Our first day here started off pretty well to say the least. We are staying in Riga which is gorgeous and covered in new snow. We headed off to Segulda for the day and worked with a talented student string orchestra. They performed a Suite by Grieg for us played with a lot of sensitivity for their age and skill level. After, we got up there and played a few tunes of ours to show them what we do. Then Alisa taught them a Bluegrass tune, “Boil them Cabbage down” including the shuffle bow, the chop and the bass line. It was great and most of the kids in the class were having fun.
We went off to lunch at a nearby hotel and finally ate some fish!! This trip has been a big meat and pastry gastronomical one and eating a protein from the ocean cleaned up my insides pretty darn quick! I think our bob sled time clearly shows the health benefits of salmon. I can only imagine a time of 3 minutes had we eaten kebab and cheese bread. It would have been an embarrassment to say the least.
The rest of our day (and this was all before the concert in a lovely chamber music hall with great acoustics) included a tour of a nearby castle from the 1200’s. Covered in snow and glowing a bit from the light of the dusk sky, it was truly magical.
Probably a highlight of the day came late at night when we went out to a folk club in Riga for some traditional Balsam liqueur (tasted a bit like cough syrup) and to hear a traditional Latvian band. They were a bit rough around the edges and I think more of a death metal, Ren-Faire type band than something from actual musical traditions. The beefy drummer played with a confident stance and the gentle hurdy-gurdy player wore a fine leather belt/wallet that I think only belongs on someone in this type of band. (Note to self: do not wear leather waist band because I will look like a waiter not a Latvian death metal rocker)
Yesterday we had a rest day and enjoyed the city of Riga in 30 minute spurts. It’s so cold here that it is imperative to plan for indoor time. Our guide from the embassy–Alice (pronounced Alic-eh) took us on a walk to the old city with a stop at a museum of the Art Nouveau in Riga. It’s a city filled with this architecture. The museum had been a private residence of a famous Art Nouveau architect and so each room had some original furniture and/or features including gorgeous kitchen wooden floor, painted ceilings, hutches for dinnerware and of course all the exacting detail that encompasses this genre. I especially love the old radiators and door handles. After this museum visit we walked to the Christmas market (a hold over from German influence) and enjoyed some mulled wine and crafts. Many folks selling gorgeous knitted booties–another essential in this weather.
After we toured the JCC (Jewish Cultural Center) and it included a bit about the many Jews who used to live in these parts–many of whom were quite successful at what they do but made me feel like Latvia only had the cream of the crop Jews and where were the regualar folk during the heyday? Of course, like all of these great cities-each museum ends with their particular Holocaust tale. Riga is no exception to those atrocities but it was great to read about the non-Jews who helped to save some. That part is heartening.
Off to Leipaja this morning!