As every sub-editor knows, a fresh pair of eyes makes all the difference. Many are the times that I’ve written, re-written, read and re-read a feature until it is as close to perfection as possible only to realise some time later that the headline contained an obscene typo or that sums of money have cleverly been given in the wrong currency.
This realisation generally occurs a few minutes after pressing a “send” button, leaving one with the choice of ignoring the mistake and hoping no-one else notices (someone always does) or trying to contact editors, publishers, printers or whoever is currently taking care of it in order to point out how stupid you are.
On one memorable occasion I even managed to write a lengthy feature about a bank, the name of which I got wrong throughout. Given that the name consisted of just three letters, it was a quite remarkable piece of ineptitude that unfortunately I did not discover until leafing through the magazine that commissioned me. I blame an unfortunate dependence on “find and replace” but whatever the excuse ultimately it amounts to the same thing: a monumental cock-up.
A similar blindness to the big picture can be experienced in everyday life, where small details generally dominate our attention. When things become familiar through repetition we forget the wonder and novelty with which we originally experienced them. But friends visiting me in recent weeks have served as sort of sub-editors of life, pointing out the numerous mundane wonders which I encounter every day but often fail to fully appreciate.
As a result I have ended up in places I really should have visited long ago and revisited other places that I considered “done.” The view from the top of the “Stalin cake” former Academy of Sciences was a revelation I’d senselessly avoided until now, as was canoeing on the River Gauja, a textile exhibition in the Arsenals gallery, the Photography and Film museums, the Luk-A-Buk bookshop, Zemgale market and even a Madara cosmetics counter.
The enthusiasm and genuine surprise of my visitors who arrived with no expectations (and repeatedly said how preferable Riga seemed to Stockholm) was a literal eye-opener. I started remembering my own experience of that enjoyably naive fascination you can develop for places about which you know very little. Then, feeling guilty, you start to learn about history, context, culture and gain a deeper understanding- but an understanding now based on science rather than magic.
Even familiar favourites such as Alberta iela give more when you look at them in the company of someone seeing them for the first time. You re-realise what a privilege it is to be able to walk through Riga on a daily basis, or to drive half an hour to pristine forest to spend a few hours getting lost while finding mushrooms.
Latvia is a wonderful place. When we forget that fact, we should probably follow someone for a few hours after they arrive.