Always best to start at the beginning

The day after leaving Berlin, we spent a day sailing the Baltic sea.

We were knackered from the first three days of travelling and didn’t wake up until 10 AM. This was a welcome surprise, as it meant I was freed from roaming the ship like a homeless vagabond simply waiting for the sun to rise (and the gym to open.)

That afternoon, I ran and mum practiced yoga and then we met up with our trivia team for another hour of putting all of our strange and extraneous knowledge to good use.

I almost keeled over with laughter as we tried to figure out what animal is thought to represent long life in Korea.

When my mum suggested the duck I knew I was a total goner. Frank from New Jersey, known already for his serious side eye, nearly knocked over his beer. Good thing for gentle Queenslander Wendy, who quickly suggested that it might be the bear.

Turns out that it was the deer all along.

Afterwards, we returned to our room and laughed ourselves silly sharing hilarious stories, including a real doozy from Bath, New Brunswick, wherein on the way to a New Year’s Eve dance at the legion in Woodstock, NB (Bath being too small to have a legion of its own) both my mum’s boots and stockings melted all over her legs, coagulating into one gooey, goopy super pant.

As my mum put it: “Buddy’s heat in his car was all messed up. I kept telling him that I was cold so he kept turning it up. Turns out, he turned it up a little too high. I got out of the car and I had these big, big holes in my pantyhose and this goo all over my legs. I had to take them off and was left with nothing but my melting boots. That guy really liked me too. He kept telling Noreen that he was thrilled to be with me. All I wanted to do was get away from him. He was supposed to be the coolest dude because he had this stupid damn car. I didn’t care at all.”

I am actually crying with laughter just writing this down. Also, should you ever want to know why I am the way that I am, it’s because of this story. Period.

We capped off the day with dinner out on the terrace, drinking white wine and talking with the sommelier, who is a dead ringer for Novak Djokovic – just with better glasses. I am, of course, completely biased, but hey, they were good, good glasses.

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As we snuggled down to sleep, we watched Iceland go up one goal over England, and I swear to goodness, even this far out from the island, I could swear we heard that entire country lose its collective mind.

Alas, that night I was back to the insomnia, and was up at both 1 AM and 4:45 AM. Standing at the rail of our balcony, I let the Baltic wind blow through my hair. Let it whip through my clothes. Let it rip through me, and into my bones.

I watched as the colours of the heavens shifted and blurred; magentas bleeding into royal blues; the yellow of a daisy’s eye; a blossom pink.

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In the silence, everything softens. Everything cools.

Night rolls on, but the light.

It persists.

By 5 AM, the sun was wide awake, breaking through three layers of curtains into our room.

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I again crept outside, and watched it burn a path across the morning seascape.

I have wanted to go to Riga since reading Henning Mankell’s The Dogs of Riga when I was 19 and in my second year of my undergrad. I was taking a Northern European film and literature class and it was the last book on my class syllabus. That year I had read 92 pieces of literature (books, novellas, plays, graphic novels – just for school alone), and by the end of the semester I was burnt out.

The Dogs of Riga was sitting on my bookshelf and I was debating whether or not I would be able to get through the course without cracking it open.

One night, instead of writing a paper of his own, Marc read the entire thing in one sitting. The next morning, the first thing he said to me was, “Babe you really need to read this book.”

And so I did. Also over the course of one day.

It was that book that set off a twelve-year love affair with Mankell. I read, and re-read every Kurt Wallender crime novel, and most of his other fiction.  It was the catalyst for this trip. It is what is taking my mum and I around Northern Europe and into the Russian motherland, as I had passed on my love (and my collection of dog eared paperbacks) to her the last summer I lived in Halifax.

So today we adventured around Riga. We learned about the city and its history, marvelling at the incredible architecture of the new town, and the warmth and magnificence of the old town.

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Did you know that that legend behind Riga’s flag is that in the thirteenth century there was a mortally wounded Lavian warrior who was wrapped in a white sheet? The part of the sheet on which he was lying remained white, but the two edges were stained in his blood. During the next battle his soldiers used the bloodstained sheet as a flag.

The country has been occupied by the Swedes, Germans, Russians (Russian empire) and Soviets (USSR).

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In the fourteenth century, Swedish soldiers hated having to walk from their barracks to the beer brewing district, so they raised money to cut a gate into the city’s walls which would allow them easy access from their homes to the streets of beer.

In 1991, as the country was fighting for its independence, and Soviet tanks were rolling into the old town, the TV station fell, but the radio building stood strong.

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The Russian orthodox church that stands in the city’s Esplanade was a planetarium under Soviet rule.

The building that once housed the Soviet agriculture institute was my favourite thing from the entire day, and is today the Latvian Academy of Sciences.

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We visited the market, and the national opera house, and the museum, and the outdoor market, and the independence monument. We had a delicious lunch in an outdoor square and basked in the late afternoon sunlight as we walked back to the ship.

I would very much like to return to Riga. To meet more of its multilingual inhabitants and learn more of its fascinating history.

Because this city is in my heart.

And its beat is strong.

Read my lips (and also these books)

I really, really love to read.

For definitive proof, please see this photo of Mr. M’s and my wedding cake:

This may have been the best idea of my life.

Some of my very earliest memories are of my little sister, my mother, and I, all curled up together on my single bed, reading James Stevenson and Shel Silverstein.

Sometimes I would imagine that we were stranded at sea, afloat on a raft made up of duvets, plush toys, book spines and tea.

(And for what it’s worth, I still think Will You Please Feed Our Cat? is a work of genius. That and The Missing Piece.)

Nowadays, I don’t discriminate much when it comes to the literature that sits atop my bedside table.

Seriously, I’ll give anything a shot.

Canadiana, fantasy, SF (both speculative and science fiction), graphic novels, YA, biographies, cookbooks –  WHATEVER.

If it’s good, I’ll read it. Heck, even if I start it and don’t like it, I’ll slog it out.

Because if I start something, I’m darn well finishing it.

I have a sometimes co-worker (he only works part-time) who, whenever he’s in the office, pops around my pad to pick up some recommendations for his much beloved kindle.

When I first started my job, we were seated together at a tax luncheon. And because I didn’t know him from Bob, and am not a tax expert by any stretch, I turned to him and opened with my one and only ice breaker:

“Are you reading anything good at the moment?”

He relayed that he wasn’t, and since I was nervous as all get out, I proceeded to talk for at least three weeks straight about all the books I had ever read in my entire life.

Luckily he took it all in stride.

And now he’s just e-mailed me to let me know that he’ll be in later on next week. So here are the 5 books I am encouraging him to read this go around:

1.)    One Step Behind – Henning Mankell

I wrote briefly on Monday about my love for this author. Once again I cannot stress enough how bloody brilliant (I think) he is. Granted, I’ve never read anything of his in the original Swedish, but this is a man who has outsold Harry Potter in many European countries, so I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say his works are excellent no matter what language you’re reading them in.

One Step Behind is the seventh book in Mankell’s highly acclaimed Kurt Wallander mystery series. When we were living in Birmingham M stayed up all night reading it because he couldn’t fathom going to bed not knowing how it ended (for real he read the entire 600+ page book in one sitting.)

2.)    Green Grass, Running Water – Thomas King

Thomas King is a Canadian author of Cherokee and Greek descent. He is also a master storyteller and humorist extraordinaire. Green Grass is one of the most amazing books I have ever read in my life; it weaves together written and oral literary traditions, and plays with structure and narrative in a seamless, easy, organic way – much in the same way I imagine that grass grows and water runs.

We have 1000+ books floating around the joint so I couldn't find all the books to photograph. Plus all my Mankell is in Halifax.

Rife with satire and humour, it made me laugh, pause, think, re-think, and feel. Truly, I really believed as though I could feel the book; like it I was living inside of it – and it inside of me.

Years later, I still feel this way.

3.)    The Buddha of Suberbia – Hanif Kureishi

I read this in one of my second year English classes. My professor was all about pushing us to think outside of socially proscribed and expected norms –  particularly in terms of gender, sex, politics, and academia. (This pretty much blew my nineteen year old mind.)

Set in late 1970s London, this book tackles all of these issues, and more.

I hear the movie version of this is pretty good. I have yet to watch it though.

There are parts of this book that I find so funny, I shake with laughter. There are parts of this book that I find so difficult, I shake with rage.

4.)    Straight Man – Richard Russo

There is a part in the book where the protagonist goes on live television, wearing Groucho Marx style gag glasses and a fake nose, brandishing a terrified, honking goose he’s named Finnie, and threatens to kill “a duck a day!” until he gets his small mid-west University English Department’s budget.

Enough said.

5.)    Tempest Tost – Roberston Davies

Robertson Davies is a Canadian institution.

I could easily recommend any of his books, what with him being a downright genius and all that, but this was the first book of his I ever read, and Mr. M and I took turns reading it out loud to each other, and the whole experience was simply enchanting.

Plus it has one of the best lines I have ever read in my life:

“I do not quite ante-date the telephone.”

Now, taken out of context, it might seem a bit strange, but heck, you’ll just have to read it.

So there you have it folks. Five fabulous feats of literary magic.

I’m curious – what has enchanted you these early Spring days? What has you spellbound?

I’d really love to know.