Roberts, in his twenties, is standing in central Riga staring at a black-and-white photo featuring President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, straight as a stick, dancing with an adoring lady. After a couple of thoughtful moments, the guy ventures to say the «woman reminds me of a well-known Latvian actress.»
But who exactly, Roberts fails to recall. To refresh his memory, he turns to his girlfriend who suggests this might be Gillian Anderson from «X-Files» serial.
Though due to being betrothed with President Ilves the high ranking Latvian defence ministry official Ieva Kupce has been frequently flashing in Latvian headlines this week and staring at people from photographs, many have trouble recognising her. Meanwhile, President Ilves for them feels like a good old acquaintance. Roberts, equally fluent in Russian and English, is triumphant as I ask about the male on the dancing floor: this is the very President of Estonia.
«Indeed, that woman is first and foremost known via the Estonian president,» is what a slightly bearded and a bit pot-bellied Latvian art academy rector professor Aleksejs Naumovs has to say about Ms Kupce. Meanwhile, recognising Mr Ilves for him seems so natural it goes without saying.
In Riga city centre around defence ministry yesterday, Postimees interviewed 17 people – students to pensioners, men and women, people from business, arts and whatnot, showing them five A4 format photos of Ms Kupce and Mr Ilves. The result? All respondents except two promptly knew Mr Ilves (for that, majority needed no clues), while only a few were able to say who the lady was. Only one knew her first name, Ieva. Nobody knew her last name.
«If she features not in the yellow media, who will know her,» says a man in suit and dark coat (about 40) with two buddies also obviously well-to-do. One of the latter, hearing from me what it was all about, laughed out loud: «Aha, I see what troubles you! That a Latvian may rise to Estonia’s first lady.»
«What do you say about that?» I ask.
He waves his hands, grimacing as if to say he isn’t about to comment, but then blurts: «But why not!»
Commenting the new Estonia-Latvia relationship, many remain subdued. A financial worker in his 30ies who claims to read Bloomberg rather than Delfi entertainment says he’d rather not comment on personal affairs of others in this instance. A man of the same age, well dressed and 190 centimetres tall, says without a flicker of a smile: «I am happy for them.»
Two female students just off an ice-rink say they aren’t interested in the fabulous-glamorous and will therefore remain neutral in the Ilves-Kupce issue. But they do ask to see the picture and say the lady is «normal. Nice and slim.»
A lady in her 60ies, secretary at the Latvian governmental party Unity, assures me there is no furore really in Latvia about the Kupce-Ilves thing. She says this is because there are enough problems in the land like the government stepping down at the beginning of this week.
By the photos, she assesses Ms Kupce to be nice but adds that Latvia abounds with pretty blondes like that. «Anyway, the Estonian president has a good taste,» she summarises.
Balm for President
Two graphical design students, while discussing Ilves and Kupce, arrive at the situation reminding them of the relationship between Great Britain’s prince William and his wife duchess Catherine. To explain, they say Mr Ilves as President represents something like the nobility, a royal family, while Ms Kupce – a simple state official – cometh from the common people. (Unconfirmed data sayeth she cometh from a Northern Latvian small town named Limbaži.) «But I will remain neutral,» says one. «This is their life. Main thing that they find their happiness.»
A short Russian lady, a pensioner and wheeling a grandkid, having recognised Mr Ilves says she knows this to be a rock solid fact that the woman pictures is the one «you know who shows them dresses, the fashion». In a word: a model.
Learning of her error and taking a closer look, she detects a vast age gap. «Like father and daughter,» she says, not at all disapprovingly. «But see, they smile and are gay.» But, more importantly than how Mr Ilves and Ms Kupce are getting along, there needs to be peace on earth, enough to eat and enough of money.
A woman about 30 who knows at least half of the lady Mr Ilves betrothed thinks it also important to note the age gap. Mr Ilves will soon turn 62, Ms Kupce is 38. But, from another angle, to talk this down: «My man is also somewhat older than me,» she reveals, «so I look positively at them.»
A former primary school teacher who has come out to play in the park with grandchild with eyes aglow announces, having taken a slight glance, that she is happy for the Estonian president. Turns out, she lives within a few blocks in a building that also houses the Estonian embassy wherefore she feels the closer to Estonia.
Why so happy over Mr Ilves? Because he just recently divorced his wife – and she claims that in such cases the man always suffers more –, there can only be joy over the newfound mate. She judges Ms Kupce to be very nice and representative and goes as far as to compare her to Carla Bruni, one-time supermodel and wife of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
«And who knows, perhaps she also sings?» the former pedagogue throws a rhetoric question into the dampness of Riga air, referring to the two chanson albums released by Ms Bruni while even for her native Latvians Ms Kupce remains a large clean unknown white sheet of paper.
«And who knows,» he says eyeing the upcoming wedding, «perhaps thereafter Estonia and Latvia will understand each other better as well.» As also expressed by the Unity party secretary: «From there we will live in great friendship as one big family.»