September 15, 2010

Riga For Guns

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The outskirts of Riga: small, wooden houses that rarely make it beyond ground level and sometimes have porches stretching the whole front of the house on which sit Latvian men (just looking out, it seems) wearing loose-fitting shirts. Because of the porches and the wood and the state of the roads, the place looks like the ‘Wild West’ area of a theme park, without the ‘excitement’ that ‘Wild West’ areas of theme parks might usually incite.

Our hotel overlooks the Daugava and has orange walls barely visible behind intricate maps of Riga’s old town and fold-out brochures advertising city tours or river-boat rides or other trips. We have just arrived in Latvia, our taxi driver having taken us for a ride, literally and metaphorically, describing circles with his car instead of the one straight line from airport to hotel we asked him to. Behind a faux-teak reception is a 24-hour bar complete with four or five signs declaring FREE INTERNET ACCESS and a smoking booth from which the best view of the water can be found. There is a song on the radio that consists of a Latvian/Russian pop star singing at over 100mph. The receptionist, a small girl holding a paper bag full of beef tomatoes and/or other vegetables, enjoying the music, asks us if we want to hunt wild boar.

Brochures are stuck to our hotel’s walls, we realize, because here (in all foreign countries it seems, away from home), we are people looking for things to do – the more organized/researched/expensive the act, the greater the supposed experience. It is something to do with the number of anecdotes recorded; the higher the number the better. We literally pay for things to write home about.

We sign up to what is described as THE RIGA SHOOTING EXPERIENCE because the brochures are brightly colored, glossy, persuasive, and firing weapons now seems like an appropriate way to celebrate our being somewhere. (The alternative for us, incidentally, was setting off loosely packaged, possibly damp market-stall fireworks in a redundant space next to our hotel consisting entirely of gravel.) Taking into account the content of most of what’s on offer – two hour-long hunting trips, three day-long hunting trips, etc. – it seems feasible for a country/state to depend financially on profit generated entirely through gun-related tourism.

We’re told that the ‘Experience’ will take approximately one hour, during which we will fire various guns at targets that may or may not be moving. Someone suggests he is hungover, or still drunk perhaps, and that he shouldn’t go, before making the decision to come anyway to “see what happens.” The whole thing will cost approximately 35 Lats each, depending on accuracy. It’s unclear whether or not this is a joke.

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