We’ve had many delightful days in Riga. Today was especially wonderful because I got my Latvian Library card. I’ve had such fun visiting and collecting various library cards along this journey. Riga’s skyline was altered a few years ago with the building of this large structure sitting across and adjacent to the River Daugava. Some of the natives hate the building because it doesn’t flow with the art nouveau style downtown and the cobblestoned streets. I agree that it stands out and is certainly imposing. But what intrigued me was the story of the filling of the library shelves. The new building consolidated the holdings of the smaller libraries around town. When the new library opened Rigans gathered together to form a human chain and passed the books hand over hand across the bridge. More about more human chains later.
Included in the human chain to the library was the former President, a female whose family had emigrated to Canada during Latvia’s dark history days. There she lived, was educated and worked as a psychologist. In Canada. She was called back to public service in Latvia just before the election and she won. Note the words just before the election. I now know it’s possible to have short election periods. I’m already tired of Election 2016 and I’m only getting clips from BBC. You all must be crazed. I’m sympathetic and grateful I’m abroad.
While we were at the Latvian Bibliotheque, we were encouraged to visit the John F Kennedy research room located on the third floor because it held a collection of books in English. This room is supported by the American Embassy in Latvia and holds both fiction and non-fiction books. When we lived in Beijing and I worked at USIA’s finger in China I was involved in a book translation and distribution program. Chinese publishers desired to translate and publish American titles. My job was to request copyright permission from WashDC. Obviously, the subject matter of the books promoted American public policy goals. And by visiting the third floor I got to meet Inga, the librarian of the Riga collection. We got to exchange book experiences and we got a tour of the top floors of the library which give you the Riga panorama.
Another Rose was Diana. We had just finished with the education at the Museum of Art Nouveau, touring a fully furnished apartment that walked us through the nuances of this style. It was pouring rain and cold so we ventured into Bhajan Café; it looked cozy and warm and had photos of India displayed. We recall India and the stifling heat. So in we went and I had the best cup of Chai Masala. When I asked for a brand name I was given the recipe. Magnificient. I can hardly wait to share with you!
We decided to stay an extra day in Riga once we discovered that the anniversary of Latvian Independence was slated for 18 November. We got the list of events from the Tourist Information Bureau and decided on the must do-s for the day. First we needed a bit of history to frame the event. The Museum of Latvian Occupation would fill the bill. There we had a real education… Very simply and succinctly in 1920 Latvia won independence recognized by the international community. Their status changed in 1940 when the Soviets took over, which followed an occupation by Nazi Germany and then Latvia was retaken by the Soviets in 1944. In 1989, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians joined hands in a human chain that stretched 600 kilometers from Talinn to Riga to Vilnius to represent the desire of the Baltic States for independence. Latvians take this independence very seriously and joyously. As the week progressed we saw more and more Latvian flags flying from residential and commercial buildings and individuals wearing lapel pins with their national colors.
We started Independence Day with a Eucharistic Service at the Cathedral. The President was there, an assortment of clergy and an amalgamation of local choirs in their different robes. One of the clergy spoke—we couldn’t understand but I saw a lot of heads nodding in agreement. We continued the celebration later in the day with a group singing folk music with traditional instruments. Later, we went to the Freedom Monument and joined the parade to the River Daugava and the site of the night’s fireworks. It was grand!