Archive for the ‘Culture/Entertainment’ Category

No Motivation

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

I’m feeling entirely unmotivated right now. Maybe it’s certain factors that aren’t really working to my advantage that are making it more difficult to BECOME motivated. For example, I was fully prepared to book an instructor to go start learning how to snowboard tomorrow. But the place I was looking at is not easy to get to with public transportation and doesn’t have a bus stop anywhere near it, although buses do drive by it. So now I don’t know what to do. I guess wait, maybe rent a car and go? But even that would end up being too expensive.

This just feels like a week that will take a while to get through.

Saturday I took my god-daughter to see “The Princess and the Frog”. It was the first time I had been to an animated movie that had complete and “professional” Latvian language dubbing. For the most part it was tolerable, except that most of the male-sung songs sounded more like schlager music than Disney music. But it was a good experience. I might borrow my cousin’s kids again this weekend to go see “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”. Of course it will be great to spend more time with immediate family, but let’s be serious, I don’t want to be that lone, creepy adult sitting in on a kids’ film.

My back and neck seem to have be almost entirely recovered. This is fantastic news to me, considering it only took three 30-minute sessions to undo 3 weeks of pain.

It’s snowing again today in Riga. This means more days spent traversing the different barriers put up on sidewalks so roof cleaners can push the pounds and pounds of snow off the buildings and onto the street. This is something I didn’t see or just plain missed last winter. It’s kind of neat to see people up on the roofs shovelling snow, and people standing on the opposite side of the street with their heads tipped back to watch them do so. It’s the winter equivalent of gathering to watch someone repair their car or motorcycle.

Ugh. I even lack the motivation to make connections throughout this post. Next one will be an enlightening update about repatriation vs. residential permits!

Busy in February

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

For the shortest month, February is going to take a really long time.

I’m scheduled to take the GRE exam this coming Saturday, will be performing for about an hour the Friday after that with some of the members from a folk group “Saviesi” at a European youth association meeting. Or something. We’ll be playing some “danchi”, or dances, which are something between “rotaljas” (games) and folk dances. It’s a bit hard to explain it. The easiest thing is to just see what “danchi” are and then put the word to the action.

At some point I also really really REALLY want to make it out to Sigulda to start learning how to snowboard. My learner-in-crime was sick this past weekend, so that fell through. This weekend is filled with tests and farewell parties for a few close friends and the weekend after at least two of my friends, if not three or four, will be heading for their “ski break” to Egypt. They’re planning on Sharm el-Sheik and just basking in the sun. I can’t say I’m entirely bummed out about this; I don’t think I’d  be ready for Egypt again so soon.

If absolutely everyone leaves Latvia during that time, I’m just going to go learn how to snowboard myself. The weather has been excellent for this the past two days — we’ve gotten many much snow (6″+ or ~20cm+) in the past day, and a bit more overnight yesterday. It’s enough to make me literally stop in my tracks and wonder if I shouldn’t fake sick and just go roll in the snow in another city.

I have other things on my mind that will keep me busy during the month as well. One is putting together goodies for birthdays :) Others are things I don’t quite yet want to write about because I’d rather not get people prematurely excited.

On another note, a few of us might go check out the last Dinamo Riga (hockey) game of the month. Against Moscow. Wooooot.

The Little Boy is Drinking Water

Monday, January 25th, 2010

January is almost done! Wow. I thought I wrote something a week ago, or at least had a draft going, but it turns out that was all in my head. Like one of those dreams you have right after your alarm goes off where you think “Well, time to get dressed” and physically feel like you’re getting out of bed and are putting clothes on and are just about to go out the bedroom door when… the alarm goes off again and you realise you’re still in bed, in your pajamas and with your shirt magically turned around completely backwards.

I’m a restless sleeper.

Anyway, January has been an interesting month in Riga. My dad was here visiting and taking care of research until mid-month. While he was here we spent time with relatives, did a bit of visiting away from Riga, watched some fish be fed, saw a few plays/shows and generally hung out and exchanged knowledge of memes and viral videos.

The two plays we saw were both put on by the Jaunais Rigas Teatris (New Riga Theatre), respectively “Klusuma skanas” (The Sound of Silence) and “Vectevs” (Grandfather). Both were fantastic, as is to be expected. If you’re ever in Riga and are looking for a good theatre performance, check in with JRT first. If you’re lucky enough to land some tickets (buy them online in advance if possible; they sell out fast), almost every show comes highly recommended. As an added bonus for those tourists who DON’T speak or understand Latvian, JRT has two plays that I know of where knowledge of the national language is not necessary. “Gara dzive” (A Long Life) and “Klusuma skanas” are both directed by Alvis Hermanis (a genius of a man, if I may say so.) and are entirely dialogue-less plays. Emphasis is placed on actions, and it is truly amazing to see that words really aren’t that needed all the time. “Gara dzive” is a look at older Latvians and the daily lives they lead, most likely as retirees. “Klusuma skanas” was a later production but counts as the “prequel” to “Gara dzive” and takes the audience through the hippie movement in Latvia. Also fascinating. There are very well timed moments of laughter, seriousness, heartache, etc. And again, both highly, HIGHLY recommended.

Now I’m back to work, have taken two sick days, have continued with my Rosetta Stone Japanese lessons and have been to two of my three trial lessons in Russian language offered through the company I work for. I’m not sure if I’ll keep up with the Russian lessons, as knowing the language isn’t required for my position and doesn’t change my position, and because I’m not able to understand the simple commands the teacher gives the others (some of my co-workers) in the class. They’ve grown up in Latvia and if they haven’t spoken Russian now and then since they were little, they’ve at least heard it on a subconscious level. I, on the other hand, just stare blankly at the teacher when she says something as simple as “Kaija, will you please read the next sentence?” I recognise my name, the word please and the formal “you”. Instead I think I’ll just keep up with one-on-one lessons with one of my Russian co-workers who has been kind enough and excited enough to give me lessons on an as-possible basis.

The Rosetta Stone is an interesting product… I’ve learned some sentences (like “The little boy(s)/girls(s)/woman(en)/man(en) is/are drinking water”) that I would never really use on a daily basis, but the point is that I can say them. I am aware that the point is to introduce simple vocabulary and sentence structure, and I kind of like it! Using that structure, I can input any variety of animate objects and subjects receiving action to get an entirely new sentence. Such as: “Neko wa mizu wo nondeimasu!” or “The cat is drinking water!” Which is a sentence that I clearly WOULD use on a daily basis. Now all I need to learn is “The cat is peeing on your bag” or “The cat is pretending to rip your face off in the middle of the night”. One step at a time, this language acquisition business.

Yesterday, after an almost solid 48 hours of sleeping and sitting in one place to pre-combat this coughing cold sinus thing, a group of friends and I went to the Riga zoo. At night. Oh yes, at night. They’re having some kind of deal until the end of the month: from 4-6 p.m., tickets are only LVL 1 and the zoo is open until 8 p.m. Camels in the dark! Outside was horrifically cold, but the indoor exhibits were a welcome change and it was feeding time for most of the animals, so we got to see them standing in one place instead of hiding from people. Some of the animals seemed to be affected by the cold, but when there’s a bin of apples and carrots in front of you, seriously, who cares!?

It’s supposed to get warmer by the end of next week and snow, as well. This will be a nice change considering the entire country has been hovering near -20 to -30ºC all week/end. It will be around -5ºC by this coming Friday, which means I get to officially drag people out to Sigulda to do some snowboarding. Sorry, that makes me sound too cool. To LEARN how to do some snowboarding. Yes, much better. I’m sure I’ll have some kind of story for that…

This is a New Year

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Riga has been nicely frosted over the past two days. I’m excited to take my new tripod out for its first outdoor spin today after work. I’ve been waiting all day to get back outside and get some shots of the parks while they look this nice and fairytale-like.

I’ve also had the iTunes free download of the week, “This is a New Year” by Ian Axel, featuring Chad Vaccarino, on loop for the past 48 hours. It’s a great, simple, upbeat and hope-filled song that I can’t seem to get enough of. 2010 has had a bit of a stressful start for me, and a rocky and crap-filled start for others; this track seems to be herald something everyone could use a little bit of right about now.

Anyway, because there are only (based on Google.com search results) about 4 or 5 websites that list the entire lyrics to the song, I thought I’d jump on that bandwagon to up the hit count. Lo and behold, “This is a New Year”:

Another year you made a promise
Another chance to turn it all around
And do not save this for tomorrow
Embrace the past and you can live for now
And I will give the world to you

Speak louder than the words before you
And give them meaning no one else has found
The role we play is so important
We are the voices of the underground
And I will give the world to you

Say everything you’ve always wanted
Be not afraid of who you really are
‘Cause in the end we have each other
And that’s at least one thing worth living for
And I would give the world to you

A million suns that shine upon me
A million eyes you are the brightest blue
Let’s tear the walls down that divide us
And build a statue strong enough for two

I pass it back to you
And I will wait for you
‘Cause I would give the world
And I would give the world
And I would give the world to you

This is a new year
A new beginning
You made a promise
You are the brightest
We are the voices
This is a new year
We are the voices
This is a new year

New Year

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Happy New Year to everyone! New Year’s Eve in Riga was pretty fantastic. I was lucky enough to be able to combine friends and family; people came over to the apartment, where we visited, snacked, melted and poured lead to “predict our 2010 fortunes” and drank some pre-2010 champagne. At 23.30 we pulled on our coats and shoes and rushed to the square in front of the Freedom Monument, making it there literally 10 seconds before the New Year. 2010 arrived with fireworks, more champagne, part poppers and lots of picture-taking. Again, I felt really blessed to have been able to spend the evening with some great, close friends and family, my father included. We managed to eventually call through to the States, wish my grandparents all the best, and my mom all the best in the New Year (through my mother I got to speak to my aunt, too, since I caught my mother at church right before she was to go give the first reading). After taking pictures of people dressed as nuns, chickens and rabbits, we all headed to the Dome Square for some mulled wine and, and, AND! sledding down the small hill to the lower yard in front of the Dome Cathedral. I hadn’t been sledding in YEARS and even though I was wearing a skirt I was more than thrilled to get the chance to do so again. The sled was a kind of lacquered plywood about 7′ long. Very… minimalistic, but it got the job done. My father and I finally made it back home around 03.00, at which time we deemed it far enough into the New Year to open a sort of “New Year’s present” from one of our relatives. We knew the present was books and we’re book people, so waiting much longer to look at what they were wouldn’t have happened anyway.

One of the books is this absolutely fantastic “The Big Guide to Riga Architecture“. It describes a great deal of buildings around the city, both in the centre and out of it, showing a modern picture, a small copy of the original blueprint and a short write-up of what the building is/was meant to be. Many of these buildings are buildings I’ve passed on a daily or weekly basis and have had no idea what their deal was. It’s a bunch of mini history lessons in a very non-boring format. I plan on stocking up on copies and gifting them to people.

This week is the first full week of the New Year. It was nice having two back-to-back three-day work weeks, and I’m surprised that I don’t feel like it should be Friday today.

Last night my father and I went to see “Klusuma skanjas” (The Sounds of Silence) at the Muzeum of Art and Theatre. The funny thing about that was that we thought the play was going to be at the New Riga Theatre in the city centre, but at 10 minutes to show time figured out that the venue was NOT the New Riga Theatre and that the actual venue was across the river in some previously unknown location. But since the play is based off of movement and expression alone (that’s right, ZERO) dialogue, it is not only a brilliant play to see (and take non-Latvian speaking people to), but it is also less of a big deal if you miss the first 20 minutes of it. I’m a fan of the director, Alvis Hermanis, and have seen his original “no-dialogue” play “Gara dziive” (A Long Life). I recommend both.

And now for the reason this post seemed important: we had dinner at the Theatre Bar Restaurant (through the courtyard behind the actual New Riga Theatre; there’s a regular Theatre Bar across the street), which has a very unique menu and has a very kitschy yet not annoying interior. The food is also good. If you end up in the area of the New Riga Theatre (on Lacplesu Street), pop in for a quick bite or drink. The prices are decent, and their cauliflower-eggplant cream soup with pumpkin seeds is absolutely mouth-watering.

Name Days

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

In Latvia (and several other eastern European countries), name days are about as big of a deal as birthdays. Friends, family and co-workers generally dump mounds of flowers and/or chocolates into your lap, you get plenty of cheek-kissing action and the responsibility of bringing something tasty to work to share. If you plan really well, you will not only bring something to work, but will also have an evening planned at your place, as it is not abnormal to have guests drop by throughout the evening.

Today, two women at work are celebrating their name days. Thankfully, I did my date-checking yesterday and was prepared to leave earlier this morning and swing by the flower market on Terbatas Street. I’m surprised I wasn’t hassled by more of the flower ladies. The rainy weather seems to have every other person in a funk. I was able to find some nice Gerber daisies for LVL 0.80 a piece and bought three per person. Ah yes, another thing I have learned since living here. When you buy flowers for someone, whatever the occasion may be, BUY AN ODD NUMBER OF FLOWERS. I don’t know exactly why, just that this is what you should do. Even numbers are reserved for funerals or to put on graves. If I figure out the complete story behind that I’ll share it. But for now, know that it’s just what you do.

More Pumpkins and More Vets

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Please grant me Weekend NOW.

This has been week two of three rough weeks; I’m happy to say that the third week of huge projects will only last until next Tuesday. Then I should be somewhat back to normal in regard to a work load, though there is a possibility that this will not happen.

Tonight is “American Culture” event night at work. I’ll be leading an English activity and have made 16 cups-worth of cranberry sauce and baked three loaves of pumpkin bread (this was the way I spent my US Thanksgiving evening). The sad thing is that I have enough pumpkin purée left over to make pumpkin bread for another year.

That’s a rough estimate.

Saturday the cat gets another vet visit, this time to catch him up on his vaccinations. Sorry, buddy, but it has to happen. I honestly am partially expecting to have to leave the cat at the clinic overnight so they can extract all of the broken needle tips that will lodge into his skin. This cat is the King of Skitters and I don’t foresee that this visit will go smoothly. The less traumatising purpose of the trip will be to get him some more de-worming pills.

This morning I had my left hand scratched up and nearly took a paw-smack to the face FOR NOT GETTING UP THE MILLISECOND MY ALARM WENT OFF. Thanks, cat.

I am incredibly tired, incredibly drained, and want nothing more than to go to sleep relatively early tonight, go for a run tomorrow morning and take an easy weekend. I’m trying to watch my health as best as I can — two more people have died in Latvia due to H1N1+complications. I’m considering re-visiting a clinic to get a prescription for a steroid inhaler, just in case I get a head cold that develops into what I had earlier this year.

Two Weeks of Feeling Displaced

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Two weeks of pure, non-working vacation felt very strange. I’ve been away from the office for two weeks before, but never away from work. But I guess it was something I needed and in the end I was ready to get back to more constructive things. My vacation ended on a Thursday and I was back on Friday, then ready to have it all stop again by the following Tuesday. Ah, work. The thought of getting back to it is always nice, but I think that in the end it was the atmosphere and company that I missed more than the actual projects. Though I think that’s an entirely expected and healthy thing to feel. Point is, two weeks of doing nothing left me feeling slightly out of place, which is probably indicative of workaholicism. Watch out, world

Rome

Rome was a fascinating place, though rather dirty. I was surprised by the amount of trash in some areas of the city and the general filth we saw. True, the southern part of the city near the Colosseum was cleaner and seemed a bit more maintained, but this could be because of the mass amount of tourists. I can safely say Rome doesn’t make my top five list of European cities, but the architecture was definitely mind blowing. Even considering the straight up massiveness of it all and the grandeur, none of it felt overdone. St. Peter’s Basilica, for example. It is the most decked-out church I’ve ever been in, but I didn’t get the same feeling of religious overcompensation that I get from other churches in Europe. It was like the fanciness was well-deserved and that it could really be no other way. Of course there were these random buildings and churches scattered all around the city and it was exciting to turn a corner and have it be BAM! oldest church in Rome! or BAM! Bernini sculpture. A lot of the trip for me was being in a city with such historical artistic and architectural value. The Colosseum was huge and I wanted very badly to go running through the lower levels (where they used to keep the animals before setting them on the gladiators) and climb on the walls. We had a picnic lunch at the Colosseum and it felt unreal to know that we were sitting in such an old structure, enjoying a sunny day and eating sandwiches. In comparison to countries like Latvia, Italy struck me as a very hands-on type of place. If the Colosseum had been in Latvia, there would be barriers and fences all over the place restricting access to about 99% of the structure and, additionally, they’d make you wear torn up slippers to keep you from scuffing up or wearing down the floors too much.

We also took a 13-hour day tour to Pompeii and Naples. We didn’t see much of Naples; it mostly consisted of our bus driving a loop through the city centre while our tour guide Monika (who spoke four languages and none of them well) informed us when we passed the Opera house, the City Hall and some house on a hill, which she pointed out about 17 times and, of course, which we didn’t remember what it was called. At one point they had us get off the bus and spend 10 minutes taking pictures of the peninsula of Sorento and the island of Capri — both of which were so shrouded in morning sea mist that we spent the 10 minutes taking pictures of each other standing in front of what we could only assume was a peninsula or an island, but might have just been factory smoke from the port district.

Pompeii, on the other hand, was simply ace. I don’t know how else to describe it. Again, one thing that really got me about Italy was how you could essentially go anywhere, touch anything, and not get in trouble for it. In Pompeii, at the old city site, it was all “Welcome to the site of a city buried by volcanic ash in AD 79. This is a mural on the wall of the richest person’s house. Go ahead, touch the paint.” I mean, FOR REAL? I’m in the middle of what is essentially a living archaeological dig and I can touch everything? It blew my mind. Old Pompeii has these large stones in the middle of its streets, which were used as stepping stones for pedestrians when it rained and the streets flooded. The stones were at least 8 inches high, just huge. And a genius idea. Modern cities should have these. The number of stepping stones at the beginning of a street also indicated if it was a one- or two-way street. You could also see the grooves in the stone made by wagons from way back when. Just amazing. Egypt was old, yes, but this was just…. unbelievable. Most likely because there was proof.  We only had two hours to walk around Pompeii and had to follow our second tour guide, an interesting 83 year old man who started telling Ilze and me about the history of the occupation of Latvia. So in Pompeii we only saw the “important” things, like the home of the richest person, the red light district and brothel, the bath houses and the small amphitheatre. Ilze and I also befriended some nappy and scraggly looking dogs while Davids took every opportunity to bask in the sunlight. (The entire week was spent in 20+ºC weather.)

We also took a day trip an hour north of Rome to a city called Tivoli. The city was recommended to us by one of the attendants at the hostel as a great place to get away from Rome and see some fancy villas and nature sites. It was good to get out of Rome and see some of the Italian countryside and the hilly areas. Tivoli as a city is pretty unexciting, but the Villas were something else. The first one we went to, Villa Gregoriana, mostly functions as a nature trail/reserve area and has a lot of caves and waterfalls. We wandered around there for a few hours and then headed to Villa D’Este, which is known for having 500+ fountains, including in some of the halls inside the Villa.

Villa D’Este started out in with a “special” twist. EU passport holders could get a discount, so Ilze used her Latvian passport. The woman at the desk takes the passport, looks at it, then picks up this clipboard with a bunch of papers and starts looking through them. She does this for a few seconds, then looks up at Ilze and goes, “Mmm, no.” and shakes her head. So we go “What do you mean ‘no’?” She gestures to the list and shakes her head again and then basically proceeds to tell us that Latvia is not in the EU. Because it’s not on her list. The guy next to her couldn’t find Latvia on the list, either, and the three of us are telling them that Latvia’s been in the EU since 2005 and they should just look it up online, but they’re sticking to THEIR not-on-the-list story. Finally the other two women working at the front register ask what’s going on and, after being caught up on the situation, the younger of the two says in Italian “Umm, yeah. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia….” and the second woman nods and goes “EU, yup.” Then the first two people went kind of silent and the man pointed to a receipt-size piece of paper on the clipboard and goes “Ah, yes, Latvia.” I’m still not sure if he actually saw it written there or if he just tried to play off the fact that they made a huge mistake. Trying to tell us our country isn’t part of the EU. That was… We were pretty speechless after that. The fountains at Villa D’Este were many and varied and made us wonder what the water bill was like each month. And how much it would cost to throw a huge party there.

The rest of the trip involved gelatto, wine, seeing many of the “important” sights of Rome, lots of walking and LOTS of bread. Oh god. I hadn’t eaten that much bread or meat in months. By the end of the week I was feeling almost possessed by carbs. I was overall not impressed with the food in Rome, at least not with the taste. The best tasting food we ended up eating was at this semi-hidden restaurant by day, club by night, place that had umpteen types of pasta in a buffet set-up. For EUR 5.90 you could choose three types of pasta dishes (risotto included) and they would put a large amount of this food onto a plate, microwave the plate and bring it out to you. Sounds kind of gross, but it really was the best tasting food we had all trip. We also put our hands in the Bocca della Verita (think “Roman Holiday”) and tossed coins over our shoulders into the Trevi Fountain (well, Ilze and I did, so we’re apparently going back to Rome, but Davids isn’t). Maybe the city will be cleaner next time. We also saw the Pope on big-screen TV in St. Peter’s square the Sunday morning after we flew in, but that’s as close as we got to him.

For family, Italy will be an ask-and-tell trip, since we saw and did so much. This also includes making a trip to the Rome IKEA and seeing a woman pee into a plastic bottle behind and trash can located on the median of a busy street.

Latvija

For the second week of my vacation I rented a car and did some decent roadtripping around Latvija. Two friends (both here on the Fulbright research scholarship) tagged along a few of the days. With them I hit up Ventspils, Liepaja, Tukums, Dobele, Salaspils, Jelgava, Aizkraukle, Ogre and Daugavpils, to name a few. Driving was alright, though I’d forgotten how sore your legs can get from driving stick shift without cruise control. Two straight hours of pressing on the gas pedal? No, thank you. I also think that I was the only person in the entire country of Latvia driving the legal speed limit. Call me a grandmother, I don’t care — I’m not going to be the one to get pulled over by the cops and end up paying a 5-er or a 10-er to get out of a LVL 30 ticket. One of the days I got to spend some quality me-time, driving around Vidzeme and listening to my new German CD (Peter Fox; Stadtaffe). Cities I roamed through on my own included Sigulda, Valmiera, Smiltene and Rauna. I really liked Daugavpils and Liepaja, but Vidzeme… Vidzeme is wow. The people seem nicer and the countryside is stunning. It kind of reminded me of the Midwest. Even though there wasn’t much to see other than cows and hay-bales (which I’ve decided I like very, very much), it felt good being there. Daugavpils, on the other hand, was extremely creepy driving into at night. Even though it was only 6 p.m., we almost didn’t want to go back out until the next day. However, the next morning (it had also snowed) everything looked much better and by the time we got to the centre it was good times. I know some people who make gagging or shuddering noises when Daugavpils is mentioned, but I thought it was a nice place. Earlier in the week the Fulbrighters and I also tried to find Kandava, but it was like it had been spirited away. For real. We turned at a sign that said “Kandava 1,5 km” and after 1.5 km there was a sign pointing in the other direction that said “Kandava 1 km”. And no Kandava inbetween. Throughout the travelling it was good to have a range of cities I completely disliked, to so-so cities, and ending with cities I really liked.

Most of my reason for the Latvija road trip was to get more photographs of Latvian graffiti. So far, it’s going well as a pending serious-type project. I’d like to turn it into some kind definite project, though I’m not sure what, yet, or how. But I’m definitely having a good time seeing the different types and levels of graffiti and how it changes from region to region. Most cities had a good amount of graffiti to photograph, but Smiltene, for example, was 99.9% clean. I almost didn’t find anything there. It’s also interesting seeing someone’s tag in several cities, especially when those cities are far apart.

Post Vacation

Nyargh. Why is it that the return from vacation is always the most brutal time period? I have a big project going on right now, which will be followed by another big project for the month of December. Busy, Busy.

I also learned how to bake pumpkin pie from scratch. It’s much easier than I had thought it would be, and I’m excited to keep using pumpkins for all kinds of baking delights. In addition to the pie, I experimented with pumpkin bread, which ended up looking and baking a bit better than banana bread does. This I attribute to the fact that pumpkin is more moist than banana. Either way, I brought both the pie and the bread to guinea pig on people at work and was asked to cough up recipes for both. I also made cranberry sauce from scratch, which worked out well as expected. It’s not that different from making rhubarb compote.

The pies and the cranberry sauce are all for the “American Culture Night” event at work. Everyone seems to have faith in me and my baking/cooking, which is flattering, even though I keep reiterating the fact that back in the States, Thanksgiving comes in cans. This weekend will most likely be spent visiting with a friend flying in from Brussels, making more pumpkin goo for pie and pre-making cranberry sauce. I should also invest in a pie pan and reinvest in a rolling pin. Mine seems to have gone missing.

Fuzzy around the Edges

Monday, September 21st, 2009

The past two weeks have been full of events and activities. I remember everything that happened, but trying to compile all of it into a pleasantly concise recap is beyond me, which is why my grandparents and some friends have gotten e-mails or letters anywhere between 3 – 5 pages long if put in a Word document.

I’ve done a good amount of family time, including a dinner “party” with extended family and attending my cousins birthday party. The dinner with extended family went well and was entertaining on many levels and semi-revealing on others. Overall I had a great evening full of local Latvian humour and conversation.

My cousin’s birthday party was also eventful — a nice afternoon out of Riga and among children and gardens. My biggest accomplishment was that I left the party without any blood on my clothing (re: my cousin’s youngest child’s first birthday party wherein I ended up with blood spatter from my god daughter’s nose on my jeans), though I had finger-paint and mushroom soup spilled on my legs before the first 10 minutes had passed. Both wash out.

My friends and I also spent many evenings watching films during the Baltic Pearl film festival. The films I saw and their respective ratings were: Palermo Shooting (“Mergh.”), Das weisse Band (“WTF”), Sabrina (“Pleasant”), Roman Holiday (“Deep”), Love in the Afternoon (“Lovely and Hilarious”) and Funny Face (“Super-cheese”). Other films I wanted to see but didn’t were Coco avant Chanel, Rage, and New York, I Love You.

We also wandered around the city on the evening/morning of the 12-13th. The city was under artistic siege with Balta nakts (White Night), which is not to be confused with Sensation White, the sketchy and strange techno event where everyone dresses in white and gyrates in a hyper–strobe-light stadium. Or so we’ve heard. Balta nakts was very interesting, even though I can’t say I was pleased with everything I saw.

This weekend I’m going on a trip with colleagues to somewhere between the Czech Republic and Poland. I plan on taking many pictures and enjoying another weekend abroad.

About Things Private

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

This past Sunday I went with my friend Ilze to the National Art Museum’s “Arsenals” gallery. This gallery is known for putting on more “modern” exhibits. The last one I went to featured a strange artist who tacked the Russian “-naya” onto the end of almost every word. The same artist had two “sculptures” that consisted of sprats in oil, meticulously layered and sealed in fibreglass boxes. Two other pieces in the last exhibit were a wall-sized print-out of what I was convinced were all of Shakespeare’s plays printed line for line in a font smaller than size 2 (the friend I went with didn’t think all of the plays were there, but since there was no write-up about the piece, we each kept to our own opinions on the matter) and a “Shakespeare Phone Directory”, which was a brilliant compilation of every existing Shakespeare character (major, minor and one-line characters alike) in alphabetical order, accompanied by a standard seven-digit telephone number. If that piece could be bought, I tell you…

But I digress. The exhibit I went to on Sunday with Ilze was called “Privats” and had to do with many different aspects of the concept of privacy. Some artists displayed private photos of family gatherings, trips with friends, stuff like that. Another artist had taken night-photos of private real properties around Latvia. A third artist, and probably the most interesting to me, was a man who had taken a series of 100 (not all were displayed) photos of rooms and the people in them. These ranged from clearly posed photos where the owner of the room could not be identified, to photos of a group of friends gathering at one house for drinks and a light meal, people reading, people with their pets, etc. It was interesting to try to find similarities between the rooms (there were several) that somehow tied them together. And, of course, it was also interesting being able to creep on people’s houses without being a real life creeper. How many times have you driven around your neighbourhood and wondered what happens behind a closed curtain? Or why the family that never draws their curtains is so pathetic as to watch TV shows like “Judge Judy”?

In the small, upstairs room of the museum, we saw a few pieces from an artist who actually uses crow excrements to paint. Or make art. Whatever it is he does. It was special.

If you happen to be in Riga between now and 18 October, I highly suggest you go check it out. Museum tickets cost LVL 2,50. More information on the exhibit can be found here. Unfortunately the information is not in English, but you get to see at least one example of the exhibit. Another option is to do a Google image search on “arsenals privats”, which gives you a few more pieces to look at. Note: I am not responsible for the content of whatever Google spits back at you.

On an equally exciting note, I am THRILLED to write that Latvijas balzams now sells Riga Black Balsam with black currant syrup PRE-MIXED in!!! The goodness comes in a black, ceramic bottle. I saw it on the shelf at the store last night as I was buying chocolates to bring to a family dinner, and since I couldn’t decide whether I should buy it, enthusiastically reveal it to the family and crack it open to drink there, or buy it, take it home and enthusiastically reveal it to the flatmate and crack it open to drink there, I settled for writing my dad an all-caps SMS regarding my discovery. So in addition to being able to check out a new and interesting art exhibit in Riga if you’re here, you now also have another souvenir option! I’ll post any news if I pick up a bottle of the new Balzams. At which point I would not be responsible for any grammatical or spelling errors. Consider that my pre-disclaimer.