My Week: What's she doing here?: Charles Cumming learns a little about Latvian sensitivities

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Thursday I'm wandering round Edinburgh late at night. Festival tourists swarming all over Princes Street, so I take a shortcut through Waverley Station. At first sight of her I blink away, convinced it's the wrong girl. But she keeps approaching, grinning, disarming me with the enthusiasm of her wave. Surely not her? I duck into Menzies and fiddle about in the sweet section. Yet still she comes, unstoppable and definite, turning heads with her assured elegance. She calls out my name. )

'Charlie? Is that you?'

You have to say something. (What the hell is she doing here?) I mutter something at her.

'Charlie] Darling] I've waited for two hours. Didn't you get my letter?'

'Letter? Oh, yes] Hi]'

Suddenly I realise it's the girl I met in Latvia three years ago. The grin re-emerges, her eyes begin to sparkle. My confusion is complete as, like an octopus, she surrounds me, squeezing and kissing; these are lips you could advertise with. I emerge, breathless and dazed:

'How long do you plan to stay?'

Friday At seven, the post. 'Prince Charlie. Do you remember? We danced the polka . . . coming to Edinburgh, etc.' There is a stirring from the bathroom and I stuff the letter away. Nervous glances. Then:

'Let's go see Batman Returns.'

I oblige, and later, assaulted by a barrage of expensive images, I complete the afternoon's diet of Western excess with a visit to a delicatessen, awash with the smell of coffee, Parma hams and salami dripping from the ceiling. For a (nave) moment, I suspect that the supposed 'shortcomings' of Latvia, when confronted with all this luxury, will upset her. Instead she is immediately at home: the proprietor falls in love with her accent and plays escort on a tour of the shop; her responses are respectfully awestruck, the etiquette impeccable, and she walks out with a courtesy tub of pesto. Outside, I ask her what she thought.

'We can get these things in Riga,' she grins, 'but it takes a lot of green dollars.'

Saturday A party at Ernie's. Kristina allows herself to be seduced by an Austrian backpacker called Hans, who had earlier asked me if Latvia 'was the place where the Eskimoes came from?' At 4am, I ask if she wants to leave, but she offers only a lame 'ffrrinnghh'. Too much strong lager.

Sunday Hung over.

University, a Fringe show, a walk around the docks. Near the castle we are approached by a family of Americans, carrying cameras and tartan souvenirs.

'Excuse me, ma'am,' says the patriarch. 'You look like a tourist, like us. Do you have a map we could look at? This is is bad news. Kristina will not like this.

'No, I don't have a map.'

'Oh, that's all right then. Sorry to trouble you.'

'One thing . . . I'm not a tourist like you,' she snaps. 'You're a tourist like yourself.'

Tuesday Going to the station, she explains her anger at the American family. Her phrases (for the first time) are broken up: 'In Connecticut, when I was there during the Gulf war, they didn't report the tanks rolling into Riga, only what George Bush was eating for breakfast. There are many Americans in Riga now, charming girls with their Western manner, living cheaply, staying for ever. Everything moves around the dollar. I worry that will be enough for my people in the future: if we will soon make Disney Worlds and shitty movies with happy endings, always clean the city when Dan Quayle comes for two-hour visits. I resent all their culture brings.'

She had seemed so steady and together, and then this: an overwhelming fear of the West.

She is late for the train, and only just gets on board. It is a hollow farewell, quick and strange. It was a problem that I never considered. Surely she was just like us, and we like them? Surely, now that one occupation of the Baltics was over, it was time for another?

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