to fall into the cold season trap, but this time around I got hit first. I've been on the border of having a cold for the past week; Monday night it hit me full force. As such, I've been working from home since then. Sometime around the lunch hour I passed out for a few hours and felt like I might have had a slight fever. I also missed class yesterday, but am not worried about it – I'd rather miss class than sit in a closed, poorly ventilated room for 1.5 hours (or more, hence no going into work to work) and risk getting everyone else sick. Oh, yes, I'm so considerate. I'm also headachy and nose-drippy. At lease I managed to buy some Balzams and throat syrup Monday night. The Balzams I've been feeding into my system little by little by mixing it in with tea; the syrup is basically a mixture of honey and natural fruit sugars. As such I am saddened that I am only supposed to take the syrup three times daily. Last night I managed to drag myself to the closest grocery store and but dry-packet soup and lots of tissues. Good foresight!

So for now I'm working from home, sleeping when I can, drinking lots of liquids, etc. It kind of sucks.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Last Wednesday while thinking about what plans people had over the weekend, we decided to just suck it up and go to Lielvarde. And by "we" I mean myself and Ilze, since everyone else (as in Davids and Julija) had already made plans to do other things. We had been joking about going to Lielvarde for a few months, since we often see the listing for it in the train station. The joke with Lielvarde mostly revolved around the song "Daugavas krasta" and taking a trip to Lielvarde to act it out in a brilliant photo-montage. Which we ended up doing on Saturday. Ilze and I packed up our white clothes, cameras, and provisions and took the train to Lielvarde. Once we got there we bought some flowers from the market and headed to the river. We got to the shore, waited a while for people to stop suddenly and randomly flocking to the same area, and then finally got to business. Which equalled to me rolling up my pant legs , putting a skirt over my jeans and standing around in 46ºF weather white, summery clothing. This may be why I am currently ill.

The montage turned out ridiculous in a good way - things were less than historically accurate, as I opted to pair my weather-inappropriate style with grey Converse. As soon as the montage is photoshopped I'll post it up somewhere for all to see. Who knows - this may be the beginning to a wonderful side project in visual aid folk and choir songs!

After the montage and freaking out a local fisherman as I removed the white clothing (we believe he missed the part where I got dressed OVER my existing attire), we headed to Uldevena castle, which is a remake of the wooden Lielvarde fortress. Ilze had stumbled upon the fact that there was a wooden castle while we were trying to see if there was anything else we could do in Lielvarde other than just dress up in white and tag random photos; turns out that it was the same castle we had been taken to 10 years ago when we were on the Sveika, Latvija! trip. So it was a reunion, of sorts. The place had changed a lot - there is now a fancy tourist-trap restaurant across the parking lot from the castle, and the castle boasts a horse (we thought Lielvarde was going to be a one horse town until we saw 5 other horses in a field behind the train tracks). VERY up-to-date. The castle, in a sense, is like a playground for adults. We got more information than we could handle from a very informed, very "hip" older woman (that being said, she works Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. If you ever go to Lielvarde and to the castle, go one one of these days because she knows her stuff and is very entertaining in a kind of sarcastic way) and spent a couple of hours climbing around the area. It was a nice break from big-cityness and a nice blast-from-the-past.

Now I'm sick, have many much photos to process and upload (it still takes FOREVER for the photos to load on the blog site...), and have a lot of work for, well, work, to do. Peace.


Last Wednesday while thinking about what plans people had over the weekend, we decided to just suck it up and go to Lielvarde. And by "we" I mean myself and Ilze, since everyone else (as in Davids and Julija) had already made plans to do other things. We had been joking about going to Lielvarde for a few months, since we often see the listing for it in the train station. The joke with Lielvarde mostly revolved around the song "Daugavas krasta" and taking a trip to Lielvarde to act it out in a brilliant photo-montage. Which we ended up doing on Saturday. Ilze and I packed up our white clothes, cameras, and provisions and took the train to Lielvarde. Once we got there we bought some flowers from the market and headed to the river. We got to the shore, waited a while for people to stop suddenly and randomly flocking to the same area, and then finally got to business. Which equalled to me rolling up my pant legs , putting a skirt over my jeans and standing around in 46ºF weather white, summery clothing. This may be why I am currently ill.

The montage turned out ridiculous in a good way - things were less than historically accurate, as I opted to pair my weather-inappropriate style with grey Converse. As soon as the montage is photoshopped I'll post it up somewhere for all to see. Who knows - this may be the beginning to a wonderful side project in visual aid folk and choir songs!

After the montage and freaking out a local fisherman as I removed the white clothing (we believe he missed the part where I got dressed OVER my existing attire), we headed to Uldevena castle, which is a remake of the wooden Lielvarde fortress. Ilze had stumbled upon the fact that there was a wooden castle while we were trying to see if there was anything else we could do in Lielvarde other than just dress up in white and tag random photos; turns out that it was the same castle we had been taken to 10 years ago when we were on the Sveika, Latvija! trip. So it was a reunion, of sorts. The place had changed a lot - there is now a fancy tourist-trap restaurant across the parking lot from the castle, and the castle boasts a horse (we thought Lielvarde was going to be a one horse town until we saw 5 other horses in a field behind the train tracks). VERY up-to-date. The castle, in a sense, is like a playground for adults. We got more information than we could handle from a very informed, very "hip" older woman (that being said, she works Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. If you ever go to Lielvarde and to the castle, go one one of these days because she knows her stuff and is very entertaining in a kind of sarcastic way) and spent a couple of hours climbing around the area. It was a nice break from big-cityness and a nice blast-from-the-past.

Now I'm sick, have many much photos to process and upload (it still takes FOREVER for the photos to load on the blog site...), and have a lot of work for, well, work, to do. Peace.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Slow Monday in Riga

Apparently, it's a really, really slow day in Riga. The biggest story in comprehensive news today is that there was a call made to the local fire and rescue service to come pull an iguana out of a tree by an apartment complex. Although the residents of the building pretty much knew who the lizard belonged to, because the people weren't home, the iguana was taken to the zoo. In other news, fire and rescue service workers were also called out to rescue a cat from a tree. The cat, however, obviously irritated and frightened by all of the ruckus going on about it, got itself down from the tree and booked it out of the area. Other than that, it's going to be raining all week in Riga. Good thing we had 26'C and zero rain yesterday -- we were able to go and sit on the beach for a few hours before it got windy and chilly.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Something Else to Laugh About

I once again had to laugh out loud at work. I'm listening to Radio SWH and the hourly news updates. The 12:00 update once again mentioned an incident in some city in Russia, where a legless man killed three people in his apartment building and then proceeded to flee from authorities. His fleeing was, quote "unsuccessful" - not because this man is LEGLESS, but because, while fleeing from the police, he dove into a ditch with the hopes of avoiding capture. While hiding in the ditch, a very large rat crawled onto the legless man. The man's screams led authorities right to him.

I hope someone else sees the black humor in all of this.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

On the Radio


I just heard myself on the radio for the first time. True, I've had the sound clip on my computer already a month ago, but it's much more awkward to hear it in the context of a radio programme. If you listen in to Latvia's StarFM (www.starfm.lv) between now and September 15th, you might catch the Skrivanek Latvia radio commercial, wherein I am the English language representative, and wherein I think I sound like a cheerleader. Or a tool.

..."see you there!"

Either way, I don't think I've ever sounded that peppy - but there it is on the radio for people to hear. I don't think any of my friends listen to StarFM, though :) Good for them and better for me! At least recording the bit was a new experience.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Cost of Health

For me, around $49.

After a fruitless search in several pharmacies for information on inhalers (some places were out of stock, some had the disk, not the aerosol, some didn't have them at all), I decided to suck it up and make an appointment at a clinic to get a prescription. I phoned a clinic that was supposed to be on the intersecting street of where my office is, and was scheduled for a same-day in the afternoon.

I personally think that's amazing. Same-day appointment, on a Friday no less. True, there are probably enough clinics in the city for each resident to have four appointments in one day, but I was still surprised. And the clinic was literally around the corner, not 3 blocks down like I had initially thought.

I went to the clinic for my visit, talked to a physician/"therapist" about getting a replacement inhaler, was told how many of the women working at pharmacies are weird and unnecessarily haughty, was given a prescription and was sent on my way. The doctor's visit cost me 22 LVL (around $45) upfront, since my U.S. insurance wasn't accepted (but they gave me a stamped receipt so I could see if the U.S. insurance would pay the $45 back). The inhaler, which I picked up after work, cost me 2.42 LVL. As in $5. For a prescription, fast-acting inhaler. FIVE DOLLARS. In the States, we'd pay $15 for three inhalers because we had insurance + copay. I don't know what they cost without - maybe $45 a piece? So here, in Riga, I paid a sum of money for an inhaler and a doctor's visit equal to the cost of one inhaler in the States, sans insurance and not including the visit to the doc. And now that I know the inhaler won't cause any side-effects, I can stroll into the pharmacy and pick up another one when this one runs out. And pay the 2.45 LVL.


Ah yes -- I was finally able to get a hold of someone at the humane society in Zasulauks (from where I got the cat) and ask them what a cat bite gone bad would look like and if I should worry at all. The woman, after hearing that the cat initially came from them and that he had all of his shots said there was nothing at all to worry about, adding "I don't know what else to tell you - we get bitten all the time and we're all fine." Me: "And all of you have all 10 fingers?" Woman: "Yes, yes, all fingers and all limbs, we're all fine."

The swelling on my finger also went down finally and there is less pain in general.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Cat

For those of you who thought I was joking about having a cat, I wasn't. Why would I take such a fantastic picture of a cat if the animal wasn't mine?

The cat went missing somewhere between Friday late evening and Saturday morning: I went to the Sigur Rós concert Friday and stayed at a friend's in Riga. When I got home Saturday the cat was nowhere to be seen and there was no conclusive evidence to explain what had happened to him.

Today, on the way home, I found my cat in the carpark across the street from the train station, but on the same side of the street as our apartment. The cat recognized me and seemed thoroughly freaked out, but I was able to get him to follow me to almost our apartment entryway, where he promptly freaked out again when I picked him up and tried to get him in the door one-handed.

To cut to the end of the story, I got my cat back into the apartment, but not without a heaping helping of this. Though I had a decent amount of cat spit and hair on my clothes and in my hand wounds (not shown), I can safely say that the cat has a good amount of my blood on its fur. I now also have more scars to worry about and will have to wear long sleeves for the next month. At least it's almost fall.

And, of course, as barbaric as the cat acted on the street, as soon as he was back in the apartment he was rubbing against my and my flatmate's boyfriend's legs (he helped keep the stray cats at bay while i coaxed my monster out from under a car. Apparently I looked a lot like an auto mechanic with my body half under a Mercedes) in an attitude that said "Gosh, was that ever intense! What's for dinner?"

Dinner was wet Kit-e-cat food from a pouch.

Now he's sprawled out on the couch next to me purring away like nothing has ever changed.
Hurrah hurrah, I didn't have to go wild-goose-chasing. Flatmate's boyfriend asked, "Don't you want to give him a bath? You can bathe cats, right? I sure wouldn't let him sleep next to me like that..." I pointed to the blood seeping from the scratches and said "You think he's dirty? You wash him." The cat isn't that dirty, anyway. I sprayed him with the water bottle for a good 5 minutes which will have him licking his fur dry all night. Problem solved.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Addictive Food Items

Salsa nuts - you can buy them at grocery stores. Look for little green bags. They remind me a bit of those Boston Baked Beans/Nuts, that have that red, candied shell. But these peanuts have a tasty "salsa" flavoured shell that, although it may not be that incredible upon first taste, make you want to keep eating them. 2 points out of 5 on a scale of EVIL.

Randomly shaped Ritz-like crackers
- I've only found them at Rimi, haven't checked Stockman, but know that Nelda does not carry them. These crackers come in all kinds of shapes, have the right amount of salt, and for 0.35 LVL a bag are not something you should think twice about buying. 4 EVIL points. (Note: stay away from the goldfish-shaped crackers if you don't like deceitful foods. The "goldfish" are sweetened crackers with no salt and little to no fun-factor.)

Sweet cottage cheese sticks (Saldie biezpiena stienisi) - a snack I just discovered, made and sold by Index Cafe. Baked, little stick-treats that seem to be nothing more than a more-baked, little stick-treat version of "Latvian cheesecake". They cost 0.85 LVL a pack and go great with coffee. Another reason to love Index Cafe, if more were ever needed. 2 out of 5 EVIL points.

Cheese balls (Siera bumbinas) - Can be found in any grocery store; just make sure you buy the Latvian-made Adazi brand. They're the best. Even better than North American Cheetos. For real. Do not buy these if you have food-guilt issues. If I let loose, I can clear one medium bag by myself over the course of an evening - I now buy them very rarely (once a month tops), because I am aware of the dangers. 5 out of 5 EVIL points.

Dried hibiscus - slightly scary looking, but with a very mild taste. The first time I had one of these was at a relative's house. The next time I saw them was at the Riga Central Market, among the counters of other dried goods. Dried hibiscus is tasty, unobtrusive in flavour, and probably has some kind of health benefit. They also keep forever (at least mine have). And yes, I had to add these to balance out the preceding list of junk-type-foods. 3 out of 5 EVIL points.

This list will be continued as necessary.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

23 and in the Back of a Police Van

Because Sunday was my birthday and since Monday (and the job) comes after Sunday, my friend Ilze graciously offered the use of her house in Jurmala for a pre-birthday dinner/party. There were only four of us there total (other people were out of town or otherwise already engaged), but after a simple dinner we still had several hours to kill before we could officially open the champagne. We played some boggle, made up plenty of words, and, around 11 P.M., decided to head down to the beach, taking the champagne with us.

At the beach we walked around then dutifully attacked one of the most messed-up playgrounds I have ever seen. After a good 20 minutes of spinning around in awkward metal frames and trying to make a huge, tilted plastic ring go around in circles by heave-ho-ing movements (it worked once before, but seemed to fail this time), we sat down to chat and wait for the wonderful 00:00.

A good-sized group of people our age were also hanging around the area; some of them ended up at the playground on the swings. Two of them bummed cigarettes from Davids; a bit later one of them sat down on the benches behind us and eventually joined us in conversation. He was quite drunk and tried to mostly communicate with us in Russian and sometimes English, though he also spoke Latvian. But when someone is drunk to the point where he asks you twice in 30 seconds where you're from and then forgets that he's told you his name, consequently thinking it's some kind of magic you know it already, I'm not surprised. Everything was fine and dandy until we decided it was getting a bit awkward and we wanted to head back home. The guy had invited all of us to come with him and hang out with his friends and drink, but we passed, saying it was late, maybe we'd meet with them tomorrow, etc. Then he got angry as we were quickly walking away and started to follow after us, shouting at us in Russian first in general and then using some choice words. Everyone else from his group had already moved on down the beach in the opposite direction, except one of his friends who seemed to be there just to make sure the guy didn't do anything too stupid. Apparently and unfortunately, repeatedly grabbing onto women and aggressively shouting and following a group of people doesn't fall under the category of "stupid". I personally kept thinking "Okay, after this bout he's going to stop, after the next 10 ft he's going to give up", but no. The two of them followed us all the way from the beach, up the cobblestone/cement path leading to the beach, past a very large group of people (who did nothing, by the way, to try and help us), all the way down one of the main roads until we approached a hotel, at which time they gave up, but not without Mr. Drunk and Belligerent shouting some final words in our direction. I think we were more shocked than anything; we didn't run, we didn't fight them. But it was definitely rough not knowing exactly what they were saying to each other. The non-belligerent friend kept trying to tell one of our group that if he just gave Mr. D and B 70 santims for a beer, he'd stop following us. We were basically chased at a snail's pace.

As soon as we got up the stairs of the hotel and into the lobby, the Davids looked down at his watch and let out a half-strained "Happy birthday!" Kristine and Ilze joined in, I was congratulated, and we were thrilled that we weren't bleeding on the street or dead, happy birthday.

After a quick consultation with the man at Reception I was handed the hotel phone and put through to the Jurmala Municipal Police, who, apparently, would pick us up and escort us back home. I had asked if there was hotel security that could do that or if we could be called a cab (even though none of us had our wallets with us), but it turns out that the Municipal Police are required provide escort in such situations. Or maybe any situation, I'm not sure. So I explained to the woman on the other end what had happened and that we just lived a few blocks away, but didn't know what to expect and weren't comfortable walking back through the streets. She said we'd be picked up soon.

About 15 minutes later, a tall and rather attractive policeman walked into the hotel. My opinion was backed up by the sudden silence from Ilze and Kristine. (Note: After we had gotten home the three of us seriously contemplated running back into the night and causing trouble just so we'd be picked up again.)

Me: *walks toward policeman* You're the one then, yeah?
Policeman: Then you're the one who called?
Me: Yes.
Pm: Alright, let's roll.
*The group follows the policeman outside*
Pm: So, what happened, exactly?
Me: *tells the short version of the story*
Pm: *referring to Davids* Couldn't he have done anything?
*to Davids* What, haven't you ever learned to box?
Me: *laughs like it's the funniest thing anyone has ever said*
Davids: Huh? What?
Me: *careful not to say that Ilze, Kristine and myself could have done just as well physically defending ourselves and that I have a bottle of Riga champagne in my bag that would be worth at least two blows* Well you never know what the other person is capable of - and it would be two against one.
Pm: Yeah - I was just joking.
Me: *super quick to agree* I know I know.

The four of us got into the back of the police van and I doubt that we appeared to be as frazzled about the whole thing as we really were (we spent the remainder of the night back at Ilze's discussing the what-ifs): Ilze started to giggle semi-without reason, Davids started to joke-dance to the rock music the policeman turned on, and Kristine leaned forward between the driver and other policeman, elbows on the backs of their seats like we were on a road trip.

In hindsight, despite the situation, we made it through the best way we could AND we got to ride in the back of a police van. On my birthday morning :) I felt a bit bad about having to be driven back to Ilze's house, but in all honesty, it was the middle of the weekend and the policemen seemed bored out of their minds. Despite that, they were not at all rude and had senses of humour. So if you've heard bad things about Latvian policemen, know that the statement isn't bulletproof.

After sleeping in Sunday and having a late breakfast of grilled-cheese and tomatoes, courtesy of Davids, we headed out and spent the remainder of the day at the Riga Zoo. After dinner we went out to Krastmala (Riverbank) to watch eight fireworks teams compete for the chance to organize the New Year's Eve fireworks show. I took over 550 photos that day - if I ever catch up on my sleep this week and have a night where I don't take any work home, I'll post them and all of those other promised photos at the http://kaija.jatnieks.com/photos page. I SWEAR.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What it Feels Like...

...to be a working adult. Some of you may remember my "being an adult sucks" post. Though I'm sure this post won't be as negatively geared as that one, I am just WAITING for the weekend. I am, however, surprised at how fast the week went by, especially during the day and the hours of 10.00 and 15.00. I am close to burnt-out, have been going to sleep no earlier than 01.00 every evening/morning and have been at work by 8 almost every day.

This weekend I went on my first field trip with the office. The trip went from early Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon. Uh-huh; not only was it my first field trip with the office, it was an overnight trip. The itinerary was simple (raft down the Gauja river) and the weekend was, quite literally (and, it seemed, sometimes painfully so), a lazy couple of days. We were driven by a mini-charter bus to somewhere near Cesis, where we unloaded our overnight gear, were piled into another couple of vans and brought somewhere else up-river where the epitome of a "white-trash" water vehicle was waiting for us. The raft consisted of several sheets of ply-wood belted together over huge plastic water bottles. The icing on the backwoods cake: a full-size should-be-in-a-camp-site-and-not-floating-down-a-rive picnic table in the centre of it all. Add a makeshift roof made of cylindrical posts, blue tarp and bungee cords, and throw in a grill and you've got yourself eight hours of slow-moving, barbecuing fun.

The raft turned out to be much safer than it looked and felt and the fear of dying at .0005 mph quickly melted away. Although I gave up on going to the Prata Vetra concert in Mezaparks to go on the work trip, and for all of the cynical comments I have on the material situation of the trip, I really had a great time. There were maybe 13 of us total and it gave me a chance to talk a bit more to some of my project managers and to get to know them outside of the office. The trip also re-lit the canoe bug within me, so I'm getting antsy and hoping that the opportunity to go canoe some weekend will present itself before it gets cold(er).

When we finally, fiiiiinally made it to the end point, Cirulisi, we were all more than happy to get off the raft and start something else. Luckily the Gauja is shallow along the shore for much of the part we rafted down, so some of the guys on the trip would take those chances to jump out and push the raft along to speed things up. We set up tents (I had bought a sleeping bag the day before [a good brand, proper temp. range for summer and on sale, no less!], but don't have a tent, so I had to tent-mooch) and then waited for round 2.5 of barbecuing to be completed. I played some volleyball with a two of the other women from the office and some random (and somewhat to very drunk) guys until food was ready. After food there was a card game called "Vilkaci" ("Werewolves"), which I won't even attempt to explain in type. I can remember how to play now and can relay the rules and process verbally, though. Eventually it got dark and to the point where the flickering of the citronella candles made me feel like my brain was bleeding, so I went and used my Minnesota suburb survival skills and hunkered down for the night. The next morning after taking down the tents and eating breakfast (more barbecue!) we basically waited anxiously for 12 o'clock to roll around when we would be picked up and taken back to Riga.

I'd do it all again any time :)

Monday night I went to the Riga Zoo for a get-together/party that was organised as a thank-you to those people who helped in the process of putting together this book. I wasn't much of a party-accessory, unfortunately, because my brain was completely fried as of Sunday night. After getting back from the trip I went to work on a few projects that were due Monday, and sorely underestimated the type and amount of work it would be. Then Monday was just a very long day, worse than normal Mondays. So at this party I more or less sat with a glass of bubbly and stared blankly out at Kisezers, which the zoo sits right next to. But Monday was another nice night because I got to see some of the other people who helped out with the book as well, talked more with the main brains behind the whole project, and just unwind a bit. I also got to leave with a little hot-pink button that reads HELPER! - it is pinned proudly on my purse :)

And by a bit I really do mean just a bit. When I got back home that night I went right back to work on some more projects. Tuesday was, work wise, a repeat of Monday. It wasn't until Wednesday that I was able to take a deep breath and move on a little. Today was better and tomorrow should be a blast.

My mood has been improving rapidly as well - it may partly be due to the fact that, in the process of going over one project today I learned that 2009 is the year of the ox - my year. I took it as an indicator that 2009 will be an overall positive experience. I've got my residential permit, I've got a job, a convenient apartment, and even a cat. I feel bad for not making that public sooner, but when the cat was first "acquired" I was unsure at the time of where I would be in the months following and didn't want it to be a big deal. The cat was something that I felt was personally necessary and, although I feel like I'm more often annoyed with the cat than not, I also lucked out in picking a compassionate animal; in addition, I supported the local humane society. Besides, if I was renting in a private home I would have gotten a dog. The way I see it, worst-case-scenario, the cat is at least friendly, disease-free, neutered, etc., so if a/the situation arises that the cat can't go somewhere with me, he will be good for someone else, too.

Another thing I not only realised while on the rafting trip, but also made a point to say on the trip, was that I was really happy with where I work. I'm happy with the location, the people, etc. I have honestly lucked out.

Ooooh yes and I bought my ticket to the Sigur Ros concert :))) August 22nd and I am very excited to see how things go down. They're a band that normally and, as a standard, performs outdoors; the Riga concert is going to be in the Arena. But it should be a good concert - I've heard good things, and their new album is very relaxed, so it will be another great night for me to unwind. Amongst thousands of other people, of course.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Power of Reese's

I brought back one 2 lb bag and one 1 lb bag of (respectively) regular and white chocolate Reese's mini peanut butter cups from the States for my office. I brought the chocolates in yesterday and opened the bags around 10 A.M.

When I got in to work this morning, there were approximately 7 candies left on the break room table. From 3 lbs of chocolate goodness to 7 bits.

Holy COW, colleagues! I guess I found something everyone really likes. Someone mentioned I should start a small business of importing and re-selling the stuff. Maybe, someday. :)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I have now acquired a new recipe into my knowledge bank: Kiploku grauzdini or garlic toast bites.

I found the recipe here, bought bread and garlic salt, and went to it while my internet was resetting itself.

To that note, the name of my wireless account has had to be changed from "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" to something else.

The first batch of toast bites was a bit on the burnt side, but after adding the garlic salt and fresh garlic, it really doesn't matter. Grauzdini are a popular beer-snack in Latvia and it's easy to understand why. Garlicky goodness in finger food form; even though it has kind of a rural ring to it, the snack is more graceful than an entire loaf of garlic bread. My flatmate asked me last year if I knew how to make them, as this guy she was seeing was a huge fan of the toast bites and hers always turned out too soggy or too dry. But the process of making them is super easy... I wish I had tried it out earlier. No worries! Now that I know how to make them, I'm sure to be a big, big hit at all of those countless parties I go to several times in one night even on the weekends, but maybe only at the ones that are BYOS (bring your own snack). Kidding. You and I both wish my night life was that exciting, don't we. The most exciting my night life ever ends up being involves missing the last train after sprinting across downtown to get to the station and then immediately afterward getting caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella. And that's me without the umbrella, not the rainstorm.

Oooh yes and I'm back in Riga now and very glad to be so. Other than the depressing non-bed qualities of my couch-bed, I'm loving every second about being back. Yesterday a friend and I rode a train with the rest of the entire population of the city (no, really, it probably honestly was...) out to Jurmala and lazed around the beach for a few hours before walking down to Majori (which we almost were unable to find because neither of us payed attention to where we were going and missed the big mansion landmark, oddly enough during a conversation joking about how bad our skills of observation were - or are) for coffee. Then I was planning on coming back home to work on some projects due Monday, but instead half made my dinner and passed out for 4 hours. All of that sun, fresh air and walking definitely got to me. But it was a sound sleep and I woke up happy. And hungry.

So, to recap, I've mastered another great recipe thing. My next goal is currant pastries. They had them at Double Coffee, but there was no way I was going to pay 2.20 LVL for a pastry that costs about USD 0.50 in Germany (it was also listed in the menu as "Johannisbeer" pastry, which is correct, but why use the German word for currant in an English translation of a Latvian menu? I swear...) The only solution - learn to make them myself! Luckily for me, it's season and currants can be bought at the grocery store fresh instead of frozen. Until then-

P.S. due to mass amounts of spam regarding all kinds of interesting topics, I've set this blog to require people to register and sign-in in order to comment. If that doesn't help I'll switch it again.

P.P.S. pictures now available here. It's taking some time to load everything up, but at least I know how to get to the site now :)

I've Been Quoted!

My father came across this live journal: ozgurturna

where my "controversial" list of things you can/shouldn't do in Riga is quoted, then commented on at length by readers of ozgurturna's journal. It's always interesting to find out who your own stuff reaches.

This past weekend was a LONG one, thanks to Jani. Monday and Tuesday were holidays so, naturally, there was crazy weekend traffic already at 12 noon on Friday. On Monday, my mother and I ended up going along with my cousin and her family to Pinkas, south of Ogre, for a traditional Jani. There were games, there was singing, "witch" burning, wreath burning, and of course eating and drinking. We didn't stay the night, but were brought back to Riga by 2 A.M. I promptly fell into bed and slept until noon the next day. Tuesday was spent lazing around my apartment, eating Jani leftovers and relaxing. Wednesday I took them to *finally* see the sea; we took a train to Sloka, then walked through Kauguri to Kaugurciems, where there's this absolutely excellent restaurant right on the beach front called Kurins. The prices are decent, the portions are gigantic, and the atmosphere is plain beachy. (No, I didn't play hookie - I had taken a day off to spend my mother and aunt's last day in Latvia.) After lunch we toddled back to the train station, got off at Majori and checked out some shops they wanted to look at again, then went to the sea again. Twice in one day, MADNESS. If I wasn't so weirded-out by tours I would make a great tour guide.

Mom and aunt made it safely back to the States this afternoon.

For those following, there are 5 (five) business days and 7 (seven) days total before I get to start calling the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs to find out if they're letting me re-enter the country in July or not.

Monday I'm thinking of spending 5 LVL for a ticket to see the closing Kremerata Baltica Festival concert in Riga. I've got one CD... don't remember too much of it, but enough to make me want to listen to G. Kremers rock out live. Oh, violinists.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Oooooh, buddy.

I am now back in the United States, somewhere a bit past the mid-point of my two-week return visit. Did you just read the word visit and think it implied that I would be leaving the States for some other country, say, perhaps Latvia? Because if your thought process brought you at least that far (mine would have taken things much further, even to a point of developing a short story; I think my friends would agree), your thought process has not led you astray. Not this time, at least.

I am an official quasi-citizen. What this means is that I have my long-hoped for temporary residential permit, which gives me the great honour of not only living in Latvia for a year (until I have to go through 85% of the same hellish process in order to re-apply for temporary residence if I decide to stay there longer), but of also having the 15% tax deducted from my salary. Thus the "quasi". The best part is that I finally have this weight lifted off of my shoulders; I don't have to worry about deadlines for turning in those fabulous documents, no worries about taking time off of work to jet over to Tallinn and throw down 300 EUR cash to have said fabulous documents processed in 10 days, no worries about being shipped out of the country for reasons out of my control.

I'll leave you to imagine what the reasons within my control may or may not be.

Ah, yes, and USAnnoyed because the weather here in the mid-west blows. And not in a weather-terminology windish way. It's humid here, hotter than Riga, and the air just sits. Sits on my lap, and my legs are starting to fall asleep and get tingly. Otherwise... Clothing prices here are a dream, peanut butter was 3 for $5, and there's a Caribou Coffee approximately every 5 miles. So I don't know what my problem is - I should stop complaining. Caribou Coffee trumps bad weather any day.

On the down side, I feel like I've had so much coffee in the past 24 hours that the acidity from the beans is eating away at my throat. It may be time to switch to green tea and mango smoothies.

Anyway, other things that have happened since the delicious, sweet, sweet victory of having that visa stickered into my passport (accompanied by a photo wherein I look like I've been picked up for carjacking or stealing broken TV sets - what're YOU in for?), I got to live through the Latvian Song and Dance Celebration in Riga. Since there was so much happening during the celebration and I was only able to go to a few things (work + preparation for visit to the US), here's a rundown of the events I went to:

1. The "Gajiens"/Parade.
35,000+ participants from all over Latvia, including groups from the States, from Canada, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, Ireland, Luxembourg and Russia, walking through the major streets of downtown Riga. 11 AM start time; the parade ended about six to seven hours later. Participants included brass bands, folk dance collectives, choirs, colour guards (no, really, a large group of teenage girls with twirly flags and/or batons), etc. LOADS of people. I even saw the strange grimy man from Zilais kalns, where I've been twice now with relatives. It made me wonder how he got the money to get a ticket from there to here (albeit it's not that expensive, if he took a train, but the hill is, if I remember, not exactly close to the train station. Or really even near it.). Later, however, an acquaintance told me how a few years back at a similar event in a concert hall, there was a group of bums milling around, but after security was alerted the bums were approached, and it turned out that they had all purchased legitimate tickets at the ticket counters. So no knocking bums until you ask to see their tickets, y'hear?! The day was really nice, sunny, sun-burn causing, and a generally odd experience to see even more people than usual in Riga, and all lined up and concentrated along certain streets, no less. Many of the participant groups walking along were singing, like you do, but not many of them had original ideas. The most frequently sung diddies that day were "Ai, jel manu vieglu pratu" and "Bedu manu lielu bedu". I heard one - count it - ONE group singing "Riga dimd".

2. The Opening Concert.
This I had not planned on going to. At most I had thought I could call up one of my friends who own a TV and ask to come sit on their couch and watch the live broadcast. Buuuut, a fairly new acquaintance of mine (the same one who told me the bums with tickets story) called the night before and offered me a pair of ex-media tickets for the Opening Concert in Mezaparks for the following evening. I figured why not - it would get me out of the house and it could very well be interesting. And interesting it most certainly was! Although I unfortunately didn't quite make it to the seat indicated on the ticket, I was able to stand amidst the probably thousands of other audience members, gaze at the stage with certainly thousands of choir members, and be flabbergasted. North American Latvian Song and Dance Festivals also have mass numbers of people, but I don't think it ever reaches past the 10,000 mark. Plus, the way the Mezaparks estrade is laid out, the entire literal sea of people is clearly visible. I should add that the whole thing is also outside. So the rain, it got people wet. Another way in which this concert differed from NA festival concerts is the set-up: there's the stage, then the hill on which the audience is seated/standing. Directly behind the hill is something similar to a state fair. There's food, drink, trinkets, and so on. In this area it is absolutely impossible to hear what's happening on stage. In NA festival concerts, if you want to get something to eat or drink, you go outside. It was strange to see one part of the people present sitting and listening intently to the concert and the other part milling around and eating and drinking. But I'm glad I got a ticket and ended up going - I took pictures, which, as usual, will *hopefully* sometime be posted. I'm terrible.

3. Folk dance concert dress rehearsal.
After eventually finding which left side of the stadium we were supposed to be in, which section of the correct left side we were supposed to sit in and wiping down the wet seats, we sat down and saw the very organised and profesionally done dress rehearsal for the Folk dance concert. It. Was. Sweet. True, the concert was more artistic and "formationy" than what we have in NA (I guess not necessarily a bad thing), and the ending was rather anti-climactic, it was another fantastic experience. 13,700 dancers on the field... more mind-blowingness. The effect is totally different when there are that many dancers. We were sitting on the side of the stadium, so we didn't really see more than loads of people, but it's surprising to look at pictures that were taken from a central location; you can see they actually created Latvian symbols with their formations. The highlight for me was the dance "Es atnacu uguntinu", which featured the Ilgi song "Nesmejieti jus lautini". The dance, which is for women, was performed around torchlit pyramid piers, and with other dancers (mostly men?) standing around strategically with torches. The women dance in a circle, waving around red ribbons in a very ritualistic manner. No way can you watch that and tell me that Latvians have cut off all ties with that which is Pagan. I definitely got chills. After the concert we experienced the singing bus/tram/trolley phenomenon, as we had a very enthusiastic singing man ride with us all the way to the central station stop (and then later on the train).

I realise that this post is pretty pathetic in terms of consistency and clarity, but the Song and Dance Festival is something you definitely need to experience in order to understand that it's very hard to put into words what you see and feel.

I fly back to Latvia on the 23rd - then I'll be around for a while.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Documents and More

Since last week, a considerable amount of things have gone down on this side of the world, the top two being 1) I flew to and from Tallinn to turn in those wonderful documents I've been collecting since September 2007 and 2) my mother, aunt, cousin and her children flew into Latvia. Oh, and I shouldn't forget this one, but 3) we went to see Raimonds Pauls in concert on Sunday. RP!!

Tallinn the second time around was about as fun as Tallinn the first time around, though I was able to decide that it would be nice to return to the city to just walk around and be a visitor. None of this "12-hour layover" or "just here to appease bureaucracy" business. But real, walking around and enjoying my surroundings.

Prior to making it to Tallinn this past Thursday, I almost didn't make it to Tallinn. The lines were crazy long at the airport and by the time I got to the counter it was 20 minutes before my flight was to leave (10.20 was the scheduled departure).

Woman at the counter: "Uh, don't you have a paper ticket?"
Me: "Uh, I bought them online."
Woman: "Alright." *picks up phone-thing, tries to call several times without success, finally reaches someone, gives them my info, etc., etc., then looks up at me* "Did you fly to Tallinn on Monday, too?"
Me: "...No, I called on Sunday and had the ticket switched to today."
Woman: "Hmm. Well, it says here you flew out on Monday already."
Me: "..."
Woman: "So go to the AirBaltic counter down there *points*, have them fix it then come back to the front of the line so you don't have to wait again."

So I power-walk it to the AirBaltic counter, where I then got to stand for 10 minutes, my passport shaking in my hands, as this older man had a row with one of the staff behind the counter. This older man had convinced a larger group of people to let him budge back at the ticket counter line, but that didn't help him, as he ended up with troubles as well. Troubles, apparently, that couldn't be fixed. I GET IT, YOU'RE MAD, THERE'S NOTHING THAT CAN BE DONE. But there are *ahem* other people waiting WHO MIGHT STILL HAVE TIME.

I finally ended up with a trainee helping me, who was very nice, but didn't know any of the right buttons to push on the keyboard and had no clue what any of the right codes were that needed to be entered. She was then joined by an older woman who immediately looked at the screen and said, "Oooh, she's not going to make that flight." Once it was understood that there had been an error on AirBaltic's part (I had called 24 hours in advance to change my flight, was told everything was in order and that I would just have to show up at the ticket counter, pay a 70 LVL fine, and go about my business. The catch is that they hadn't completed the transaction on their end; thus, their records stated I had already flown out once on the 9th), we got to work trying to find the next flights, which we did. Then the two women called over the staff member who had been argued at by the angry older man.

Women staff: "Can we give her the ticket without the fine?"
Staff guy: "Why?" *looks at me in an annoyed manner*
Me: "...."
Trainee: "There was an issue with the flight registration and now she's missed the flight."
Staff guy: "And?" *to me* "What time did you get in line?"
Me: "...I...don't know?"
Women staff: "The lines are ruthless today."
Staff guy: "So, why waive the fine?"
Me: "I DON'T CARE! My flight was supposed to be on Monday, I called Sunday and changed it today and was told everything was taken care of, just that I'd have to pay the 70 LVL fine - I came here today prepared to pay a fine. I JUST REALLY NEED TO GET TO TALLINN."
Staff guy: *mumbles something, shrugs, and wanders away to do something else*
Older woman staff: *also kind of wanders away*
Trainee: *prints out a receipt for a ticket and hands it to me* Have a good flight.
Me: "..."
Trainee: "You can go to the ticket counter, now."

My new flight, fine definitely NOT applied (!!) left at 12.55, which meant I actually had the chance to run up and surprise my mom, aunt, cousin and kids as they got off their plane and right before I had to run to my gate.

Tallinn itself was fine, I guess. At least it wasn't raining. I took a taxi to the embassy, turned in my documents, took probably one of each possible brochure laid out on the tables because I was so nervous I would still be missing documents, paid them my 300 EUR and left to find the bus stop I needed to board a bus back to get to the airport.

No time for lunch, though I did stop by the shopping centre for a few minutes to see if Wayne's Coffee there had soy milk on the menu. After standing at the counter for a few minutes of having the servers stare at me staring at the menu boards, I left. No soy milk, no tasty beverage for me.

I bought my bus ticket from a kiosk, proudly (yet eventually...) found the right bus stop and lo! there was the bus at a red light, heading for the stop located on the street. I sprinted through the under-street tunnel and up the other side, just in time to jump on the bus, stamp my ticket and sit down. There were a couple of people on board with suitcases, so SCORE! I was golden.

Until the bus pulled up to the D Terminal for ferry boats.

Yeah, I got on the bus going in the wrong direction and ended up by the flipping sea. The bus driver told me he'd be heading back to the airport, so I bought another ticket from him and sat down to wait. The driver then shooed an annoyed and very much not sober bum off the bus, took a cigarette and coffee break, then sat to wait. 15 minutes later the bus was started up again, we pulled up to the first stop by the D Terminal (at which point the drunken bum got back on the bus...) and were on our way to the airport.

Once at the airport I got to the ticket counter and once again almost didn't make my flight. The lady checked me in and all, but then said, "Oh, but you realise that the gates are closed, now."

Me: "As in the plane is gone already?"
Woman: "No, but the flight closes 30 minutes before departure."
Me: "...please..."
Woman: "..."
Me: "...I just need to get back to Riga..."
Woman: *sighs* "Do you have any luggage?"
Me: "No!"
Woman: *makes a phone call, prints my ticket* "Gate 4."

I booked it to the gate and had 30 seconds to spare before they announced that they were going to start boarding. I ran for no reason, really. Back at the ticket counter I was ready to ask the woman "Do you have TIME to hear my story?! Do you WANT to know everything I've been through just to make it to this day?!" She was smart in sparing herself.

Then tah-dah, back in Riga, just in time for the downpour and me without an umbrella.

The Raimonds Pauls & Laima Vaikule concert on Sunday was great. RP is still his maniac self on the piano (which doesn't say much because he doesn't at all act manic, but the guy has X years of genius in his portfolio). Andris Erglis was also there, in a completely white suit. Good singer, no comment on the choice of evening wear.

This will be another busy week. Wednesday is a curry-cook-off/tasting event, Friday is my aunt's birthday.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It's a Small World, after All.

Just now, on the way back to the office from the insurance firm, within a 5-minute period of time, I ran into the parents of a Minnesota friend of mine and saw singer/songwriter/producer Ainars Mielavs having a cigarette and looking fidgety-bored next to some parked cars.

Riga is, as people have said, say, and will say in the future, a small, small world.

Things You Cannot/Should Not Do in Riga

Let me preface this by saying that in no way are these meant to be taken 100% seriously. There are some places where I'm obviously having a bit of fun. So if something seems overly ridiculous, chance are it's because I was writing it to be ridiculous. I live here, too, y'know.

Somewhat more extensive than originally intended, here's a list of cannot's and should-not's for Riga/Latvia. The list will be modified/added on to as items are remembered, brought to my attention, or their statuses change.

1. You cannot or should not drink the tap-water, unless you KNOW the place has a filter. Ask to see the filter, or a receipt for purchase/installation of the filter if said filter is not in a clearly visible location. Even if said filter truly exists, you may want to ask for boiled water instead.

2. You should not pay the bus attendant for a single ticket with anything bigger than a 1 lat coin, unless you really really want to get back a handful of copper and the cold shoulder.

3. You cannot get a full night's rest, unless you live somewhere surrounded by NOTHING. The people in the apartment above mine have been hammering on something starting at 8 A.M. every weekday and Sunday, since last September.

4. You cannot sit on the grass in public places. Seriously, there are signs, and you probably have to pay a hefty fine if you are caught doing so. And tourists may wonder why the grass is so pretty. FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY it is permissible to sit, sleep, stand and roll on the grass in the city parks in Riga! This offer is only good for the month of June and is a test to see whether or not the people of Latvia can "handle" the responsibilities that come with being allowed to sit on grass. I don't know...one stray grass stain and some crazy person might snap and try to burn the mother down.

5. You cannot find a decent cup of coffee at a cafe without an all-out search or at least with insider information. Latvia is not a coffee nation. I realise there are cafe's called "Coffee Nation", but other than a pleasing ambiance, free 15-minute WiFi cards and good pecan pie-cake, there really isn't much to it. Insider information: All Capuccino (K. Barona, Centrs, and right next door to Lidojosa varde) has coffee that is, by leaps and bounds, more like coffee should be. Index Cafe not only has cheap and very decent sandwiches, but also serves up a fantastic espresso shot, or anything with espresso in it. They also have a drip-coffee machine, which is, apparently, VERY RARE in Riga. Rare as in, like, it's the only one we've seen.

6. You cannot get from point A to anywhere within two blocks of point A in under 20 minutes if you're (quite literally) trapped in a motor vehicle. Your best options are to walk or bike.

7. You cannot read a single restaurant menu without laughing, especially if you are fluent in the English language and/or have a degree in literature/English/writing.

8. If you listen to the "mainstream" radio stations, you cannot go a single day without hearing music from one of the following artists at least five times and preferably doubling up on at least one of the songs: Mika, Robbie Williams, The Sugababes, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, The Backstreet Boys, Rihanna, Madonna.

9. You cannot and should not start crossing the street without looking both ways several times (that goes for any country), or start crossing the street the moment the little man turns green. Although some cars stop, the general mentality seems to be "If there are 10 or less people on the crosswalk the road's as good as clear".

10. You cannot win with ATMs. If you want one 10 and one 5 to make 15, you will get three 5s. If you want two 10s to make 20, you will get a 20.

11. You cannot commute to work in the morning without smelling alcohol on at least 5 people around you. You cannot go a single week without seeing a person stumbling around completely inebriated at a seemingly abnormal time of the day.

12. You cannot get a bad serving of potatoes. Anywhere.

13. You cannot "finally" get rid of all of your small change (1s and 2s) with a clear conscience because, as Murphy's law would have it, the next time you make a cash purchase you're going to wish you had held on to something.

14. You cannot buy alcohol after 10 P.M.

15. You cannot get home using public transportation after 12 A.M. or before 5 A.M.

16. You should not assume that, even after living in Riga for 6 months, you know how to get to your apartment by car. Because you totally don't. You know how the BUS or the TRAM or the TROLLEY gets to your house, but not how a car might achieve the same thing.

17. Some taxi drivers will, after being told what your destination is, say "Right, so which way should I go?" and then get angry at you for telling them to go the wrong way, which only happened because you thought you knew how to get to your apartment by car. But you don't. (ref. No. 16)

18. You cannot go a single day without running into or seeing someone you know - excluding colleagues. Even if you hide out in your apartment all day, but make a short trip to the store, you'll probably randomly bump into someone who decided to randomly stop at the grocery store tucked away in your labyrinth of a residential community.

19. You cannot be served at the bank (or other similar places) without a numbered ticket. If you took the wrong type of ticket, it's not their problem. If you were given the wrong type of ticket by an actual person, it's still not their problem.

20. You cannot buy letter envelopes by the box. But you can buy them by the "packet". I finally noticed them in a pen/pencil/stationary store I go to now and then. Problem solved.

21. You cannot get soy milk in your coffee at a cafe. If you ask for soy milk, the only response you will get is a blank stare.

22. You should not dry your laundry at a laundromat. It costs around 6 USD for one small load of laundry.

23. You cannot see a play, opera, or ballet in Riga that does not include some kind of random, psychedelic or otherwise awkward-moment dance or scene.

24. You cannot drink in public, as in sitting on a park bench sipping a bottle/can of booze. However, it seems that if said bottle/can is concealed in a paper/plastic bag, regardless of how conspicuous the concealment is or isn't, the act is ignored.

25. You cannot attempt to take care of any bureaucratic documents or business without being sent to X number of offices, given X amount of telephone numbers to call, X amount of forms and applications to fill out. Once you have completed the aforementioned tasks, you cannot attempt to take care of the documents/business without repeating the process.

26. You should not forget to stamp ("compress") your tram or trolley ticket. If ticket-control personnel board the tram or trolley and find that you have not compressed the ticket, you will be fined.

27. You should not cross the train tracks at any point other than the indicated crossings. If you get caught, the fine is probably around 30 lats.

28. You cannot get large, plastic grocery bags for free.

29. You cannot easily recycle plastic or glass. Most of it is just thrown away with the rest of the trash.

30. You should not dispose of still-lit cigarettes directly into metal trash bins. The trash inside WILL start on fire. I regret not having my camera with me, because it's not every day you pass a burning metal bin.

31. If you want to have a quick meal, you should not eat at a restaurant where there is a middle-man, e.g. a server, between you and the food.

32. Even if a car is backing up slowly, you should not assume that the driver is actually looking back, looking in the rear-view mirror, or even aware that his/her vehicle is backing up.

33. You cannot leave work early on a Friday and expect to make it out of the city centre in a timely fashion because everybody else has the same plan.

34. You cannot use public restrooms for free, unless you are in a larger shopping centre where the door is not monitored very carefully.

35. When planning on using a public restroom, you should not assume that there will always be a toilet seat, a rim to the toilet, or even an actual toilet. (Most places now have normal situations, but there are the few exceptions where there's not much to nothing)

36. You cannot buy hand sanitizer. We have yet to see it in stores.

37. You should not, absolutely SHOULD NOT piss on the Freedom Monument. If you do you are unbelievably childish and should have your passport taken away (if you are a tourist) because you obviously are incapable of respecting the culture and history of other nations. If you are a local doing so... what's wrong with you?

38. You cannot touch the guards standing by the Monument. Or maybe it's "you should not". I've never tried or seen anyone try to do so.

39. You cannot buy/find "standard name brand" medications, such as Tylenol, Advil, Pepto-bismol, etc.
40. You cannot cross major streets in logical places because crosswalks are not logically placed along major streets.

Week of Entertainment Pt.2

My week of entertainment PLUS! continued. It stops at Wednesday the 28th, so don't get too excited.

Wednesday the 21st I met up with some people in Livu laukums and saw folklore group Vilkaci perform. Figures our friend Edgars would be in the group - there seem to be very few folklore groups that he's not a member of. It was a laid-back performance for the "grand opening" of Zelta filings, this beer-garden restaurant bar that basically changes its name every few years. The evening consisted of Vilkaci performing a few songs, then the increasingly more inebriated Host talking and then talking about how "if no one else wants to say anything theeeeeen I guess it's back to me!" Vilkaci is the folklore group that's supposedly known for not only singing, but also for gearing up and having old-time one-on-one combat shows. The first two guys fighting had a couple of clean rounds, finished with a truce handshake-hug. The next to guys fought like little monkeys. Swords and shields swinging all over the place, cheap shots to the head and groin. They finally went with the handshake-hug, but not before slamming each other in the helmet with the butt of their swords.

Thursday... Thursday I went and visited the relatives I had stayed with last fall (Agra & Co.), had a nice chat and some tea, then went home. It wasn't so much a night of entertainment, but a night of unwinding with some dog-therapy included (they've still got Doro).

Friday I don't remember what I did. There's nothing written in my calendar, so there's a good chance that Ilze, Julija and I met up like usual and decompressed after another hellish week. By decompressed I mean cocktail hour.

Saturday was Eurovision. This year I have surprisingly little to say, only that I'm a little disappointed that Dima Bilan won, considering his performance was... not really that spectacular. I'm sure the song is wonderful on its own, but how can the guy NOT be reaching for points when he has three-time Olympic figure skating champion Plushenko twirling around next to him? I have to say that Bilan's 2005 Eurovision song was actually better than this one. Maybe next year more than four countries will get themselves in gear and put out an act that they think has a chance at winning. I have to agree with the consensus that this year's contest was pathetic.

Who knows what happened Sunday. I think I did some work and then went to buy dish soap.

Monday nothing happened. Monday night I realised it had been a week since our dog Kimene had died and I spent my final hours awake in a crap mood.

Tuesday I once again headed out to Vienibas gatve and saw the daughter of the relatives with whom I stayed perform in the year-end recital of her music school. Another low-key and heartwarming concert, with free admission to boot :)

Wednesday was the big night for "Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat". I've never seen the performance in any language before, but Julija assured us that it was exactly the same, choreography included, except the words were in Latvian. The musical was enjoyable enough and an interesting change from ballets and operas.

Week of entertainment ovah.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Week of Entertainment

Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to point out about how cool Stockholm is: let's say you're running for the bus but on the way realise a) you don't have enough change or b) you don't have your wallet with you. If you don't have a cell phone, you're completely up creek, but if you do, you can send a quick SMS to the transportation number and buy a ticket that way. Spiff, no?

Okay, on to the week of entertainment. Why week? Because it's an approximate calendar week, leave it be. Entertainment? Weeeeeell, it all started on Saturday morning when I picked up my new computer.

That's right, this post is coming to you from the half-comfort of my own couchbed.

So that's just entertainment on its own - I now have my "land-line" back, my "TV" back, all of it. Saturday was spent hanging around Riga centre in the lovely weather (don't worry, Sunday to today has been either cloudy/rainy/depressing or sunny and cold, by May standards), looking at the photography display (A Day in Latvia, 1987 and 2007) set up in Doma laukums, and then heading home for a quick nap and a bit of tinkering with a project I had gotten for the weekend, before heading back into the centre for Museum Night.

Museum Night! Not all as exciting as I would have thought it would be, but it was definitely interesting seeing how absolutely packed the buildings and streets could be. Museum Night happens once a year in Latvia, where basically every museum in Riga and other major Latvian cities is open until the very wee hours of the morning. I doubt that the museums see that much action (I'm talking huge lines of people waiting to get inside) any other day. I started late, met up with some friends (who were very [Slava!, much??] plastered with round stickers in all kinds of colours, showing which museums they had been to see) and took a quick turn through the National Art Museum and the tiny yet shiny Latvian jewelry museum.

Sunday I did nothing but wash laundry, watch three movies on my computer (entertainment) and take a quick trip with my flatmate to the resident Nelda grocery store (entertainment - I still don't know how to get there and back from our apartment. I rely on my flatmate to steer me through the labyrinth that is our neighbourhood).

Bad choice! Monday I was overly stir crazy, even borderline hysterical. I think I've really learned that, as much as I'd love to and as wonderful as it sounds to just sit and do jack for an entire day, I pay for it dearly with what could be considered an energy hangover. I have too much of it the day following and almost need to cry after sitting at my desk for 8 hours. Anyway, during the day Monday a friend sent me an SMS saying that music artist Imants Daksis was having a CD release concert. For free. So I totally went. The only thing I knew about Imants Daksis was from what I read of a relative's album review of Daksis' last album; the music wasn't necessarily bad, it was just weird.

This was beyond me as the first "set", in which he played songs from his new album, were really good and, despite some of the texts being a bit more than I'm used too, completely normal. The guy sitting in front of us was a normal, long-haired (Daksis ditched the bald head and long beard image, apparently) indie musician. THEN he got into his old stuff, which was, in all sense of the concept, AN AWKWARD TIME. The guitar was still amazing, but I can't say I was feeling the lyrics about "burnt witches" and "massacred Indians", although I thought that the general message of the song was important. There was a message, really.

Tonight I'm heading out to go see Chekov's "The Seagull". It's supposed to be a short play, and I've checked with my grandfather, who approves of it, so I'm expecting a decent evening. Keeping my fingers crossed (or holding my thumbs)!

Addition: The Chekov play wasn't bad, but I didn't really get it. I'll have to read an English version of it to see if it makes sense then. Tomorrow evening we're going to stop by Livu laukums to see Vilkaci perform. At this point, anything to keep my mind off of the new loss of a seriously excellent family member, who was like a figurative sibling to me. R.I.P., Kimene. This is one of the rare times in my rounds of Europe where I regret not being home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Always One Step Ahead

Latvian bureaucracy. Always one step ahead.

I got up extra early this morning so that I would have time to not only eventually get to work, but also to stop in at the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs to see what I could do with my documents (as I may have mentioned, yesterday was a bust because yours truly forgot her passport at home). I get off at the respective bus stop, correctly guess which street to turn on, walk up to the building and LO! The door is there, but there are no signs, no indicators, nothing. I try the door - nothing. A woman who was also milling around asked "Excuse me, but do you know where the OCMA is?" Me: "That's what I'm trying to figure out. It was here not too long ago..." Then I went to the computer accessories/office supplies store on the same block and asked a nice elderly man if he knew what was up.

Me: "Excuse me, but do you know if the OCMA has moved office?"

Man: "Yep, they sure have."

Me: "Geez. Do you know where to?"

Man: "Oh, sure, out in Ciekurkalns in the direction of Mezuparks..."

Me: "......where??"

Man: "You take the 11th tram, across the B--- bridge, second stop, past Mezaparks cemetery, it's on the right side, a huge, glass building. Ugly box."

Me: "...thanks?"

Basically, whenever I think I'm one step closer to my goal, or that I'm almost to the finish line, they somehow manage to top it. They've moved office and left zero notice on the prior building. The only advantage is that the new office has been in service since May 6th (there were a few weeks in April when I wouldn't have been able to do anything anyway since they had locked down for the move), meaning that, hopefully, other 'immigrants' will either a) not know where the office is or b) be too lazy to head out that far to get their paperwork taken care of. Let's hope that Latvia is full of lazy people who want citizenship, right?

Kidding. But I could totally use a nap.

If I can figure out where the new office is, I'll try again tomorrow. In the words of Chumbawamba: "I get knocked down, but I get up again - you're never gonna keep me down! (repeat ad nauseum)"