Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Bus to Sarkandaugava

There are a ton of buses in Riga. Maybe it's just in the center, where we are, that they all converge. Riga also has trolleys and trams (which I guess in the U.S. we would now call "light rail" or some such) and jitneys and legit trains. And there are different tickets for them and different prices depending on if you buy them at newsstands or on the trolley. It's kind of a mish-mash, and a little more than we've really been up for figuring out. I suppose we ought to, after complaining about being barred from the seriously dangerous public transit in Guatemala, but why bother when we can walk to everything?

Some other, less refined, web-log referred to the people who ride buses here as "pensioners and smelly alcoholics," which maybe proves that there is more than unites the U.S. and Latvia than there is that divides us. Except we also have dangerous-looking thugs on our buses.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Riga may have as autumn-y an autumn as anywhere we've lived in a while. San Francisco and Guatemala are mild all year. DC has a nice autumn, but somehow, it just doesn't compare. Maybe not enough trees, or we just didn't pay them any mind. Here in Riga, our walk to work takes us by several blocks of parks that are just packed with deciduous trees. The park across the street from the Embassy is seriously post-card level autumnal with streetlights glowing and orange and yellow leaves reflected in the canal's water. They have squadrons of leaf-rakers out clearing the grass, but they barely keep up.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Octopus Attack

For the 23rd consecutive time, our plans to quickly post some thoughts and pictures from a jaunt elsewhere in Europe and then get back to the Latvian content have gone awry. Ah, well. We have some more stuff from Athens, which we'll save for later. Since fall is now long gone in Riga, perhaps we'll post some pictures of autumn here within a few weeks. The above is a picture from the Archaeology Museum that proves that some 3000 years ago, the people of the Greek isles founded capitalism by mass-producing golden octopus trinkets of no apparent use, not unlike the Greek souvenir trinkets now available on the streets around the Acropolis, except, made in Greece.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Athens (con't)

The editor-in-chief is getting annoyed at some of the technical problems with our contracted web publishing service. While we get that sorted out, this is another picture of some columns, cleverly non-fluted at the bottom for easy leaning on by those crafty ancient Greek dudes.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Athens Some More

We were trying to post this last night, but Blogger was down. Now we have no time to write. Sorry, word fans.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I would like to be the ten millionth person to note that this thing that the Greek Honor Guard guys do in front of their tomb of the unknown soldier has to be the inspiration for the Monty Python skit about the Ministry of Silly Walks. It is really, truly, um, something to see. And then like the proverbial icing on the cake, they wear these pom-pom shoes. I gather that these kind of things are intended to be a demonstration of complete denial of self, the individual broken down and now part of a greater whole. And not to imply that I could properly execute the official Greek Guard Walk if I had to. But some countries (ours included, I would say) manage to do their precision guarding while looking kinda bad-ass, and some, less bad-ass. But I suppose lots of people stand real still or slowly do mini-goose-steps, but the Greeks have the big Rockette-kick-steps to themselves.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


We went to Athens. I had a conference to attend, but we went a little early to see some old stuff. This is a temple that, if I understood the little sign correctly, has actually stood like this for about 2500 years. Most of the old stuff in the Acropolis has been blown up at least once in one of Europe's periodic sprees of blowing up all of their stuff, and then restored. The Parthenon was restored, but they did it wrong, and now they've been trying to do it right for several decades, so it has permanent scaffolding around it. It was still pretty cool, and the view there of the sprawl and smog of Athens was more impressive. But the Temple of Hephaestus here did a better job of not getting in the way or being a likely hiding spot for Turks or whoever someone was trying to blow up at the time, which counts for a lot in our book.

Oh my, do we have a lot of pictures of Athens. We promise to not show very many of them here. Editing is a skill, we hear.

Friday, October 17, 2008

They say it's my birthday...

It's your birthday, too, yeah...

I'm just back from sunny Athens. Good times were had, foods involving vegetables were consumed, things 2500 years old were observed. Now I'm a year older and the sun wasn't up yet when I had to go to work. How is that for symbolism? Well, bah. It's time to go out and drink some beer and enjoy despite the cold and the gray. We're off to Kapteiņa Enriko Pulkstenis, which means "Captain Enrique's Watch," a bar named for a beloved Soviet children's film in which a friendly Cuban Navy captain visits Riga and loses his watch, but is helped by fellow communist youth to find it and sail off. Then he busts through the capitalist blockade and brings Soviet nukes to Cuba. Ok, I made up the last part, but the film did teach one Latvian colleague at the embassy his only four words of Spanish. Quoth Kapteinis Enriko: "Muchas gracias, grandes amigos!"

Back soon with pictures of Greece.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Our work - for the motherland!

There are not actually a whole lot of obviously Soviet-looking things in Riga. And for good reason, your correspondent would say. Who would want a reminder of those days? Well, in truth, there are somewhat mixed feelings in some quarters, and one of those quarters is Daugavpils.

Daugavpils is Latvia's second largest city. It's near the Russian border, and with a concentration of ethnic Russians even higher than Riga's. I don't know that that means they miss communism more, but as is the case perhaps everywhere on earth, views of history tend to vary with ethnicity. One example is this sign, on a building overlooking one of the main roads through town. As indicated in the post title, it reads "Our Work - For the Motherland!" which sounds sufficiently communist to our ears that your correspondent can't imagine it lasting this long in Riga. Then again, maybe we're just not exploring the right neighborhoods.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Picture of a Door

It's late; we don't have time to write much, or to dig around for a really interesting picture. So here's a perhaps moderately interesting picture of a door that someone decided to make out of hexagons in Old Riga. Sorry.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Hoopin it up

For the record, Latvia's national sport is ice hockey. They have a pretty good team. Or at the least, they punch above their weight for a nation of 2.5 million.

But the runner-up is basketball. ASK Riga (short for "Army Sports Club", no relation to the English word it spells) is a legendary team, having won several European titles back in the day when I can't imagine that many Europeans actually played basketball. A co-worker who is a big basketball fan offered me one of his courtside tickets for yesterday's game, when ASK triumphed in a Baltic Basketball League tilt against Lithuanian rival Žalgiris. Not that courtside seats were such a huge deal - it was far from a sellout - but as with everything, it was fun to be up close, even if the quality of basketball wasn't quite NBA-caliber.

The majority of the teams are Latvian or Lithuanian guys, but each team had a couple Americans and at least one Serb and/or Croat. Why the Balkans, I'm not exactly clear. One of the Americans, named Corey Brewer - but not the more famous basketball-playing Corey Brewer - played for the Oklahoma Sooners for a couple years in the late 90's, and has been playing in developmental or Eurpoean leagues ever since. I wonder what it's like for the few American athletes, living in a place like Riga, Latvia for the chance to keep playing professionally. It probably differs from being posted here as a diplomat in several relevant regards.

The photo above is from the ASK Riga webpage, photographer unknown.

Friday, October 03, 2008

More Jugendstil

I don't really know architecture from a hole in the ground. I can't tell a Georgian from Tudor from a Victorian. But I think mostly what they have in San Francisco is Victorians, and I think from this view, this building looks like something you might see out near the Panhandle -- a Victorian, perhaps. Except with a giant face stuck on there. The Victorian part is probably all wrong, but I'm pretty sure about the face.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

New School

We're sure to have another report from another far-flung locale soon, but for now, we're back in Riga. Our neighborhood here is amazing. We live on the edge of the Art Nouveau district (or, the Jugendstil district as it's known, since there were more Germans than French hanging around Riga in those days). When your correspondent thinks of Art Nouveau, he first thinks of perhaps the Paris Metro. Riga is considered a capital of Jugendstil, at least in terms of what's surviving today. And the style here, mostly, means screaming people. We have many buildings in the blocks around us that feature figurative details. As often as not, those figures' faces look like they're witnessing a train wreck, or passing a kidney stone, or trapped in a room with two guys talking about their Fantasy Football teams. It is not yet clear to me what it was in the zeitgeist of those days that made architects think, "when someone looks at this building, they should see the building looking back and seeing the abyss of mortality." Or something. Apparently it was "new."

The above picture is at the very top of the facade of a six-or-so-story apartment building.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Stockholm, part the last

Hey, so that's it. Sweden was swell. We made it through four days of temptation without ever relenting and actually saying aloud, "Bork Bork Bork!" I.e., the trip was a success. Next time we might actually get back to saying something about Latvia, as was kinda the point all along.