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

Share
Related Topics
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?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

SThree: Trainee Recuitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: will this be the election result? And other Questions To Which The Answer Is No

John Rentoul
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn