It's our last day here and we've aimed to get as much packed in as we can. We moved our stuff in to Eddie and Miri's room as we had to check out at Midday, exactly at that moment our keys became inoperable, so I had to go to the desk to humbly ask them to let me get my last bits out of the room. It's a shame they're not as efficient when it comes to smiling, saying hello and cooking me an omelette.
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As my father approached his last weeks he knew he was dying, even when I got the doctor to come in and have a straight chat with us in which he said my father had a good chance of recovery my father just shook his head and said “I ain't coming out of here alive”.
As the days went on I asked him if he wanted to die and he said “Not really, but if living means living like this then I'd rather just go to sleep and never wake up.” And that's what happened, his blood pressure dropped, he went in to a state of unconsciousness and faded away in front of me, except in his last breath there was a gasp that came from the bit of him that wanted to live and that moment will live with me until I die.
In many ways my father was already waiting to die quite a few years beforehand, he'd been blessed with many talents but didn't use them in his final years. It felt like he was treading water, killing time while it killed him. When it comes to motivation it's a vicious circle, the more you do the more motivated you feel. If you become inactive it's very hard to get back into the swing of things. As my father got older he was confronted by a world in which he was no longer physically dynamic, he found to do anything, make a tea, get out of bed, would require a big effort and I don't think he felt it was worth it. He was a gregarious, mischievous, traveller amongst many things, so whether he was sitting at home in front of the TV or down at the betting shops slowly he came to the conclusion that he'd had enough and let go.
* * *
As it was my last day I ordered some “especially for me” eggs for breakfast. Yes I know it's petty but in one's last hours one has enjoy every last drop of holiday.
* * *
We'd decided we'd go on the Riga Canal trip first. We took a seat at the back of the boat where a middle aged woman was sitting. No sooner had we got in to position than another woman came along and gestured that we move over so she could squeeze in, or maybe it was just a ploy to get us to give up our hard won seats. Had we been in the UK I'd have said “You've got to be joking!” in fact I did, but due to local traditions I don't think she understood my muttered English, so she wiggled (and I don't mean to be fat-ist here) her fat arse, but to no avail it just wasn't allowed to fit. We pretended to move up (yeah whatever) and after a while she gave up and we all smiled appreciatively as she slunk off to her rightful place in the cabin. The other woman looked and gave us a warm comrade-like smile. She even offered to give us more room and we graciously gestured back that we were willing to suffer even though there was actually plenty of room. Finally there was harmony in the garden of Riga .
I waved at this guy to see if he'd smile - as you can see he didn't -.
We soon realised that the woman couldn't speak much English but even so there was a good connection between us all. During or stay here we'd had a very friendly taxi driver pick us up from the airport, an exteemely helpful waitress serve us the first time in the Steak-Haus, Daisy and her staff in the Alibi Bar, who went beyond normal cordiality, plus there were even a few members of staff in the Hotel who had been good to us, so to just focus on the fact that Latvians will ignore you when you ask for help in the street and the idea of service in some places is a bit skewed seems unfair to me. The Internet has plenty of bad reviews about Latvians being rude, and no doubt to English sensitivities they are, but in its own way its rude to just see someone's behaviour in relation to ourselves and not at least try to work out if in fact the behaviour really does have anything to do with how “they” feel about “us”.
This is an example of a smile
Conversely there's a good saying quoted in the book “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie, it's a Chinese saying and goes something like this, a person “without a smiling face must not open a shop” and of smiles he sites an advert by Frank Irving Fletcher in which it is stated that a smile “cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is no earthly good to anybody till it is given away.” Finally he ends the section with “So if you want people to like you, Rule 2 is: Smile
However if you take this too literally you'll probably be locked away so be careful!
I teach part time and one of the big things that gets drummed in to teachers is that we must take on board student needs, however as I pointed out once to my managers, the system fails students because it doesn't seem to care about teacher needs. For a system to work it needs to pay attention to everyone's needs, and whilst that may all sound a bit too fluffy and unrealistic, it's certainly an idea that's been honed for me on this trip. If the Latvians ignore the needs of their visitors and their visitors don't put any effort in to seeing things more clearly then both will be the poorer for it.
God I should have been a preacher, but I always ws a bad speller and ended up a teacher!
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* * *
We had visited the museum briefly the other day and wanted to spend more time there today, but my legs were aching, so I went around photographing all the signs so I could read them later, which I did hence my pretend knowledge of Latvia's history as portrayed in this diary.
If there was a lasting impression that came from the museum it was of how awful people can be towards each other and how heroic some people are when they stand up for what they believe in or love. It also reminded me of how much death and suffering was caused by Stalin and his followers as well as Hitler and his.
In our final hours we decided to have a last supper at Alibis, as I edited some of the photos I looked out on an Artist who was apparently painting a picture, but seemed to spend more time talking to the women who stopped as they walked by admiring his work. HOLD ON you lot don't start pointing your fingers at me, I'm just mentioning it because it reminded me of the Artist in Kafka's The Trial who keeps copies of the same painting under his bed, as he sells one he pulls out another one ready for the next visitor.
Another great Eastern Block writer is Milan Kundera, if you want an insight in to the absurdity of the Soviet System read some of his work, they will as so often a cover pertains “Change your life!”.
* * *
In a way the receptionist probably got the last laugh because when she ordered us a taxi to the airport (She was probably tempted to direct it to the nearest gulag) we asked if we could pay in Euros. “Sure” she said. What she didn't say was that we'd pay 30% more than had we paid in Lats. We handed the taxi driver a €20 note and he got in his cab and drove off. So any of you readers going to Latvia you owe me a drink if I saved you some money there.
* * *
Once you're in an airport it's almost a land of its own, “Airportland”, it doesn't matter what country you're in its still the same old shit. You're presumed guilty and have to prove your innocence as you go through security, all privacy rules go out the window, it's worse than standing before the headmaster when they check your passport. At any moment you fear being marched to a little room to be probed – where else could that happen? As you pass through customs youbecome self conscius of everything you do, and worry yourself sick even though you haven't even bought a thing –and if you're going by Ryan Air it doesn't get much better. You're hurried to the gate, where you have to wait.
At one point an official looking person came to the glass door and seemed to do something, everyone ran from their sets to the door, formed a queue and waited for another 20 minutes – I'm sure the official person said to his mate “Watch this, it works every time” – Then you're marched to the aeroplane where you have to wait while someone pretends to clean it and someone else kicks the tyres. Once you're on and up in the air you're given a mouth watering menu –NOT- and the best deal looks like sandwiches but guess what, they don't have any. Do they ever have any, or are they a mythical food product?
As we landed we literally came down with a bump, one of those left wheel touches the runway, then right wheel, then the left again and the nose does a double dip just for good mesure. Even the hostess's eyebrows took on the look of our Latvian receptionists. To top it all off they play a message which has a bugle call followed by a very Irish accented person telling you how good their service is. So as we got off I looked at the air hostesses and impersonated the bugle playing, then in the best Irish accent I could muster I said “Ryan Air, We've just landed safely and no one's more surprised than us” I didn't stick around to see how well I scored.
* * *
When I got back to Eastbourne I went in to town where I noticed a few beggars and some drunk people in the town centre. I realised that we're probably not so different than the Latvians. It's just you get so used to what's around you don't even notice it, and maybe to many of us, there are plenty of people who are invisible.
* * *
So it's the end of another journey and travel diary. I'd forgotten how much work goes in to making one of these. I'm getting older and so I ought to watch I don't start to put less effort in to life. Apart from having an interesting time I came away from Latvia with a clearer understanding of my family's past and in particular was able to connect in some ways with my father.
It's hard to bring these diaries to an end, maybe that's why so often I've not written the last page till well after I've come back, but this time I did it pretty soon afterwrds.
Obviously if you've read this far then apart from deserving a medal I hope you've enjoyed it and not fallen asleep through my pious sermons.
If you want to e-mail me click on this line and you shall be directed to my contact page.
Thank you for reading and bye for now
Simon (The Ever-Smiling Pie Man)
P.S I've been back a few weeks now and had the misfortune to experience another hotel, this time in the UK, who also like to palm off small sub-standard rooms. I guess it's not a Latvian phenomenon after all.
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