Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Frankie is a very bad man

It would be lovely if any of you as know Mark Powell would care to ask him what the Latvian capital city Riga is like; if he offers any answer beyond "yeah, well, whatever, there's this hostel with a bar, LOL, fail, etc..." then he's a bad man telling lies.


In fairness to him, battling through the waves of nausea in order to actually get up and do something was as brutal a series of (late) mornings as I've ever put myself through, mostly because our temporary dwelling, the Old Town Hostel, is possessed of a bar, a bar that empirical evidence suggests is staffed approximately 2/3 of the time by a chronically irresponsible waster answering to the name of Frankie.


Disentangling what exactly happened is a bit long in the telling, but let's just say for starters that the stated bar shutting time of midnight was a complete lie, and that putting an out of control alcoholic in charge of serving me, Powell and a bunch of Australians was not a good idea. If you think you've got the impression already then here is a good time to break off reading the inevitably long-winded exposition; should you be foaming at the mouth to know THE TRUTH then bear with me while I first inflict a description upon the blameless city of Riga.


It's a bit weird with the Baltics- they're all about the same size as each other, got independence from Russia around the same time, 2m of its combined citizens formed a human chain to grumble about the USSR back in the 80s, nobody smiles, the driving is incomprehensible, the English great, the food pervertedly stodgy. That said, the three capital cities are vastly different, with Riga's chief quirks being its gargantuan churches, soaring high into the sky, and the profligate sex industry that seethes fragrantly below.

Obviously vis a vis the sex industry I mentioned a woman getting the Wrong End Of The Stick (oo-er etc etc) in Vilnius, but that was kind of a weird misunderstanding; here the old town streets are essentially a pungent warren of titty bars. Walking back from our meal on the first night was genuinely quite an ordeal, the number of hustlers we had hassling us. Being nice-ish, young-ish men, we naturally shuffled passed them in as furtive and Latvian a looking a way as possible, though did stop to guffaw in mild shock when one man called out "hairy pussy, smelly pussy" by way of inducement. That's a quote from Dusk Til Dawn, non? In which case it's a reference to a strip joint that turns out to be full of homicidal vampires. And if it's not, I'm not sure calling the staff's gynaecological hygiene into question was the way to lure us in. Again, there is the slight worry that the Brits do not have the reputation around these parts that they might.


Anyway, the city is pretty cool if you can ignore all that, I'm not going to bore you too long, but wandering up St Peter's Cathedral's insanely tall spire was particularly excellent (apparently when it was initially finished in 1667 the workmen tossed a pane of glass off the top, the superstition of the time being that the number of pieces it shattered into would be the number of years the spire stood; the pane landed in some hay and didn't break, and the spire burned down the next year) as was a daytrip to Sigulda, a snow entrenched little town fairly accurately described as 'like paradise' in Lonely Planet - highlight was probably getting a hilariously kitsch cable car over a massive ravine, out of date Christmas lights blazing, horrible Latvian drinking music oompah-oompahing from a CD player operated by the marvellously po-faced old lady attendant.


Naturally Mark joined me in neither of these activities, and herein lies the telling of the latest bout of drunkenness as extreme sport. As with many a tale of this sort, it begins with the words 'so we met these Australian guys', but clichés are there for a reason, and if Anthony Mudge is a cliché then I don't want to be original. He's basically Frank from Shameless except somehow he's managed to drunkenly haul himself around most of the world, mixing 75% incoherent drunkenness to 25% poetic clarity, and inevitably has stories ranging from boogieing with Mongolian strippers to punching a guy from Gloucester's lights out after two years of increasingly bizarre provocation.



Anyway, so it's our second night there and we go out to dinner at pointlessly-punningly named restaurant John Lemon with a motley crew: Anthony, his somewhat quieter friend Matt, Greg, a more sober Autralian guy (and all round top geeza) we semi-accumulated in Lithuania, and Monika. Monika was an unusual character, an alleged Lithuanian who allegedly studied fashion in Lithuania (she had rubbish dress sense) and was allegedly working as a hairdresser in Milan (she had rubbish hair) and had sort of insinuated herself onto our hostel table while we were planning dinner. She remained po-faced, taciturn and essentially entirely emotionless throughout the entire time she had rooted herself at our table, and despite rebuffing our various attempts at small talk, she assented when we asked if she's like to come to dinner with us. What with us having to sit on two tables to fit in, we hadn't really had a chance to get much of an impression of her until Anthony leant over midway through and said words to the effect of "she's fucking crazy". Turns out she allegedly had no money apart from an alleged €100 note, which allegedly nobody in Riga would change for her, had claimed to be both 17 and 22, had allegedly come to Riga from Vilnius to get a cheap flight to Milan, and was not in fact staying at our hostel or, indeed, anywhere. Net result being, backpacker politeness and the relative cheapness of Latvia (despite it being the only country I've where been to where the local unit of currency is worth more than the pound one for one) meant we paid for this strange and suspicious woman's entire night.

Aaaanyway, so we went onto another bar and Anthony began to regale us with the tale of two female staff members at the low rent hotel in Tallinn he and Matt had stayed in and subsequently gotten it on with a couple of nights ago. Much to Anthony's utter shock, said staff members promptly walked into the very bar we were in. There then followed a half hour or so where everybody conversed politely, while me and Mark waited nervously for whatever seismic thing was going to happen to happen, distracted only by some hilariously camp white power guys in the corner.

We repaired to the hostel and soon enough stuff started to get a bit weird: the one girl from the Tallinn hostel, Anneka, went on about how she was married, sort of flirted with everyone, eventually dragged Matt off for sex; Annette, the other one, kind of semi-refused to engage anyone in conversation, but started pawing Anthony frantically, at one point mistaking Mark for him in the darkened basement and taking a lunge at his greasy manhood before put straight; Greg sat in the corner and sulked; Monika engaged me in a card game allegedly called Stupid, which made so little sense that I was reasonably certain she'd just made it up - it seemed to have almost no competitive element, and though we relatively speaking improved at it, we could never in five hours of playing work out whose turn it was without asking her. The weird thing is, she was terrible at it, and the reason we stuck with it can bet attributed to the combination of the shallow euphoria of winning something regardless of whether you understand it, and Frankie the bartender, who sometime around 4am started imploring us to do shots, many of which came from him for free, every round of which he partook.

I buggered off about half an hour later, but from what I understand, at about 7am Mark tried to go to bed, discovered he could no longer use his legs, and somehow hauled himself up three flights of very narrow spiral stairs using hitherto unsuspected reserves of upper body strength; the much cheered up Greg, meanwhile, snuck the impassive Monika into his deserted dorm room and treated himself to the obligatory snog and fumble, through he gave up after she responded with the urgent passion of a deceased vegetable.

I was up by noon and bumped into her as she blankly wandered out of the dorm, apparently unconcerned by the fact she'd a) cheated on an alleged boyfriend, and b) allegedly missed her alleged flight. She said she was going to go along and see if there were any more Riga to Milan flights that day (errr...) and if not, maybe she would go back home to Lithuania. Written down that probably all sounds utterly tedious, but we'd still give anything to find out what was going on there: I'm guessing she was either genuinely mental, but in a very, very selective way, or she was like, a retard trying to live out her lifelong dream of being a con artist.

Anyway, not to bore you with too much more: the next night we went to Hospitalis, a demented Soviet kitsch theme restaurant where you sat in gynaecological chairs and had your order taken by very angry monobrowed nurses - Anthony managed to make his nurse even angrier by ordering a stream of Manhattans in lieu of food. By the time we got to the hostel bar, Mark and Greg were on their last legs, Matt had already left, Anthony couldn't stand, sit or breathe straight, and the crowd was narrowing down to an already wasted Frankie, who - in total contravention of pretty much everything - let everyone smoke inside, a German guy called Thomas who'd missed out on the previous night's drinking and was determined to recreate it single-handed, and Martins, who was, I dunno, Dutch or something, and spend half an hour telling me about something he'd read on the internet with excruciating earnestness.

Not wanting to be left with just Thomas, Martins, and Frankie I retired kind of early, coming down the next morning to a scene of utter destruction: apparently it had ended with just Thomas and Frankie drinking, with Frankie attempting to bribe Thomas to go away so that, er, he could stop drinking himself. There were electrical cables ripped up and everything. I'd recommend you visit the Old Town Hostel and say hi to Frankie, except if they haven't fired him by now they're massive, massive idiots.

Oh yeah, and if you didn't get the idea before: Mark completely outdid himself by only emerging from the hostel for dinner, never so much as once getting a peek at Riga in the daylight. Normally I find such antics a bit grating, but this was so extreme I kind of admire it.
Anyway, that was a very long blog about drinking, wasn't it? Partly because now de-Powelled and ensconced in Russia I have thus far not been living quite so la vida loca, but personally I can kind of just about handle that, much as I miss the cartoonish twat.

PS no spellcheck on Russian blogger, it would appear. CENSORSHIP!

1 comment:

Greg said...

An excellent precis of events that took place in the now infamous, somewhat mystical city of Riga....