My morning was quiet but for the church bells. I rose after sleeping in, the apartment to myself, and stretched like a lazy cat. I was wearing an oversize tee-shirt I'd bought on my last trip to Michigan's Keweenaw, mossy green with a moose on my chest, a row of evergreens, "UP North where nowhere is someplace" ... and I smiled, thinking of it, thinking of that last trip north, and how my heart rang, like church bells, looking for home and knowing, someday, I would find it.
As much as I ever could. Some part of it ... As much as any one place could ever hold me.
Home was my forever longing, never quite attained. I touched a palm to my tee and rubbed the cloth. For focus. I had to choose. And even as I let my imagination wander, imagined that such a place as this could be permanently mine, I had to use head over heart. Choose wisely ...
Both Janis and Andris had sat me down and had a firm talk with me. I tried not to smile, seeing their seriousness. Ah, men. To be the protector was as much in their biology as to silently be my own trailblazer was in mine. We women learned to listen, nod, and then do as we pleased. Not that I didn't see the good sense of what they were saying ... a woman alone in the northern woods was like hanging out a sign above the door: Trouble Me.
|Ilga at the Lido Alus Seta|
I had experienced an abusive relationship myself. Jekyll and Hyde, the public charmer, sweet-tongued, but a dark presence in private, driven to manipulate and control. Too many like this. It was one of the reasons I'd chosen my future path as solitary. Being alone in the woods was not the unsafest place I could be.
"Maybe not so deep in those snowy woods," Andris said. "Perhaps a neighbor near by ... or two. Somewhere you can go for help ... if you should ever need help..." Worry creased his forehead, and I smiled, nodded, said I would think it over.
Risks lay in every direction. A woman was forever looking over her shoulder, always aware of what lurked in the shadows, never entering a room without quickly scanning it for potential danger. It was reflex, passed on by generations, suckled with mother's milk.
But I had been moved by their concern -- these two good men in my life. I trusted them both, and had reason to; they had earned it. I heard the wisdom in their words. I was warmed by the time they had given to run this thought through their minds, considering, weighing, worrying. It was why I called them friends. They were good men and good friends, and I promised myself to think through carefully their advice, too.
I had come to Latvia to say hello again, after so long, but also to say goodbye.
Bells clanging, I wasn't sure that was how it was all turning out. Life could be a twisted surprise. A fork in the path at every turn. Constant choices and revisions.
Never say never. For now. I refuse to say anything else but ... for now.
Breakfast. I made breakfast in the neat little kitchen, glancing on occasion at the three red roses in the vase on the table. Beautiful buds, beginning to open, wine red petals softly unfolding. I would never see them at full bloom. The days remaining for my trip were numbered, and they didn't even take up one hand.
This afternoon, I would be meeting Ilga. Like most everyone here, she was a friend since near forever, from that first trip here. On my second trip, with my fiance beside me, the man who would become the father of my children, we bounded around town as three couples. The two of us, Ilga and her husband, and another couple. Giddy youth. We literally danced through the streets of Old Town. Soviet years, but we accepted no rules, made our own, and we walked, danced, three couples across, arm in arm, beautiful and young and silly and free no matter what our surroundings...
Window shopping with Ilga for Latvian gifts
Ach, it is just my friend Ilga, I would grin and shrug. But I appreciated the private tours and inside pointers. She knew the best places in Riga. I would meet her this afternoon, and we would waste some pleasant time together.
With Ilga, I didn't have to work. For her, conversation was a rapid river, and I pulled back and let her catch me up on news of Riga, of the election results from the day before--the party Vienotiba had taken most votes--and on her own news. She chattered cheerily and happily and openly and with sparks flying. I sat back and let her talk, relieved to just take it all in for a day, and not be questioned, much.
We had lunch at Lido's Alus Seta, just off the Square, and I dipped my finger, naughtily, into mashed potatoes swimming in gailenu merce, a creamy sauce of mushrooms, can never have enough, and licked it. For all that I had been unplugged from news until now, now I caught up on much of it, Ilga my antennae to the world.
|Restaurant advertising its fresh fish|
Oh, just give me time. If I lived here, I thought, I'd know every nook and every cranny. I would be on first name basis with every Riga cat and mouse.
Just a few more days, I thought, as we walked, and I let my gaze swing high and low again. Take it all in. Couldn't get enough. These rooftops, these cobblestones, these shop windows, these winding alleys between pastel-painted buildings ...
Undeniably, much of my heart would remain here.
Ilga chattered on, and she tugged me into a pub now and then, doing a little bit of Sunday bar-hopping, to check out the ambiance. No, not this one. Nor this one, she said, deeming it too noisy. Where shall we go? To toast this re-meeting, this reunion, this promise for future meetings... and at last she found the place: Kiploku Krogs, the Garlic Pub.
Hmm? Garlic Pub?
Ilga explained it was a favorite, surely something unique (no argument from me), in that everything but everything in this quaint little place was infused, flavored, dipped, rolled, smothered, slathered, roasted, flavored, sprinkled, toasted, sauced with garlic. Even the vodka.
Ilga ordered for us, and I watched the tabletop fill with dishes of garlic in so many permutations that it was dazzling. And not one bit of scent to any of it ...
By the time I was home again, home, temporarily, in my apartment, evening darkened my windows and the silence of my rooms was welcome. I threw off my clothes and slipped back into my Keweenaw tee. I slipped a CD by Sting, On a Winter's Night ... into the stereo, this medieval music fitting the night, and I danced across the room, this time alone, this time with no one arm in arm with me, and the Daugava River just beyond, still flowing to the sea, and I danced, and I danced, in bare feet on the cool wood of the floor, my eyes closed, turning and swirling into my Riga night.
(To be continued...}