Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Oooooh, buddy.

I am now back in the United States, somewhere a bit past the mid-point of my two-week return visit. Did you just read the word visit and think it implied that I would be leaving the States for some other country, say, perhaps Latvia? Because if your thought process brought you at least that far (mine would have taken things much further, even to a point of developing a short story; I think my friends would agree), your thought process has not led you astray. Not this time, at least.

I am an official quasi-citizen. What this means is that I have my long-hoped for temporary residential permit, which gives me the great honour of not only living in Latvia for a year (until I have to go through 85% of the same hellish process in order to re-apply for temporary residence if I decide to stay there longer), but of also having the 15% tax deducted from my salary. Thus the "quasi". The best part is that I finally have this weight lifted off of my shoulders; I don't have to worry about deadlines for turning in those fabulous documents, no worries about taking time off of work to jet over to Tallinn and throw down 300 EUR cash to have said fabulous documents processed in 10 days, no worries about being shipped out of the country for reasons out of my control.

I'll leave you to imagine what the reasons within my control may or may not be.

Ah, yes, and USAnnoyed because the weather here in the mid-west blows. And not in a weather-terminology windish way. It's humid here, hotter than Riga, and the air just sits. Sits on my lap, and my legs are starting to fall asleep and get tingly. Otherwise... Clothing prices here are a dream, peanut butter was 3 for $5, and there's a Caribou Coffee approximately every 5 miles. So I don't know what my problem is - I should stop complaining. Caribou Coffee trumps bad weather any day.

On the down side, I feel like I've had so much coffee in the past 24 hours that the acidity from the beans is eating away at my throat. It may be time to switch to green tea and mango smoothies.

Anyway, other things that have happened since the delicious, sweet, sweet victory of having that visa stickered into my passport (accompanied by a photo wherein I look like I've been picked up for carjacking or stealing broken TV sets - what're YOU in for?), I got to live through the Latvian Song and Dance Celebration in Riga. Since there was so much happening during the celebration and I was only able to go to a few things (work + preparation for visit to the US), here's a rundown of the events I went to:

1. The "Gajiens"/Parade.
35,000+ participants from all over Latvia, including groups from the States, from Canada, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, Ireland, Luxembourg and Russia, walking through the major streets of downtown Riga. 11 AM start time; the parade ended about six to seven hours later. Participants included brass bands, folk dance collectives, choirs, colour guards (no, really, a large group of teenage girls with twirly flags and/or batons), etc. LOADS of people. I even saw the strange grimy man from Zilais kalns, where I've been twice now with relatives. It made me wonder how he got the money to get a ticket from there to here (albeit it's not that expensive, if he took a train, but the hill is, if I remember, not exactly close to the train station. Or really even near it.). Later, however, an acquaintance told me how a few years back at a similar event in a concert hall, there was a group of bums milling around, but after security was alerted the bums were approached, and it turned out that they had all purchased legitimate tickets at the ticket counters. So no knocking bums until you ask to see their tickets, y'hear?! The day was really nice, sunny, sun-burn causing, and a generally odd experience to see even more people than usual in Riga, and all lined up and concentrated along certain streets, no less. Many of the participant groups walking along were singing, like you do, but not many of them had original ideas. The most frequently sung diddies that day were "Ai, jel manu vieglu pratu" and "Bedu manu lielu bedu". I heard one - count it - ONE group singing "Riga dimd".

2. The Opening Concert.
This I had not planned on going to. At most I had thought I could call up one of my friends who own a TV and ask to come sit on their couch and watch the live broadcast. Buuuut, a fairly new acquaintance of mine (the same one who told me the bums with tickets story) called the night before and offered me a pair of ex-media tickets for the Opening Concert in Mezaparks for the following evening. I figured why not - it would get me out of the house and it could very well be interesting. And interesting it most certainly was! Although I unfortunately didn't quite make it to the seat indicated on the ticket, I was able to stand amidst the probably thousands of other audience members, gaze at the stage with certainly thousands of choir members, and be flabbergasted. North American Latvian Song and Dance Festivals also have mass numbers of people, but I don't think it ever reaches past the 10,000 mark. Plus, the way the Mezaparks estrade is laid out, the entire literal sea of people is clearly visible. I should add that the whole thing is also outside. So the rain, it got people wet. Another way in which this concert differed from NA festival concerts is the set-up: there's the stage, then the hill on which the audience is seated/standing. Directly behind the hill is something similar to a state fair. There's food, drink, trinkets, and so on. In this area it is absolutely impossible to hear what's happening on stage. In NA festival concerts, if you want to get something to eat or drink, you go outside. It was strange to see one part of the people present sitting and listening intently to the concert and the other part milling around and eating and drinking. But I'm glad I got a ticket and ended up going - I took pictures, which, as usual, will *hopefully* sometime be posted. I'm terrible.

3. Folk dance concert dress rehearsal.
After eventually finding which left side of the stadium we were supposed to be in, which section of the correct left side we were supposed to sit in and wiping down the wet seats, we sat down and saw the very organised and profesionally done dress rehearsal for the Folk dance concert. It. Was. Sweet. True, the concert was more artistic and "formationy" than what we have in NA (I guess not necessarily a bad thing), and the ending was rather anti-climactic, it was another fantastic experience. 13,700 dancers on the field... more mind-blowingness. The effect is totally different when there are that many dancers. We were sitting on the side of the stadium, so we didn't really see more than loads of people, but it's surprising to look at pictures that were taken from a central location; you can see they actually created Latvian symbols with their formations. The highlight for me was the dance "Es atnacu uguntinu", which featured the Ilgi song "Nesmejieti jus lautini". The dance, which is for women, was performed around torchlit pyramid piers, and with other dancers (mostly men?) standing around strategically with torches. The women dance in a circle, waving around red ribbons in a very ritualistic manner. No way can you watch that and tell me that Latvians have cut off all ties with that which is Pagan. I definitely got chills. After the concert we experienced the singing bus/tram/trolley phenomenon, as we had a very enthusiastic singing man ride with us all the way to the central station stop (and then later on the train).

I realise that this post is pretty pathetic in terms of consistency and clarity, but the Song and Dance Festival is something you definitely need to experience in order to understand that it's very hard to put into words what you see and feel.

I fly back to Latvia on the 23rd - then I'll be around for a while.

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