Riga, Latvia, 4/23/93, my diary


Across the lobby of the bus station, an old woman slowly combs out her gray hair. She smooths a long purple scarf out on a bench, then lays a white kerchief within it, and finally ties the ensemble over her head and shoulders. It falls apart. She repeats the entire process.

Outside, a three-legged black-and-white dog trots across the dirt. It’s getting cold, but most people prefer to wait outside the station. A young man counts out coins to his irate wife so she can use the Russian-era telephone inside. I hear coins clinking, jingling in everyone’s hands as they double-check their change before entering.

Hours later I find I am staying in a student hostel, with no heat. The heat stops on April 15 to save on gas. They owe the Russians. The bathroom down the hall has only one light bulb – it’s in the shower. The toilet closet is completely dark, and wet. Searching around on the wall for a light switch (there was none), my fingers come away with chalky paint on them.

I’m now sitting on my single bed wearing my coat as I write this. The room has a plank floor painted with a milk-chocolate color paint that is peeling at the edges of the boards. The wallpaper, which is a light brown print, has been pasted right over the electric wires on the bare walls, providing many strange creases.

Riga 4-23-93

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