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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Brat Diaries

But do you really love her?" Ilona asked me as we walked down Ulitsa Pravdy, toward the kitschy neon-heavy Golden Palace casino last week for the Laima Vaikule show.

"Yes, of course I do," I said, full of emotion, tears threatening to fill my eyes.

The gorgeous Latvian singer with the charming accent and gentle voice was the dream date of just about every male in the former Soviet Union. Back then, the Baltic states were the Soviet empire's very own piece of Europe. And Laima, with her good looks and fashionable wardrobe (including plenty of berets) provided an escape from the tedious melodies of Soviet estrada.

But at the Golden Palace, she reminded me of a caged bird. Although she performed some of her best songs, like "It's Not Evening Yet" (Yeshchyo Ne Vecher) and "Night Fire" (Nochnoi Kostyor), she sang quite a few contemporary hits, too f mostly simple, uninteresting melodies dedicated to the Golden Palace audience, a selection of gangsters and their Barbie-lookalike girlfriends.

One of the former, a square-faced Sasha, tried to distract me from Laima's singing with stories of his hometown Veliky Ustyug, which is also, by the way, the mythical homeland of Russia's Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost.

"Would you like to write about our town?" he asked me in a demanding tone.

Faced with a man with the build of an African elephant, I told him I would write the story. But New Year's is months away and Laima was right there: close enoughto talk to and touch. The security guards, however, wouldn't let me get close to her? because I was wearing sneakers.

At that moment, I remembered a warning Laima had given a devoted fan earlier that night: "Don't live my life," she said. "Don't follow in my footsteps. I'll keep on living, but you'll lose yourself."

So, standing there in my sneakers, I made a wish: that I wouldn't lose myself in Santa's hometown.