19th December 2018 —
Travelling has convinced me that showers and coffee are the solution to all my problems. I feel better about Latvia today. I sit in Caffeine with a cappuccino, cinnamon sprinkled on top. It still feels like a different world, but in the bright light of day, my sense of alienation is comforting rather than disconcerting. “Mr Blue Sky” blares from the speakers, it reminds me of Glasgow, of my friends singing it at karaoke. I don’t miss Glasgow, because I know it’s waiting for me patiently to come home, that’s why I am so calm in my escape.
Unrelated, but holy shit, there are so many attractive men in Latvia! Last time I was here I saw maybe three, and that’s including the one I had a crush on. But now they are EVERYWHERE. Do all hot people migrate east for the winter? I have so many questions!
Whilst I could gladly sit boy-watching all day, I feel like I need to be more productive than that. I want to go to Robert’s Books, Riga’s only English language bookstore. I went there a couple of times when I was here last time, and it’s really cool. After that, I plan to explore the other side of the river. I never ventured past the National Library, which is right on the river bank. This means there is an entire section of the city that is entirely free of memories of 2017 Eliza. I can make new memories, and find healthier reasons to be nostalgic about Riga.
Robert’s Books was charming. The layout was a little different to how I remembered it, but the atmosphere was the same, and I let myself spend a few minutes getting lost in that sense of peace that only bookshops can bring.
I then went to buy some food for lunch. I remembered there was a supermarket that had more vegan options than the others. It was still utterly mediocre, but I managed to find some vegan čeburekai, which are like giant pierogies. I walked through Central Market, and crossed the River Daugava. As I stood on the bridge, I had this moment of “wow, I am actually in Latvia!” I needed this trip for so long, and it still doesn’t quite feel real that I am in a foreign country.
As I wandered through the streets and snowy parks on the far side of the river, my feelings began to catch up with me. Being alone with your thoughts is all fun and games until you realise the thing you were trying to run away from was, in fact — plot twist! — yourself. I have a lot of feelings that lurk in the murky backwaters of my mind, and I don’t know how to access them. All I know is that the sadness creeps in more often than it should.
As I made my way back to the river, I began to feel queasy. The kind of queasy where you know you need to find a bathroom ASAP, or things will go very badly. I crossed the bridge as quickly as I could. I knew there was a shopping centre in the Old Town where I could find a toilet, but I couldn’t remember where it was located. I rushed down streets chosen at random. That’s when I saw…could it be? There was some kind of radio event in one of the squares, and one of the radio hosts looked a lot like the one person I know in Riga, AKA the Latvian guy I used to have a crush on, who had declined to meet up with me while I was here. I couldn’t tell if it was him from this distance, I had to get closer to be sure.
My stomach gurgled and reminded me of my current priority. I rushed in what I hoped was the vague direction of the shopping centre. Once disaster had been averted, I tried to find him again. But I couldn’t remember which way I had come. I power-walked through the Old Town. It was almost a compulsion at this point. I had to see him.
Finally I reached the square, and…it wasn’t him. Of course it wasn’t, that would have been too neat! I stood in the square, drinking kvass and staring at the Christmas markets in front of me. The radio blared the pina colada song, which, if I remember correctly, is fittingly titled “Escape.”
I took some time to reassess my life choices. Most of my misguided decisions come down to the fact that I can’t get past the belief that my life is a movie. I am constantly casting people in roles they didn’t ask for, and getting offended when they either 1) want nothing to do with me, 2) value me in a different way. I am neither writer nor director here, I have no authority over the other characters’ narratives.
I found a vegan stall amongst the markets. I bought a muffin, and had a brief chat with the stallholder about how hard it is to find vegan food in Latvian supermarkets. I then headed back towards the city centre. I needed to buy food for dinner, but my queasiness had returned with a vengeance, and I wasn’t sure whether it was best to just go back to my hostel. The deciding factor was that the supermarket had the nearest toilet.
I’ll spare you the details, because this is already way too much oversharing for a squeamish person like me, but let’s just say I had a lot of time to think. At first, I thought about what had gotten me into this situation to begin with. Theory 1: I had eaten something dodgy. But isn’t the whole point of being vegan that food doesn’t make you sick? Theory 2: the barista used diary instead of soya milk in my coffee this morning. But if it wasn’t soya I would have been able to tell; it has a pretty distinctive taste. Theory 3: drinking a litre of kvass + wearing tight jeans wasn’t a pleasant combination for my stomach, and this is the result. Theory 4: my body is punishing me for being an idiot.
Honestly, it was probably the kvass, or the fact I haven’t eaten a vegetable since I came here. But I also think the body is smarter than we give it credit for, and my body was trying to tell me that something wasn’t right. At this point, my body had made it impossible for me to ignore it. So I listened.
Remember when I was talking about how I’m completely deluded and have zero grip on reality? Plot twist! I was deluding myself about being deluded. Admittedly, I have been incredibly deluded in the past, but I am over that situation. The issue now is that every time I feel something I don’t want to face, I convince myself it’s a delusion, so I don’t have to deal with the pain. I don’t care that I didn’t see the Latvian guy I used to have feelings for, I don’t care that he didn’t want to meet up with me. He literally has zero effect on my life. Perhaps there would be a certain masochistic pleasure in seeing him again, but honestly? The only investment I still have in that situation is that it’s a convenient way of ignoring my current emotions. If I dwell on the past I don’t have to deal with the present.
Sometimes the things I dismiss as delusions aren’t delusions. And sometimes the people who don’t want me aren’t random Latvian men I knew for three months and haven’t seen in a year-and-a-half. Sometimes they’re friends, and it becomes more complicated. It’s easier to dismiss the whole thing as me not being in my right mind, because that way I don’t have to admit I’m hurt. But running from the pain won’t heal the wound. Calling myself deluded doesn’t stop me from hurting deep down. I have to honour the fact I am feeling uncomfortable things.
In my last blog, I went on a brief rant about how when I get over people the feelings tend to resurface a few months later. I had a theory about this. What if it’s not that the feelings return, but that it takes me a long time to process the pain of rejection? What if when I think I haven’t gotten over someone, the thing I haven’t gotten over is them not wanting me, rather than them themselves? It would make sense. I think a lot of my unresolved issues come back to me suppressing my feelings. I have a reputation for being overly emotional (it might have something to do with the fact I like to talk about my feelings on the internet), but in reality I have no clue what I’m feeling most of the time.
I came back to my hostel and made dinner. I had bought a pack of vegan pelmeni, Eastern European dumplings. I don’t know if I cooked them wrong, but they were absolutely disgusting. They were stuffed with this grey mushroom puree — I hate mushrooms at the best of times, but this was particularly repulsive. I only managed a few mouthfuls.
A Lithuanian man sitting in the kitchen asked me if I was Latvian, he said I looked just like the locals. I told him I was from Glasgow, and then clarified that I am English, not Scottish. He said “you speak too good English to be Scottish.” We talked for a little while, because he didn’t seem to understand the social cue of “earphones in = leave me alone.” I spent the rest of evening typing up my first blog post.
20th December 2018 —
Today is an incredible and monumental day. Why? Because I managed to order coffee in Latvian without the barista switching to English. I also no longer feel sick, which naturally makes life more enjoyable.
I woke up in a great mood, but this elation only lasted till I got out of bed and had to deal with the hostel’s creepy male population. Last night, I went to the kitchen to make some toast, and as I walked back to my room, a man spoke to me. I didn’t hear him clearly, but he repeated “you forgot your tea.” I looked at him confusedly; I hadn’t made tea. He said I shouldn’t eat toast dry, it’s better for my digestion if I drink tea with it. I couldn’t be bothered to point out that my toast was hardly dry, since it was covered in hummus. He then asked if my feet were freezing, because I wore no shoes or socks. The place has heating, I was fine.
He said I stood like a dancer — my foot was poised, ready to walk away. He asked my name, I told him. I asked his to be polite. He took my hand. I thought he was going to shake it. He then told me it was a Polish tradition, and brought my hand to his mouth. I tried to extract my hand from his grip, but he ignored my visible discomfort, and kissed it anyway. Why do men think they’re so entitled to do what they like to women’s bodies?
You may think I am overreacting, it was just a kiss on the hand. But if I don’t want to be touched, make it clear I don’t want to be touched, and a man proceeds to touch me, I don’t feel safe around him. I’m thankful I’m staying in a women-only room, but the showers aren’t gendered, and obviously the hallways and kitchen aren’t. Every time I want to make breakfast, or get a cup of tea, I feel on edge. Men need to think about the space their actions occupy in women’s lives. What may seem like a harmless gesture to you can make me feel unsafe. I am a young woman travelling alone in a foreign country, my self-preservation instinct is already heightened. I am so sick of men thinking they are entitled to my personal space, or even to my time.
This morning I realised I never said “no.” And I went to the kitchen wearing my pyjamas and no bra — I live with two women, it’s not something I’d normally think twice about. Even if the sight of a 20-year-old woman in pyjamas is oh-so-enticing to a 50-something-year-old Eastern European businessman, that’s not an excuse to be a creep. Yes, I didn’t say no when he took my hand, because I thought he was going to do something normal like shake it, but I visibly struggled when I realised he planned to kiss it. I am so angry that I’m blaming myself for him making me feel uncomfortable. But mostly, I’m angry at him. I’m angry that I now don’t even feel comfortable making eye contact with the men in my hostel now because I’m scared they’ll get the wrong idea. I’m angry we live in a patriarchy, I’m angry at male entitlement.
But hey, maybe we’ve solved the mystery of why my love life is such a disaster! Clearly I’ve been going for the wrong demographic. Why look at guys my own age when I could find a nice Polish sugar daddy with zero concept of personal space?
I had a nice, relaxed day. I wandered around the city centre, window-shopping and admiring the art nouveau architecture. It was -6 degrees; my face was cold, but my heart was warm. For the first time in ages, being alone with my thoughts was peaceful rather than depressing. It was too cold to stay outside for more than a couple of hours, and I didn’t want to return to my hostel (AKA the land of creepy men) just yet. I decided to return to Caffeine. My sister and niece called, and we talked for a while before I went back to Creepville.
After I’d made dinner, I hid in my room to avoid the creepy men. I spent a few hours messaging my friends, cherry-picking nuggets of their contradictory life advice. At one point I was talking about love (shocker, I know), and I came to an earth-shattering realisation: I don’t have low standards. Sure, I’ve had feelings for some ghastly specimens of male ineptitude, but I didn’t have to deal with the day-to-day reality of those men. If I had actually dated them, I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes! I am picky, and judgemental, and critical, and I hold myself and others to a near-unreachable standard of behaviour. So whilst I may say my taste in men is garbage, I would never actually tolerate them as a boyfriend.
My friend suggested that the best thing I can do right now is stop looking for a relationship, especially because the main thing I want from one is validation, which I can get elsewhere. (On the subject of validation, if you enjoy this blog, please like and comment, because it’s really good for my ego. Thanks, xoxo).
21st December 2018 —
Today is my last full day in Riga. I sit writing in Caffeine, as is my morning tradition. The speakers play Lana del Rey, one of my all-time favourite singers, and life feels beautiful. The waitress has a Capricorn symbol tattooed on her neck, and Eliza the Astrologer is overly happy about this. But before we talk about the good things in life, it’s time for today’s episode of Eliza vs. Creepy Eastern European Men.
I got into the lift to leave my hostel this morning, and it went up instead of down. Waiting on the building’s top floor were two men. They didn’t get in the lift, but addressed me in what I think was Russian. The lift doors closed, but the men pressed the button again, and continued to speak to me. I told them I didn’t understand, and gestured that I was trying to go down. They laughed at me, before letting the door close and reopen a few times, until a third man joined them, and the three entered the lift.
They asked if I spoke English, I said yes. They asked if I spoke Russian, I said no. They continued speaking in Russian, the only word I recognised was “Kazakhstan” which I’m guessing is where they were from. I looked at them blankly, and they all started laughing hysterically. They were right in my personal space, and I felt incredibly uncomfortable. They asked where I was from. I said England. The man standing nearest to me gave me a thumbs up, with his hand far too close to my face for my liking, and said “nice girl, nice girl.” He repeated the comment a few times, and they continued to laugh. At one point I think I heard them say “kurva”, which is a Slavic swear word that translates to “bitch” or “whore.” I was positively fuming, and if they had stopped laughing long enough to notice my facial expression, they would have known I am anything but a “nice girl.”
In the few days I have been here I have had to perfect my resting bitch face, and hone the fine art of not looking men in the eyes — or even in their vague direction. When I am in my hostel I keep my eyes on the floor. It makes me so mad, that I have to shrink myself down to avoid unwanted attention from creepy men who think they are entitled to my space and time. I hope my hostel in Tallinn isn’t like this, because I absolutely can’t stand this misogyny any longer. It makes me angry as a feminist, as a woman, as a human being.
As it’s my last full day here, I wanted to make the most of it. I went to the cinema to see a Latvian film called “Homo Novus,” which is a romantic comedy set in an artsy bohemian circle in Riga in the 1930s. As a film student, I felt I should make the most of this trip and expose myself to Latvian and Estonian national cinema that I otherwise wouldn’t have access to. (Also the main actor in it was really hot, but the whole Eliza Has A Thing For Latvians trope is old news).
After the film, I wandered through Central Market, and took a walk along the banks of the River Daugava. As I stared into the murky grey waters, I realised I’ll be sad to leave Riga. I’ve grown attached to this place, in spite of the creepy men in my hostel, and the fact I will forever associate this city with a guy who took 4.5 months to respond when I told him I had feelings for him.
I walked along the river bank to the Old Town, and let myself savour my last time walking through each street. I went into a church. It might have been the one I went into with the aforementioned Latvian guy when I was here a year-and-a-half ago. I can’t recall. I remember we’d gone into a church to avoid the rain. We sat side by side, but he faced away from me. 2017 Eliza clearly couldn’t take a hint. If someone can’t even bring themselves to make eye contact with you, it’s pretty obvious they don’t return your romantic feelings. But I was young and clueless.
I remember we talked about religion. He told me he was an anti-theist. I said “same” even though I am and was an agnostic. This time in the church, I prayed. I’m not religious — I’m spiritual, on a good day. But there’s something about being in a church that brings out the need to talk to something greater than oneself. I addressed the ‘something’ as God, because this was a church, after all, but it’s more what I’d call ‘the universe.’ I didn’t pray to ask anything, which surprised me. Instead I said thank you, for all the good in my life, for the fact I’m here in Riga, for the fact I feel like a sane person again (because it was pretty hit and miss for a while there).
I sit in Caffeine now, for the second time today. I am thoughtful, reflective. I got a lot out of this trip, though I’m not sure which thing in particular made me feel better within myself. Maybe it was simply being away from everything familiar. Maybe it was my Heartbreak Tour of Monuments to Missed Chances, accepting that even if I could have done things differently last year, it doesn’t matter now.
There’s no point performing an autopsy on every failed romantic endeavour, particularly not ones from so long ago. I’ve dissected it so many times in my mind, wondered “if I’d said this sooner, if I’d done this, if I’d looked more like this…” and honestly, who cares? I didn’t, and that’s what matters. The past is in the past, I can’t change it, and I wouldn’t want to.
Sometimes people come into your life for a brief period of time, and they have a profound effect on you, they bring out a side of you no one has ever seen before, and you grow too attached to them. The truth is: just because someone had a significant impact on your life, it doesn’t mean you had any impact at all on theirs. It may seem like life is cruel, but if a person has a positive impact on your personal growth, that is a blessing. Even if they don’t reciprocate your romantic feelings, take 135 days to text you back, and don’t want to meet up with you when you write to them out of the blue almost a year later. Still a blessing.
Of course there is a part of me that harbours a little resentment. Rejection isn’t pleasant. But overall, I think of him fondly. As I walked through Riga today, I remembered that afternoon last summer, the conversations we had, the jokes he told. I remembered the way he showed genuine interest in my writing, the way he encouraged my poetry. And I smiled. The ending of a story shouldn’t spoil the chapters that preceded it.