Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Problems Of Becoming Solvent

Poste restante is a great idea, and, before the advent of the internet, was the only way for people to keep in contact whilst travelling around like I am now. The basic premise is that letters or packages are sent to a post office in a given location and the post office will then keep the letter or package for a given time until the addressee comes and collects it. Courier services, such as FedEx and DHL, are also very useful in that they can deliver mail to pretty much anywhere in the world in just a couple of days. Sadly, as I found out whilst in Riga, the two systems are not mutually compatible.
A sumptuous Jugendstil door in a turn of the century house that has unfortunately been neglected.

Couriers rely on handing over their packages to a person at the intended address, whilst poste restante exists for people with no fixed address. This led to some problems and a couple of days of investigative work as I tried to get my debit card that my mother had FedEx'd over to me in Riga. The address I gave her was of the central post office in town where they are used to dealing with poste restante and know what to do. Unfortunately FedEx do not deliver to post offices and instead decided to hand the package over to the post office offices (if that makes sense) out by Riga's airport. This would not have been such a problem if FedEx had bothered to inform me of this change of delivery address, but instead on the tracking form on their website it simply stated that my package had been delivered in Riga on Monday, just before midday. Having gone to the relevant post office on Monday afternoon and then again on Tuesday I realised that something was amiss and got my mother to phone FedEx to see exactly what had happened. Apparently they had delivered it to the post office at the airport (something about not being able to find the address, which I found rather dubious as it was "1 Train Station Square") and so the next day off I went to the airport to the post office there. But it wasn't there either and I was getting rather annoyed. Luckily the FedEx bureau was also situated near the airport and so I went there to try and get to the bottom of this mystery. It turns out that the boffins at FedEx had delivered my package to the security guard manning the desk at the post office offices. So I had finally got to the end of my ball of string as the bemused guard handed over this official looking envelope to a rather scruffy vagabond in a sweaty T-shirt and hat who had just wandered in off the street. Although I got my card in the end and everything was sorted I was rather annoyed, not that the letter was delivered somewhere else, but that I wasn't informed.

Anyway, Latvia. Riga, the bigger sibling of the Baltic capitals, is a self-assured city with plenty going on. It may lack the old town charm of Tallinn, but it makes up for it with a more refined cafe culture and turn-of-the-century, elaborate Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) town houses. Its collection of galleries, swanky boutiques and flash cars speak volumes about its intentions to be a hip European city; and it is doing a pretty good job at it too. However that is nothing unique these days and I was more interested in the smaller, regional towns of Latvia which have not been graced with lavish funds as the capital has, but where history and traditions move at a slower pace. When visiting these places it is plain to see the Latvians' attachment to nature and their old traditions. Now in summer it is not uncommon to see folk festivals where people dress up in regional costumes: smart cotton and linen breeches and waistcoats for the men, and flowing, colourful dresses for the women, often crowned with a floral wreath. Songs and crafts and the general adoration of nature play a big part in all these festivals and it is obvious that the pre-Christian pagan beliefs are not just lying below the surface, but are very much out in the open. Indeed, several Latvians I have talked to proudly declare themselves pagan. Personally, if paganism manifests itself generally as it does here - in a greater respect for nature and appreciation of the land coupled with a rather pacifist mindset - then I certainly think it is a far more preferable worldview than that of most major religions I've come across.

Ladies in traditional Latvian costumes singing old folk songs.

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