‘I’ve worked out our diet plan for the next days,’ Peirene announces. We are sitting in a café in the old town of Riga. In a couple of hours we are flying back to London. ‘Soup without bread for lunch and a plain salad in the evening. That should get us back in a shape in time for Christmas.’ She lifts her jumper briefly. ‘Look, I can’t even close my jeans any longer.’
The waitress arrives with the coffee and the cakes, a hot chocolate flan with vanilla ice cream for Peirene and a delicious smelling marzipan cake for me.
‘Can we postpone this conversation until tomorrow,’ I suggest while I bite into the marzipan. I close my eyes to enjoy the moment.
‘How much has your waistline expanded in the last days?,’ I hear the Nymph ask.
I open my eyes in irritation. ‘Peirene, if you’re out to spoil our last hour here, then I can catch up with you at the airport.’ I pull her chocolate flan towards me. ‘This looks very tasty too.’ Peirene leans forward, holding onto the plate. ‘I couldn’t possible let you eat both.’ She sighs. ‘I will have to sacrifice my figure for your health.’
Truth to tell, my waistband too has tightened over the last days. Peirene and I were part of a group of seven UK publishers who were invited by Literature Across Frontiers, the Lithuanian Culture Institute and the Latvian Literature Centre to meet Baltic publishers and authors, first in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and then in the Latvian capital of Riga.
And what a tour it was. Three course lunches and dinners in beautiful restaurants every day. But not only the food was great.
These countries were under Soviet rule until 1990. The creative psyche therefore often still struggles with the freedoms only gained a generation ago. In literature we find abstract monologues loaded with symbolism – a response to a period when only the self could be trusted. Everyone else, even family members and friends, could be informers. Given this challenge, the creation of believable relationships between characters – one of the motors of plot – is frequently neglected. But the writers who solve these problems, provide unique glimpses into the workings of the human mind and are producing exciting literature.
Peirene and I have finished our coffee and cakes. We are leaning back in our seats, legs stretched out underneath the table.
‘I’m not keen on lettuce for an entire week, ‘ I muse. ‘How about going for a few more runs instead. That’s a much healthier way of losing a couple of pounds.’
‘You do that,’ Peirenes nods lethargically at me. ‘I’ve decided that I have now reached an age where a few pounds more don’t matter. Ancient Greek Nymphs shouldn’t look lean and haggard.’
I don’t think there is much of a risk for that at the moment. But I decide not to speak my thoughts out loud.
Image by Ivana Sokolovic, creative commons.