Letters from Latvia
I didn't know what I was going to blip today. I went to work and managed a couple of second-rate shots of the Christmas tree, but had to scoot off as soon as I'd finished so I could go to Steve's works Christmas do. I met one of the town council office workers, Lillia, and enjoyed talking to her about the break up of the Soviet Union. She is from Belarus, which is now independent, but said that the years following independence were tough, to say the least. She and her family have been settled in this area for over ten years, though initially they came over because her husband had a short term contract. My own connection is that I visited Latvia in 1990, when it was still (unhappily for some people) part of the USSR. My friend was working there, so I got a one month job in Finland so I could pop over the gulf of Finland, by ship, to visit her in Riga. In those days you needed a telegram of invitation which had to be taken to the Russian embassy prior to the Visit.
I have not got time or space to write all about my trip to Latvia here, or my subsequent year in Czechoslovakia, which became the Czech Republic (or the part that I was in did), suffice it to say they were happy, formative experiences and something I am very grateful for. I am always being mistaken for a Czech and asked if I have family there. Not as far as I know...
So this blip is a response to meeting Lillia; NatureLover's Something Useful blip of yesterday; and jamesoneil's Housing Slums of Glasgow blip of today. When I saw James' slum blip, I remembered (incorrectly) that I had some shots of the flats in London where I used to live, which have now been demolished, thank goodness! Cockroach and drug dealers' paradise, and the most racist area I have ever lived in. I was intending to blip the old neighbourhood in a photo today, so that I could return to Stepney, East London, next year, to show the regeneration of the area.
The photo album did not show any shots of Malacca house (the flats) but did contain images of the Finland and Latvia trips of 1990, plus some aerogrammes sent to me by my friend R when she worked in Riga. These beautifully illustrated envelopes with their highly decorative stamps were the standard way of sending an airmail letter from anywhere in the USSR. Fortunately I saved a few of them, when clearing out the loft in my mother's house a few years on. The stamp at the top right seems to have a Mohican theme. If you view it you can see the Cyrillic script spelling out the word.
It all seems an age ago now, but I am so glad that I went East in 1990, for without that I wouldn't even thought of living in the Czech Republic, or travelling around neighbouring countries in my spare time there. I am also pleased that I revisited the old neighbourhood in Stepney last year, because it means that I no longer dream that I have to go back and live there! The flats, the gasometers, and the bulging ceilings are gone for good, but the cockroaches are probably still livin' it large on the remains of the Ocean Estate!