The moment after anticipation #2

(*This paper is part of a larger place mapping project.)

The least preferred places in Riga tended to be mentioned by teens where they had concerns about their safety. Places were also marked that induce discomfort to the regular stroller. Overwhelmingly they identified ethnically Russian residential areas and contested places that they would prefer to avoid. Mental mapping linked to residential areas provide a completely different image of the city. By contrast the downtown where they are involved in ”delightful” activities like chilling, shopping, partying, playing bowling, gathering together to cheers as well as schooling, having extracurricular activities and working. Here they refer to distinguishing stories and experience. In addition they felt that Riga’s suburbia belongs to a different ethnic, social, peer group environment. For this reason I collected specific comments on these neighborhoods and contested places given by the participants.

Residential neighborhoods like Maskacka:

  • ”No idea about this part, but I hear it’s not the most… delightful place…”
  • ”Too far, probably there are just houses”
  • ”Unknown territory. Something mystical. A lot of Gipsy’s (sic) and Russians”
  • ”Never been here, industrial things…/Shitty internet, tasty kebabs, legal drugs.”
  • ”Place that I enjoy, because I don’t live there – Jungle, old houses, Russian mafia”
  • ”Dangerous neighborhood, but I look forward to studying there. ;)”
  • ”Old block houses and junkies”
  • ”Dumb teenagers, hooligans, there is nothing to do in that dump, i.e. Mordor”
  • ”Good internet, rapists and stuff”
  • ”Sigaret jest na? … Russia!”
  • “My sister’s apartments there, not a very good and safe district, little weird shops 00-24, where you can get alcohol.”
  • ”Cheap (sic) home-made vodka”
  • ”Fights, fights and more fights”
  • ”You better keep some pepper spray in your pocket, if you go there.”
  • ”Better keep away if you like living.”
  • ”Bad place to be when it’s dark”

Boundary places like sites around Origo and Uzvaras Park:

  • ”Imagenary (sic) line, which borders the battlefront of alcoholics and gypsies.”
  • ”Keep your bag closed and your phone closer in hand”
  • ”80% drunk and homeless people, also beggers (sic) plus a lot of dirty people”
  • ”Seriously the most disgusting place in Riga. Better not go (sic) there with cash and don’t look suspiciously at anyone!”
  • ”Ghetto McDonald’s.”
  • ”Everything smells like fish and meat, a lot of homeless people.”
  • ”Markets always full of old ladies.”
  • ”The park where Russians gather and act really immature.”
  • ”Communist park of worship”
  • “Highway to hell”

My students were irresistibly depending on the imagined setting. The physical conditions of the city, including the peripheries, urban borders and edges are densely drawn. In particular I observed that anticipating rundown block houses, sinuous bridge-exits and used needles aided to identify and appropriate hostile places. Usually place mapping represented that this sort of urban setting was populated by deviant, marginal figures. By consequence I was excited about the idea to put Janis to the suburbs to hold that moment when the dots of the subject, the place, and the meaning get linked, and shared. In regards to their imagination, I also have to hand a setting for the story. On Vainodes street, Ziepniekkalns is a parking space next to the hospital. If you cross Gimnastikas street after leaving the parking, you will see two storied blocks that are contrasted to five storied blocks. I guess the latter were green originally, nevertheless the plaster was thin and started to peel away from the walls, leaving behind large blank spots. Thank God, the birch trees cover and heal the image of Vainodes street. Crows, ravens and seagulls are often here. When they are ”singing” in the birch trees, you feel yourself as if Amanda Jenssen’s (the dark lady) cover had become real. You are ”haunted”. Believe, Vainodes is a perfect street to set a story! Let it be winter…

birch trees

”What a pathetic life… Have you seen Charlie Chaplin’s Dog’s life?” Meanwhile Matiss was gazing at the dog, I tried to avoid every little splash, the whole parking lot looked like the land of a thousand lakes in miniature. He looked at the big brown dog tied with an extremely short chain, laying in front of its dingy doghouse next to a half-frozen puddle. Despite its poor conditions the sentry dog did its job, starting barking wildly when it recognized the newcomers. However the guard, a blonde sharp-eyed lady didn’t care about it. She knows my friend quite well, only I was new to her. But she didn’t have to care about every new guy in the parking lot, or should she? It might have been a dilemma for her, ’cause she observed us though from her booth. This booth was also very ”socialist”, nobody had renovated it since the 1980’s at least. It seems to be a poor shelter against the cold. The dog and its boss shared the same life.

Leaving the parking lot, I recognized through the rifts of the wooden fence a middle-aged women in negligee. I was surprised and looked at doubtful,”is she okay to walk in this cold in negligee?”. ”I guess she had an operation and it was prescribed to get out of bed and walk a little. It is a hospital garden, you know”, Matiss replied. As we turned right and walked through on Vainodes, I had a strange sentiment. I felt myself as if I had become one of those grey figures at a railway station. The whole street was empty and silent. The windows were dark,”where is everybody?”, I asked myself. It was pretty frightening to me as I’m accustomed to crowds. It reminded me of Aivars’ case, my classmate, who was attacked on a dark street like this by a Russian drunkard.

”That is my house”, Matiss showed to a brown two-storied building. ”At long last”, I felt relieved. When we crossed Gimnastikas street and appeared at the corner, we recognized a women who stood over a man. The slim man laid in the middle of the road. She greeted us politely, expecting help: ”Dobry den”. ”Labdien”, we replied. ”Drunken?”, my friend asked. ”Yes, you see, he is three sheets to the wind, he is laying in the middle of the street. What should we do?”, she wondered in Latvian. ”Should we pull him to the pavement?”, Matiss hesitated. The „hobo” looked dirty. But we agreed we cannot leave him there. The lady, Matiss, and me pulled the drunk to the pavement. I took his hands and felt how crusted the palms were… He might have been a worker, I guess. The man got back his senses in, but he was badly puzzled and indecisive about where he was. ”Khorosho”, he repeated constantly. We looked at each other baffled, with inquiring eyes, like „what’s next?”. I hoped the „locals” would make a decision fast. In the end the lady called emergency services. ”It is not that they will do anything…”, Matiss whispered to me. The authorities have other responsibilities to take care off, haha!

After this little intermezzo we finally got to the house. In the small window near the staircase was a dusty old catkin, which looked very funny, on the other hand mystical in the middle of the winter. ”It brings luck…” „I see…” But I was just happy to enter the flat finally. Ten minutes later I saw the drunken man from the window. He was still under the birch trees… It really could be seen like a docu-photo, wild, exotic, full with meaning…” It was not like this earlier, Matiss philosophized. What a pathetic life…, isn’t it…? Have you washed your hands?”

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