So after the drama at the Belarus Embassy in Riga, what can I expect from the Immigration officials when I arrive at the airport in Minsk? Discrimination? Suspicion? Paranoia?
Belarus has five neighbors: Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Will the immigration officer display a Russian attitude, a Ukrainian or Polish or Lithuanian attitude (I have not yet been to those three countries), a Latvian attitude? Or a unique Belarus attitude?
I approach the Immigration counter. A young woman takes my Passport. She’s blonde. She’s gorgeous. She scans the information page, stamps my visa, and with a bright and totally sincere smile welcomes me to Belarus! The whole bit take about six and a half seconds. If this is a Belarus attitude, well, gloriousky!
In response to my letters and photographs from Latvia, my old friend and classmate Paul G. wrote the following:
“Thanks, Jan, for the virtual tour. My wife and I will never visit many of the locations that you experienced.”
Paul’s sentiments are certainly understandable. For most Americans who travel to Europe, Latvia is not a favored destination. England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain top the list.* Who can gainsay the decisions to visit Buckingham Palace in London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, the Coliseum in Rome, or the Plaza de Toros in Madrid?
And yet, the decisions of many Americans are now changing.
“Sorry.” Your passport photo is unacceptable. Your passport photo is on a blue background. We require a photo on a white background.”
“It’s a nice photo, isn’t it?” I inquired, hoping for a bit of flexibility that is probably non-existent. (May I humbly say, “My looks and my demeanor usually go a long way in many countries.”) But this young punk of a consular official was unimpressed. “Yes, he agreed, “It’s a nice photo. But it needs to be on a white background.”
Since you are both engineers with a specialty, respectively, in transportation and geotechnical engineering, I thought you would appreciate the structures of the Riga Central Market. The market is the largest in Europe and lies across the Daugava River from the Old Town of Riga.
The market of course is dotted with outdoor stalls that display towering piles of fruit and vegetables and flowers and recently picked mushrooms and consumer products. Everything from bananas to berries to boxer shorts to bras are on offer.
As the American actress Mae West (1893-1980) once remarked, “I never let anything tempt me, unless I can’t resist it.”
On Alberta Street, I couldn’t resist the book Art Nouveau in Riga.*
Despite my protestations, my pleadings , my sob stories and my best negotiating and bargaining skills, the Latvian (or was she Russian?) saleslady did not budge from the asking price of ten Euros for the book. Honestly? It is worth every penny.