One of the great pleasures in the Baltics is the ability to drive aimlessly, get lost and discover somewhere interesting. That’s what happened recently when I took a road less travelled and by sheer chance ended up at the village of Amatciems.
I say “village” but strictly speaking Amatciems isn’t a village. It doesn’t have a shop, a post office, a pub or even any real centre, but is a defined residential area surrounded on all sides by empty space, so “village” will have to do.
It’s a strange place: a beautiful natural landscape in which can be found a few dozen newly-built but old-fashioned houses complete with timber construction, thatched roofs and mature trees. But these aren’t farmers’ homes or small country weekend cottages – these are full sized, luxurious looking family homes usually with a selection of Saabs and Volvos parked outside.
In fact the whole place looks like a scaled-up version of Peter Jackson’s idea of The Shire, based on Tolkein’s bizarre rural utopianism.
Perhaps those cars give the best clue as to who lives in Amatciems. At a guess I’d say media types, eco-friendly entrepreneurs and various other thoroughl modern, civilized people. For more on Amatciems and the reasons for its existence, the best thing to do is look at its website.
I couldn’t quite decide whether I loved or hated Amatciems. The gut reaction when encountering what is essentially a gated community with strict controls on what is socially acceptable is to join the vandals and kick the gates in, but Amatciems is rather alluring.
When you find yourself agreeing with the social controls that are being imposed, it’s remarkable how insignificant the freedom to act badly becomes. Trying to be noble, the dedication to the preservation of nature and the village’s general eco-friendly stance is laudable.
But deep down I have to admit that the rules about no loud music or smelly food are even more attractive. Silence and isolation are two of the rarest commodities to be found today and I admit I would willingly pay up to be gauaranteed a good night’s sleep every night. Whether I would be willing to pay quite as much as the asking prices for land at Amatciems is another matter…
Having whiled away a wistful half hour in Hobbit-land, I next found myself at a rabbit farm just a couple of kilometres away. If Amatciems is “neo-eco,” the rabbit farm was Old Skool: a tumbledown farmhouse with a few barns strewn about, a horse giving rides, lots of rabbits in hutches and roaming free and – somewhat incongruously – a Soviet rocket launcher parked in the corner of a field.
It was probably in contravention of EU health and safety rules, but the toddlers swarming around the place feeding the rabbits, goats and geese seemed to be enjoying themselves nevertheless.
As I stood there watching cottontail chase Peter around Mr MacGregor’s cabbage patch, I was suddenly struck by the interesting architecture of the hutches inhabited by the more well-to-do bunnies.
It seemed to remind me of somewhere else…