I TRAVELLED ALONE from Amsterdam to Tampere in Finland, of which more some other time. On the way to Finland I spent a wee short while in Riga, in Latvia, a former Soviet city which is now establishing itself as a regional hub for air travel. I had an hour or two before my connecting flight so I did what everyone else in my position was doing, which was ambling along with the vacant and confused look of the recently activated undead.
I went to the toilet. It seemed like something to do. A sign there said:
'Gentlemen! Welcome! Please respect property of Riga airport! Also please observe the commonly followed standards and conventions of decent behaviour! Thank you! And enjoy your stay!'
Must have been quite a party once, in the men's toilets of Riga airport. Just near the toilet was The Old Country, a duty-free shop done up to look like.. actually, I'm not sure exactly what they were going for. The entrance looked like the trees you see in high-school musicals. Inside, the pillars were plastered with political posters that I'm pretty sure meant nothing. There was expensive crap and cheap horilka, in easy-to-carry sizes for the international traveller.
I bought a sandwich from a bar called Buffet. The waitresses had huge breasts and tiny eyebrows, which looked weird but I guess was better than the other way around. I was behind a queue of people. Everyone in the queue was holding a bottle of water and walking back and forth between the sandwich stand and the register, trying to get their change right. For some reason the bar would take Euros but only notes, and they'd give you change in Euros, but only notes. If you didn't get the change just right you ended up with Latvian coins, which were expensive and useless everywhere else.
Eventually I got to the front of the queue. I bought a sandwich. The waitress plonked it down unwrapped on the counter. I looked around for a plate but perhaps there was a separate queue somewhere for plates. There were stacks of glasses and taps behind the bar so I said 'Can I get a glass of water with that?'
'Only bottled,' said the waitress.
'Really?' I said.
'Sorry!' said the waitress, and smirked, as did everyone else in the line. They held their bottles of water and loved them with their hearts and smirked with their faces.
'Really?' I said again with my own face, and then I used the same face, which now had a confused expression, to look at the glasses some more.
'Well.. I can give you a glass of hot water with ice in it,' she said.
'Yes!' I said and then everyone around me looked at their bottles of water and muttered regretful things at their bottles of water and those bottles of water suddenly didn't feel so special anymore. The waitress came back with a glass of hot water with ice in it, and a little smile like I'd managed to beat the system somehow. The system which I guess was set up to make sure travellers don't get what they want unless they manage to combine options they don't want - but which are at hand - in some kind of alchemical manner to produce the thing they were after in the first place. Everyone needs a hobby I guess! Gotta have a hobby.
There were what looked like prostitutes walking around the departure lounge, which seemed pretty considerate of whoever thought of it. What better way to fill an otherwise dreary hour in a former-Soviet airport? I didn't see anyone taking advantage of this service, though. Perhaps they were discouraged by the prospect of buggering up their change after all the mucking around getting it right while they were buying sandwiches? Or maybe they just couldn't work out how to ask for the prostitution equivalent of a cup of hot water with ice. As for me: I watched TV instead. On TV the European economy was collapsing and a German octopus was predicting who would win the soccer.
OK, TODAY AT the Theatre Of Comets we have some letters from readers. Some of these letters are just lovely replies, which always make me happy, and for which: thanks! Other letters bear upon claims I have made recently. Let's take a look at the latter, shall we?
The first is from Mathew, who tells me the toilet style that so confused me in Amsterdam is standard-issue throughout the Germanic bit of the world. I'm going to Berlin soon so I'll be able to at least dip my toe in the water of that proposition, as it were, and report back then.
The second is from Robyn, who says: said toilet style is about avoiding splashback. In Australia, see, you have the pleasure each time you shit of taking a little bath in a dilute solution of your own shit and piss. The Germans, Gott knows why, aren't so keen on this, hence the mechanism to separate said wastes. I guess the option to examine your shit more closely is just an added bonus. One of many things to thank the Germans for!
The third isn't actually a letter, but was Hanna's comment on my analysis of Amsterdam traffic. I left Amsterdam before the World Cup and went to Finland, but she stayed for the carnage. She said I was basically right until the Dutch lost the World Cup, and then the system which had worked so beautifully just went to shit. The system relies on equanimity and mutual respect, see, so when a country loses all self-respect and will to live the system doesn't work out so good. Makes sense.
ON THE PLANE on the way to Riga I sat next to a very nice man who inspects offshore oil wells. We talked about disasters, since at the time there was a high-profile oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico which showed no signs of getting any better. His take on the matter:
a) governments who refuse to regulate industry safety properly and then blame an individual oil company when something goes wrong are cunts. (Well, he didn't say they were cunts, because he was too nice. I said it for him, because I'm not.) And
b) there might be just one or two teensy unexpected consequences when a huge old oil company goes out of business, such as less experienced operators doing the same job in the same regulatory environment.
By some coincidence the New Orleans musician Dr John was on the flight too. He had a gnarly walking stick. It looked kind of voodoo. He sat in business class with his gnarly stick and his band sat in economy. I only knew what he looked like because I'd seen a video three days before about the big oil leak, and he was a prominent speaker in it. His take on the matter:
c) 'Why are the criminals still in control of the crime scene?'
I thought about introducing Dr John to the nice man who inspects offshore oil wells and sitting back to see what would happen. Perhaps he would end up using his gnarly stick on the nice man who inspects offshore oil wells? There were all kinds of dramatic possibilities, heightened by us all being on an international flight. Because whatever you think about oil it's pretty tough for any individual human being to use more of it - and in more of a hurry - than by flying in an air-plane to the other side of the world. Unfortunately I was in economy and Dr John was in business class and anyway we hadn't been introduced ourselves except in that weird mediated way where I knew who he was because I'd seen his image somewhere.
OK THAT'S ENOUGH for today.
Love to all xx