Blogging-as-therapy is something I generally try to avoid – particularly after hearing a radio documentary in which various strung out junkies told of the wonderful change instigated in their lives by what is effectively just keeping a diary and leaving it lying around for other people to read.
But with nothing of huge import happening on the Baltic political stage (and ‘stage’ really is the right word at the moment) I’m going to launch into a bad-tempered moan about what’s looming large in my own selfish mind.
What’s looming large is in fact selfishness itself.
Theoretically, it’s lovely in Latvia at the moment, notwithstanding the economic collapse. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and on a summer day in the forest, nowhere in the world can beat this country for sheer natural beauty.
And it’s not that superficial beauty that demands a quick snapshot followed by a forced march to the next tourist attraction. It’s a beauty that is to be enjoyed simply by being in it: standing and looking at nothing in particular, thinking nothing more than a sort of general gratitude for the fact of one’s own existence.
Except then there’s “Oon! Oon! Oon!” and the world falls apart.
“Oon! Oon! Oon!” is made by young men in cars. These cars suffer from a sort of automotive body image perception disorder. The young men think they are mean street machines. Everyone else can see that they are heaps of junk adorned with a few more BMW badges than they had when they were put on the back of a trailerful of second-hand cars in Dusseldorf.
I’ve been staying with my family for the last week in the central Latvian town of Cesis, in a cottage next to the main church in the middle of the picturesque Old Town.
Fifty yards away is one of the town’s colleges. As a result, every morning these young men studying whatever they study roll up in their cars, park in that peculiarly cack-handed Latvian way, roll down their windows and start pumping out the decibels to impress their peers.
“Oon! Oon! Oon!”
After twenty minutes they slink into school, only to emerge every half hour for another dose of “Oon! Oon! Oon!” and a cigarette. They stand around in groups, smoking, spitting, swearing and Oon!ing all day.
Now, I know young men are young men, particularly when they are in groups. All that testosterone has to be channelled into something, and with the local girls still saying “Thanks but no thanks,” it’s understanable that they develop slightly fetishised ideas about cars and stereos.
But it’s sad that they don’t even consider that they are Oon!ingright next to people’s windows and moreover right next to the church. I’m not saying that on religious grounds, but because St John’s church is, along with the castle, the main tourist attraction in town.
Even more unedifying than having to repeatedly ask them to turn it down so the baby can actually sleep (a request sometimes met with grudging acquiescence, sometimes with a wall-eyed stare) is the sight of coachloads of elderly tourists having to negotiate a fug of cheap tobbaco smoke and Oon! as they attempt to look at the stained glass and tombstones.
And the authorities wonder why tourists tend not to come back for a second visit?
Then in the evening, and particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, how does the youth of Cesis region celebrate its freedom? Of course, by driving repeatedly around the streets with maximum Oon! then parking by the church and fumbling with each others’ underwear to the romantic accompaniment of “Oon! Oon! Oon!”
After a few days of prolonged, Clockwork Orange style exposure to “Oon! Oon! Oon!” it starts to get to you. You find yourself becoming hypersensitive, hearing Oon! even where it does not exist. The more you try to escape Oon! the more it pursues you.
Is that an Oon! you can hear or just a resonance in an air conditioning system? Is an Oon! approaching or is it someone in a shed with a hammer half a mile away?
The most depressing example of phantom Oon!ing I’ve ever encountered happened in the middle of the forest not far from Cesis. I lay in bed in the middle of the night, in a house with the nearest neighbour around a kilometre away. I could hear nothing but the wind gently slipping through the birch leaves and the odd nocturnal rustle of a bird or badger.
But what’s that sound on the edge of perception? It’s regular, a resonant bass note without music, able to pierce the undergrowth from some car parked on a forest track. The beat was continuous, perhaps just increasing in tempo slightly as I listened.
I imagined the crappy old 5 Series in the forest gloom. I could almost smell the acrid cigarette smoke and see the crisp packets and drinks bottles tumbling into the undergrowth where they had been carelessly thrown.
Was there no escape from “Oon! Oon! Oon!”, even here in the middle of the forest?
Then I realised it was my own heartbeat.