photos by Bruce Sterling
First things first: oh, you world travelers, for pleasure or for work, never, ever fly Baltic Airlines. First they will stiff you by making you pay sixty euros to carry regular-sized hand luggage. You will note their particular eagerness to pounce on innocent non-Baltic travellers, especially haplessYankees with credit cards.
During the flight you can expect to be charged for the air you breathe, since they don’t even give free water.
Finally, god forbid if something goes wrong with your flight and ticket, for Baltic Airlines will gladly maneuver you into buying a heavily-priced new one. Fleeing home via Baltic Airlines beats prison and deportation, but not by much.
Decades of Soviet occupation leave some deep cultural habits. Despite the proud independence and nationalism of the three independent Baltic republics, it hasn’t been that long since 1991. It’s hard to find any mishap in Estonia that isn’t some blamed on Russians. If the roads are bad (and they are bad enough to burst tires), it’s the Russian roads. When the coffee is lousy (the imported Italian coffee is quite good), then it’s the communist coffee. If the storks are too big and dangerous, it’s because they were bred to an ungainly size by the Russians.
I lived under Communism, but not the Soviet kind. The Estonians saw the real deal hard core of totalitarianism, the kind with mass deportations, mass shootings and mass hunger. That kind of regime doesn’t leave mere “traces” in society, it leaves trenches. The Estonian nationality barely escaped being one of Europe’s submerged or even extinct nations. Well before any Soviets showed up they were gleefully trampled by Swedes, Poles, Danes — back when they were harmless pagans, they were even massacred by Christian Crusaders.
In the seventies in Rome, I once took part in a magazine called “La Citta di Riga,” an Italian pun which refered to the capital of Latvia and also meant “the city of lines.” This conceptualist magazine was an art project through which period artistic luminaries such as Francisco Clemente, Alighiero Boetti, Achille Bonito Oliva, Fabio Mauri, Umberto Silva, etc, wanted to change the world. Since this was the 1970s, concepts were considered more important the materialist objects or political policies. “The City of Riga” was a distant, romantic place for these Roman radicals of the Cold War days, a city carrying the flag of the globalist artsy utopia.