[From MY FRIEND KEN HARVEY by Barrett Warner]
Here is a love story: A count visits a lord in a castle. While visiting, the count proposes to the lord’s daughter. The daughter says, “But I love the architecture of my father’s castle SO MUCH that I cannot possibly leave.” The count says, “Well, I love you so much that I will replicate brick-for-brick the architecture of your father’s castle.” The daughter promises to marry him as soon as the castle is complete, and so he hurries home to Estonia, and does exactly this. Having nearly completed the castle, each brick of which is a haiku of perfection, the count sends for his bride-to-be. HOWEVER… she has died. The count, heartbroken, falls ill and also dies. And his friends/ family bring his body to the nearly-completed castle, that he might spend even just one night sleeping beneath its roof.
Flash-forward to 2015, and a car containing a designer, director, actor, and playwright is speeding down the Estonian highway (all two lanes of it) and catches a glimpse of perfection, a flash of wonder. The car pulls a hasty u-turn and theatre people spill out into the late afternoon remains of what is either a castle, a tragedy, or a love story.
The border between Latvia and Lithuania is marked only by a tiny shack where you can exchange currency, and a sign marked LATVIJA receding into the distance. Top-pop stations play Billy Joel and Taylor Swift in both countries, you’ll be amazed / horrified / comforted to know. And if you were wondering what you’ll find at The Hill of Crosses, the answer is…crosses, basically.
…is ready to fulfill all your snacking needs. Also, Riga is a perfectly reasonable city where you can live in a loft with a hammock and a roof deck, and pass the former KGB House on your afternoon promenade. Meanwhile, beautiful young Latvians in skinny-jeans stand outside wine bars on their way to (probably) poetry readings. New York is done, Detroit is…Detroit. Let’s all move to Riga.
I think most countries could improve their tourist potential if their sites included abandoned soviet prisons through which enterprising travelers can wander, without any kind of supervision. Don’t walk into the barbed wire, don’t fall through the floor of the guard tower—especially don’t get any of your surgical needs attended to in the Operations Room—and you’re all good.