The next day was grey. When it came to the time of departure everyone suddenly became concerned about his welfare. They gave him address and telephone numbers to call in Riga if things went bad. In fact he wasn’t feeling the best at this moment. The vodka ritual of the night before had given him the distinct feeling that his head had been pulled off and replaced incorrectly.
He got into the Mercedes with one Dutchman and the Russian driver. For the Dutchman the Slavic show of feelings and companionship was too much. He confessed to the stranger that he was afraid of all the emotions. He was almost shaking. It was unknown territory for the northern European pale-ass. At this moment he understood the irony, that in fact, those who build walls out of fear can function much better in this society than he ever could. In the end it was always the same conclusion though: he was a real shit.
As they approached Riga the driver decided that he wanted to go to a banya. They pulled up to a harbour where there was a black banya- which meant that it was one in the old Russian style. The air by the river was clear and fresh. Back to the shimmering cry of seagulls. Standing at the edge of the docks the seagulls swirled all around him.
The banya was an ancient exotic ritual which bordered on masochism. Red hot stones which carefully rip away the layers of the world. It was here that men of all different backgrounds could meet as equals, all of society and its laws are suspended temporarily in this sweat lodge. There was a mix of criminals (with their huge tattoos), businessmen (with their lack of charisma), workers (with their muscles) and Mafia types (with their big golden chains).
They said the ritual was developed to move the blood, and it included self-flagellation with birch and oak branches. They would all of a sudden start whipping themselves into a frenzy, the branches burning like flames in the ultra hot sauna.
When they were finished the three of them were totally broken, left in a kind of daze where it was even difficult to utter a single word. Of course they finished the entire ritual with a large glass of vodka.
Later that night he was walking down the Caka iela, past the prostitutes, and he felt his hunger grow. He needed to fuck again, to touch and be touched. But then suddenly it all became a weird mix, a kind of cultural nausea, as it always does in this fucked-up society. It happened when he came across an old woman in utter poverty living in the streets. Her face black with soot, she paced in circles trying to keep warm.
In the morning he went out to his favourite cafe, which could barely be called a cafe, lacking any of the charm necessary to function under the illusion of commerce. My God, how could anyone drag themselves here each morning and then go to work in some dreary shit-hole afterwards? There he had breakfast with an old woman who had lavender hair and a businessman who looked like a pig drained of all its blood.
It was a terrible day, raining endlessly. He walked through all of it. He went to the open market which was a swamp, he walked the streets alone. He especially liked the wooden houses, appearing as if they had suddenly come out of the set of some cowboy film. The Jugendstijl gates, the huge piercing faces mounted on the sides of buildings, staring down like guardians of the past. The hand painted cinema posters. The shops which were open all night. It rained all night long, through all of it. He walked until he couldn’t walk anymore, and then he had to walk back. He came back to his building around three in the morning, climbing the wet and rotting art-deco staircase with its distorted shadows thrown up against the walls like the mise-en-scene of some German expressionist film from the 20s.
While he was walking down the street the next day a Latvian grabbed him wildly and asked him, “Quick, do you have an aim in life?” It was a good question, because most people don’t. He answered instantly. “To write poetry and to find someone to love.”
During the nights he would walk the streets of the old town, listening to Latvian rock music. He was drinking bottles of beer on the street corners, but of course he would never meet a girl on the street. Girls want to meet guys with money, the guys in the bars.
Once in the middle of the night he found a guy, blind drunk, laying in the street. Someone went up and slapped him hard to see if he was still alive. The guy responded with a very faint moan. People just left him. The guy was wearing a designer‘s suit, and the stranger was surprised that nobody went for his wallet.
Here there was no history as it is known in the west. Here history was always entangled with mystery and inexplicable events. Stories of astrological clock-makers going blind, monks that were bricked up alive behind church walls, black cats and so forth were blended in with historical data. This was the case to such an extent that a so-called factual history of causes and effects would now be impossible to reconstruct.
The toilet in his apartment was the most brutal he had ever witnessed. The pipes were all held together with wet scotch tape and the walls seemed like they had been painted with shit.
In the morning he put on his vest and parted his hair, like some dinosaur.