Thursday, May 21, 2009

On Top of Stalin's Birthday Cake

Sixty-five metres up, the first thing you notice about Riga is how very flat it is, like a grown up version of a children’s road play mat, only with trams and trains and trolley buses instead of plastic cars.

What little height there is in the city has been provided by man, German, Russian, Latvian: the syringe-like TV Tower poking through the dirty cotton wool fluff clouds, sloping red roofs and copper-coloured spires in the Old Town, crammed between the river and a v-shaped wedge of green, the polytunnel shapes of the Central Market hangars, and the green and silver domes of Orthodox churches scattered like sentries around the edge of the city centre. Clouds mass across the river; behind the glass and steel of the Hotel Latvia shipyard cranes dangle like abandoned compasses. White hands on a giant clock face move round to ten past twelve and there's a slow whir of electric as a train pulls across the railway bridge. The grass is yellow with dandelion heads.

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