Emerging from the fetid gloom of the KGB building into the brilliant Riga sunshine is something of a liberation. And what a long way Latvia has come – in a very short time – since its own liberation from the Soviet Union.
Just a stone’s throw away from the horrors of Stūra māja are some of my favourite haunts: the legendary Café Osiris, whose basil omelette with smoked salmon is exquisite perfection; the arty bar/restaurant Istaba with its downstairs shop that is chock-full of gorgeous things, from handmade bow-ties to Latvian arthouse movies; trendy café MiiT, where serious young people with good haircuts and laptops do design-type things and where there are bicycles on the walls; and Restorācija, an unpretentious, friendly neighbourhood bar with a cosy outside terrace and a great pinot grigio. Just a few reasons why Riga has become my second home.
And then there is the music, especially the singing. That evening I went to hear my new best friends, the amazing youth choir Kamēr…, launch their latest CD Amber Songs (a brilliant international project to which I contributed a piece). The concert was held in the chic, wood-panelled auditorium of the new national library, a stunning building by the Daugava river which has spectacular views of the city from the glass-clad space at its vey top. Kamēr… were on astonishing form that night, their passionate intensity and technical virtuosity even more remarkable than at the premiere performances in March. And hanging out with the choir till 5am in the courtyard of hip bar Kaņepes (yes you can do that in Riga, unlike London) was as entertaining as hearing them sing earlier. For the young people of Kamēr… and thousands like them who are intelligent, deeply committed, hard-working, creative, outgoing and undamaged by the Soviet occupation (for they were born too recently), are surely the reason why culturally-rich Latvia has such a very exciting future.