I’m hypersensitive on a good day, so this past year of the unknown has spiralled me into a porcelain doll state of fragility. Fortunately, that also translates into a heightened awareness of my immediate surroundings, the beauty in the small stuff and imperfection. Having criss-crossed Riga on foot, by bike and car, I paid more attention to things I’d so often just taken for granted. Some stood out in both a good and bad way. Good in the sense of the value they bring, bad in the sense that I fear their demise. Ironically, I think they hold the key to a more inclusive, people and planet friendly future, so I decided to share in the hope we’ll sustain, if not protect them better.
The Corner Shop
There’s the one that sells condoms, milk and cigarettes, and the one that stocks mothballs, batteries and buckets. In any case, they not only know what you need, but also have advice to boot. You go in and get that one thing rather than being lured by aisle after aisle of items you don’t actually want, let alone need, half of which you take home only to regret later.
An easy and accessible opportunity to spread our money, connect with independent retailers and producers, as well as avoid excess packaging. Also a community hub like the brilliant Āgenskalns Market – a weekend destination for city dwellers from both sides of the river. My occasional market visits became a pandemic highlight.
Controversial because it tells so many stories. Valuable lessons for future generations. But no, let’s just wipe it off the face of the earth and pretend nothing bad ever happened, there’s nothing to learn from here. I mean, what’s a building anyway? Just hours of labour and tons of resources really. Why not just waste some more of those with the blessing of the Minister of Culture!
The Vintage Train
It’s clunky, loud and slow, but beautiful, no? For sure, there are solid reasons for updating the fleet – public transport should be accessible and efficient by default – but I will shed a tear for the lost aesthetic value. Wouldn’t it be great to see some old models kept on as visitor attractions on routes like Riga – Jūrmala or Riga – Cēsis? Or carriages transformed into accommodation.
Tailors, Cobblers and Repairmen
Holistic healers of things. Just like a cat, boots, watches and washing machines can have nine lives, too, if taken to the right professional. Unsung heroes!
Wooden Architecture, Original Doors and Windows
When the business world looks at quality, speed and price, it’s generally considered impossible to deliver a quality product or service fast for a low price, yet somehow we expect that from things like our built environment. We can probably all agree that plastic is a serious case of “today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions” (Peter Senge), yet other solutions often are or seem out of reach. Wouldn’t it be great for more public buildings to lead by example, for more accessible grants to support the cause of restoration, repair and salvage? It’s so heartening to hear of the new wooden building and architecture programme at the Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences!
Down to just the one in Riga already. Can it survive in the face of a parliament not even pretending to be secular? Yes, if the Constitutional Court keeps standing up for human rights!
The Beavers of Riga Canal
There, amidst the floating bottles, face masks and cigarette butts is wildlife in the historical heart of the city! For these tough dudes that rubbish soup is home. Until that one fateful bite of plastic?
Mostly just a childhood memory already. I’ve seen some plonked in car parks as shelter for the attendant. Would make a great smoothie stall, ticket office or corner shop, particularly in times of social distancing and being wary of touching surfaces. Or how about a home office in the garden? Heck, even a garden shed!
Artist Michael Landy did a great job with Brexit Kiosk in 2018!
Riga’s Manor Houses
Crumbling witnesses of a complicated past. History teachers outside the classroom, illustrating not only the skills of our forebears but also the change of attitudes and power over time.
In a winter of even less social contact than usual in the “slow season”, snow saved my sanity. It brought so many reasons to go outside and literally build my own story. Long live skiing, ice skating and making snow angels! It really felt like the world was a happier place, there were so many active people around.
Such a great icebreaker. Shared pain. Social glue. What else will we complain about?
In short, I’d miss diversity, variety of options, valuable skills and knowledge. As ever, to me it all comes down to the little things. They add up to make Riga the unique place that it is. Without its heritage, independent spirits and randomness it could just be anywhere else. What would you miss if it was no longer there?
All photos except trains (c) Jānis Lungevičs.