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.
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.
On this sunny weekend afternoon, family and friends, and friends and neighbors get out of the house and promenade, and play and perform, and pose in the public park. What could be more civilized?
Not counting the pointillist masterpiece by the French painter Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884), I first encountered this civil and civilizing world-wide phenomenon in Greece just fifteen years ago.
I am frequently asked this question and like other travelers, I am tempted to answer, “My favorite city is the city where I am now!”
Of course that is an unsatisfactory answer, even when it might be true.
At the moment I am in Riga, the capital of Latvia. And if I were to give an honest answer, it would be this: “If I make a list of my ten favorite cities, Riga would be on the list, perhaps even in the top five.”