Today I am buying skin products. Fancy ones, if I can. Things for the eyes, and things with vitamins C and E. I will get T-Mobile cell service, too. I will balance my checkbook and pay all bills.

This is the week to patch the paint on the house. I’ll have the car detailed, and schedule a massage. I’ll read my new Sebald novel and the Perceval. I might buy perfume. If that cat is still here, I will have him neutered. I will buy flea medication.

And all of this will be for love and pleasure, and not for virtue.


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Last sunset in Lettland

There is so much to do here that is of interest to me, and it is so beautiful. I want to come back, and soon, but one does not know when that would be. After my dear month in Mexico City in 2012 I said I would be back within the year. I have not been back since.

I had two arguments by e-mail, one about whether I should rush to apply for a Fulbright here (I shouldn’t, I should just sail steady and keep an eye on Baltic Fulbright offerings) and one about whether I should have a product placement blog on travel in hopes of getting vouchers for tours and cruises. I reacted to this with horror and then, more composed as I sat on a city bus in my new dress, feeling poised, realized what the fight-or-flight reaction had been:

1/ Traveling in the way that I do is the space in which I allow myself, and am allowed to be fully myself, to have utter integrity. I don’t want to give this up because then there would be nothing left of me at all.

2/ Traveling to me is deeply personal. I want to do the things I want to do. I don’t want to perform travel to please others, or be obliged to feign enjoyment. I’d honestly rather do sex work to support independent travel, than go on “free” cruises and tours and then blog about them. I would go on cruises and tours and write about them, even write positively about them, if I were also PAID to go on the excursion and for the writing, but that would be a completely different situation. And if I monetize my travel experiences in some way, benefit financially from selling my stories, I want to be the one who decides what stories I tell.

3/ It strikes me that there is something really perverse in commodifying yourself and your experience to promote a commodity, and masking this activity as a travel narrative. It also strikes me that the travel companies really win here–they get advertising they hardly pay for, and the person they underpaid considers it a gift.

In any case, some things from today are:

a/ The Great Cemetery of Riga, and other important cemeteries one could see; in the great cemetery I discovered the memorial stone for Kristian Jaak Peterson, founder of modern Estonian literature, compared to Pushkin and Goethe, who lived 21 years and mastered 20 languages;

b/ An earlier conversation in which I learned that the Latvian national epic was composed in the nineteenth century like Martin Fierro, and it involves a pre-Christian hero. He fought for the old gods against the catechists, and could kill bears with his bare hands.

c/ The conversation with the old man waiting for the bus. I will write about him in more detail later. I must remember to discuss the languages he speaks and why; his anti-Communism (and dislike of political news on television); his experiences in Siberia and the Red Army; his love for Estonia and fishing; the parades he had seen with both Hitler and Stalin on the very street where we were waiting for the bus.

d/ The open-air ethnographic museum, my thoughts on peasant life and the Wild West, my appreciation of these insufficiently respected people.


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What I bought in Latvia

I should have bought: ceramics, salt scrub and other cosmetics with Latvian herbs, black balsam, mittens, belts, amber, and perhaps other high-quality, traditional and artisanal things.

What I really bought is:
– Books: an interesting guidebook in German, a Latvian grammar, an English translation of a Pushkin story
– Postcards: many, from a bookstore, scenes of Riga, and from the art museums, reproductions of paintings; one magnet that is a reproduction of a plate by Romans Suta
– A design element to wear: it is like a knee-length, buttonless and sleeveless coat with one hook in front, and it is in an odd pink that looks good on me. Latvian design and production, and all the fashionable young women in Riga have something like this, I cannot be left behind. A luxury at 65 euros
– 13 euros each, bought in Portuguese form a Russian: Indian blouse, Italian sundress marked down from 104, and fascinating cross between shirt, dress and jacket: another design element to be worn over other things, except that this one can be buttoned up
– A genuine striped flax towel, of the kind we had long ago
– A jar of spice: sea salt mixed with hemp powder. It gives a very good taste and is to be sprinkled on salad or quark.

I thought it was excessive to buy these clothes, was not sure of any of them, but looking at them now I realize nobody else will have anything like them, they are so sophisticated and unusual.


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An evening in Riga

I said by mail:

Is the main cathedral Lutheran? It looks like it inside, but then again that might be because it is reconstructed, having been more or less destroyed by German bombs on 29 June, 1941. I went to the organ concert there and determined that this organ and these players are not actually as fancy and amazing as the one I happened upon in the Lutheran basilica. Still. After that I wandered around the medieval quarter in the afternoon (8 PM) sunshine and was allowed into the modernista synagogue as shul let out. Muy interesante although I will have to return in actual visiting hours. This is a town of many churches and until 1941 many synagogues as well, but it seems that most people are paganesque (Christianity and Judaism got here quite late) and that this is a reason flowers are so popular.

The parks go on and on, each one more beautiful than the last, with interesting statues. I crossed Waldemar’s Street and strolled through part of the real Jungendstil neighborhood. It is swanky, I will tell you. My neighborhood is part Jungendstil too, and part older, wooden Russian-style buildings like my 2d great-uncle A. V. Bary’s factory in Moscow. One of these buildings is this mysterious youth center that seems to have an interesting art-rock band in the courtyard every night. Shy people like me stand outside and look in. In my case, I have not found out whether or not it is a public place, but I have now seen where the door is and if this continues, will end up going in.

Now the sun is setting (10:15 PM), earlier than yesterday, we are three weeks past midsummer. It will rain tomorrow so: museums, national library? Then three more days: Jelgava, Jurmala, and the open air ethnograhic museum? You are supposed to go to Rundale Palace but somehow I am less interested in it than in these other places. And I mean to go to this sauna.

I am concerned about shopping, when will I have time to really learn about it and do it? You must have mittens, balsam, ceramics, hand-made cosmetics, linen, and of course amber but in a Latin American-style place like this (it is a Latin American-style place) you need time to learn about all the things, and get the ones that are really made right and priced right, as the market is full of fakes. I do not actually want to shop but I have the distinct feeling I should bring tangible proof of having been present in this exotic land. (But really what I want to do is go back to the Central Market and eat more of its food.)

You should really come with me back to Latvia, it is really quite the place. We could go into the forest and have a picnic following their instructions: it’s not a picnic lunch, but a picnic dinner (it is broad daylight at dinnertime); you take some food with you but you complement it with the wild foods you gather.



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On having time to yourself

THIS is why the people with their alarm clocks and hourglasses, upping their so-called productivity, seem so antithetical to the life of the mind.

“The world of labor and wealth is armed against the idleness and utopia that it sometimes promises. Thinking and dreaming require unregulated time; intellectuals lingering over coffee and drink threaten solid citizens by the effort—or the appearance—of escaping the bondage of money and drudgery. Guardians of order have denigrated, almost for centuries, critics and rebels as mere ‘coffee house intellectuals.’ In the catalog of bourgeois sins bohemian intellectuals earn a double entry, thinking too much and doing too little.”

—Russell Jacoby in The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe (Basic Books, 1987): 29.

I must read that book. I remember the reviews, but now I actually get it.


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On primitivism and aristocracy

I do not agree with everything in this Appiah article on primitivism but there are some very interesting references in it.


I have been in Utrecht for a week and it has changed me greatly. I want to live here. I looked at some notes I made the first day and I know so much more about the town now, and the Netherlands are so much more familiar now.

I have learned something important: the idea that was imposed upon me, that one should finish the Ph.D. in a field like letters, and then decide what to do with one’s life, is an aristocratic one, was what aristocrats actually did. It is not an odd neurosis of mine that one must first prove personhood via the Ph.D. and ideally tenure in a top place in a humanities field before going on with one’s life, finding ones true field and vocation — it is an aristocratic ideal that was actually communicated to me as a requirement.

This is very interesting. Parents who want children out of the nest, on the one hand, but want to tie them to it hand and foot, on the other. I had some other psychoanalytic insights as well, about early infancy.


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Les artistes

We have three translations of Moro coming out in Asymptote in January, 2018. I wonder how actually good this may be.

They are:

– Oh fury the dawn emerges from your lips
– The scandalous life of César Moro
– Various lions lick the rugose surface of the equestrian turtle at twilight



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